HL Deb 04 November 1986 vol 481 cc1018-9

2.52 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what would be the effect of the proposed EC action programme to promote youth exchanges within the Community (Yes for Europe: document 5518/86) on government fundings in this country through the Youth Exchange Centre, the Central Bureau for Educational Exchanges and the new office in Scotland.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Young)

My Lords, discussions on the action programme are at an early stage. I cannot therefore comment on its impact on existing United Kingdom organisations involved with youth exchanges. But we have the United Kingdom organisations interests very much in mind.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging Answer. However, does not my noble friend agree that, should the European scheme be implemented at the level presently proposed, the United Kingdom stands to be eligible for some £1.3 million funding for youth exchanges for each of three years, provided the Government respond with pound for pound additionality? Does my noble friend appreciate that this additionality would more than use up the whole of the government funding at present for youth exchanges from this country? As many of the present exchanges are to Commonwealth countries—to countries other than European Community countries—these would have to be abandoned in order to maintain the European commitment.

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords, I appreciate the point that my noble friend is making. Indeed, we share her concern. In fact, along with several other member states, we have placed a financial reservation on the European Community programme. We are making every effort in the present discussions in Brussels to avoid any damage to our current youth exchange programme.

Baroness Elles

My Lords, is the Minister aware that at present fewer than 3 per cent. of students and young people are working and studying in other parts of the Community? That is a considerably smaller proportion than in the Middle Ages. Does not the Minister consider that it would be of great benefit to the United Kingdom if the United Kingdom presidency could see this programme through and on the stocks before the end of December?

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords; and I appreciate the point that my noble friend Lady Elles is making. There has been a cautious welcome in principle to these proposals. As I have indicated, however, many member states, including ourselves, have reservations about the scope, size and cost of the detailed proposals.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that the reservations of Her Majesty's Government on this very necessary, but what is termed "non-obligatory" expenditure, is due to the financial constraints placed on EC finances which arise entirely from the uncontrolled and uncontrollable expenditure on the CAP?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I know full well the views of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, about expenditure on the CAP, and he knows full well that the Government wish to see the system reformed. The issue before us is in fact precisely on youth exchanges and, as I have said in response to my noble friend Lady Carnegy, at this early stage of the discussions it is difficult to be precise about the financial implications.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

My Lords, does not the Minister agree that one of the real methods of bringing hack good relations within the EC and interest in the EC is these youth exchanges? They are most important. We should do all we can to strengthen the European Community. These exchanges are one way of doing that, and they should be very much encouraged.

Baroness Young

Yes, my Lords, I entirely agree in principle with what my noble friend says. We have, of course, always recognised the important long-term effect of personal contacts between young Britons and young Europeans. Youth exchanges are an excellent example of co-operation between the people of the United Kingdom and other countries. There are many excellent schemes.

Looking precisely at this scheme, for the reasons I have given we do have some reservations, but we have not reached the end of our discussions upon it.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does not the noble Baroness agree that in view of our notorious incompetence in foreign languages and the importance of developing people who can speak foreign languages if we are to promote markets in the EC, where we are not doing as well as we should, this would be a very important investment and might merit a little extra cash?

Baroness Young

My Lords, I think we all share the wish of the noble Baroness that more of us spoke other foreign languages. That is absolutely right. I should like to make it quite clear that there are already a number of youth exchanges to Europe. I believe that in 1985–86 the number of young people who came to the United Kingdom totalled 6,620, and 9,368 Britons went to the European Community on such exchanges. I share the view of the noble Baroness that this is important work and it would certainly assist the people of this country to improve their ability to speak foreign languages.