§ 2.56 p.m.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter rose to call attention to the case for Her Majesty's Government to increase the available resources for cultural diplomacy in line with the importance which it has as a central element of Britain's diplomatic effort; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I should like to say how glad I am in some ways that so many noble Lords wish to participate in this debate but how sorry I am that they will have less time than they would like in which to speak. I should like to say in particular how pleased I am that the Motion tabled in my name has forced the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, to break his unaccustomed silence, and how much many of us look forward to hearing his maiden speech.
§ I start from a very simple proposition which is that the projection of British culture and British values is, in itself, intrinsically important and if that is so, it is in our interests and the interests of the rest of the world that the fruits of that culture and the nature of those values be as widely disseminated as possible.
§ I hope that is not a declaration of cultural imperialism; it is merely a declaration of confidence in the values that lie behind our political institutions, our academic life—now, I regret to say, under threat—and the vitality of our artistic life. It also 210 recognises the supreme importance to us and to millions of others of the English language.
§ I do not propose in the course of my remarks to become engaged or entangled in the semantic arguments set forth in the Foreign Office's rather arid and inadequate response to the very important and substantial report of the Select Committee. The FCO claim to find it difficult, in a horrible form of words—I do not know when they started learning American English—"to separate out" cultural from conventional diplomacy. The distinction is to me, in the words of Sir Anthony Parsons, "blazingly obvious"; and is, moreover, institutionalised in the existence of the British Council and by the existence of external services, to give two "blazingly obvious" examples. It is also recognised by other countries. France spends more than three times, and Germany more than twice as much as we do on cultural diplomacy. I shall try now to get the financial question out of the way as quickly and as briefly as I can.
§ The external services of the BBC are an essential weapon in our armoury and the Government are to be congratulated on spending money to increase the audibility of our broadcasts by installing new and more powerful transmitters. Over the next three years external services will receive an increase of from 4.1 to 5 per cent. However, there will also be an increase in running costs. The effect of that increase will mean a cut in programme money of 2 per cent. per annum. Therefore, by the third year there may in fact have to be cuts in the number of programmes broadcast. The British Council has at its disposal in total more money than it had before but this is because of aid funds, agency work and earnings. The principal government grant, known as mixed money, which is crucial to its operation and about which I hope the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gwydir, will be speaking, has decreased by no less than 23 per cent. in the past 10 years. This is a very savage cut. As our earlier debate indicated, overseas students diminished from 88,000 in 1979 to 56,000 in the past year.
§ What has happened has been a real cut in the sharp end of our programme for projecting British values and British culture. There have been cuts in the programmes broadcast; there have been cuts in mixed money; there have been cuts in the number of students being educated at our institutions of higher education.
§ In contrast to our behaviour in every area mentioned, other countries, whether they be analogue countries like France and Germany or super-powers like the United States and the USSR, have moved in precisely the opposite direction. They have increased their budgets devoted to cultural diplomacy; they have increased the hours which they have broadcast overseas and they have increased the number of students who have come to their institutions of higher education.
The Foreign Office, while admitting that this is the case, observes rather quaintly that,
the French, the Germans and the Japanese have particular reasons for wanting specially to devote resources to cultural diplomacy that we do not share".
The Foreign Office does not explain what these particular reasons are or why we peculiarly do not share them. I hope that the Minister will explain what those reasons are and the eccentricity of our posture. What we have had is not merely an absolute decline in the resources devoted to cultural diplomacy but, perhaps more important, a relative decline compared to other countries which is far more substantial.
§ Perhaps I may now turn to the English language. I do not propose to dwell upon its beauties, its literature or any of those matters, but simply to appeal to the materialist instincts of the present Government. I refer briefly to the book trade, on which I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, will be speaking later. In 1985, total British book sales were £1.8 billion, and 37.5 per cent. of that was exported. That excludes earnings from reprints, translations and subsidiary rights. Those figures come from the Select Committee.
§ This very influential and highly profitable position flows simply from the primacy of the English language. But the primacy of the English language depends on the English language being taught overseas to people who do not know it. Believe it or not, the Americans claim to speak English. There is a battle going on about the teaching of English English and American English. Noble Lords who watched the programmes of Mr. Gorbachev's visit to Washington may have noticed that every single one of his spokesmen spoke in American English; not one of them spoke in English English.
If you are taught English English you are likely to buy books and other goods from this country; if you are taught American English you are likely to buy books and other goods from the United States of America. It is therefore an important commercial consideration and one which should not be forgotten. On this whole matter the Publishers' Association reported that the,
US Information Agency is providing greater support to American English language training than the combined efforts of ODA and the British Council".
The report continues:
Without teacher training support … key markets will slide inevitably towards the United States".
Thus cultural diplomacy seems to me to be important intrinsically and commercially because people and countries are more likely to be influenced by people whom they understand, with whom they are friendly and whom they respect rather than by people whom they do not understand, do not like and do not respect. I also believe that cultural diplomacy should be active in regard to our friends as well as our potential opponents. I believe, with Dr. Johnson:
A man, Sir, should keep his friendship in constant repair".
Hence, I deeply deplored and deplore cuts in the BBC's external broadcasting to France, Italy, Spain and, indeed, the Caribbean, where at present there is no British Council representative and where the BBC broadcasts 15 minutes of news each day out of its own resources. It seems to me to be a very false economy.
§ If I may put the other side of the picture, it must be a source of great satisfaction to us that as from 11th 212 January Radio Renascenca in Portugal, the biggest private radio company in Portugal, will broadcast 30 minutes of news a day provided by the BBC via satellite. That seems to me to be a very important and useful development.
§ I should like now to give a couple of examples of the way in which external broadcasting can and cannot work. Shortly before the Falklands conflict the BBC's broadcasts to Spain were cut. As far as I remember, the saving was £230,000—rather less than the cost of a single Exocet missile. After the Falklands conflict an analysis was undertaken of the coverage in the media in Paris, Rome and Madrid of the conflict. It was found that in Paris and in Rome the coverage was very even-handed and British sources were used as much as or more than Argentine sources. On the other hand, in Spain the coverage was almost 100 per cent. from Argentine sources. Without our broadcasts we were in no position whatever to counter that kind of propaganda.
§ The second example is from Eastern Europe. I have known some countries of Eastern Europe for many years, and hardly a senior official or a Minister will deny that he gets his news quite regularly from the BBC's World Service or language broadcasts. I remember in Moscow, a few years after Suez, having a drink with the then American ambassador. He took me out to the veranda at the back of his embassy and he said, "If you listen now you will hear everyone in this street tuning in to the BBC". Indeed, if you had very sharp ears and a strong imagination you could hear an occasional peep.
§ When I asked him why it had this extraordinary authority he said that one of the reasons was the way in which the BBC reported Suez. The people said, "If the British broadcast and report bad news about their own country as objectively as that we must be forced to believe the news they report about our country and about other countries". The credibility of the BBC is based on its objectivity and its independence. It is for that reason that the "Real Lives" fiasco was so much more serious in some ways for the external services than for the domestic ones.
§ I have not much time left, but I should like to emphasise that radio broadcasting is extremely cheap. If the £2 million which I believe has been spent on the Spycatcher affair in law courts in countries all over the world, making us look ridiculous, had been given to the BBC or to the British Council it would have been money much better spent for this country, for its influence and for its reputation.
§ At the end we come back to resources. In the Foreign Office reply, the fact of the matter is that the resources spent on cultural diplomacy are based on the constraints which apply to all government programmes at the present time. Those constraints were instituted when the present Government said that the economy was extremely weak. They never stop telling us now that it is extremely strong. In that case, one might hope that they would consider relaxing those constraints to a small extent so that we can compete on something more like level terms in propagating the values of this country, in describing how they work in our institutional affairs, and in welcoming more students here, because I believe that 213 in all those respects the interests of this country and the interests of the world are well served. My Lords, I beg to move for Papers.
§ 3.10 p.m.
§ Lord St. John of Fawsley
My Lords, perhaps I may preface my few words this afternoon with two observations of a personal character. First, I should like to express my appreciation of the warmth of the welcome your Lordships have extended to me since I was translated to this House two months ago. I had heard of the friendliness of this House; I have now experienced it for myself. I should also like to express my appreciation to the staff of this House for their concerned help which has enabled me not only to stand upon my own feet but also to avoid unnecessarily treading on the feet of other people.
I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, on his choice of subject for debate today. Coming, as he does, from a family which has made such a notable political and literary contribution to the life of this country it could hardly be a more suitable choice. I thank him for his gracious reference to myself, and I hope that he will permit me to say in my maiden speech that I give thanks for the friendship and inspiration of Lady Asquith of Yarnbury, whose use of the English language, with its precision and inventiveness, made me certainly feel fully for the first time what an extraordinary cultural instrument we have at our disposal.
The phrase "cultural diplomacy" has a rather forbidding ring. To pile one abstraction on another is not immediately appealing to a people whose collective mind, as Bacon said, likes to work on stuff. We have all been greatly helped in our understanding of the complexities of the idea and the different roles played by cultural diplomacy, cultural relations, the Central Office of Information, and by the Select Committee report. These have been analysed and we should certainly reflect upon them. But if I tried to take that course in the short time available to me I should certainly flounder and fail.
Therefore I wish, if I may, to look solely at the idea behind the phrase. In my opinion it is simply this: the increase of British influence in the wider world. This increase is not pursued principally for commercial or economic reasons, but because we believe the long, continuous, extraordinarily rich and varied experience of this nation constitutes a unique contribution to the welfare of mankind, and we are therefore under a duty to make it as widely available as possible.
If I were asked what had been this country's three greatest contributions to world civilisation I should reply unhesitatingly: the common law, parliamentary government, English language and literature, and at the heart of all three lies the idea of liberty. I do not believe that we can export our institutions indiscriminately, but by informing people of how they work and flourish, by imparting insights about them, we can enhance the chances for freedom elsewhere.
We have many means at our disposal, but I would single out two as especially valuable: the British Council and the external services of the BBC. The 214 quality of the Council is not in question; its quantity is. The council undoubtedly needs a bigger budget. It deserves it. It has earned it. Much of its energies have gone into English language teaching. The benefits of the universality of that language are truly incalculable. I often reflect on the extraordinary disposition of Divine Providence that a language spoken originally by a few thousand savages trapped on a fog-encrusted island on the edge of the North Sea should, in the fullness of time, and in the era of communications, become the common language for the entire world.
The other pole is the external services of the BBC. They constitute for millions of people suffering from tyrannous and oppressive regimes something much more than a cultural extra. They are those people's lifeline to truth. What has built up this priceless asset? Trust, and the twin foundations of that trust have been accuracy of information and perceived independence of status.
One can argue about the figures in the report. I shall leave it to my noble friend to reply to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. But I think that the indictment is general rather than particular. We have failed to expand those services to meet a vastly increased world demand. In the words of the Prayer Book—if the right reverend Prelates will allow me to say so—we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we should do a great deal more.
Cultural diplomacy creates a context in which British interests may be more effectively advanced. But I put the aim rather higher. As Coleridge, supported by John Henry Newman, said, culture is nothing less than:the harmonious development of those qualities that characterise our humanity".That is what cultural diplomacy ultimately promotes.
Culture may seem a frail boat to embark on the tempestuous waters of great power and international diplomacy. What has that quiet, nuanced voice to say in the world of telegrams and anger?—I think rather more than one might suppose. European civilisation rests implicitly on the idea of man which refuses to reduce him to a function of sociology or economics, and which historically presages for him a destiny beyond the categories of time and space. Culture is thus charged with aims beyond its abilities to establish.
Let me say this in conclusion: worldly powers, dynasties, empires rise and fall, culture and learning abide. They are the achievements by which future ages looking back assess the value of previous generations. Power in the 19th century sense has passed from us, never to return. But it has been replaced by something perhaps even more important—influence. Through the dissemination of our culture that influence can be exercised for the good. Our heritage should not be a fortress for the few, it should be an open city for the many.
I believe that our debate this afternoon has been a small but extremely important contribution towards achieving that end. It has been a very great privilege for me to make my first speech in this House as part of the debate.
§ 3.19 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone
My Lords, I should like to begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, on his really excellent maiden speech, and I hope that we shall have the opportunity of hearing him again on many future occasions in this House.
I should declare an interest. I am chairman of the General Advisory council of the BBC. I should also own up about my past. I was a member of the CPRS team which undertook the review of overseas representation. After the report was published there was a debate about it in this House. I listened in the gallery. Well over 30 noble Lords spoke and only four spoke in favour of the report. I did not return to this House until I was introduced last April. The debate put me off a little. Few sections of the report escaped criticism and those concerning cultural work attracted quite a lot of criticism. However, many of the report's recommendations have subsequently been implemented, including those concerning cultural work.
I should like to begin with the external services of the BBC. They are a valuable part of our cultural effort overseas, if only because the BBC is able to reach millions of people in a way that is not possible for other types of cultural work. The United Kingdom remains in the top league of external broadcasters. It cannot compete with the superpowers and China in terms of the number of hours broadcast—and I think it would be wrong to try—although of course it is right to compete with them in terms of quality. As the World Service already broadcasts 24 hours a day, the only scope for increasing the hours broadcast is in the vernacular services. The range of foreign languages covered is extensive. There is in my view very little case for expansion, although clearly the distribution of expenditure requires review from time to time.
I am still a little unconvinced that broadcasting in French to the French is anything more than a hangover from World War II. The French do not broadcast to us in English and I suspect that we would think it rather odd if they did. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, I consider that broadcasting in the vernacular to Western European countries should have low priority.
The preconditions of the success of the BBC's external broadcasting are, first, that its programmes can be found on the dial and listeners are not frustrated by difficulty in finding programmes; and secondly, that they can be properly heard. I should like to concentrate on the question of audibility. For many years successive governments failed to deal with the problem of decreasing audibility resulting from obsolescent equipment and the introduction of much more powerful transmitters by other countries, which blotted out the BBC's signal in some parts of the world. In its report the CPRS suggested that there should be a major capital programme to rectify this. Since then the Government have seen the illogicality of making excellent high quality programmes which cannot be properly heard.
It is particularly unfortunate if they cannot be heard in countries without access to unbiased news 216 and information where the BBC should be targeting its efforts. I should like, however, to join the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, in congratulating the Government for making some progress in this respect. The new station in Hong Kong will vastly improve audibility in China. The new transmitter in the Seychelles will improve reception in East Africa and Southern Africa. Nevertheless there is still much more to be done.
In India, with huge potential audiences, the signal from Masirah is very weak. As a result the BBC is not competitive there. In South America reception is generally poor and particularly bad in Argentina and Chile. In Central America there are some difficulties in hearing the World Service. For North Africa a medium-wave transmitter situated in Gibraltar is needed. Eastern Europe needs a new medium-wave or long-wave station to improve reception there. In the eastern part of the Soviet Union reception is very poor indeed. Surely it is absurd that Eastern Europe and Soviet Asia should be so badly served and a great pity that parts of Africa and Latin America also have poor reception. Therefore, I hope that the Government will be able to continue the commitment to capital improvements that they have recently made.
I am sure the whole House will agree that radio broadcasts that cannot be heard fit into a modern day version of Alice in Wonderland. The BBC has successfully maintained its reputation for high quality which has been built up since the Second World War. It is regarded as highly professional, objective, impartial and more truthful than many of its rivals. But a good reputation is not of much value in the many high priority areas where audibility is a problem.
I should like to make one other point about the BBC external services. I hope that the Government will support the case for expanding into television in English. The BBC's proposals are modest: just a half-hour daily news programme, making use of its existing network of correspondents around the world, the monitoring service and its specialist journalists in London. The growth of satellites opens up new possibilities and to ignore the opportunities opened up by new technology and the growth of television set ownership would be shortsighted. I therefore ask the Government whether they will find the money for this exciting new project.
I should like now to turn briefly to the British Council. The CPRS report put forward two options. The first involved the abolition of the council; the second involved retaining it and incorporating within it one or two small agencies involved in educational work abroad. The report also recommended a more targeted approach to its work. I had serious misgivings at the time about the first option. I now think it was wrong. It is far better to concentrate educational and cultural work abroad in one organisation rather than try to divide it up among many. The second option, however, I believe was right. Many of its recommendations have been implemented by the council. It is now, I believe, a more cost-effective organisation and its work in the fields of educational aid and interchange and cultural activities should be supported by the Government 217 without the imposition of further cuts in expenditure. They have gone far enough.
In considering the council's work many people have seen it primarily as a cultural agency, but of course its main work is concerned with educational aid. But this debate is not about aid; it is about cultural work. I have carefully avoided reference to the term "cultural diplomacy". I think it would be wrong to argue that cultural interchange should be pursued in the interests of economic, political or trading objectives. The relationship is too tenuous. However, I believe that cultural interchange has great intrinsic value and should be pursued in its own right. I hope that the Government will be able to do more to demonstrate the civilised values involved in the exchange of cultural work and will support it with the resources needed in the future.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Lord Greenhill of Harrow
My Lords, I too should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, on his maiden speech, and I am only sorry that he was subjected to a time limit.
Cultural diplomacy is recognised as an integral and important part of our diplomatic effort. The argument now centres on whether we should make a larger financial commitment to it. For simplicity's sake I should like to draw a line, a blurred line I agree, between what I call orthodox diplomacy and cultural diplomacy, which is narrowly defined and commonly used to cover the promotion of the arts overseas, the teaching of the English language and the education of foreign students in the United Kingdom. The first, orthodox diplomacy, is inescapable and compulsory; the second, cultural diplomacy, is to a certain degree optional.
I should like to make two points. There is a need to maintain at an adequate level the means of conducting our orthodox diplomacy. There is also a need to point out with reference to cultural diplomacy the factors which determine the regard in which this country is held by foreigners and how the contribution made by the arts, and so on, is considerable but is also very vulnerable.
First, orthodox diplomacy has inescapable tasks and responsibilities for the advancement and defence of our national interest. It is the means by which we take initiatives and respond to the initiatives of others, many of which are hostile to us. If we are to hold our own, the Foreign Office and its overseas missions must be adequately funded for the purpose. They are not so funded at the moment. If the advocates of increased spending on cultural diplomacy—and I emphasise very strongly that I am one of them—are content to see increased expenditure cut significantly into the core tasks of our orthodox diplomacy, they must accept the heavy responsibility and be certain that they have their priorities right. In other words, if a new budget for cultural diplomacy is to be established it must maintain an adequate Vote for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and its overseas missions. I hope the Minister can give an assurance on that.
218 The second point I wish to make concerns the particular purpose of cultural diplomacy as it is commonly defined. Tallyrand is said to have instructed French ambassadors departing from Paris to their foreign posts by saying, "Make them love France". That puts, in the most economical phrase, one of the main purposes of cultural diplomacy. The admirable work of the British Council is designed to do just that. So are our inadequate schemes to attract overseas students, which cry out for more support and are surely the most cost-effective and long-lasting way of making friends. There are of course other activities with the same ends. They have the importance of forging bonds with other countries. That importance is undoubted and justifies, as I say, additional expenditure with the proviso that I have already made.
We must consider the foreign perception of this country. It is no doubt beneficially influenced by many of our cultural activities, but these are not sufficient or even decisive in establishing how we are generally viewed by others. Some of their benefits are fragile and vulnerable. The good work done by them can be temporary and often permanently eroded and, at worst, swept away by current unfavourable factors and events. For example, splashed across the newspapers and television screens of friends and foes is the behaviour of our football fans, our crime statistics, regional and racial conflicts and the shame of our inner cities. Some people find it hard to believe that we are not judged only by past achievements, but in fact we are judged by what we are now.
It is not what we think of foreigners but what foreigners think of us which is important. Ugly factors widely and rapidly spread by the modern communications revolution powerfully fix the attitudes of foreigners towards us and settle for the mass of their people how we are regarded. Surely, what influences foreigners most is success. Perhaps I may give one or two examples. I can recall the remarks made to me by an unsentimental Swiss businessman after the Falklands War. He said, "We thought you were finished. We now know how wrong we were". To take a different example, the quality of industrial products of Japan and their world-wide success has revolutionised the attitude of people in this country and every continent, especially the young, towards the Japanese people who faced the world in 1945 with a deeply tarnished image. Your Lordships can think of further examples.
If we in the United Kingdom want to win friends and influence people we must be visibly successful in what we do and how we conduct ourselves. If we are to be well regarded by other countries and draw substantial benefit in this regard, we should try to excel in what we do not only in the limited cultural field but in every area of human endeavour. It is only if we make a substantial contribution to peace, improve the quality of our life, successfully work our democratic institutions, change for the better our social attitudes towards each other and develop our industry that we will command the admiration of the world and re-establish our international standing. In this way, we will do much more than can be achieved by any expanded expenditure on the machinery of cultural diplomacy.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Lord Thomas of Gwydir
My Lords, I regret that the time restriction on speeches prevents me from adequately congratulating my noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley on his splendid speech. I found it a delight and a speech of real quality, as I know everyone who knows him would expect.
I venture into this short debate because I was a member of the foreign affairs committee in the other place which produced the report on cultural diplomacy. It regretfully had to be produced in a hurry as the general election was looming and Parliament was about to be dissolved. It is therefore an abbreviated report, as indeed are the Government's written observations on it.
One thing we encountered in the course of our inquiry was the difficulty of defining clearly what is meant by cultural diplomacy. The words, as my noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley said, have a forbidding ring. The FCO described cultural diplomacy as a "Humpty-Dumpty term". In other words, it can mean more or less what one wants it to mean. The British Council, that estimable independent body, saw it as the specific use of cultural relations for national, including political and commercial, benefit. That appears to me to he a realistic view which also seems to be shared by the FCO, which does not see any fundamental differences between the objectives of cultural diplomacy and those of the rest of our diplomacy; namely, the active promotion of British interests.
The Motion calls for an increase in the available resources for cultural diplomacy. I should like in the time available to refer to that. I agree with the Government's observations that there is real difficulty in trying to separate cultural functions of diplomacy into watertight compartments and establishing a separate cultural diplomacy budget. When one talks about the provision of extra resources, what it really means is that these extra resources should be given to the main government cultural agencies, each of which, with the exception of the COI, asked for more money.
In the short time left to me I will confine my observations, as was anticipated by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, solely to the British Council. The British Council funding of approximately £240 million per year is a growing one. There has been an increase in real terms of nearly 30 per cent. in the past 10 years. The council's difficulty is that while British government agency expenditure and council earnings have increased, the principal government grant which has been referred to and which is called mixed money has declined as a proportion of the total financial programme from 47 per cent. to about 29 per cent. The effect of this decline is that the council's capacity to conduct a wide range of cultural relations work is weakening.
"Mixed Money" is the main source of funds for the council's general cultural relations work. In other words, it is the only resource which is not tied to particular activities and programmes. It is almost exclusively from this money that the libraries overseas, work in the arts, work in the developed 220 world and the eastern bloc and much of the work in science and technology are funded.
In the context of public expenditure demands, the British Council seeks modest help. In his evidence before the committee, Sir David Orr, Chairman of the British Council, said this:…the sums of money which we are talking about, which would make the difference between our organisation going out and finding important new opportunities, are really, in almost anybody's terms, trivial. If we had an addition straight away to our mixed money budget of something in the region of £5 million—preferably £10 million—it would make an enormous difference to what we do.He later added that this small figure wasjust the difference between going forward and trying desperately to hang on.The Select Committee recommended that in cultural diplomacy more money be devoted particularly to the arts. I understand completely—and indeed sympathise with—the Government's reply that decisions on the allocation of resources have to be taken within the framework of the Government's overall policy; that public expenditure should not rise as a proportion of GNP; and that private enterprise should play a greater part in the promotion of the arts both at home and abroad.
I must confess, however, that I am far from happy about the Government's observations in paragraph 15 of their reply about arts expenditure, which they argue,has not done as badly as is sometimes supposed".Then, by way of explanation, they state:The Council's success over the past dozen years in making English language teaching pay for itself has considerably relieved the strain on the 'mixed money' budget on which arts promotion essentially depends.With respect to my noble friend the Minister, I do not think that that is a fair observation. Whoever drafted that part must have known that money earned from English language teaching can only be spent in the country in which it is earned, and that countries in which such teaching is profitable are generally not those in which the council perceives a particular need for expenditure on arts promotion. In particular those countries are not eastern European or in the Soviet Union.
The council's concern about the effect of the decline in its "mixed money" resources is genuine and valid. Its claim for an increase in this component of its budget is modest and I sincerely hope it can be favourably considered.
§ 3.44 p.m.
The Earl of Stockton
My Lords, I should like to join in the words of congratulation to my noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley for a notable maiden speech. In a Session that has allowed your Lordships to hear some memorable debuts, his was remarkable both for its perception of the place of cultural diplomacy in our affairs and also for its elegance and eloquence. But it is nothing more than we should expect from a man who has sat on a sofa with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool and the Archbishop of that city being interrogated by Mr. Terry Wogan—and bested all three of them.
221 Much has already been said of the work of the British Council which is the principal arm of the nation's cultural diplomacy. I should like both to endorse and support its work and also pay tribute to its staff, especially overseas. In this, as the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, has suggested, I have an interest to declare for, as a publisher principally in the English language, my company has benefited greatly from the support given by the council to British books. Indeed I would go so far as to say that the success or failure of British book exports depends in no small measure on the success or failure of the council and other organisations inside and outside government, such as the English Speaking Union and the external services of the BBC.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, has pointed out, book exports are now worth more across the balance of payments than other industries, such as the motor-car industry or the pharmaceutical industry. It is the English language that is our most priceless cultural asset. However, the very success of the language brings us problems encountered by no other country in the world, for English is not only the "world language" in the spread of its comprehension and the number of people who can speak it, but it is also the language of our principal cultural and commercial competitor, the United States. And while, as one who is one-eighth regular Hoosier, in that my great-grandmother was born and raised in Indiana, I defer to no one in my support and admiration for our American cousins and allies, it has to be said that the world-wide impact of American culture in its broadest sense is a problem.
The efforts put by the American Government into cultural diplomacy, considerable though they are, amounting to some 850 million dollars per year, are as little compared to the effect of Hollywood, American television and the other outward manifestations of American culture, whether soft drinks or jazz, hamburgers or rock, baseball or even game shows.
Your Lordships may not consider that such things are part of cultural diplomacy, but even on more strictly defined lines the American effort is only bettered by two countries—both of them partners in the Community. In 1983, the last year for which I have directly comparable figures, spending by the United States on purely cultural activities, excluding such things as broadcasting, technical co-operation and overseas schools, was £173.7 million. France and Germany were more lavish with £258 million and £253 million respectively. In the same year Britain spent £71 million.
Another area where Britain seems to be falling behind is in the number of overseas students coming to this country. This has already been alluded to by a number of noble Lords. In 1986, the United States welcomed 340,000 students, compared to 60,000 who came here. Your Lordships may ask: To what end? Surely the lessons of the Rhodes scholars do not have to be taught to us again. It is, I think, not without significance that among those who have benefited from student programmes in the United States are the heads of state or government of three Middle 222 Eastern countries, six South American countries, seven African countries, 10 in Asia and the Pacific and eight European countries, including in 1963 my right honourable friend the Prime Minister!
The representation by the council overseas has always had gratifying results for the publishing industry. No one company can possibly afford representation in 80 countries—my own has to make do with a presence in a mere 24—and the promotion of English language training inevitably leads to better use of the English language and thus, for example, to the better sales of English engineering books and, we believe, perhaps a little simplistically, to the better sales of British bridges, aircraft, etc.
The British Council needs more resources. Of course it does—so do hundreds if not thousands of other agencies. But if the council had more firepower then we in the British book business could profit from that in an immediate way. It is not as though we are not happy to do our bit. Macmillan has been foremost among British publishers in reforming British Book News, the principal organ by which the world is told about the British industry. It is a cliché that trade follows the word, but it is nonetheless a truism.
It is no coincidence that the third largest spender on English language training is now the Soviet Union. I know of schools in India where almost all the English language instruction is done from Soviet textbooks—instruction into English, but into what else besides?
There is a higher degree of urgency about cultural diplomacy in Washington, Moscow, Paris or Bonn than in London. For example, I was appalled to learn that among the trade representatives on the Publishers' Advisory Council of the British Council no one knew that my honourable friend the Member for Enfield, North in another place speaks for cultural diplomacy in the Foreign Office. I am certain that our opposite numbers in Paris and Bonn, with their total budget of £739 million and £568 million, compared, as noble Lords have pointed out, to our expenditure of £216 million, are far more aware.
Other noble Lords have spoken of the report of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee of another place upon this topic. I refer your Lordships to the wise words of my noble friend Lord Limerick in a letter to the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs. He said:It is, in the view of the British Invisible Exports Council, the work which the [British] Council undertakes in creating conditions which favour the sale of British goods and services abroad that gives rise to the main financial benefit.It is our belief that the Government contribution through various channels, including the British Council, comes back many times over, and in the purely financial sense amply justifies the investment which is currently being made and would support the case for an extension of our cultural diplomacy on a broader front.Speaking from the sharp end of the publishing salient on that front, may I, like Tiny Tim, say to my noble friend Lord Glenarthur, "and so say all of us!"
§ 3.51 p.m.
§ Lord Weidenfeld
My Lords, for introducing the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, deserves the thanks of all of us who feel that cultural diplomacy in Britain has suffered at the hands of 223 successive governments—intellectually by semantic confusion and materially by benign neglect.
The projection of Britain's culture, her arts, civic ethics and lifestyle can of course be correlated with all kinds of practical objectives of our diplomatic effort, our economic endeavours, exports and tourism. But essentially the continuing and systematic presentation of our cultural life can, and must be, a free-standing operation, detached from short-term policies of the government of the day.
For instance, in France the cult of French civilisation, French language, literature and their worldwide dissemination is universally endorsed, backed by a large budget and dignified by senior representation in the Cabinet. After all, Andre Malraux sat at the right of General de Gaulle as First Minister of State, and under President Mitterrand both Socialist and Conservative Cabinets paid equal heed to the role of culture in the nation's life and image abroad.
In our more pragmatic country, much depends on the personality of the incumbent Minister of the Arts. It is a real pleasure to welcome today's maiden speaker, the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, who has without doubt been one of the most inspiring and enterprising holders of the cultural portfolio.
The External Services of the BBC are the unique voice of Britain to the world. With a regular audience of 120 million people, broadcasting over 734 hours per week in 37 languages, they can point to an awe-inspiring achievement. As the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, pointed out, the Government have acknowledged that fact by making annual additions of 3 per cent. to 4 per cent. to their budget for three years.
However, when one delves more deeply into the substance of those figures, they are ungenerous. The increase is largely taken up by the establishment and maintenance of badly needed new transmitters. Therefore, the money available for staff and programmes shows a reduction of 2 per cent., and possibly more. That is a reduction at a time when there is an overwhelming case for widening our operations. Why? I speak candidly from this side of the House because, travelling around, one notes that Britain is seen to be in the ascendant. Her economic recovery, credibility, posture and stability of government have created an ambiance of admiration mingled with curiosity about the present message and future of Britain.
The greatest asset of the BBC World Service is of course its recognition factor. The voice of Britain is known to be distinct from the "Voice of America" in the world-encircling transmissions of our English lingua franca, and yet in recent years we have cut vital services while others have added to their transmissions. As the House heard today, we discontinued our Spanish service on the very day that the task force set sail for the Falkland Islands. We have toned down, or wholly muted, our voice in Western Europe.
I say, in all humility, that I disagree strongly with the noble Baroness who would like to curtail, if not abandon, our broadcasting services to Western 224 Europe. Why should we do that? They are our greatest friends and our closest allies. At first hand, I can say that both opinion-formers and the man in the street in Germany, in France and in the Low Countries eagerly seek the opinion and the voice of Britain. We should today, more than ever, concentrate on our services to Western Europe. The same also applies to our vernacular services.
In the Pacific basin, an area of staggering growth, we do not use our opportunities and are niggling and cheeseparing in the face of great challenges. The Government are still pondering the BBC's request for a mere £200,000 to pay for a daily half-hour transmission in Korean. A Korean service would not only reach South Korea but also be intelligible in the North and in parts of China. This is an important moment for South Korea, where the advocates of greater democracy need encouragement and guidance from abroad.
Are we, who claim to be intent on helping the peace process in the Middle East, doing enough broadcasting in that area? I do not wish to reopen old wounds, but I mention the Hebrew service, which was discontinued long ago on political grounds which I think are no longer valid.
Looking ahead, by far the most interesting and useful issue that is currently being debated, is the BBC's External Services project for satellite television. I agree with the noble Baroness: if the British people have invested so many millions of pounds over this half century in making London and the initials "BBC" code words for objectivity, integrity and skill in news broadcasting, current affairs and cultural programmes, we should take advantage of the audio-visual revolution which has meant that there are more than 700 million television sets in the world.
Of course a case can be made that the private sector has an imporant role to play, but the BBC ensures a fully international news service. The ITN bulletin is being carried by one satellite channel in Europe and distributed to cable networks only in 15 countries. It does not appear anywhere in Europe on national broadcasting stations. On the other hand, the BBC has firm contractual offers from 10 national networks around the world and there are 20 more willing to sign. The BBC's estimate for a full service is about £7.8 million a year, plus £1.4 million for the initial capital cost. A basic one-programme-a-day service could in fact be started at a cost of £3 million a year only.
I strongly urge Her Majesty's Government to accede to that request and allow the BBC's External Services to enter this important arena, not only alongside the United States and the Soviet Union but especially alongside our European neighbours. In France RFI is negotiating with the French Government for an international news programme by satellite at a cost of more than £10 million a year, and those transmissions will be in English as well as French. The Germans are also exploring the idea and can be counted upon to come up with an ambitious plan.
If the BBC's External Services are one of the pillars of our cultural policy, it is because of their integrity 225 and continuity of standards; their skilled staff, who are less well paid, and their imaginative programmes, which are less generously funded than those of any of our Western rivals.
Of course, there is, as there always should be, scope for improvement. I think that, in broadcasting to Europe, apart from conveying an image of ourselves which is both truthful and admirable, we should seek more opportunities for cultural exchange and interpenetration. By that, I mean we should not only convey what we are about but also how we perceive them, our neighbours. The foreign audiences like to see themselves reflected in the mirror of the outside world's judgment. For instance, German public broadcasting and television have excellent programmes in which the German public see themselves regularly through the eyes of others. European audiences have become far less mono- and more multi-cultural in both taste and interest.
Since we seem to be approaching, or at least cautiously groping towards, a new era of relaxation of international tension, not only between the superpowers but also between the two halves of Europe, a determined cultural policy, a skilful cultural diplomacy, is an excellent conduit for reconciliation and peace. It heals wounds and builds bridges. Indeed, it must be our ardent hope that in the last decade of this century we shall feel ourselves agreeing more and more with that fine recent entry in the Penguin Dictionary of Quotations, "If I hear the word 'gun', I reach for my culture".
§ 4.2 p.m.
The Earl of Bessborough
My Lords, it is indeed difficult to remain within the time limit of seven minutes, since we all have so much to say. However I should like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter for having given us the opportunity to discuss cultural relations. I am also grateful to him for giving us the opportunity to pay tribute to the work of the British Council and especially to their chairman, Sir David Orr, and their past and present directors-general, Sir John Burgh and Dick Francis. As a trustee for the rebuilding of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, I should also like to say what an effective chairman of that trust Sir David is.
I have been associated with the British Council in various ways. I was in close, almost daily, touch with them in Paris after the Second World War when I was in our Embassy there for over five years. On my return to this country I also sat on the council's drama advisory committee. Later, going round the world lecturing on British science and industry, I used to find their representatives in many different capitals most helpful in arranging appropriate meetings at universities and in our embassies.
It is difficult to estimate the cost-effectiveness of the promotion of British culture, but in my mind it builds a positive image for Britain. Its marketing can often bring financial rewards, especially with regard to television and film sales and of course, as we have heard, books, as my noble friend Lord Stockton has said.
Whether the council's funding of the arts is for the 226 New Shakespeare Company's tour of France and Germany or to pay the air fares for members of arts organisations such as the British Theatre Association, in which I declare an interest as president, the British Council must continue to be funded realistically so that it can invest—and I emphasise the word "invest"—in Britain's culture abroad. This kind of investment, which should include funding for visits to other countries to discuss new initiatives and thus earn money through activity, creates considerable goodwill. This must certainly be reflected in our general overall international dealings.
However, I have to accept that, if the Government and the Treasury are determined not to increase the funding of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—and today's White Paper maintains, I see, tight controls on public spending—it would be hard to make out a case for spending less in other Foreign and Commonwealth Office sectors such as protecting British subjects abroad, or for spending less on promoting British exports or on defending commercial, political and strategic interests. I have to accept the logic of that argument, although not very happily.
In the main, however, setting aside the problems of funding—and of course every department of government has a struggle with the Treasury to get increased funds—I think that we in Britain, with perhaps limited resources in comparison with some other countries, manage our cultural affairs most effectively and that the efforts of our Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Council, with its unique expertise, compare very favourably with, for example, those of the Quai d'Orsay and the Alliance Francaise throughout the world.
There are also our other instruments such as the BBC's External Services, which have been praised so much by my noble friend Lord St. John in his admirable maiden speech, as well as by the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. I believe that these external services and the Central Office of Information also do an excellent job and compare more than favourably with the United States Information Service and the Voice of America.
I read with great interest the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place. It recommended that the Government should make more money available for a cultural diplomacy budget. As we know, the principal government grant amounts to £78 million, the Overseas Development Administration aid programmes to £134 million; and earnings—that is to say, largely teaching fees, etc.—to about £64 million. If I have added that up correctly, it comes to some £276 million.
I am glad that the ODA makes the contribution it does. But I must admit that I was recently somewhat distressed by the delay in the ODA agreeing to a relatively modest funding of a very important project in the People's Republic of China, although in the end it did agree to contribute. So far as China is concerned, I have been following Sino-British relations closely in recent years and I should also like to pay tribute to the work of the Great Britain-China Centre. I am gratified to learn that the centre's grant-in-aid has been raised to £120,000 and that this 227 ensures that the centre does not face imminent closure. Since China has by far the largest population of any country with which we have cultural relations, I hope we give that country high priority as regards funding.
I know it can be argued that the British Council's overall budget has not been severely affected by cuts because of forced withdrawals from, for example, Iran and Argentina and because of increases in earnings and in schemes which it administers on behalf of the Government. However, I understand that the size of the overall budget disguises a reduction in the independent cultural work for which the British Council is responsible.
All the same, I do not think that we should be too critical of overall government funding. As I have said, I believe that our cultural policy worldwide is quite as effective as, if not more effective than, that of any other leading industrial nation.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, it appears that the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, is not in his place, so I shall move along quickly—
§ 4.9 p.m.
§ Lord Seebohm
My Lords, I apologise for not rising quite as quickly as I should have done. My excuse for speaking at all in this debate, which is overcrowded, is that not so long ago I was invited by Sir Charles Troughton, who was then chairman of the British Council, to enquire over a period of about 18 months into the administration and affairs of the British Council, with a view to increasing its efficiency, decreasing the cost of administration and generally perhaps to get more value for money. In those 18 months I was able to get a very close insight into the working of the British Council. I say straight away that I came away thoroughly convinced of the value of what it was doing not only for Britain but for many other countries overseas as well. That is a point that we should be proud of. We should not look askance at the money we spend on the well-being of other countries.
The diplomatic service is naturally concerned with our material interests, and it is a pity, as I believe the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, said, that the words "cultural diplomacy" are used all the time, as opposed to "cultural relations". They are quite different. It is cultural relations that we are concerned with, and the exchange of ideas and intellectual pursuits that enhance the quality of life.
The British Council makes quite clear what its objectives are. It has five main objectives: the interchange of people, which I believe to be extremely important; the establishment of overseas libraries where books, newspapers and general information are available; promotion of the English language, which has already been referred to and at which it is supremely efficient; the promotion of the arts, which again is very important; and the implementation of various educational projects. All those things have to come out of the mixed money. That is where I emphasise the importance placed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gwydir, in his speech on the fact that it is the mixed money that is being cut. Therefore 228 the money which the British Council needs in order to exercise the five main objectives which it has set down is getting cut and cut.
I wish to keep my speech brief, but it is worth referring once more to the response of the Foreign Office to the House of Commons Select Committee's inquiry. It is worth quoting the start of that response, which is very short. It says:It is right that we should share a culture which enriches the human spirit, enhances international understanding, and expands the horizons of men and women throughout the world … It promotes values, particularly dear to us and well defined in our culture, of which wide acceptance would make the international community an easier place to live in".That is absolutely splendid. If the response had stoppped there, the British Council would have marched down Whitehall to the Treasury, confident that it would get more funds.
Unfortunately, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office ruined the whole thing by not stopping there. The response continues:We do not however accept that there is any fundamental difference between the objective of cultural diplomacy and those of the rest of our diplomacy.That seems to be a complete non sequitur to what has just been said. What a pity that the whole effect was spoilt by that final sentence.
As I have said, the principal government grant is now being reduced. I find that most disappointing in view of the great importance of increasing the representation of the British Council and its activities in China and the Soviet Union in particular. The opportunity of increasing our influence there seems to me to be extremely important. I just cannot understand the logic of making absolutely minimal increases in the money available for those two countries.
Very recently there was a debate in this House on overseas students. I shall not repeat what we said on that occasion but there is no doubt that the selection of students is important in order to ensure that the right people come here. The British Council, again, performs a valuable function in this field. There is no doubt whatever, to my mind, that more resources for our cultural relations or, if one prefers, diplomacy, could make all the advantages that I have talked about even clearer. I strongly support the Motion.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Lord Lucas of Chilworth
My Lords, I immediately apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, but I think he will accept from me that time is so often against us however we use it. I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is not in her place because it was the report to which she referred many years ago and which your Lordships debated that first drew me into looking at and discussing overseas representation.
I, like the noble Baroness, have also modified my views as to the worthwhileness or otherwise of that report. This afternoon I wish to refer to two narrow points. I should like to thank my noble friend the Minister of State for the support that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office gave to the British Council through our ambassador in Prague, Mr. Steven Barrett, and the cultural attache, Mr. Jim Potts, to 229 enable the Prague Chamber Ballet under the direction of Mr. Pavel Smok to bring three dancers and four musicians to the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet only last week. The sum that was made available was only £5,000, but it was not to be begrudged.
That event was very much appreciated by the director of the Sadler's Wells Ballet, by some 1,500 people in the audience and by His Excellency the Czech Ambassador and Mrs. Fidler who attended the evening, which was sponsored by Sainsbury's. That was a small amount of money but it demonstrates the immense value that can be placed on amounts of this kind in this area dedicated to the furtherance of our relationships. Your Lordships will probably recall that I had some dealings in another sphere in Eastern Europe in matters of trade, which brings me to my second point.
The British Council is an agent for the Foreign Office and ODA funding. For every pound it receives, it generates probably three times that amount. Of the 80-odd places in which it is represented across the world, I had the pleasure of visiting some 24 over three years quite recently. I know from first hand the immense value of the work that the British Council does in furthering relationships through the cultural aspects of the work—if I may put it that way—which are not duplicated by sporting activities which tend to have, by the very nature of the activity, something of a more competitive and adversarial spirit. It is those two things which so frequently have to be balanced.
I know that when I was travelling to support our trade activities the cultural activity that the British Council engaged in, whether it was the teaching of the English language either by means of a library or through the interchange of students, orchestras, ballet companies and whatever, had an immense effect on the ability with which business people could reach their opposite numbers.
All I have to say in conclusion is that I accept the pleas that have been made by noble Lords who spoke earlier with regard to the funding. I appreciate the constraints under which my noble friend has to work, but I hope that his heart may have been turned, his head infused but his hands made freer to make a more generous contribution to the work of the British Council.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
My Lords, one aspect of British culture which we have not been very good at exporting is the tradition of ordered debate. It is practised in this country in four notable chambers: the Cambridge Union, the Oxford Union, the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Our maiden speaker this afternoon has distinguished himself unusually by attaining high office in all of the first three of those. No doubt this afternoon is the prelude to another successful debating career among your Lordships.
He will find, I fear, that on many issues we tend inevitably to go round arguments with which we have become familiar. That is true, with all due respect to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and others who have spoken, of the subject on which we are concentrating this afternoon.
230 The subject is now called—rather unfortunately, I believe—cultural diplomacy. It used to be called, when I was involved in those matters many years ago, the projection of Britain abroad, which I think is a much more accurate account of what we try to do. The subject, in its various ways—its impact on our relations with other countries and its impact on our economy in one way or another—comes before us again and again. Again and again we find that it is not so much the actual amounts which the Government are prepared to spend which are from this or that point of view insufficient or meagre, but that it is almost impossible to enter into the frame of mind which is brought to those financial decisions.
I said in a debate a little while ago in your Lordships' House on our support for the natural sciences that I thought that the people who ran the Treasury were puffed-up bank clerks pretending to be mandarins. I believe that that caused a little offence and I propose this afternoon to make an apology—I mean of course an apology to the bank clerks, who do a perfectly useful and necessary job and who do not expect to be on the Honours List.
Whatever may be said by the Minister, we know that his hands and the hands of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are tied by the Treasury. The splendid report for which we thank my noble friend Lord Thomas and his colleagues in another place, makes it clear that they too were aware of the question of the Treasury. They begin, as noble Lords may remember, with a quotation in which the Treasury expressed on the occasion of the creation of the Foreign Office news department—not an enormous cultural instrument—the view that there may be "a general desire to spread British culture throughout the world", and on that desire it looks with great distrust and apprehension. That was in 1919, and they have not altered since.
We may ask why. The conventional argument—I think that my noble friend Lord Bessborough may have been in sympathy with it—which we hear in other respects, is that the first duty of the government of this country is to encourage the economy in order that the prosperity which it generates will enable us to do things which we would otherwise be unable to do. I have no objection to the priority which the Treasury gives to the improvement, enlargement and growth of our economy. That seems to me to be very much its business. What worries me is that it seems to have no idea as to how that is to be promoted in some important respects.
The noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, referred—we have spoken on the matter several times in your Lordships' House in the past few years—to the question of overseas students. Quite apart from the advantage to our relations with other countries, it is clear that, as the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, pointed out yet again this afternoon (and anyone who has had relations with universities which have large numbers of foreign students will know) it is at that determining age that there is decided the language those students will use, the books they will read, the country to which they will turn for purchases, whether of capital goods or for holiday expenditure, and so on. A massive goodwill comes to 231 us. In addition—we have had some of the figures from the noble Earl, Lord Stockton, concerning books—that brings us not merely massive goodwill but also tangible economic benefits. That thought seems to be too much for the minds in the Treasury to comprehend. It is perfectly obvious to the ordinary citizen. I hope that it is obvious to the Minister who is going to speak for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Until we get a greater appreciation of the way in which modern economies and peoples react upon each other and the role which the projection of Britain abroad has in bending those movements to our advantage—intellectual as well as material—we shall not get very far by merely trying to play around with relatively small elements in what is, by national standards, a very small budget.
It seems extraordinary that, as the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, pointed out, there should be some idea that there are special reasons why all the other countries make such commitments which do not apply to us. I concede those reasons in the case in Germany, which wishes to make its cultural life obliterate the memories of a recent and painful past. I also concede them in the case of Japan, which is finding its way into a different relationship with the external world. However, when we consider the French figures and realise that we have been competing with France not only materially but also intellectually and scientifically for—as I think that report points out—three centuries, I ask the Minister to at least explain why what seems profitable and worth doing in France seems to the Treasury to be an expenditure of public money which must be constrained.
§ Lord Thurlow
My Lords, perhaps the valuable report of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs of another place represents a watershed in the movement of public opinion in this country generally towards appreciating the importance of the work for the promotion of Britain abroad. For about 50 years there was a strong undertow of prejudice against support from the public purse for anything as intangible as that sort of work. At times that undertow assumed proportions of such violence that it was even a threat to the established and very important work which had been going on.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has reminded us—as have other noble Lords—of the discredited report of the think tank of some years ago which animated such a strong reaction in your Lordships' House. That in turn helped to ensure that the report, instead of being a dagger in the guts of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Council, was perhaps instrumental in the demise of the think tank itself. I gather that the noble Baroness is to some extent a reformed character. However, I am not sure that she is entirely reformed.
As regards the question of resources, that is a well-worn subject which has come up again and again. However, the recommendations of the Select Committee are very forthright. It is a pity that the intervention of the general election—if that was the 232 reason—has made it difficult for the other place to debate the report in the way it deserves to be debated. There is, I think, no difference of view on all sides of your Lordships' House in supporting the Select Committee's recommendation that there should be an increase in resources for diplomatic cultural work. However, I should like to endorse my noble friend Lord Greenhill's caveat that we are interested in a larger cake, not the same cake divided up into a larger sum for the British Council and a smaller sum for orthodox diplomatic work.
One can pick and choose at fancy any number of different aspects of the British Council's work that deserve admiration and support. I should like to mention, in particular, as have other noble Lords, the area of assisted visits to and from this country by persons of high calibre. A notable example which may give special pleasure to your Lordships was the visit of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor to India a year or so ago—I believe under the sponsorship of the British Council—when he was invited to sit on the Bench in the Supreme Court of India beside the Chief Justice.
Among others, the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill, and in particular the noble Lord, Lord Seebohm, have referred to the importance of overseas students in this country. It is a pretty well-worn subject. I accept that the general policy of selective, targeted assistance for bringing students here is the right one but I remain very uneasy about the effect of the present level of university fees for overseas students. I do not believe that we have the right mix between the policy of targeting and the reasonable demands of the universities for their overseas students, and I hope that this point will receive reconsideration.
There is a certain paradox in the steady increase in the amount of resources devoted to advertising by industry and commerce in the private sector and the reduction of resources in real terms devoted to the work of promoting Britain abroad. It was once said in the United States:The man who on his trade reliesMust either bust or advertise".There is no easy parallel between the advertisement of commodities and diplomatic cultural work. The main point is that now that we are richer, surely we should devote more to gaining friends and influencing people abroad.
§ 4.34 p.m.
§ Lord Reay
My Lords, I think the time has come when the Government should consider whether it is still appropriate to continue to squeeze relentlessly the British Council's direct aid budget. Undoubtedly the British Council has managed to develop very successfully in recent years its self-financing activities—principally English language teaching, the importance of which the noble Lord. Lord Bonham-Carter, correctly emphasised. Also, it has developed the involvement of private sponsors to such an extent that the council can claim to have had a hand in 600 tours and exhibitions at a cost of only £4 million. Nevertheless, such services as the welfare of overseas students in this country and the provision of a layer, albeit a thin layer, of British cultural facilities and 233 representation throughout the world are admirable and worthwhile services and they cannot properly be carried out if the budget is to fall year by year.
Moreover, the British Council cannot avoid reflecting an image of Britain, and it is surely somewhat incongruous if the image of a reviving Britain has to be projected by a British Council still suffering under a regime of financial retrenchment.
There is of course no limit to the amount that could be spent on flooding the world with British cultural representation. Indeed, wherever one looks there are compelling reasons for developing links of understanding with the new generations. There is the need to hold together our alliance with the United States, which is itself subject to the trauma of declining economic power and to the uncertainty of major demographic changes; the need to understand oriental Japan as it takes over the United States economic primacy; the need to forge ahead urgently with the task of creating a more united Europe against forces of great suspicion and ignorance; and there is the opportunity even to take advantage, for so long as it may last, of the era of glasnost and the return of the unjammed broadcast to the Soviet Union.
In the development of all these and other relations, culture has a vital long-term role to play. Indeed, in affluent countries culture in any case has become more important following in the wake of increased leisure. That is an additional reason for us not to cut hack our cultural activities in Western Europe.
Nothing could be more in this country's long-term interest than playing the part of a considerate host to those overseas students who will be tomorrow's national decision-takers. Nor do we have to pay dearly for the privilege. Against current government expenditure of almost £80 million on awards and scholarships, overseas students are estimated to spend upwards of £1 billion a year on tuition fees and goods and services. The Foreign Office makes the point that overseas student numbers are rising again and that overseas students at British universities now represent almost 12 per cent. Nevertheless, there must at the very least be a case for boosting the scholarship and award schemes as well as for amalgamating some of them as the British Council has proposed.
The Eastern Europe correspondent of the New York Times, Malcolm Browne, is quoted in the evidence to the House of Commons committee as saying:The BBC is for the free mind what Oxfam is for the hungry".The BBC External Service is a contribution which Britain can be proud of making in the service of Western civilisation and the propagation of its values. It has been quite remarkably successful in combining the need to broadcast in the national interest, as it is required to do by statute, with the ability to maintain respect for its editorial independence. It is a much-admired product of the British body politic. It is also an announcement that we wish to continue to play a part in international affairs, and that we are still ourselves an outward-looking country.
The Government have provided the funds to deal 234 with the main funding problem, audibility improvement, where the £100 million programme is two-thirds completed. However, I think that there is a good case for it to receive additional funds to add to the hours broadcast in the vernacular languages, which are listened to far more densely than are those in English; to make some addition to those language broadcasts; in some cases to restore languages that have been cut; and also, as the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, made plain is so necessary, in order to prevent the erosion of the remainder of the budget in real terms.
Let me conclude by saying that I think that in no other field are there such important tasks which can be accomplished with so little additional money. We expect the Government to continue to be financially prudent, but I hope that they will give favourable consideration to the various pleas which have been made or repeated here this afternoon.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Lord Moore of Wolvercote
My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, on a notable maiden speech. If I may say with respect, it was a splendid example of the use of the English language at its best.
I believe that a great deal of the difficulty in persuading a British Government to spend more money on cultural diplomacy stems from the fact that this is not a phrase with which we as a people live happily. Matthew Arnold defined culture as:acquainting ourselves with the best that has been known and said in the world and thus with the history of the human spirit".According to the Oxford Dictionary, diplomacy is:skill in managing, international relations".The British should not, surely, have any difficulty in marrying the two. The problem however is that in the days of Empire we had worldwide power and we took British influence for granted. During the devolution of Empire it has been difficult to adjust to a new situation where we have to sell ourselves if we are to survive as a great trading nation. I think that the Government by and large have become more conscious of the part that cultural diplomacy has to play in this, although some of us who have served Britain abroad may feel that they have been somewhat slow in accepting the obvious.
We have a wonderful ready-made base in the English language, which we have no need to promote. Everyone wants to learn English, not only in the Commonwealth covering a quarter of the world's population, but throughout the world. From that base we have various weapons with which to press our cultural offensive, for example, overseas aid, the British Council and the BBC Overseas Service. All of these are now recognised by the Government as being important, but I doubt very much whether that is a view accepted generally by the British people. For a country which has benefited so much from world trade, we remain remarkably insular.
Perhaps, therefore, I might suggest that the Government have a part to play in changing attitudes towards the importance of cultural diplomacy for Britain. More money is all important and overdue, but the Government might find it easier to provide 235 more funds in this field if they went out of their way to engender more public support for the policy itself.
In spite of our recent debate on the subject and the comments made by other noble Lords, I should like to finish with a special plea for more help in bringing overseas students to Britain. I have been enormously impressed in many travels throughout the Commonwealth by the basic respect and friendship for Britain of those in responsible positions who enjoyed undergraduate or post-graduate education in this country. This was partly a concomitant of Empire and partly the result of enlightened policies. But the process is no longer inevitable. If we fail to continue to attract the leaders of the future, Britain will have lost an immense advantage in international politics.
I give one example from my personal experience. After the war I played in an Oxford rugby side consisting of seven members from the United Kingdom and eight from the Commonwealth. The Daily Sketch (a paper which your Lordships will remember) dubbed us rather unkindly, "The Home and Colonial"—where my mother used to do her shopping. But the point is that those eight from the Commonwealth went back to become, among other things, a business tycoon, the top mining engineer in his country, a vice-chancellor, a headmaster and a Member of Parliament. They have all been friends of Britain for life.
I shall not go into the detail of what is required. The Overseas Students Trust produced an admirable report on this a year ago. I hope that the Government will heed its recommendations. We have something very special to offer in this field—that is, the best system of higher education in the world. It is most important that the Government should not only fund more scholarships, but should also fund effective schemes for finding high quality students from overseas to take up those scholarships. If we can continue to attract able young men and women from all over the world, the long-term advantage to this country will be incalculable.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Fanshawe of Richmond
My Lords, like other noble Lords I join in welcoming the debate and have particular pleasure in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter. The last time I had the pleasure of congratulating him in public was 30 years ago next month when he defeated me soundly in a parliamentary by-election in the West Country. I also should like to say how much I appreciated the elegant maiden speech made by my noble friend Lord St. John. He put more elegantly than any of us his definition of cultural diplomacy or cultural relations. I use the shorthand of, first, winning friends; secondly, influencing people; and, thirdly, boosting this country's interests. This evening I should like to take one small part of our cultural operations and talk about it for a few moments.
As a Foreign Office Minister, doing a similar job to my noble friend on the Front Bench this evening, between 1970 and 1974 under my noble friends Lord Home and Lord Rippon, who is sitting behind me, I 236 was responsible for the cultural programme of the Foreign Office, particularly for the various organisations which operated across the world scene. Those organisations included the Great Britain/USSR Association, the Great Britain/East European Association, the British Atlantic Committee and many other such bodies—all of which have done and are doing a marvellous job. I set up the Great Britain China Centre which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Bessborough. That followed a visit I paid to Peking in 1972 negotiating the exchange of ambassadors and which was followed by a major cultural exchange, which many noble Lords might remember, the magnificent exhibition of Chinese artefacts in the Royal Academy in 1973. Although that was an exhibition of Chinese art, it was initiated by Britain and had a fundamental effect on the improvement in relations between this country and China over subsequent years which culminated in the so far happy agreement over the future of Hong Kong.
The bodies that I have mentioned—including the Franco-British Council, a body of which I am vice president, and which was also set up by my noble friend Lord Rippon and myself when we were in the Office—are all well supported at present and have been in the past by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In passing, I might say that the Franco-British Council could do with a little more money, but that is not a matter into which I shall go in any depth this evening.
We have heard today of a wide range of other important work in the cultural field: the British Council, the BBC external services, the COI and the news department, which is so often forgotten and which does such a fine job on behalf of our cultural image.
But why do we not improve in one field which I shall mention now? I should like to appeal for more "leaning out" by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and building up more co-operation with the many self-financing charitable bodies which operate at present. Their dynamism, expertise and administration are greatly admired not only here but abroad, and they cost the Treasury nothing. For example, the Thomson Foundation has an income of £200,000 per year. It helps to train the media throughout the third world. Only recently it was asked, by the Chinese to double the training programme of news agency men. Then there is English International, run from an elegant house in Piccadilly. It employs 700 Britons, earns £6 million a year, has no endowment, is non-profit making, has 65 affiliated schools teaching English throughout the world and is training teachers. It is of outstanding value to this country, and that should be well known and understood.
There is no better way than keeping friendships in good repair, in reinforcing success at minimum cost, and in using the gifts provided by our history and language, as expressed so well by my noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley and by the noble Lord, Lord Moore. Finally, and this is an important point, it creates jobs. I should like to appeal to my noble friend on the Front Bench to try to obtain a modest provision in reinforcing success on those outside 237 bodies. Great results could be achieved for minimal cost.
§ 4.50 p.m.
My Lords, as your Lordships are aware, I am not alone in being extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, for tabling this somewhat clumsily-worded Motion, if I may say that without offence. As clumsiness seems to be the flavour of the month in Alliance circles, I suppose that we should not be too surprised.
Many noble Lords have drawn attention to the critical importance of the value of the English language. I am of the opinion that, without doubt, it is our most important export. There is a dramatic historical illustration of that fact. When the United States of America—to use Foreign Office language—severed diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom at the end of the 18th century, it had extremely important constitutional decisions to take. Not the least of those was the decision as to which language should be the official language of the United States of America. As we know, it decided upon the English language. However, as an interesting footnote to history, it was decided by only one vote. The competing language was German. That illustrates clearly, using little imagination, the kind of impact that that decision would have had on the future of the world had the vote been lost and America had decided to speak German instead of English.
The accolade of greatest single contributor to the expansion of knowledge of the English language undoubtedly goes to the external services of the BBC, not least for the radio programme, "English by Radio" and the important television programme, "Follow Me". The impact of the television programme, as I have discovered during visits to China, is considerable. It is broadcast nationally at prime time—6.30 to 7 p.m. in Peking—and there is not a hotel porter, waiter or cook who does not try to gather round a television set to watch. The following that programme has in China is quite astonishing.
I have spoken about this subject to ministers of the People's Republic of China. They are more than aware of the impact that English has had as the second language in the sub-continent of India and of the subsequent influence on the unification of India. Noble Lords will be aware that the history of China is nothing other than a history of attempts to unify the country. With an impossible ideographic form of written language, and many different languages, ministers are busily encouraging the learning of English.
In November 1983, I had the effrontery to suggest to an old friend who was a retired American diplomatist that the following Sunday would be a critically important day in Anglo-American relations. When he asked why, I told him that on the following Sunday, and on every Sunday for the rest of the season from 6 p.m. to 7.15 p.m., British television would be broadcasting highlights from the National Football League of America for the first time. He rather pooh-poohed the suggestion; but when one considers the encouragement of affection for and knowledge of things American, and the 238 massive following of the game in this country, I think your Lordships will take my point. If today one looks at copies of The Times and the Telegraph one will see comprehensive articles on American football. I think that noble Lords may need to look for a long time before seeing similar articles about cricket in a Chicago newspaper. The influence of sport should never be underestimated.
It brings me to an important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, in relation to the natural extension of the BBC external services into television programme making. I believe that that is extremely important and deserves the encouragement of Her Majesty's Government. I understand that the final proposal on the subject was put to the Government last August. I should like to use this opportunity to ask my noble friend whether there has been any response to the proposal placed by the BBC upon the desk of the FCO. If my noble friend cannot tell me now, I should be grateful if he will let me know in the future.
I should now like to deal with the point about the financing of the external services of the BBC and other information services. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, and the Foreign Office's response to the excellent Select Committee report in the House of Commons, made perfectly clear the fact that there is, without question, a conflict of interest in making the financing of the external services part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Vote. There are many reasons for that. However, one of the major reasons—which is understandable but, in my view, unforgivable—is that the diplomatist has an interest in working quietly, carefully and silently, while the broadcasters' interest is directly different; they want to shout everything from the mountain tops. That is the way they work. The fact is that the endeavour of the BBC and the British Council is not of their making but of a separate institution's making. When it comes to cutting down, the Foreign Office will look to them first rather than to its own establishment.
Although I do not expect an answer from my noble friend tonight, I should like to suggest that the information services' part of the Foreign Office's Vote should be handled separately by the Cabinet Office in negotiations with the Treasury, but administered by the Foreign Office because close relations with the Foreign Office and the external services is of undoubted value.
§ 4.48 p.m.
§ Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos
My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, for choosing this interesting subject for our first debate today and for his impressive opening speech. The noble Lord explained why he believes in cultural diplomacy and why he thinks the Government should show more support for it. There are other modified views on the subject. One of those was ably deployed by my noble friend, Lady Blackstone. We must take account of her comments because we know that she has made a close study of this aspect of diplomatic affairs.
I was particularly pleased to hear the thoughtful 239 speech of the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley. We know of his interest in these matters and hope to hear a good deal from him in the future. The noble Lord said that cultural diplomacy had "a forbidding ring". There are indeed people who look slightly puzzled when it is mentioned. They ask "What is it? Is it important and what does it cost?" The taxpayer has a right to ask and he is entitled to a reply. The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter and other noble Lords have sought to give a reply in this debate and we hope that the Minister will give an authoritative view when he winds up the debate.
The British Council has naturally been near the centre of this discussion and in their evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place, also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gwydir (who was a member of the Committee) and others, they defined it as:The specific use of cultural relations for national including political and commercial benefit".There is, however, a great deal more to it than that because a better understanding between nations of their respective cultures, traditions and way of life creates better relations, and better relations make for peace. It allays suspicion, one of the root causes of international dissension.
The arguments for effective cultural diplomacy have been fully and ably advanced by the noble Lord, and others, and I do not propose to rehearse them now in view of the few minutes at my disposal. However, if people understand our background and values they are more likely to trust us right across the board. Our profound respect for Soviet literature and art, for example, is an important bridge, and their reciprocation is equally significant. That is true of our relationship with all countries but the Russian scene is particularly important at the present time. Mr. Gorbachev's glasnost policy justifies a far greater initiative and a much better response by way of increased funding.
Again, like most noble Lords, I think the British Council deserves great credit for the work that it does. Its network of services throughout the world with representatives in 81 countries is the product of years of dedicated organisation and hard work. Given the range of activity, I do not believe its workforce of 4,230 is a large one; and if we look at this figure in relation to numbers employed in other organisations, then no one can argue that it is unreasonable. However, a reduction of grant by the Government of nearly a quarter—23 per cent. in eight years—is really indefensible if, that is, you believe that the British Council is really necessary. Either it should be supported with adequate funds or done away with entirely. If the Government are deliberately winding down the British Council, as indeed seems to be the case from an examination of the figures, then the Government should come out and say so plainly so that everyone knows where he stands.
What is not acceptable is that the Government should treat a British institution with a worldwide reputation for integrity and honesty of presentation in so niggardly a fashion. Furthermore, it is time the Government made a clear and unambiguous 240 declaration on the status of cultural relations within British foreign policy. If that were done, everyone concerned would have a better concept of where they stood.
As most noble Lords have said in this debate, other countries take a very different view and operate more enlightened policies. As we have heard, the figures submitted to the Foreign Affairs Committee show a very marked disparity with expenditure in Britain standing at £216 million per annum and in France and Germany at £739 million and £568 million respectively. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office's response—and as one who had the privilege of being a Minister there some years ago I dislike saying this—to this disparity was quite inadequate. The British Council's warning in paragraph 19 of their third paper to the Foreign Affairs Committee must be heeded if Britain is to continue to operate significantly in this sphere. It said:The sums involved are tiny; the benefit to Britain would be out of all proportion to the cost.If that is true—and that is the central theme of this debate—then the Government must face up to it and tell Parliament and the British Council what their future policies are to be. The Government's treatment of the British Council, and indeed of the BBC's External Service—the best and most objective radio service in the world—has left us with a sense of decline, decay and depression. The Foreign Office response to the Foreign Affairs Committee report seems to have been composed on a hot, lazy afternoon between Westland and Spycatcher. It is not good enough.
I should like to conclude with the question of money. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, in his speech was quite right to discuss the principle of priorities. Of course, every government must decide its priorities. At the end of the day it will be judged by its priorities. We are told that the Chancellor is fortunate to have large sums of money at his disposal; £10 billion and £11 billion are predicted and we shall know very shortly what the precise sum is.
We know too that there are other demands upon the Government which are of the first importance. However, I think this debate has shown that this House believes that a modest investment in cultural relations and diplomacy will pay high dividends in sustaining the good name of Britain throughout the world. I have seldom heard a debate in this House where there was such a unanimity of opinion. Noble Lords with great experience on all sides have made a sincere appeal to the Government for a relatively small increase in funds. The British Council and the BBC's External Service are asking for comparatively small sums of money for which they have made a very good case. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Glenarthur, will be able to give us a constructive reaction when he replies to this debate.
§ 5.6 p.m.
§ The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Glenarthur)
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, has raised a most important issue, and today's debate and your Lordships' contributions, often based on wide experience of the subject, have been very valuable indeed. We have all 241 enjoyed the excellent maiden speech of my noble friend Lord St. John of Fawsley, whose interest in and experience of his subject is widely acclaimed. I too hope we shall hear more from him in due course.
I must say that, tempered by the limits of what is possible—I underline that word—I agree with a great deal of what has been said this afternoon. Our commitment to cultural diplomacy in all its aspects was made clear in the Government's reply to the report on that subject by the FAC of another place, where it stressed that:The promotion of British interests overseas is an integrated effort and the role of cultural diplomacy, including the arts, is no less important than any other in it".The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and I are therefore at one in accepting the remarks with which he began his speech this afternoon. I must say that I find nothing arid in the declaration which our response included.
I think that leaves no room for doubt about the importance that we attach to the issue. We do not hold cultural diplomacy to be somehow different from the rest of diplomacy, or to be aimed at some other objective. All our diplomacy is aimed at the vigorous promotion of British interests: and cultural diplomacy is very much a part of that. I am sure your Lordships will find nothing eccentric about my stating our diplomatic objectives in terms of the national interest, nor indeed about declaring cultural diplomacy to be a part of that integrated effort. Certainly the French to whom the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, referred, who some acclaim to be masters of cultural diplomacy, would find it a very curious notion that one might proclaim otherwise.
The noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, and my noble friends Lord Beloff and Lord Stockton asked what reasons the French, the Germans and the Japanese have for spending money on cultural diplomacy that we do not find ourselves able to provide. It is always easy to oversimplify in comparisons with other countries on spending on a range of issues. In the case of the French, for example, one potent reason, I believe, is their great concern to protect their language from the encroachment of English, which as my noble friend Lord St. John said today is so much the language of diplomacy and has become so in recent years.
Nor do we believe that a valid distinction can be made between cultural diplomacy and other forms of diplomacy in terms of long-term and short-term objectives or activities. Each is a mixture of both. Just as our diplomatic missions' long-term cultivation of contacts in particular countries is vital to our future relationships, so can a particular cultural event or a British Council visitorship have an immediate impact in its own as well as in a wider area. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Lucas referred to a visit from the opera in Prague.
If cultural diplomacy's activities often have long-term objectives so do those of all diplomacy and all are inter-active. Cultural diplomacy has cultural goals, too; the exchange of academic and cultural experience with other nations enriches us. As the reply of the Government to the Select Committee 242 states:It is right that we should share a culture which enriches the human spirit, enhances international understanding and expands the horizons of men and women throughout the world".At the same time it is important that British excellence in the arts, so regularly attested to by awards in international competition, should be more widely known. All our cultural achievements serve to enhance Britain's standing in a world whose recognition and respect we cannot take for granted.
Above all, our cultural diplomacy helps others to understand us and by making ourselves better understood we create much surer ground for attaining our objectives generally. Others are more likely to comprehend and even share our point of view, or be disposed to turn to us or choose what we have to offer if they know our language, our literature, our artistic heritage and have come to admire them.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, might have suggested before her apparent recent conversion, it is not a question of which particular contract in Japan or which particular amendment to a European Community regulation, or something like that, which has been secured by exercises of our cultural diplomacy. Cultural diplomacy is deeper and more wide-ranging than that. For example, it has to do with countering the prejudice against us of those who misunderstand us—among other things, for our alleged insularity.
I cannot but help recall General De Gaulle's justification for vetoing Britain's application to join the EC. He said:How can a country with two religions and 300 cheeses possibly agree on fundamentals with one that has 300 religious denominations and only two kinds of cheese?".That is why one of the principal activities of our cultural diplomacy lies in bringing people to this country—students, teachers, administrators, journalists, opinion-formers—as well as those whose opinions are being formed. All in all, the interchange of people to and from Britain accounts for almost two-thirds of total British Council expenditure, including the major programmes that it administers for the ODA and the FCO. In addition, it encompasses one-fifth of FCO expenditure through the Central Office of Information.
As the noble Lord, Lord Greenhill of Harrow, the noble Lord, Lord Moore of Wolvercote, and my noble friend Lord Stockton indicated, a very important part of this effort is devoted to overseas students, though perhaps none of those noble Lords, or perhaps others, think the effort has been sufficient.
There are now over 60,000 students from overseas in higher education in Britain. About one-fifth of them enjoy some form of Government help under a variety of schemes, including joint funding with the private sector. If we include the ODA's non-university training programmes. some £90 million a year of public funds are involved.
In the Foreign and Commonwealth Office we have our own scholarship schemes worldwide and we contribute to other schemes for countries that do not fit in to the aid programme. We support, for example, the Commonwealth scholarships and fellowships 243 plan for the developed countries of the Commonwealth, and the Marshall scholarships, which bring top-quality students to Britain from the United States. We have recently embarked on a series of jointly-funded schemes in tripartite partnership with major industrial and commercial firms and the receiving educational institutions, and also with the churches. These began in 1985 with Tate & Lyle and at present total 10, with companies like ICI and GEC, the newly privatised British Gas and British Telecom, and leading city firms such as Bowring and Clifford Chance.
As your Lordships know, in 1979 the Government decided that an indiscriminate fee subsidy for all overseas students, costing more than £100 million, was not a legitimate burden to continue to impose on the British taxpayer. But that decision notwithstanding, and despite the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, that the present financial mix is wrong, the number of overseas students in our universities today is actually higher than it was in 1979, thanks to the scholarship programmes which I have mentioned and also to the promotional and marketing work that has been undertaken overseas by the British Council in partnership with the universities. This work has recently been extended with Foreign Office encouragement and participation, into the non-university post-school field, where there is still room to bring overseas registrations up to higher levels.
One of our prime concerns is that overseas students should return to their home countries with the best possible memories of their time in Britain. We have been particularly conscious of the students's welfare needs, and have recently set up, with the British Council and the Victoria League, a new charitable company called Hosting for Overseas Students (or simply HOST). Its achievements in placing students with British families at Christmas, has been most remarkable. I think your Lordships might agree that priorities for cultural diplomacy can be pithily summarised in the slogan "Get them here, and if you can't get them here, teach them English"—very much the theme of the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter.
As with scholarship programmes and the interchange of people generally, the British Council's activities in English language teaching, to which my noble friend Lord Stockton referred, have seen considerable expansion over the past eight or nine years. About 10 per cent. or 11 per cent. of the British Council's expenditure goes on language teaching. Numbers have shown a steady increase over recent years. There are some 56,000 students learning English at council centres all round the world at this moment. There is a growing demand for teaching for more specialised uses of English. British Council teachers have taught on site for Singapore International Airlines, for the Qatar Petroleum Company and for the Institute of Health Sciences in Oman. Computer-assisted language learning is now used in 36 of the council's centres. I am glad to say that to an increasing degree over recent years, the council's direct English language teaching overseas has been paying for itself.
My noble friends Lord Stockton and Lord Beloff 244 referred to books. Book exports are worth at least £500 million a year and I hope that my noble friend Lord Stockton will acknowledge the British Council's role in stimulating sales overseas. Between them they organised Britain's contribution to about 25 international book fairs. The British Council itself runs 120 libraries and information centres around the world with 400,000 mostly fee-paying members. These make 7 million loans of British books, periodicals and audio-visual materials annually.
While the British Council is one of the principal instruments of our cultural diplomacy, others are, of course, the BBC external services and the COI. The external services of the BBC, to which many of your Lordships devoted time this afternoon, are very active in English language teaching programmes through their English by radio and television programmes. In terms of the number of pupils, they might be described as having the largest English language teaching class in the world. A glance at the programme schedule of the BBC external services is enough to show that their role in the promotion of British culture abroad goes much wider than English language teaching. Funding of the external services for broadcasting has increased despite what has been said, by over 50 per cent. in real terms since 1979–80. It was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Bonham-Carter, that the increased funding since 1979 has been largely swallowed up in the capital expenditure programme to improve audibility. Whatever claims the noble Lord makes, in fact output has increased from 711 hours a week in 1979 to over 750 hours a week today, the highest level of output since the early 1950's. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, there is no point broadcasting if you cannot be heard. I consider it absolutely essential and an important priority to continue to invest in audibility programmes.
The noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, referred to Korea and there are BBC proposals for those new services. I am afraid that the Foreign Office did not agree with what was proposed. Of course, for programmes such as that, suggestions will be carefully reviewed in the light of priorities and finite resources, and the resources are always finite. Nevertheless, the FCO have agreed to new world service alternatives for the Caribbean and southern Africa.
Distance learning potential of external broadcasting has long been recognised, and improving understanding and spreading English overseas by the external services is an important objective. To that the BBC are indeed turning their hand. My noble friend Lord Morris mentioned the world television news service. We are aware of the potential opportunities offered by satellite television broadcasting and British enterprises are already actively involved. They involve complex assessments of complex issues, and the BBC proposals raise them. The examination is not yet complete but it is being given considerable attention and priority.
As for the audibility programme, I have to say that we embarked on that programme in 1981. So far we have spent over £80 million on it. The programme is on schedule. There are many discernible 245 improvements such as the Hong Kong relay station referred to earlier this afternoon. We have committed over £30 million to further improvements, some of which are intended to help to improve audibility in the Soviet Union. I too am glad that the jamming about which we have heard so much has now been lifted.
As for Europe, I have to say that the BBC's 648 service—to which the noble Lord, Lord Weidenfeld, did not refer—combining French, German and world services, is intended to tone up the effectiveness of our external services in Western Europe.
I turn now—and I am galloping through a lot of material—to COI films and publications because they of course are an important element as well. The role of the British private sector in teaching English to foreign students in schools both here and overseas is important too, and there has been a tremendous increase. We believe that the private sector is an important part of our English language training resource, and that it and the council should work closely together.
It is important to emphasise again that in all these areas of the interchange of people—and notably through student scholarships and English language training—the British Council's activity has increased substantially in recent years. I too pay tribute not only to its work but also to its staff.
Accounts that have been given of the council's funding suggesting that it has lost out badly in the recent past, as said by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gwydir, seem to have ignored these two major areas of its work. I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, that in fact the council's overall programme spend (its turnover as it were) has increased by some 26 per cent. in real terms since 1979. Its own earnings have increased in that period through English language teaching, through its paid educational services, and through agency work undertaken on behalf of other organisations.
The council's receipts from aid administration nowadays cover a greater proportion of the associated overhead costs. At the same time its direct grant from government has declined, it is true. That is because it has been required, like all government departments, to find efficiency savings as well. Whether or not he is right to claim that the time is now ripe for a change, I must say to my noble friend Lord Reay that no aspect of cultural diplomacy has been exempt from the overall effort to deploy resources more effectively. But greater earnings as well as increased operational efficiency prompted by financial stringency and, less happily, a number of closures have considerably relieved the strain on the rest of their budget.
My noble friend Lord Fanshawe made a number of important remarks about the work of the Thomson Foundation. I very much agree with all that he said, and indeed with the various associations to which he also drew attention. It is not hard to think of ways of spending more money on cultural diplomacy. As my noble friend Lord Bessborough said, the question is: at the expense of what? There are those who will say that extra money should be found from within the 246 existing diplomatic effort, but I am not sure that we should necessarily agree that that would be right if we were to spend less on protecting British subjects overseas, less on promoting exports, and that kind of thing.
I have to cut my remarks short, but let me say that cultural diplomacy is an important part of our effort in pursuit of British interests overseas, but it is an integrated effort. We must bear in mind that the medium can only promote or conceal the substance of the message to a limited extent. Even the most persuasive spokesmen must in the end have a product that justifies its marketing. Britain's standing in the world has improved considerably in recent years. Any traveller abroad will tell you that.
Our cultural diplomacy, both governmental and non-governmental, has played an important part in bringing about this change, but at its root is the fact that the Government have succeeded in transforming our economic base into the healthy state we enjoy today. Only a few years ago people talked of the "British disease". They now quote Britain as a model and inspiration for the resolution of economic ills. So the message really is a good one, and this Government are committed to getting it across in the widest and most effective possible way. Hence the importance that the Government as well as your Lordships attach to cultural diplomacy.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, I shall not keep your Lordships long, but I should like to thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate, and I should like to join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord St. John of Fawsley, on his maiden speech, which was as enjoyable and eloquent as I had foreseen. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Cledwyn, for the part he played in this debate and for the authority that he brought to it.
I must also thank the Minister for his response. I am delighted that we are at one in agreeing on the importance of cultural diplomacy. I am delighted that we are in agreement on the importance of the English language. I am delighted that we are agreed on the importance of external services. I am only disappointed that the appetite for all these services cannot be better satisfied.
§ The Deputy Speaker (Lord Wells-Pestell)
My Lords, I regret having to interrupt the noble Lord but I am bound by the regulations. The allotted time given to this debate has now elapsed. I have to ask the noble Lord whether he wishes to withdraw the Motion.
§ Lord Bonham-Carter
My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.