§ 2.51 p.m.
§ Lord BALLANTRAE rose to call attention to the Central Policy Review Staff's Review of Overseas Representation; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to call attention to the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper, and to move for Papers. The Central Policy Review Staff's Review of Overseas Representation, better known as the Berrill Report, took a very long time to gestate; and no gestation in my experience has ever been accompanied by more speculation as to the likelihood of the eventual progeny turning out to be a monster. I incline to the view that that is what it has done. I do not remember how many heads the classical many-headed monster Hydra 853 had, but the Berrill Report has 21 chapters, 19 annexes, 442 pages and some very odd ideas.
§ It is impossible to deal with such a vast document in one debate, let alone in one speech. There are really three bodies under review: the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (with which is bracketed the Diplomatic Service), the BBC Special External Services, and the British Council. I propose to speak primarily about the British Council, of which I had the honour, privilege and happiness to be chairman for four years up until 11 months ago, and to leave other noble Lords to deal with the other matters contained in the Review. But I would first make a few remarks about the Review in general. No body, certainly not the FCO, and certainly not the BBC, and certainly not the British Council, should have anything to fear or to hide from a responsible review of its aims, its structure, or its activities; in fact they should welcome it with its possibility of new and helpful and constructive ideas; so long as it is not a case, to use a familiar simile, of continually pulling up the plant to see how the thing is growing. There is no harm at all in carrying out, so far as you can, the impossible advice of the Irish drill sergeant who said, "Take a step out of the ranks and have a look at yourself". But I am sorry to say that this report, which I have studied with care and at great length, seems to me to have so many blemishes as to detract almost fatally from its value.
The worst feature of all is the miserably minor key in which it is set, the defeatist motif which runs through the whole thing. As early as in paragraph 4 of the summary it says:
Inevitably the United Kingdom's ability to influence events in the world has declined, and there is very little that diplomatic activity and international relations can do to disguise the fact".
Fair enough. It is very much in line with the probably apocryphal Chinese advice that if you are being raped you should relax and enjoy it. That statement—I do not mean the Chinese advice but the statement which led me to quote it—is printed on page ix of the Review, at the beginning of the document, long before we even get to the 442 pages of the document proper. Most of the rest of the
Review reads like a prescription for succumbing to this dismal diagnosis.
§ I do assure your Lordships, from my own recent experience, of my conviction that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Diplomatic Service are nothing like so black as they are painted in this Review, or so grimy as their buildings have been described lately in the august correspondence columns of The Times. I have had dealings with the Diplomatic Service for more than 40 years, originally on the periphery but later nearer to the centre. I will concede that among the paladins of the past there may have been some whose patrician presence might seem inappropriate today, and who might perhaps confer a slight smell of mothballs; but for the most part they did us wonderfully well in their time. There is no virtue whatever in iconoclasm for iconoclasm's sake.
§ During my four years as chairman of the British Council I visited 36 countries, of which 30 were already familiar to me from previous incarnations; and I would respectfully testify—it sounds an awful cheek, but I would respectfully testify—that our diplomatic representation at all levels, as I saw it, is on the whole marvellously up to date. Such stuffiness as may in the past have existed occasionally—and only occasionally—has disappeared without trace. Our diplomacy has adjusted itself to the new conditions of our day and kept up with the march of time. Better still, it is continually focussing on the years that lie ahead, without loss of dignity, without loss of prestige, and, above all, without that spirit of defeatism which seems to me to run through this whole Review.
§ I turn to the British Council. Here we have a body which started in 1934 with a modest budget of £5,000 a year, and with a tiny nucleus of staff which was then admittedly only feeling its way. Now it has a budget of close on £60 million, of which about half is money which it administers on behalf of the Ministry of Overseas Development; it has a permanent staff (excluding people such as teachers and other experts who are on contract, and the many indigenous people recruited overseas) of about 2,000—and I am including in that figure of 2,000 people like drivers, typists, receptionists and so on. It is a very modest staff. It has 43 years of unrivalled experience in close 855 on 80 countries. Its actual earnings next year alone for its services, will be just on £17 million, as opposed to £3 million a couple of years ago. It handles over 5,000 foreign trainees in this country every year, coming from all over the world.
§ It runs over 130 libraries of British books overseas and is closely concerned with 40 others. From those libraries last year alone 6½ million books were borrowed, mostly by teachers, students, scientists and technologists of all kinds. In India, in Nigeria, in South America, in the Persian Gulf, I have seen crowds of people queueing up outside these libraries before opening time, like people queueing up outside pubs in Glasgow at opening time, and I have seen eager students all over the world queueing up in just the same way at the various language laboratories. Last year 25,000 visitors came to this country under the auspices of the British Council, ranging from Cabinet Ministers coming for a week to professors or administrators or students coming for longer periods. And there is a constant stream of expert visitors going overseas at the request of foreign countries, for lecture tours or for longer; surgeons, physicians, experts in tropical diseases, experts in irrigation, vets, administrators, engineers, educationists, technologists of all sorts. That is quite apart from the volume of teachers, at all levels, and in all subjects, recruited by the Council for terms of service, long or short, in countries comfortable and uncomfortable, hot and cold, safe and dangerous and in varying stages of development.
§ The richer countries pay willingly for these services, thus subsidising the developing countries which cannot, as yet, afford to pay their own way. I do not believe that, in any of the many countries that I visited, there was a single one in which I was not asked for more. Before my appointment I had seen the work of the Council only from outside. The more I saw of it, the more I was staggered by its range, and the more I admired it. I continued to be astonished by its mammoth prestige overseas—and, let me add in all modesty, the prestige which rubbed off on to me personally purely because I was its chairman. I was almost always received by the Foreign Minister as well as the Education Minister, and usually 856 by the Prime Minister and the Head of State as well.
§ By contrast, the ignorance in Britain concerning the British Council was a continual source of bafflement to me. If the Review has done nothing else, it has drawn more attention in Britain to the Council and its work than it has had for many a long day; and elicited many tributes to that work from distinguished people with knowledge and experience of the Council whose status and reputation nobody could possibly gainsay. However, make no mistake about it, the Review has done harm as well, in three respects at least. It has undermined morale in all the three Services about which it has pronounced. It has not quite dried up, but it has enormously discouraged, recruiting. Moreover to the astonishment of our friends and our enemies, it has trumpeted abroad that defeatism which I have already mentioned.
§ Let us return to the bright side. It used to be said that "Trade follows the Flag". I could make out quite a good case nowadays for saying that "Trade follows the British Council". Let us take a few examples. It has just helped to establish a College of Nautical Studies in Iran, a contract which was worth £640,000, and which will almost certainly be followed by extensive orders for further construction and equipment; and training programmes in Britain for hospital administrators from Kuwait, civil servants from Oman and Merchant Navy cadets from Iran. Added together, the contracts to date will tot up to just under £250,000. Four contracts, three of them educational, and two of them already signed, have been under discussion with Egypt these past few months, worth over £1 million. Contracts worth £3 million are running in Saudi Arabia, and others under discussion concern £2 million. The alphabetical list which I saw the other day began with Afghanistan and ended with Venezuela.
§ These operations are really just priming the pump. It stands to reason that if you have had your technical or any other education in Britain or under British auspices, you tend to follow it up. You place your future orders with Britain, you send your future students to Britain; unless, of course, you are dissatisfied with what you yourself have received from Britain. If the "expertise"—that foul 857 word—is good, and if you make friends, you stand by what you yourself enjoyed and benefited from. The "spin-off"—another foul, but useful term—can be almost without limit.
§ I would not build my case primarily on these sordid financial considerations, although I rejoice in them in so far as they refute the innuendo that the British Council's activities in this area are really no more than a flamboyant spending spree. Much more important is the goodwill which they will build up among the peoples of those countries. I recall with delight the innumerable people I have met abroad all over the world—politicians, professors and so on—who reminisce nostalgically about their time in Britain, or ask tenderly after Professor this or that, of whom I have never heard, and after friends they made Such links and contacts are far more important; but the fact remains that the monies which the Council earns are, as I have said before, ploughed back to the benefit of those countries which cannot, as yet, afford to pay their own way.
I should like to focus on one or two of the points made in the Review which seem to me to be especially fallacious. In Chapter 15, paragraph 36, we are told that in political work overseas—and by implication I take it that this applies to Council work also:
Intellectual ability is not very important … what matters more is general political awareness".
It also says:
Previous experience is not important. Expertise is acquired on the job".
I shall not bother to comment on those two extracts: I think that they speak for themselves.
The second point I wish to focus on is that it says:
It is clear that the French in particular, and also the Germans, attach high priority to this work [i.e., educational and cultural work overseas], and probably devote a higher proportion of overseas representation expenditure to it than the UK does".
A little research would have revealed that in fact the French spend three times as much on it as we do, and the Germans four times. More than one-third of the West German External Affairs budget is allocated to it. The Review goes on to
say—noble Lords will not believe it unless they have waded through it as I have—
the advocates of cultural diplomacy argue that a country's interests can be served by making other countries aware of its values in general, and more specifically of its literature, music, painting, scientific, medical and technological research, and its contribution to the humanities and the social sciences. We are sceptical of this argument".
They are sceptical of this argument! Your Lordships will remember the Pobble who has no toes and who wants as many as we have. When they said: "One day you will lose them all", he replied, "Fish-fiddle-de-dee!" But he did lose them all, very shortly afterwards, entirely because he was sceptical of argument.
§ The Review puts forward two options for the future of the British Council. Option A, which it prefers, recommends its total abolition. It would set up "a new recruitment and placement agency", establish an overseas capability in the Department of Education and Science, transfer the small amount of remaining cultural work to the Arts Council, transfer all responsibility for educational aid administration to the Overseas Development Ministry, and perform that work through diplomatic posts with residential educational experts seconded "from the ODM and DES as appropriate". Option B would retain a purely recruiting agency in the United Kingdom, and the incorporation of Council representations overseas into diplomatic posts.
§ I cannot see any advantage whatever in either form of dismemberment: in setting up new agencies; in transferring this, and transforming that and seconding people hither and yon. I see no advantage in carving up a good-going show, manned by men and women with long experience and a sense of vocation, and already a tradition; or in dismantling a service with a career structure, carefully planned and administered from the moment of recruiting to the point of retirement. The Review seems to me to favour as an alternative some sort of make-shift, jigsaw, ad hoc system of cross-posting, which to me is reminiscent of the current advertising slogan "Super-Jobs for Temps".
§ One of the secrets of the success of the British Council has been its total independence from, and close co-operation with, our diplomatic posts overseas. 859 Sometimes the Council, for one reason or another—for security reasons, reasons of economy or political reasons—has had to be housed under the same roof as the embassy. I am one of the many people who deplore this when it has to happen and would fight to the last ditch any suggestion that it should become normal practice. It is important that the Council should never be mistaken for what it most certainly is not—a sort of propaganda wing of the Diplomatic Service. More than once the British Council has been able to carry on with its work in countries with which Britain has had to break off diplomatic relations. The embassy has had to pack its bags and depart and the British Council placidly and constructively goes on with its work.
§ The Review urges the abolition of all offices within Britain outside London. There seems no realisation of the amount of back-up work necessary, nor of the work involved in looking after our visitors and foreign students. There has already been a skelloch of protest from the Scottish Advisory Panel and I expect an equally banshee howl from the Welsh one at any moment. In fact, it suggests that all activities in those two countries should be abolished.
§ I do not have time to touch on what are called, for want of a better phrase—it is a ghastly phrase—" cultural manifestations", or many other aspects of the Council's work. I do not even have time to deal with what seems to be the absurd suggestion that the work, if it is to continue at all, should be accorded only low priority, except within the Soviet bloc. The same sort of suggestion has been applied to the BBC External Services, but I am jolly sure that some other noble Lord will deal with that. I express the hope that nobody will take the line that because we have had this expensive report, involving visits to 27 countries, plus much time, money and effort, a high proportion of its recommendations must therefore be implemented. That would indeed be to throw good money after had for a bad reason.
I submit that what the three bodies under review have been doing, and successfully doing, is precisely what the compilers of the Review suggest they should be doing—namely, adjusting themselves,
not by fits and starts but regularly, sensibly and imaginatively, to the new role and position of Britain in the world today and helping her to play a useful and constructive part in it. In fact, the Council has already made a careful study of the Review's 27 recommendations about its future. One dealt only with the assumption that it should be abolished altogether, so that falls to the ground. Of the other 26, nine are already Council policy, five the Council is taking another look at, and 12 are wholly rejected by the Council's Board on the grounds that they are:
totally inconsistent with the best interests of Britain".
I would repudiate from my own knowledge any suggestion that the Council is stick-in-the-mud and not receptive of new ideas. It bubbles with new ideas and is always in the market for new ones.
I finish, no doubt to noble Lords' great relief, with three quotations which I have selected from many others. The first is from a leading article published in The Times on 8th August last, commenting on the volume of letters which had reached it concerning the Review:
The number of letters to this newspaper has been remarkable and we have been able to print only a small proportion of those received. Even more remarkable is that such a large correspondence has been wholly unanimous. Scarcely a single letter has come to the defence of the Think Tank report … You cannot stop doing something you are good at without impoverishing yourself as well as others. Fortunately the Think Tank seems almost alone in failing to see this".
The second is from a letter which appeared in The Times on 4th November, three weeks ago, signed by five distinguished Germans, one of them the son of Chancellor Adenauer:
We, as friends of your country, would find it deplorable if the long-term benefits flowing from lively cultural and educational relations were to be sacrificed for the sake of short-term political assessments, arrived at from a standpoint of current self-belittlement".
The third and last is from a French friend of mine, a former ambassador in Addis Ababa, Brazil and Greece, who wrote:
As an alien I cannot take part in a debate on the Foreign Office, but as a member of the European Community I sincerely hope that the BBC will still rule the wave-lengths, and that the British Council will, like the Greek Phoenix, acquire a new life thanks to a report advocating its sudden death".
Then I suppose such was his emotion that he broke into French and finished by saying:
J'espère que les Communes réagiront, et que les Lords rugiront!
which translated means:
I hope that the Commons will react, and that the Lords will roar!
§ My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.16 p.m.
§ Viscount ECCLES
My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Ballantrae, has given our debate a splendid and robust start. He put the experience of his chairmanship of the British Council, where he was so popular and effective, at the service of the House, and we thank him for that. He must be encouraged by the number of speakers on the list. We are particularly looking forward to the two maiden speeches by the noble Lords, Lord Saint Brides and Lord Thomson of Monifieth, both of whom know a great deal about this subject.
I agree with all that the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, said about the British Council. I have always been a supporter in and out of Government. Recently I visited their offices in Mexico, Poland and France—three very different countries. In each the impressive demand for the Council's services showed every sign of increasing. Its work was immensely popular and it was achieving striking results on what I thought was a very reasonable budget. We know that the "Tankers" did not have time to measure and evaluate the Council's services; nor did they realise that the demand for the expansion of those services is hoped for not least in the developed countries where, if the Council closes down, its place would immediately be taken by the well-subsidised activities of countries whose culture is not based on our literature and art or on our language.
It is very odd that in a report which lays such emphasis on exports so little is made of English as an asset in our overseas trade—not any kind of English, but our English. In country after country they tell us that they want to learn "English English", and that request raises the question of whether we are doing enough to preserve the forms of our speech. 862 Would your Lordships be happy if English broke down into a dozen dialects, as Latin broke down into Italian, Spanish, Portuguese and French? That could very easily happen, and it has been happening, in parts of Asia and Africa.
The one way in which to arrest that process is to make our English and our literature—because the two go together—accessible to those whose job it is to teach millions and millions of children in all five continents. The British Council and the BBC do just this. We could not hand it over to private enterprise. We must have some continuing body that cares for our language. It is in the national interest that these two bodies should have not less but more funds and then, as the in work expanded, they would be able to sell more Paid English Services.
The "Tankers" say nothing about this. Their ignorance of foreign educational systems, of cultural exchanges and of overseas broadcasting is such that Ministers would be well advised to repudiate here and now their recommendations for chopping the British Council and reducing overseas broadcasting. There would be a great advantage in taking early decisions on these two matters. Men and women whose good work was not, by any stretch of the imagination, properly examined would be relieved of their anxiety, and all of us would then be able to discuss the rest of the report, which is better informed and contains a lot of interesting information, in a less exasperated atmosphere.
The "Tankers" deserve thanks for the mass of information they provide on all the other major and minor functions of our overseas representation, but I have to say that all these chapters would read better if they had not been flavoured with so much egalitarian garlic. Even in their evident passion for this pungent stuff the "Tankers" are not consistent. In one paragraph, in true Marxist fashion, they deplore the middle-class manners of the diplomats, and in another they recommend all diplomats to become export salesmen. I ask your Lordships, do you know any group of men who enjoy larger expense accounts and display more middle class manners than salesmen? As I go along I am going to signal to your Lordships places where the injection of this garlic spoils the report and taints with a nasty smell what might have been a sweet and reasonable discussion.
863 Before we can redesign our Overseas Services we should try to agree upon Britain's role in tomorrow's world. The "Tankers" are far too pessimistic about this. They believe the British people have retreated so far that in the next decade or two we have nowhere further to go except to aim at an increase in the production and sale of exports. Accordingly, they advise Ministers to reorganise the Overseas Civil Service with only this aim in mind. Can a civilised country, any more than a civilised person, live for economic gain alone? Surely we want, as the noble Lord said, foreign countries to be our friends, and friendship is not measured by trade alone.
Great Britain has much to contribute to the search for a better way of ordering human affairs within our own country and in the world at large. We are expected, it is our duty, to put ideas as well as money into the pool from which will emerge a form of society beyond and better than both capitalism and Socialism. The "Tankers" will not have any of that. However grandly they set out the objectives of foreign policy in the opening paragraphs, in the report itself they ask us to take a selfish one-way view of our international activities. Every structure, every act, must be directly, or indirectly, cost effective in terms of the balance of payments. I cannot believe that so narrow an objective is fair to ourselves, fair to our past and our future, or fair to the world outside which needs our help as we need theirs.
Supposing we accept the "Tankers'" narrow view of our future, it then follows that the picture of Britain now represented to foreigners by the Diplomatic Service is a fraud. British ambassadors are accustomed to behave as the representatives of a great country, whereas according to the "Tankers" they should be telling the world that we have relegated ourselves to the second division without any hope of promotion, and therefore their style of life should be drastically pruned. In all this part of the report the garlic stinks.
I should like to give your Lordships just one example which is buried in the report, of the "Tankers'" treatment of Britain's image. Constitutionally every embassy is Her Britannic Majesty's Embassy. Every ambassador is the Queen's personal representative. But only once 864 in the report of 440 folio pages do the "Tankers" bring themselves to mention this fact. Why do they keep so mum about the constitutional position of ambassadors? Your Lordships will find part of the answer in paragraph 6 of Annex O. There they unfeignedly welcome the decision—I think it was taken in the autumn of 1975—to scrap the Queen's Birthday Party, which for so long had given indescribable pleasure to the British community and to the foreign guests invited to the embassy to drink Her Majesty's health. The "Tankers" leave us in no doubt that in a celebration like this, to which people from all walks of life—humble people, old people—are invited, the duty of representing Her Majesty is not cost effective. I put it to you that Britain has no more cost effective export than the regard in which the Monarchy is held by foreigners, and the lift which their loyalty to the Crown gives to the Queen's subjects abroad. The "Tankers" do not understand that. I imagine that sometimes they sing the National Anthem. When they come to the line, "Happy and glorious" they must find it incomprehensible. "Glory" is not a word in their vocabulary.
I want to raise a further doubt about the posture which the "Tankers" wish us to adopt in a period when our economy is weak and our debts are large. They are desperately anxious to see us cut our coat according to our cloth—and to them that means dressing down to our reduced circumstances: dinner jackets out; jeans in—and to remove advantages enjoyed by the Diplomatic Service and not enjoyed by the Home Civil Service.
On the first point, I am reminded of an incident which I witnessed during the war when I was serving in His Majesty's embassy in Lisbon. One day when I was waiting to see the Governor of the Bank of Portugal there emerged from his room a Portuguese nobleman. He was exquisitely dressed with an orchid in his buttonhole, gold-topped cane and gloves. I was very curious to know about this splendid gentleman and the Governor said to me, "For some time he has been deeply in debt and of course he has to keep up appearances for fear his creditors may take action". The other half of my story is that, when going down to the front hall after that interview, I passed 865 half a dozen members of the bank's staff ushering in a shabby figure in a long overcoat. Against the light, he looked as though he might have been asleep on a bench in the park. Nevertheless, there they were making a tremendous fuss of him, bowing and scraping. In fact, he was Mr. Calouste Gulbenkian. If we were as rich as Saudi Arabia, I do not know that it would matter very much how many parties our embassies gave, but the "Tankers" cannot get the hang of that story; human nature is not their strong suit. But if your Lordships, who know how men behave, believe that, with a bit of luck, common sense and a change of Government, we are going to get through our difficulties, then in the meantime we, too, should keep up appearances.
I do not wish to delay the House too long and I shall therefore abandon what I was going to say about export promotion, save to refer to an extraordinary omission: in the long section on exports there is not a word about invisible exports; it is the garlic again. Sir Kenneth Berrill and his youngsters know very well about the City, but banking and insurance are upper middle class and therefore unmentionable.
The remainder of my remarks will be concerned with the organisation of our Overseas Services. This raises one of the central and most difficult problems in modern government. The specialisation of knowledge has bred a vast number of experts in all the branches of government and industry. How are these experts to be persuaded to work as a team? Their careers are made on the staffs of different, sometimes mutually jealous, Ministries; the different Departments are responsible to their Ministers and those Ministers, even on their own ground, often cannot understand what the experts are talking about.
How much harder must it be for one Minister to understand and control a large group of experts drawn, say, from Defence, Agriculture, the Treasury, Trade, Industry and Education, all with their coats off ready to fight for their corner in the making of international policy? Yet we cannot do without these highly sophisticated experts; we must have more of them, knowing full well that by nature and education they are 866 likely to find it difficult to see international situations in the round. As a result, every Minister and every ambassador is up against the administrative consequences of the fragmentation of knowledge, and the "Tankers" are right to draw our attention to the difficulty of using the expertise to the full and yet retaining control of the overall policy.
In these circumstances, what do they propose? They would like the experts to be co-ordinated in Whitehall by a committee presided over by a member of the Cabinet Office; your Lordships will remember that they themselves are members of the Cabinet Office. The Diplomatic Service would then be merged with the Home Civil Service and all Departments would start on a level in deciding the policy in respect of each overseas country and each international organisation. The role of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would be confined to servicing these committees and providing an analysis of the political and social conditions in the country concerned.
These arrangements would have to be reflected in the organisation and behaviour of the missions abroad. The "Tankers" are logical on this point. They want most of the experts from the home Departments to communicate direct—by telephone, Telex or flying visits—with their opposite numbers in the Government Department of the overseas country, thus more or less by-passing the British Embassy. When experts are attached to the staff of embassies, the "Tankers" made the strong point that they must be paid, as are the Service attaché by their home Departments. That would give them a status more or less independent of the diplomats. Obviously, if all that happened, the head of mission's power to guide and control those experts, whether they are home-based or on his staff, would be much reduced.
That is the "Tankers" main recommendation and I do not think your Lordships should dismiss it out of hand; it is very serious and it deserves a great deal of thought. What I am going to say about it is my personal opinion. The British Government are organised on a sectoral basis and, at the same time, more and more problems concern more than one Department. But that does not remove the necessity to place the power somewhere; somebody's decision must be final. 867 I do not believe in happy teams of experts playing together like Leeds United but without a captain on the field and without a manager in the box. This, at bottom, is what the "Tankers" want. They are themselves experts, they work in the Cabinet Office and they cannot stomach the idea that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should be in a superior position. Nor do they give the slightest indication that Parliament, representing the people and mindful of the constitutional position of the embassy or any other body, or the man in the street might have something to say about our representation abroad. In the "Tankers'" view, there is no one above the experts who should not be pulled down and no one below them who is worth consulting, and therefore I quote Dr. Johnson's well-known remark because it fits these people to a tee:Sir, your levellers wish to level down as far as themselves, but they cannot bear levelling up to themselves".That is the pith of the garlic in the whole of this report.
In conclusion, I again express gratitude for all the valuable information in the report. That makes the report worth reading. But that said, the assumptions on which the "Tankers" base their conclusions are wrong. Britain has more to do in the world than defend her economic interests. The deep substance of this country has not been eroded to the point where we cannot reverse the decline in British power and influence. We shall persuade the world that this is no old man's dream if we are represented by the best experts that we can get from the home Departments, and by ambassadors who are charged to put across the policy of the Government of the day, to coordinate the experts operating in the country to which they are accredited and to express the confidence of the British people in our Constitution and in our future.
If your Lordships agree with this view, then there is no doubt where the leadership must be placed: in the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary at home, and in the ambassador overseas. That decision on leadership has to be taken before it is useful to think seriously about such subjects as recruitment to the Diplomatic 868 Service, and the extent to which members of that service should gain experience in other Departments, and vice versa.
The danger is that the Secretary of State will think that he has to do something about such an enormous report, and he will settle for a compromise whereby the ambassador appears still to be in charge, but armed only with a Mini Minor and a glass of beer his authority will be whittled away, leaving the bits and pieces to be fought for by the experts. My Lords, put your money on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Give it fresh strength, and redefine its powers to act as manager at home and captain in the field. In my judgment, this is the only practical answer to the great question raised by the Berrill Report.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
My Lords, we are all very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae. I am quite sure that he could develop a very useful activity lecturing on Berlin overseas. He would be able to sell tickets for it because it would be so entertaining. There are many noble Lords, like my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth, and the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, who have served as Ministers in the Foreign Office. I had a short spell of attachment there. I was even an ambassador once, for a week. It is a complicated story which I will not go into. I was also once, years ago, an Empire talks producer, and I got a little free travel out of the British Council.
I feel that somehow I have taken part in this debate before. It was ten years ago that I had to deal with the Duncan Report from the Dispatch Box from where my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts will be speaking. I had an easier task than he has today. It is worth noting that the framework in which the modern Foreign Service and Foreign and Commonwealth Office now operate, as well as all the other Departments overseas, derives from the Plowden Report and the Duncan Report. The Duncan Report had its defects, but it was considerably better than the Review we are now debating.
I will try to be constructive if I can, but I am sorry to say that when I have read, as I have, the whole of the Review of 869 Overseas Representation, I come to the conclusion that I have read only one worse report; that was the Bullock Report. I am very sorry to have to say this, because I know that there were some people of very high calibre who worked extremely hard on this, yet they have failed to produce for us the kind of examination we need. I know very few people who support the report—except a few Foreign Office wives who think how wonderful it would be if they did not have to do so much entertaining.
The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, and the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, have talked on the issues of the British rôle in the world. I believe that the report is right in a general way in saying that the United Kingdom cannot undertake major political or economic initiative on its own. But to talk about the United Kingdom recovering, or not being able to recover, to a position where it can do so represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the rôle and significance of the United Kingdom. We are not one of the world's super-Powers, and we are never likely to be. The more we can operate within our alliances, and particularly within the European Community, the greater will be our contribution; and within that framework I have no doubt that we shall be able to exercise many of the skills and worldwide experience that the British have uniquely acquired. This is not nostalgia; I hope that it is a realistic recognition.
I want to speak mainly along the lines of the Motion which I carefully put down after the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, because I thought that he would be a marvellous person to introduce this subject. I put down a rather similar Motion, but calling attention to the report and its implications for our export trade and overseas investments, and it is in this area that I want to speak.
Perhaps I ought to declare an interest as a member of the British Overseas Trade Board—unpaid—but, like all noble Lords, I speak only for myself, and I do not seek to represent the views of that board. But I have no doubt that my views are shared by my industrial and business colleagues, not only on the British Overseas Trade Board, but throughout the greater part of industry. If there is one 870 message that they should like to get across—and I should like to state it categorically—it is: Please do not damage the excellent service we get from our posts overseas. I should also like to reemphasise—I think that the report has missed this—the value of the excellence in so much of our overseas representation. I am chairman of the East European Trade Council, and any noble Lords who have dealings with the countries of the Eastern bloc, where it is important that we do trade, will know how dependent we are on the lengths of helpfulness and co-operation to which our embassies, our ambassadors, and their staff go to assist businessmen.
Of course there are cases where people have failed to give that help. There are people who perhaps think that they are too shy. There is the allegation that some people would have liked to go near the British Embassy. I do not know whether it is the middle-class salesmen whom the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, was talking about being unwilling to go to the middle-class diplomats. There has been very little criticism in the Press of the service.
The most important point of disagreement on my part with the Berrill Report is on the question of political advice. The first requirement of the industrialist, of the sales manager, of the overseas investor, is sound political advice. There is not a country in the world in which either investment or trading does not depend crucially on a judgment of the political elements in the country, its future progress, its stability, its trading environment, and an understanding of its leading politicians; even an attempt to guess the result of an election. On this one needs really detailed advice in depth and the ability to talk frankly.
When one comes to that much-quoted and totally erroneous statement by a distinguished politician—I think it was a Conservative Prime Minister, but I respect him so much I will leave it to your Lordships to guess who it was—who said that "Exporting is fun", this could be altered to, "Exporting would be absolute hell were it not for those who represent our interests overseas". This is a central point with which I believe the majority of businessmen would agree. We are living in an unstable world, and difficult business 871 judgments must depend greatly on the help and advice we receive.
My Lords, I should like now to turn to some of the particular recommendations. The maddest of all is the suggestion that the Home Civil Service and the Diplomatic Service should be integrated. I am afraid that the investigators—and I am told that some of them were very charming when they visited overseas posts—really fail to understand the difference between the Foreign Service and the Home Civil Service. The diplomat, the man who joins the Foreign Office, the man who joins the Foreign Service, joins because he expects, indeed may want and is certainly prepared, to spend much of his life in foreign parts. In my experience, he tends to be a different kind of animal from the home civil servant.
Like all broad generalisations, this is only partly true but it helps to illustrate the point I am wanting to make. The diplomat accepts obligations of a different kind. He may have to operate more on his own. He will need a different kind of self-confidence. Indeed, he probably needs to be a little more extrovert. But, above all, he has to be ready and willing to go to any place in the world and there function, sometimes under conditions of great danger. In the past you judged the bravery of a general by how many horses he had had shot down under him: now we can judge an ambassador by how many embassies have been burnt down under him—and I am sorry my noble friend Lord Trevelyan is not here. But the diplomat may be in a relatively small and, in any normal political terms, unimportant country with responsibilities for the life and death of British citizens which do not confront the average home civil servant. I do not wish in any way to reflect on the home civil servant, for whom I have a great admiration, but I wonder how many of them at the moment would in fact wish to volunteer to serve in Uganda or in some other of these countries.
My Lords, I do not want to comment at too great length on the organisation, but I would say that the effect of the proposal to unify the disparate parts of the different public services which are involved in the Overseas Service would be to create an even bigger bureaucracy; and I 872 happen to believe that it shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the principles of good management. I do not think we need waste much more time on this proposition, for I cannot believe it is even a starter; but there are aspects of this study which I find worrying, because here is this highly intelligent group of people, centred right in the heart of Whitehall, in the Cabinet Office, and yet to my mind they do not seem to have understood how Whitehall works. There is a confusion, too, on the qualities for which they look. There are contradictions here. We are back—and I see my noble friend Lord Fulton is here—where at one point we have an argument for "preference for relevance" and at another point in the report they say historians would be good. I happen to think that historians are always good for this sort of thing, classical scholars even more so.
Then they propose that there should be a Cabinet Office Official Committee on Bilateral Relations with Overseas Countries; but there is no proper analysis of the existing communication within Whitehall—the system of committees, the Private Office net, the Permanent Secretary net and all these matters. This, I am afraid, would in fact produce a more bureaucratic solution. On the other hand, I strongly support and endorse the recommendation for greater interchange between Departments, and I should like to quote two examples. Our ambassador in Venezuela recently served in a home Government Department very relevant to some of the economic and social responsibilities that he will have. Then, a Treasury official who spent two or three years in South-East Asia getting to know officials in Malaysia and Australia, has recently had to go out again to Australia as the Permanent Secretary of a home Department. This should happen; and there is a confusion here, that if only you can put people under the same organisation it will work better. It may not work better. We have seen this with the gigantic Departments. What may be more important is that they should be in adjoining offices, and that there should be the right sort of location. The report is right in emphasising that it is difficult to get this type of interchange, and I know this as a former Minister responsible for the Civil Service. None the less, this should be a 873 major part of the career of diplomats and of home civil servants, that they should, if possible, have a period serving overseas.
This brings me to another, I think, very bad part of the report, and that is this. I find it difficult to interpret, but to me it can have only this meaning, that the trade and export side should, so to speak, be separated off. If we go down that path we revert to the old concept of the Trade Commissioner as a separate and perhaps lesser-grade creature. This was the pattern in the past. It is distressing, the way we go in circles in this matter. What is needed is the total involvement of the whole embassy, from the ambassador down; and I could quote examples of ambassadors giving direct assistance, not just to senior businessmen, not just to leaders of industry, but to ordinary people confronted with difficult situations. The businessman needs not just commercial information; he needs introduction. Above all—and we may as well recognise this—he needs the status and special position that the ambassador and others are able to bring about in the country to which they are accredited; and not least of the advantages of the present situation is that during their career so many members of the Foreign Service will have been engaged on the commercial side against the day when they become ambassadors and are able to help the businessman.
It is this integration within the embassy which is so valuable, because apart from the ambassador there will be the commercial counsellor, there will be the political counsellor (it depends on the size), there may be particular experts, there will be members of the staff who specialise in certain areas and there will be a locally-engaged commercial officer. Then, if that does not meet all the circumstances, they can go to the branch office, where the Consul General may have even more knowledge; but they are all part of this organisation. The Think Tank understands very well why this sort of work cannot be done in watertight compartments, that the great value is the cross-fire from all parts; and it would be a real tragedy to go back to the days when the ambassador said, There is a chap who looks after businessmen down the road; you might care to see him".
Furthermore, my Lords, all diplomats, or most of them, are likely to want to have a really good career. They hope to be 874 ambassadors; they hope, even, to have the highest post in the Foreign Service. But to be an ambassador their success will depend at least as much on their ability in the commercial and trade fields as on their ability in the traditional diplomatic negotiating skills. Unfortunately, I do not know how many members of the study team have themselves taken part in a diplomatic, political, trade union or industrial negotiation and know what this involves. With the sort of team you have, of course you will have people from the home Department to help and be integrated into the team; but, none the less, there is the skill of the man who knows what that particular course, what that particular football field on which they are going to play, looks like. Of course, if they are first-class people then one day they will hope to end up in Michael Palliser's office as head of the Foreign Service.
My Lords, there are many other points I could make, but your Lordships will be happy to hear I am not going to make them. There is this quite astonishing failure, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, referred, to mention our invisible earnings. It really is quite extraordinary that there is no reference to them. Whether these invisible earnings are achieved through insurance, through returns on overseas investments, from big contracts, from shipping or what have you, here, again, it is worth noting that the United Kingdom is the world's second largest investor, with overseas assets of well over £10 billion. If it had not been for these invisible exports, where should we have been during recent years?
However, this, cannot be separated from the export promotion side because there are obvious parallels. Again, one needs political judgment and skills. I would only say that the theory that one can have full-time businessmen seconded to bodies like the British Overseas Trade Board is just not on. I do not think that they get paid enough, anyway. In any case, the report fails to recognise—and the noble Earl, Lord Limerick, will be able to confirm this—the real progress which the British Overseas Trade Board has made under the chairmanship of Sir Fred Catherwood.
The report fails to make any reference to the very great efforts which industrialists, trade unions and others have made on a 875 national basis, giving up time, holding export conferences and carrying out the recent and successful Export Year. There is no acknowledgment of the voluntary work by the many such people serving on these bodies, on BOTAC, on the area advisory groups and so on. It is marvellous to see how much voluntary effort is given.
I am trying to cut my speech; but I should like to say one thing about the BBC and about the importance of the dissemination of British culture by bodies like the British Council and the BBC. These recommendations are, I think, the most extraordinary of all. Before I came here, I happened to talk to a very intelligent Frenchman who knows this country well. He said, "I hope that you are going to stop all that nonsense." I cannot quite copy his French accent, but he was saying this about the BBC. He added, "I regard the British News"—and this is a very patriotic Frenchman—" as the only news which is really objective, in the only language universally understood; and isolated people abroad, not only in the Soviet Union but in other places, for instance, in Southern Africa, are dependent on it for their information."He concluded," I think it would be suicidal if you do that".
May I say how much I regret having to be so critical of the very devoted work that has gone into the study. There are a large number of points which are worth pursuing—points about guarantees and about details of support for industry overseas. I am sorry to repeat this, but when in Brazil I heard some reference to the charm of the visitors: a high intellect however, no substitute for some practical experience in this field. I am depressed that we should have had such a bad report. I shall only take up a point which, I think, was made by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. I do not want to see the Foreign Service merged with the Home Civil Service. I want a separate Foreign Service, and I want a head of the Foreign Service.
Some of us remember the consequences when, before the war, the head of the Treasury dominated our foreign policy and we followed, at grave risk to ourselves, policies which were against the advice of many people in the Foreign Office. If I may say so—and I do not 876 wish to introduce too many Party issues—I think that, in more recent times, the voice of the Foreign Office might have come through more strongly at the time of Suez. I want to preserve the high quality of the Foreign and Commonwealth Service and I hope that, in dealing with this report, we shall not throw away this great national advantage.
§ 4.5 p.m.
§ Lord GLADWYN
My Lords, I propose to restrict my remarks to the Foreign Service part of the Berrill Report, so opportunely brought before us by the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, leaving my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley to give our views on the British Council proposals and my noble friend Lord Tanlaw on other important aspects including export promotion. I shall, however, trespass on the sphere of my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley to a slight extent in so far as I propose to refer to the British Council's work covering overseas students, with whose cause I have long been identified as chairman of the United Kingdom Council for Overseas Students' Affairs.
Might I, before going into detail, say that I personally would agree with almost everything that has been said so far in the eloquent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, and the two speeches which followed his. Even as regards the Foreign Service, I shall only volunteer a few general observations since I left the Service no fewer than 17 years ago and may well, therefore, he out of date. Many noble Lords who have had much more recent experience of the Service will be giving their view on the report this afternoon and I should not want to appear to contradict in advance what they may say.
Having said that, I should like to start by expressing some reluctant admiration of the courage of Sir Kenneth, notably in respect of the area covered by his immense report and for the pains evidently taken to bring the whole problem as he sees it into some sort of new perspective. It is true, as the report suggests, that the position of the United Kingdom in the world has substantially declined in the last 10 years or so and, consequently, it may be that reductions are now necessary in expenditure abroad or, at any rate, that some of them should be contemplated. That I 877 would not dispute. But the general philosophy of the report seems to me to be open to question in that the analysis is based chiefly upon function.
Admittedly, this is an effective way of achieving clarity; but whether logic can be pushed beyond a certain point is very doubtful. I do not really believe that you can make a sharp definition between "Economic, Social and Environmental Work", "Foreign Policy Work" and "Political Work". Surely, it is impracticable, if your Lordships consider it for a moment, to separate these various threads in such a categorical way. For instance, the European Community. There, much of the subject matter of Community business is, of course, "Economic, Social and Environmental", but the effects of that work are fundamentally important to "Foreign Policy", both in the treatment of the relations between individual Members of the Community and in terms of the Community's relations with the outside world.
Nearly every element in that "Economic, Social and Environmental" work requires, I should have thought, a contribution from the "Political Work" standpoint. Take the "Spy in the Cab", the tachograph. That issue, I suppose, can be said to be an economic problem; but it certainly can only be understood if its political implications are properly appreciated. Then take commodity policy, the only other example that I shall give. By definition, this is "economic". The price of raw materials is vital to our balance of payments and has had an important effect, of course, on inflation and, indeed, on unemployment. But it is also a foreign political issue which cannot be separated from North-South issues, North-South relations, generally.
Thus, political relations with developing countries must, surely, be handled, primarily, on a political basis which means, in its turn, we must have good relations with the rulers of such States. This can, as often as not, be arrived at by social, even cultural, contacts. That surely goes to show that foreign relations are all part of a whole and cannot be divided up into segments, as the report tries to do, from a logical point of view.
As regards the specific recommendations which affect the Foreign Service as such, 878 I think that the report dwells too much on the relatively small question of entertainment by our representatives abroad. It is possible that in some cases such entertainment may be exaggerated, but it surely cannot be substantially diminished without unfavourable results. If there is any tendency on the part of diplomats, other than perhaps the head of mission, to entertain people who are of no particular importance, or if they tend to entertain or he entertained by, for the most part, foreign colleagues—which I agree from my limited experience is sometimes an abuse—then surely it is for the head of the mission to correct such abuses. I have a constructive proposal: the head of mission ought to be shown at the end of the year a list of the people who have been entertained by his subordinates, and be at liberty to comment on them if he so desires.
On the other hand, I would not, again from my present limited knowledge, dispute the fact that there may still be certain missions abroad which are largely redundant and could, without any serious damage to the national cause, be abolished in the sense that they could be covered by our representative in some neighbouring country. And why not have occasionally what might be called a Community embassy, one member of the EEC looking after the interests of all the rest? I believe that some progress has been made in this direction in the past three years; I hope that it can be speeded up. The report does not indicate which foreign missions might be abolished or suppressed, but I understand it has given a list of them to the Foreign Office.
Generally speaking, I dare say that the report is also right in holding that there may be too much letter writing between missions and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and even in the FCO itself. It always seemed to me, when I was a member of the Service, that far too many telegrams and despatches were sent which never really got beyond what was called the Third Room in the Foreign Office; even if they got as far as the Under-Secretary concerned, I rather doubted whether the progress of events would have been materially affected. How exactly such proliferation of correspondence can be checked, I would not profess to know. The Foreign Office ought to take this into 879 serious account when considering the Berrill Report as a whole.
Of the three major options regarding the reorganisation of the entire Foreign Service which are suggested, the report makes it clear that none will be chosen unless Ministers accept the report's conclusions about specialisation and inter-changeability. If I was in Government I do not think, partly for the reasons I have already given, I would accept these conclusions in a general way. But if they should be accepted by the Government, I should imagine option "A"—that is, more interchange between the Home Civil Service and the Diplomatic Service—would be preferable to options at "B" or "C".
The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, made a considerable point about the difficulty of a head of mission attempting to co-ordinate the views of all kinds of experts in various spheres in which he would not have specialised knowledge. That reminds me of a story which may have a little bearing on this issue. When I was concerned with the affairs of the SOE at the beginning of the war, we had difficulty in getting our agents through the barrage to be dropped in France. We therefore resolved to consult the head of the anti-aircraft command in Uxbridge to ask his advice. He was a very bright soldier called Sir Frederick Pile. In private life he was Master of the Galway Blazers. He was a great fox hunter. In the course of lunch, I said to him: "General, you have great specialists and scientists on your staff and quite often I imagine they give you contradictory, even perhaps incomprehensible, advice. What do you do?" He replied, "My dear chap, that is quite easy. I tell them by their cry"! In other words, he knew instinctively what person to trust, one expert compared with another. I do not suggest that our diplomats would be exactly the same as Sir Frederick Pile, the Master of the Galway Blazers, but I do think that what is wanted is somebody with a great deal of personality and common sense. I hope that in the future our heads of missions abroad will consist of people of that calibre.
I have two further thoughts. Years ago in the thirties, when I was Second Secretary, there were in the embassy in 880 Rome and in Paris two absolutely indispensable Press attaches: William McClure and Charles Mendle. They had been there for years and were not, I think, formally members of the service. Anyhow, there was no question of transferring them anywhere else. Being practically permanent residents of the capital, they had acquired a profound knowledge of the "goings-on" in both political and social circles which I can assure you, my Lords, was of the utmost value to any ambassador. Today, as I see it, although I might be wrong, the Press attache or his equivalent in any capital is normally transferred after two or three years—that is, just when he has mastered his job—to some totally different job thousands of miles away. I cannot see why we should not revert to the previous and far preferable system of having permanent or semi-permanent Press officers—they need not be called that—in at least the more important capitals.
My second thought is perhaps a more contentious one. A good deal of existing criticism of the Foreign Service is based on the belief that members are largely recruited from an upper-middle class section of our society, and disproportionately from Oxbridge. The point is that, as diplomats, they are still regarded as privileged persons who get on largely by their undue possession of social graces or even by having means of their own. I do not say the belief that such people form the majority of the Foreign Service is statistically justified, but I am sure it is widely held. This is quite unfair because the efficiency of a diplomatist, which after all serves the whole country well when it is a question of getting our national point of view across to foreigners who may not be inclined to love us, depends very largely on what used to be called a good education and agreeable manners, to say nothing of a natural ability to pick up the local language. So the rougher and tougher members of our society should not object to our diplomats being drawn, as often as not, from a certain section of our society which will no doubt disappear over the years as our education becomes more and more comprehensive. After all, this fact—if it is a fact—does not mean that the nation as a whole suffers thereby. On the contrary, it is a gainer.
881 I turn, in conclusion, to overseas students. The report criticises the British Council in the care and attention it lavishes on what it calls a "small proportion" of overseas students—presumably officially sponsored students. However, if this, on the face of it, very productive work were handed over, as is suggested, to the Ministry of Overseas Development, the Department of Education and Science or some new official body, still worse, if they were handed over to nobody, the future of these students would be pretty dim. I believe I am right in saying that the last circular of the Department of Education and Science on welfare for overseas students was issued in 1963. To hand them over to voluntary agencies such as my own United Kingdom Council for Overseas Student Affairs could be a solution, but obviously it would be impossible to do that without a very considerable and comparable injection of finance and adequate staff. In any case, the British Council's recent efforts to co-operate with voluntary agencies would, in the nature of things, be difficult to sustain if the British Council were replaced by regular civil servants.
Abroad, the future of overseas students would be even dimmer if the recommendations of the report were adopted. It must be remembered that a British Council overseas office is at present the only place where overseas students can inquire about the possibilities of study in the United Kingdom. For those who do, the British Council produces a unique—I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, would agree here—and admirable handbook called Higher Education in the United Kingdom, which is a kind of bible for the student, though of course it requires careful and expert interpretation which only the Council can provide. Besides, students are normally tested by the Council for proficiency in English. It is interesting to note that the British Council is now issuing a new test and is prepared to apply that test to any student referred to it by a teaching institution in the United Kingdom. It will also help with inquiries, which it was previously prepared to do only in respect of sponsored students. If the British Council were abolished, it would take years to build up any equivalent machine inside British embassies, and when, and if, it was established, it would 882 almost certainly be less effective and popular because of its more official approach. Students simply do not want to get mixed up in any official apparatus if they can help it. There is also the ever-present danger that if the British Council is unable to act as a buffer, as it were, nepotism and political wangling will get the upper hand. In other words, it would seem to be counter-productive, to say the least, to penalise overseas students in the way that is apparently suggested.
A final word, my Lords. The same applies to many para-statal organisations. I need only instance TETOC, the little group which provides technical education and training in overseas countries and which is at present happily ensconced in the Ministry of Overseas Development, though it is itself largely autonomous. TETOC, which operates on a small budget of £600,000 a year, has an almost indispensable function in placing people from the developing countries for training in this country, whether in industry, in agriculture or in teacher training colleges. The necessary funds come out of the Aid Budget of the Ministry of Overseas Development. Incidentally, that is one of the best possible ways of administering aid that can possibly he imagined. What would be the point in breaking it up or, still worse, abolishing it, I really cannot imagine. I can only suppose that this particular proposal will be disregarded on the grounds of its inherent absurdity.
I have said why I believe that, generally speaking, a good many of the recommendations of the Berrill Report are quite misguided; and, from what I have read so far in the way of criticism in the Press, I imagine that this view will, broadly speaking, be reflected in the speeches of your Lordships tonight. At the same time, I feel that there are certain "nuggets", if I may call them that, which might profitably be extracted from it and no doubt the Government will eventually tell us what, in their opinion, those nuggets are.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ Lord SAINT BRIDES
My Lords, as a maiden speaker on these controversial matters, I shall try to be non-controversial 883 within reason. As we all know, this is the third major inquiry into the operation of the Diplomatic Service that has been set on foot within 13 years. That is a fairly high degree of frequency for such fundamental reviews, as they have all been. But the Think Tank Report is the first review ever staged whose task it has been to look at all aspects, taken together, of British overseas official representation, and not just of the Diplomatic Service. In itself, that must clearly be right and welcome.
It follows that the authors of the report were to a considerable extent charting fresh territory. They have produced a remarkably detailed and comprehensive survey. In the course of their analysis they have certainly hit some nails on the head. For example, it is emphatically true that a major effort ought to be made to provide better facilities and better Government briefing for overseas journalists in London, whose reporting so often determines the image which the media in their home countries present of the United Kingdom. No single step could give our overseas missions—in their task of presenting a balanced picture of Britain—more help than this one would.
There are other details which the report has got wrong. For example—to take a rather homely one—we all know that to eat out is considerably more expensive than entertaining at home. This is no less true in foreign countries than it is in Britain. In a good many capital cities the cost of eating in restaurants is fabulous. The much reduced funds recommended by the Think Tank for expenditure on diplomatic entertainment in future would very soon he absorbed, and in a much less cost-effective way, if, as is suggested, most of the diplomatic entertainment which is now done "at home" were switched to restaurants.
The report also stresses what it evidently sees as the undue burden which is placed on British diplomatic wives by "home entertaining". But the FCO wives who feel like this are, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, indeed very few. In my experience, most of them welcome the close contact which home diplomatic entertaining gives them with their husband's work, and the opportunity which within reason it also gives them of playing a part as an acknowledged member of a two-person, husband-and-wife team in the 884 general diplomatic work of the mission. That is so even though our wives receive no monetary reward, as they probably should, and perhaps one day will.
There are many other specific matters in the report on which I could comment, but instead I would prefer to offer a few brief general remarks about the recommendations made in the report, and about the philosophy which evidently lies behind them. Certain recommendations strike me as sensible; I have mentioned one already. Others—and here I agree with the criticisms made by several previous speakers—seem to me to be unrealistic, unjustified and certainly not flowing from the analysis which the report contains. Furthermore, it seems to me that some of the major ones are based on an underlying pessimism which was fashionable a year or so ago, but which, thank goodness! seems to me already beginning to fade and to be replaced by a more hopeful and realistic approach.
Like 18th century doctors, the "Think Tankers", as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, called them, are great believers in bleeding, and bleeding heavily. But even 18th century doctors took into account before they bled a patient how much blood he had already lost. As a former head of mission in three countries of importance to Britain—Pakistan, India and Australia—I know how firmly the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have for years past set their faces against that all-too-tempting trend which besets all human enterprises, namely, the trend towards a steady and remorseless proliferation of staff. Your Lordships know what is meant by Parkinson's Law; but the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is that almost unique body, an anti-Parkinsonian Department. It has managed not merely to contain the size of the Diplomatic Service, which includes the bulk of its own staff, but to reduce it by 14 per cent., or nearly one-seventh, in the last 12 years. That is a solid and commendable achievement. It has been brought about thanks to the apparatus of self-criticism which the Department has set up: the FCO Inspectorate. This special section of the Office keeps the whole expense, both in money and manpower, of the Diplomatic Service and of the FCO under continuous and critical review. It has done a shrewd and pertinacious job over the years, as I know from personal 885 experience. In its field I believe it to be second to none for judicious and selective efficiency, whether in Britain or in any other country.
You can quantify, as I have just done, such useful departmental attributes as sustained and successful vigilance in regard to the use of man- and woman-power. But what is, in the nature of things, impossible to quantify is the usefulness to Britain of the high degree of international esteem which has been earned by those three institutions, the Diplomatic Service, the British Council and the External Services of the BBC, which the CPRS propose to transform, to truncate or to abolish. As noble Lords who have already spoken in the debate have all stressed, these three agencies, taken together, represent a valuable and effective instrument which is the envy of many other countries and Governments, and which it would be most unwise of us to dismantle, unless we were quite sure that what we were putting in its place would work better. The Think Tank report has left me totally unconvinced that the alternatives which its authors propound would work better.
As the report recognises, the efficacy and success of all three of these agencies as they stand is undoubted. But the report says, in effect, that it is a success, an efficacy, which Britain no longer needs because we have become, and are bound to remain, too poor to play the international rôle which we used to play. But what if the reverse were true? To my mind, a country which can no longer achieve all its ends by sheer weight of military and economic power needs to put more, not less, effort into the protection of its interests by other means. Britain's position in the international community has certainly changed since 1945. But the means of maintaining and developing influence in the world have changed, too. They have become less palpable. They require more intellectual and imaginative effort, and less brute force. In the new, much more open, situation which has resulted, we can more than hold our own if we wish, and provided that we continue to manifest a will to excellence and the desire to compete, and if possible to lead, which goes with it.
Given the wealth of human talent and originality that exists in this country, we 886 have much still to do in the world, and it is not least with the help of such proven instruments of communication and dissemination as the BBC, the British Council and the Diplomatic Service, as they now stand, that we can do it, provided that as a country we have the vision and good sense to use them as we could, and to give them the backing which they need. In my submission, it is not less excellence that we need in our contacts with other countries, but more and better ideas of where we want to go as a nation and how to get there. I am certain that the opportunities are there for us to grasp, if we can grasp them. To do so naturally requires imagination and will power.
Ultimately, the question raised by this report seems to me to be this. Should we take counsel of our fears for the future, and scale down our efforts overseas and representation overseas proportionately, or should we rather keep in being the excellence which we have built up, but use it even more purposefully and imaginatively; or, in other words, take counsel of our hopes? My Lords, I believe that to take counsel of our hopes will on this occasion, as on others in our long history, prove to be much the sounder course.
§ 4.34 p.m.
Lord HOME of the HIRSEL
My Lords, during myyears in this House, I have often had the opportunity to follow a noble Lord who has made his speech in this place for the first time, but it is a very particular pleasure for me to follow the noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides. For many years, he and I were partners in the old Commonwealth Relations Office, and then in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, although I am bound to say that his job has been less subject to arbitrary interruption than mine. Nevertheless, I and my noble friend Lord Carrington have seen Lord Saint Brides in action as High Commissioner in India and as High Commissioner in Australia, and we have seen him in the Office at home. Everywhere he has carried out his task with rare distinction, and has always been recognised as the right man in the right place at the right time. His interventions in our debates will always be timely.
I do not like to speak in a debate if I cannot be present at the finish, and I must immediately apologise to the noble Lord, 887 Lord Goronwy-Roberts—I hope he will forgive me—but I have an engagement tonight which I cannot break. But I felt that I must say one or two very short words in this debate and, in deference to your Lordships who will sit through the night, I should like to make the points as briefly as I can.
Let me say at once that this voluminous report gives a coldly brilliant analysis of the mechanics of the Oveseas Services and the statistics of the expense account. It is, for those reasons alone, well worth reading. But, in this case, I cannot see how the conclusions follow from the analaysis which the authors have made. Of course, there are some good things in this report. There is too much paper in Whitehall, and too much paper in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I remember that, the last time I went to that Office, I directed that the number of telegrams should be cut, and in two years we managed to cut the telegrams to and from the Office by 14 per cent. There is more to be done in that direction. I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, as to the benefits of the interchange of personnel between the different Departments. But there is too much in this report that is right off beam, and I should like to make four criticisms.
The Overseas Service of the BBC is accepted far and wide as the most objective presentation of world events that is available. It is heard widely. It is heard in the Soviet Union, in Eastern Europe, in the Middle East and, as the noble Lord said, in Africa. It is a British asset which should not be put at risk by paring and pinching. Indeed, an increase in its budget would be a good investment.
Secondly, there is the English language, a subject touched on by my noble friend Lord Eccles. The English language is already the language of science and technology and it can remain so, but only if it is taught to people overseas. If, as my noble friend said, the young generation overseas can speak it and read it and think in it, then a high dividend will be returned to this country. The British Council is more acceptable overseas than any British agency more directly associated with the British Government, and I can endorse from first-hand experience everything that my noble friend Lord 888 Ballantrae has said, and the conclusions which he drew.
Thirdly, it is impossible to lay down an arbitrary pattern of first-, second- and third-class embassies which will hold over the years. The only sensible way, so often do the situations of various countries change, is to maintain a continuing review and adapt the foreign representation according to the needs.
Again, may I stress the function of an ambassador and of his staff in relation to the economic policy of this country. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, must be right. Industrialists do not want to be told their own business because they know it already; they want political information about the country in which they are going to operate, and my experience is that ambassadors and their staff provide that information faithfully.
Fourthly, to ask or compel ambassadors to offer hospitality below the standard offered by their diplomatic neighbours is a false economy. If we act as a poor relation, we shall be treated as one. In their search for efficiency, the authors of the Policy Review seem to have forgotten that hospitality is not always something which people like but that half the good relations and mutual confidence aroused nevertheless comes from the entertainment which is given at home and "out of school". And long may it be so.
Finally, may I turn to the amalgamation of the Home and the Foreign Services. When young men consider their careers in the Civil Service I believe that they divide themselves into two kinds: those who see themselves, for a multitude of domestic and other reasons, suited to life in this country and who wish to make their career in Britain, and those (the smaller number) who feel the call, despite all its inconveniences for home life, to serve overseas, for the main part of their lives if necessary, and to accept all the attendant risks. For them it is a kind of vocation. They are, as one of your Lordships said just now, a different kind of animal. I believe that we should lose a great deal if we compelled those who choose a home career and those who choose a foreign career to amalgamate into one Service. So let us keep a Foreign Service which is highly trained and efficient. We cannot then go far wrong.
This document—and, like other speakers, I regret the criticism, though I am 889 bound to say that the authors have asked for it—is a charter for pessimism and defeatism. I trust that the Foreign Secretary will not accept the recommendations which it contains and which have received so much just criticism this afternoon. The report is introspective, which is the last thing, in our present situation, that this country ought to be. I hope that the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, and his successors in that office, will have confidence in himself and in his ambassadors. That was the advice given by my noble friend Lord Eccles, and I trust that it will be taken by the Government.
§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Lord FULTON
My Lords, I should like to associate myself with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, about the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides. The noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, was in a much better position than I to pay tribute to the career which has been pursued by the noble Lord who has made his maiden speech today. I have been subjected to the rather more solemn thought that I was a don at the college at which he was an undergraduate at the time when he was an undergraduate, and it is a sobering moment for that don when the former pupil enters the House of Lords on retirement from his career. Like all good undergraduates, he was not an easy undergraduate and, again like all good undergraduates, he had a mind of his own. The quality of that mind was demonstrated by the career which he followed, and I am sure that it will decorate our future debates. I hope that we shall hear a great deal from the noble Lord.
I wish that the fortune of the draw had allowed me to speak after the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, because we are all expecting a great deal from him, not only in the light of his wide political experience but also because of his unique qualification to speak to us as an ex-Commissioner of the EEC. I have to confess that it would have been a very happy coincidence if I had been able to congratulate him on his maiden speech, because when he joined your Lordships' House he took his territorial title from the village in Angus in which I was born.
890 My reason for seeking briefly to address your Lordships in today's debate is that for many years I have been closely associated with the work of the Inter-University Council for Higher Education Overseas—and was for a period its chairman. I wish that my predecessor in the chairmanship, the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Grasmere, who is sitting behind me on these Benches, were speaking instead of me. He was involved from the start of the IUC just after the war and led it with great distinction and flair through its most creative and adventurous times. Notably, he made sure, as chairman, because of the respect he enjoyed from a number of kindred spirits in the United States—in the influential circles of the great foundations as well as among the universities—that the universities of the United Kingdom and of North America would bring aid to African higher education, not in damaging rivalry but in constructive partnership.
The Inter-University Council occupies only a small part of the Report by the Central Policy Review Staff, but the authors of the report—which was, as I understand the position, drawn up without seeking a submission of the views of the officers of the Inter-University Council—make proposals about the Council's future which would, if implemented, have wide and, I believe, damaging effects upon the established habits of co-operation between the universities of this country and those in the developing world.
These are the universities in the former colonial territories which have been founded since the war with a large infusion of capital from the United Kingdom Exchequer. They teach through the medium of English. They were staffed, particularly at the start, largely by teachers from our universities. Out of the association there have grown special relationships between their universities and ours, providing for the recruitment, through the IUC, of United Kingdom expatriate staff. I may say that the latest estimate of which I have knowledge is that approaching 10,000 have been so appointed. That figure would not be far out, and it should be said that in the English-speaking world this contribution dwarfs what has been done by any other country. Apart from staff recruitment, there have been departmental and subject-alliances in research and teaching and 891 arrangements for training postgraduates and technicians to man the laboratories of the emerging universities.
None of these activities involved mere routine, formal run-of-the-mill arrangements. In recruitment, there have been interviewing boards to be set up. The choice of members has to be based on an intimate knowledge of the subject and of the resources of the United Kingdom universities—and, in many cases, skilful exploration of our own home resources of scholarship and teaching to make sure that candidates came forward with the qualities necessary for service in the universities overseas.
After the end of the war, the Government of the day decided to accept the findings of the Asquith Commission and to set up university colleges in United Kingdom colonial territories in Africa, South-East Asia and the Caribbean, thereby to give what has been called "the best possible present" to a country about to become independent. It was not by accident or in absence of mind that the Government also asked the home universities to set up a representative body to undertake the responsibility of recruitment and generally to act as godparents who could be relied upon to merge that relationship into the kind of equality which subsists between mature universities.
There are now 45 such universities in 24 countries of the developing world. They differ widely not only in age but also in the style of their individual development: so much so that it can hardly justly be said that they have not freedom to go their own ways as they have responded to the multiplicity of demands pressed upon them for teaching the young people needed for the professional and other services of their countries, for research, for knowledge and expertise and information; for raising above existing horizons the cultural and intellectual sights of their fellow citizens.
Of course, what has been achieved could not have been possible without the provision by the Government of the United Kingdom of finance in the form of overseas aid; but the universities have also made substantial contributions from their own resources—for example, the seconding of staff from this country, research links, involvement in training schemes for indigenous junior staff and technicians. 892 It is right to mention also that over the years a large contribution has come from the voluntary services of members of university staffs who, without remuneration, have foregone vacations and sabbatical leave to help in establishing and building up departments in the overseas universities.
All this has not escaped the eyes of the critics and no doubt, like much of human history, a great deal would be done differently if it were to be done over again. Yet there remains a uniquely successful relationship between our own universities in their rich diversity and those in English-speaking Africa, South-East Asia and the Caribbean. Above all, the fact that it works outside the direct control of our Government has given confidence to the overseas universities and Governments as well as evoking the admiration and envy of other university systems not so well placed in this respect as our own.
It is proposed in the report that we are debating today that the Inter-University Council should either be absorbed in the Government Department dealing with overseas aid or that it should become part of the British Council. It has to be said that both proposals meet with the strongest opposition from our own universities and from the overseas universities and, so far as this has been publicly expressed, from the overseas Governments concerned. To side with that opposition, as I do, is not to deny the great and enduring advantages that have followed the establishment of a Ministry which has fought for and co-ordinated the amount and distribution of our overseas aid, or the lasting achievements of the British Council (of which I was also, like the noble Lord to whom we are indebted for opening this debate, once the chairman) in projecting our cultural heritage, in the teaching of English all over the world as a second language and in the special and most valuable relationship it has built up with the Indian sub-continent. But the fact remains that the Inter-University Council is a different animal from either: their purpose, their authority, their organisation and their scale derive from a different mould and those fundamental differences cannot be ignored.
In reading the report, I find myself somewhat at a loss to discover what picture it wishes us to have of the future. I 893 hope we would agree that we should not allow the picture to be determined alone by what appears to be administrative convenience: such as, for example, the absorption of the smaller by the larger unit, whatever the difference in function. When the United Kingdom Government decided that universities were to be founded in the Colonial territories to prepare for the coming of independence it was by implication committing this country to the expenditure of a lot of money, even by the standards of 30 years ago. And it turned deliberately to the United Kingdom universities to seek their help and advice. Our universities were not possessed of great wealth: in co-operation with the Governments of this country over a long period, they had devised means of determining priorities and enjoyed a good reputation for making resources go a long way in both their roles of teaching and of research.
So it was natural that their knowledge, experience and judgment, were drawn from a great variety of experience: there was Oxbridge, the medieval universities of Scotland, the metropolitan University of London, the national University of Wales, the great civic universities of the North, the regional universities of this country and the technological recruits of the post-war period. All that experience was ready to be invoked and it is both reassuring and gratifying that after three decades overseas countries and overseas universities should still want, now that it is largely their own money that is to be spent, to turn to the United Kingdom universities for counsel and for help. I can say that that is so from fairly recent experience.
In the last month I have had the privilege of spending two weeks in Nigeria at the invitation of one university to give foundation lectures upon its establishment; and I was also invited by the National Universities Commission to spend some time in Lagos with those who are planning the whole university sector of Nigerian education. There I met the most senior political leadership as well as those who are organising higher education. By coincidence I followed that with a visit to a conference at The Hague last week and there the two most outstanding speeches were made by the vice-chancellor 894 of the University of Guyana and an ex-vice-chancellor—now a Minister—in the Sudan who claimed that they would always feel that it was to this country they would turn for advice and help in the development of their own universities.
These overseas universities, particulary in countries like Nigeria, have programmes which are ambitious and, at the same time, daunting. Although they will welcome help from other sources, it is most probably to our universities that they will continue to turn, and perhaps their judgment is not altogether different from that of the United Kingdom Government in 1947. They will have to make their money go as far as possible, for the claims on it are many and insistent. In that respect, in their search for co-operation and advice they have a sound instinct, for what I have said of them can well be said of this country, too. But I think it is clear beyond doubt that they want their advice and consultation to come straight and direct from the universities to them from its source, not mediated through the administration or the arrangements of other bodies with different objectives and purposes from the universities themselves.
In conclusion, it seems to me important to emphasise this point: the lot of the English-speaking universities in Africa, in South-East Asia and in the Caribbean is the common one; they are not in the position of the wealthy Middle East countries who will be able to pay for what they want on a much more lavish scale and who will be able to turn to the most convenient though expensive consultancy services to get it. Theirs is the exceptional case, as I see it. For the Third World as a whole, and certainly for the English-speaking part of it, the United Kingdom universities are now, and are likely to remain, a chief source of advice and help. Our universities remain available through the IUC, as it is at present organised, to give help efficiently, both in terms of cost and of the rich diversity of educational experience and ideas which they have to offer, and the IUC should, therefore, be encouraged to continue as the channel for that advice and help.
I believe, in conclusion, that many members of our universities at different stages in their lives will continue to undertake service of some kind overseas and thus to help forward the progress of universities in the developing countries; and I am 895 sure that they will return to share, in our universities and throughout our society, the insights they have gained by that means into the forces that will do much to shape the coming century.
§ 5.2 p.m.
§ Lord THOMSON of MONIFIETH
My Lords, I claim the customary indulgence of the House towards a maiden speaker. I suppose it may be wondered whether someone who has spent 20 years of his life in another place and four years in Brussels has any maidenly qualities left, but I assure your Lordships that I feel all the necessary maidenly tremors at addressing your Lordships' House for the first time. I am, however, reassured by the occasion of it, because I started my electoral political career pursing the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, round an election campaign in Galloway in 1945, heckling him, apparently so agreeably that he eventually gave me a lift from one meeting to another! I am therefore particularly pleased that on the first occasion that I have the privilege of addressing this House it should be in support of the noble Lord.
I rise briefly to make three points. First of all, having listened to the course of the debate, my instinctive sympathy for the underdog is beginning to be aroused and I feel inclined to begin with a modest appeal for the establishment of a society for the prevention of cruelty to the Think Tank. Certainly I should like to issue a note of warning about the danger of overreacting to the ideas that have been put out in the Berrill Report. Secondly, and more importantly, I want to dissent from the central recommendation of the report about the marrying of the Home Civil Service and the Diplomatic Service. Thirdly, I want finally to complain that the report is not radical enough, in my view, about some of the reforms that are needed in terms of our diplomatic arrangements now that we are members of the European Economic Community.
On the first point, I found during my period as a Minister in the Foreign and Commonwealth Offices, where I went through a number of public expenditure reviews and also the process of the Duncan Report, that there was a certain temptation, a certain instinctive reaction, to feel that such estimable institutions as the Diplomatic 896 Service, the BBC External Services and the British Council were too sacrosanct to be interfered with by laymen from outside. And this time I think there is a feeling that above all for a laywoman from the London School of Economics to start doing this is very close to lêse majesté. I think myself that the Berrill Report should be regarded as a useful piece of shock therapy, compelling those who are engaged in our overseas effort to see themselves as some at least of the post-Imperial generation in this country see them. Britain's rôle is changing in a world which is changing, and in a world where public opinion is changing about many established institutions. Clearly our overseas representation must find the most effective means of adjusting to these changes.
I personally, as I will explain, think that the central recommendations of the Berrill Report are mistaken, but I do not think that that should obscure that there are in the report some sensible proposals of detail. I personally think that the proposal to cut down on the size of the defence establishment in Washington is overdue, as indeed are some of the changes suggested for defence attachés. I would also support the recommendation for reducing the consular services to British citizens in difficulties in Western Europe, though I warn my noble friend the Minister that if that recommendation is to be accepted the Foreign and Commonwealth Office must be ready to be robust about Parliamentary Questions. I have noticed that some of those who are keenest about cutting back on our overseas services are those who are loudest in asking the embassy to drop everything else when one of their constituents gets into trouble.
Finally, on the report's comments on the BBC, I thought that was a classic example of what the noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides (whom I am so glad to follow with a maiden speech) described as an analysis that was followed by utterly wrong conclusions. As I understood the analysis, the report is pointing out what I have often complained of, that the BBC External Services have been suffering increasingly from inaudibility. It really is a major problem if you have an excellent broadcasting service that cannot be heard. The conclusion I would have drawn from this is that the Think Tank should have been urging Parliament and Government 897 and public opinion to produce the necessary sums of money to enable the broadcasting services to be properly heard throughout the world.
It is the report's central thesis I wish to challenge. Perhaps I may quote from page 359 of the report itself:The crucial judgments are the ones about specialisation and about the need for interchange between staff working in the UK and staff working overseas. They underlie many of the recommendations elsewhere in this report.If Ministers do not accept these judgments, there is no case for major institutional change. All that will be needed will be to adjust the size of the Diplomatic Service to take account of such of the recommendations in this report as are accepted and to get its structure right".I think it must be said of Sir Kenneth Berrill and his colleagues that the issue could not have been put more clearly or fairly. I personally do not believe that the Ministers should accept these judgments, and, therefore, I think Ministers should in fact follow the advice given in the second part of the paragraph I have just quoted.
I say this because I believe that both the concept of specialisation and also the concept of interchange between the Home Civil Service and the Diplomatic Service on the scale proposed and in the way proposed are impracticable for the wide range of diplomatic posts outside Brussels and Washington. I perhaps ought to put in a qualifying sentence that I am of course strongly in favour of an appropriate interchange between the Home Civil Service and the Foreign Service, but I think what is proposed here is quite unrealistic.
This was brought home vividly to me during a visit I paid recently to a score of Commonwealth capitals in connection with the preparations for the recent Commonwealth Prime Ministers' Meeting. It came to me there that the real specialisation that is needed for those representing us overseas is the ability to get on with foreigners, the ability to understand with imaginative sympathy the country that they are assigned to, and to adapt themselves with patience and imagination to the many problems of living there. That is a professional specialisation as much as any other, and a very important one.
I do not think that the review team really faced up to the necessity for a real sense of commitment, what the noble 898 Lord, Lord Home, called a sense of vocation, for the kind of work that is involved in overseas representation as a professional career. We live in a world of kidnappings of diplomats; diplomacy is as dangerous now as it was a couple of centuries ago. As I went around I went from one post to another that had been the scene of riots and problems over recent years. I had an agreeable lunch in one of our embassies where, on the last occasion I was there, there was a howling mob outside, and a gentleman who had an intriguing placard saying, "We will disembowel Thomson and hang him by his intestines". To devote one's life to surroundings and difficulties of that kind, because the politician goes in and out, requires a real sense of dedication. It requires also, in that category, of embassy a closely-knit team sharing the same background of common service and ready to do each other's job—the very reverse of the kind of specialisation talked about in the report.
I simply do not believe that the kind of specialisation mentioned in the report would work. Nor would a merger of the Diplomatic Service and the Home Civil Service in a Foreign Service Group work. During the years that I was in Brussels I found it extremely difficult to persuade able home civil servants to make the enormously long journey from London to Brussels, uprooting themselves from the departments at home, facing problems about career prospects and the education of their children. I must add in this connection that my experience, both as a Minister from time to time in the Foreign and Commonwealth Offices and more lately as a Commissioner in the European Community, has been such as to give me immense respect for the generalists inside the Diplomatic Service. Again and again I have seen those people in the Diplomatic Service mastering difficult economic briefs and emerging from their period of duty as experts in that particular subject. I have seen them turn themselves into first-rate trade promotion people and first-rate information specialists.
I come to my third point. I am rather disappointed at the lack of comprehensive reappraisal about the diplomatic arrangements in Community Europe now that we are Members. The report clearly recognises right at the beginning that our membership of the European Community 899 is central now to British foreign policy, and that indeed our best prospect of influencing world events is through the European Community. However, the report does not, in my view, seem to follow through that thought. In some of its recommendations it would actually reduce Britain's contribution to making the European Community an effective vehicle of influence in the world.
I was much struck, from my period in Brussels, that Britain's most important embassy is that new unconventional mission—the United Kingdom representation to the Communities. It affects our daily lives here in this country and the future of our children in a way that is quite different from even the greatest of the conventional embassies, such as Washington.
Over in Brussels we have a mini-Whitehall. It is a good team and here, of course, the role of the Home Civil Service is vital. In my view their role in Brussels would not be helped by making those people part of the kind of Foreign Service Group that the Berrill Report proposes. Their importance lies in the fact that they remain part of their home departments.
I do not agree with what the report says on page 51, namely, that there should be room for reducing numbers in the United Kingdom delegation to the European Community. It is argued that it should be possible to bring the numbers of that mission down to broadly the size of Bonn or Paris. Despite London's nearness to Brussels, there is no substitute for resident experts getting to know intimately their opposite numbers. The implications of the statement that the representation in the Community should not be bigger than that of Bonn or Paris reveal a disturbing misapprehension about the new sort of situation that we are in as regards our diplomatic effort within the European Community.
What has decreased—and I think that it will go on decreasing—with the growth of our Community involvement is the importance of the role of the historic embassies in the national capitals of the Community. Their trade and promotion work remain important and they do it extremely well. However, the traditional bilateral diplomacy is changing and 900 increasingly what is done in the national capitals seems to me to be an aspect of the United Kingdom's overall Community strategy with which it must be continually integrated. I should have liked to see the ideas of the Review team on that aspect. I think that there is a case for gradually adapting and reducing—it would need to be done with the agreement of our partners in the Community—the traditional pattern of representation at national level in some of the Community capitals. I should like to see some of these great and famous embassies used not as the final glittering prize for someone at the end of a distinguished diplomatic career, but for some of the flyers in mid-diplomatic career now that we are part of the European Community.
The other point I should like to make in this respect is that I think the report's proposals about the British Council and the BBC in respect of Community Europe are inconsistent with the view that that is now the centrepiece of our possibility of influencing world events. There is a deep need to seek to convert the European Community from being a Community of Ministers, officials, business leaders and trade union leaders into a citizens' Community with a real sense of being European as well as being British, French or German. If we are to bring that about over the longer term nothing is more important than the kind of work that I saw the British Council do in Brussels, or the kind of imaginative proposal that the BBC has been making and taking the lead in for a Euro-radio programme. It is a pity that almost the one thing where we appear, as a country, to be ready to take a lead in Europe is the one thing that the Berrill Report appears to want to strangle before it is even born.
To sum up. I think that the Review Group is right in seeking to establish the substantial structural changes necessary to adapt to a changing world. However, I believe, along with other noble Lords who have spoken, that they have made a fundamental mistake by over-identifying power with influence. As power passes influence lingers. Our relative power has certainly diminished, but our influence remains significant and worthwhile in many parts of the world. if we have the wisdom and self-confidence to make the most of it.
901 We have heard about the omission from the report of our invisible earnings. One of our audible assets, as the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, said, is the English language. That is a great asset in terms of future British influence in the world.
When historical trends have relegated a country to the second league internationally, that is the very time when there is need for our overseas representations to remain determined to stay in the first league, of professional diplomacy. I do not mean this in terms of money—I think that money is the least of the problems here; we are talking about expenditure that is half of 1 per cent. of the public expenditure of this country—but in terms of effectiveness and professional excellence. To believe that is not to display illusions of grandeur. As the noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides, said, that is in fact, the realistic view of making the best of Britain's resources in the modern world. Britain has still great influence to bring to bear through the European Community, with the United States and with the Third World. I think that our influence through the Commonwealth relationship remains extremely important. Therefore, I hope that when Her Majesty's Government come to take their decisions on these matters they will recognise that this is the realistic way to make the most of Britain's role in the decades that lie ahead of us.
§ 5.19 p.m.
§ Lord GOODMAN
My Lords, it is a matter of great satisfaction to me that a wild rush across the South of England has enabled me to arrive in time to hear most of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. I congratulate him on what was obviously a masterly speech and I would regard it as all the more masterly if there was not a word he said with which I did not agree. We should regard ourselves as exceptionally fortunate to have acquired as a Member of this House someone of his distinction. It would be wrong if the first speaker after he sat down did not express his own appreciation of the noble Lord's efforts and immense contribution to our entry into the Common Market. That is something for which we can all be profoundly grateful.
902 May I say that I did not dash across England in the egotistical belief that I had something of such profound interest to utter that it was necessary for me to risk my life doing so. Nor do I wish to inflict upon noble Lords, as they are confronted with a considerable number of speeches, any observations that I can avoid making. However, I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, who initiated this debate, to speak and there are one or two things which it would be remiss of me not to say, particularly as I am the deputy chairman of the British Council and thus have an interest which I must at once disclose.
First, I must say how indebted we must be to the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, for having made this debate possible, and how indebted those of us who have been on the Council for some years, as I have, are to him for his discharge of the duties of chairmanship. He brought a quality of élan, vigour and initiative to it that could have been brought only by an Army scholar of his character. I do not know anyone of the same type. It is rare to find generals who write poetry; it is rare to find poets who become generals. In himself he combines those two attributes which were of enormous value to the Council, and he has left his mark on the Council in a fashion which I think will survive for years. I do not wish to embarrass him—I will desist now as I see him turning round—but it is exceptionally fortunate that the Council has been able to procure as his successor a man of very remarkable distinction who can proceed along the lines that he has set with a sure foot and in the certainty that he will discharge those duties to everyone's total satisfaction.
Having said that, perhaps I might be permitted to add this. I do not join with those who have poured a torrent of abuse, scorn and sarcasm on this report. That is wrong. The British Council's approach to this report has, I believe, been a wholly responsible one. It has not engaged in invective or denunciation. As noble Lords will observe, the report offers it two alternatives. One is total abolition and the other is a degree of retrenchment which I think would render the Council pretty useless.
I am greatly minded of a story I am fond of telling—and one noble Lord 903 present heard me tell it only in the last week—which concerns a question of choice to which this appropriately relates. It refers to the composer Rossini who was asked to listen to two pieces by a young composer who told him that he had to play one at a concert in the very near future, and he would be most obliged if Rossini would tell him which was the best. Being a kindly man, Rossini listened to the first piece and said, "Do not bother to play the second, I prefer it". I believe that that little anecdote applies admirably to the choices with which we are presented. If it is a question of abolition or continued survival in a state of inanition, then one prefers to continue to survive, although in my view the suggestions made in the report are inappropriate and perhaps arise from something which we should investigate—namely, the circumstances in which a report of this kind arises.
The gentleman who has prepared this report, with the assistance of some very bright fledglings—by the side of one of whom (the prettiest) I found myself sitting at dinner one night and I was almost but not quite won over to her point of view on that account—is an economist. One of the disagreeable features of the report—not disagreeable because of any misbehaviour or moral inadequacy on the part of the authors—is the anti-humanistic bias with which it is totally informed. That, of course, explains the appearance in the report of what is now a notorious sentence:The authors of this report are sceptical about the value of cultural influences in international relations".That could have been put in several ways—in very different ways. It could have been put in less positive ways. I do not believe that it would have been put that way by anyone who had a more general concern for the matters under review and did not bring a highly specialist approach to it.
It was unfair to the authors of this report not to give them more precise terms of reference. To set them loose on a matter as vast as this, involving so many implications and such a wealth of knowledge and experience, was totally unfair. Sir Kenneth is a distinguished economist. The discharge of his duties in the University Grants Committee has 904 earned him the highest praise. It would be quite wrong for one to say anything disparaging of him, but it is equally quite wrong not to recognise the limitations of the qualifications that he must bring to a matter of this sort.
I know very little about the requirements of the Diplomatic Service. From time to time, sometimes when engaged on public duty, I have enjoyed the assistance and the hospitality of ambassadors in various parts of the world. Except for one or two embassies, only one of which I visited, it would be a great nonsense to say that they are equipped and conducted with great luxury or extravagance. I recollect on one occasion being received by an embassy when I was travelling to Rhodesia and I was to be conducted from Johannesburg to Rhodesia in a motor car. I had to issue a warning the second time I went that in no circumstances would I travel in that motor car again. Equally, there was no skilled driver available and during the journey I had delicately to point out to the First Secretary, who was taking me, that we were proceeding in a southerly direction from Johannesburg and that to my rudimentary knowledge Rhodesia was in a northerly direction! Happily, he was not a man of an argumentative or obstinate disposition and he turned round and we went on our way.
What is missing from this report—the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, touched on this—is any recognition of those qualities that one needs to find in an embassy regardless of the economic conditions prevailing. One needs to find grace, elegance and wit; they need to be centres of excellence. One needs to find places where people can have conversations on the highest level, where it is recognised that well-educated, urbane human beings are conducting the nation's affairs. Nowhere in this report do I find the slightest recognition of that at all.
One point that needs to be made about the British Council—I am sure this point has already been made, but I do not think it can be made too often—is the extraordinarily rare and good quality of the people it employs. That is something that needs to be said. The British Council employs those who, on the whole, have decided that they do not find the rat race, the battle for commercial 905 advancement or material success, very attractive. They are people who have withdrawn into a job which they regard as a job capable of conferring benefits on humanity, capable of achieving public value, but where they themselves are obviously committed to a career where the material acquisitions of life are few and far between and not very lavish. That is the quality of those who work in the British Council. I have seen them in many parts of the world. They have a saneness about them in this respect which is wholly engaging.
I remember that in one country I visited the representative of the British Council had just completed an extremely erudite little book establishing that almost all the works of Holbein were not painted by Holbein. I do not think that would have made him very popular among the owners of Holbeins, but the fact remains that it is people of that type who are employed by the British Council. That a report should be published which leaves them with an uneasiness and a concern about their future, about whether their jobs are to be retained, and whether their careers are secure, is unfortunate. That is not a reason for not producing such a report. But it is a reason for considering fairly carefully the circumstances of its publication and with what statements of Government intention its publication should be associated. The fact that at present the Council has been left in total ignorance of the Government's intention is probably unavoidable, but it is—and I say this as I see the Minister present—extremely unfortunate. The sooner reassurance is given to those worthy people, the better.
As to the matters in the report to which I take particular exception, I venture to think that where a question of public support for the arts and the dissemination of culture arises, my own qualifications in this respect are not notably inferior to those of Sir Kenneth Berrill and those who have written the report. In the report I find one or two passages which pack into them such an amount of egregious nonsense that it is difficut to see how they could have been published by those who had given serious consideration to the matter and who had reflected and acquired knowledge about them.
906 One of the matters to which the authors refer is what they call—and it is not a very attractive phrase—"cultural manifestations". They say that over £2 million is expended on cultural manifestations. By that, they mean the dispatch of theatrical and operatic companies, orchestras and all the other things that we send out to persuade people that this is a civilised country—because that is what it boils down to—and to persuade people that intercourse with this country is desirable and can be valuable on every score, not least the commercial one. They make the recommendation that that £2 million should be cut by half. This a wholly unscientific recommendation. If the amount involved had been £4 million they would still have said: "Cut it by half". If it had been £1 million they would still have said: "Cut it by half", because it is the simplest thing to say and the simplest thing to recommend.
When you look at some of the recommendations it is difficult to believe that in respect of these matters (because there are many parts of the report that are extremely well informed and extremely persuasive) they have given the slightest thought. There is a suggestion that English libraries—one of the most important features of the British Council's activities—in every developed country except, I think, Russia, should be closed down. There is a recommendation that the facilities of the Council in every developed country except Russia should be closed down. Now what will the Russians think if the only country to whom we were addressing our propaganda was Russia? Could the authors have given any serious thought to this proposal? If anything would start a world war, it is the discovery by the Russians that we are concentrating all our propaganda effort on them. A lot of thought could have been given to this.
Another thing they recommend is that the libraries should be conducted and taken over by local agencies who will carry them on, replenish them, frequent them, make them available, at local expense. There is no suggestion that they have inquired in any single country which such agency is available, or whether any Government is prepared to undertake this task and provide the money. There is not a shred of evidence to show that this recommendation is supported by any valid inquiry as to the probability that it could 907 in fact be achieved. I venture to think that it would be a total impossibility. No country would undertake such a task.
I have not come to make a long speech. I have come to tell you that having been a deputy chairman—there ought to be two, but it may be that after my appointment they thought that one would suffice—of the British Council, I rate the institution highly. It is a council that has, for many years, given the most careful scrutiny to its activities. If ever there is a body that is self-critical it is that body. I would deeply deplore changes in the Council which reduced its efficiency.
I do not think there is any function of the Council that could be handed over to some other organisation with an equal degree of efficiency and without equivalent or greater cost. It is my absolute, certain conviction that the jobs that it is suggested should be passed on to other organisations, including the creation of a brand new organisation, would not reduce but would considerably increase the cost. May I invite your Lordships to give careful consideration to a careful report, but to reflect on the circumstances in which it came about, to reflect on the background of those people who prepared it, and to advise Her Majesty's Government to be extremely sceptical about the recommendations in it.
§ 5.33 p.m.
§ Lord MANCROFT
My Lords, I should also like to offer my congratulations to the two noble Lords who have addressed us for the first time today. In the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, I feel I have a proprietary interest. Some years ago a company of which I was and still am, a director invited the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, to join our board. Just as he started to make his weight felt he was unfortunately whisked away to Brussels, to our loss but to the greater gain of our interests in Brussels. Now he has left Brussels and has come to join us again, I am sure to our greater gain here.
The noble Lord, Lord Thomson, struggled hard to find something nice to say about the report but even he had his difficulties, as I have too. I will take the advice of the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and cut my speech in half—that is probably also the reason why he is only one of two 908 deputy chairmen at the British Council as well. I will concentrate on Chapter 6, which is concerned with the export services. My credentials, such as they may be, are that I have spent the last 20 years almost entirely in the export market, both in invisibles and in visibles, and of those 20 years for four years I was chairman of the American Committee of the British National Export Council. During those 20 years I have seen a great improvement in the whole of our export services, both here in Whitehall and in the posts abroad. I think they are now of a very high standard.
The report rather condescendingly talks about the need for some of the older members of the Service to be more willing to entertain a new idea. We all know people who entertain a new idea like a man entertaining his mother-in-law, but this is not, so far as I ever found, a common failing in the Foreign Service. I have found always from personal experience that they are extremely responsive to new ideas.
The point I should like to make is to find where still more help can be given by the posts and by Whitehall to firms seeking advice. It is noticeable that when you find a really good young man abroad he has inevitably done some period of service with a big company here; has served on attachment. You cannot always find commercial men who have actually sold in the market. That is a bit too difficult. But I hope that more and more firms will make it possible for our younger commercial men in the posts to come and do an attachment in their firms. It is not easy to slot them in, to find the time, but it is very worth while.
The same goes for the media. The more that young men abroad have seen how a commercial or technical newspaper deals with its day-to-day problems, the better. I would say the same, if I may with respect to noble Lords opposite, about the TUC. The more of our commercial men who know what makes a trade unionist tick—or, more often, stop ticking—the better it would be for the common interest.
There is one intriguing remark in the report which caught my eye, and that was a recommendation that there should be a Minister of State for exports. This is 909 only reviving an old idea. There was, in the twenties, a Department of Overseas Trade. This was an odd organisation because the Minister for Overseas Trade was also, at the same time, Under-Secretary of State to the Foreign Office, and a Parliamentary Secretary of State at the Board of Trade. He served three masters, which must have been a difficult thing to do. One Minister for Overseas Trade speaking later in this House made this remark:It was interesting to observe the astonishment of some of our Whitehall salesmen when a brilliant piece of commercial strategy has collapsed because a customer has not behaved in a way Whitehall thinks he ought to".That remark is particularly agreeable to me because the former Minister who made it was my own father.
There is another side to this export coin which I should now like to consider. I should like to give one or two examples where exporters can help the posts abroad and help Whitehall to make better use of the export services. A lot of exporters, of course, do. Some of them however still charge into a new theatre having made no full reconnaissance, not having told the appropriate Whitehall Department what they are up to and seeing whether Whitehall can give them some help—as invariably they can. Nor have they told the posts what they are trying to do. The posts are not able to help them until something goes wrong. We all know that time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted. I remember in Japan some years ago apologising to our ambassador for having plagued him with so many stupid questions. He looked at me kindly and said, "Stupid questions are much easier to handle than stupid mistakes".
The other thing I should like to suggest is that firms going out into new theatres must not just send the office boy. You will probably have to go three or four times, and send three or four different grades of people. But foreigners want eventually to see the head, they want to see the boss, they want to see the chairman. If you have a chairman who does not fancy himself as a salesman there is a perfectly good solution—get another chairman. Even if you do not want the help of the embassy, the consul-general, the consul, the trade posts, or whatever it may be, it is still a good thing to go and call there. 910 It is a good thing first—and the posts like it—because it is courteous to go and tip your hat to the Queen's representative, particularly in some far distant place. It is courteous also because the posts like to be brought up to date. They think it is polite for you to come and tell them what is the news of the market place here.
I remember Bishop John Ward, who died recently and who we were all so fond of in this House, telling us once of an old lady in church who always bowed when the devil's name was mentioned. He asked her afterwards why. She said, "Bishop, politeness costs nothing, and you never know when it might come in useful". So it is, I believe, that there is a need to go and call on Her Majesty's ambassador. It does something else which the ambassador will possibly mention. It raises the standing of the post in the eyes of the foreigners with whom they live if they think that that post attracts influential and important businessmen who bring the latest news from the market place. It may even raise the standing of the ambassador himself.
Three things however, must not happen. I agree that the ambassador must be commercially up to date and knowledgeable, but he must not be just a super-salesman. I also agree with noble Lords who have argued that primarily he must be a politician, assessing the political background and translating it into commercial terms. By all means let him be commercially minded, but he must not be just a super-salesman. Nor must you ever try to persuade anybody in a post to do your job for you. By all means let them prepare the way for you, find out the markets and tell you what the pitfalls are, but you yourself must do the job of selling. Nor, incidentally, must you ever ask the ambassador to act as your interpreter. We know that we English are so fond of our language that we never bother to learn anybody else's. The best way for any businessman to deal with a foreign language that he cannot speak is to speak English loudly and slowly and, when in difficulties, threaten to write a letter to The Times. But whatever happens learn to use a professional interpreter and not the ambassador.
I am worried by the implication in the report that we should cease activities in places where we are already on friendly 911 terms. I disagree with that. It is often where you are on the most friendly terms—where you have as many friends as possible who have been there a long time and who know the market well—that the worst mistakes can occur. I am certain that the trouble we have had over Concorde in America occurred largely because we were over-confident and did not take enough trouble in the early stages to foresee the difficulties.
I hope that some of the very silly proposals in this report will not detract from some of its few excellent ones. It is always the quality of the ambassador's dinner or size of his Rolls-Royce that gets the headlines, but they really are not very important matters. Anyhow, I believe that a great deal of good business is done over the dinner table; one cannot of course quantify or prove it. Noble Lords may have seen in the newspapers that Mr Paolo Contarini of the Savoy Hotel died yesterday. He was a much respected banqueting manager there for a long time and I recall that at the time of the Duncan Report, for which I gave some evidence, somebody asked Mr Contarini his views on this subject—did he really think business was actually done over the luncheon or dinner table?—and he replied, rather coldly (Sir Val Duncan told me this himself), that it was no part of the functions of the staff of the Savoy Hotel to eavesdrop on their guests at luncheon or dinner.
If you go to any of our posts overseas you will of course find something wrong somewhere. However, from the experience I have had, I have found that they give excellent service, provided that you, the merchant, help them to help you, which is a point the report might have emphasised more strongly. It is comforting to think that if you ask another diplomat at any cocktail party in your own embassy which he thinks is the best post in that particular city or country he will naturally say his own, but the number of diplomats who will frequently admit that the British post is the second best are paying us an unrealised but well deserved compliment.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Lord WEIDENFELD
My Lords, I, too, wish to begin by paying tribute to 912 the two maiden speakers. Lord Saint Brides succeeded in being fair, balanced and uplifting and his speech was set in a major key. I enjoyed his hospitality when he was High Commissioner in New Delhi, which was generous, distinguished and by no means extravagant in some of the terms of the report. The maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, was brilliant and forthright and I feel privileged to add being a colleague in this House to other shared endeavours; I refer to my work with him in the British European Movement, which he so ably directs.
Two Ph.D. students, one at Berkeley, California, and the other at the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow, both grappling coincidentally with a thesis on the British Foreign Office and public opinion in the last 25 years must surely be very puzzled. Why, at a time when so much else in our administrative superstructure is or appears to be ready for overhaul, should our foreign Establishment, renowned throughout the world for its tradition and skill and which at this very moment is being studied by at least one West European country as a model for its own structural reform—which even in the eyes of its sternest critics is basically efficient, manned by dedicated public servants and comparatively inexpensive—have been the subject of four extensive reports totalling 876 pages and more than half a million words; Drogheda, Plowden, Duncan and now Sir Kenneth Berrill's Review of Overseas Representation?
I have asked myself this question, having browsed extensively in Drogheda, Plowden and Duncan and having read Berrill from cover to cover, and I can only deduce that, so far as this last, most comprehensive and certainly most critical of all reports is concerned, the answer is to be found not so much in its letter as in its spirit. It reflects, in my opinion, an intellectual attitude, an atmosphere of prejudice, a sort of fashionable—dare I say it?—trendy attitude which cannot help obtruding into an otherwise austere text unadorned by any flights of style or fancy.
At the very roots of the Berrill Report there seem to be two sets of major assumptions which are inextricably linked. First, Britain, because she has shrunk politically as a Power with global interests and declined economically and is continuing 913 to decline, must radically rethink her external services, their structure, modes and manners. Moreover, her membership of the European Community should simplify this process, since so many decisions are made and implemented over a wide area by others on her behalf.
Secondly, the Berrill Report implies the concept of diplomacy having radically changed throughout the world. The archetypal diplomat is an anachronism, often a pilaster of decoration rather than a pillar of support of his country's intrinsic interests; there is a revulsion throughout the world against ritualism, pomp and circumstance, forced conviviality and against élitism, hence recruitment, social provenance, must be further broadened, the workload reorganised whereby the traditional central activities of diplomacy termed by Berrill "political and foreign policy work" must yield precedence to a host of specialised functions better carried out by the Home Civil Service.
Hence, also, the need for great structural fundamental changes; the streamlining or even excising of whole services, culminating in the radical reduction of the Diplomatic Service proper to a hard core within a new Foreign Service group of inter-Departmental composition. According to Berrill, the quest for perfectionism must be halted. Phrases such as "unjustifiably high standard" are applied to the Diplomatic Service. Its members "tend to err on the side of perfection", they "move in a group apart" or "in the highest circles of local society". If you accept these assumptions, then many, indeed perhaps most, of the recommendations may make sense. But what if you do not? And I, for one, question them most fundamentally.
Although Britain's worldwide interests have shrunk, her complex relationships with the Commonwealth, international organisations, her great Atlantic ally, the United States, the Third World, require a far-flung high quality Foreign Service. Whether the accent is on politics, trade or aid she needs a cadre of men and women who are flexible, sensitive and well-trained generalists. The world today is one vast buyer's market, so far as Britain is concerned, and that needs adaptation to the needs and tastes of others. It needs a nimble, subtle approach; a thorough understanding of those we wish to influence either economically or politically.
914 The idea that, for instance, in our missions abroad we should adopt a style of Philistine frugality and priggish informality is both unrealistic and rather arrogant. Paradoxically, only a super-Power could afford this kind of disregard for conviviality and manners on grounds of self-assurance or eccentricity. But in practice there are no greater sticklers for protocol and fans of old-world formality than, for example, the Soviet and Communist missions abroad.
As to the central argument which has been debated in some detail earlier today; namely, the substitution of the Diplomatic Service by a foreign service group in which the hard core old style Diplomatic Service, though greatly reduced, would, if I understand correctly, still supply a large number of senior posts and heads of missions—if that is not élitism, what is? How would the other promotions and appointments to senior office be made? By a constant ongoing power struggle between Departments of State? Will Washington, for instance, be a satrapy of Trade and Industry, Paris one of Environment, Oslo an outpost of Energy?
It is true that the report counsels flexibility and the need to monitor changing circumstances, but it is quite clear that once dismantled, a closely knit service with a great tradition could not be put together ever again. The implicit references to class seem unfair to the Foreign Office hierarchy, who have already greatly broadened the base of recruitment. When the report censoriously labels, as it does in one place, Foreign Service officers as being imbued with a "middle-class mentality", I am at a loss to understand what this means; surely, in the context it must be a term of opprobium. But is it a patrician slap from above, or a plebeian kick from below?
I do not think for a moment that membership of the European Community necessarily simplifies and standardises the type of work and the type of staff required. Here it is not only a question of machinery and structure but it is, and certainly should be, more and more one of evolving a specific British contribution and identity. Britain's voice must be heard in Brussels. Her stamp must somehow be seen and felt, not only economically but politically, and, yes, morally.
915 May I be forgiven if I cannot hide my disappointment at last week's regrettable failure of the Nine to range themselves spontaneously alongside the United States and send the good wishes of Europe to President Sadat on his courageous journey to Jerusalem? Surely these and other recent lapses must not harden and congeal into a kind of Gresham's law of faintheartedness, where the most timorous decides the speed, and the most callous sets the tone in the Community.
I should like to deal very briefly with the two largely cultural services earmarked by the report for drastic change. The decimating, or indeed the dismantling, of the British Council would be a very foolish move. The noble Lords, Lord Ballantrae, and Lord Goodman, have given us some powerful arguments from the vantage point of people who have directed it so ably. I would just add my own professional experiences as a publisher, and say that at both ends of the scale the British Council gives invaluable service to our profession, which increasingly depends on, and contributes to, the export trade. To the small publisher it gives that muscle entailed in co-operative action: trade fairs, up-to-date information, live contacts, which he himself could scarcely afford. But even to the larger and largest units of publishing the British Council, through its far-flung offices and services, renders invaluable aid. It is not really true to say that in the advanced and developed countries, and especially in Western Europe, the teaching and diffusion of the English language and literature should be done by private enterprise. Of course it can, and is, done in part, but the overview, through full-time involvement with cultural institutions and wide personal contact which British Council officers and offices can provide, is quite inestimable.
In Italy, France, Holland, and Sweden for instance, I have, over the past 20 years, come across men and women working for the British Council who have established well-nigh legendary reputations in their host countries; who have done more for cultural exchange than can be expressed even in the longest speech. I have in mind names like Enid Macleod, Roger Hinks, Ian Greenlees, and many others, who have projected British culture abroad and brought the best of European 916 artistic endeavour to our notice. Streamlining here and there—yes. Perhaps more dovetailing with embassy work. But there is no justification for destroying a service which brings us so much material and cultural revenue. Nor is the Department of Education and Science the right home for a truncated British Council. It is, after all, the particular merit of our country to give the arts that autonomy which in other countries they do not have.
When speaking of the BBC's External Services, I must declare my interest. I spent seven—I should almost say my seven formative years—as a member of the BBC Overseas Services, and I have tried to keep in touch ever since. Even today, though other countries may spend much more money on programmes and personnel, ours is the best world service of information and enlightenment. It is a modestly financed and frugally run service, and even by the stern criteria of the report one could justify expansion rather than contraction.
There are several countries, for instance, with which Britain has a growing volume of trade, and that would justify a new vernacular service from London. Once again I disagree with the assertion that in the United States, or in Western Europe, the BBC Services are not required. Evidence from listeners' reports will overwhelmingly belie this statement of fact. The British information services in the United States, as I know from long and detailed experience, are doing an outstanding job and are not adequately manned. They use the BBC to good purpose. The BBC has about a million listeners in France. Throughout Western Europe it enjoys the highest reputation for integrity and objectivity. We should also back the BBC's plan for a new Euro-service, which I believe could be made cost-effective.
If the main body of the report, both in its assumptions and conclusions, was to be ultimately rejected, as I hope it will be, there still lurks that all too human danger of "tokenism", a feeling that Government may think that too much effort and work has been spent, and so tends to adopt a conclusion here, a passage there, to amortise manhours and taxpayers' money. But I submit that the Berrill Report represents a cohesive, closely argued case, a philosophy, governed by convictions 917 which must be either accepted or rejected. The British Foreign Office has proved in the last quarter of a century that it is capable of self-analysis, that it is able to correct, and constantly review, its functioning. Extensive machinery for inspection and control, and continual self-appraisal exists. Could not the Foreign Secretary and his associates, both within the Department, and in inter-Departmental conclave, make such adjustments as they feel are needed, and could not the Government, and both Houses, reassure all those who spend their working lives as dedicated members of the Foreign Service, by giving them a vote of genuine confidence which they so badly need, and which they so undoubtedly deserve, and let them get on with the job?
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Lord TANLAW
My Lords, we have been privileged today to hear some remarkable speeches during the course of this debate, instigated by the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae. I have heard this afternoon what have been perhaps the two most powerful maiden speeches that I have listened to since I have been in this House. There is no need to say anything about them; they spoke for themselves. I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, would mind if I said that, perhaps unintentionally, he possibly broke the tradition by being controversial. His was the only speech I have heard so far which spoke for the review, and I am sure that that was not his intention when he prepared for the debate.
I am not qualified to criticise the Diplomatic Service, nor indeed its internal workings, but I can speak as someone who has lived and worked abroad in a commercial capacity in developing countries for over six years. It is in this capacity that I should like to make my comments on the report. By commercial standards it is a bad report for about three main reasons. First, despite its size and detail, and indeed its very weight, there are some vital omissions. These have already been mentioned by noble Lords, and there are others which I shall come to later.
Secondly, for its disloyality I would suspect its conclusions. Thirdly, the attitudes and opinions that run throughout 918 the report, to my mind question its content and its conclusions. I think that this is a pity because this attitude, which I should like to call the "Sevenoaks syndrome", is one that is not really confined to civil servants, but affects almost anybody who goes abroad with this attitude. I mean no disrespect to the residents of that fine town. I am not implying that it is a hornets' nest for middle-class left-wing intellectuals. What I am saying is that certain Englishmen, when they go abroad in whatever capacity, see, judge, compare, and assess a foreign country and its people in the terms of the environment of their own home town, perhaps (and usually it is) in the South of England.
This criticism, if it is such, can be made against the authors of the report. There is, for instance, their attitude towards the English language. A number of noble Lords have already mentioned this point. They assume that nearly all the world can read, write and speak English, and that the rest do not want to. Therefore, why bother to encourage them through a continuation of the good work of the British Council, or the British Overseas Broadcasting Services?
No one who has spent even a short time overseas, and certainly in a developing country, can go along with this point of view. Today, these countries, because of national policy, make English, not the second alternative language but sometimes the third or even the fourth language for children to grow up to learn and understand. In a growing number of countries this makes it impossible for children to learn English through any of the national schools of the country in which they were born. Therefore, services like the British Council and the BBC are the only ways in which such a boy or girl can find an opportunity to learn a language that is called, as it was in India, "a window to the world". I therefore hope that the remarks made by other noble Lords and myself will be taken into consideration.
At this stage I should like to ask two technical questions which I think arise from some lack of knowledge of the technical developments that have occurred in the fields of communication. One concerns overseas broadcasting, which is dealt with in Chapter 13. The long-term prospects of the BBC's overseas broadcasting is dependent upon increasing the 919 power of the transmitters. This was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, when he discussed the audibility of the BBC services. I do not see any reference in this report to satellite transmissions. I should like an answer from the Minister, or some guidance, as to whether the BBC have discounted the use of satellites for future broadcasts, or whether they are going to pin their hopes on larger and stronger transmitters.
There is another question, again of rather a technical nature, which I should like to dispose of, and that is this. From the section on communications, Chapter 16, it would seem that the authors of this Review put their faith in the Telex communication as being the be-all and end-all of communications between posts overseas and London. They should have mentioned (or perhaps they did not know; I am not sure which) that all Telex communication is monitored, or can be monitored, by the host country, whether it is a closed or an open circuit, and that any country has a right to monitor such communications. I feel that this should at least have been put into the report, because there is no way in which you can get security on a link of this kind.
Then the report goes on to worry about how communications can be made and, at the same time, costs reduced. I have seen one machine already on the market which makes it quite possible to transmit a communication through a telephone line, and to have a record of it either end, from an ordinary telephone extension with a small attachment. This is in fact a portable machine which can be carried around or can be used from a desk top. The system uses pulses through the telephone line which activate a typewriter the other end. This is quite a simple and not very expensive process, but, again, I am concerned that this was not touched on or even considered as a form of communication. First, it is extremely secure and very economical, the time taken being very short because of the speed of the pulses; and, secondly, there is a record of the message at either end.
My Lords, I am also worried about their enthusiasm for the telephone line. In some developing countries, first, it is almost impossible to get a line, and secondly, we have this audibility problem 920 again. The authors of this report happily discuss the question of nuances being transmitted through the use of the telephone. In my experience, if that is the main reason why the telephone should be used more often by the Civil Service, they will discover—if may perhaps even be a surprise to them—that in the end the telephone calls become all nuances and no facts. Again, I think this is something which show s that there is a lack of experience in the use of telephones in calls to large parts of the world.
Now I want to come on to the final point, and perhaps the main point, of my short intervention. It concerns the subject of export promotion and, more precisely, fairs and promotions. One will get a variety and a variance in the quality of such promotions from post to post, depending upon the man who is actually on the spot. Some diplomats are able to understand businessmen and communicate with them extremely well. Others find this more difficult; but I can assure your Lordships that all are trying at the moment. In these situations, a lot depends entirely on the local attaché, who is able to speak the language and who knows the contacts which are of most use to businessmen. The only criticism I have of this is that in some areas the local attaché is so local—for instance, he has never been to Britain—that, when confronted with a businessman from Birmingham, he is not too sure whether Birmingham is on the South Coast or on the North Coast of Britain. I am exaggerating this, but I think it is unfortunate because, if the local contact is not aware of what British industry and Britain itself is all about, he immediately loses the confidence of the visiting businessman.
Now I want to make a suggestion, which I hope the noble Minister will consider, concerning fairs and promotions, at the same time covering the general business of entertainment, and so on, about which the report goes on and on. Perhaps the authors of this report, if they had looked at other people's trade commissions or embassies, would have seen that attached to them—certainly, I think, in the case of the French, and perhaps the Germans—is a hall or assembly room which is used, not only for entertainment but to display various equipment and to hold film 921 shows, as well as being used by exporters as a base for displaying their wares or putting across an idea or a system, which usually cannot be transported there, for demonstration purposes.
There are places in this report—and the authors have touched on it in another section, concerning the ambassador or the resident overseas and entertainment—where they suggest that perhaps one room of the residence be put aside for entertainment. I think they should extend this thinking much further and should consider, as export promotion is so important at this present time and will be even more important in the future, not putting aside a room but building a designed hall (for want of a better word) similar in aspect, perhaps, to the Building Centre or Design Centre which has multi-uses—for entertainment, for cinema shows and as a meeting point. Such a hall could be managed and run by the British missions overseas and could vary in size from mission to mission depending on the value of the exports or the needs required. This would act as a major focal point for a visiting businessman. He would have somewhere to show his wares, and he would have somewhere to meet the local contacts or potential purchasers who, hopefully, the local attaché will have lined up for him to meet. Indeed, such businessmen would be prepared to pay a rent or charge to cover the overheads for such facilities, because often in these countries no such facilities exist anywhere—except, perhaps, in rival embassies.
My Lords, I would say only one final word. There is mention of a greater use of civil servants flying out on short visits, and so on. The thought of a sort of airborne team of civil servants flying from point to point with pamphlets and statistics in every pocket appals me. Exports are not about pamphlets, statistics or flying civil servants. It is a straightforward buying and selling job—nothing whatever to do with the Civil Service. The Civil Service is providing and should provide a back-up to exporters, but let the selling man do the selling. You cannot be all things to all men, and I would say to civil servants, whatever their training or background in commerce, please use this to understand how to communicate with businessmen, but for goodness sake do not try to sell anything on behalf of businessmen, because I think that could be quite disastrous.
§ 6.10 p.m.
§ Baroness ELLIOT of HARWOOD
My Lords, this has been an extraordinarily unanimous debate. I have listened to all the speeches and I have not disagreed with any of them—whether from the Government side or from the Opposition side. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, can be in no doubt about the opinions which your Lordships hold on the Berrill Report. We have had some very interesting speeches, indeed, and noble Lords who made maiden speeches were quite excellent. I very much enjoyed the speech of my noble friend Lord Eccles, speaking, as he was, with great experience and knowledge of the value of the arts and the methods of interesting people in our civilisation and in our way of life. Nobody could have put the matter more clearly. It was extremely interesting to hear him speak.
I am going to speak for only a short time. I do so because when I got hold of this report when it was first published—I think, in June or July—I was so irritated by its contents that I said to myself that if I got an opportunity of saying something about it I should not resist it. The opportunity has been given me today and I am afraid that I cannot resist saying what I think about the Berrill Report. I object strongly to the defeatist point of view which runs through the whole report. This country still has a tremendous contribution to make to international affairs and to everything that is vital in the world today. The idea that these people, the "Tankers", as my noble friend Lord Eccles said, should put forward this defeatist point of view at this time seems to be totally wrong and quite unjustified.
My Lords, there is one point about the report which has not been mentioned and to which I strongly object. The report is extremely difficult to read. Every paragraph contains—I do not know how many—initial letters instead of writing out what the letters represent. If one wants to read the report one must refer to page 371 at least at every other paragraph one reads. There are three pages of what are called acronyms. I discovered—and your Lordships will all discover, for we are all in the same boat—that we here are all "BPHs", which means, "British passport holders". Why must all these 923 words be put into initials? It is most irritating and I do not see that it adds to the ease or to the importance of trying to read this report. And why are so many paragraphs omitted, according to the report, "for reasons of security or foreign relations"? I thought that when people made reports, they made reports that everybody can read. At least a dozen paragraphs have been omitted. I should like to know why. It seems to me to be not at all a satisfactory way of writing a report.
My Lords, I dislike the whole approach of the report to the Foreign Service. It seems to me that it is wrong. There are many ex-ambassadors in your Lordships' House and it is difficult for them to speak for themselves. I can speak up for them, having never had any personal interest in the Foreign Office or in the British Council, except as a traveller, as somebody who has benefited tremendously from the excellence of our Foreign Service and British Council, and as somebody who was for three years a delegate to the United Nations where I learned how greatly superior were our services to many of those of other nations at New York. The personal leadership that our ambassadors and their staffs give in foreign countries is invaluable to the influence of the United Kingdom in foreign affairs. Any idea that that should be cut down or changed, as is suggested in the report, is, I think, absolutely wrong.
There is also a recommendation made which other speakers have mentioned and which seemed to me at the time of reading it extremely short-sighted; that is that in the highly-civilised countries in Europe and the USA and many others of that type we should immediately cut down on the services which we provide and that we should, in fact, concentrate far more on the underdeveloped countries. I think that is completely wrong. It seems to me that it is in the highly-civilised countries which are very influential in the world that you want to be quite sure that your influence, that what you can contribute, is put in the best possible way, because it is in those countries that you want to influence people as much as possible.
All of us in this House have lived through wars and through very difficult times. They have not been started in underdeveloped 924 countries but in the highly-developed countries. It is in the civilised areas where many of the dangers that you and I have lived through have started. I think it is most important that we should not in any circumstances step back, as it were, from working in the very areas about which the Berrill Report is so critical.
Various people have mentioned the great importance of teaching English. I realised this very quickly, indeed when I was at the United Nations. When one gets to the United Nations with its hundreds of nations-150 nations, I think—one suddenly realises the enormous advantage in the international world of the fact that English is the lingua franca of the world. If you cannot speak the language of other nations, they can nearly always speak English. The great American continent is English-speaking; nearly all the European countries' representatives speak English—as is the case with India and with Pakistan. The advantage of English as a lingua franca cannot be exaggerated. One of the great things that the British Council has done has been to encourage the teaching of English, the exchange of teachers and everything to do with the study of the English language. I think it is the greatest possible mistake to suggest that we should cut down on this because in the highly-developed countries they can learn English elsewhere; and it is on the other countries that we should concentrate. I think it is extremely important that we should develop in every way we can the teaching of English.
I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, or the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, who referred to the importance of our cultural exchanges. The Berrill Report plays down the idea of cultural exchanges, of our great orchestras and ballet companies going all over the world. But that is one of the things that leads to great interest and goodwill. Those are contributions that we can make, contributions which many countries cannot make. I would maintain, for instance, that some of our composers in this century have been the greatest composers in the world. We can point to many of our cultural developments which are as good as or better than any others in the world.
It would be nothing short of suicide to cut down on all that which creates goodwill and great interest—not only in 925 music and the arts but in science and technology and in the other things at which we are also very good. All these things make for interest and give us the kind of leadership in Europe of which, it is true, we have had more in the past; but there is no reason why we should not have more in the future. Certainly, we shall not have more in the future if we are to cut down on these things. The whole aspect of the Berrill Report is wrong. They are trying all the time to make us believe that nothing we do can be any good unless it is purely economic. Of course economics are very important. We have had some very interesting contributions about economics; for instance, Lord Tanlaw's speech. There is a lot more in the world than economics. It would be tragic if we were to concentrate only on that type of foreign business and foreign affairs.
Regarding Chapter 13, on overseas broadcasts, while paragraph 13.9 pays tribute to the broadcasting services of the BBC, it does not say enough. There is no doubt at all that our Overseas Service of the BBC is the best broadcasting on radio—and I think television too, but particularly radio—of any country of the world. Other countries are jealous of our Overseas Service. Abroad many times people say: "I must not miss the London broadcast". It is absolutely first-rate. To cut down on that would be foolish and short-sighted. My mind goes back—perhaps too far back to refer to it now—to the war when the one service we were able to broadcast into Europe was the European Service of the BBC. I know that because my husband was continually speaking on the European Service of the BBC. By some miracle a great many of these talks got through behind the Nazis and the war barriers.
After the war was over I can remember at conferences in Paris and in Germany people said to him "We heard you on the BBC during the war. You do not know what an inspiration it was to be able to hear voices coming through from the Free World". It is a long time ago of course and the same conditions do not now exist; but there are areas where free speech is denied; there are areas where it is very difficult for people to hear the kind of broadcasting that we produce through our BBC Overseas Service. It is extremely unfortunate to consider reducing that.
926 A criticism the report makes is that there is an objection to conveying information about Britain and its culture. Who could have written anything so utterly wrong? Our contribution in the past has been great; in the future it could well be very great because we have the ways and means of developing things culturally, musically, scientifically, and so on, which can make a great contribution to the world. To suggest that that is something on which we should cut down seems utterly and absolutely wrong. My Lords, I hope that this report will receive from Her Majesty's Government the reception that it deserves: to be put into a pigeonhole and forgotten.
§ 6.24 p.m.
§ Lord BALOGH
My Lords, the noble Baroness said that this was a unanimous debate and up to now that has been so. I do not think it should be a unanimous debate. Here we have an earnest endeavour of qualified people in trying to sort out the terms of reference which were perhaps too broad, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, said; but still they have performed a valuable task. I shall comment on certain aspects of it, but first I should like to congratulate the two maiden speakers, the noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. The noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, and I have often differed; but I always respect the sincerity with which he holds his views, and that was well testified in today's debate. I also congratulate him on not bowing to the funny little traditional obstacles and making a thoroughly controversial speech. I hope to hear him again very often and I wish him well.
I am of course well aware of the risk that I am taking in dissenting from the most numerous vested interests in this House. We have about three-quarters of a dozen ex-Permanent Secretaries and any number of ex-ambassadors. There is also a numerous auxiliary brigade headed by that martial figure the mover of this Motion for Papers, whose speech resembled not so much a speech "to move", but a cavalry charge—only, it was not the Light Brigade; it was the heavy. I observe in passing that the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, wants to use the Diplomatic Service as a cover to borrow more—I do not want to say a "con-trick" because I am sure that he never thought of it that 927 way. I must confess that what he said would be more appropriate to the impoverished Hungarian gentry than to the British Government. We could not mislead the IMF for two seconds.
The record we have in foreign affairs is not altogether good. With the new team which we have I am sure that we shall do better. Our failures stretch from Palestine to the German plains. We spent millions—indeed thousands of millions—and the only achievement was retreat. We have not succeeded in getting adequate reparations from Germany, nor have we obtained an adequate contribution to the costs of stationing troops; indeed, we have been, and are, subsidising their bloated foreign balances. A better insight could have secured the well-merited help to our exhausted economy. We could have easily safeguarded our interests in both directions had the economics of our situation been appreciated. In our negotiations with our French allies, their superior skill usually got the better of us.
A number of other more recent instances can be quoted. I will not weary your Lordships with them and, anyway, I would be precluded from doing so. I do not believe that the analysis of the particular aspect of the weakness of our Government structure with which this report had to deal with can be faulted. I must warn noble Lords that even the discovery of oil, which was a Godsend, will not save us if we go on as we are: we will drink the oil just as we have blown the gas.
We are over the whole field of policy still suffering from a lack of expertise, and I do not believe that with the present organisation of the FCO we will get it. I do not believe that administrative reorganisation can help without a change in doctrine and attitude. But some reforms are in order. The noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, rightly said that ambassadors are there to give political advice. I totally agree with him. But, how many cases were there in the post-war history of Britain where the political expertise of ambassadors did not prove very high because biased in favour of the status quo? Much the most important reform in my opinion is the reorganisation of the so-called Functional Department of the FCO and, in conjunction with it, the out-posting of 928 personnel dealing with specialist questions.
One noble Lord has said—I think he meant it—that an important qualification for a diplomat is that he should be able to get on with foreigners. With great respect, I submit that he might get on with them too well. It is not conducive to the public interest that generalist diplomats should deal with questions where expertise is needed. The Foreign Office has a legitimate interest in these, but not an overriding one. And it must not happen, as it has happened very often, that we get into a Bismarckian situation—when he appointed an ambassador, whom he afterwards rather disliked, he said:I thought we had an ambassador in Paris: what has happened is that Thiers has a representative in the Foreign Office".That is a very important point and I would earnestly beg the House to heed it.
The economic division, for instance, even now is not, and should be, headed by an economist. I am very glad to see that the present Foreign Secretary has secured the services of an outstanding expert in applied economics, but the manning of the division is still unsatisfactory. The Treasury indeed has its own man in the most important centres, and other Departments have direct representation, especially in Brussels. But I feel that a great service to the State could be performed if the recommendations of the report—21.69–73—were accepted and as a result this country, like France, would become more specialist. As I said, there has been a movement in this direction and I am sure that the economic advice has very much improved. But further progress is absolutely essential.
I have concentrated on the handling of foreign economic policy because as a civil servant, a Minister and an adviser of many countries negotiating with the British Government, I have had ample opportunity to observe the problem and gauge the needs. Much the same could be said even more emphatically about trade promotion, which takes place at a lower echelon and is therefore even less well endowed.
As to the British Council and the BBC foreign broadcasts, I wish I could be as positive as other noble Lords about the excellence of the service. I must congratulate 929 the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, on his speech; it would have swayed me if I was not so stubborn, because it swayed, I am sure, the whole House. No doubt there are very many of the idealist type going out to spread the gospel—but, mind you, if the gospel is spread by somebody who is a mendicant, this is not so good. I must say, therefore, that if moral principles are to be spread more we ought to have more economic cannonballs to fire.
I simply do not understand the attitude of some noble Lords who spoke about the BBC Foreign Service. So far as I can make out, this report recommends that a very sharp increase in audibility should be achieved within a framework of limited financial resources. Can anybody contradict that? There is no question that the BBC is "heard" all over the world. In fact, the BBC is heard hardly anywhere in the world. I have been lately in France, Yugoslavia and Malta, and have had the greatest difficulty in catching the BBC, while the German wavelength, the Deusche Welle, overwhelmed us at every point. Also, I do not know whether "Lilli-bolero Bullen alla" should be our theme signal, given the Irish Question. I think a more tactful introduction, say Mozart or Beethoven, might be more appropriate. To disregard this problem, to disregard the problem of the chasm between script, production and audibility is to waste money and annihilate our endeavour. This is a problem which ought to be solved by deeds, not by words.
I hope that conventional prejudice will not tarnish what in my opinion is one of the most important Government documents, a report which has the courage of candour, which so many of the other official investigations that have been received with "Hallelujah", lack. We must be able to accept bold pictures rather than whitewash if we are to survive in a gloomy and hostile world.
§ 6.36 p.m.
§ Lord BEAUMONT of WHITLEY
My Lords, I must apologise for not being able to congratulate the maiden speakers on their speeches. Much to my loss, I had to attend at that moment a Western European Union briefing, but I hope it will be my good fortune to hear them in 930 the near future. There is only one point on the general document that I want to make: it concerns the background, the philosophy which pervades it. In the discussion as to whether we are a sinking nation which will not be able to reverse the course of events and have more influence or whether we can say, "Nonsense: we are going to rise triumphant again from the waves", I must say that I agree with the first point of view. I think we have expended so much of ourselves in many ways that it is unlikely that we can become again a first-class nation. But I thought the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was particularly wise when he said that in fact we ought to be thinking of this in terms of working through other organisations and that the great strength Britain has to offer—I think it has enormous strength—should be used in that way, and particularly through Europe.
I think that a great opportunity was missed when this team was asked to do the report in not asking them to say more about what should be done in the framework of Europe, given certain eventualities. I am speaking as a convinced European Federalist in a House which is dominated by two Parties which are not federalist. Nevertheless, I think that as Europe gradually grows together, in whatever form it takes, the question of its representation and how our Foreign Service will work will change dramatically. I think the fact that the terms of reference were not widened to encourage this to happen, and possibly a lack of European commitment on the part of some of those who, one understands, compiled the report, may have made a difference in this regard. But I think it is a mistake that we have not been able to discuss really clearly the way forward as a united Europe and what the foreign policy of that united Europe should be.
From that, I turn to the British Council. I am a member of the Executive Committee, along with other noble Lords who have spoken. It is not just because of that but because I know a certain amount about its work that I reject both alternatives which are put before us. First, I think the team's report has underrated the extent to which the British Council pays for itself. The noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, has already spoken about the 931 commercial value of some of our publishing and cultural work. If there was ever any way of estimating the commercial value, in all its repercussions, I should be very surprised indeed if we did not find that the British Council at least paid for itself.
The second point I want to make has been touched on a little gingerly by certain noble Lords, but I do not think it has been tackled head on; that is, the whole terms of reference of this investigation. This was an investigation into the representation of our interests abroad. That is possibly fair enough, so far as the diplomatic corps and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office go. But I do not think it is nearly good enough so far as the British Council and even the BBC go, because they are in a different game altogether.
I am old-fashioned enough—I am not often considered to be old-fashioned in this House—to think that they are in the business of purveying truth and goodness and art, and I should have no hesitation in saying that these things will bring repercussions and be seen to be good for Britain. But that is not what they are about. Do not let us be ashamed to be a little Gladstonian from time to time and say, as the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, said, that there are other things than economics and political power. When we have some of the most foremost artists in the world in every kind of field, when we have people like Britten, Moore and Bacon, when we have theatre and opera and ballet companies, surely we should be letting as many people as possible see these. Surely, when we manage to have a whole broadcasting set-up which is renowned throughout the world for its truth and its objectivity, we should be doing this. Is not this one of the most important things that we can be doing for the world?
So that, in a way, the Think Tank, in this report, has been far too limited in its approach. I cannot think of anything more idiotic by the standards of human values—I will not even say civilised values—than doing away with, or even cutting down, the work of the British Council and the BBC. As for the idea that we should integrate the British Council in any way with the Foreign Service, I would say 932 that it is because the British Council is seen to be separate, it is because other countries know that it is not infiltrated by our secret service, it is because they know that they do not have to go through the embassy gates in order to get a cultural value but can go somewhere completely different—it is because they know all these things that the British Council is able to do the good work that it does, and, if those things were taken away from it, it would do far less good work.
There may be very many important things which the report has said. I was highly impressed by one or two of the points which the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, made about parts where he obviously has immense experience. But I beseech Her Majesty's Government and noble Lords and everyone who has direction of the affairs of this country, that we do not always strictly stick to what is seen to be to our own advantage. Nations and societies, as well as individuals, are dependent on each other for what good is done, and, if we are accused of being do-gooders, then I say that good is not really done except by people who are do-gooders. In our lifetimes, most of us have probably learned that no man is an island. It is possibly time we learned that no island is an island, either.
§ 6.44 p.m.
§ Lord EVANS of HUNGERSHALL
My Lords, after a debate of such distinction which is only halfway through, it is a work of supererogation to make any contribution. I can mitigate that only by saying that my own contribution will be very brief. But however brief, one must spare a moment to express one's thanks for the two maiden speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. Seldom have we heard two maiden speeches of such authority and distinction in this House.
I do not intend to discuss the report as a whole or in detail. I would solely explore its origins and its treatment of the Foreign Service. What it states about economics and exports may be valuable, and there are those with great authority to speak on them. But in so far as this report deals with the Foreign Service and with the ally of the Foreign Service, the British Council, it should be buried beyond retrieval. I 933 say this with a single note of regret. The only name to appear in the report is that of Sir Kenneth Berrill whose services to the State in other directions had been so notable. In my view, he found himself in a quite impossible position when he inherited the Central Policy Review Staff, which we used to call familiarly the Think Tank. It was really an invention of that highly ingenious Member of our House, although seldom present, the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild—a very distinguished banker, and even more distinguished scientist, as Cambridge and Shell were to discover, with a mind of infinite activity, and one of the cleverest things he ever did in his life, which has been a very clever life, was for over four years to disguise himself as a civil servant.
The Central Policy Review Staff was set up, as noble Lords will recall, in October 1970 under Mr. Heath's reorganisation of central Government. It was to be an integral part of the Cabinet Office, under the supervision of the Prime Minister and of Ministers collectively. I shall not quote the whole list—I have it here, but it occupies a whole page—of all the problems in which the Think Tank had been engaged. Noble Lords who are interested will find them in the Meditations on a Broomstick. But there was one thing in common; they were all under the direction of the Cabinet.
In contrast, may I examine how this report began? In the foreword, we are told that the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary, Mr. Callaghan, requested the report. But on the first page of the report we discover that it was not Mr. Callaghan who requested the report. After all, as the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said, he had the Plowden Report of 1964 and the Duncan Report of 1969. It was the Review Staff itself that proposed to the Minister that the report should be made. One of the main tasks of the Review Staff, when Mr. Heath was Prime Minister, was to make a six-monthly report to the Government—a headmaster's report, as the noble Lord rather familiarly called it. When Sir Harold Wilson succeeded, the request for these reports ceased. Was it ever revived, or has the Review Staff increasingly to find self-appointed tasks? Anyway, Sir Kenneth and his six anonymous members set out on what was, if one reads the terms of reference—their own terms of reference—one of the most 934 extensive explorations that have been made for years.
I think that the names of the staff should be mentioned in the report. After all, their names were published in The Times, with a rather jolly picture attached. Before I knew that this debate was to take place, I wrote to Sir Kenneth and asked him for the names of his colleagues and these he readily gave me. When later I knew that this debate was to take place, I put down a Question for 'Written Answer and the information is in yesterday's Hansard. I am sure that they are all men and women of the highest intelligence but it must be said, and firmly said, that they have not the experience of working over-seas, they have not the stature or authority and they are inadequate to stand in judgment, whatever the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, may say, of the most distinguished Foreign Service that any country in the world possesses.
Let us recall the aims that the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, had for his staff. The first was, and I quote:… sabotaging the over-smooth functioning of the machinery of Government"—a delightful task! This may be why the staff in this report say that they are conducting a "radical review", although we know that the report was initiated by the Review Staff itself and that there was no such instruction. Then in the course of repetitive comment, they contrive to use the word "radical" five times in one brief paragraph—paragraph 1.10 on page 3. I have read beyond page 3 but this happens to come on page 3. This paragraph also enshrines one of the numerous verbal banalities which border on the unintelligible, and perhaps I may quote:On balance we think that the disadvantages of a powerful institutional ethos outweigh the advantages; this creates an additional general argument in favour of change".One of their major complaints is that the Foreign Service has not adjusted its image adequately to a changing world and to the changing position of England in that world. The noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides, spoke eloquently about this point in what was, as I have already said, a memorable speech. I would say that even the Monarchy has not adjusted itself more skilfully to the changing world than has the Foreign Service. Nowhere in this 935 report—I wish that the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, were here to listen just to this single paragraph—is there any recognition, a point to which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, drew our attention, that service overseas, even in the most agreeable conditions, is more difficult than service in Whitehall and the Cabinet Office. Nor in many parts of the world have the conditions been very agreeable.
We have only to recall that in 1967 our embassy in Peking was burned down; that in 1970 James Cross was held for two months by terrorists in Quebec; that in 1971 Sir Geoffrey Jackson, our Ambassador in Montevideo, was kidnapped; that in March 1973 Sir Richard Sharples, our Governor and Commander-in-Chief in Bermuda, was assassinated; and that in 1976, when the review staff were labouring at their report, Christopher Ewart-Biggs, our Ambassador in Dublin, was assassinated. Nor is the issue confined to these spectacular incidents. Consider, my Lords, the concluding period of the service of the noble Lord, Lord Trevelyan. I shall get no praise from the noble Lord for choosing him as an example. However, from the day when the noble Lord heard on the embassy radio in Cairo of the Suez attack to the last perilous days in Aden, he conducted himself with discretion, judgment and fortitude, to the honour of his service and of his country.
Why is there no mention of these matters in this Whitehall document? A team such as Sir Kenneth had at his command cannot perhaps be expected to get things into perspective. After all, if the formula of the noble Lord, Lord Rothschild, still prevails, they must all be under 35, which I believe would exclude even the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, from our deliberations. However, one would expect them to acquaint themselves with current problems as a whole instead of relying upon their theoretical formula of analogue countries, which is one of the strangest features of this strange document.
Let me take Brazil as an example. The Ambassador and his staff are faced with having to move to Brasilia, the new capital, while the greatest centres of commerce and economic power are elsewhere. Some members of the Review Staff visited Brasilia, although for how long we are not told or, indeed, whether 936 they had ever been there before. They visited Sao Paulo, which is a great economic centre where we have a subordinate post. But apparently nobody visited Rio or, if they did, it is not reported on page 374 of the report. Our Ambassador in Israel has to face a similar problem, although in size Israel is a postage stamp compared with Brazil. He has to reside in Tel Aviv and he also has to work with his staff in Jerusalem, which is the centre of government.
I will elaborate no further. The survey seems to me to be defeatist, as the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, said in his admirable opening speech, and it is the result of an experience and an inquiry most inadequate. At times the banality is painful. I will quote—I will inflict, rather—one brief example on noble Lords, even at this late hour:A person with a considerable amount of expertise is an expert and one with little a non-expert. When the successive jobs that a person does are concerned with the same subject (broadly or narrowly defined) he is said to be a (broad or narrow) specialist. Someone who has not specialised in this way is a generalist."That is to be found in chapter 3.15 on page 16 and is preceded by chapter 3.14 which concludes:Technique expertise is knowledge of the techniques of the job (e.g. operating the Whitehall machine, working with foreigners).It is no wonder that a Review Staff, capable of writing a paragraph such as this, should wish to get rid of the British Council which has had, as a number of noble Lords have said, such a unique part to play in encouraging the use of the English language throughout the world. It may be that the British Council needs some revision—the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, was good enough to say so—but it is for those with experience, even though they are over 35, to explore these matters in detail and not for the whole issue to be dismissed, almost in an aside.
The noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, recorded the modest financial beginnings of the Council. I can recall the days when the first Lord Riverdale put his own funds into the British Council, when the Government were not very enthusiastic about it, and when the first Lord Lloyd of Dolobran, whose imaginative contributions have never been adequately appreciated, suggested setting up a Near East 937 University in Cyprus. Further, let the Review Staff realise—as the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, told us so eloquently and as the noble Lord, Lord Home of the Hirsel, emphasised later, as also did the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood—that the English language is the greatest international asset that we have today. President Sadat may address the Israeli Parliament in Arabic, but when it comes down to negotiation it will have to be conducted in English.
With so much to explore, it is strange that the Review Staff should spend, as a number of noble Lords have said—the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, spoke effectively upon this matter—so much of their time on food and entertainment. One almost feels that they had never encountered a well presented meal until they went on their all-too-brief travels. I shall not weary your Lordships with a full quotation of chapter 17.5 on page 280, but some noble Lords will have shared with me, before reading this report, ignorance of the fact that entertainment can be tactical, strategic or responsive.
I have spoken with some firmness about this matter and I have done so for this reason; the Review Staff speak with great praise of the Foreign Service itself and of the British Council, but then they turn to a different mood, and I feel with some noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon that this report will have led to a certain amount of irritation, discomfiture and even unease in some of our posts overseas; and I believe it is an encouraging thing that the major emphasis in the debate today has been to reassure.
§ 7 p.m.
Lord CAMPBELL of CROY
My Lords, I am glad to be following the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Hungershall, because I know from previous debates of his close concern for the efficient operation of the Diplomatic Service and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and I shall be pursuing his venture into the functions of the CPRS. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, on raising this subject today and for commenting so wisely upon the report before us. I am sure we all agree that we have heard two outstanding maiden speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides, and Lord 938 Thomson of Monifieth. Their speeches were fluent, relevant and effective, even though somewhat restricted by the convention of being uncontroversial. The noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides, has a distinguished record in Commonwealth affairs, having started in the Dominions Office, and he has served particularly in India and Pakistan and in Australia. The personal knowledge which he has brought to the subject today has greatly added to the debate and in particular I liked his recognition of the contribution which a successful husband and wife can make in diplomacy abroad.
I have heard the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, make many Parliamentary speeches in another place. He and I were colleagues representing Scottish constitutencies so I was delighted to be able to hear him again today and to be able to congratulate him upon his speech. He also has a magnificent record in foreign affairs as a Minister and as a Commissioner in the EEC. He will be assured of a welcome whenever he addresses your Lordships.
The noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae and my noble friend Lord Eccles have exposed, clearly but kindly, the errors and false doctrines which regrettably occur in this report. They have dwelt especially upon the proposals for the British Council's cultural work and the overseas services of the BBC. In a speech of reasonable length, which this will be, I must choose only a few points and so I shall concentrate on those parts of the report dealing with the machinery of government and in particular the drastic proposals for the Diplomatic Service and the Home Civil Service. I must confess straightaway my own opinion that this was not an appropriate task for the CPRS to carry out. I remember well in 1970 when it was being set up and the concept was that there would be a group detached from day-to-day administration with the time and the talents for considering and advising upon broad policies. It was not then contemplated that they would also review the application of policies in detail, as in this report. According to this report, it was the CPRS themselves who asked to be given the task, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Hungershall, has reminded us. The request was granted by the then Secretary of State—now the Prime 939 Minister—with very wide terms of reference. The report states that the CPRS were instructed to undertake a radical review. But that was not in the terms of reference: comprehensive, yes, but radical?—there is no requirement there at all.
This leads me to think that the CPRS group, which I shall refer to as the "Tank team" for ease of reference, suffered from the disability of a preconceived idea that dramatic changes were needed. To recall a particularly murky episode in Scottish history and in Campbell history of nearly 300 years ago, which the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, will know all about, this request was like the Clan Campbell asking to send a platoon to carry out a review of the situation at Glencoe. The results are not dissimilar. For Option 3, the one preferred by the Tank team, would mean the massacre of the Diplomatic Service and the FCO; the massacre of the British Council and the decimation of the BBC External Services. According to the report, the Tank team visited 44 posts in no fewer than 27 countries. It seems that in applying for this remit on overseas representation Sir Kenneth Berrill, in effect, was advertising—with an apt French word for the occasion— "Have char, will travel"!
I support and reinforce what has been said about the folly of abolishing the British Council. To take one point only which has already been mentioned, we have the much envied advantage of the English language used throughout the world. It may be an uncovenanted benefit, like North Sea oil, though it will last for centuries more. To derive the maximum benefit from this we, who are regarded as the originators and the experts where this language is concerned, should not give up the opportunities in the cultural and the educational fields which it provides. Not only is it a means of projecting our ideas and extending our influence in many ways, but these activities increase and facilitate exports.
With regard to the BBC External Broadcasting Services, of course monitoring and reviews should be carried out to ensure that everything being done is still really worth while. To cut as drastically as is suggested, however, would be to throw away valuable and irreplaceable assets. The audiences in different 940 parts of the world have been gathered over the years and confidence in the programmes, especially in news and current affairs, has been built up. Should we willingly discard these means of direct communication, greatly envied by other countries? Surely the answer must be, No.
I now turn to the machinery of government and the two services, the Diplomatic Service and the Home Civil Service. This report makes some helpful and sensible recommendations. For example, on avoiding duplication and making more use of United Kingdom-based staff who can make short visits abroad as specialists. In some of its principal conclusions, however, it is entirely wrong and those conclusions have been based on assumptions and observations which were also completely wrong. The Tank team started by assessing the pronounced decline in Britain's relative economic and military strength in the past quarter of a century. This is outlined starkly and precisely in chapter 2, which I suggest should be compulsory reading for some leaders in the trade unions and in management of British industry. Where the team have made their first wrong assumption is on the hypothesis that the United Kingdom's ability to exert influence in the world must have declined proportionately. There is no reason why it should be so directly related. Indeed, we are surely in more need of all the available means of influence at reasonable cost in our present weakened situation than ever before.
The report fails to distinguish from each other three attributes; namely, power, influence and interests. The first has unquestionably been reduced. The second, influence, may consequently be reduced to some extent, but it would be folly deliberately to jettison existing mechanisms and expertise simply to match our diminished strength, as the report proposes. On the third point, interests, most of them remain. In particular, there is the general interest, apparently overlooked by the Tank team, that other countries in the world should adopt policies if possible which do not conflict with our own policies.
The report states that the team made comparisons with analogous countries, including France and West Germany, but full comparisons have not been made. 941 For example, France has more posts than Britain and is planning to expand; Germany has about the same number as we have. The report suggests that, in contrast, perhaps 20 United Kingdom posts abroad and at least 35 subordinate posts should be closed. Certainly reductions in staff should continually be sought, but to remove an embassy from a country, however small that country, has much more significance than the Think Tank imagines. The action itself can gratuitously offend the country concerned. Far better is it to reduce such a mission to a minimum. Not only can it then, through its eyes and ears, give advance notice or warning of events, but it is easy to expand if it unexpectedly assumes importance. There have been several examples of this in recent years which noble Lords will recall. Thank heavens!, incidentally, that the Tank team did not name in the report the 20 posts which they consider could be disposed of. That in itself would have been noted by the countries concerned, to the detriment of Britain.
Then there appears to be an underlying assumption that officials overseas have been increasing. Whatever may have been happening in the Home Civil Service, the Diplomatic Service has steadily decreased in numbers, by 15 per cent. since 1965, and I will remind your Lordships that that Service represents only about 1 per cent. of the total number of non-industrial civil servants. I do not believe that the Tank team realised these facts when they embarked on their mission. Consider some of the new approaches and principles which they have suggested. The report proposes that foreign policy should be separated from economic work and export promotion. They suggest three specialisations. Those working in exports would form a corps who would spend the whole of their careers on that subject only. The two specialisations of economic work and foreign policy would involve the people working in them for 75 per cent. of their careers. That runs completely counter to the basic aim which I understand has been pursued in recent years, and is now being successfully achieved in most of our embassies and other missions. That is the welding together of the specialisations necessary with wide experience. Both are needed. There is the paradox also that the proposed corps of foreign policy experts would undoubtedly create a new elite of the 942 kind which the Tank team are trying to avoid.
Let us look also at the end product, the embassies, large or small. The ambassador, in the view that has been adopted in Britain, should be like the conductor of an orchestra. He is directing, and responsible for, all sections in his embassy; for example, the press and information section, the commercial section, even the defence attachés. In some countries the commercial section may well be the most important part of his embassy. Under the existing system, the ambassador will himself have spent some time in his career—two or three years—in a commercial section or in an information section, and will, therefore, be familiar with some of this work. Also, although he may know one part of the world well, he will have worked in other parts, too, so that he has the background against which he can make judgments. He will receive visiting businessmen when there are important contracts or other business involved. He will be able to give them introductions, because he is in touch with leading and influential persons in the country where he is posted, and he can, at his request, be received by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and other Ministers.
There is criticism in the report about the amount of time spent by the Diplomatic Service abroad. At present it works out that they spend more than half of their careers abroad, but less than two-thirds. I think that is about right. It is right that they should spend time abroad and at home, because there are the dangers, which I need not rehearse, of people who never come home and cannot see it from the home point of view and are out of touch; similarly, those who stay at home all the time can forget what it is like in distant places.
I should like to give an example of a misconception which has caused, I think, one ridiculous recommendation; that is, that the post of Head of Chancery in a mission should be abolished and that the work of co-ordination should be carried out always by the second-in-command, the deputy to the ambassador. This shows no knowledge of the duties of a Head of Chancery. He is like the first-lieutenant in a ship. His work of co-ordination includes a good deal of 943 detailed work, such as "devilling" or "dogs body" work, and in a large embassy that would not be appropriate for the deputy. But in a small embassy it is often combined; the second-in-command often is the Head of Chancery. What the Tank team failed to recognise was that the post is, to put it in Parliamentary terms, rather like the Chief Whip in the Commons; it is like suggesting that the Chief Whip in the Commons should always be the deputy Prime Minister. Whether he is the adjutant of a battalion, the first-lieutenant in a ship or the Chief Whip, he will be working with the full authority of his chief and directly responsible to his chief; that is the way the system works. This is an example of where the Tank team have completely misunderstood the system and misread it. Indeed, their suggestion would create the kind of inflexibility which would make it more difficult to rationalise, if every second-in-command had to do the Head of Chancery's work, and which would indeed make it more difficult to reduce staff.
The Tank team have also been misled, I believe, by one single phenomenon, and that is that there was a decision in 1949 that an additional number of entrants should come in to what was then called the Foreign Service; the Tank team have noted that there are a large number of senior members of the Service now in their mid-fifties due to retire between 1980 and 1982. This was the result of a single incident. About 1949 it was decided that those who had just failed the entrance exam, in the previous three years would be asked if they would like to come in; that is to say, the pass mark was lowered and additional numbers were brought in. That has caused what has been colloquially known in the Foreign Office as "the glut". Except for "the glut", there is a natural thinning in the Diplomatic Service, and the Tank team need not be influenced by that phenomenon.
They have noted that a high proportion of the ablest of those who succeed in the entry exam and competition choose the Diplomatic Service, despite the unpredictable conditions, family separations, and general uncertainty which later attend such a career. In its recommendations on organisation and staffing, the team appears to have fallen into several unintentional 944 Tank traps. It advocates more specialisation and at the same time ignores perhaps the most important specialisation of all—the ability to communicate and negotiate with foreigners in a foreign country. An expert on a particular subject—for example, civil aviation—can be sent abroad to take part in negotiations. However, he will be much handicapped unless he has the help of this specialisation at hand.
The Tank team also assumes too lightly that many of the appropriate members of the Home Civil Service will be willing to serve abroad for periods of years. That is one of the main weaknesses in the practical application of many of the recommendations. There is an immense difference between the conditions of service which members of the Diplomatic Service accept and those of the Home Service. The diplomats know that they must be ready to serve for as many as six or more years at a time abroad in different parts of the world, often being sent at comparatively short notice. They have to make their plans accordingly. In contrast, members of the Home Service organise their homes usually in or within reach of London, their children's education, and even their wives' jobs as part of long-term domestic planning. They know that it is most unlikely that they will have to move.
The report refers to those matters but does not attach enough weight to them. I remind the House of the objections of the Civil Service unions even to the proposals to disperse some sections of Government offices to other parts of England. That difference has, I believe, been the reason for the restricted amount of interchange between the two Services hitherto. It has largely been based upon volunteers.
I fully support the first of the three options put forward by the Tank team, that more interchange should be undertaken. If the necessary volunteers do not come forward, then some special arrangements will be needed to make the secondments easier both for individuals and for families. Of the other two options, the second, the creation of specialist services within the Home Service for export promotion and aid to developing countries, is ruled out for the qualifying objections put forward in the report itself: that is to say, few suitable recruits would be attracted to the specialist services suggested.
945 There remains the third option: the disappearance of the Diplomatic Service and the creation of a Foreign Service group. Unfortunately, that is the option preferred by the Think Tank. Surely such an upheaval would not be worth while unless tangible advantages were certain. The supporting arguments in the report are astonishing. In foreign policy and other work it is stated that the standard at present is unjustifiably high. The present esprit de corps in the Diplomatic Service is deprecated. What the Tank team failed to recognise was the need for high standards and high morale when our representatives are coping with life in a distant and insulubrious place, with their families but often in small groups, while engaged in the task of promoting British interests. In considering both the mobile Diplomatic Service and the Home Civil Service, the Tank team has simply ignored the human factor.
I believe that the report is on the right lines when it proposes that unnecessary work should not be undertaken and the need for particular services should be reassessed from time to time. Nevertheless, that work deemed necessary or essential should be carried out to the highest standards. That surely should be our aim. Surveying the British scene as a whole, can we afford where excellence and high performance are to be found, to reject them?
I, like the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, feel that I have been here before. I was dealing with the Plowden Report in 1965 from an Opposition Front Bench in the Commons. However, this report contains proposals which are meant to be radical. They are extreme, even sensational, and they have been put forward knowing that they would make an impact, and knowing that they would be in the headlines. If their purpose was mainly to draw attention to these services, then no great harm will be done. Option 1 should be pursued as regards interchange. Option 2 is unlikely to get far. As for Option 3, it would be most dangerous and damaging to United Kingdom interests, and it should not be adopted.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Lord LOVELL-DAVIS
My Lords, I should like to apologise to the noble 946 Lord, Lord Saint Brides, because unfortunately another engagement caused me to miss his maiden speech. However, I wish him well and hope that I shall be in my place next time he speaks. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth on the excellence of his maiden speech, which I was fortunate enough to hear. I look forward to hearing future contributions that he will make to debates in your Lordships' House.
My intervention in a debate which has attracted so many illustrious speakers will be suitably brief. I intended to comment on only one part of the report—the subject covered in Chapter 6, headed "Export Services". However, I shall not talk about matters such as the British Council or the World Service of the BBC, except to say that although I tend to agree with the recommendations in the latter case, my view has been prejudiced by the fact that BBC Radio 4 has deteriorated to such an extent lately that for many home listeners the World Service is the only alternative BBC listening.
I should like to say a few words in appreciation of the report as a whole and to point out how important I think it is that the review has been carried out. It would be a great pity if the fact that there is disagreement to a greater or lesser degree with some of the comments and recommendations of the report, resulted in the need for objective reviews of this sort being questioned. I should perhaps say that I know of many people—I was about to say particularly younger people, but they were not all that young—who are involved in the subjects under review and who welcome the report: indeed who consider it to be not radical enough.
This House should not, in my view, fling the baby out with the bathwater. Whatever happens to this report, and I personally hope that it will be given the most careful and balanced consideration and that many of its recommendations will be taken up, its validity cannot be questioned. It is a substantial report. Advancing through life as I am, I applaud the choice of a typeface large enough, I should have thought, to give it a better reception in your Lordships' House than it has received. However, it is 442 pages long. It is more than tempting, battered as we constantly are by broadsides of paper, for people to turn to the Press for 947 exposition and enlightenment, for not many people will pay £8.50 to learn about our overseas representation.
I do not intend to round on my colleagues in Fleet Street, for I appreciate their problems with reports, Bills and other paper avalanching upon them. However, I do not think that this report has been well reported or considered carefully enough. One way and another, this treatment may have been reflected in your Lordships' House today. I hasten to assure noble Lords that in saying so I in no way intend to set myself up as an expert on the report, but simply wish to emphasise my belief in a course of action which subjects our Departments of State—lumbering on their remorseless way as some of them are—and Government organisations, to the most detailed, thoughtful, imaginative and radical scrutiny.
Long before the review was carried out I was not alone in realising that all was not well with the export services provided by Government—especially in the case of medium-sized and smaller companies. At best, they were patchy. I have travelled all over the world, developing export business in about 40 different countries. In common, I suspect, with many similar companies, I have made initial surveys of what was being offered in terms of information and general support—the real practical manifestation of Government help, not, I hasten to add, financial aid—and have found it wanting. For a start, much of the information we sought was much more easily obtainable from sources other than the Government. There was no real inducement, no special encouragement, to turn to the Departments concerned, or which should have been concerned. I remember one occasion when I did go to the Commonwealth and Foreign Office in connection with a potentially very large export deal, only to find myself passed rapidly down the line to what, I suppose, was the lowest level compatible with my keeping my self respect. It was not encouraging.
I have heard my quota of horror stories from businessmen who have found here at home little response to their needs, and in our representatives abroad lack of involvement, lack of expertise and lack of local knowledge—indeed, in some cases, 948 lack of any interest in export promotion, except of the most languid sort. The experience of some big firms may be different. In their case the ambassador may really put himself out, but in any event the really big export-minded company can afford to have its men in the field.
I am concerned with the smaller but maybe no less keen company which cannot afford to send representatives on a number of exploratory, long-distance trips, much less maintain a presence in many different countries. Such companies badly need expert, on-the-spot information and advice—fast, specific, detailed and accurate information about present and future trends—and commercially-informed advice. On the face of it, the sources are there in the form of our embassies and consulates and their commercial attaches and representatives. But are they fruitful sources? It is clear that all too often they are not, and perhaps this is scarcely surprising given the present set up.
Table 6.12 on page 104 of the report explains one of the reasons. Compared with other countries our people lack export specialisation. It is as simple as that. Even those who make a real effort to make up for their lack of training and expertise and to promote exports are unlikely to have much effect or, indeed, greatly to enhance their future careers, because they are on the great Departmental merry-go-round. They will be on station for only a few brief years, and from a career prospect point of view their feet should not stray far from the diplomatic ladder. How different it is in other countries—in the countries with which we are or should be competing in a harsh and uncharitable world.
For almost the whole of my adult business life I have been listening to, and in my own way observing in its various forms, the dictum, "Export or die". Yet here we are still, it seems to me, wanting to play in the amateur league; gentlemen players, more concerned it seems to show the flag than to win exports. Is it not astonishing, for example, that in that booming area, the Gulf, our Arabists are mostly diplomatic rather than commercial? I am less concerned with flying the flag than with making our way in the world, for by making our economy strong we can ensure that no one writes off the part we have to play in the world.
949 In other countries Government support and involvement is taken to be of the greatest importance to the business of exporting. The private sector receives much help and encouragement; for the fact is that so far as export support is concerned, as the authors of the report conclude, there is no alternative source to Government. The question is: how should Government provide these services in the most efficient and effective way? Surely it is only common sense—or so it seems to me as a business man—that export services and those who provide them should be business-minded rather than Government-minded. It is a matter of common sense that, if one wants to export, one certainly needs staff who know how business operates and who have the necessary business experience.
When we consider the present situation, I think it is clear that we need a new type of recruit to Government export services—preferably younger people (for it demands enthusiasm and stamina) with business experience. Having, as I said, spent most of my adult life in business and also having been fortunate enough to serve in a Department of State, I have seen and appreciated the difference in attitude and approach as between the business community and the Civil Service. I simply do not believe that present Civil Service recruitment and training—much as I admire them for other purposes—are adequate to meet our needs in the export field. Nor do I believe that the services that do exist—largely those for providing information—are even co-ordinated in a way that makes it easily possible for interested companies to make use of them.
§ Lord SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I ask my noble friend when he last approached either the British Overseas Trade Board or the Department of Industry, which, of course, is the first port of call, not the Foreign and Commonwealth Office?
§ Lord LOVELL-DAVIS
My Lords, my noble friend has me at a disadvantage. I think that the last time I approached them was about three years ago. I was heading for them earlier this year but I was put off by a not particularly fortunate experience when dealing with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
950 As I was saying, I do not believe that the services that do exist—largely those for providing information—are co-ordinated in a way that makes it easily possible for interested companies to make use of them. My clear impression is—and to some extent this answers my noble friend because I have been in this field—that there are all sorts of disparate bodies scattered across Whitehall, each operating in its own little field, treating information rather as its own life blood than as plasma for transfusion, which are so separated and bureaucratised that they actually put off rather than encourage companies that try to establish contact. Surely it would be easier for, and much more helpful to, our exporters and potential exporters if these disparate elements were drawn together into a properly organised export service.
Since I have received the message that we must compete effectively in exports, I believe that there is much in the recommendations of the report, in particular that there should be:…a unitary body responsible and accountable for the three main parts of the export promotion services (overseas, headquarters, the regions); that together with the ECGD it should form a distinct part of the DOT under a Minister of State who might be called the Minister for Exports".I also believe that there should be:Specialised careers for export promotion staff, involving postings at home and overseas".In short, I believe that Chapter 6 of the report makes a lot of sense and that it offers alternatives which would be a great improvement on the present system.
I believe that there are a great many improvements that can and should be made in the export services offered by Government and I am glad that the CPRS have had the courage to look squarely at the problem and, in spite of the formidable opposition that they must have expected, have made the comments and recommendations that they feel the situation demands. In doing so they are neither protecting nor promoting any special interest of their own, as has been suggested here this afternoon, but are simply proposing what they genuinely feel is best for this country.
Perhaps, above all, I value the Review simply because it subjects an important area of Government activity to such searching examination and actually has the temerity to make significant recommendations, for I do not believe that 951 Departments of State or Government bodies generally should be free to pursue their own way without, from time to time, radical outside reappraisal of their activities. In that sense, and in its specific area of concern, this is an important, obviously thought-provoking and worthwhile report.
§ 7.38 p.m.
§ The Earl of LIMERICK
My Lords, this debate would be memorable if only for the two maiden speeches of rare quality which we heard this afternoon, which were based upon an unusual breadth of experience. They were highlights in an especially valuable debate and, therefore, I am all the more sorry that I undertook an engagement before I knew which day would be allocated to this debate and that I shall be unable to be present for the conclusion of the debate.
I should like to return to some of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, with whose basic conclusion on Chapter 6 I fundamentally disagree. However, before doing so I should like to take up a point first raised by the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, in his maiden speech—namely, as he put it, a plea for a society for the prevention of cruelty to the Think Tank. I would put it a little differently and say, a society for the promotion of the objective study of the report.
In paragraph 19, page xv, there are the three options, sub-paragraphs (a), (b) and (c)—interchange, total separation, total integration, as they might be paraphrased. I think it is fair to point out that the Berrill recommendation was, as he put it, marginal in expressing a preference for the third option of integration. Like others, led by the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and my noble friend Lord Home, I have a preference for the first of these options, the interchange. I am told that there are currently 150 Foreign Office personnel exchanged outward and 48 inward exchanges, mainly from the Department of Trade. Clearly there is scope for a good deal more of that, and not only between these two Departments, or Whitehall alone, but, as has been suggested, more changes with industry.
952 There is one more general point—and here I follow the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis. The chief danger is not that the main recommendations in this report will be accepted, but rather that they have already drawn so much flack from so many quarters that much good research and valid minor recommendations may be overlooked. He pinched my phrase about the baby and the bathwater, so I shall change the metaphor and say that I think that there is a danger that so much water may be baled by critics from the fish tank that some promising young marine specimens may not mature.
It is entirely valid, as did the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae—to whom we are greatly indebted for introducing this topic—to take a step out of the ranks and look at yourself. However much we may be irritated by the defeatist approach in the report and by the proliferation of acronyms, by the transparent prejudice of certain passages, or whatever may be our pet aversion to certain of its pages, this should not prevent a critical examination on their merits of all the recommendations to find those nuggets which the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, was seeking.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton—the conventions of the House prevent me from referring to him as my noble friend; he is certainly a very valued colleague; we have it in common that we have a doubly unpaid interest as members of the British Overseas Trade Board and as chairmen of area advisory groups—in my case the Committee for Middle-East Trade—I am the first to agree that there is more to life than economics. But others have spoken eloquently to that theme, so I shall address myself to the promotion of our overseas trade interests.
I should preface this by saying that we are practising what we preach. A detailed study of the whole of the report is to my knowledge currently being undertaken by the Association of British Chambers of Commerce, by the CBI, and the British Overseas Trade Board itself. In concentrating on this area I am following the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, and the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis. My immediate quarrel is with the narrowness of the approach. Paragraph 9 on page xi contains the passage:Our method in the review is to analyse in turn each of the separate functions which together make up overseas representation. We identify 14 of these".953 The first is economic, social and environmental work; the second is export services, and among the remaining 12 there is none with any direct connection with overseas trade. Thus the whole thrust of the research and the argument is on export services.
There is not a single word in the report—an astonishing omission, which has been commented on—about invisibles: not a single word about the valuable work that has been done in promoting this by the Committee on Invisible Exports and other bodies, and the vital contribution which this plays in our balance of payments situation. I shall not dwell on this because my noble friend Lord Denman will be speaking to this theme later. There is not a single word about the importance of overseas investment, the part which it plays in our balance of payments, and the consequent vital role of our posts overseas in advising on both inward and outward investment. We have these 14 categories but only one of them, and that too narrowly, looks at what is termed export services.
Cost-effectiveness is an entirely proper criterion, but not if narrowly used. The criticisms that are made in certain passages of the report are ones that we should take seriously. I am not saying this in a mocking tone; there is a lot of truth in many of the criticisms. In many sectors, less work could be done without detriment to the users of the service; the effectiveness of some functions may be overestimated; some functions could, at least in principle, be undertaken other than by Government. Some procedures are too complicated; some are duplicated.
The phrase "unjustifiably high standard" has been quoted with some derision. I think that there is a case where tasks may be taken to a standard which is not cost justified, just as one can spend a lot of effort in collecting information which, it turns out on examination, nobody will make effective use of. Although I find this more difficult to assess or to think of a good example, some work currently done overseas might more cheaply be done at home. But it is no use, in a situation where inevitably one faces overall expenditure constraints, demanding more of anything in general without accepting the implication of less 954 of something else. We know—and if we did not know the report tells us so—that nationally we are already heavy spenders on export services. The ratio of exports won to funds spent on export promotion is some 50 per cent. higher in our case than it is for France or Italy; some 100 per cent. higher than for Japan, and 150 per cent. higher than in the case of Canada. I am not saying that we spend too much, but one cannot indiscriminately ask for more services without being prepared to say what might go to make way for them.
If pleas are to be raised, as the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, has just pleaded, for more specialisation, more expertise among overseas export staff, we must recognise that that is equivalent to a demand for more money. At the expense of what? I suspect that many of the complaints which arise in this respect come from exporters who are doing too little to help themselves and expecting too much of Government services in a way that does not seem to be the case with their competitors from other countries. That remark is based on certain direct experiences.
I hope that the virtual unanimity of unflattering comment on what is an avowedly radical report will not be interpreted as the establishment closing its ranks. In so far as users of export services are concerned this is certainly not so. As one representing, through chambers of commerce, the interests of users of these export services I would say that we never hesitate to criticise individual, or what we may see as structural, shortcomings as we perceive them. The mechanism for evolutionary change, consultation, exists, and it is being used and it is working. I think that the most notable reaction to the initial leaks on the thrust of the Berrill Report was the virtually unanimous reaction of the users of the services in resisting the thought that there should be a structural change to the system, especially an organic divorce of the political and diplomatic services overseas. That is a point of view which I would strongly endorse.
Although we do not accept, by the run of this debate, the defeatist, negative approach, and while maybe the "we would not start from here" argument is the one that applies to certain of our views about 955 overseas practice, nevertheless what is at stake is an effective presence. The commercial offices may be, sometimes should be, located away from the chancelries and there are places where this is compelled by geography—where it is not convenient to move from a down-town location to visit a commercial office—and there are places where there is a certain inhibition in visiting a commercial office which abuts on to a political office.
I believe that specialisation can be overstressed, but I would most strongly reinforce the point made earlier in the debate that it is vital to have a team representing your national interest. At the first level it is top political contacts; at the second level it is an enthusiastic introduction to information systems and local opportunities, mainly from United Kingdom staffs, and at the third level, which can be most valuable in practical terms, from locally engaged officers who could with benefit be given more authority and in many cases, more responsibility. This is all part of team-work. I would mention that during my recent journey to the Gulf I visited nine posts long known to me and I came back greatly heartened with the considered view that never in 10 years could I think of a time when the standard of our representation, both political and commercial, was higher than it now is. As my noble friend Lord Eccles said, we need a single playing captain to head this team and that captain is the British ambassador or High Commissioner. Integration would thus not be the answer; those who engage themselves in the Foreign Service really are different from those who sign on for the Home Civil Service.
As for the suggestion that there should be more selectivity in these export services, investing in success is a concept which we all recognise and which in general we applaud. It raises certain problems and it is followed already to a substantial degree, but in general it needs extra resources, and often there is nothing left to compensate for those extra services. It leads to arbitrary bureaucratic decisions which are unlikely invariably or frequently to be cost effective; therefore experience has shown that it is better to respond to demand, to reinforce the success and to put in extra effort, where it 956 is shown to be warranted. This way the suspicions of arbitrary choice can be overcome, and always there is available the process of consultation with any advisory groups, sector working parties and other interested parties as to where that extra effort can be effectively deployed.
In my own committee we would welcome questions of this form: How would any extra resources be divided—by country, by product area or in support of special bids? Would you make a case for any of these? I would regard it as entirely fair that they should be coupled with a supplement, and offsetting saving if you want extra effort. Even more fundamental is the question of diminishing or eliminating services in posts with low trade turnover. This indeed seems perverse to those who are trying to effect entry into distant, difficult or little-known territories. Few exporters to Brussels or Baltimore would think of using the services of posts to a great degree, but they would automatically if they were going to Belize, Botswana or Burma. All three of these, I notice, because they are taking less than £10 million per annum of United Kingdom exports, are posts which are living under the shadow of the Berrill question-mark.
Growth of trade is one, but only one, measure of the effectiveness of any given post. The level of trade may of itself be a measure of opportunity. Noble Lords will recall the tale of the two salesmen who landed off the same boat in a certain territory. One immediately sent a signal back to his office, "No one wears shoes; am returning home immediately", while the other sent the signal, "No one wears shoes; send out a sales team in support". We are well served by our representatives overseas. Let us by all means criticise them when we are disappointed, just as we much more frequently praise them when we are pleased. But let us cherish and nourish this valuable national asset, not dig it up by the roots.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Lord HILL of LUTON
My Lords, there have been so many powerful and effective speeches in this debate, not least the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, with which it opened, and not forgetting two superb maiden speeches, that I shall do what I suspect others will 957 do, namely destroy part of my speech and concentrate on two points. First, much has been said today about the principles that seem to underlie this report: that international influence is based on economic performance, and that as Britain's economic performance has declined so, therefore, must her influence—in other words, if you cannot influence the world by your strength, do less to influence it by persuasion.
I have sought to apply those to the references in the report to the BBC's External Services. The report praises the External Services; it speaks of their worldwide reputation for high quality broadcasting, their tradition of objectivity professionalism and commitment, worldwide trust as a dispassionate and independent source of information; and it describes them as one of the United Kingdom's success stories. It goes on to recommend more money for capital purposes, to make the signal better heard and stronger—in short, to convey the message to a larger number of people. But having made the services more audible, having recommended the expenditure of money to strengthen the signal, the report goes on to propose substantial cuts in the output. You make it more audible; you cut down the hours during which this more audible service is used; you reduce the languages it uses; you reduce the programmes; you invest more in the services and then you under-use them. It is an odd doctrine. For a saving of 10 per cent. in cash you cut the External Services' broadcasting by 40 per cent. I find that puzzling.
The Think Tank knows what it would cut. It is explicit on this point. "Don't broadcast to your friends in the developed Free World"; so no more broadcasts in French, German, Finnish, Italian, Greek, Portuguese and Spanish. Britain is to have nothing to say to those countries, no message to give. Had Britain nothing to say to Greece a few years ago, or to Spain and Portugal even more recently? Then there is the World Service in English, with a regular audience of about 8 million. That is another audience the Think Tank wants us to give up. No broadcasting to the United States or Canada, Australia or New Zealand. No wonder there is now down for consideration by the New Zealand Parliament an 958 Opposition Front Bench Motion protesting against the cuts and saying that those who live in the South Pacific would be deprived of one of their two main sources of overseas news.
The Think Tank makes a good deal of the value of an unbiased world news and information service, but not to America, Australia and so on. It takes a poor view of talking about Britain because it says it will not contribute to the United Kingdom's political and economic interest. Some people want to hear about this country. They want to buy British. They want to hear about our open society, with its ups and downs, its warts, its hot flushes, its strikes and all. You really cannot turn broadcasting on and off and expect to get listeners as you do so.
Of course one could go on. There is the further proposal of no broadcasting from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.—right out, not in English, or in any other language. Just silence; an abandonment of the airwaves during that period. You would think that these brainy people would realise that when it is night time in Italy it is quite different time in New Delhi; and that to go for peak listening periods in different countries, in different parts of the world, it is necessary to broadcast around the clock. This proposal in the report would mean no breakfast time broadcasting in the whole of Asia, from Tehran to Tokyo, to the Gulf, to Eastern Central Africa, and to much of Soviet Russia. It would mean no peak evening broadcasts to Latin America. The BBC would lose much of its peak time, a crucial audience over a wide swathe of the world's surface. But there it is—that is what is recommended; that is what the application of these principles seems to lead to.
Surely it is not true that we need not cultivate our friends. Britain may no longer be politically, economically, militarily, the pre-eminent Power that it used to be. But a distinguished allied ambassador, lately at the Court of St. James, wrote these words:As a cultural Power it is still an empire of world dimension";and he added:It should remain so for the benefit of us all".I want briefly to dwell on one other, more difficult point. We are fairly good in this 959 country at running ourselves down, often forgetting that the world is eavesdropping on what we say about ourselves. We have much to grumble about. We have many troubles in this country—troubles of all kinds, heaven knows! The media, preferring the bad news to the good, remind us daily of those troubles. Yet—and this is the difficult part—despite it all, and despite our reluctance to save ourselves, this country has an enormous amount to offer the world.
It is many years since I did a four-year stint in the co-ordination of overseas information services. I learnt a very great deal. I began by knowing nothing about the British Council, apart from what I had read in the Beaverbrook Mess. Your Lordships will remember the attacks of those days; such as, that the British Council concentrates on Morris dancing in Madagascar. You will remember all that derision which was poured on the British Council. But I came to realise that it is a superb presentation of this country, its culture, its history, its quality.
One other thing I learned was that there was then—and I believe there is still—much which the rest of the world finds to admire in this country. This is not just jingo sentiment; it is a fact of experience. This country has an atmosphere of serenity, of tolerance; a capacity to make democracy work; a quality of life which cannot be measured by export performance, balance of payments, or by keeping up with the Joneses. It seems to me that the thinkers in this Tank have ignored what this country has to offer, and still has to offer, despite our troubles, to which we give such publicity.
It seems to me that the report has gone wrong in omitting to weigh things which, admittedly, are difficult to quantify. It is a basic error in much of this report; it is a partial blindness which is a serious flaw. Unless we recognise, as foreigners do, that this country has much to offer in the quality of life, then our gaze, our examination, of the external services is at its least partially incomplete, and at its worst wholly misleading.
§ 8.5 p.m.
The Earl of SELKIRK
My Lords, at this stage I think that most of us are hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy- 960 Roberts, will rise to his feet fairly soon. But I cannot resist the temptation of saying what a real pleasure it has been to have heard two of the finest maiden speeches I have listened to in three decades. It is reassuring to know that we are so well fortified by noble Lords of such wisdom, particularly in this field of the European Common Market. Many problems will arise here. We have discussions from time to time arising from the work of the Scrutiny Committee, but we must be very careful to know that we really are understanding what will, I am sure, be a very big problem.
I have never been in the Foreign Office, but I have been in its pay, for four years when I was in South-East Asia. Here I should like to take up a point which the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, made, relating to the difference of quality, of character, of people who stay abroad. It is not a mere vacation for these people. They are on duty 24 hours a day. These people go away for a long time, and they are forgotten about. Others do not know what has happened to them. This kind of situation requires a special kind of chap.
When I read the report I was rather astonished by—though perhaps in a way I even admired—the unashamed dogmatism with which it laid down the behaviour of almost everybody. The report told the Foreign Office how it should run embassies, how and where it should communicate with other countries, as if the Foreign Office was just starting in this work and had not got very far. There was this wonderful point about entertainment; one was told to entertain in bars. If one went home one should send one's wife upstairs as if she was in purdah because it would be a nuisance for her to take part in one's conversation with some of the people in the neighbourhood. These are curious quotations, and I wonder where the authors of the report got them. The interesting point about the report is that nowhere does it quote an authority for any of the opinions it gives. This leaves me with the impression that perhaps the authors knew the answers before they took the evidence.
The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, is not here at the moment, but he brought out the fact that the authors of the Report more or less appointed themselves. 961 I do not know whether or not that is true, but there is an impression that they have not given the attention to the evidence that they might have done, If this is so, it raises a rather serious point, because the authors of the report have taken a scunner to the Diplomatic Service. Some of these points have been raised by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Croy. They are perfectionists—that is a bad thing. There are too many able people in the Service—that is a bad thing. Their security is too high—that is not good, either. There is an esprit de corps—and this is rather bad. And it leads to elitism, which of course is extremely bad, Then there is this fearful thing, "middleclassness", which I suppose, as in the case of Humpty Dumpty, can mean exactly what you want it to mean. In place of all this they want to have a common set of values and attitudes. I hope that the noble Lord will repudiate these things. I personally have never doubted that we have the finest Diplomatic Service in the world, and I think that we should recognise it. They are people who have been exposed to a very great deal indeed.
I want to say a few words about the alternatives. Your Lordships will remember that it is proposed to put the Foreign Office into a commission, in some respects under three Permanent Under-Secretaries, with a co-ordinating committee in the Cabinet Office. That sounds to me as if there is a Whitehall row going on, of which I am of course wholly ignorant. I think there is a major matter of principle here, and that is "fuzzing" responsibility. If there is any one thing which has been the main cause of the failure of democracy it is the "fuzzing" of responsibility. No one was prepared to come forward and take responsibility and if it disappears into three Under-Secretaries of State along with a co-ordinating committee, no one will know who is responsible. I hope the noble Lord will say quite clearly that there will be a Foreign Secretary responsible for the external policies of this country. I regard that as absolutely fundamental.
May I also take the other side of the question on this—on location. I have had a little experience of this myself, because when I was in Singapore I had the advantage of having everybody, in a sense, playing to me. I do not know how many 962 departments I had at times, but I know that I can quite easily count up to 12 at one time or another. This was a fundamental difference from the organisation which the United States had in Saigon. I used to go up to Saigon from time to time to see the authorities there. They had three authorities there—the CIA, the armed forces and diplomacy—and they had no meeting point outside Washington. I would say that it is terribly important that whoever is on the post should have the Government official appointment reporting to him in some way or another. I had one chap who was engaged in watching satellites, and I think he was examining thunder storms. Singapore is a very good place to examine thunder storms. He came and saw me from time to time, though I had nothing whatever to do with what he was doing. I believe he did quite a good job for his Department of Education and Science (I think it was) and there was no difficulty about this at all.
I can see no difficulty about attaching or exchanging with the home Department. They are people who work extremely well. I see no difficulty at all, and I have had experience. It is only when they think they are independent that there may be difficulty. At that time the trade commissioners were half independent, and they were the only people as to whom, if I may say so, there was just a little uncertainty as to how far they were prepared to co-operate. But if it is clear that they are playing to one person on the spot, then I can see no difficulty of any magnitude if that is desired of home civil servants.
§ 8.12 p.m.
§ Lord GREENHILL of HARROW
My Lords, I must first declare a three-fold interest: first, as a former member of the Diplomatic Service; second, as a former member of the executive committee of the British Council; and, third, as a Curren governor of the BBC. However, I am going to speak for only a very short time, because this debate has already been going for more than five hours, and my main reason for speaking is lest my friends and colleagues should interpret my silence as consent to the report. But before my short remarks I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, for taking the initiative in calling this debate. Unfortunately, I was unable to hear his speech, but I know his views and I know 963 I agree with them. His stewardship of the British Council was outstandingly successful and, in particular, his overseas visits made a great impression. I think I may be allowed to say that, in his overseas visits, the contribution that his wife made was most appreciated.
I should also like to congratulate the two outstanding maiden speakers. Reference has been made to their excellence. It did not surprise me that Lord Saint Brides, whom I have known very well over a very long time, made such an effective intervention. I thank him for it, and I found myself in agreement with most of what he said. As for Lord Thomson, I hope he will not be embarrassed when I say that, of the many Ministers with whom I served in the Foreign Office over nine years, few were more sensible, more practical and more unprejudiced than he was. These virtues made a great impact on the office and, perhaps more importantly, a great impact on the foreigners with whom he did business.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, that from time to time Government Departments and the structure of Government should be looked at from outside, and looked at radically. I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, that the Think Tank team were fully qualified to do this. I think that, had their zeal and high intelligence been combined with that of an equal number of people who had practical experience of the problems, the resulting report would have been much more relevant and much more effective. The debate has very well covered the fundamental problems which the report has created, and the criticisms, the fully legitimate criticisms, have been expressed with great eloquence and great perspicacity. I particularly found Lord Goodman's way of expressing the defects of the report quite compelling.
I do not want to repeat the objections. As I say, they have been adequately stated. I merely want to make three short points, the first being about the British Council. The British Council has the virtue of being a long-established and familiar organisation, and foreigners dealing with this country and having contact with this country naturally find it more easy to 964 deal with a familiar and long-established organisation. I think that if it was absorbed by the ODM or the Department of Education and Science one would lose the dedication of its members and would confuse the people who wish to make use of it. However, I do not think the British Council are beyond criticism. As Lord Goodman said, they certainly deserve some assurance for their future. They have long felt that they were prone to a takeover bid. They justifiably feared a takeover bid from the ODM, and they unjustifiably feared a takeover bid from the Foreign Office. They deserve to stand on their own and they deserve to be assured that they are going to stand on their own.
They might do one or two things with advantage. First, they could, I think to the benefit of everybody, occasionally take in, as the Diplomatic Service does, outstanding people from outside; and I should like to see from time to time a British Council representative appointed who was an internationally-known scholar and who could make a strong impact in the country to which he was appointed. So I hope they do not close their mind to bringing in outsiders. The second thing I think they ought to do is to make a career structure which is clear and which gives those who are going to devote their lives to the business of the Council a proper career course. The other thing they might try to do is to shed their fear of too close an association with embassies. There is a strong belief in the British Council, not without some substance, that there is a disadvantage in being too close to the embassy. If, as the report says, notable economies and conveniences of administration could be made by putting the British Council close to the embassy, or as a part of the embassy, I personally see no objection to it, and I hope they will continue to give consideration to this.
The second point I want to make is about the BBC. I believe there is a convention that a governor of the BBC does not speak about the business of the BBC in the House, but I should like to make a brief reference to the problem of audibility. This is a very real and difficult technical problem and the BBC needs all the assistance that it can get on this subject. Obviously, the problem caused the "Think Tankers" some difficulty and they, so to speak, "kicked it 965 into touch" by saying that outside advice should be sought on some of these problems. This is not necessary. The BBC knows, I think, most of what there is to know about the problems of international broadcasting and, indeed, is consulted by many other countries. It can resolve these problems with the sympathetic help of the Government without involving outsiders.
Another point I want to make is about my own Service. I am, I know, a pre-judicied witness and, perhaps for that reason, I will not speak much about it; but, since I retired, I have had an opportunity to look at it in a new way and I must admit that from time to time I have found that it is wanting in some of the requirements that are put upon it. It is improving, has improved and, I have no doubt, will improve. I do not think the experiences of the noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, are common or are in a majority, but there is no doubt there are aspects of the Diplomatic Service work which can be improved.
The last point that I should like to make is the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy; that is, the question of how you conduct your diplomacy abroad and what is the position vis-à-vis the countries with whom you are conducting your diplomacy. People are very particular about how they are treated and the Think Tank may think it convenient to do business one way but, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, said, the countries that are going to be subjected to the system advocated by the Think Tank do not think it is a good idea. I can remember a West African President who was told that we were going to make available to him a visiting ambassador who would call from time to time on his capital. He said that if that is the case the visiting ambassador would not be welcome.
People are entitled to express a view on how we do business with them. What suits us does not necessarily suit them. When we are planning the future structure, we must think of these things. People do not necessarily like being invaded by what they consider as a self-important person from London who wishes to ask a lot of embarrassing questions and call on all of their offices. There is no substitute in my way of thinking for as many resident diplomatic posts as we can reasonably afford.
966 As I say, I am a prejudiced witness in this matter and I do not wish to take up the time of the House by continuing further on these points. I think it has been an extremely valuable debate. I do not think that the criticisms of the Think Tank's recommendations have been frivolously made or made by prejudiced people. I think that those who have expressed their views are people who are entitled to have their experience taken into account. For that reason, I hope that when the Government consider the Think Tank they will regard it as a contribution to knowledge and not necessarily a guide to future action.
§ 8.24 p.m.
My Lords, may I thank the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Ballantrae, for raising this debate. I should also like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides. I remember only too well the briefing he gave us when I led a delegation to India and the excellent way he entertained us. When my noble friend Lord Selkirk mentioned the question about women being sent upstairs, I do not know what we would have done without his charming wife who did such a great deal to help him in that post and in getting to know the women of India—and she is still remembered there.
I should like also to say a word of congratulation—I do not know whether it is impertinent of me to do so—to the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. I wonder whether he would agree with me in his work at the EEC that the cultural barriers are as great in Europe as elsewhere. I feel that we should have more researchers and our students should be given more information about ourselves and learn how each of us does more and not less. I think perhaps he will also agree with me that the British intellectual and artistic achievements are greatly admired. We must continue this work and we are very grateful to him for his work in the past.
I have been to Singapore recently and I want to say a few things about the British Council and its future. Whenever I have gone overseas I have always, whether I have gone officially or unofficially, obtained the address of the British Council from their organisation 967 in London to see whether they want information in return. I found that the British Council does so much in helping understanding between peoples. I should like to see its work extended, if possible, rather than abolished, as is suggested in one of the reports. I think one must realise that it is not only the British Council that they are thinking of abolishing; but also TETOC, IUC and CBEBE. I do not know how we can do without all these organisations; the suggestion of the action to be taken does not seem to me to be sensible for the future. I should like to see extension and not curtailment. I do not think that a more cost-effective task could be performed by the rest of the administration, embassies and High Commissioners overseas.
Paragraph 215 states that expert advice could be provided by visiting educational advisers from the ODM and local development divisions. One of the difficulties about this report is that these people have just been visiting and have not been able to get down to rock bottom on what is happening in the various countries. To have somebody who is not politically connected, like those who are working for the British Council, and who have time to get to know the country, and perhaps to learn the language of the country, is very advantageous.
I have mentioned that I have visited Singapore and I found the Singaporeans found it difficult to believe that the British Council which had served them for 30 years may be abolished. As a local Singapore Ministry of Education official said, the British Council is part of the educational and cultural family, holding a privileged position through its standing and the amazing contribution it has made to Singapore's development. So pleased have the Singaporeans been with this that they have started a regional school for the teaching of languages. I visited this on two occasions and I think it is doing extremely well. Not only has the British Council helped to start this organisation but it has been able to encourage eight different countries to come in. Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are now concentrating on sending teachers to learn English and to teach English in their own countries when they go back. I think that this will be a great advantage for the 968 unity of that area. The Ministers of Education are now meeting in Bangkok. They meet regularly to discuss the programmes. This has been a great advantage and is working very well.
It seems strange to me that at the present time, when the Germans are reopening the Goethe Institute and the French are increasing their activities through the Alliance Francaise and also they are giving training scholarships, the Japanese are now coming in with their different cultural activities. It seems a pity that we are contemplating a change. As the military and economic power of this country declines surely educational diplomacy becomes more important. This fact has been recognised in Singapore.
It seems strange, too, that in the report only two paragraphs deal with the English language. The economic benefits are also underestimated in regard to English language training or teaching, which I understand brings in Britain, through the British Council's overseas work, about £6 million from teaching operations overseas. The potential growth is far greater and more diverse than the Berrill Report states. The promotion of British books is also another matter. For instance, there have been two exhibitions of books this year in Singapore, and publishers such as Longman's and Heinemann's show that sales of British books through the British Council in 1976 brought in £170 million. I understand that in Singapore, which after all is a small island with a small population, they have over a hundred serious educational inquiries made each week. Students are encouraged by the Government to come to Britain.
English is one of the five languages used at the United Nations, and even now the Republic of China has English as its second language. The British Council—and this is something which has not been mentioned before—helps the newly-dependent countries to write text books and recruits qualified consultants for various Ministries. It also holds classes. There is a statement in the report that there is duplication between the British Council and other Government financed agencies and that is inefficient and confusing to the recipient. Personally, I do not think that the recipient knows from where the money comes. He does 969 not mind so long as he gets the teaching that he requires. Therefore he is perfectly satisfied with the British Council.
Another benefit of the British Council is that it is not tied by any political considerations. The report says that that may lead to some over-emphasis on formal education compared with other forms of technical co-operation and training. I do not know why it is considered that this should be done by the British Council any more than the other people it is suggested may take their place. There is the suggestion in the report that educational and cultural work overseas should be performed by diplomatic posts and development divisions with resident educational experts for DES and ODM as appropriate. Surely this would be much more expensive. I suggest that this is carried out extremely well at the moment by the British Council.
There is one contradictory statement on page 391. It states:The Government should no longer put resources into ELT except in poor and intermediate developing countries".The next paragraph reads:Direct teaching of English should not normally be undertaken in poor and intermediate developing countries".Surely those are completely contrary statements.
The other point that I should like to mention relates to students. More students are going to the British Council since fees have been put up in this country. This is unfortunate. Many people cannot now afford to pay unless they are sponsored by their Government and therefore they are taking much more advantage of the British Council itself.
I should like to support the whole of what the noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, said about broadcasting. I understand that if we reduce the broadcasting overseas from four hours to two hours it would put us into the external broadcasting league of Albania. Surely we do not want that. We should rate ouselves higher than that. The BBC is extremely highly regarded abroad, much more so than are our competitors, because of its independence of both Government and commercial interests. I have lived in Indonesia, Malaysia, East and Central Africa, and 970 at that time in Indonesia it was the only way of getting any news from the outside world. I therefore hope this change will not be made. Overseas broadcasting is a great advantage to this country and to people abroad.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Lord HALE
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness who has an exceptional personal record in the fields of social service abroad and connections with great institutions like the former Commonwealth Society for the Blind and in the very fields with which the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, has had a close connection. One can understand the feelings of the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, in his forceful and, at times, almost resentful speech—a speech to which it was good to listen—at having this report issued just at the time he completed five years of distinguished and successful service. I should like to associate myself with the very genuine compliments made to the two maiden speakers. I listened to both speakers with benefit. I want to speak briefly and that means cutting out all the nice things I was going to say and saying all the things that will probably be resented.
The British Council has a dubious past; it has always tried to do good, no doubt, which is excellent. When I first came across it in 1945 it was a subject of jokes of the intelligentsia, and I have on occasion repeated one or two in the other place. The British Council has improved enormously. It is regrettable that it may have to submit to some tough measures. I wish someone would look at the alternative.
I think the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, may have missed some remarks that the noble Baroness made following up, agreeing with him and expanding on his thesis about the importance of English. I agree with every word he said. The use and teaching of English is one of the best methods of foreign education. If people are taught to acquire the reading of English, that is the best possible way over scattered communities of acquiring a love of literature which I hope is inherent in most Englishmen.
But even these things are altering. I gather that the definition of art now is that one line is not art; two lines are art 971 provided they are not parallel. We have moved from the immense canvasses of Delacroix, Canaletto, and so on, to the utmost simplicity. I am in favour of this, my Lords. I believe the greatest stream of art should derive its waters from many tributaries; and I do not think one has a right to pass harsh judgment on the original works of any lover of the arts, painting and sculpture, and so on.
This is a doctrine which must necessarily be applied to a wealthy country in the plenitude of its expenditure. If cuts have to be made, then there must be some arbitrary judgment. I do not know the unhappy Sir Kenneth Berrill who was responsible for this report. I found it a considerable work. I found the arguments deployed with ability and clarity. It is a monumental report which must have involved him and his small team in an immense amount of work. He says it involved an immense amount of travelling. I do not find it to be written in bad English. I do feel perhaps that his temerity in treading on some sacred preserves may have earned him the rebukes which we have heard so constantly. The noble Lord, Lord Lovell-Davis, and the noble Earl, Lord Limerick, made excellent speeches in which they gave him a very fair hearing for his proposals.
There are questions raised in the report which have not been touched on. The question of the American alliance has been mentioned. It is getting very difficult: what have we got to offer America when they see the state of our Forces? They have rescued us in two wars and they have treated us with great generosity. I saw my own ideals perish when the source of information was Radio Free Europe and when the prompter of much British foreign policy, or the supplier of propaganda for it was the Central Intelligence Agency. We never heard how the Colonial Office permitted the so-called revolution in British Guyana, financed and directed, as we now know, by the CIA; and the alleged plot, revealed to the House of Commons, to burn Georgetown and the suspension of the Constitution, was wholly a figment of the rich imagination of the CIA.
The noble Lord, Lord Home, to whom I listen with more respect, personal and political, than almost any other Member of this House, said that we must beware of 972 introspection. I gave my honest opinion—it is worthless and I do not profess otherwise—that the Government really are now engaged in a last great economic struggle. If this is lost over the next few weeks, I do not think we need introspection to say that, with the steel industry in the state it is, with the threat of an all-out strike of electricity power workers, cogitating on just what a disaster that could mean, to claim there is nothing like leather is not good enough.
In effect, many of the speakers today might have said:Not a minute on the day,Not a penny off the payin this time of crisis. Something has got to go and as I have already spoken for nine minutes, I will conclude by mentioning figures which were given in another place last week: the social wage for 1976–77 is estimated at £1,460 per head and £2,920 for a married couple. I will not quote the figures; but the figure for education, libraries, science and the arts is £314 per head of the community. We ought to look at this situation. We ought to be prepared to say: "Well, we don't like what you have said, but we will go through it carefully, item by item, and see what little sacrifices we can make here and there". I am sure the BBC World Service gives a very remarkable performance. One can look at it and see whether it can be pruned—most trees benefit from that.
Finally, let me say this: About six years ago, I spent my last holiday with my wife. We were in Sweden and we went together to the lakes below Stockholm. That was one of the most sophisticated countries in the world, with the immense prize of vast resources of timber—almost limitless—and with a sophisticated well-organised, well-governed people. They appeared to have the secret of the future. But where is Sweden now? A series of currency crises have arisen. These storms have come and those economists who have lectured us so much all these years have little to suggest in the way of a solution. One solution, we are told, is to try to get together, recover the wartime spirit again, and so by preparing ourselves to make individual sacrifices, we could, perhaps, get together to save the country from an impending and grave disaster.
§ 8.47 p.m
§ Lord DENMAN
My Lords, I hope you will allow me a few moments to dwell on a subject which has been mentioned by many noble Lords: the invisible earnings of this country. Before doing that, however, I should like to comment on one particular aspect of the gloom of the report, the constant references to the diminished power and influence of this country. None of us will dispute the diminished power, but I certainly dispute very hotly the diminished influence, and I believe there are many here who will support me.
Some 21 years ago, it became apparent to us and to the world that we could no longer act unilaterally in a power structure. We had to relate this to other nations in the world—now perhaps the nations of Europe and America—and to work with them, not unilaterally. That made us a Power which was not to be reckoned with in any minor international incident. It took five to 10 years for us in this country and for the rest of the world to come to terms with that. Ten years ago it was apparent to all of us that this had happened, but 10 years ago we began, in my view, to rebuild our influence in the world; and we have heard today from many quarters of how we are regarded and the way the world now relies on us. I believe that situation is gaining in strength every day, every year. In my travels round the world, I am constantly being told: "You are a Briton; stand up and be proud of it. You have great things to give us. You have leadership, understanding and you have skills unlimited."
I say this as a background to our invisible position. I simply cannot understand how an inquiry commissioned by the State can make the incredible error of a total omission—the invisible invisibles. I must give a figure or two and I hope that your Lordships will be tolerant with me. In this last year the invisible earnings of this country were no less than £13,000 million. That is rather more than half the total of our visible earnings. Our visible exports amounted to £25,000 million. Those invisible earnings grew last year at the rate of 25 per cent. They are the services which Britain can offer the world, be they education, medical, banking, insurance or shipping, which the 974 world needs and where we very frequently have world leadership.
The case which I would present to your Lordships is that we are striving forward in these areas in the world and our influence is growing. A very large measure of this success is dependent on all the institutions of our country which have been brought into question by the Berrill Report. I travel the world, and have the pleasure of the company of many noble Lords, and I cannot speak too highly of the support which every embassy to which I have been has given to our efforts to promote invisible earnings. It is given without thought of time, trouble or effort. Whatever initiative we have offered to them, they have picked it up and doubled it and given it back to us.
In support of the embassies, the work of the British Council and the BBC's External Service is something which I cannot quantify, but I believe that it is of the highest possible order. Although I am totally critical of the Berrill Report, I must join in the chorus of thanks for having been given the opportunity of understanding and being able to stand up in this House and vindicate the services which I personally value so highly.
I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, who talked about the basis on which the inquiry had been conducted. I have said that it baffles me how an inquiry of this kind can have forgotten about the invisibles, and it raises very serious issues in my mind which I wish to present to your Lordships. I believe that the conduct and development of our influence in the world, which, as I said, I believe to be growing very fast, is something outside the comprehension of the economists and it is not necessarily understood by the politicians. I believe that this has come about because there is a total lack of understanding in Whitehall. I should like to suggest to this House that it should be considered whether there ought to be some form of advisory panel given to the Foreign Secretary, just as the Department of Trade has an organisation called BOTAC, where people of goodwill come together to consider how certain aspects can be developed. I believe that had such a group of people existed, this report would never have got one inch down the road that it took. I believe that it is the blinkered existence—and I can understand how it 975 came about—which must be broken open and given freedom for the development of those great service industries on which this country relies.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ Lord SHERFIELD
My Lords, it is some hours now since we listened to the maiden speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth. But I am sure that those of your Lordships who are still here will have those speeches clear in your minds, because they were two excellent speeches. It may be thought that enough ex-Excellencies have already taken part in this debate, and there may be more than a suggestion that they are not only past mark of mouth but, also, to use a recent term of art, "old fuddy-duddies". So I shall intervene only to refer as briefly as possible, and therefore probably with far too broad a brush, to three or four matters which do not change very much over time.
I have always been struck by the degree to which Foreign Service officers are objects of resentment and envy on the part of broad sections of the population, a position which to some extent they share with farmers. As I happen to have been both, I am doubly conscious of this: we are supposed to be specially privileged in some way. There is nothing new here, or indeed specific to the United Kingdom. But as our society gets more envious, so this resentment deepens, and this may help to explain why there is a kind of seven-year itch to investigate the Foreign Service, but not other services. It is about seven years since Duncan and about 14 years since Plowden. This perhaps also helps to explain why the current investigation, unlike previous ones, seems by all accounts to have been a hatchet-job carried out with a certain amount of arrogance and relish.
My next point refers to the suggestion that you can replace resident representatives at overseas missions by itinerant bureaucrats. To criticise this proposal is no reflection on the bureaucrats, some of whom take to diplomatic life like ducks to water. Certainly, there are posts where other Departments of Whitehall must be represented. Washington is one, and the representation there has for many years been a microcosm of Whitehall. The same applies to the headquarters of international organisations, 976 New York and Brussels being two outstanding examples. But there needs to be close supervision and coordination on the spot, by the head of mission, of the political and diplomatic aspects of the total activity in these places, and the head of mission may himself have to conduct or intervene in negotiations in very important matters. Possibly, the authors of the report have been too strongly influenced by the case of Brussels, which is an exception, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, said, a most important exception. In the regular diplomatic post, there is no substitute for a resident mission.
Secondly, it cannot be too strongly emphasised that diplomatic representatives cannot sell British goods. It has been said before in this debate, but I make no apology for repeating the point. Only British industry can sell British goods. The diplomatic representative can make contacts, set the stage and act as an impresario, but only the manufacturer or his representatives can do the selling and guarantee the quality and the suitability of the goods. Misconceptions about this aspect of the matter arose out of the Duncan Report and they seem likely to arise in an even more exaggerated form from this one.
The third matter is the much canvassed question of entertainment. I can assure your Lordships that you cannot run an embassy on ham sandwiches and beer, and that applies to the senior staff and to consulates-general, as well as to the ambassador. I once knew an ambassadorial couple who tried to do this, and British prestige in that capital sank in a few months to its nadir. Living abroad is not the same as living at home, and to attempt to equate the two, as the authors of this report do, is otiose. Practically nobody outside limited circles of urban intelligentsia in this country is impressed by ostentatious austerity in the British representation overseas. The Third World is certainly not impressed—one has only to look at the lavish hospitality of President Bongo of Gabon to his fellow members of the Organisation of African Unity to see that; the Middle East is not impressed; Latin America is not impressed; the Orient is not impressed. I am not recommending luxury or lavishness. British representatives abroad are 977 expected to keep what used to be called "a decent table", and they ought to be encouraged and enabled to do it. If you do not like something, it is always easy to claim that it should be hamstrung or abolished in the name of what used to be called economy and is now called cost effectiveness. But let us remember that even the most drastic economies in this field are made only at the margin of our national expenditures.
Few professions have had greater changes forced upon them in recent years than Her Majesty's Foreign Service. It has had to assimilate successive waves of people from other vanishing Departments; it has moved from being one of the safer to one of the more dangerous occupations; and it has had an increasingly difficult task to perform in upholding British interests as British power has declined. Its morale has not been improved by the present investigation, any more than the morale of the British Council and of the overseas broadcasting teams of the BBC has been improved.
We know that an inquiry is being carried forward in another place. All I ask is that at the end of the day the Government will ignore the bias in this report and apply it, and its recommendations, in such a way as to maintain the excellence, restore the morale and ensure the future of our representation overseas.
§ 9.2 p.m.
§ Lord LUCAS of CHILWORTH
My Lords, I come to today's debate from the standpoint of a businessman rather than a politician or anybody who has been involved in any of the Services that comprise our overseas representation. I make no bones about it, because I look at the Berrill Report from that standpoint. In my commercial activities I have always felt that a report which seeks to investigate the activities of a body and suggest remedies for deficiencies should be absolute. In this report, of course, nothing is absolute; the subject matter is far too wide and intricate for even 440 pages to embrace. We have ended up with generalisations on a number of issues, which in my view most markedly ignore any human feeling whatsoever.
I believe it would be fair to tell your Lordships that I have a brother in the 978 Service. We do not see each other very often because he is an Arabist and has spent most of his serving life abroad. Over the last 25 years of his service he has written me a few letters, and I can assure your Lordships that neither my wife nor I would have exchanged places with my brother and his wife in attending to the representation of our country in certain of the stations to which he has been posted. It has been a most difficult job. Certainly it may be said with some justification that a look should be taken at entertainment and accommodation in certain areas. I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides, who reminded us in his admirable maiden speech that the entire Service cost less than one-half of 1 per cent. of the total expenditure in the public sector in 1975–76, and that over the last 10 years it has voluntarily reduced its manpower by about 15 per cent.
How can one expect to make other than marginal savings? For my part, I would ignore that question as being of not great importance to the main theme. I believe that the main theme, in a negative way, is how a group of people can spend £144,000 during 18 months upon reviewing a service both to society at large and to the business community in particular, and also to world peace, within the context of a minimal service which they reckon should be aligned with a declining military and economic strength. I suppose that any historian could look at the post-war years and quite easily find a root cause for that decline. Any businessman, any entrepreneur, would say, "So be it".
But this is no time to retire into our shell. The best thing that we have had for 100 or 150 years is our expertise in a number of fields, and diplomacy is one of them. In paragraph 4 we read:Inevitably therefore the United Kingdom's ability to influence events in the world has declined and there is very little that diplomatic activity and international public relations can do to disguise the fact".In paragraph 6 the report says:In our view, over the time horizon of this review, the scale and pattern of the United Kingdom's overseas representation should be broadly that implied by its present relative position in the world. … This judgment about the United Kingdom's role in the world over the next decade and the likely availability of public resources for overseas representation has formed the background to this review".979 I would suggest to your Lordships that this is quite the wrong background. This starts from a negative point. We have expertise. Oddly, as one goes through the report—and I admit that I have not read every one of the 440 pages—one comes to the conclusion that its authors assumed a world bereft of foreigners. Anybody who travels abroad, whether on holiday or on business, and talks to foreigners knows that British experience in a wide number of fields—British technology, expertise and general views on a number of international topics—is eagerly sought after. It is quite wrong that if people, Governments, diplomats, businessmen, ordinary men and women in foreign countries are asking for the benefit of these qualities they should be denied them, because it will not be many months before they stop listening to anything we have to say.
The noble Lord, Lord Denman, spoke about the invisible effects, and of course he is absolutely right. How does one quantify influence? How can one quantify a dinner party? One cannot quantify these things. The Berrill Report suggests that we should be able to quantify; in that report the modern jargon "cost effectiveness" is used. I know from the last three years' work that I have done in a certain company that without the benefit of advice from foreign posts about certain situations with regard to motor vehicles, hospitals, hospital equipment, services, irrigation and a wide variety of things, companies that I have had a little to do with would not have gathered any business whatsoever. But if the board of directors asked, "Out of the value of this contract how much can you put down to the advice we received from our overseas post?" I could not in all honesty find a figure. It is there, and businessmen know it is there, and they are not prepared to accept that that effectiveness should necessarily be quantified, or recommendations for curtailment of those activities on the grounds of cost alone. Indeed, that is exactly what the report does in relation to broadcasting. It attempts to set a value on the influence that our external broadcasting has and says that it should be cut on the basis of cost. That is a very great mistake.
I should have thought that a far greater expansion in the field of overseas representation 980 should be the keynote. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, in his maiden speech—and I do not like to quarrel with that noble Lord whose experience in Europe is so colossal—who suggested that we should reduce our European representation. Why reduce it? It is almost the same in the report. I think it is paragraph 11(d) of the conclusions which recommends that more resources should be devoted to the concentration of effort on particularly promising markets or products for periods of, say, five years. I know that business houses have representation for 15 and 20 years before anything really comes home.
The noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, said that there was no substitute for the resident expert abroad. The bureaucrat making a flying visit ex-London is a complete waste of money and time. These people whom we are asking to represent us—nay, advise us at home as to what we should be doing in various places—must spend perhaps a lifetime to learn the ways in which people think, to learn the way they do things and how we should do things.
A short time ago I went abroad full of zest and vigour to do some business, and I came horribly unstuck, because I just did not understand the way the people I was trying to do business with did their business, and I was too stiffnecked to change my way. I went to our overseas post and said, "Help me. I have spent all this money, come all this way. What do I do?" They said, "You think again. You are doing it all wrong. Our commercial man knows these people, knows the way they think, knows the way you should attack this problem."
I find in the report one other very grave error. It talks almost throughout—this pessimistic attitude—of our military and economic power being so very little that there should be a rundown of the political (and I use that word rather loosely) representation. They say it as if that kind of representation is rather like a machine, that you turn a knob—fast, faster, fastest—but it does not work that way. What British industry wants is a whole network of intelligence, political intelligence and commercial intelligence gathered in from almost every corner of the world where perhaps one day a business opportunity might arise. It is too late then to send one bureaucrat from 981 London to make a two-week review and come back with the answers.
What of the Service itself? What of the men and women in the Service today? How do they see their future? What is their morale, and what is their advice perhaps to their sons or daughters, who may think of entering the Service—in other words, recruitment? If there is not going to be the opportunity to serve—and most men in overseas representation go abroad knowing that the service they are going to perform will be quite different from that at home—and unless there is a future, are we going to get the recruits? Are we going to get the people into the services representing us overseas to enable us to take advantage of those opportunities that are going to come in 10, 15, 20 years' time? I do not believe that this report contributes anything towards meeting that requirement.
§ 9.17 p.m.
§ Lord REDCLIFFE-MAUD
My Lords, I should like first to congratulate my noble friend Lord Ballantrae on having provoked a debate which all of us who have been here throughout have listened to with the keenest interest, and to thank him for having provoked the two best maiden speeches that I can ever remember having heard on one day. It seems to me that the Think Tank has not had a very good evening, and I think it is extremely important that the Think Tank and those who have its future in their hands should not be over-depressed by the reception by your Lordships' House of this particular report. I do myself believe that the idea of a Central Policy Review Staff, or whatever you call it, is sound, and that the country will be deprived of a very valuable initiative if we do not follow this up and have something at the centre which I imagine was what the Prime Minister had in mind when he first invented this device.
I must declare an interest here, because I was very much involved in what I regard as the prototype of the Think Tank, though no one else has noticed it. For the last 18 months of the War there was a very obscure office of the Ministry of Reconstruction—not an obscure Minister of Reconstruction, because he was Lord Woolton—which was limited to half a dozen people by Mr. Churchill, as he then was, and was therefore sharply 982 distinguished from the Ministry of Reconstruction in the First World War. Under Lord Woolton, we were there concerned in trying to see what could be done in the last 18 months of the War in preparation for what should be done when the War was won.
Among other things, a White Paper was produced and endorsed by the Coalition Government with all the Parties concerned enthusiastically endorsing it on a high and stable level of employment. I mention that only because that is the kind of job which I think, at any rate in those late War days, was very well assigned to a kind of Think Tank. I do not believe that this particular job ought ever to have been taken on by these people. Whether they took it on themselves—we shall perhaps hear that from the Minister—or whether they were asked to take it on by the Prime Minister or the Foreign Secretary, is beside the point. As it has turned out, it was an unfortunate assignment. I am particularly hopeful that that shall not be used as a reason for not using the device of a Think Tank in future.
If members of the Think Tank had been present throughout the debate, as some of us have been, they would have asked themselves: "Ought we to have heard this sort of stuff before we made up our minds and wrote our report?" It seems to me that some of this wisdom must have been available to them. I know how hard all the members of the service worked both in Whitehall and overseas to make it easy for the visitors to oversea posts. I have the impression, based on only a random sample of two overseas places where I happen to have been, that the visitors did not give the impression of being listeners. They gave the impression of having formed some view. I shall not suggest what it was or why they had formed it, but they were simply going to check that view and, on the whole, the checking confirmed them in that view.
In any event I believe that this has been a valuable debate in the same way as the correspondence columns of The Times were valuable in stimulating, from people who really had some experience, some comment on this important subject. I very much hope that the Government will be able this evening, or very soon, to 983 assure us that they will not implement two of the Think Tank recommendations: First, that they will not cut the BBC Overseas Services but, on the contrary, will follow up the problem of audibility and, if it means more money, deal with it with more money; secondly, that they will certainly neither abolish nor castrate the British Council.
Some time has passed since the report was published, but presumably the Government had knowledge of it at an even earlier date. As I understand it, the other place will not debate this subject for quite a long time. What has been said most authoritatively should be heeded by the Government who should study the report carefully, and there ought to be an early decision—if not tonight, then very soon—that in these two respects at any rate the recommendations will not be carried out.
As regards the rest of the report, I do not want anything that they recommend done in a hurry. However, the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, reminded us that this report has made a shot at answering some extremely difficult problems; namely, what should be the deployment of servants of the Crown, and let us call them servants of the Crown, in the overseas Diplomatic Service, on the one hand, and in the Home Civil Service, on the other? I do not think that any noble Lord would be rash enough to say that he thought the answer is that which we have at present or that he knows, at present, what the right answer should be. Very careful arguments have been put forward by certain people in the Think Tank which are an excellent basis for further thought. I very much hope that no quick decision will be taken on the basic question of the relationship between the Diplomatic Service and the Home Civil Service.
To be personal for a moment, I happen to have had the luck by a Great War to be made a Crown servant, first, from August, 1939 to the end of the War, in the Home Civil Service. I was a temporary, amateur, hack, or, if you like to call it, bureaucrat. I do not use the word "bureaucrat" in any technical sense because members of the Home and the Diplomatic Services are servants of the Crown. I then had the further 984 privilege of being asked to remain a servant of the Crown at home, for seven years at the Ministry of Education and for another six years at the Ministry of Power. Then I was asked to become a Crown servant abroad and I had nearly five years overseas. Therefore I am in a position to say that I have the greatest admiration for both the Home Civil Service and the Foreign Service. The Home Civil Service is not at present under attack and therefore I shall say no more, except that I am very proud to have ever been an amateur, temporary or permanent, home civil servant.
I enormously admire and feel proud at having in any sense belonged to the Foreign Service, into which for some reason I was pushed for the last four and a half years of my public service. That is not simply because I was a home civil servant. There is no doubt that home civil servants regard the Diplomatic Service with a certain degree of envy, although I do not say with malice or uncharitableness. This goes back a long way into history and we had better accept the fact—and everybody does—that we must get rid of it, and we can only get rid of it from both sides.
I remember very well leading, or almost leading, delegations to UNESCO conferences; eventually I became chairman of the governing body of UNESCO. There was a case of a lead Department which was the Ministry of Education. We felt that we did not receive very much help from the Foreign Service. The only other part of Whitehall that was interested in us—and it was deeply, effectively and disastrously interested in us—was the Treasury, who sent the delegations to conference after conference in order to make fools of this country, simply because there was not enough control by the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs over this essential new power that was evolving after the War in the specialised agencies.
Therefore, I am extremely cautious about any suggestion of lead Departments or of the Foreign Office divesting itself of interest and leaving it to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of Education and Science or the other one. I am quite clear that the Foreign Service is something of a vocation, although it is different from that of the 985 Home Civil Service. The vocation is a commitment. Whether one is going to get married or has been married, one of the most difficult human achievements of which I have had any experience is to be a happily married and effective spouse of a foreign servant.
I suggest that that requires much more serious attention than it has been given in the Think Tank report. It is linked with what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was so right in stressing; namely, the enormous importance of political advice and the political "specialism", if we can so call it—it is a beastly word which I do not like to employ. If we call an economist a specialist, we had better call the bloke who has an idea of what conditions are like in France a specialist, because he has lived there and is a member of a team that looks at all aspects of French society. He is able to brief Ministers, civil servants or businessmen when they go there.
That is why I am absolutely convinced that we do not want to merge the two Services or do either of the other things that the Think Tank proposes, except in so far as the Foreign Office and all of us are already doing it. This is, to make progress towards this extraordinarily easy thing to say, and difficult thing to do, which is to get inter-penetration and secondment across the barrier between home and overseas, for reasons that I shall not go into at this late hour because they are all familiar.
My experience is very limited and quite unusual in that I was a totally unprofessional head of post abroad, but I saw the essential truth of what has been said by many noble Lords this evening; that you must have an ambassador, or whatever he may be called, who is head of the whole of his staff in the embassy, no matter who pays them. The defence people can pay their chaps; that is fine. So far as my experience goes it makes no difference at all. But let us have nothing to do with this ghastly sense of a sort of committee abroad in each post with the head of the post chairman of this committee; of someone from the Board of Trade, the Ministry of Education, the Treasury and heaven knows who else. I honestly do not believe that that would be in anybody's interest, and I cannot believe that the Government will seriously consider it. Exactly the same applies in Whitehall. 986 You must have the Foreign Secretary recognised as responsible to his colleagues in the Cabinet for the whole of the business of our overseas work.
Then I think a word must be said—and only a word at this hour—about the inarticulate major premises of the Think Tank report; the things that they do not quite come out about and are altogether explicit about but which lurk beneath the surface. This aspect has been dug out by several noble Lords this evening. I seriously think that this report as a whole is a charter for barbarism. It is a charter which totally ignores, and regards as not even worth discussing, the value of anything which you cannot quantify; the value of anything which is, as the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, so rightly said in his speech, enormously valuable, particularly in the world that we live in today when, thank God!, the economic interests and the economic calculations are not regarded, certainly by the young, as the only, or even the main, considerations of ultimate value for humanity.
This report constantly and at so many points (and I shall not waste time quoting them) makes it plain that it regards those invisible exports of £13,000 million earned by insurance companies, and the like—and as the authors were economists I still do not understand this; perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us—as not worth a mention, and that it is not interested in the other sorts of invisibles, which are not unimportant. For example, take Henry Moore. Anybody who goes to Canada will find that Toronto is honouring him as a world figure, not as a Briton; not as something outside Canada but as a world figure that they delight to honour. There is Benjamin Britten, and all sorts of products of post-war Britain which are first-rate and excellent, and are as much part of our image as the strikes and the miseries which we are going to surmount when we have conquered inflation.
Finally, the report is a charter for defeatism, because having boldly and rightly drawn attention to the facts of the post-war situation, and the decline in our power in the crude sense of the word, the authors should have gone on from there to say, "And that is why what we are looking at in this report is of outstanding and unique importance. Now is the time when we have to exploit all our excellence 987 and all our capacities, both historic and present, in order to make something out of what at the moment does not look too good. We have this new and exciting European Community. We are going to make something out of that".
As the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, said, there is no ray of hope in the Think Tank report that joining the Community is one of the great opportunities that we must seize. If the Think Tank had suggested that we must seek adaptations that would make us better Europeans, we would all of us have said, "Let us look at this seriously". In fact they do not do that, but they imply an attitude of defeatism which no speech made today, with the possible exception of that made by the noble Lord, Lord Balogh, has supported. We know that we are not defeated and that we will make use of every part of our excellence, be it in the artistic field, in the humanities, in the Home Civil Service or in the Foreign Service.
§ 9.36 p.m.
§ Lord BROCKWAY
My Lords, I wish that in the order of speakers somebody else had been chosen to speak following the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, for I do not have the knowledge or experience to justify a comment on his speech. I hope he will feel that if I do not make reference to it it is not because I do not have admiration for it but because it dealt with spheres in which I recognise I am a pupil compared with his authority.
I would not intervene at this very late hour if I did not wish to discuss a subject which is dealt with at considerable length in the Think Tank's report but to which I do not think any reference has been made in the debate. Let me assure noble Lords quickly that I am all in favour of the British Council, that I am all in favour of British representation—though I dislike some of its luxury—that I am all in favour of the expansion of the BBC's services abroad, and that I welcome the suggestions which have been made, notably by the noble Lord, Lord Fulton, for co-operative education with the developing countries. I must, before going further, welcome my old friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth, though unfortunately I had to leave for an important appointment while he was 988 speaking. I assure him that tomorrow morning I will read, again with the attitude of a pupil, the report of his remarks in Hansard.
The subject with which I wish to deal is the considerable section of the report which refers to the immigration control procedure. I welcome their recommendations, as I shall indicate in detail later, and particularly the reference to the delays in reaching decisions regarding the dependants, the wives and children, of residents in this country. It is not too strong to describe as a scandal the way we have treated these people. Since 1969 the wives and children of residents in this country have been required to obtain entry certificates either from the high commission or embassy in their countries, and when this decision was debated in another place Mr. Merlyn Rees said there would be no question of an extremely long examination. But what has happened? Early in 1977 the Think Tank tells us that the waiting time for first interviews by wives and children in these countries was as follows. For the first interview it was six months at Delhi, 15 months at Bombay, 13 months at Islamabad, and 24 months at Dacca. Actually this was an improvement. At one time wives and children had to wait three years at Dacca before they had their first interview.
This is not a matter of statistics. I have had the most pitiful letters from separated wives in South East Asia, telling of the long distances they have had to travel from their village to the town where they could be interviewed, taking their children with them. There was no accommodation when they got there. They had to sleep on the streets, and they had to squat day after day for months in front of the commission building or the embassy. This is not only a question of delay in the first interviews. We have to ask ourselves whether the present procedure is right for judging the justification of the application. Interviews take place. There are village women, often illiterate, with bewildered children, and unknown interpreters. In these conditions it is almost impossible for the most sincere English civil servant to come to a decision of right or wrong.
The Runnymede Trust has made an examination of 58 cases in Pakistan of 989 people who were refused entry to this country. Of those 58 cases it was found that 55 were genuine. We are dealing with human beings, with families separated over the years. We condemn the Russians, rightly, for not allowing their citizens to leave their territory. We have to acknowledge that we ourselves do not allow wives and children of residents in this country to join them here.
The Think Tank make several recommendations on how this situation can be improved, and I want to welcome them. The first is that documentary requirements should be ignored where documentation is poor. This would remove the temptation to resort to forged documents through unscrupulous agents. Secondly, they recommend that children under 14 years of age should not be interviewed; thirdly, that the practice of looking for family likenesses should be dropped as unreliable; and, fourthly—and this is very important—that the appeals procedure should be changed. At present, when an applicant is refused entry overseas or at the port of entry in this country, he is entirely absent when his appeal takes place. The Think Tank report suggests that there should be a tape recording of the relevant interviews so that the adjudicator can judge the reason for the refusal. Fifthly, in the view of the Think Tank there should be an end to the interviewing of male fiancés, who, unlike female fiancées, are at present required to obtain entry certificates. If a fiancé does not marry an objective decision can then be made. Sixthly, they recommend that consideration should be given to abandoning entry certificates for visitors. Instead, there should be a follow-up of visitors who overstay in this country.
At present, as I know from my own correspondence, close relatives of families are continually refused permission to come to take part in family occasions—weddings, anniversaries, Jubilee holidays. This is a human problem. The recommendations which the Think Tank has made have been supported by the Labour Party Home Rights Committee, the Runnymede Trust, the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Liberation and the immigrant organisations. I want to urge upon the Government that there should be swift action to apply them, thus mitigating in some way the injustices of the immigration Acts.
§ 9.48 p.m.
§ Lord KILMARNOCK
My Lords, at this late hour, and after so many distinguished speeches, it might seem that there is very little left to be said. I should simply like to pick up one or two loose ends concerning "cultural diplomacy", which the report puts in derogatory quotation marks. To dismiss British Council activities as "high culture", which phrase is also shown between these derogatory quotation marks, as the report does in Chapter 12, paragraph 43 (b), is a red herring. Of course culture does not or should not mean just art exhibitions and ballet. It means the interaction of society with its members, the energy that they derive from this contact and all the things they do or make.
A lively culture will have lively arts and lively technology. "High culture" (their quotes) is no more undesirable or elitist than "high technology"—my quotes. These days you will not have one without the other. Artists no longer live in ivory towers, if they ever did. Few of them are even aesthetes. The artist, whether visual, literary or performing, is at the cutting edge of things, just as much s a designer of machine tools. Thank God!, my Lords, we still have lively arts, which means that we are still alive. The noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, has just mentioned some of the great names—Moore, Britten and I cannot remember whether he said Dylan Thomas. This is the message we want to get across, and the British Council is our most tireless messenger.
In the period 1945 to 1970—and your Lordships will forgive me if I just mention this; for it has not been mentioned before—very largely as a result of initiatives by the British Council in sending shows of avant garde experimental British art to such events as the Venice and Sao Paulo biennials and as far afield as Japan, the reputation of London as an art centre rose until it was the top of the world league.
I am not setting out to make a strictly economic argument but anyone interested should ask dealers what this meant in terms of their trade; and the effects of this great pioneering effort remain and are constantly renewed. Foreign museums and dealers still come to the Council wanting to put on exhibitions of British 991 art abroad. Arte Inglesi oggi in Milan last year attracted 120,000 visitors. It cost the British Council £50,000, while the host body, the Commune of Milan, contributed £60,000. This is not an abnormal distribution of costs. Incidentally, of the £0.4 million given in paragraph 42 of Chapter 12 for expenditure on fine arts, it is worth putting on record that this includes the overheads; and that the amount actually available for exhibitions abroad in 1976 was £155,000—which one would think was a modest enough sum.
In the performing arts, which have not been mentioned either, it must be stressed that no country does or can send its cultural ambassadors abroad without some support. The British Council swears it never spends money on what would happen without its subsidies; which vary between some 15 per cent. and 75 per cent., the remainder being the box-office takings. West Europe requires less support; India or Australia much more. But wherever the curtain goes up, there is no doubt of the tremendous esteem in which the British Theatre is held.
One of our leading Shakespearean actors told me recently of the extraordinary cornucopia of expectation, goodwill and satisfaction that is showered on him when on tour and of the very strong sense he has of being, with due respect to any ex-Ambassadors who may still be present, his country's ambassador. Apparently, Richard II, in Bratislava, was an unforgettable experience for all concerned. My actor friend went on to say that actors were very often out of pocket on their lodging allowances but they still wanted to go and that he, personally, felt that the relationships he formed helped to break down a series of misconceptions about what Britain was like, based on reports of strikes, apathy, poor industrial relations et cetera; while a senior British Council official told me he thought it one of his most important functions to allay people's concern about the so-called "British Disease". This supposed infirmity is probably not so much a home truth and a half truth; but our cultural ambassadors certainly do as much as anyone else to set the record straight.
In the realm of music, for example, the London Philharmonic Orchestra became 992 the first British orchestra ever to tour China where it was received with something like rapture and where some excellent personal contacts were made. This could not have happened without Foreign Office-approved British Council support.
I should like to turn briefly to Iran, where the British Cultural Festival this year combined a number of events: ballet, theatre, music, ceramics, architecture, contemporary British art, design, books, posters, films, military bands and football. They all played their part. And this effort was sponsored to the extent of some £70,000 by business interests. Why, my Lords, do we find on this list such names as BP, British Leyland, British Steel, Lloyds Bank, merchant bankers, accountants, insurance, the London Electricity Board and Plessey? Christies were there, too. Well, perhaps you might expect to find them. They subscribed precisely in order to soften a little the crude pragmatic business-like approach to newly-rich countries who might otherwise suspect—and be forgiven for suspecting—that we are there for absolutely no other purpose than staking out a corner in their newfound wealth. The lesson surely is that all nations are resentful of mere exploitation and feel happier if active cultural relations and the disinterested human contacts that emerge from them are established at the same time as business relations. Here is a significant list of British business interests that have not been slow to learn this lesson. I congratulate them. They are a step ahead of the Berrill Report.
But, curiously enough, the authors of this report have a reservation to add, quite an important one, to their general condemnation of cultural diplomacy. This point has already been made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, but I think that it is so important that I am just going to make it again. In Chapter 12, paragraph 30, they recommend that continuing provision of arts and culture should remain a high priority in the Soviet bloc, because.it contributes to our objective of breaking down barriers between east and west".This is a very interesting proposition. True, our music has always had a wonderful reception over there, but when it comes to drama the Soviet authorities will want to have prior notice of the 993 repertoire before they give it the green light; and they definitely will not touch our contemporary art, which has had such a tremendous success throughout the rest of the world. Why is this? It is because anything done after 1939 is dangerous and subversive. Turner, of course, is welcome. The art of the past is all right because it can be historically labelled and is politically defused. Yet the report wants virtually to confine cultural diplomacy to the zone where natural resistance to it is strongest and the return might well seem to be least. And it quite fails to take into account that if our cultural effort is virtually confined to that area, it is likely to increase suspicion of our motives rather than induce sympathy for our way of life. If we are seen to be using cultural manifestations only on one front, we shall lay ourselves wide open to the accusation of turning cultural diplomacy into cultural warfare. And would it not be irresistible to Russian officialdom to decide that the British Council was just a front for MI6?—if they do not think that already.
No, my Lords, the authors of the report cannot have it both ways. If cultural diplomacy is no good, why attempt it where it will meet with most resistance? And if it is so good that it should be tried even there, why not carry it everywhere? I firmly believe that credible cultural diplomacy must be worldwide. That includes the English-speaking world, which is a very low priority in Berrill's eyes because it is supposedly looked after adequately by the commercial market. This is simply not the case as commercial contact is largely confined to the sale of TV programmes and films, and the vital contact between a performer and his audience or his opposite numbers never takes place. There are parts of the world that thirst for this. May I quote from a letter from the chairman of Musica Viva in Australia to a British Council official:I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that the British and the Americans were two people separated only by a common language. At times I have felt the same might be said of the British and the Australians.Then he goes on:It would be wrong to fail to acknowledge that the tics which formerly existed between the United Kingdom and Australia are much looser than hitherto … This fact makes it all the more important, we believe, for the exposure at the 994 highest level, of the products of British culture … The British Council has a proved record in Australia and I and all my colleagues … hope that its activities will continue and, indeed, expand.What about Europe? Am I straining a point if I claim that our cultural relations are of relevance to our emergence on 1/1/78 as a fully integrated member of the European Community? The economic arrangements and advantages are not the only dimension of the Community, and this is underlined by the desire of the new applicants to join at least partly for political and cultural reasons. Does that not suggest the desirability of our maintaining our contacts at all levels, including cultural, with Spain, Greece and Portugal, whom Berrill would largely phase out?
And what about our partners themselves? France and Germany spend vastly more on cultivating us than we do on them. But all these countries—our European partners and the applicant countries plus Yugoslavia—come into the Berrill category E of non-Communist developed and Southern Europe and we are to suppose that little or no cultural contact is necessary with them. Yet, if we are so interested in Russian Communism, why should we turn a blind eye to Euro-Communism which has strong roots in France, Italy and Spain and which might be more receptive?
No; whatever the merits or demerits of the rest of the report, on which I am not qualified to touch, Chapter 12 is simply not good enough. It betrays inadequate research, lack of imagination, inconsistency and naivety. I earnestly beg the Government not to be swayed by any streamlined, no-nonsense, tough or realistic appeal that these recommendations may seem to have, because any such appeal is illusory and neither recommendation should be adopted.
Before sitting down, there is one misnomer that I should like to correct. Throughout this debate the Central Policy Review Staff has been referred to as the "Think Tank". The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, referred to the "Tankers", and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, referred to the "Tank team". It is true that the Central Policy Review Staff is generally thought 995 of as the Think Tank, but I do not think that Sir Kenneth's team thinks of itself in that category.
On 23rd March of this year a debate was initiated in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, and I attempted, admittedly without much success, to draw your Lordships' attention to the usefulness of Think Tanks. I mentioned in particular the Brookings Institute of Washington. The characteristics of true Think Tanks are that they are independent of Governments, except for a small 996 proportion of their finance; they accept work by commission or under contract; and the intellectual spectrum and financial resources available to them are far greater than those which were available to Sir Kenneth Berrill and his team. I was therefore going to suggest that it may not have been entirely their fault if they fell down on their task; but if they brought it on their own heads, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans, has revealed, that is another matter. In any event, my Lords, may I suggest to the Government that they have another think about Think Tanks.
§ 10.1 p.m.
§ Lord SHEPHERD
My Lords, your Lordships' House has a very short memory. About the time that the CPRS Committee was delegated with this responsibility of looking at the Overseas Services and the way in which they serve this country, we were in a grave economic financial plight, and there was not a voice in any quarter of your Lordships' House that did not demand that Her Majesty's Government should make the most drastic cuts in public expenditure—I repeat, drastic cuts. But, as so often happens, when the cuts are proposed the House somehow unites and says: "Not there; not there."
Let us be fair to the CPRS Committee and to Sir Kenneth Berrill. They were set up at a time of parlous economic straits. Things have changed and now perhaps we can look to a brighter and more confident future. Perhaps, therefore, some of the proposals made by Sir Kenneth and his team do not need to be accepted. I think one needs to be fair; I think that if there were any responsibility as to the choice of who should make the third inquiry into our overseas matters, perhaps the mistake was made by the present Prime Minister, who was then Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, in selecting an internal domestic body to carry out that inquiry. If I may put it crudely, it was rather like asking Celtic Football Club to carry out an inquiry into Rangers, or Everton into Liverpool. I think the body was the wrong one. Although the analysis and the material the Committee provide is of very great value both for Government and Parliament to consider, I think that the conclusions were reached in the isolation of Whitehall, if I may use that phrase. They did not take into account the basic problem and the nature of our needs within the totality of world affairs. Perhaps that became more apparent when dealing with the area which has dominated part of this debate, the field of entertainment.
I have spent a great deal of time travelling and, to me, the great strength of the diplomatic world is that, whether it is in Manila, Singapore, or in East or West Berlin, it is basically a club. Diplomats meet together; they exchange views and information; and it is that 998 exchange of information between diplomats which is the great strength upon which judgments can be made, and not so much the exchange of information between an ambassador and a host Government.
I believe very much that the embassies and high commissions have played a notable part in assisting British industry in the field of exports and trade promotion. If I have any criticism, it does not lie with the embassies and high commissions. It really lies in the way Whitehall assimilates and makes use of the material and information that is provided. Because the Chief Whip is looking at the clock, I shall not say how I would change it, except that I do not believe that the present machinery in Whitehall is sufficiently geared to make use not only of the information, but of the opportunities which our embassies and high commissions provide, to be able to go after large contracts. I do not believe that at present the machinery exists, and I hope that one day we shall find some way of having a much sharper point to enable us to assist our industries.
The Minister of State, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, has an unenviable task in replying to this debate. There are so many factors which need to be taken into account. There is much in this report that is worthy not only of further consideration, but of acceptance. But I should like to say this. First, with the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, I am quite convinced that the British Council ought to remain very much as it is today. It provides a service which I do not believe an embassy or a high commission can itself provide. Certainly, I believe that the BBC provides a service which no one else can provide. If we were to lose it, then we should only create a vacuum. Nobody would fill it and the world, and we, ourselves, would be poorer as a consequence.
Having said that—and I keep most of the other points quite loose—I would ask my noble friend Lord Goronwy-Roberts to say to his Secretary of State that an early view of the Government is required, not only in terms of the staff in our overseas offices, who are very much concerned, but also in terms of the host Governments to whom our high commissioners and ambassadors are accredited. They, too, are concerned. Therefore, 999 there is much to be said for an early view of the Government on this matter. But I hope that it is not a hard view and that, as a consequence of this CPRS report, the Government will produce a Green Paper—not a White Paper—which is a statement of their views and basic conclusions, but is open to further discussion.
I believe that there is such a wealth of knowledge and understanding which we ought to be able to contribute, not solely in the present climate or in the sense of our immediate ability to find the money or resources, but also for the future. Therefore, I hope that the Government will give us an opportunity of considering their proposals in the light of this CPRS report, giving us time for an examination and an opportunity to give our advice to the Government in this respect.
Lord CAMPBELL of CROY
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down—and I am grateful to him for giving way—may I say that I agree with most of what he has said, but he made a very important point at the beginning of his speech about public expenditure. Would he agree with an important sentence in the report at paragraph 22 of the Summary and Conclusions, which states:Although our recommendations, if accepted, will permit some savings in public expenditure, my colleagues and I have not been primarily concerned to find such savings."?The point is that they have made these recommendations, without making savings in public expenditure the primary consideration.
§ 10.10 p.m.
§ Lord GORE-BOOTH
My Lords, nobody who has served for 35 years in diplomacy can fail to have been moved by this debate. By that I mean that the service which I have been proud to serve is not much accustomed to hearing its praises sung. However, the welcome which your Lordships have given to us this evening has been most encouraging—and not just to us but to all people who are serving in the Diplomatic Service around the world. Although I cannot 1000 speak for the service any longer, I am particularly grateful for the way that welcome was expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, given that, in so far as he was speaking from a former ministerial post, he spoke not as a former Foreign Secretary but as a former President of the Board of Trade.
Many noble Lords have spoken of the splendid maiden speeches which we have heard this evening. Perhaps I may put it in this way. It is also a very great pleasure to me personally that my former boss and my former colleague are doing so well. We are very grateful indeed for their contributions this evening, and I am sure that we shall hear a great deal more from both of them, much to our pleasure and profit.
I believe that many of us greatly appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, has just said. As it has turned out and as might have been predicted, I believe that this was the wrong way to handle an investigation of this kind. The most successful committees covering big subjects like this are similar to the committee headed by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, which examined the BBC. That committee consisted of a number of people with a great variety of experience and opinions, so that all points of view were bound to be expressed in the report. Even if somebody was in a minority of one, he was still able to record his objections in an annex or a footnote. To put an investigation of this kind into the hands of a tight, small group of people living together and with a certain community of opinion could lead only to disaster. I feel that it is a great pity that this should have happened.
In the few remarks I shall make I am certainly going to look at one or two things about which I believe the committee were right. I wish that I had more feeling in addition to reason for doing this, and I should have had it had I found a word of humility in the entire volume. May I start by very quickly paying one compliment to each of the other institutions under discussion. To the BBC I should like simply to reiterate in one sentence what has been said by many other people. There has been much mention, in this volume, of alternative sources. From (shall we say?) Paris to 1001 Tokyo—either way round—there is no equivalent for accuracy and promptitude to the BBC World Service. It simply does not exist, and this needs to be understood and repeated over and over again.
To the British Council I should like to add to the expression of my own happy relations with the Council when I was in the service (again in one sentence what has been discussed in many) that if there were no British Council the state of the learning of English around the world would be pretty parlous. The other place debated this problem in the last Session and concern was expressed at the slippage in English learning, despite the help of the British Council. If the British Council were not there, the English language, as one noble Lord said earlier in the debate, would be splitting itself up with the greatest rapidity into all kinds of extraordinary versions, and that would not be to our national advantage.
I propose to mention very quickly two or three more nut-and-bolt problems which are mentioned in the report and which I, quite frankly in the American senatorial manner, think ought to be in the record of this notable debate. I will go through them quickly. The first is one with which think every diplomat will enthusiastically agree with the committee: it is that the committee looked at the accounting system in the Foreign Service and said that it was not cost effective and it referred to Sir Val Duncan's "crack" about our accounting system—that it was "in the quill pen age".
I also heard it suggested that we spend five pence for every one penny saved in the accounting procedure. I do not think I am exaggerating when I say that everybody knows this and has known it for years. Efforts should be made to do something about it. It is known that in certain fields of small expenditure for one thing or another—perhaps for a minor repair in an embassy or for some small piece of furnishing or machinery that is needed urgently—the delays are quite preposterous and the private sector does this very much better.
We all realise that there is a great obligation here of a different dimension from that in the private sector. None the less, it should be possible to take off 1002 the burden of the constant looking for mistakes. Perhaps I may make an unorthodox suggestion, which probably could not be done, but it is worth mentioning and I will not ask the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, to reply. Could not perhaps a group of officials and a group of Members of Parliament conversant with these matters try to have a quiet discussion on this matter between themselves to see whether we really could not bring ourselves up to date on it?
Another nut-and-bolt matter which I think is very important and on which the committee have made some useful suggestions is that of accommodation. I should like to read one sentence because it plays a part in the argument between the committee and the rest of us. The committee write—and very rightly:The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the PSA"—I do not know what that is, but it is the people who handle the property matters—recognise that the management of the diplomatic estate is a matter of partnership.I cite that because it is the key to something which has gone very much wrong in the report in the analysis of Government. Even in this chapter on accommodation the committee already begin to tend to allocate responsibilities, whereas any of us who have worked in this field know quite well that this partnership concept is the right one. We try to do things together with what we used, with exasperated affection, to call "the Ministry of Works"; usually we agree and, if we do not agree, the matter then goes home to top officials and to Ministers and is thereby resolved. It is not a question of the allocation of percentages of authority; but I shall come back to this again in a moment.
I also wish to say my word on entertainment. If I may say so, I thought the noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides, put very graciously the point that entertainment at home, that is to say in an embassy residence, or high commission house, had the great advantage of joining husband and wife together in a diplomatic operation; and anyone who has seen a highly professional French ambassador and ambassadress at work knows how both politically effective and aesthetically pleasurable this experience is. The recent 1003 French Ambassador and Madame Beaumarchais were splendid examples. And perhaps I may say that I know a little about this myself.
There are other reasons why the proposal of the committee that there should be an aim at reducing expenditure on entertainment by 50 per cent. would be a catastrophe. It would be a piece of diplomatic unilateral disarmament of enormous proportions. I think we can agree with the committee that there is a tendency away from large cocktail parties—and we can all rejoice at that. We can also rejoice, equally, at an informalisation of entertainment. But I was horrified to see a recommendation to the effect that junior officials were doing too much entertaining. I began entertaining, rightly, at about grade Z, or whatever it is called.
There are good reasons for this to be done. The first is that, when you arrived at a strange capital, one way to get to know anybody at all was to ask them in for a drink; otherwise you could not get started. Secondly, it perhaps is not understood that diplomatic entertaining is not just throwing a few people together; it is something of an art and a science, and you had better learn what the snags are before they begin to matter. This recommendation is just wrong, and I trust will be firmly turned down by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
I have a philosophy about a good working embassy, and that is that it is an embassy which has the maximum number of ramifications in the sense of knowing how to get to somebody or something in the country where it is serving. The great reason for that is the fall-out, the spin-off, of entertaining: one meets a man who knows a man who knows a place. If you do not entertain reasonably liberally you are beginning to miss out on that primary task of an embassy.
Again there is a deprecation of "keeping the British Community happy". One need not be promiscuous, but do let it be remembered that, particularly in countries where conditions may be difficult—and I would put that as the majority of countries—the embassy or high commission is the home from home of British 1004 people. If the embassy or the high commission fail to be at least elementarily hospitable to people of that kind they are going to complain to this country, and honestly, with the greatest respect, Ministers are not going to defend their representatives perhaps as strongly as they should. How can they? So the nightmare prospect which the committee bring up of ambassadors tearing their hair about whom they should not invite really must not become part of embassy life.
One is not asking for lavishness. One is not in these days in any danger of simply entertaining a diplomatic set; there is no such thing any more. All entertaining can have relevance. Incidentally, the inviting of colleagues or other such people to some kind of party means that you do not have to drive across the town through the traffic and spend half your morning visiting one colleague; you can probably talk to several at once if you have a party and achieve whatever you have in mind. So may I suggest that except for that first point, which is a thoroughly valid one, this is a thoroughly invalid section of the report.
Then there is a strange sentiment expressed at the beginning of one chapter, which is that in the overseas field the expertise required is expertise in the subject matter more than expertise in living among and working with foreigners. When I read that I looked back; I thought I must have missed a page, because if somebody makes a statement like that he has presumably thought about it and worked it out. Well, if the committee have, they have not told us, and it is there in the report on the basis of "That is what he said".
This brings me to one of my principal arguments. There is this curious obsession in the report throughout, that anything that Government do is done by A or B or C, who, somewhat ex-hypothesi, disagree with each other. I apologise to your Lordships if I say a word about a piece of diplomatic procedure with which many of your Lordships are perfectly familiar; I do so because really this haunts the whole report. If there is an important negotiation or discussion of a somewhat technical nature in a capital abroad, one of two 1005 things takes place. Either the ambassador is told to carry out those negotiations, in which case he telegraphs back saying, "Yes, if you will send me an expert"; or he is told, "Our Mr. So-and-so from London is coming", in which case the ambassador, if he has sense and courage, telegraphs back, saying "Fine! But my Mr. So-and-so will accompany your man from home for the first few meetings to ensure that nothing goes politically wrong." It is all so easy, but it is made so difficult in the report.
That spreads itself far further than a bilateral instance of that kind. The whole of that long and discursive chapter on the handling of economic policy, again is made on a proposition which this time is not stated but which is inherent in the whole argument. It is the supposition—which people who have never had anything to do with it might well make—that the higher levels in Whitehall are one vast battle for victory between the different individuals and the different Departments. That is far from the truth. It is the case that in the higher reaches of Whitehall, people represent different Ministers and different interests, but in fact it is a battle for consensus. Your Minister at any time, provided you have not reached a foolish consensus—and that calibre of person does not—is only too thankful if a committee or whatever group it is, can approach the Cabinet or the Minister concerned with an inter-Departmental consensus. I lived with that for at least six years and I know that that is how it works.
I think that the committee had the fundamental feeling that there was conflict everywhere and especially conflict between the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and their Home Civil Service colleagues. I assure your Lordships that there was nothing of the kind and that some of my closest personal friends in that period were members of the Home Civil Service. My only sadness is that several of them have died since that time. I hope that in putting that matter rather theoretically I have none the less been able to make it clear, because it is a major defect in the report.
I revert to the rather painful topic to which one noble Lord at least has made reference, namely, mention of the 1006 Diplomatic Service having a great ethos, and then saying that the other side of the coin is that it gives the appearance to some people of an élitist attitude. By using that obsolescent, misleading term "élitist" the committee really fall into their own trap. In these days when the word "élitist" is rapidly wearing out, it either means, "I don't like you"—I am sure it is not meant to mean that—or else suggests a theory of life by which you had better go out tomorrow and abolish Nottingham Forest and the Royal Society and go on from there. This has gravely upset a great number of good people. All right, the committee may not feel that way, but they have said it. It was an extremely foolish thing to do and it betrayed something about their attitude which has probably been taken more seriously than it should have been. However, I make it clear that it is a comment that should never have been made.
Finally, what then do I want?—if I may put it thus crudely. I can think of three and a half things. The first is that I suggest again that a really purposeful examination be made of accounting procedures. Secondly, I should like quite seriously to suggest to the Minister who is to wind up the debate that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office thinks in terms of dropping the word, "entertainment" and substituting the word, "hospitality". In these times "entertainment" slightly suggests champagne and a floor show while "hospitality" is a little more homely and genuinely welcoming—which I can assure noble Lords is how anyone visiting any well-run mission abroad is greeted.
Thirdly, I express the hope that we shall see more women in higher places in our Service abroad. I believe that they receive every encouragement and I live in the memory of Dame Barbara Salt who was first appointed to ambassadorial rank. I hope that they will be forthcoming because they add a dimension to our representation which is extremely valuable. I also hope—and I am sure that this will happen—that we shall have the closest and ever-increasingly close relationship between the Diplomatic Service and the Home Civil Service. I have given noble Lords my experience, and I am sure that that relationship can continue and increase.
1007 Together with many other noble Lords, I entirely agree that interchange is the alternative for which we should go, but we must not minimise the purely domestic personal problems which it creates. I have one other thought. It is simply that, of course, I would have been thinking in terms of expressing the hope that occasionally our Service would receive a little commendation. Instead of saying that, however, I think I can just say, "Thank you".
§ Lord PITT of HAMPSTEAD
My Lords, I should like to apologise for delaying the House for a couple of minutes. I asked to be allowed to speak at this stage because it seemed to me that no one was making the point that I thought should be made on the value of the recommendation of the CPRS on the question of control of entry.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Brockway for his remarks, and therefore in effect noble Lords should be grateful to him because I no longer have to make the speech I was going to make. However, I should like to underline a couple of points. I endorse all that my noble friend Lord Brockway has said. I hope that the Government will implement the recommendation of the CPRS on this matter of control of entry. None of it requires legislation and there is no need for any delay. I want your Lordships and the Government to remember that the great majority of applicants are dependants—they are mainly women and children—are genuine, and have a right to settle in the United Kingdom, or are visitors who intend to return to their own countries.
But in order to detect a minority of applicants who are bogus, a complex system has been introduced which also affects the genuine applicants. That system has two bad effects so far as the United Kingdom is concerned. The first is that the treatment of some applicants is likely to create lasting resentment—and I know what I am talking about—towards the United Kingdom, which in some cases may damage British interests. I want the Government to bear that in mind. Secondly, the treatment of others because of errors sometimes leads to permanent 1008 separation of close family members. These are very important points which I should like the Government to bear in mind. The truth is that the Canadians have, in fact, shown us up. The most telling part of the chapter was what is said about the Canadian experience.
The Canadians deal with the same problem, but there is no waiting time for applicants. An interview is arranged as soon as the sponsorship form is received from Canada. Contrast that with what the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, said: there is a delay of six months for Delhi and two years for Dacca in the case of a British applicant. In the Canadian case young children, aged parents, and wives who are not joining the labour force are not interviewed at all, or only selectively. Then again the Canadian interviews last about half-an-hour as a rule, compared with the United Kingdom one to three hours.
The other point which comes out in the report is that the Canadians use locally engaged staff as secretaries and registry clerks, and in processing and verifying documents and advising on local laws, customs and registration priorities. They are fully integrated into the section, and given as much responsibility as possible. If this were done in our missions it would reduce a lot of the hardships, headaches and heartaches that are being created.
Most of the report dealt with what happened in the Asian sub-continent, but most of my problems are of course with West Indians. There is no longer any West Indian migration to this country. The only people waiting in the West Indies to come here are young children. Usually they are illegitimate children whose mothers are here. I think of the number of letters I get from Ministers telling me that, because a man pays an occasional pound to the child's grandmother for its support the mother is not the sole responsible person, and therefore the child cannot come and join her. I get these letters all the time and they sicken me, because I think in some instances—and I know of one—the man is paying because he was compelled to do so in court. He has no more interest in the child than the man in the moon. But yet because he was doing that we are told the child cannot come and join the mother. 1009 I sincerely hope that the Government will look at the Canadian experience and try to do likewise.
§ 10.38 p.m.
§ The MINISTER of STATE, FOREIGN and COMMONWEALTH OFFICE (Lord Goronwy-Roberts)
My Lords, the House will feel deeply indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, for introducing this important discussion, and for the admirable speech with which he did so. That speech set the tone for a most valuable debate, wide ranging and reflecting a great variety of informed experience from all parts of the House of overseas representation work. This was uniquely reflected, or exemplified, by the two remarkable maiden speeches to which the House listened with such pleasure: one from the noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides, who comes to us from a career of great distinction at the higher levels of diplomacy, and another from my noble friend Lord Thomson of Monifieth, who also has a background of extraordinarily successful and valuable public service; Parliamentary, ministerial, and international. We look forward to frequent and early further contributions from both noble Lords.
The noble Lord, Lord Ballantrae, and all those who have taken part understand, I know, the position of Her Majesty's Government at this juncture. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister, and those of his colleagues who are directly concerned with this matter—that is, the report—are presently engaged in a detailed study of the CPRS Report. The report is indeed a substantial document, but so is the advice that we are receiving and which we welcome. There is the official advice on the subject covered by the report, and that is invaluable, and we have heard substantial echoes of it in this debate.
But Ministers also wish to take into account the views of people outside Government who are or have been involved in overseas representation in any way; for example, industrialists, exporters, leaders and promoters of culture, academics and ordinary travellers. Additionally, we have welcomed the discussions in the Press and in the media, and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has indeed 1010 received a great flood of correspondence on these matters: I am tempted to say, at this stage, by far the greater part of it somewhat consonant with the views I have heard in your Lordships' House today. In an important sense it is the views expressed in this House and in another place that matter most. Both Houses of Parliament and indeed the Select Committee, the Defence and External Affairs Sub-Committee, whose hearings are now proceeding—Parliamentary consultation by Ministers—are all essential to Ministers being able to arrive at the right decisions on these matters.
It is therefore important that I do not anticipate the decisions of my right honourable friends, and myself in a small way, before all the evidence and advice is in. We are not only studying the report; we have studied and are engaged in studying very carefully indeed the advice, including in a special way the advice presented to us in this rather remarkable debate, remarkable not only by its length but by its content and spirit. It has been a debate marked by very strong views—but, then, we have been discussing strong views, 450 pages of them—expressed always with good humour, which makes the debates in this House doubly valuable.
Ministers will weigh all this wealth of experience and comment when they come to make their decisions on the major matters raised in this report. The decisions we shall be taking will be taken quite soon, and here I respond to the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and others, who pressed that we should not unduly delay with this; but at the same time I make the point that this is of such persisting importance for the future that we must not scamp the task of coming to the right decisions after due consideration. Those decisions, which we shall be taking quite soon, will indeed decide the basis of our overseas representation for the appreciable future, not only for this but for succeeding Governments, and while therefore it would be inappropriate for me or any other Minister to assert at this juncture a definitive view on any of these major issues, I might usefully identify some of the principal emphases that have emerged.
First, I think that your Lordships have asserted in no uncertain terms your 1011 belief in not only the importance, but the increasing importance, to this country of an adequate and efficient Overseas Service. The point has been made against the background of our political and economic condition, and I welcome references to the fact that we in this country are much too prone to denigrate our condition and our performance. Sometimes one feels that one has more supporters outside this country than in it, and that is a sick situation into which to get. This is a great country, with a prospect of further greatness, with great assets, not least in its people; and among those people are the exemplary civil servants, home and foreign, of which this country can be proud. So I think I can say at once, with that emphasis, that we are all at one in feeling that this country needs, in an increasingly important way, an adequate and efficient Overseas Service.
Secondly, noble Lords are clearly in no doubt about the value of the work of those presently engaged in our overseas representation, and I think that this message is timely. I believe it is common ground—and not only in this noble House—that that work, at home and abroad, is done very well indeed, whether by the British Council, the BBC, or the Diplomatic Service. I go further and say, with some little experience of this and other countries, that it is done better here than anywhere else that I know. Comparisons are always odious, especially so in international affairs, I am told, but there comes a time when one wishes to express one's own feelings about these matters.
The CPRS Report has indeed opened up a debate on how much needs to be done, at what level of excellence, and through what kind of organisation. I think that I know the answer so far given by this noble House. It is, I think, that there is a case for reforming these bodies, little case for transforming them, and none at all for abolishing them. Perhaps that is the centre of gravity of the accumulated judgment of the nation.
I pass on quickly, because I do not want to delay the House unduly, to the third point of emphasis that I detect. A number of noble Lords have commented on the approach and methodology of the report. I suppose that each one of us, faced with the task confronting the CPRS 1012 team, would have gone about it differently. They have gone about it according to their own view of what was required. They have, as I said earlier, produced a very substantial volume. It is more than a document; it is a quarry of very useful information, and a great deal of valuable suggestions.
Our views on its central proposals may vary, but in the intensity of our opposition to some of the proposals made, let us not forget that at the end of the day it may well be found that this report contains some very valuable and practical suggestions. Many of them have been mentioned by noble Lords on both sides of the House in the course of the debate. My noble friend Lord Evans of Hungers-hall applied himself almost exclusively to the approach and method of the report; and I think that we all enjoyed very much that very trenchant speech, which combined scholarship with invective in almost equal proportions.
Then, the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot—and I feel I must give this point of explanation—asked why there were omissions, blanks, gaps in fact, in this report. There is a sufficient reason for that. It relates to our sensitivity to our friends abroad and, indeed, to their sensitivity to references to them, and also to marginal questions of security. I am sure the noble Baroness will be the first to agree that, for those reasons, a few gaps here and there are quite excusable. The suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Shepherd—that, having heard the views of this noble House, Ministers should consider whether to bring back to this House and to the other place a Paper, not necessarily lily white but possibly with a shade of green round the edges, which will enable both Houses to comment on at least the fundamental decisions which Ministers have come to—is one which I shall personally put to my right honourable friend. It has great merit.
May I now touch very briefly on one or two specific points raised in various speeches. Very important was the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Goodman, and many others, about the effects on the morale of serving staff of the fact of a report like this, and of continuing uncertainty as to what might ensue from it. This is a point which concerns 1013 Ministers very directly, and which they are watching very closely indeed. I think I can say without in any way anticipating the definitive decisions of Ministers that I am confident that, whatever changes are made, this country will of course continue to need overseas representation machinery of the quality to which we are at present accustomed; and that means that the organisations presently engaged in the work of overseas representation will continue to offer attractive, worthwhile careers to staff who have the ability and the dedication to meet the demands which such careers place upon them. That would be my answer to any young man or woman now considering a career in the Diplomatic Service, in the British Council, in the External Services of the BBC or, indeed, in any other organisation related in any way to Government in the field of overseas representation. I hope that that word of firm reassurance will be of help to those who have been understandably worried about their future.
This takes me to a point which the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, mentioned, which is recruitment. I will not quote what he said, but will simply say to him that we believe we should recruit the best wherever we can find them, without distinction of school, university, region or class. If it turns out that, in a certain period, some group of schools or universities, or it may be some region of the country, conies up with a higher percentage than any other, so be it. We are after the best, and the best are measured by test—very rigorous tests—both on entry and after entry. Therefore, I have little patience with the continuous cry that somehow we should bend this proper test of excellence to meet the statistical requirements of the various types of population we have in this island. This is not the way to go about it at all. Let the Foreign Office, the Treasury, the DHSS and every other Department in Whitehall compete for the best.
Not everybody will want to become a diplomat. We have heard from time to time in a very salutary way about the great disadvantages and, indeed, the dangers of diplomatic service. Not everybody wants to enter this Service. Let those who want to, apply for it. I can assure noble Lords that, wherever people come from, whatever part of the country, whatever school or university, 1014 they will not get in unless they are up to it. That is the answer to that.
My noble friend Lord Balogh is no here. I had something rather good to say about his speech. I will say it anyway. He compared the diplomatic performance of this country and its diplomats with those of France. Usually I listen with a fair mede of admiration to my noble friend. I listened to him today with abject astonishment and horror. This is not my experience. Again, comparisons are odious, but if they are made, one is bound to reply by saying that the performance of British diplomacy at every level is at least equal to that of any other country I know. Shall we, in view of the thunder on my right, leave it at that?
My noble friend Lord Gore-Booth, who, as usual, put into a comparatively few sentences so much constructive good sense, made a suggestion which I really think we should look at very carefully, for a hybrid committee to maintain a continuous oversight of the functioning of our overseas representation—and I hope I have got that right. It is a suggestion, that of course, is not new.
§ Lord GORE-BOOTH
My Lords, if I may interrupt my noble friend, I think I was applying it particularly to the vexatious question of accounting where Parliament must be satisfied. But possibly officials and Members of either House together might evolve a more efficient system which will satisfy.
§ Lord GORONWY-ROBERTS
My Lords, even if it were confined to accounts and related matters, it has certainly, prima facie, a great deal of merit. I began to be quite excited about its wider application. Perhaps my noble friend and I can have a word about this later.
The other speech which put forward very constructive suggestions was that of the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud. I will not go into any detail about all the points he made. I think he made a valid point about the need for a central planning organisation that is really separate from what we have been debating tonight; namely, the validity of certain suggestions or proposals which have emerged from that planning body. As to the need for a planning body, I think that is valid. 1015 Then he made a strong point about the need to deploy servants of the Crown as usefully as possible, especially from the point of view of the relationship of Home and Overseas Services. That is a point which my noble friend Lord Gore-Booth took up when he suggested that, of the options, perhaps greater interchange was preferable. I do not know yet, but it seemed to me that if we go for that option, we shall need, as the noble Lord, Lord Redcliffe-Maud, said, to look at it very carefully to see what the by-products and difficulties might be.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Croy, speaking from the Front Bench opposite, made the point about maintaining British diplomatic presence in as many parts of the world as possible. I think that I can agree with that now without being gainsaid later. We need to maintain—perhaps expand—thc number of places in which the British presence is diplomatically effective, even though this means slimming down the larger posts and perhaps increasing the number of the smaller and even very small posts—"mini-missions", one might call them.
The noble Lords, Lord Tanlaw and Lord Hill of Luton, both took up the question of audibility on the BBC. The noble Lord, Lord Hill of Luton, is always audible and I always listen to him, having performed opposite him in the other place so many times in the past. We take the point that the range and reach of the External Services of the BBC need to be maintained and, if possible, improved. The noble Lord made the point very effectively.
My Lords, I end on this note. The Diplomatic Service, the British Council, the External Services of the BBC and certain other agencies of overseas representation, have served this country well. They have served it well in their present form. We must give careful thought to any proposals for change, especially fundamental change, in what has probably served this country so well. Certainly they stand high in international estimation—an added reason why, while we must come to decisions, we need to be very careful that we reach the right ones. Above all, in doing so, and here I borrow Lord Saint Brides' phrase, we must take counsel of our hopes not of our fears.
§ 11.3 p.m.
§ Lord BALLANTRAE
My Lords, this has been a spendid debate; a fascinating debate; a memorable debate; possibly a historic debate; and certainly a very long debate. I am not going to prolong it. I must take pride, however, in being able to claim to have flushed from their covers for their maiden flight two such magnificent birds as the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, and the noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides. I have known the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, since 1945 and the noble Lord, Lord Saint Brides, since 1954. It is my conviction that both are still improving. To have such massive reinforcements to your Lordships' House is really spendid. I take pride in having—to mix my metaphors—been midwife for their maiden flight.
One last remark about the report. I remember a friend who during the war lost his revolver. In reply to the third request for a report on how he had done it—he was not a regular officer; he had no rank—he sent a signal: "Press the trigger and the report will be instantaneous". I am not asking for instantaneous action on what we have heard this afternoon. I take the greatest pleasure and relief in hearing what the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, said to us a few minutes ago: that this matter is under active examination at this moment. He and other noble Lords—among them the noble Lords, Lord Shepherd and Lord Redcliffe-Maud, and myself—have all pointed out how many people are anxious and worried about their careers and the future. The noble Lord has reassured us about that, and I am immensely relieved to hear what has been said. I will not keep your Lordships any longer. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.