My Lords, Foreign and Commonwealth Office Ministers have not yet taken any decisions about the allocation of FCO programme funds following the announcement of the outcome of the Comprehensive Spending Review. However, I assure the noble Lord that the FCO places a high value on the scheme and will do all that it can to ensure that it is adequately funded.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that not entirely reassuring reply, which was rather obscure, but will she please confirm that the number of scholarships given this year under the Marshall scheme has actually reduced and that there is a risk that there will be a further reduction next year? Does she not agree that these scholarship schemes—the Marshall, the Commonwealth and the Chevening—are an excellent way for Britain to exert influence in the world, using what is called soft power? Therefore, cutting such schemes is a false economy and is particularly anomalous when the Comprehensive Spending Review is providing for increased spending overseas.
My Lords, it is true that, in the current year, pressure on the FCO programme has meant that the budget has been slightly reduced. However, there are still 43 scholars this year and the number has not diminished due to donations from third parties. I am afraid that I cannot tell the noble Lord what the number will be next year. As I said in my Answer, the Government place enormous value on the scheme. They recognise how successful it has been and must continue to be.
My Lords, do the Government agree that the value of these schemes is incalculable and that, in particular in the case of the Commonwealth fund, other Commonwealth countries from Canada to Ghana have matched funds to encourage scholars to go to their countries, including scholars from this country? Will the noble Baroness therefore suggest to the Foreign Office that it should value these schemes as they should be valued in terms of the very high standing that United Kingdom attachment may bring, and, if the worst comes to the worst, will she consider whether DfID might conceivably help with the funds that go to members of the Commonwealth?
My Lords, I agree that the value of the scheme is incalculable. The noble Baroness's idea in relation to DfID is interesting and I shall certainly take it back. The timing of this Question is extremely important because it is a matter to which the Foreign Secretary is giving thought at the moment, so I shall certainly take back the views of all noble Lords.
My Lords, I offer my wholehearted support to the concern that the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has just put before noble Lords. Following my happy years as a Minister in the Foreign Office, I can stress to the noble Baroness the enormous importance of both Marshall and Commonwealth scholarships. They brought to this country some exceptional students who, when they grew up, often went into high positions in their country. That created a warm glow for Britain, which could be very useful at times. Will the Minister reflect to the Foreign Secretary that it would be a tragedy if, because of a tight budget at present, the Foreign Office sacked programmes rather than people? The latter can be restored; the former cannot.
My Lords, I shall certainly take back the views expressed by the noble Lord, but I stress that we are certainly not looking at axing the programme in any shape or form. We truly value it. As our ambassador to the US has rightly said, it is a hugely successful brand in the US. It was established by Act of Parliament and has generated a self-replenishing stock of good will among its many alumni in very influential positions. That is the Government's position.
My Lords, I speak as a former Marshall commissioner. Does the Minister agree that the Marshall scheme reflects a debt of honour? It was set up as a thank-offering from Britain to the people of the United States for the Marshall plan. Does that not create a special obligation to maintain the scheme?
My Lords, it is a debt of honour and there is a special obligation. However, there are many special obligations in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and across government. This scheme is one of many, but I assure noble Lords that we take it extremely seriously.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness, Lady O'Neill, rightly said, this scheme is a bit more than one of many. It was set up in 1953 by Parliament as what is called a "living thank you" to the United States, both for the Marshall plan and for saving us from a worse fate in Europe, so it is a very serious programme and I hope that no doubt is being expressed about it. The number of scholarships has reduced from 93 in 2004 to 43 now, which is quite a big drop.
My Lords, I believe that that is the figure, and it is important that the scheme is supported. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, also mentioned the Commonwealth scholarships and those, too, are vital. They are part of a soft power on which we should be concentrating, rather than some rather more lavish and ineffective schemes that are currently being pursued in our international policy.
My Lords, I hope that my Answer did not portray the value of the scheme as being underestimated. It is special and the Government as a whole recognise that. The noble Lord is not quite correct about the numbers. The figure is 43 this year, but the 93 to which he alludes is for two years. The numbers are 43 this year and 40-odd last year, so the figure of 93 covers two years. I shall certainly put that in writing to him and shall place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that, since the end of the Cold War, the German and French Governments have invested significant extra resources in scholarships for people from the United States and its research centres because of their conviction that we need to explain to the American population why their European allies still matter? Are the British Government not a little too complacent in thinking that the upcoming generation of Americans will naturally understand Britain without putting in the necessary effort through scholarships such as these?
My Lords, the Government are not at all complacent about this. I know exactly what the noble Lord is saying about France and Germany. We value the importance of the Marshall scheme. Indeed, there are other schemes now—not as special as the Marshall scheme—such as the GATE scheme. The Government are also exploring with the Marshall commissioners extending partnerships so that universities and private companies can work in partnership to extend the Marshall scheme.