My Lords, in asking your Lordships to take note of this report on power and persuasion in the modern world, I begin by thanking the excellent members of this committee, who worked tirelessly and showed great patience towards their chairman. I particularly thank the superb service we received from the clerks to the committee, particularly Susannah Street, Tristan Stubbs, our adviser Ben O’Loughlin and additional helpers. What they were able to do in terms of producing at rapid speed immense drafts covering immensely complex areas was quite remarkable. The whole committee is very grateful to them.
I also thank the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for replying to our report in a helpful document. It did not, of course, accept all our recommendations or agree with everything, but it clearly recognised the validity of a number of our themes. However, this report was not directed solely at the FCO, or even solely at the Government. It certainly concerned a range of departments and aimed its remarks wider than government altogether, because we are talking about both a governmental and national story. I also thank the witnesses who came before us—we had a great many—and those from all over the world who put in written evidence in enormous volumes.
Although it is a year since the report was published, it has, in a sense, improved with age—rather like a fine claret or a good cheese. Its relevance seems to have increased with time. We have seen in the past year how Vladimir Putin and the barbaric, so-called Islamic State can bend and abuse soft power and communications techniques in the digital age to persuade the world of their ugly aims, to misinform and recruit, and to terrify and outwit the West. We need to learn lessons from this. A sort of “cold peace”—not quite a cold war—has descended, which creates entirely new conditions to which we have to adjust. We can also learn from the billions of dollars being spent by many other nations in developing their soft power messaging nowadays—although some of this is, frankly, naked propaganda. One of the points emerging from our report is that propaganda, if that is what it becomes, loses all credibility. Persuasion through soft power is much more subtle.
This brings me to the first of four messages from the report that I should like to highlight. First, soft power is not an alternative to hard power. In the new global landscape, if we are to safeguard our national security and interests, and sustain our global influence, both soft power and hard power are needed. This point has not been grasped by some commentators. This mixture has been dubbed “smart power”, but it goes further than that. To defend ourselves, however well equipped are our Armed Forces, as they must be, we need to win the narrative as well. In the information age, with half the world on the world wide web and, apparently, more mobile telephones than human beings on the planet, this involves priorities and resources far outside the usual definitions of military spending. We now have to operate on new strategic frontiers, as the very eloquent director of Chatham House, Dr Robin Niblett, pointed out to us. We may not want any conflicts, but there are new tools of conflict that we have to be ready to use. In other words—as General Sir Graham Lamb shrewdly observed in this morning’s papers—while we need more expenditure to defend our nation, it needs to be of the right kind and we must be careful not to prepare to fight the last war under the totally new conditions that now exist.
Secondly, Britain has enormous assets of power and influence to operate in this completely changed environment, but we could use them much better. Britain is remarkably well regarded around the world, and our report gives a long list of our strengths. Our global reach and influence in terms of culture, creative industries, education, sports, health, services of every kind—particularly financial—legal procedures, accounting methods, scientific research and technical ingenuity is enormous, right across the planet. Our language carries its own internal DNA and attitudes across the planet, and across cyberspace. Our institutions are widely admired and copied, including the monarchy and
Parliament itself, despite the rotten press that Parliament gets at home. Our instruments of communication and cultural diplomacy, notably the BBC World Service and the British Council, are highly effective and seen as models. Our scholarships and exchanges, though not nearly as extensive as some of us would like, are a powerful added attraction.
The BBC World Service, by the way, is reckoned to be the world’s most trusted news medium, even though it faces huge competition from digital media and other TV channels developing around the world, such as Al-Jazeera—and there are many others. Perhaps most of all, as power and wealth shift eastward, we in Britain are embedded in the institutions and structures of this new global network as few other countries are—we are very fortunate in that respect—notably through the 53-nation Commonwealth. I declare an interest as President of the Royal Commonwealth Society. Frankly, however, the committee was not entirely convinced that our policymakers have grasped the full value of the Commonwealth network in modern conditions, both in itself and as a gateway to the new great powers and markets such as China and Brazil. Nor am I satisfied. Only the other day, sweeping cuts were announced in UK contributions to key Commonwealth institutions. These were, luckily, swiftly reversed by a very understanding and efficient Secretary of State at DfID—but it is symptomatic all the same that that sort of thing could happen at all.
In the report we do not shy away from some negatives. Probably the less I say on our visa regime the better, because it always gets twisted. However, almost every one of our witnesses pointed to the negative aspects of the visa regime. There have been some improvements in the past year but it seems to cause bad feeling all round, clearly without having much impact on immigration totals, as we can see from the latest figures. I cannot for the life of me see why we should not at least try to have a Commonwealth business and tourist visa concession, to make things less difficult for genuine Commonwealth students, and perhaps even have a proper gateway at our airports for the 140 million subjects from Her Majesty the Queen’s realms when they visit us. Our attractiveness would be vastly enhanced if we made those sorts of improvements.
I come to my third message. We have all read commentators telling us that Britain has lost its way in this new hyperconnected world. A senior ex-diplomat said the other day that Britain is “without ambition or direction”. In truth, it is more that the commentators have lost their way—clinging to the 20th century view of Atlantic hegemony, superpowers and trading blocs when in fact the great new markets, growth, capital flows, influence and political power are shifting to the rising nations of Asia, Africa and Latin America. The UK, our report urges, must engage more actively with the networks of the future. It is in these huge new markets, and in parts of the world that are growing in power and influence, that the UK must re-establish its reputation. Given our Commonwealth connections and experience, this is a world in which Britain most definitely has a major role and is well placed to succeed and stay ahead in what Prime Minister calls “the global race”. That, of course, depends on the UK staying strong, confident and united at home and within.
I would add in brackets—this is a personal observation —that I greatly regret that your Lordships still have no proper international committee to bring to bear the House's collective wisdom and wide knowledge of these very fast-changing new patterns of international relations and trade. I think that this is a real omission.
Our report offers a long list of to-do recommendations to government—and not only to government—about how to adapt to these new global conditions. I will not tire noble Lords with a full catalogue, as they can read about them in the report, but we emphasise that in this changed world embassies, far from becoming less important, as the futurologists used to tell us, are becoming more crucial in protecting our interests and promoting our British story. Therefore, resources should be added to, if possible, and distributed in that direction.
We argue that the main departments of state concerned with projecting the British case and narrative to the world should co-ordinate more—that is, mainly DfID, the FCO, the Ministry of Defence and the DCMS, although many other departments have an overseas face. This is one of the remarkable changes: that every department of state in a sense also has a face outwards to the rest of the world. We suggested that they should review closely how well they have got on together in Afghanistan over this past decade. There is a long list of other recommendations, which I shall skip but which I am sure will come up in the debate.
Our fourth message is that to be effective, and safe, the United Kingdom needs to widen its diplomacy and understand that it is dealing with empowered and e-enabled publics everywhere and in every country. This is a completely new development in this hyperconnected world. Perhaps I may put it in the words of the former German ambassador here, Wolfgang Ischinger. He describes it very succinctly and reflects what we say in our report. He reminds us in the Foreign Affairs magazine that has just come out that,
“new technologies have already fundamentally changed the practice of diplomacy and statesmanship. Today’s diplomats must be prepared to speak to a global audience and to constantly contend with an international media circus. They must be both hard-nosed negotiators and global communicators”.
He goes on:
“Most notably … cyber attacks and hybrid warfare”— in which, of course, we are deeply involved at present—
“have demonstrated that cyberspace has already become a battlefield on which familiar concepts such as deterrence and even defense need to be defined anew”.
In the end, as I think our report indicates, it all comes down to building relationships of long-term trust with nations large and small around the globe, and developing a mutual respect and attractiveness. It takes a lot of patience but, if we can build up our soft power relations in all their varieties and forms, then in the hours of crisis, which are bound to come, that is what will guarantee co-operation and support in winning our struggles and preserving our safety and prosperity.
The established world order has now unravelled. The strategic imperatives of a transformed global order demand that the United Kingdom becomes the best networked state in the world and that we use all our persuasive powers to full effect. That is the key message of our report—and, if it makes a marginal contribution to the big changes of government, of policy and of mindset which we now desperately need to survive and prosper in this puzzling and dangerous new world, it will have been worth while. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the debate gets under way, I remind noble Lords that there is an advisory speaking time of nine minutes, and that when the digital clock shows nine, their time has elapsed.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and his committee on an excellent report, and on the customary eloquence with which the noble Lord introduced it. There are many issues worthy of exploration here but I should like to start by taking a step or two back from the detail.
Some 2,500 years ago, during the Peloponnesian war, the Athenians forced the unwilling islanders of Melos to join their side in the conflict against Sparta. In doing so, they told the Melians that,
“the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must”.
That may seem like a rather brutal assertion of the principle that might is right, except for two things. First, the Athenians of course lost the war in the end and, secondly, might—or, as we are discussing it today, power—is a complex and multifaceted thing. The Athenians were right, however, in considering power to be necessary in delivering strategic outcomes. Today’s debate is therefore both important and timely. However, in focusing on soft power, it highlights only one part of a much wider issue: the nature, use and utility of power in contemporary international relations. What part does soft power play in this calculus?
Given my background, you might expect me to argue for the importance of military capability—and, indeed, I do. But that by itself, even when exercised in alliance or partnership with others, is insufficient. The military instrument, important though it is, depends in turn on other forms of power. It must rest on a bedrock of economic strength, clear political purpose and moral authority.
The power that we seek is the power to achieve strategic ends that would not otherwise occur; in other words, the freedom to do things ourselves or the ability to persuade, dissuade or compel others. These are outcomes that depend on complex calculations of cost and benefit by various nations and groups which often tend to see the world in many different ways. We have to know what will sway them, but we also need to possess the necessary means.
It is clear that, without economic strength, we cannot afford much in the way of power, whether soft or hard, and for this reason alone our GDP and rates of growth are important. But a powerful economy is also a crucial factor in its own right. International trade and finance can significantly influence the actions of others, so economic strength is essential if we are to be wealthier, but also if we are to be safer.
The exercise of power also needs a clear political purpose. Since politics is generally regarded as the flow of power and authority between groups and individuals, it follows that our strategic ends will be essentially political in nature. If we have no clear political purpose, anything we do, with either soft or hard power, is simply activity in search of a plan. Of course, this does not mean that we have to set political objectives at the outset and never change them. We should not confuse firmness of purpose with stubborn inflexibility—although it can sometimes be difficult to tell them apart. The course of events and the unexpected may require us to alter our judgments and to reset our objectives, but we should do so consciously, having thought through the consequences.
That brings me to the need for moral authority. If we seek to influence the actions of others, we can, of course, compel them against their will, but this is an inefficient approach that is difficult to sustain. It should generally be considered only as a last resort and as a transitory phase en route to a more lasting solution. So we seek, where possible, to persuade or dissuade rather than to compel. That suasion will, as I have suggested, depend on a complex calculation of cost and benefit, but it will also depend on the value that others attach to our judgments. It is not about trying to impose our particular mores on others; rather, it is about the force and the means of our arguments. Are we seen as fair and consistent in our assessments or are we partial and erratic? Can others rely on our word or are we merely fair-weather friends? Would they buy a used car from us?
In the end, this has to be a question of balance. In such a complex world, we are often faced with hard choices, and you cannot please everybody. But I do not seek to pit ethics against hard-headed national interest—quite the contrary, in fact. I believe that being seen as broadly honest, reliable and fair serves our national interests in the long run. It is therefore important that we use international structures and organisations where we can and ignore them at our peril. We should be careful about the application of international law, even though this can be a very grey area. Above all, we should understand that, in seeking to influence others, we are of necessity engaged in a never-ceasing battle of ideas.
This is an area where, as the committee points out in its report, we have many potential strengths, if only we could work out how to use them to best effect. We are a diverse nation with a great political, legal and cultural heritage. We have a marvellous asset in our membership of the Commonwealth. We are the wellspring of an international language. The BBC has been a source of inspiration to many around the world and through the years. These and the others enumerated by the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, have been our strengths in the past. We need to ensure that they remain our strengths in the future and that we add to them. We have, as a nation, to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to this battle of ideas.
Nevertheless, when all else fails and the ends are important enough, we need the capability to use physical force in the pursuit of our interests. We need armed forces that, in concert with allies and partners, have the capacity to coerce those who threaten our security. This is not an option that is separate or distinct from the other elements of power that I have talked about. There has been much discussion about the use of hard and soft power but I am not sure that such a distinction is particularly helpful. Even at the far right of the operational spectrum, in full-blown war fighting, economics, politics and ideas play a crucial role. In situations short of violent conflict, armed forces have an important part to play in diplomacy and development.
To be fully effective, a nation needs to be able to exercise power flexibly, across the spectrum of possibilities, so it needs both the tools and the skill to employ them properly. When, to what degree and how to use these tools will, of course, depend upon circumstances. This is where our crystal ball traditionally breaks down. I have no wish today to add to the list of failed forecasts, so let me end where I began, with the Melian dialogue. The Melians were weak and they suffered for it—there is an important lesson in this—but the possession of power did not in the long run guarantee success for Athens. Power is necessary but it must be applied in a way that is consistent with and contributes towards our strategic objectives. Power, whether soft or hard, provides ways and means but it cannot provide coherent ends.
The committee rightly calls on the Government to provide a clear vision for the country, but that vision must be one with which the majority can and does identify. It is not therefore simply a matter of issuing statements or making speeches. Formulating the right vision is, in itself, a major undertaking and a significant challenge. That, though, is perhaps a matter for another debate and for another day.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, most profoundly for his magnificent chairmanship and his instigation of the Soft Power Committee, of which I had the honour to be a Member. It was a pleasure and privilege to work under the leadership of the noble Lord. He has served many major roles in different Governments of the United Kingdom and he brought them all together in a summation of this report, the way in which he conducted our meetings and the entirety of the soft power debate. All noble Lords will inevitably agree about the high value of soft power but few have spent time considering it in the way that the noble Lord has done recently.
It is no surprise that we are holding this debate the day after Commonwealth Day, the Commonwealth being one of the major institutions that came to the forefront of our debates and discussions and the taking of evidence in our Soft Power Committee. As Her Majesty the Queen said yesterday in referring to the Commonwealth, the organisation’s values were,
“more important and worthy of protection than perhaps at any other time in the Commonwealth’s existence”
It is important, therefore, to look at what those values are. They are the common values that we define as British values but they are commonplace throughout the Commonwealth countries. Tolerance is, perhaps, one of the most important. If you look up the findings of various tolerance surveys globally—and they are carried out all the time—you will find that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is at the forefront of being the most tolerant nation on the globe. That may seem surprising when we feel we have internal disputes within our society today; none the less, it is a fact. It is the Commonwealth of Nations which has promoted that tolerance. When you look at the statistics, you will find that other Commonwealth members share that same high level of tolerance, almost without exception.
For myself, I do not see that tolerance happens by chance. It comes because societies work hard to promote the fundamental freedoms—of which one of the most important is the freedom to worship. It is facing onslaught and assault in many different areas of the world, not least in the Middle East. You cannot promote the fundamental freedoms and expect them to survive and to be enhanced without the rule of law. As a former honorary member of the American Bar Association, I pay tribute to the way in which it works globally. Would that the British Bar associations did the same; alas they do not. I would urge them to do more.
I can announce that the AMAR international charitable foundation which I chair has received a major grant from the European Commission to promote religious tolerance in Iraq. If you can promote religious tolerance in today’s Iraq, I promise you can do it anywhere. Yet that little organisation has a track record of success in the promotion of the fundamental freedoms including, most profoundly, the freedom to worship.
As a politician, I have always focused on the need to have the right legislation in place in other areas of the world. In Romania, for example, we fought hard to bring in the correct children’s Act which was based mainly on the UK Children Acts. In Russia, there was the terrific success story of outlawing human trafficking for the first time in their history. The doubters say that the rule of law means nothing; you put in a law but nobody implements it. That is not the case. The exciting thing is that, when you introduce the law, society starts to pay heed and to take it into account. It is certainly so in the places I have mentioned.
The rule of law inevitably depends on trained lawyers and that is why I suggest that the United Kingdom’s soft power has been of profound value globally and is, at this moment, under considerable threat. Take the Commonwealth scholarships fund. Last Saturday I was at Oxford University. I spoke with the law department and heard how it reaches an outstanding group of human rights lawyers from Africa and south Asia—the Commonwealth that would otherwise be impossible to reach. The professors told me that these scholars are bright, effective, brave people. They go back to prosecute war criminals in Kenya. They broadcast programmes on gay and lesbian rights in Uganda. Once trained in Oxford, these legal people address corruption and consumer protection in Nigeria and Ghana. Some are involved in refugee protection in Somalia. One of the former students is head of obstetrics in Lilongwe central hospital. I recall well visiting Lilongwe central hospital maternity ward some years ago. The very high degree of neonatal deaths accounts for the low level of life expectancy in Malawi. What could be better than having a fully trained obstetrician with legal knowledge there? Some of the students have developed a national human rights-based approach to primary education for disabled children in Uganda and beyond.
Without Commonwealth support, this sort of skill and knowledge development and the access that mature students gain to a worldwide network of human rights advocates would be lost to them. Their often weak institutions and the populations that they support would not gain the credibility and knowledge that the students bring back.
Today, the scholarships cover all costs, with the Commonwealth providing 60% of the funds for a master’s degree in international human rights law. All flights, reading material, accommodation, university and college fees are included. The design of the degree is unusual in that it is a part-time course spread over two years. I am supporting one student myself and I know how good it is. The course includes periods of traditional full-time study at Oxford during the summer combined with closely tutored online training which the student does from home or work. The degree helps mid-career professionals to extend their advocacy skills and knowledge of law while continuing with their human rights work at home. This means that students are able to use immediately what they have learnt in class. There is no brain drain from those nations and there is no immigration impact on Britain. Indeed, the Commonwealth Secretariat was one of the very first institutions providing education in the developing world to recognise the potential of the internet for advanced training.
The Government have recently undertaken a review into a range of government overseas scholarship programmes for international students which includes the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan. The review was announced on
“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development have recently commenced a review of the Government’s overseas scholarship schemes. It will build on the triennial reviews of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission and the Marshall Aid Commemoration Commission and examine those schemes together with the Chevening scholarship programme to assess: Whether there is scope for further efficiencies and synergies across the schemes; If so, what alterations in structure, administration or delivery might realise those improvements? The extent to which efficiencies have already been put in place in recent years”.
While the scope of the review is limited to the Commonwealth, Chevening and Marshall schemes, the newly created BIS Newton Fund will also be considered in the process of evidence gathering. The Minister added:
“The outcome of the review will be published in March 2015”. —[Official Report, Common, 8/1/15; cols. 14-15WS.]
Noble Lords must therefore expect it to be concluded imminently and that Ministers will be expected to reach conclusions on those recommendations within the next two weeks. No one outside the review knows exactly what it will say, of course, but there are all kinds of possibilities, which is why I am raising this matter today.
One possibility is that the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, a well regarded and semi-independent non-departmental government body whose qualities I have just described and which has served the UK so well for the past 55 years in managing UK awards under the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan, may be recommended for closure. We should try at all costs to avoid a situation where in the dying hours of this Parliament Ministers announce a decision that is conveniently executive and which has been arrived at behind closed doors without proper parliamentary and public scrutiny. My two questions are as follows. When does the Minister expect the results of the review of HMG’s overseas scholarships schemes, announced in January, as I say, to be available, and will he confirm that no changes to the governance of these successful schemes will be agreed without full prior parliamentary consultation? Secondly, what provision has been made for public consultation as a part of this review? I believe that these schemes represent the soft power of the United Kingdom at its most effective, and I fear for its future if they are allowed to fall into oblivion.
My Lords, in welcoming this report, I want to draw attention to the role of languages in soft power. I declare interests as chair of the All-Party Group on Modern Languages, which is supported by the British Council, and as vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Linguists.
One of the Select Committee’s conclusions was:
“The UK’s capacity to build connections is constrained by the small number of its citizens who are able to speak foreign languages. Given the transition towards a more people-to-people, reciprocal form of international relations, remaining mono-lingual goes against the grain of how influence and engagement, and therefore power, now operate”.
The report welcomes the reopening of the Foreign Office Language School. It is certainly a wonderful resource, as is the Defence Centre for Languages and Culture. However, I am concerned that not enough is being done to enable these resources to be used across government departments. Individuals are prepared for specific postings, but, by last November, only 34 of the 813 students at the Foreign Office Language School came from departments other than the Foreign Office. I would like to ask the Minister, when he replies, to say what progress is being made in identifying officials from across government who would benefit from language training in order to equip them for the concours entry exam for the European Civil Service. As the soft power report notes, the underrepresentation of British officials in the EU and the UN could be detrimental to the UK’s long-term influence. At the last concours, the UK only managed to supply a mere 2.6% of the applicants. The report calls for a government audit of language skills across the whole Civil Service, echoing the British Academy’s Lost for Words report. I simply do not understand why the Government have resisted this proposal up to now, but I was encouraged to see in their response that the FCO has now agreed to discuss this with other departments. I suppose that is a start. I would like to hear from the Minister that there is more robust support for this project and a timetable to get it done.
There is the related question of pay and career structure. Career progression usually means management and management means less and less practical use of one’s language skills as an interpreter or translator. There are special career paths and pay scales for government lawyers and scientists. Would the Minister support a similar system for government linguists?
I also endorse the report’s support for SMEs that are exporters. According to the British Chambers of Commerce, 70% of SMEs have no foreign language ability for their markets and the deficit is greatest in the fastest growing markets. Only 0.5% have any ability in Russian or Chinese, and, with the importance of market growth in Latin America, it is equally shocking that 64% speak no Spanish, never mind Portuguese. Research commissioned by BIS and published last year estimates that the UK’s lack of language skills is costing the economy 3.5% of GDP—or £48 billion—every year. By contrast, SME exporters that do use languages proactively are achieving a far higher export-to-turnover ratio, estimated at 40% higher. Will the Government give tax breaks to SMEs that invest in language training for their workforce? It would be very good to see that in next week’s Budget.
Finally, I turn to the need for an underlying long-term strategy on language learning in schools and universities so that we can get out of this monolingual dead end. The Select Committee report urges the Government to make every effort to redress the decline in language learning and to provide increased support for study abroad programmes. In my view, the Government’s response is predictable and far too narrow, giving a very selective and sketchy picture of what is really happening. Yes, the EBacc has had a positive effect on GCSE take-up, but the signs are that that has now plateaued. The dark cloud on the horizon is Progress 8, the name of the new system to measure GCSE performance by schools from 2016. Head teachers are already saying that, as languages will not be a requirement here, they will be further sidelined. I ask the Government to act now to prevent Progress 8 cancelling out the benefits of the EBacc for languages in state schools.
Having key stage 2 languages is no great panacea either. Of course this is a good thing, but it will be 2025 before we see the full impact of this policy. In the mean time, it looks very fragile in practice, with a quarter of primary schools having no qualified languages teacher. On top of that, A-level entries are dropping at an alarming rate, and one reason for that is that language A-levels are more harshly marked than other subjects. Will the Government please speak urgently to Ofqual about this and ensure that an equitable marking system is put in place?
Decline at A-level obviously has a direct impact on universities. Since 2000, 45 UK universities have scrapped modern languages degrees. There is a particular problem with the lesser taught but strategically important languages, which are the ones often vital for soft power relations. Kurdish, for example, is now taught at only one university in this country. Government help for Routes into Languages is an important and welcome measure, but a drop in the ocean compared to what needs to be done to build the UK’s language capacity in a way that truly meets our public policy and soft power needs.
We must remember that there are 4.2 million people in the UK whose first language is not English but who do speak some of the languages in demand by business and diplomacy. Children who speak languages such as Arabic, Korean, Pashto, Turkish or Farsi at home should have their linguistic skills recognised, nurtured and accredited, and be shown how much more employable it will make them as a result.
My contribution to this debate has illustrated how the role of language skills spans the remit of many different government departments. Everything is interconnected: schools, universities, the EU, the UN, trade and development, the World Service, are all of soft power. It requires a coherent, strategic cross-government policy. My final question to the Minister is: will he support the idea of a Minister with designated responsibility for language policy across government?
Speaking English in the 21st century is a huge asset, but speaking only English is a big disadvantage. Success today, in business, diplomacy or research, requires cultural intelligence and agility. The soft power advantage belongs to the multilingual.
My Lords, as a member of the committee, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his chairmanship. It was a very enjoyable committee, which I felt privileged to be a member of, and much of that was down to his chairing. The number of noble Lords who are down to speak in the debate today is real testament to the work of the committee and the report, and to the importance of this topic. In a world that gives us so much confusion and anxiety today, it is important that we consider the challenges of how we are able to influence the rest of the world in a way that is beneficial to the citizens of this country. The balance of power around the world is shifting, and we therefore have to be much clearer about the sort of influence that we want, how we maintain it and, indeed, how we use it, now that less direct methods of influence are more and more important.
I was taken by the words of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, about how we have to be clear about the vision for the country and take the British people with us. The willingness and ability to intervene militarily remains an important element of influence around the world, but it is not sufficient to defend the nation’s interests. There is not the time—nor, I suspect, is this the occasion—to examine our current anxiety regarding any military intervention, but that means that how we gain respect as a nation, and are attractive for investment for all sorts of other reasons, is ever more important. This means that we have to be more aware of how to both develop and communicate the attributes, values and successes of the UK. This is important for the UK population but also, of course, for people living in other parts of the world and for how they regard us.
We have a bit of a tradition of being, to put it mildly, sceptical about many institutions in this country. We sometimes say that it is a British trait. Healthy scepticism of the BBC seems to be okay, mainly, for politicians, but we recognised during the committee’s deliberations that that scepticism must be tempered with recognition that the BBC, with its World Service, is probably the most useful and effective soft power and foreign policy asset that we have, and that we trash it at our peril.
Our diversity is another real strength that was expressed by many witnesses who came to see us—the values that both uphold and come from a diverse population. Apart from anything else, that means that many communities around the world know about Britain through their friends or relatives. I remember that one of our strengths in promoting our bid for the Olympic Games was that we could say, “We will have someone from every country that is competing able to welcome every team that comes to our Olympics from around the world”.
We seem to recognise that diversity is a great asset—but, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said, witness after witness talked about the real problem with our visa system and policy. It is not simply a policy issue; it is the impression that the policy leaves, and that the rhetoric around the policy leaves, with people around the world, that is very damaging to our influence and persuasion. In my view, the evidence that we had from Ministers on this was at best unconvincing.
We will all express our personal commitments today, will we not? One way in which our diversity and values are expressed is through those people who volunteer to work in the developing world. I have met Ministers and many other leaders who are happy to tell me that they were taught by VSO, they were looked after in hospital by VSO, VSO trained their local A&E staff, or whatever.
I was in Kenya with Voluntary Service Overseas during the recent recess, and I met a group of 20 young African leaders who had been brought together from around the continent to Nairobi for a rights-based training course. They had all come together because of their involvement as team leaders in the International Citizen Service programme, which is a British Government programme which I suspect that most noble Lords have never heard of. It is hosted by VSO with about another 10 NGOs involved in delivery in 30 countries around the world. Young people from this country volunteer to go with people from the host country—national volunteers who move within their own country —to work on a development programme together.
Those young people were team leaders from the ICS programme. They were an absolute inspiration. Their commitment to using what they had learnt both in ICS and now in the training programme to change their community was inspirational. They asked me to make sure that the British Government understand how much different countries in Africa and the rest of the world are learning through the ICS programme. They said, “The Government are going to continue it, aren’t they?”. I had to say, “We don’t know yet”. Perhaps the Minister can reassure them and me that the Government will proceed with it.
The report has given lots of ideas for how we can move forward. Government have to get the balance right between supporting institutions and organisations, and controlling them. If they control them, as previous speakers said, that will undermine the whole effort. Soft power works only if it is not seen as the straightforward arm of government. However, there is much for government to do to ensure that the right infrastructure is there to support the security of this country and the well-being of its population. We cannot pretend that the rest of the world is not there. We cannot believe that we can live within this country and that nothing else will affect us. I hope that this report has given the Government and others ideas for activity, and that we will be able to strengthen the Government’s commitment to those institutions, values and organisations that will help enhance Britain’s role in the world in the coming years.
My Lords, it would be pretty justifiable to complain rather vigorously that it should have taken so long to bring forward this important report and the Government’s response to it for debate on the Floor of the House. The fact that we are debating it in the final weeks of the Session after the Session in which it was tabled surely tells us something about the adequacy or inadequacy of our procedures for allotting priorities. The only off-setting benefit is—here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell—that the intervening events have brought many of the findings of this excellent report into sharper focus and given them greater urgency. The background now is not so much one of a Britain that prides itself on punching above its weight as of a Britain that is beginning to punch well below its weight. This is the view of a number of recent reports from committees in the other place and many distinguished commentators; I share that view. That should be, I fear, a worrying coda for the outgoing Government and an alarm call for whoever takes office after the election on
The report, which was so skilfully chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and so eloquently introduced by him this afternoon, deserves much praise. It has taken the concept of soft power, first identified and defined as such not all that long ago by Professor Joseph Nye of Harvard University, and disassembled that concept to examine its component parts so far as this country is concerned. It has done so with commendable thoroughness and, in doing so, it has avoided falling into the trap of seeming to argue that soft power can in some way replace or compensate for the absence or inadequacy of hard power. It cannot do that. A country’s soft power and its hard power are indissolubly linked, so in debating Britain’s soft power today we must not lose sight of the crucial need for important decisions to be taken early in the next Parliament on Britain’s hard power resources—on Trident replacement, equipment and the size of our Armed Forces—which will affect our soft power, too. If we continue to shrink those resources, we shall as a country have less influence over events. When all is said and done, effective national influence is the combination of soft and hard power.
The report’s identification of our main soft power assets is comprehensive and compelling. I would put the BBC World Service right up there at the front of the assets; I wish that I was more confident than I am that it will be sustained there. The decision to switch the World Service’s funding from the Government to the licence fee was, let us face it, a gamble, and it is too soon to say whether it will prove a successful one. However, there should surely be some ring-fencing of the resources available to the World Service within the BBC’s assets and some clear government involvement in defining the World Service’s strategy, though not its operations. This issue needs to be looked at again in the context of the next charter review in 2016. It is no coincidence that radio, television and digital communications bulk so large in other Governments’ soft power strategies. If you want an example, you could look at RT, although admittedly it owes more to Dr Goebbels than to Lord Reith. We need to bear that example in mind when we consider how adequate the resources for the World Service are.
There is then the higher education sector, the significance of which as a soft power asset continues to grow. Not only are our universities one of our most successful sources of invisible exports; they are creating soft power for Britain for many decades ahead. Who doubts that those overseas students who flock to our universities will carry with them, through their professional lives, values and links that will be of benefit to this country? Yet the Government, by clinging obstinately to a net migration target that includes students as its largest component, and by piling new costs and visa complexities on to those students, are, for all their protestations to the contrary, putting that at risk. It is surely high time that all the main parties stopped regarding and targeting students as economic migrants, as this report rightly recommends.
The Diplomatic Service continues to be squeezed in successive rounds of spending cuts, which is surely a false economy. The sums involved are small, but over time the soft power losses will be real—all the more so if we continue to put disproportionate emphasis on what our overseas posts can reasonably be expected to do in trade and investment at the cost of their ability to be our eyes, ears and interpreter of events in an ever more rapidly changing world. A purely transactional, mercantilist approach to foreign policy is not likely to be a winning formula.
My one major criticism of the report relates to its handling of the European Union dimension in our soft power. It underestimates that dimension. In many areas of external policy—in trade and the environment, to give just two examples—the EU dimension is our soft power. If we had to do without that dimension following an in/out referendum that supported our withdrawal from the EU, we would have to start from scratch. We would be a bit player in a complex world. My experience in the closing stages of the Kennedy round in the 1960s, which was the last occasion when Britain negotiated separately in a major trade round, does not encourage an optimistic view of how much influence we would have.
An odd view that we should aspire to have a role distinct from a collective EU one has also crept into the report, but collective EU endeavours have to be agreed by us in the first place. How can we hope to benefit or be trusted if we first agree to the EU’s collective role and then strike out on our own? I was glad to see that the Government’s response to the report declined to sup from that poisoned chalice.
I do not wish to end on a critical note. I agree wholeheartedly with the report’s recommendations that the Government need to report regularly to Parliament on Britain’s soft power, and that both Houses need to examine and debate such reports and express their views. I hope that the Minister, when he replies to the debate, will undertake that these recommendations will be taken forward and responded to after the election.
My Lords, the committee that produced this report was an absolute nightmare to sit on at the beginning. The first thing that we had to decide on was what we meant by “soft power”. The volume of evidence that we received was incredible. It is down to the extraordinary leadership—to which other members of the committee have paid tribute—of my noble friend Lord Howell that we have produced an absolutely first-class document. While we were wading around in a sea of representations, he led us, as the material was parted, to a coherent set of conclusions which any Government would do well to take very seriously indeed. It is a great tribute to his leadership, and we were very much encouraged. Indeed, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, that in the end it became quite an enjoyable experience.
The report stands as a standing testimony and reminder to this House of what could be achieved if we had a proper foreign affairs committee which was able to look beyond Europe. I am really disappointed because I thought that after the excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, I would be able to stand up and say that I agreed with everything he said, except he spoiled it at the end by going on about Europe, where we are normally in a degree of conflict. The great thing about this report is its optimism about Britain and how we can be a power in the world based on the talents, expertise and relationships of our people.
I was really disappointed by Gordon Brown’s article in the Guardian—in fact, I have sent him a copy of the report this afternoon. I am not a regular reader of the Guardian, noble Lords may be surprised to learn. However, he said that,
“‘leaving Europe to join the world’—is really the North Korea option, out in the cold with few friends, no influence, little new trade and even less new investment”.
This report says that that kind of gloomy view of Britain is wholly out of date and wholly stupid. I really regret that the divisions in our country about whether we wish to be a member of the European Union should—to pick up the chalice analogy which the noble Lord just used—be poisoning the debate. They are not either/ors.
We have great opportunities particularly in exploiting our relationships with the Commonwealth. My noble friend Lady Nicholson referred to the speech that Her Majesty the Queen made to mark Commonwealth Day yesterday. I am not sure whether Her Majesty had been reading the committee’s report, but she talked of,
“the huge advantages of mutual co-operation and understanding”, that lay there for members of the Commonwealth to benefit their citizens. She said that the Commonwealth is more important now than at any other point in its history. That is one of the key messages to have come out of the report. I again pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Howell for the indefatigable way in which he has tried to get across the message about the importance of the Commonwealth and how it could be a pipeline for jobs and employment not just in Britain but around the Commonwealth countries themselves.
Listening to the evidence and looking at the material, I was also surprised to become a complete convert to the work of the BBC World Service. I do not often praise the BBC, but the evidence is overwhelming. With very limited resources and faced with the might of CNN, Al-Jazeera and all kinds of other organisations, we have in the BBC World Service a service which is trusted and is an ambassador and a broadcaster for British values at a time when all of us are horrified by some of the things we see happening in the world. The transfer from the Foreign Office to the licence fee is not such a disaster for it should result in more resources going to the World Service. In the current situation of competition in broadcasting, and in the digital age, if I wanted to make the case for having the licence fee, and having a continuing licence fee, I would argue very strongly for the work that the BBC World Service does.
The same is true of the evidence that we had on the work of the British Council in encouraging the use of the English language. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, about the importance of having other languages, particularly in the Foreign Office. My honourable friend Rory Stewart, in the other place, has spoken passionately about the need for languages among our diplomats in the Foreign Office.
The other day I was looking at the website of the National Portrait Gallery—an organisation for which I have considerable affection, and which I have helped in the past—and I was struck by what I found there. There is a map of the world, people can click on any country in the world, including the UK, and it will show the towns and cities in that country, which they can then click on to be told the names of those whose portraits are in the gallery and the history of their relationship with our country. That is soft power. That is our asset.
When I was working in the City, I worked for an American bank and a British bank. I was struck by the fact that the Americans were always able to promise slightly more than we could deliver, whereas the British invariably underplayed what we could do, and delivered more. As a nation, that is one of our failings.
Similarly, in business, building networks and relationships is everything. Why should that not be the case for Governments? Businesses spend vast amounts on creating relationships with a view to achieving a long-term business reward. So what on earth are we doing making it more difficult for the future leaders of other countries to come here, study in our institutions and, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, take back with them an affection and a regard for our country? I hope that the Government will pay particular attention to the recommendations on visas and the role of overseas students.
We are among the most creative innovative nations in the globe. We are therefore blessed by having the internet and the new technology that enables us to communicate throughout the world and at all levels. For the Foreign Office this must mean change: the internet is as big a change as the introduction of aeroplanes or telegrams. It changes everything—the nature of the business and the nature of the people, the skills and the resources that they need, which are more, not less.
I entirely agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, when he said, “Of course, soft power is all very well”. In terms of the famous old cliché about speaking softly and carrying a big stick, we need that big stick more than ever. I very much hope that the Government will find it within their power to commit us not just to spending the money required to meet the NATO defence target, but to providing the resources for our armed services, which are important to defend our country not just against physical force but against cyberattack and other threats.
The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, said that there was no real distinction between hard and soft power, and referred us to ancient Athens. I have to tell him that in the run-up to the 1997 election, when it looked as if things would be bad for the Conservatives in Scotland, I made a speech at a conference and reminded people of the brave 300 who stood at Thermopylae. I told them how Xerxes, the Persian King, was so impressed by their bravery that he said to them, “If you surrender I will let you go free”. Leonidas, the King of the Spartans, said, “No, we’re not going to do that. We’re going to stay and fight for the values we believe in”. Xerxes said, “But our arrows will blot out the sun”. Leonidas replied, “Then we shall fight in the shade”. At the end of the meeting an elderly lady came up to me and said, “I was so moved by your speech. What happened in the end?”. I said, “They were all killed”. And so we were. But let us not fight in the shade. By using soft power we can see the sunshine of our culture and our values blaze around the world.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the report and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and his committee. I welcome the major debate that we are holding, perhaps rather belatedly, today. I will concentrate on the British Council, a crucial part, by any standards, of this country’s soft power approach—and I speak in a personal capacity.
I declare my interests at once. I am privileged to have been chairman since 2010 of the British Council All-Party Parliamentary Group, which has held regular events for parliamentary people and outsiders. I am also privileged to have been a British Council child; my father left the Army to join the British Council at the end of the Second World War and enjoyed a successful and happy career at home and abroad.
In a debate in this House some two years ago, the British Council received praise from around the House. Many noble Lords have had big experience of the excellent work that the council does on six continents and in more than 100 countries, including two ex-chairmen of the British Council in my noble friends Lord Kinnock and Lady Kennedy of The Shaws; the present vice-chairman of the British Council, the noble Baroness, Lady Prashar; the vice-chairman of the all-party group, and one of its biggest supporters, the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, from whom we will hear later; and, not least by any means, the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, from whom we have heard already and with whom I had the pleasure of co-hosting a joint modern languages and British Council all-party event a few months ago. There will be many others in this House who have had dealings with the British Council over the years. It is good to have friends in both Houses of Parliament, but is it enough?
In truth, the work that the British Council does, whether in the fields of English language and examination, in the arts and education, or in society, is seriously understated by the political establishment. We all accept the good and vital work that it does, but somehow we do not mention it much. Whether it is through fear of the old Daily Express Beaverbrook campaign, now thankfully long dead, to close the British Council down as a waste of taxpayers’ money, or whether it is merely—as I think the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, hinted—British reserve and good manners not to talk too much about an organisation that is one of our country’s gems, the result is the same. As a result, the British Council and its work is not widely enough known about by our fellow citizens. That is a shame, and there is much that the council does that should be more widely recognised. I hope that the House will indulge me if I tell briefly of my own experience of some of the recent brilliant work that I have seen it do with my own eyes, in two countries—Nigeria and Lebanon.
In Nigeria, there is the DfID-funded Justice for All programme that the council is running, which crucially strengthens the rule and the institutions of law, from the police through to the courts, making sure that justice is accessible to all Nigerians and not just some of them. Anyone who knows that wonderful but riven country knows of the problems of which I speak. Secondly, again in Nigeria, there is a strategy—the start of a reconciliation and stabilisation programme, again DfID-funded, which looks behind the conflict in northern Nigeria, in which this House is particularly interested, and supports the role of women in bringing peace. Such a strategy faces enormous odds, but it is surely worth while.
In Lebanon, there is the active citizens programme, a community development programme that the British Council runs in many countries, in civil society and with NGOs. I remember sitting in Sidon—yes, biblical Sidon—a year or so ago, the guest of an NGO, listening to young Lebanese women in particular talking about their society and their future in direct terms. We accompanied a young man through the old tunnels in the centre of that ancient city to his own modern neighbourhood, full as it was with many Syrian refugees as recent arrivals. He then proudly showed us the community work of clearing up the area that he had done with the help of the British Council to bring a deprived community closer together.
That work and those conversations would not have happened if it was not for the active citizen’s programme and the work of the British Council. As an answer to all those foolish enough to suggest that the work of the British Council is somehow not relevant to the world we live in, in Lebanon, it provides access to schools to help the country cope with the enormous influx of Syrian refugees. With more than a million refugees in that country of some 4.5 million, the British Council is helping to minimise the number of young people excluded from the school system, providing a cadre of 1,500 trained teachers who will reach 90,000 pupils over 28 months. It is working with—not against—the Institut Français and with the EU, funded by the EU. This sort of work is vital and life-enhancing and our country, through the British Council, is at the heart of it. We should be proud of what is happening in our name. I cannot think of a better example of soft power in action.
I make two more points. Perhaps it is time for there to be not only a committee on foreign affairs in this House but an all-party group on soft power. I discussed this idea briefly with the British Council itself, which would be happy to work with and support such an all-party group. I would be interested to know whether the noble Lord, Lord Howell, thinks that is an attractive idea or not.
Finally, during the British Council debate two years ago. The fact that the FCO government grant had been reduced—the figure has fallen from £190 million in 2010-11 to £154 million in 2014-15—means that the British Council now just gets 16% of its income from the FCO grant. Of course, it has built up an income of its own by teaching English, administering exams, managing contracts and so on, which is a brilliant achievement over the past 10 years. However, my worry now is that, if that 16% of the British Council income becomes any lower, there is a real danger that the British Council will be seen, no longer as a public service and as part of what Britain has to offer, but as a sort of commercial enterprise. If that ever happens, the UK would suffer a serious blow. In its response to the report of the committee of the noble Lord, Lord Howell, the Government said:
“The Government is firmly committed to the work of the British Council and recognises its significant contribution to the UK’s strategic interests through its work in English, arts, education and society”.
It then says, rather more worryingly:
“The Government will continue to work with the British Council on future funding”.
I hope that means that the Government will be sympathetic, rather than anything else.
For the past 81 years the British Council has served this country well. It is an essential part of our soft power. It ought to be protected.
(Maiden Speech) My Lords, it is an enormous honour and privilege to join your Lordships' House and speak in this debate. I would like to express my gratitude for the welcome and kindness shown to me by everyone here since my arrival. Preparing for today I was also greatly relieved to discover that a large number of other people also spent their first few weeks discovering that they had no sense of direction. If it were not for the outstanding staff here, I would probably be wandering the corridors still.
I also thank my two distinguished supporters, the noble Lords, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood and Lord Rees of Ludlow, for their help and support. Both, as I am sure noble Lords know, are eminent academics. I should explain perhaps that I am also an academic and a social scientist. My own work is largely on vocational education and training, and higher education.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, for securing and introducing this debate and for giving me the opportunity to say a little about universities and soft power. Professor Joseph Nye, whose work first defined the idea of soft power, believes that the role that Britain plays in educating people in British universities is a major soft power resource for this country. The committee agrees, and I am more than happy to agree myself. However, I was surprised at how little was said by witnesses to the committee about what universities actually do that translates into soft power in this way. A few—very few—individual witnesses talked of how our universities exposed students to British values and shaped the thoughts of the world’s future elites. However, the research councils mostly emphasised international research collaborations, and the membership organisations tended to dwell more on numbers, money and, of course, visas.
Universities UK offered one anecdote about a Chinese central banker with a Cambridge PhD, who said that in negotiations with the Bank of England he was “emotionally bonded” to the UK. That is wonderful, but I think most noble Lords would agree that this could reflect memories of happy days on the river and friendships made, rather than anything important that we, the universities, actually did. And so I should like to take this opportunity to spell out in a little more detail what goes on in universities—week after week, year after year—that can make them an important source of soft power for this country.
I know that many noble Lords are, like me, academics by trade, and what I say will therefore sound very familiar. I should like to start with my own recent week. Last week was when our course teams at my university, King’s College London, finalised and agreed the questions on summer examination papers and drew up indicative answers that would go out to external examiners. In doing so, it was striking how often we would require students to “examine critically” a particular statement or question. We would demand that they contrast and evaluate opposing views. We would reiterate in our notes the importance for a good answer of both tight theoretical argument and the marshalling of empirical evidence.
Last week, I was also marking and commenting on coursework—that is, the long written papers that in almost every university now contribute substantially to a final degree. Among the most important coursework marking criteria in every British university I know are, first, a full bibliography, properly set out; and, secondly, that all assertions made are properly and fully referenced and supported. Any quote must be easily traced by provision of the exact page or other reference marker. Our students, understandably, often find us compulsive and nitpicking on this point. But this is fundamentally how we convey and hopefully instil some core values. This is about respect for evidence—all evidence, not just the evidence in one’s own comfort zone. It is about accuracy, scrupulous attention to detail and transparency. We also reward independent judgment, but provided it takes place within those bounds. This, I have to say, is far from universally true across the world.
In UK universities today, there is a real tension between the demands of research, the pressure to expand numbers and the labour-intensive process of teaching, marking and feedback that I have just described. But this latter process is central to how we instil norms and values. They, in turn, are a critical part of our universities’ potential for soft power.
We tend to talk about power as a zero-sum game—“If I have some, you have less”. But there are important aspects of the world where things are not zero-sum but, on the contrary, can make life better for everyone. I do not think that I am contravening the rule for maiden speeches in suggesting that that is true of the values that I have described. They are good for the whole planet. They are good for everyone. If people respect evidence, can formulate a logical argument and take for granted the importance of considering opposing views and justifying their disagreement, this has to be a good thing for the world.
Professor Mary Kaldor of the LSE, in her written evidence, told the committee that British universities “are global institutions” that “contribute to global debates about the construction of rules and norms”. It would clearly be naive to think that by educating many of the world’s future elite here, as we do, we would automatically spread peace, good will and collaboration across the planet. However, conveying academic values by the way we teach, assess and respond to students is a core part of what all British academics are, and should be, about. It is very important, and I hope that in any discussion of university soft power noble Lords will duly give it centre stage.
In conclusion, I again thank noble Lords for their welcome and support, and I look forward very much to contributing to the work of this House in years to come.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf of Dulwich, on her truly excellent and authoritative maiden speech. When I was looking at her rather scarily impressive CV this morning, I saw that she was not only an economist and an academic but has worked as a consultant and adviser to the European Commission, the Bar Council, the OECD, the Royal College of Surgeons and the ministries of education of New Zealand, France and South Africa. The depth of this experience shone through in her maiden speech and I am sure that we all look forward to her future contributions to this House.
I, too, congratulate the Select Committee on Soft Power on its extremely comprehensive and timely report. As many noble Lords have already said, as the world becomes an increasingly interconnected but often unpredictable and dangerous place, the need for alternative means of communicating and influencing becomes ever more important. As this is such a broad-ranging debate, I intend to focus my remarks on two specific areas: the role and influence of the British Council in north Africa, and the role of both the British Council and the BBC World Service in Russia and Ukraine.
As an English teacher in the Soviet Union in 1990 and 1991 I used to listen intently to the BBC World Service on my little shortwave radio. I would extend the aerial right up to the metal shelves above my bed to get the clearest possible reception. In those pre-internet days at the end of the Cold War it was my only means of connection with the outside world. Most of my Russian friends also used to listen to the World Service, not only to practise their English but as a means of receiving unbiased news of what was happening in the world without the top-spin of Soviet propaganda. BBC World Service radio represented to them a brand that they could trust.
Following the end of the Soviet Union there was a brief period when free media flourished in Russia but, sadly, more and more of the broadcast media have once more come under state control and Kremlin censorship. The events in eastern Ukraine and Crimea over the past year have seen a return to attempts to indoctrinate the population through the media, but on a modernised scale that would have been inconceivable even in the Soviet Union.
It is not a coincidence, therefore, that by last summer Russia showed the biggest increase in BBC World Service listening, its audience more than doubling to 6.9 million people weekly. The Ukrainian service has similarly witnessed a trebling of its audience over the past year to more than 600,000. People are once again turning to the World Service as an alternative and unbiased means of receiving the news—most particularly in a conflict that has been so prone to misinformation and propaganda.
Meanwhile, we have seen the growth of Russia Today, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, described so eloquently. RT—Russia Today—broadcasts in English, Arabic and Spanish and has branches in London and Washington. The sanctions against Russia have resulted in a budget cut to the network, according to the Moscow Times, but the budget is still in the region of $300 million dollars per year, up from approximately $80 million dollars in 2007. RT has been called the international mouthpiece of the Kremlin. Certainly its coverage of the Scottish referendum—as I mentioned in a previous debate on Russia in this House—made for fascinating viewing, with accusations of North Korean turnouts and counts which apparently did not meet international standards.
The BBC World Service’s reputation rests on its independence from the British Government—and rightly so: this is the major difference between the World Service and the likes of Russia Today. It is this trust—this confidence that people are listening to an objective version of events—that is so very valuable. Given the importance of the service, can the Minister comment on the future funding of the BBC World Service, which we have shown today is so important in terms of soft power in the Ukraine-Russia dispute over the past few months?
The British Council, too, has been playing a vital role in Ukraine. Its contributions to the new reforms of higher education in Ukraine are greatly to be welcomed, as are the plans to increase ties with universities in the UK. The British Council is also in the process of increasing the number of English language programmes for both universities and civil servants in Ukraine, and it is promoting greater cultural exchanges between the UK and Ukraine, not least in the creative industries.
I was fortunate to attend in Tunisia last year the British Council Hammamet Conference, which brings together men and women who are leaders in their particular professions—established leaders as well as young leaders—from across the countries of north Africa. At one of the universities in Tunis we watched a debate organised by the British Council’s Young Arab Voices programme, which teaches debating and public speaking skills. There were five young women and one young man, who debated with tremendous confidence in English on the subject of national security versus individual liberties.
In Morocco a few weeks ago, I also met a group of young women who were taking part in the Moroccan version of the programme, called Young Moroccan Voices. There are more than 25,000 members across Morocco, and in 2013 the Young Arab Voices programme reached more than 100,000 people across the Maghreb.
I was struck in both Tunisia and Morocco by the extremely enthusiastic, bright young people. Some were studying languages and some business or management. They all wanted to know more about the UK and many hoped to study or do business here. They all felt that the programme had given them not only confidence in the English language but confidence in public speaking and debating, as well as a self-belief that they could achieve their goals. I believe it is exactly the kind of programme that represents real value for money and, above all, has a genuine impact. Can my noble friend the Minister say what plans the Government have to support and fund British Council programmes such as Young Arab Voices that continue to act as a catalyst for youth political participation and engagement in north Africa?
Finally, I agree full-heartedly with the Select Committee’s conclusions on the need to promote the learning of foreign languages in this country. The fact that English is now the global language of communication is both a blessing and a curse. Having studied French and Russian at university, I am able to muddle by relatively competently in both languages. Being able to speak directly to people in their own language unquestionably assists cultural and political understanding, and inevitably helps in the business world too, in promoting the image of Britain as a dynamic, multicultural, tolerant country.
I hope that my noble friend will be able to comment on the Government’s commitment to redress the decline in language learning in UK schools and universities. If we do not redress this decline, I believe that our lack of linguistic skills threatens to become both an economic and a political problem in this rapidly changing world.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and his committee on this excellent report. It provides an extremely interesting and useful analysis and I welcome and support its arguments—with one caveat. I believe that there is one aspect of the UK’s special capabilities and significance in the world that is underplayed.
However, first, I want to praise the report. I found the main thrust of its arguments compelling: the dramatic change in the international environment that it talks about; the importance of smart power; the understanding that power is now dispersed away from central control; and the importance of understanding and respecting other non-western points of view. On specifics, I could mention many, but I note the importance of the UK being the best networked state in the world; the actual and potential role of the Commonwealth; the idea that the British need to feel confident in knowing who we are and what our role is in a transformed and turbulent world; the role of the diaspora and diversity; and the importance of trust and impartiality. These are all extraordinarily important issues.
I now turn to what I believe is missing. Health is one of the largest sectors in the world, with expenditure of more than $7 trillion annually, and it is one in which in almost every aspect the UK is widely recognised as first or second in the world. It is an area where, in line with this report, we have profound influence, are extremely well networked and could play an even bigger and more confident role globally. I believe that health addresses all the issues drawn out in paragraph 86 of the report of what soft power is about. But the key point that I want to make here is not just about the capabilities of the UK but that there is a demand for those capabilities right now.
I will first deal with the supply side and I will address it in four areas. The first is academia. I will not say very much because I believe that my noble friend Lord Kakkar, himself a distinguished medical researcher, will say more about this. Today, the UK is top-rated in research publishing in many areas of health, even beating the US in terms of the citations it receives in peer-reviewed journals. As the report notes, we have those extraordinary journals, the Lancet, the BMJ and Nature. Interestingly, in the context of the networks that this report talks about, for articles where British people are the first authors in these journals, 62% of them have foreign collaborators. In the US, only 25% have foreign collaborators. The UK works very collaboratively in these networks. Moreover, as people may well recognise, all doctors, at some point in their lives, do research. These networks are huge. Finally, the medical royal colleges in the UK are hugely valued in terms of their qualifications. I believe that membership of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists is still the most valued qualification in India and I know that the Royal College of General Practitioners accredits all family practitioner courses in south-east Asia, with the exception of Burma. There is extraordinary influence and these are extraordinary networks.
The second area is the state sector. I will not say very much about DfID, which was mentioned in the report, but it is, as everyone knows, extraordinarily influential and does an enormous amount with regard to health. I now turn to the NHS. As a former chief executive of the NHS, I was delighted to see that it came top in a recent assessment of health systems around the world. While I am pleased about that, it is also a reminder of just how hard it is to run a health system. We recognise that we have problems, but actually we are doing very well in that context. My point here is not about the performance of the system itself but about the influence that it has. Almost every Commonwealth health system was modelled on the NHS, as was, for example, the system in Portugal. China has had a flirtation with the private sector system and is now looking to the UK. Mongolia, one of the fastest growing countries in the world, has turned to us for assistance. It is not just about the values and the whole organisation of the NHS; it is about the elements. Apparently, every country now wants to have a NICE to assess the value of medicines around the world. Public Health England is another example that is modelled. Then there is the influence of individuals in health and in the World Health Organization. I will not go back into the past, although I note that the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, is here and would say that we have had an enormous impact on what has happened around HIV/AIDS in the world. Today one of the big issues is antimicrobial resistance, or antibiotic resistance, where the UK is leading the fight in trying to tackle that globally. We have had fantastic influence.
I move on now to philanthropy. We could talk about the Wellcome Foundation, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the great NGOs and what they are doing around the world, and international partnerships. Again, many of these are rated among the top in the world.
Finally, I turn to commerce, where we come slightly lower on some of the factors. Nevertheless, it is UK researchers who have developed 25 of the top 100 drugs that are in use in the world. I am delighted to see that the present Government have recognised the enormous scope of the life sciences sector in the way that George Freeman, the Minister, has taken it up. I also note that Healthcare UK, developed recently, supported an estimated increase of £1 billion in commercial exports of health products in the current financial year and identified further opportunities worth more than £20 billion.
There is a huge supply side but the demand side is actually bigger. As countries grow richer, their citizens demand healthcare, and they want their governments to invest in health. We in Europe are accustomed to contracting in health whereas around the world countries are doubling their expenditure and looking for support. Part of this is in response to public demand and part of it is about social control. Some countries around the world are trying to keep their populations interested. Some of it is a recognition of the link between healthier people and the economy. Many are turning to the UK for help. Health is salient economically and domestically in these fast-growing economies and should also be seen as a critical component of foreign policy and, indeed, a soft power.
. It was launched by Hillary Clinton when she was First Lady and she has returned to the theme often since. To an extent, the UK, with its policy of “Health is Global”, has tried to develop a policy around this but, frankly, it is not as influential as it might have been and is not even mentioned in this report.
Perhaps I may ask why health is not generally seen as an area in which the UK has extraordinary influence globally and why it is not a crucial element of British foreign policy. One reason may be, importantly—it has nothing to do with this committee or the Foreign Office—that health leaders have not done what others in other sectors, such as culture, have done where they have deliberately set out, in a systematic way, to promote their international profile, with the results that we have seen and talked about. The Government need to be systematic about this, as the report says, but so, frankly, does the health system.
This is an important message for health leaders. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health, of which my noble friend Lord Kakkar and I are both officers, is seeking to map the activity of the UK in health globally. We will be looking at how this can be expanded across the board so that the UK can build an even stronger position as a centre of health. To do so, however, health leaders need to rise to the challenge.
I say to the Foreign Office and a future government that when they are looking at these issues and the great agenda set out by the committee please do not forget health. There is a range of links between individual doctors and organisations which can exert an extraordinary influence. On any given day, thousands of health professionals and scientists are in touch with their colleagues and peers elsewhere and we should build on, cherish and, importantly, use these networks.
Finally, I have two questions for the Minister. First, does he recognise the important role that the UK health sector has in promoting the UK’s power and influence internationally? Secondly, what are the plans to update the Government’s global strategy “Health is Global”?
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, whose knowledge of what is happening in global health is unparalleled. It is also a pleasure to serve with him on the group, of which he is a co-chair and where he is doing very useful work.
As for persuasion and power, I am not sure I am not keener on persuasion than power. As this is a big and comprehensive report, my focus will be on the part which deals with DfID, the aid programme, international development and the Government’s response. I feel that there is a certain out-of-balance approach to aid and international development in the way that we are handling it now. It is not that what we are doing is not okay; it is just that I think we could be doing a lot more.
In the time that I was with what is now the CDC Group, I knocked about in 50 different countries looking for economic opportunities with high development returns and, usually, sustainable but rather low financial returns. This was because, as a gap filler, we were looking to do things that the fully commercial private sector did not find attractive. In doing that we carried with us our own marketing, investigation, engineering and agricultural skills. This enabled us to know, for example, that in Uganda we could upgrade the hydroelectric power station at Owen Falls from 24 to 36 megawatts by installing new innards in the dam which were available because of modern technology. To do that you had to know something about the electricity generation and distribution industry. Indeed, at the time, only 60% of the electricity being generated in Uganda was actually being paid for.
We also went to the island of New Ireland which looks out on the Bismarck Sea. The villages down the coast are alternately Catholic and Protestant and, in the middle, there is a Baha’i village called Madina. There we took coconut lands out of production and put in oil palms. It was experimental and innovative. We knew that we could probably do it successfully because of our knowledge of soils and rainfalls; of how to build a proper factory and how to out-load the palm oil into the Bismarck Sea. We came across the graveyards of ancestors, although the Government promised us that the land tenure arrangements were perfectly okay. They also promised us a road which we never got. Nevertheless, because we had the capacity and the people who knew how to get round those problems, it was a success—as, indeed, was clonal tea in the back blocks of Malawi. There we built a small clinic, as we always did. When I was visiting, I always used to open the door of the fridge to see what was in it; very often there was not very much. We built a school but one could find, with deep regret, that there was no teacher. We also made sure that the employees had good seeds for their gardens. The introduction of hybrid seeds into many parts of Africa has been a long struggle but, once managed, the benefits are seen.
One lesson from all this is that, if you can find economic opportunities—and they may be marginal and in difficult places—then go for them. Do not allow people to tell you that, if you do not have a perfect set of conditions, you should not be doing it. The rule of law may have holes in it. Certainly, land tenure very often does. Governments make promises which they do not always keep. Accounting standards in those places were not always up to scratch. It was probably more like the days of Abraham Darby and Adam Smith when there were not any aid programmes.
In my view, the great strength of our aid programme and of DfID is in disaster relief, reconstruction, poverty alleviation, health, and disease control. The NGOs and charities that work with them are fantastic. Mercy Ships and my noble friend Lord McColl; a charity called Send a Cow, built up by a colleague of mine from the past; and VSO, as has been mentioned, are all wonderful. I believe that DfID could and should be doing more; certainly in the area of health, there seem to be no limits. However, the middle ground—the ground that DfID occupies between disaster relief, poverty alleviation and health issues, and economic development—seems much more uncertain. We get caught up in the international bureaucracy of overseas development assistance. We worry about reputations—about inputs rather more than about outputs.
Maybe some values are universal, once people have adequate food. Considering what we were told after the war was going to happen, for example in India, it is amazing how successful the world has been at feeding itself. It has not been completely adequate but it has been much more adequate than we ever supposed in those days. I suggest that these values are universal: a roof that does not leak; cooking you can do without filling the house with smoke; a doctor or a nurse not far away; a school for your children and, if you are on a river in somewhere such as Sarawak, an engine for your boat. Maybe we should be talking more about universal values and not just about British values.
I also worry about capacity building for the reasons I have already given: the abstract nature of the language and the caution of the people engaged in it so that we are always going to do tomorrow what actually needs to be done today. Why is there this hesitation? Aid enthusiasts and managers are basically very uncomfortable with limited liability companies working as the seizers of economic opportunity in economic development. To them, the whole thing is too risky and too capitalist. It is all about income and its distribution between stakeholders, whereas the aid enthusiasts and managers are controllers of expenditure. Their conclusion is that conventional economic development is not really aid and that it is something which is better left to others. If and when they do get involved, it is through intermediaries. Indeed, the government response to the report and comments in other material suggest that that is really what they are saying. This seems to me, in 2015, to be wrong and in need of change. The skills and technology for economic development in difficult places are too badly wanted and it is too urgent that these matters are carried forward for them to be contracted out to others. This activity needs to be an integral part of the aid programme, and in making it so, we should remember how we came to be a developed nation. Why do we think that it can happen so differently for others?
My Lords, I apologise for being late for the beginning of the debate, but I was detained. I declare an interest as a producer at the BBC. I praise the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for his extremely impressive report and was especially pleased to read paragraph 268, which states:
“While we understand that the BBC World Service’s budget has been protected in the move to licence-fee funding, we are concerned that this protection might be more difficult to maintain in the face of future budget pressures and challenges to the principle of the licence fee”.
In their response the Government say:
“The Government remains fully committed to the BBC World Service”.
My concern is that these could remain warm words at a time when, as many other noble Lords have said, the BBC World Service has never been more important, a sentiment which is echoed in the report of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the other place.
In the 1990s, at the end of the Cold War, we saw a liberalisation of the media across the world. As the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, said, Russian television channels were broadcasting brave programmes investigating the role of their own Government and military. The rise of democracy across much of Africa and Asia saw a similar opening up of the media. But in the last five years, we have seen a closing down of the free media globally. Increasingly warlords, political and religious parties are setting up or taking over television and radio stations and websites in order to pump out propaganda which supports their view of the world.
As my noble friend Lord Hannay pointed out, along with the report, the Russian and Chinese Governments have dramatically increased their communications budgets to spread their views across the world. It is easy for us sitting here in the West to imagine that audiences are sophisticated enough to ignore such propaganda, but even here in the west, “Russia Today”, which has already been mentioned, a well funded global propaganda arm of the Russian Government, is the second most watched foreign news channel in America, and in this country it claims a quarterly audience of 2.5 million people. Noble Lords can imagine the power of these channels in the less sophisticated Russian-speaking areas of the former Soviet Union. Daily we hear of the fears of the Baltic states and parts of the former USSR of the power of President Putin’s state media to foster anger and resentment among the Russian-speaking populations. It is not surprising that in the ghastly battle for control of eastern Ukraine, the BBC’s Ukrainian and Russian language services have become a crucial source of impartial information.
I talked to one of my colleagues on the Russian service, who gave me a rather good example. Last month, LifeNews, the Russian state media outlet in the region, reported unequivocally that a hospital in Donetsk in eastern Ukraine had been hit and people killed by shells fired by Ukrainian forces stationed to the north-west of the city. The BBC Russian Service reporter arrived shortly afterwards and reported the shelling, but said that it was not clear from which direction it had come—whether from the Ukrainians or the Russian separatists. The BBC reporter added that each side blamed the other. In fact, shortly afterwards, the OSCE observers visited the damaged hospital and decided that the shells had come from the separatist troops in the south-east. The findings were reported by the BBC, but not by Russian LifeNews. It is no wonder that the online traffic for the BBC’s Russian service has increased by 8% during the course of 2014. By giving the world a source of impartial news, we are presenting across the globe British values of truth, justice and democracy, portraying our country in the finest possible light.
Furthermore, the soft power of the World Service has another crucial role: it actively helps to stabilise fragile states. We are seeing hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from their own failing states for the political and economic security of Europe. The values of the BBC can encourage democracy and nurture civil institutions in the countries from which they are fleeing.
The report mentions the work of the wonderful BBC Media Action, which uses both the World Service and local media partners to build democratic institutions and encourage populations to engage with them. Media Action is a charity, not part of the World Service, and is well supported by DfID and international donors. It draws on the expertise of the staff of the BBC world services and transmits programmes jointly on its language services and with local partners.
In Afghanistan, we have seen a wholesale takeover of the airwaves by political groupings and warlords wanting to pump out their own propaganda. One of the very few places where Afghans can receive balanced information is on the “Open Jirga” programme, supported by BBC Media Action and based on BBC1’s “Question Time”. Afghan Ministers and Opposition leaders sit side by side answering questions from an eclectic audience representing a carefully selected range of Afghan society, including 50% women, who ask half the questions. Media Action is expanding and introducing similar programmes in the countries of the Arab spring and in Iraq. I hope that your Lordships will draw from the success of Media Action that it deploys the inspiration and values of the BBC World Service.
In April last year, the BBC World Service was folded into the licence fee. At the time, the head of news, James Harding, announced an increase in funding for the service of £5 million, so that next year its funding will be £250 million. However, he warned that there would have to be savings as part of the three-year investment plan. This is against a background of a 26% cut in BBC funding over the five years of the licence fee settlement.
We are now beginning to focus on the future funding of the BBC, with the negotiations for charter renewal due to start in a matter of months. This will be the first time that the funding of the BBC World Service has been dependent on the licence fee. I am concerned that commercial and political forces are gathering to ensure that the BBC’s severely reduced funding will affect the World Service. The Government’s response to the committee’s report points out that it is up to the BBC Trust to manage the funding and operation of the World Service within the wider BBC family. Indeed, the World Service’s operating licence states that the BBC Trust must ensure that the content and distribution budget are protected, while also ensuring that operational efficiencies can be achieved. However, it also says that the trust has to be consulted only if there is a 10% or greater cut in its budget. At the moment, that could mean £25 million, or the budget for several language services.
The International Broadcasting Trust has already warned us of its concern that, while the BBC licence fee is paid for by a British audience, the World Service is aimed at a global audience. I fear that the people of Britain, who pay for the BBC, might wonder why their money is being spent on a service which is not aimed at them.
The committee’s report urges that future commercial sources of income be studied, and suggests support from central taxation for the World Service. The Government, in reply, said that they would support the BBC World Service’s global role and ensure that it remained the best international broadcaster, but they did not respond to the idea of support from taxation.
Will the Minister say whether there is any possibility of taxation support for the World Service, and if not, what are the Government going to do to ensure that the World Service’s funding is not cut after 2016?
My Lords, I start, perhaps unusually, with the confirmation that because I am no longer a director and the chairman of the Good Governance Foundation, I do not need to declare it as an interest any more. That is for a variety of reasons, which I will not go into, but one is the difficulty of asserting soft power around the world and carrying that out. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell, whose views on this I have known for some time, on an exceptionally good report. There is so much in it that you could speak on it for a long time, which I will not do. I certainly do not want to repeat all the praise that has been given to the various institutions—the British Council, the BBC, and the members of the European Union and the Commonwealth—and the power of the English language. All those and 101 other things give us enormous influence around the world, but that influence would not apply if we did not also have an attractive culture and society.
The noble Viscount, Lord Colville, and one or two other noble Lords mentioned RT and the amount of money being poured into it. I watch it and, frankly, it has deteriorated quite a bit in the last few years. It has always been a propaganda channel aimed at trying to undermine western countries and values but also at propping up Russian nationalism. The interesting thing about RT of course is that, if you look at it in terms of changing people’s attitudes outside of Russia, it is not very effective. The reality is that there are not thousands of people queuing up to get into Russia; rather, there are more people coming out of Russia into Britain than the other way round. The reason for that at the end of the day is not just because of the BBC World Service, good as it is, but because of all the other institutions and things that make us the free, prosperous and stable society that we are. It is that stability and prosperity, and the rule of law, that I want to focus on for a moment.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, that we pay too little attention to the rule of law. One of the things I tried to do through the Good Governance Foundation was to spread the recognition of Britain’s role in the rule of law. I pay great tribute to another institution we do not give enough support to, the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, which does an awful lot on the rule of law both through the European Union and directly. A couple of years ago, I tried to get the late Lord Bingham’s book The Rule of Law— which is only a short book of a couple of hundred pages, if that—published in Arabic and was told there was not a big enough market for it. I doubt that. I think there would be, but it is a matter of how it is promoted.
One thing that I have seen in a variety of countries around the world is that people are not necessarily shouting for democracy, although that is a long-term goal, but they are shouting for the rule of law. If you can get fairness and stability from the rule of law, you can build the democratic foundations. Trying to do it the other way round, as we have discovered to our cost, does not really work. As we saw in Egypt recently, and indeed in Iraq, going for democratic structures when you do not have the rule of law can all too easily lead to the winning party taking a winner-takes-all approach to democracy. Immediately, the minority groups of one type or another, or the losers, feel excluded and you get the collapse of that democratic process. It is a very important issue. We have so much expertise on the rule of law in this country, and among many Members of this House, and if we could involve that more in our programmes around the world it would be very useful. The reputation of Britain as a country of law is very great.
One of the bullet points in the report summary refers to resources for embassies. The fascinating thing about the report is that it has identified this dramatically changing relationship in the world between hard power, soft power and what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, then defined as smart power, when you combine them. The problem I find, and I do not think I can be alone in this, is that it is hard to see where this started and where the process will end. It is fast-moving and very confusing in a way. I am sure that our embassies around the world have a key role to play in it. Recently, I led a delegation to Bahrain with Members of this House and of the House of Commons, which produced a report on its reform process. I have to say that it is doing well. It ought to be emphasised that this country is trying, in a region where it is incredibly difficult to make progress, and our report indicated that its efforts need to be supported.
The reason that I mention that is that the ambassador, who I gather has now moved on from that post, a man called Iain Lindsay, was immensely helpful in enabling us to meet all the people who we needed to meet there, making the contacts that we needed to make. Similarly, when I was working for the Good Governance Foundation, I helped Abu Dhabi to set up a postgraduate course in the rule of law with outreach to Palestine, so that 28 Palestinian students could attend the course. The Foreign Office, through both the Palestinian and Abu Dhabi link, was immensely helpful.
In doing all that, I stumbled across an organisation called the Training Gateway, which is based at York University. Several Members have spoken about the importance of education. They are absolutely right, of course. What was fascinating was that the Training Gateway—which is self-funding; it charges its customers —was able to link universities, colleges and private sector groups in training programmes around the world. In that sense, it is not dissimilar to what the British Council and one or two other organisations are doing. The difference is that it will relay any request by a particular country or an organisation within that country. I was very impressed by the lady who runs it, Amanda Selvaratnam. She has developed quite a skill in linking what countries need to a British institution, be it a state or national one, such as a university, or a private company. That has been excellent. The thing that I and she find most difficult in all this is the linkage between the various companies, organisations, government departments and so on.
I give an example of my experience on that from Burma—Myanmar, as it is now known. I have been in touch with the ambassador here and, through him, to the Attorney-General in Burma. I talked to them about the possibility of links with the Training Gateway to build capacity on the rule of law there. I received several letters from the Attorney-General, Dr Tun Shin. One stated,
“if I may say so, I feel that at this primary stage it will be beneficial to give preference to high level officials to attend”, courses in the UK, to
“gain knowledge which they can disseminate”, to the people who work for them. In a later letter, he stated that they were very interested in having training from the Training Gateway in courses delivered overseas or there in Myanmar.
At the end of the day, it did not happen. One reason is that however much help we were getting—I am in no way critical of DfID or the Foreign Office—there was not enough in Burma itself to build that structure. We need to think about how we can place a person in countries such as Burma to ensure that they can deliver on the ground what their leaders say that they need. That interlinkage is so difficult.
My final point is on the references in the report to hyperconnectivity, which is very important. It touches a bit on what the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said about the health service overseas. I was struck recently when looking at some pictures of Alexandria in Egypt, sent to me by my daughter, who is there at the moment, of the sewage in the road and things of that nature. I went away to look up the top infectious diseases in Alexandria. Sure enough, they are all water-borne or food-borne, because of the lack of hygiene. I do not doubt that the real answer is for the Egyptian Government, with or without aid, to provide a better sewerage system, but I also know that with hyperconnectivity you can do what the report touches on: give good local organisations advice and help on basic hygiene, which you can do even though you have problems in the street every time that there is heavy rainfall.
That is what is so exciting in the report: it opens up new parameters to think about. I urge the Government to think about the use of our interconnection through the internet. We are a very connected society, and if we link into that, it is a matter not just of aid but of helping to build institutions, even at a very local level, to deal with the problems that I have just described.
My Lords, we are very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, one of the most thoughtful Members of this House, for his leadership on this important matter.
Rarely has our world been so troubled: over the past decade, we have suffered a global economic convulsion; Russia flexes its muscles on Europe’s eastern flank; the Middle East is racked by multiple tensions; and merciless philosophies galvanise new terrorist movements, both widely and in our midst. We are of course here to discuss soft power but we need hard power, too. Yes, we must bear down on our deficit but we must also define and fund a robust defence policy for the next 10 to 20 years, based on the range of threats against which we may need, as a nation, to defend ourselves. That is what good Governments do, whether or not there are votes in it. Only if we have a cogent and sustainable defence policy can we bring leadership, above all on our doorstep. Europe’s military capability does not match, as it should, Europe’s economic weight.
If we need hard power to defend ourselves against the evils of the world, we need soft power to try to make ours a better world. In the UK, as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, has just said, we care about the rule of law. We also care about global poverty, climate change, human rights, free trade and self-determination. We want to promote tolerance, respect for difference and freedom of expression. Yet we recognise that this is a long haul. The anniversary of Magna Carta reminds us what a struggle it is in any society to achieve stability and harmony. We in the UK influence the world more than most, as others have said, because we are listened to more than most. That is not only for our commitment to a set of values and beliefs but for our contributions to science, learning, the arts and culture, and to wit. We can inspire the world with Shakespeare and Jane Austen, delight it with the Beatles and Ed Sheeran and entertain it with James Bond, Harry Potter and “Doctor Who”.
Again, as others have said more than once, no UK institution can and does project soft power more effectively than the BBC, the world’s best known and respected media brand. Ask Mikhail Gorbachev or Aung San Suu Kyi—or now the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, a welcome conversion—if you doubt that. Yet the BBC faces substantial challenges in continuing to maintain its pole position. Here I fear I must strike a sharper note than other noble Lords, for one of the most shameful acts in the history of the BBC was this coalition Government’s midnight raid on the BBC’s coffers, requiring it overnight, with no prior public or parliamentary debate whatever, to fund S4C, BBC Monitoring and BBC World Service from the licence fee. This ambush effectively cut one-sixth from the budget of the pre-existing BBC and cannot be glossed over or simply waved away. Moreover, this action breached a clear principle which had been held for almost a century: that the licence fee paid only for services for UK licence fee payers, and that the Government commissioned overseas services at arm’s length from an editorially independent BBC and funded them from taxation.
Worse still, the FCO fought to have its cake and eat it, too. It sought to continue to determine what world services the BBC should offer, in spite of the fact that the FCO would no longer fund them. For the first time in its history, and in breach of another sacred principle—established long ago when John Reith successfully fought off Winston Churchill’s bid to control the BBC during the General Strike—the Government are seeking to specify in detail the services that the BBC should offer. No one knows better than me that the BBC World Service is a sacred trust, but this deeply unsatisfactory and unprincipled position must be put right in the forthcoming BBC charter review. Indeed, the BBC and the Government should go further and fundamentally redefine what the BBC’s world role should be in the light not only of a new global order, about which many have spoken, but of revolutionary technological change. I do not expect that many potential recruits to IS listen to short wave radio. Rather, as we know, they engage in social media and plumb the darker depths of the internet. World Service provision needs to be rethought and reinvented for the digital age. Other BBC services, such as BBC America, valuably reach different audiences, but here, too, as a society we need to ask if we can build on that success and extend the BBC’s reach further across the globe.
The final critical issue to be addressed during charter review is the chronic undernourishment of the BBC’s World News television channel. The BBC has not only the most trusted and respected news ethos in the world, but also by far the largest and most extensive global news reach. Yet from China, Russia and the Middle East we see services—far more richly funded—aimed at global audiences that may eventually eclipse the BBC’s global news channel, unless and until that service receives a real transfusion of resources and can bulk up. In short, Britain needs not only a fit-for-purpose defence policy but a thorough consideration of how the world’s most powerful cultural institution can more effectively extend our soft power.
My Lords, I join others in expressing real thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for a particularly thoughtful and stimulating report. To have had him at the helm, with his personal and lifelong commitment to the international dimensions of our life, was a great asset.
I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Birt. In the context of my life, which has involved a great deal of international work, I cannot praise too highly the record of the BBC. However, I would like to make a comment on his observations about the BBC. First, in the overseas reach of its work the institution needs to be aware of the pressures that lead it to a preoccupation with listening figures. Often, the most important contribution by the BBC is in situations where the numbers may not be that impressive, but for those who are struggling for the future of their country and their people, and are struggling to establish enlightened stability, this contribution can be crucial. That dimension must be constantly borne in mind.
Secondly, to underline what the noble Lord was saying, my impression has always been that the quality of the BBC’s overseas work, going by its record, has been related to the quality and depth of the knowledge. It was not just up-to-date reporting that was good; that is obviously connected to it. It rested in a really deep understanding, almost with the quality of the most outstanding university, in terms of what it was bringing to the task, which challenged all other types of journalism. That must be watched.
We live in a dangerous world, and there are two dimensions to how we respond. One is in the military and defence sense. The amount of resources available is crucial. I can never forget my experience as a Defence Minister in this respect. It is also essential to look at the relevance of defence expenditure and the realities of the world in which we live and making sure that whether we are putting expenditure up or keeping it up, the expenditure is put to the best possible use. The other dimension to all this, which is perhaps of even greater significance, is the hearts and minds dimension and how we win the battle for values in the world, or should I say, how the world wins the battle for values without which there is very little prospect for humanity.
The world is no longer Eurocentric. We are totally interdependent and this makes our support of and participation in international institutions a top priority. Our present generation of politicians will be judged by history on the extent to which they enabled the British people to understand that the world is no longer Eurocentric and that what matters most is what we are doing, together with others, in international institutions. That matters most.
We have to look at ourselves very honestly and not just go on with the refrain that the world respects us and has a high regard for us. We need to ask ourselves just how far the world has automatic respect for us and how far we can live on the laurels of the past. Are we doing the things that are necessary to ensure that we have that respect?
That brings me to a thought which I hope I will be forgiven for introducing to the debate. I do not like the use of the word “power” in this context. It has so many sometimes quite sinister connotations. I wish we could talk about contribution. I wish we could talk about effective co-operation. Power is not a word which is going to help in this non-Eurocentric world. It is our strength—there is a difference between strength and power—that matters in the way we make our contribution. That is related to our credibility as a nation and a people. The environment has been mentioned. There is no bigger challenge to us all than the issues of the environment, but if the world is going to listen to our contribution on the environment, it will look at us and ask just how high in our real political priorities are environmental issues and how much muscle is being given to responding in the most effective way so far as Britain’s inescapability from that crisis is concerned.
When we talk about the importance of human rights, just how committed is the UK really? How far do the British people and their political leaders understand that the absence of human rights leads to extremism? Churchill understood that, but how many today really understand right in the centre of our thinking and deliberations that the absence of human rights is likely to lead to extremism and all the horrors that go with it? What success are the British people making of their own race relations before they tell other people how they ought to be arranging theirs?
In education, the same thing is true. We can make a huge contribution in education and have and will, I am sure, but its real effectiveness is related to what people see as our own educational priorities. How far have we got locked into a quantitative approach to higher education and universities as distinct from a qualitative approach to universities? How much importance do we give to ethics, philosophy, history and the humanities in our education system as distinct from how far it is contributing to the economy—that is vital, of course—but just in the immediate sense, in a measurable, material sense? I believe there is an indivisible line there, but if we are to go on being a successful economy, the values of our society and the other dimensions of our society feed into that because they lead to richness in personality and originality which are crucial to our future.
I mentioned the BBC at some length. The same is true for the British Council. It has a splendid record, but it should not let the importance of the arts and literature become diminished because they can make a terrific contribution to the quality of thinking throughout the world.
The non-governmental sector must have a mention; I plead guilty because I have worked in it a great deal. Let us listen to the non-governmental sector. It is not just what it is contributing but what it is hearing because it has the credibility of its involvement and engagement. Its voice in helping us to shape policies for the future is crucial. It is not a threat or something to be kept disciplined; it is something to encourage because it is central to its work.
Above all, in all we are doing, the word “solidarity” matters. Do we see living out our lives and our children living out their lives as a mutual experience? Is it humanity as humanity facing the issues that face us all or is our position still too much the old, traditional, paternalistic approach that we make a contribution, but as Britain, to the world? It is not the road to success. The road to success is to ask how we join the world. In joining the world and playing our part as a partner in the world, how do we help to build success for everybody? In that, languages cannot be overemphasised.
Like other noble Lords I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell, for an excellent, fascinating report. I shall confine myself to two issues: the BBC in another form, and how the current status of the arts in our education system endangers our future influence on the world stage. I have to declare my interest. As a freelance film-maker, I work from time to time at the BBC and I am involved in several arts initiatives in schools.
Despite its flaws, the BBC remains, as others have said, the most trusted disseminator of factual programming in the world. For decades, it has distributed much loved drama and films throughout the world. Who is to say whether News 24, “Pride and Prejudice”, “State of Play”, “World Business Report”, “Philomena”, one of the BBC’s 28 language services, “Billy Elliot” or “Doctor Who” is the most powerful representation of our national identity and those values that we most wish to share? All are loved and disseminated across the globe. It is an arena in which we display great flair and confidence. My concern is, like that of my noble friend Lord Birt and others, that the battle of charter renewal and the absolute certainty in some quarters that the BBC is too big for its own good could inadvertently deliver a devastating blow to what is arguably our greatest international asset. To be frank, it is not only its detractors who cause me concern. After a sustained campaign from international sources against the BBC for more than a decade, even its defenders seem to feel that seismic change is a necessity. Sometimes better is the enemy of the very best.
Three or four years ago I was in Liberia filming at a women’s radio station. It had been set up post-conflict in a community that was dealing with epidemic rates of sexual violence, and had seen thousands of boys, many as young as eight, abducted and turned into child soldiers. Health services were still unable to deliver routine vaccinations or maternity care, and schooling was scarce. In this context of violence, fear and hardship, the radio station was a beacon of hope, dispensing information, community health, public debate and education. When I asked how they had come up with the idea of a community radio station, the founder said, “From the BBC”. In the time before the conflict she had briefly been taught by a teacher who had recorded programmes from the BBC—children’s programmes, dramas, discussions and interviews in which politicians finally got held to account—and she imagined how powerful it would be to broadcast similarly into her own community, so that she could reach women and children, even those too frightened to leave their homes. She said to me that, for her, the BBC represented what it meant to be free.
And of course, that happens all over the world. A couple of years ago I was contacted by a woman from Afghanistan who, a decade earlier, had used, in a “secret school” for women, a drama that I had directed. That drama, “Oranges are Not the Only Fruit”, raised issues of sexuality, religious intolerance and gender equality. Even in the UK it had been controversial. Imagine how thrilled we were to hear of its use by Afghan women who were determined to be educated, by whatever means. Our cultural output reaches ears all over the world that may not have access to hard fact, and people for whom it is a question of citizenship.
It may be a challenge to noble Lords to imagine that “Only Fools and Horses” and “Doctor Who” play a part in the serious undertaking of global influence but, along with the impeccable credentials and reach of the World Service and other factual output, the BBC is a presence in communities that have more complex attachments and narratives than the reductive cry of the ideologies and violence that surround them. The macho violence of radicalisation absolutely knows how to tell its story—albeit a story that we do not want to hear. In our hyper-networked world, in which half the world is a self-publisher on a potential worldwide stage, the BBC is more rather than less precious.
However we choose to represent our own strategic narrative, and whatever the final charter settlement is, the distribution power of the BBC and the level of trust that it enjoys are things that we diminish, even slightly, at great cost to our values, our reputation, our profile and our relationship with people all around the globe.
I acknowledge and support the recommendations that seek to protect the World Service, and the Government’s recognition that the BBC’s independence is a key element of its credibility, but the true influence of the BBC on the world stage requires us to ensure its future far beyond the specific remit of the World Service. The very essence of the BBC, with its duty to inform, educate and entertain—independent of government, paid for by the public—makes an irreplaceable mark on the wider world, just as it did for a single visionary woman in Liberia.
While successive Governments have had had an uneasy relationship with the BBC—arguably a sign of its success—it is the coalition Government alone who have systematically degraded the place of the arts in education. I am afraid that that is my second point. The post-war settlement brought artists of all disciplines and all social classes to prominence, giving the UK a cultural dynamism that is the envy of the world. However, in recent years an unintended consequence of the Government’s determination to prioritise STEM subjects has been to devastate arts education. Nowhere have we seen this more clearly than in our schools, which since 2010 have seen a drop of 11% in the number of arts teachers and an even greater drop in the number of children taking arts subjects in schools, as successive formal measurements of success have diminished the status of the arts.
Taking the arts out of the curriculum excludes those from less privileged backgrounds from the possibility of being an artist, a digital designer, a writer, a musician or a cultural contributor—because for the less privileged, unlike their more privileged counterparts, school represents the bulk of their cultural access. Even should a young person beat the system and discover their creativity in spite of this downgrading, student fees and the probability of debt into adulthood still ensure that it will be predominantly the privileged who dare to dream of the uncertain, and in most cases financially unrewarding, life of an artist.
The Select Committee report rightly refers to the importance of diversity, and goes to some trouble to underline the role of diaspora communities in creating a strategic narrative that proudly reflects the richness of our society and models the UK’s reputation and values of inclusivity. The post-war artists across all disciplines who transformed our society made our creative industries cutting edge and world class, and boosted our economy. They made Britain great. But this process is dependent on allowing people like John Lennon, David Hockney, Alan Bennett, Jony Ive, Steve McQueen, Anish Kapoor and Tracey Emin an education in the arts.
Every previous age has understood the power of art to tell the national story, as a reflection and purveyor of values and as a communicator across the globe. In no society has art or arts education been left to the whim of the market. Our creative community celebrates difference and reflects on human similarities. Although we have recently seen cartoonists at the centre of conflict, it is far more usual for the creative community to be a source of understanding between cultures and peoples.
Never have the skills embodied by the arts been more useful to commerce, to communication and to international relations. That might mystify the technocrats, but to the rest of us it is merely common sense. As the report says,
“many of the soft power assets that make a country attractive require substantial investment”.
Indeed, the report agrees with the British Academy, which says that,
“governments need to make investments in critical areas such as the BBC, higher education and the arts, and then to hold their nerve when payoffs are not immediately visible”.
Soft power is a long game, and in the rhetoric about hard choices and what is nice to have but not essential, we must remember that if we are to have international repute, with a clear and compelling narrative about ourselves and our values, both the BBC in its full remit and the support of our arts education must be at the top of our shopping list.
My Lords, in congratulating my noble friend and the members of his Select Committee on their report, and in thanking my noble friend for his splendid tour d’horizon in opening the debate, my only complaint is that everything has already been said, and very well said too. Nevertheless I would like to focus on some elements of the report of which I have special and recent knowledge.
As a member of the All-Party Group on the British Council, I am aware of the excellent work that the council does throughout the world. Tributes have already been paid to it, notably by the noble Lord, Lord Bach. All that remains for me is to wish the new director, Ciarán Devane, good fortune in developing that important work.
Before I leave the subject of the British Council I shall pick out and underline its diversity programme, as diversity is mentioned in the report. It also deserves special mention because it emphasises not only a multicultural approach but gender issues—which are topical as we have just celebrated International Women’s Day—and disability issues. There is much talk of British values these days, and compassion must be one of them, as must fair play. The British Council’s diversity programme is an example of both those.
Talk of the British Council leads me on to the importance of education, which has already been much mentioned. The value of educational opportunities and exchanges has also been underlined. In her admirable maiden speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, demonstrated the role of our universities. The value of the education industry to the United Kingdom’s economy is huge, as was noted in the report; it is one of our most valuable invisible exports, as has already been said. Therefore, I very much welcome the increase in the number of Chevening scholarships, and indeed of Commonwealth scholarships. However, I point out that other countries also recognise the value of educational exchanges. I am particularly aware that Brazil, Chile and Ecuador, as examples, fund extensive scholarship programmes to this country. That means that the more we do, the more it will be multiplied, with all the advantages that that will bring to future generations. In this context, I am glad to support all that has been said about the need to improve the visa system.
Here in Parliament, we also play our part, with the work of the British groups of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the IPU, and of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, the CPA. Not only do they organise bilateral visits but they also now organise seminars and conferences on important themes such as drug trafficking, human rights, ethics and parliamentary procedures, which attract the attendance of international parliamentarians and enable us all to learn from one another. That is what soft power is all about. Yesterday, we celebrated Commonwealth Day and the role of the CPA was addressed by the newly elected chairman of the CPA, the Speaker of the Bangladeshi Parliament, which reinforced what has been said today about what the Queen said during a special service at Westminster Abbey.
I should like to refer to a recent visit that I made to Burma/Myanmar, which was part of a capacity-building programme arranged by the IPU to help and support women parliamentarians. We had meetings with that redoubtable lady, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and I think that our sessions and our attempts at explaining the meaning of oversight and accountability, along with the value of Question Time, were greatly appreciated by a full complement of women Members of Parliament and officials. I noted in the report that there was reference to the fact that one-quarter of a million people in Burma use the British Council’s libraries there for uncensored access to the internet. We were able to visit a library close to Naypyidaw, the new capital of Myanmar. While the internet access was greatly welcomed, I have to say that the shelves of the library could do with more books. Anybody who can come up with a scheme to help to use some of the books, magazines and pamphlets that are thrown away—squandered perhaps—in this Parliament would find a great welcome over there.
In this context, and in the context of Parliament’s work, I should also refer to the fact that one of the Commons Library clerks has been seconded to Naypyidaw to work in the Myanmar Parliament and to help to build up the library and other support services. He is doing very valuable work in difficult circumstances. He has been there for a year already—and that is likely to be extended. He is universally known and greeted wherever he goes as “Oliver”. I had no idea that our Parliament provided this type of capacity building, and I am afraid that I could not find a reference to it in the report, although no doubt it was there somewhere.
Other areas have been highlighted, such as the significance of the English language, which does not exclude the need to learn other languages, as the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, pointed out. I would say to my noble friend Lord Forsyth that it is not just in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where people need to speak other languages. Every government department should have that, and all businesses, whether small or large, should be able to communicate with their counterparts and markets in their own language, or at least understand it.
Our health system has been referred to, and the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, covered that absolutely brilliantly. Our legal system is also important, not only because it has been replicated and developed throughout the Commonwealth but also because it leads to events such as the Global Law Summit, which brought lawyers and legal experts from all over the world to London only two weeks ago. Other institutions, such as the British Museum, the BBC, the Royal Ballet and the English National Ballet, all close to my heart, are of great value in this area of soft power. Last and by no means least, we have that unique institution, the British monarchy. Last week, the President of Mexico was here on a state visit, accompanied by leading politicians, industrialists and businessmen. To see the royal family in action, not just on ceremonial occasions, was to recognise that we have in them a very valuable asset.
In conclusion, in the current electioneering climate, with talk of continuing austerity and budget savings, as well as the suggestion of further cuts of Foreign Office costs, it is vital that the benefits of soft power are recognised and maintained. To those who may be concerned, please can we have no return to the policies of embassy closures and shrinkages? I believe that this debate plays an important part in raising awareness, apart from defining what soft power is, and I look forward to hearing from my noble friend the Government’s view on persuasion and power.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, for securing this very full debate on the Select Committee’s report on soft power. Speaking as a member of that committee, I pay tribute to the noble Lord for chairing us with such a clear sense of direction and a limitless supply of patience and courtesy. I also express appreciation for the very effective support and advice that we have enjoyed from the staff of the committee throughout our work.
I share the view that this report is a timely contribution on a subject of increasing importance and relevance. In my view, it deserves to be read widely within and around Government as a persuasive case for the importance of a soft power strategy in a fast-changing 21st-century context.
Like most people in this Chamber, I suspect, I rather like being on or near the top of league tables, but it is not often these days that the United Kingdom finds itself in such a global leadership position. However, when it comes to soft power we are recognised as being extraordinarily blessed and endowed, not least by our history. With the English language, the Commonwealth, our leading universities, the monarchy, the British Council, the BBC World Service, our creative industries, our sporting heritage—if not always prowess—our diversity, and our respect for democratic values and the rule of law, the list goes on and on. How this country deploys this extraordinary list of assets in my view deserves more air time, more blue-sky thinking, more creative analysis and more brainstorming among the policymakers inside and around government. This is why the report is timely. It covers a huge amount of ground and I want to highlight four key points that it contains. The first is the most obvious and, to me, the most important. I join all those who have made the widely recognised point that hard and soft power are not alternatives. What is required is smart power—the ability to use both hard and soft power within the whole range of political, economic, military and diplomatic instruments in pursuit of this country’s security and prosperity. We can only begin to talk about our soft power strategy against an active, adequately funded and committed defence policy
My second point is to add my voice to others who have drawn attention to what the report has to say about the Commonwealth. It is something of an accident of history, yes, but it is invaluable, and it is becoming more and more relevant in the 21stcentury. At government level, the Commonwealth focus on strengthening democratic values, good governance and the rule of law remains essential to the whole existence of the organisation. In my view, the Commonwealth is often most effective at the level of civil society—the sub-governmental level. I therefore commend the Government’s support for the work and the importance of the Commonwealth Foundation at this level. The report also draws attention to the huge potential of intra-Commonwealth trade and investment. Here the Commonwealth Business Council has a real role to play.
My third comment is essentially about central government co-ordination. This turned out to be a key recommendation in the report. One of the recommendations was that the Government should set out some kind of audit of our soft power assets, but also address the very important question of how to achieve a more consistent strategic narrative across every government department in support of soft power. Here I associate myself with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong, that the Government’s role in many cases is not to control these assets, but to encourage, nurture and support them—to co-ordinate and orchestrate.
In the Government’s response to the report it was stated that the National Security Council regularly discusses soft power and much was made of the existing co-ordination initiatives, such as the GREAT campaign, the emerging powers initiative, the work of the Stabilisation Unit, and the international defence engagement strategy. I would be most interested to hear some of the Minister’s comments on how these are brought together under the work of the National Security Council as an integrated whole.
My final point is to draw attention to what the report says about the importance of the UK’s embassy network in ensuring the most effective delivery of this country’s soft power assets. There is reference in the report to embassies abroad being “super-facilitators” when it comes to soft power. If we are to make maximum use of our soft power assets in pursuit of greater international influence abroad, two things are required: orchestration of delivery on the ground and a profound understanding of what works and does not work locally. When it comes to much cultural diplomacy and soft power, what works in Bangkok will not necessarily work in Beirut or Bogota. In other words, having knowledgeable and resourceful people in our embassies and British Council offices overseas is key to the effective delivery of this extraordinary range of assets we have. The report draws attention—in my view, rightly—to some of the consequences of this in terms of the extent of our embassy and British Council network, the pay and career prospects for our Diplomatic Service and for the British Council, and our public diplomacy skills and effective language training—all of which I strongly support.
The Government’s response to the report recognises the importance of this super-facilitator role in what I believe is called the One HMG Overseas agenda. I would like to hear, if possible, more about that agenda and the importance of embassies being empowered to draw together the strands of soft power assets overseas.
In conclusion, I think it is a key role of the House to draw the Government's attention to political issues that are not getting the attention they deserve. Soft power is one such issue. The fundamental purpose of this debate is to draw attention to this question: how can we make better use of our formidable assets in this area? I share the view so widely expressed this afternoon that this question deserves to move up the political agenda, and is more pressing now than when the report was published a year ago.
My Lords, this is an important debate on a very valuable report. In plain English, the theme is about how best to develop mutually beneficial relations with other countries. Strength and commitment are essential for policy. The word power, however, as other noble Lords have mentioned, has some rather old-fashioned connotations that I am sure foreigners sometimes find off-putting. Other countries in Europe do not use this word so strongly. I declare my interests and my experiences as a scientist, an academic and a consultant in business. I worked with various UK government departments and agencies in various aspects of foreign relations.
An interesting feature of the debate this afternoon has been the classical references. It seems like one ought to add that to one’s speech. In my case, on my first day as a civil servant at the Met Office, I went to the library and found the meteorological works of Aristotle. I thought that I had better read those if I was going to be a proper civil servant, and they were quite interesting— very analytical with beautiful descriptions —but probably not a very good weather forecast.
We all agree that the UK has a very high reputation for its global contributions in many fields, as other noble Lords have commented. These have contributed greatly to the rising health, well-being, and education worldwide. In many cases, they are done in collaboration with other countries in Europe and with agencies of the United Nations. The achievements include protecting culture, which is a really critical problem at the moment, of course, in the Middle East; pure science, such as the great atom-smashing experiments in Switzerland in the space agencies; applied science, such as weather forecasting, in which the UK excels; health; and the international infrastructure which we participate in through international bodies, in shipping, aviation and space.
The big theme of this report is the importance of the networks of telecommunications and the internet and even the so-called softer ones of intellectual property. It is important to realise that none of these networks has been taken over by the private sector or by individual countries—although there has been some muttering about the internet being owned by one particular country—despite the wishes of some corporations and countries that it should all be handed over to the private sector.
The Government make use of the Civil Service to work with these international agencies. In some senses these government agencies help these international bodies to help countries to help themselves. However, more could be done to encourage and co-ordinate the UK government agencies to perform this vital international task. They were hardly mentioned either in the report or in the Government’s response. Over many years, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s United Nations department has been responsible for how UK agencies work with UN agencies. The department has now changed its name, and this morning I tried to find out if anyone on the switchboard knew what it was. I received a negative reply. Neither the Library nor the internet nor even Wikipedia knew the answer. However, I was assured late this afternoon that the name has now been changed to the international organisations department. That is a good idea and is very much consistent with the whole idea of this report.
The importance that the UK foreign service assigns to understanding technical and commercial matters in order to assist UK business is to be welcomed. That feature was strongly highlighted in both the report and the government response. However, instead of making our ambassadors become polymaths in technical matters, perhaps the alternative is not to cut some of our UK government agencies too badly, but to enable them to help the embassies. The United States often does that. US embassies have substantial technical support from their own government agencies, and those agencies support the US private sector much more extensively than we support ours.
Although the government reply to the report was interesting, it was noticeable that it did not address the points about how Parliament should receive information about these international arrangements and bodies. We in this House have had two or three debates on that point, and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, has previously replied to remarks I have made about it—so this is a repeat performance. However, the issue is important and has been raised again in the report.
The report recommends that UK foreign policy should not only do its own work but support small and large networks around the world. Some UN agencies are dominated by major countries, many of which are in higher latitudes. If one is a meteorologist, one knows that different things happen in the tropics and that the people who are interested in and knowledgeable about the tropics may not be very influential on some of those UN agencies. One example is a new network set up in Cambridge: the Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre, with support from some countries and DfID. These regional and local networks, which are touched on in the report, are important. Such networks, international and regional, are important in helping UK SMEs to work in this field. It is also important that when Ministers make announcements about UK technology—two recent examples regarding Heathrow and the Olympic Games were interesting—they refer to the government agencies that do the work and not to the private sector. I declare an interest in that respect. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, gave some good examples in which the Government are making strong announcements in the field of health.
The report did not strongly link international collaboration in UK science and technology with collaboration in policy and other academic fields. I have had several very frustrating conversations with the directors, officials and chairs of the British Council on this point—and I will return to that issue.
I should mention one feature of the lack of connection or comprehension between the science and technology fields and the political, cultural and economic fields which I observed when I was director of the Met Office and involved in science and government. I was running the Met Office and represented the UK at the United Nations, where I worked with an excellent technical person whose job was to develop international policies. As is the case with many British scientists, the person’s education in politics, history and international affairs was limited. I asked the colleague, who was working for me, how often she read a newspaper. “Once every three weeks”, she said. I began to realise then that we needed to have a wider education. I raised the question with the Civil Service College, but the situation has not changed. There is not a broad education for technical civil servants in this country, and the number of civil servants with such an education is declining.
I return to the issue of the British Council. I have been on many British Council visits and lectures and found them valuable. However, the council is totally uncomprehending of the fact that although it pays for scientists and engineers to come to the UK, they are real people who will go back to their countries and probably rule those countries—they certainly do in China. It is really important that when these people come to the UK, the council pays for their tea and biscuits on the train journeys to bring them to London to attend our cultural events. Many visiting scientists come to the UK, go to the lab, spend three years there and then go home again. I have found it impossible to penetrate this blockage. However, some visitors—those on the Chevening scholarships—are specialists in economics, politics and so on, and they get the full works. It is important to understand that the technical and scientific people who come to this country will be very important in their countries and they need to receive the best possible welcome, understanding and education.
My Lords, in debating the findings of this report, we clearly owe a great debt to the noble, Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and the members of the Select Committee. The ability to produce reports of this quality eloquently underlined the need for an international affairs Select Committee of this House, as the noble Lord said in his introductory comments—and I happily echo that.
In July last year, when introducing a Cross-Bench debate on the importance of the BBC World Service and the British Council, I argued that the deployment of smart power would always consist of a combination of Joseph Nye’s soft power, backed up by the hard power of military capability—a point that my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup made so eloquently earlier. I drew on the British Academy’s excellent report, The Art of Attraction. In the intervening nine months, the world has become more fragmented and dangerous, with terrorist webs, rampaging militias and armies posing existential threats. As it emerges from a period of sustained austerity and battle fatigue, following wearying wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Britain in 2015 is a country that has become uncertain about its place in the world. This uncertainty is reinforced by jihadist militias and terrorists, the territorial aggression of Russia, the nuclear threat posed by Iran and North Korea, and the unresolved question of what sort of relationship we are to have with continental Europe.
Our world is less tolerant and more violent: from Syria, Iraq and the continued rise of the so-called Islamic State or Daesh, which continues to murder people and eradicate culture and heritage; to the horrors of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, where the Sudanese regime has dropped more than 2,500 bombs on its civilian population; to Boko Haram’s abduction of girls in Nigeria; to the burning alive of Christians in Pakistan; to the recent beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts in Libya; and to the continuing incarceration of 200,000 people in the prison camps of North Korea. The need to deploy smart power is self-evident. It would be folly in these circumstances to reduce further our military or non-military capability.
The key issue is the battle for ideas, be they secular or religious. In that context, I was surprised to see a reply in another place, just in the last day or so, to Tim Farron, the Member of Parliament for Westmoreland and Lonsdale. He asked the Government what resources were committed to the area of freedom of religion and belief. In that reply, Mr Lidington, the Minister, said that there was just,
“one full time Desk Officer wholly dedicated to Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB)”.
He said that,
“the Head and the Deputy Head of HRDD spend approximately 5% and 20% respectively of their time on FoRB issues; one Human Rights Advisor spends 5% and one HRDD Communications Officer approximately 10%”.
This is pretty dismal in the context of the horrors that are being perpetrated in breach of Article 18 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which safeguards the right to believe, not to believe or to change belief. All over the world, we can see how that is honoured in the breach. Billions of people are motivated by religious belief and do extraordinarily wonderful things, but as with secular ideologies—such as those of Hitler, Mao or Stalin—they can also do some pretty terrible things. Ideas and beliefs shape our world and our destiny. Smart power must engage directly with that. We have enormous national assets to enable us to do so but we need to build on them. As other noble Lords have done, I will briefly mention three prizes that we have. I so agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, when he said in his introductory remarks, “We are the best-networked state in the world”. He mentioned the role of the Commonwealth, the BBC World Service and the British Council, and I will do so, too.
“The Commonwealth is a pretty good investment for Britain but it has not always been used at its best”."
In a world where jihadists seek to impose a brutal uniformity, including denying girls an education, the Commonwealth, by contrast, stands for tolerance, diversity, interconnectedness, pluralism and the dignity of difference. The Commonwealth charter underlines the aspirations of its member nations to democracy, human rights and the rule of law, as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, and the noble Lord, Lord Soley, both emphasised in their speeches.
I think it was my noble friend Lord Luce, in a previous debate, who once told us that President Nasser of Egypt once said to Prime Minister Nehru of India, “I put my extremists in prison. What do you do with yours?”. Nehru replied, “I put mine in Parliament”. His were the values of the Commonwealth.
We in Britain also know the importance of Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition, a concept to share in a world that stifles opposition. Last month, I spoke at the launch of Liverpool’s new Commonwealth Association. I suggested that British cities should declare themselves to be Commonwealth cities and network with other cities which badge themselves in the same way—like the more than 500 universities in the Association of Commonwealth Universities.
When I came to Westminster 36 years ago, I was delighted to become one of the 16,000 members of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. I suspect all of us here in the Chamber are members of the CPA. For several years I chaired the Council for Education in the Commonwealth. With a combined GDP of £5.2 trillion, some 2.2 billion people live in the Commonwealth’s 53 independent and sovereign states. Sixty per cent of the population are under the age of 30 and 800 million live in poverty. Where better to focus our ring-fenced aid budget than on the Commonwealth, and especially on education? It is lamentable, as the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, said, that we have seen a decline in Commonwealth scholarships. This, along with our visa system, has had a deplorable impact on students from countries such as India.
It is instructive that, despite 250 years of trading with India, it is said that it now has more trade with Switzerland than with us. Smart power would use the power of education and the English language to address such discrepancies. Nelson Mandela once said that the Commonwealth makes the world safe for diversity. He also insisted that education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world. That, surely, is the battle for ideas—a thought echoed by the courageous Malala Yousafzai, whom the Taliban tried to murder in Pakistan because she insisted on a girl’s right to an education. Her words were:
“One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world”.
Yet, despite what we heard earlier from the noble Lord, Lord Bach, perhaps the most important English language institution that we have, the British Council, has seen its FCO budget reduced to £154 million this year, down from £190 million. I hope that we will hear from the Minister how the Government see the future of British Council funding.
My third example of Britain’s smart power assets are the arms of BBC global news, World Service radio, BBC Online and television news. The noble Lord, Lord Birt, has spelled out many of those issues to us in his sometimes excoriating—but, I thought, to the point—remarks, particularly about the issue of resources, and the way we have pillaged the resources of the BBC quite wantonly. The BBC World Service has a global audience of 265 million people and is directed for the first time in its 83-year history by a woman, Fran Unsworth. Kofi Annan called the World Service, “Britain’s greatest gift to the world”.
In its briefing for today’s debate, I greatly welcome the BBC’s statement:
“The BBC is considering whether it can develop a viable news service for the people of North Korea”.
That is an issue I have raised, as co-chairman of the All-Party Group on North Korea, on numerous occasions in your Lordships’ House. I should be grateful if the Minister would say, when replying, whether this initiative will have the blessing of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It would be helpful if he could spell out exactly how the Foreign Secretary will participate in the discussions on the charter review—and hence on the future of the BBC World Service—to which my noble friend Lord Birt referred. Only a week ago the director-general, the noble Lord, Lord Hall, warned that the BBC was at a crossroads, with choices for decision-makers that would be fundamental to the future of the BBC and it global standing. He spoke of,
“a sleep-walk into decay for the BBC, punching below its weight abroad, and Britain diminished as a result”.
In its conclusions the Select Committee says:
“The UK can, and should, act as a serious force for good as the world continues to change”.
However, it also warns that the UK risks,
“finding itself outwitted, out-competed and increasingly insecure”.
If we do not find the resources to back up these wonderful institutions, surely that will come to pass. It would be a huge error for this country to make, and it would not be good for the world either.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and his committee on this excellent report, Persuasion and Power in the Modern World. In fact the report shows why we need a permanent foreign affairs committee in this House.
In his evidence to the Select Committee, Professor Nye said that in today’s international relations it is,
“not just whose army wins, it is also whose story wins in an information age”.
I was in India, speaking on smart power, soft power and hard power—I am glad the committee made those connections—and I visited Mahatma Gandhi’s ashram. I reflected that if you are talking about soft power there is no better example than Mahatma Gandhi. One of his great quotes is “The battle of right against might”. He inspired Nelson Mandela. He has inspired so many people. I am delighted to say that on
There are so many examples of India’s soft power. One is yoga. There is going to be an international yoga day on
When we talk about soft power, it is also, in India’s case, the 25 million people of Indian origin around the world who are now reaching the very top—running some of the biggest companies in the world. The dean of the Harvard Business School is an Indian. The head of MasterCard is an Indian. The new head of Deloitte’s is an Indian. It goes on. That is also power. The British diaspora around the world is a huge source of power for us.
However, the worrying aspect of this, particularly in today’s world, is hard power. That is where this country—a tiny country with less than 1% of the world’s population—still has one of the most of the most powerful and effective defence forces in the world. Yet we had an SDSR in 2010 that was appalling, negligent and neglectful. We cut our Armed Forces brutally. We got rid of our aircraft carriers and our Harriers. As one of the world’s leading defence powers, we are without carrier capability in today’s environment. We needed them for Libya and we need them tomorrow. We do not have them. Who knows when they will arrive: perhaps in five years’ time if we are lucky. We also got rid of our Nimrods, while right under our noses the Russians are sending their submarines. We could do with those Nimrods. Yet we physically, brutally, destroyed those aircraft. I was at Wembley Stadium seeing Chelsea win the other day. Our army would not fill Wembley Stadium. That is shocking. To think that we could make this up by recruiting 30,000 reserves is wrong. Reserves are meant to be reserves. It is an oxymoron to say that reserves are permanent forces. We have, in any case, had difficulty recruiting them. That is very negligent. Are the Government committed to spending 2% of GDP on NATO now and in the future, with no further cuts to the Armed Forces going forward?
The Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is now one of the most powerful people in the world, with an outright majority in India. He is a brilliant orator in Hindi—I would say one of the best orators in the world. In one of his speeches in India he kept using the Hindi word “takhath”, which means strength or power. He was talking about hard power, soft power and smart power.
In this excellent report, almost every one of the witnesses testified that the Government’s new visa policies are harming the assets that build the UK’s soft power. In fact, the editor of the Economist, John Micklethwait, was scathing about how increased visa restrictions and costs have affected UK commerce, describing the system as—I use his words—“bananas” and “suicidal”. He said:
“All you need to do is to talk to businesspeople or, indeed, students in any other country who want to come and spend money here … It is completely useless in terms of recruiting people”.
I can vouch for that. It is the impression that we have created. Today, I was proud to host an event on international students, chaired by my noble friend
Lord Hannay, with the Russell group in Parliament. Thirty-four per cent of academic staff at our Russell group universities—I am proud to be chancellor of the University of Birmingham, a Russell group university—are of non-UK nationality. Nineteen per cent of the undergraduates at Russell group universities are from outside the UK and—wait for this—47% of postgraduates are international students. That is how valuable they are to us. I know it; I was an international student myself when I came to this country. I know how difficult it was to raise the money to pay for the education over here. Yet, as a percentage of GDP, Britain spends half as much as the United States on higher education. As a percentage of GDP, we spend less than the OECD and EU averages on higher education.
When it comes to research and development and innovation—another great soft power—we way underspend as a percentage of GDP. Cambridge University, with 19 Nobel prizes, has won more Nobel prizes than any other university in the world. That is how well we do as a country. Yet we make it so difficult for international students, who bring in £14 billion. Education is one of our best exports and higher education is one of our strongest areas of soft power. In the United States it was found that of all patents registered at the country’s top 10 patent-generating universities, 76% had a foreign-born inventor. One of the founders of Google is foreign.
Yet you look ahead and you see the difficulty created by and the rhetoric that comes from—I am sorry to name her specifically—the Home Secretary. Forget Nigel Farage—even he objected to the vans telling illegal immigrants to “Go home”. When a £3,000 bond was proposed for all foreigners from countries such as India, alarm bells rang around the world. There were headlines in Indian newspapers when the Home Secretary stated that foreign students should leave the day after they had finished their studies. The Bangalore Mirror said:
“Come to the UK: Graduate, and then get the hell out!”.
The Times of India’s headline was:
“UK to ‘kick out foreign graduates’ to curb immigration”.
Is that the rhetoric that we want from the jewel in the crown of our higher education soft power?
We should introduce exit checks immediately. Can the Minister confirm that exit checks are carried out, whereby passports—EU and non-EU—are scanned for everyone coming into and going out of the country through our ports? When that happens, we will have more control over our borders.
Our music industry and our sports, with the Premier League, Chelsea and Manchester United, produce household names around the world. Does the Minister agree that we should set a target to increase the number of international students? I believe that we should have a specific target to do so every year. Also important are our creative industries. The Royal Family, too, was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. Seventy-one per cent of Americans rate the Royal Family in terms of popularity. That figure is almost as high as it is here, at 77%.
I hope that the SNP never gets into power, because getting rid of Trident would be the most negligent act in this country.
My noble friend Lord Hannay said something about Britain punching below its weight. I am sorry; I normally agree with my noble friend but I think that Britain is a country that continually punches well above its weight. Our capability in every area lies at the heart of this debate, whether in high-end manufacturing, aerospace, beer, universities, the creative industries, film, music or our institutions. We are the best in the world.
However, what underpins it all—I conclude with this—is that there is one thing in the world that we are respected for more than anything else, and that is integrity. It was described to me best by our noble and right reverend friend Lord Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, when he said that integrity comes from the Latin word “integer” or “integrum”, which means whole, complete and not fragmented. It means that you can stand up to the light and the fire and be absolutely pure, and this country has integrity.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate, led by an outstanding contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Howell, as chairman of the committee, covering the content of a very comprehensive and timely report. At a time when our world is increasingly dangerous and uncertain, it is right that we reflect on these issues in your Lordships’ House and that we take time to think not just about our power and influence but about our responsibility in this world.
I regret very much that I was too late in contacting my Whips’ Office to secure a place on the committee. I would very much have enjoyed being part of its deliberations. I also regret that it appears that the Scottish Government, unlike the Welsh Government, did not take the opportunity to give evidence to the committee. A number of other Scottish institutions which could have contributed to the work of the committee did not take that opportunity either. I want to try to correct that a little bit today by speaking about my time as First Minister of Scotland.
Before I do so I want strongly to endorse many of the recommendations and points made in the report. It is undoubtedly the case that the UK has more widespread opportunities to influence than any other nation in the world. It is not just that we are more networked in international institutions, in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Howell, described, than any other country in the world, it is also that, through our language, our science base, our culture and our cultural activities, we have more impact in the world than any other nation of our size.
The report makes a number of very timely recommendations and very important points. It stresses the importance of the foreign service and our embassies. I would add to that the importance of critical analysis in our foreign service, which has perhaps been diminished over recent times and needs fresh energy and investment in the complex world that we live in today. I wholly endorse the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Janvrin, about the importance of blue skies thinking in this area. Investment and analysis might be a critical part of that endeavour if we are to produce a vision for the 21st century and a role for Britain in the world that meets the purpose.
I endorse strongly the points made about the visa system and the way that it is damaging our relations around the world and the impression of this country in the eyes of young people across the world. The language about immigration that is used makes us look insular and negative. I also strongly endorse the points made about education and scholarships, as well as the importance of the European External Action Service and our international development aid. I hope that the passing of the Bill yesterday concerning the 0.7% aid target gives us a chance to move on from a debate about the quantity of aid to one about the quality of aid and how we can best use that overseas development assistance not just to change the world but to influence it too.
In relation to Scotland, I want to go back to 1999. Something that I have said very often, both as First Minister and since, is that the Foreign Office has been, by a long way, the best government department in responding to devolution as it has occurred within the United Kingdom. I felt that the Foreign Office, perhaps because it was led at the time by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, and also by the late Robin Cook, responded well to devolution. It understood that devolution provided an opportunity to improve UK influence overseas and not diminish it. I travelled around the world to promote Scotland, initially as external affairs Minister in the early years of the Scottish Government and then as First Minister, and I used UK embassies to help me do that, I am absolutely certain that they used me just as much to open doors and to use British influence in different ways. Where perhaps relations with UK Ministers were not as good at any given point in one country, a devolved Minister might open a door instead. In Brussels, devolved Ministers were used to increase British influence with commissioners and decision-makers. It was done very cleverly by Sir Stephen Wall and others back in those days.
I know that the committee did not necessarily look at this issue in its deliberations but I hope that, as we go forward, we can use the diversity of layers of government and representatives in the UK system to be more than the sum of our parts as we try to exert influence internationally. The diversity of the UK—not just the cultural diversity of the UK but the national diversities of the UK—can be a strength in our international relations and one that we could make more of. The diversity of the great historic institutions in Scotland and elsewhere—of law, education and the churches, for example—can be part of that and they should not feel that it is delegated to those based in London or just in England and Wales. I hope that that point is a helpful addition to the recommendations made by the report and one that can be part of our deliberations in the future.
I do not want to repeat what others have said during the debate but I wholly endorse the incredible speech made by my noble friend Lord Judd. To some extent the next point I wish to make moves in the same direction as some of the points that he made. What is really important here is why we are engaged. What is our influence for, what are we are trying to persuade people to do and what battles of ideas are we trying to win—or at least be on the winning side of? Of course, there is always an issue for the British Government to promote Britain overseas—British interests, British business and British institutions. But, because of our colonial history, our role as an economic power in the world and our position in the UN Security Council and in the leading nations of the European Union and elsewhere, we also have a responsibility to give something back and to be part of the solution, as well as to look after our own particular British interests. That is partly because being part of the global solution is in our own British interests just as much as those particular concerns about British business, British institutions and so on.
Therefore, as we exercise our power and influence around the world, we need to believe strongly that we can contribute in particular to conflict resolution, to peace-building, to conflict prevention and to post-conflict reconstruction. We may have made mistakes—sometimes big mistakes—in foreign policy and military endeavours down through the decades, but we are still today more trusted and seen as more honest, more reliable and more faithful to our values partners than most nations elsewhere. When we engage—not just inside the Commonwealth but in other parts of the world as well —we engage as a trusted partner.
I have just come back from south-east Asia. I was there five years ago as the special representative for the UK on peace-building when ASEAN was just trying to make the early moves towards having a role in peace and security in that region, the neighbourhood helping itself in the way that so many of the African continent’s regions had begun to do over previous years. In February, in Jakarta, the UK—Wilton Park—organised a conference, with five south-east Asian nations, and some of the rebel groups of those nations, coming together to discuss sustainable peaceful settlements that might be part of their future. Probably only the UK could organise such a conference, in a part of the world where we do not have very much interest or influence directly from our past. People there were trusting Wilton Park—the British FCO—to be part of that discussion and to help them along the right road. It is that influence for good that Britain can contribute to the world. When we exercise power and persuasion in the modern world, I hope that we take our responsibilities as seriously as we take our opportunities.
My Lords, this excellent report and this debate, led by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, have really demonstrated the astonishing range of measures at the disposal of this country to exercise influence and soft power. I have noticed that the noble Lord has sat through every single speech throughout this debate, and if he felt that he wanted a short break I would quite understand if he took it during my speech.
I start by endorsing the view, generally expressed, that soft power and hard power must complement each other and that there is no substitute for ensuring that our defences are adequate to deal with any threats or dangers that we face in this country; indeed, Dr Kissinger spoke very eloquently about that over the weekend. But I want to focus my attention solely on the Commonwealth, as one of the most important weapons—as it were—of soft power that is at the disposal of any Commonwealth country. I have here in my hand the souvenir copy of the speech made by Harold Macmillan exactly 55 years ago in Cape Town. This copy was given to me by the late Sir David Hunt, who was his private secretary and helped, no doubt, to draft that remarkable speech.
The reason why I draw the House’s attention to the speech is that it shows the vision and foresight of Harold Macmillan with regard to the Commonwealth. It is unusual today for Prime Ministers to quote St Paul, as he did 55 years ago when he said,
“we are all members one of another”.
He went on to talk about “the value of interdependence” and how these Commonwealth nations were voluntarily agreeing to work together. He said that there would be differences that we had to work out together, that the great strength of the Commonwealth was that it had no rigid constitution and that therefore it had a great deal of flexibility in its organisation. He called on everyone to co-operate,
“in the pursuit of common aims and purposes in world affairs”.
It makes me wonder today, 55 years later, how Macmillan would view the way we have tackled our membership of the Commonwealth. I think that he would be disappointed. Indeed, I feel disappointed, because we have missed many opportunities in the Commonwealth. I feel rather like the late Lord Jowett, who was the head of Balliol, who once said about the Church of England that he was a Christian in spite of the clergy. I feel rather like saying, “I am in favour of the Commonwealth in spite of some Commonwealth Governments”.
Here always exists in front of us something that we could not invent but is a unique opportunity for our country. The question to ask is whether we take it; it is there for us to take. We face yet another crossroads in the Commonwealth with the handing over of the chairmanship from Sri Lanka to Malta, and with a new opportunity for Commonwealth Heads of Government in November to set a new direction on relevance to a Commonwealth that will bring benefits to the people of the Commonwealth. Many noble Lords have referred to yesterday’s Commonwealth Day observance. The theme was young people. Sixty per cent of Commonwealth citizens are under the age of 30. Reference was made to the fact that this group of nations is unique in human history. In one of the addresses during that service there was reference to child slavery, and of course the anti-slavery Bill will be very important to the Commonwealth as a whole.
How do we bring influence? It seems to me that there are two ways: first, between Governments, and secondly, between people. Between Governments, of course, we have the Commonwealth charter, which sets out the values to which we all aspire—democracy, rule of law, which has been referred to so often today, human rights, the role of the media, which is vital for the Commonwealth, and good governance, to give some examples. It is through dialogue and trying to resolve differences all the time that we can work towards seeing those values achieved.
I want to stress today the people-to-people aspect because we cannot underestimate the value of the links between people of the Commonwealth. We have this new opportunity on which the noble Lord, Lord Howell, has led, not only in this report but in the book he has written about the revolution in technology—the networking that it brings about; the ease of contact that it will help people to have between each other and between organisations; the enhanced information and knowledge which will be at the disposal of people; and the empowerment of people, which is so important now to the Commonwealth.
The battery of weapons that we have within the Commonwealth to exercise our influence and the value of our soft power is astonishing. There is an underfunded and underresourced secretariat at government level which should be sponsoring a greater partnership with the non-official Commonwealth. The Commonwealth Foundation, of which I had the privilege of being the chairman in the 1990s, is there to promote civil society contact and bring about participatory democracy within the Commonwealth. There are at least 85 professional associations or organisations within the Commonwealth and we cannot underestimate the value of that contact. They cover every facet of life. The Commonwealth of Learning uses modern technology to network for distance learning, including massive open-line courses which British universities can influence and play a part in. There is the Commonwealth Universities Association—the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, referred to the value of university links in her excellent maiden speech—and I attended one of its meetings when I was a vice-chancellor in Malta, and the exchange of views and experiences is an example of how valuable it can be.
The noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson—I ought to describe her as my noble friend because she is my sister-in-law—referred to the importance of the Commonwealth scholarships and fellowships scheme. There are 30,000 alumni from those scholarships across the Commonwealth. Think of the soft power value that has. There is the Commonwealth Class, which is the linkage between the BBC, the British Council and the secretariat, to connect more than 100,000 schools on line. Imagine the value of teaching children the link between ourselves and Commonwealth countries.
The Commonwealth Press Union is extremely important. The Commonwealth Local Government Forum is extremely strong. There is the new Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, in which the noble Lord, Lord Marland, who is not here at the moment, played a leading part in injecting new life into business connections with the Commonwealth, bearing in mind the importance of trade and business. I could go on indefinitely.
We have these opportunities sitting there to exploit. It requires action and imagination. DfID’s role in the Commonwealth and what it does needs to be looked at by the House or by a Select Committee to see how it is using aid to benefit our soft power influence in the Commonwealth. Soft power is an attitude of mind. It is a culture, a style, which involves dialogue and engagement. I hope all political parties in this coming election will feel totally committed to the concept of using the Commonwealth partnership as a means of furthering our strength as a country.
My Lords, this is a fascinating subject for anyone who cares about international development and diplomacy. The noble
Lord, Lord Howell, has, as always, shown great personal commitment both with the presenting of ideas in the report and in his introductory remarks. The only regret I have is that his powers of persuasion, which are famous, have not extended to the Liaison Committee, which is supposed to approve the formation of an international affairs committee. However, he has 30 signed-up Members today and I think we should make a new approach.
While in principle I am a believer in soft power, I start with some scepticism because it is really yesterday’s concept. It was identified in the late 1980s at a time when, with the end of the Cold War, political theorists were looking for something new. Strange as it seems, we even then expected Russia to drop its military guard and entertain European concepts of soft power.
As Europeans we are all advocates of soft power. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, reminded us, that is how the founding fathers set up the new Europe, not only as an economic community but as a means of achieving peaceful development and of sharing democratic ideals. The European Union has for many years been quietly following its own concept of soft power through the Copenhagen criteria, especially the rule of law. The very process of enlargement and of the CSDP missions, especially in the Balkans, demonstrates this determination.
Having read the authoritative British Academy report last year, I wonder whether the canvas of soft power is so wide that it has lost its central purpose. If translated into government policy it becomes almost meaningless. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, had a similar thought that such reports, unfortunately, end up as a catalogue of alternative ingredients. I therefore sympathise with the Minister in having to cover the whole à la carte menu.
Soft power takes many forms, as we have heard. We all acknowledge the work of the BBC, the British Council and Commonwealth, which is rightly and widely admired. The point of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, was well taken, as was the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, about Russian propaganda. I am a huge fan of the BBC World Service and I have seen the British Council at work in Africa and south Asia. I know the potential value of the Commonwealth. The monarchy is itself a flagship of soft power. UK plc is another but it has not been mentioned a great deal. Of course, a lot of this is boasting, with some reason, that we are still a soft power superpower punching above our weight.
Having spent most of my time with NGOs I should like to deal mainly with the questions that arise when Governments engage in soft power through civil society, as raised by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. I know that this Government, especially DfID, have tried hard to work with civil society. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, gave examples. The British Council does a lot in this area but I am not sure how far it has succeeded as far as the MoD is concerned. We do not need Clausewitz to understand that our armed services have to be interested in soft power, especially in education and training, as is explained on page 67 of the report, and in stabilisation. Phrases such as “building stability” and “upstream conflict prevention” entered the language when this Government started to confront the failures of military intervention with a new concept of peace building.
Before Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, we had at least one European success in Kosovo, in which it proved possible to push back conflict. Sierra Leone was another example. However, the resolution of both these conflicts required strong prior military intervention. Soft power remained in the rear.
In 2011 William Hague, Andrew Mitchell and Liam Fox announced a new Building Stability Overseas Strategy. They forecast that the ODA expenditure on fragile and conflict-affected states would increase to 30% by 2015. They also said that the resources of the joint conflict pool would increase to £1.1 billion over the spending review period. The ODA proportion of the budget was also due to rise to 65%.
In the context of this debate, that has been a considerable advance towards soft power. Learning from Afghanistan became a watchword and an opportunity for the Government to move beyond their own joined-up strategy into working more closely with civil society and organisations with direct experience of conflict prevention. I recognise the critical value of young volunteering and leadership training identified by the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong. My noble friend Lord Janvrin also used the words “nurture and support”. One expert from the Institute of Development Studies has argued that three issues raised by this strategy still need to be addressed:
“The tension between impact … and upstream conflict prevention; … The meaning of stabilisation in upstream conflict prevention”, and:
“The lack of attention to coordination with NGOs and capacity on the ground at the expense of cross-Whitehall integration”.
The soft power report pays much too little attention to NGOs. This is a pity. It is because of the spectrum of evidence that would have been required. The interface between military and civilian is well covered in the report. Recommendation 24, for example, calls for an analysis of smart and soft power. Can the Minister confirm that this will be carried through in the 2015 SDSR, if the Government win the election? The government response on page 37 twice refers to the Stabilisation Unit as “a key Government instrument” which,
“delivers more effective post-conflict work and actively champions co-operation between military and civilian actors”.
This is some advance but it will be interesting to hear the Minister’s view.
I turn to cultural diplomacy. I am a firm believer in the power of culture and sport in conflict or post-conflict states. Having followed the fortunes and misfortunes of South Sudan, once as a spectator of the famous Dinka dancing, I remember how cultural and sporting events, such as the Shakespeare exchanges and the Twic county Olympics in that country, deliberately created a new sense of dignity among people suffering from a lack of almost anything.
In Afghanistan, the Turquoise Mountain Foundation has demonstrated a similar success. It has played a part in creating an atmosphere of hope in the midst of conflict. I saw how this project had helped to rebuild the old quarter of Kabul and had trained or retrained countless artists, designers, craftsmen and those acquiring new business skills for the nation. I declare an interest because my daughter once worked on this project and is now active in a programme called Culture and Conflict which holds seminars and encourages artists in different areas of conflict. It is important to stress that the success and sustainability of these programmes depends entirely on direct engagement of local people and civil society in the country concerned. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, they have credibility.
I have some doubts about the interference of government in the activities of NGOs and the risk of it being misunderstood. One has only to look at the work of NGOs in Afghanistan and how they have had to work at a local level to avoid giving the Taliban the impression that they were somehow agents of foreign powers. There are many examples in developing countries of NGOs resisting such suspicion, especially when they are receiving foreign funds, and of Governments pursuing them for those reasons. The best answer is for NGOs to remain indigenous as far as possible and resolutely to pursue goals which belong to their own communities. That does not mean that our Government cannot work alongside them.
Finally, I pay tribute to my new noble friend Lady Wolf and her rigorous contribution which, will make us all think. I join the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, and other noble Lords who have challenged the Home Office on its attitude to Indian students. The Government’s response to this report takes nothing away from the central argument that the inclusion of students in immigration statistics—whatever the formal necessity of OECD presentations, which is the normal excuse—is both cynical and wrong and should be reversed. That was a key message, widely publicised, and I hope that the Minister will give this House an end-of-term report on that issue.
My Lords, when you are number 26 in a list of 30, everything you thought you might say that might be original has usually been covered. I shall run through these areas quickly.
The BBC World Service is an incredibly good institution but, as has been said, it would not exist in anything like its current form without the BBC. The BBC’s greatest claim to fame is that it bears the name “British” and has consistently been a pain in various parts of the anatomy of every single British Government that I can remember. Trying to explain that abroad, and the fact that a society such as ours supports such an institution, says more about us than we can imagine from sitting here.
It has been suggested that we should enhance our Diplomatic Service to access the power and influence that we have. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said about power and soft power. I, too, have problems with how much power and influence is concerned, but there must be something that takes it forward. It is also quite clear that hard power still has a role to play—it is probably the backstop to smart power and soft power. You name it, we need it. If we are to be any sort of player in the world and to be sure of our own security, we will need hard power. We can argue until the cows come home about exactly what form that should take, but we will need something there.
There is one thing that I do not think has been touched on much, which was something of a surprise to me. The report mentions the Olympics but there is not much mention of sport generally. If ever there is something that goes beyond the normal confines, it is sport. Sport is something you can talk about and relate to. Britain has given the world football. The figure I saw was that the Premier League reaches 212 territories—I am not quite sure what that is in terms of countries. Billions of people watch it. We have the most watched league; that is massive power. In the current row about the placement of the World Cup, if we have not brought the FIFA house crashing down, at least we have shaken its door a bit. We can probably say that, yes, we have power there.
We also have the Rugby World Cup coming up. For anybody who wants to see the comedy version ahead of it, do you know that the British Parliament is hosting a parliamentary World Cup tournament? I do not know if I shall be the only player from your Lordships’ House and, with the amount of hobbling I have been doing, I may not be playing in all of it. This is something else that we have given the world. Other sports have come to us; we have given these. These sports cut across even the high networking worth that has already been spoken about. It goes beyond the Commonwealth Games and it travels beyond the European Union. Even in rugby union, that British-dominated game, France, Italy and Argentina, as full board members, might just object to thinking that they are naturally part of our sphere of influence.
The whole idea of sport as something in which you can compete—where you can join in, participate and have an interaction with others—has not really been touched on, other than in relation to the Olympics. With the Olympics, we were talking about the structure of getting the Games and running them well. That ties in because, if you look at our history, we have had a series of disasters in organising events over the past few years. There was Pickett’s Lock and the Wembley fiasco—projects that had to be publicly taken on. It was not until the Commonwealth Games in Manchester that we got it right. Effectively, we invented a new way of doing things: regeneration, creation and giving something permanent back to society. All of that enhances these events. Our volunteer structure has been widely taken up by others, and it is clear that it allowed us to have the confidence even to bid for the Olympic Games.
The Olympics themselves seem to have become something of a beacon. It was a regeneration project that has proved useful to society since and it gave us kudos. It was also incredibly useful in building up an awareness of disability rights because of the success of and drive behind the Paralympics. That is an incredible achievement. They were the first Paralympic Games for which you could not get a ticket; that is a massive contribution and one that still has repercussions all over the world. You cannot build up a prestigious Paralympic team unless you actually do something with your disabled community. These people are not a drag; they are a bonus and a boost to society. We hope that it will go further than that, and the legal framework and the full range of civil rights that are expressed in the rule of law tie in with it.
We must bear in mind that we can take the idea of projecting ourselves as a sporting nation and tie that in with everything else as we go forward. We must build on it, because if we do not, we will miss out on something which, shall we say, carries less obvious baggage than most of what we have been talking about. You have to try slightly harder to misunderstand a sports team going on to a pitch than, for instance, a cultural programme about Shakespeare. You have to go forward and create something positive there. If you do not, you miss something that is universal, in which we are a leader and where we can touch the rest of the world without offending anyone in any way.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, and his Select Committee on producing a marvellous report and on having secured this important debate. I also join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lady Wolf of Dulwich on her very impressive maiden speech. In so doing I remind noble Lords of my declarations of interest as the UK Business Ambassador for Healthcare and Life Sciences, chair of University College London Partners and treasurer of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health.
It is quite right that this impressive report should touch on health and healthcare because there is no doubt in my mind or in the mind of my noble friend Lord Crisp that it represents an important area of soft power for our country. The reasons for this are clear. Every country in the world, whether it represents a developed or a developing economy, faces similar challenges when it comes to meeting the healthcare needs of its citizens. Those challenges are reflected most clearly by changing demographics in terms of ageing populations, more people living with chronic disease, higher expectations among citizens throughout the world that they should be delivered a reasonable standard of healthcare and that they should have access to it, and that it should be delivered fairly, effectively and safely.
There are also important political consequences with regard to delivering healthcare and, indeed, not delivering it. In our own country, we saw during the run-up to the Scottish independence referendum that when the question of healthcare in terms of the future of the National Health Service was introduced into the debate, particular anxieties were generated and, as a result, there was an impact potentially on the thinking of voters with regard to whether or not they felt confident about the Union separating. This, of course, is also the case in many other countries around the world.
The report of the Select Committee tends to look at health in terms of providing healthcare opportunities through DfID overseas aid funding, and that is an important element. But as we heard from my noble friend Lord Crisp, it is not the only way in which we are able to contribute to healthcare more broadly and, through that global contribution, increase our influence and the respect that other nations around the world have for our country and therefore for our soft power. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Global Health has commissioned some work to look at this question. As my noble friend Lord Crisp set out, the group has identified the need to look at the question of influence in healthcare not only in terms of state overseas aid funding to other countries, but across a number of domains and sectors.
When we look at the contribution made by the state, while we have heard an awful lot about the BBC in this debate, one of the most important institutions in this country that commands global respect is the National Health Service. Of course, the health service is open to criticism at times around perceptions about its delivery in our own country, but globally the concept and the philosophy of the National Health Service—providing a healthcare system that is free at the point of delivery; that is, universal access to healthcare—is a very powerful principle that is deeply appreciated and respected throughout the world. As we have heard, the NHS ranks number one in terms of the efficacy and efficiency of its delivery when compared with 10 other healthcare systems, including that of the United States and some of our European partners.
Beyond the National Health Service and the important work that the Department for International Development does in the area of healthcare, being the second largest funder of bilateral healthcare engagements around the world, at £1.2 billion in the most recently reported financial year, we have the important contribution that is made by our university sector. This is sometimes under-recognised not only broadly, but also by the sectors in healthcare themselves, and I think that it is one of the reasons why so few healthcare organisations, universities and others contributed evidence for the Select Committee to consider. However, we have four of the top 10 universities in the world in biomedicine. We have heard about our academic output. We have 1% of the world’s population, but some 12% of all citations for biomedical research. We have many thousands of students from overseas who are studying medicine and dentistry in our 33 universities delivering medical and dental degrees, and of course we have a large number of postgraduate courses not only in medical subjects but also in nursing and in the professions allied to healthcare. These provide important training opportunities for people throughout the world.
Our commercial sector is also vitally important. Two of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world are based in this country, but they operate in at least 200 countries around the globe. Between the two, they employ something close to 200,000 people and they play a vitally important role in our economy, contributing a net surplus of some £21 billion a year. They also, by and large, are providing interventions, therapies and innovations across the world, many of which were discovered here, that are affecting the lives of millions of other human beings day in and day out. That brings great credit to our nation. Then we have the charity and NGO sector which comprises many thousands of organisations. It contributes an investment of around £7 billion of investment abroad in healthcare projects.
I would now like to build on some of the comments made by my noble friend Lord Luce. There is an ideal opportunity and outlet for us to take forward all of this knowledge, expertise and ability to improve the lives of so many people around the world through the network of the Commonwealth. I should like to declare a further interest here because I have been working with the Commonwealth Secretariat in the establishment of a potential new initiative in healthcare—something that might become known as common health. It seeks to build upon the opportunities provided by modern technology platforms and thus create the world’s largest community of healthcare professionals—doctors, nurses and others—who have the responsibility and the privilege of looking after a third of the world’s population. Through modern mechanisms of communication and sharing, we seek to ensure that advances in knowledge and the most appropriate ways of providing clinical care are promulgated to isolated communities and to practitioners working single-handedly with few opportunities easily to learn from each other and thus develop themselves professionally over their careers. That problem might be overcome through such a network created within the Commonwealth and supported through the recently relaunched Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council. It will allow all opportunities for funding to be brought to bear in order to create the largest opportunity for communication and education among Commonwealth healthcare professionals. This will be strongly supported by UK institutions and therefore is a further representation of our potential soft power in this area.
I will finish with two important examples of where a focus on health has had a profound impact on our country’s global standing. The first is in the area of dementia, where the Prime Minister, using the opportunity of the presidency of the then G8, decided to put an international dementia strategy at the heart of G8 thinking. Dr Dennis Gillings was appointed to the position of World Dementia Envoy, and he has been able to move throughout the world, bringing parties together and helping other Governments to focus on dementia and the devastating impact that it will have in the coming years. Some 35 million people around the world are suffering from dementia at the moment; it is estimated that by 2050, the number will be more than 115 million. The appointment of an envoy will ensure that a global research effort to find new therapies to prevent and treat dementia could—and will—be established.
The second example is in the area of antimicrobial resistance. Increasingly, antibiotics, which have played such an important role in improving human health in recent decades, will become useless and ineffective. Through another initiative launched by Her Majesty’s Government, there is now a global task force, led by Mr Jim O’Neill, looking at the problem of antimicrobial resistance, trying to focus global healthcare research attention to this important problem that, if not addressed, will cost some 10 million lives by 2050 and will have had an accumulative cost of some $100 trillion to the global economy. These are very important representations of our country’s global contribution and a manifestation, therefore, of our soft power.
My Lords, the report Persuasion and Power in the Modern Worldrepresents the very best that this House has to offer. It shows extraordinary strength, breadth and depth, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and his committee on the excellent work that has been done. Indeed, it is more relevant today than it was a year ago when it was first published. I am quite envious of the fun that they obviously had on the committee.
The report recognises that the world is changing, and our ability to influence that change is being eroded as we are working in a changed environment. We are seeing new, powerful countries emerging. They want to strut their stuff on the global stage. We have social media and the development of this hyperconnected world, which means that individuals have information that they never had access to before. We have seen the rise and rise of massive corporations that have a bigger value than some of the countries of the world.
However, we still have to remember that soft power can have an impact. It is crucial as a mechanism to defend our interests and security, to enhance our reputation and to promote trade and prosperity. It is essential to bear in mind, with the rise of groups such as IS and Boko Haram, that the battle of ideas is as important as the battle of weapons, but it is not an alternative to hard power, as was emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. This shift to smart power, as my noble friend Lord Soley suggested, must be very carefully managed. We of course need a combination of soft and hard power. They have to be mutually reinforcing.
We first have to ask what our goal is in relation to soft power. One definition that is given in the report is that it is to try to get others to want the same as us. To do that, we need to be clear about who we are and what we want; to be clear in our political purpose, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, suggested. Do we want to engage with the world? Sometimes I wonder when we hear some of the mixed messages coming from the Government on things like visas.
It is essential, as the report outlines, that we also acquire a deeper understanding of how others see us. Our actions and activities in international organisations across the globe are important, but we are in real danger of seeing our influence decline, particularly with our key continental interlocutors at the European Commission. This does not mean that we see the world in a Eurocentric way: it means that we have an understanding that, if we want to influence the new world, it is best to do that through partnership with our EU colleagues. That decline in influence in the EU is something that we should be concerned about. The Tory—at best—ambivalent attitude towards the EU is damaging. We cannot see engagement, we cannot see influence and we certainly cannot see leadership.
The EU institutions are absolutely key in terms of influence and the people who work there are critical. The EU Commission UK staffing has reached a critically low level. A UK parliamentary report suggested that the number of UK nationals on staff at the Commission is 4.6% compared to France with 9.7%. On the staff of the European Parliament, the figure was 6.2%, which has gone down to 5.8% in three years. Why is it that we cannot recruit? We know that part of the answer is because of our deficiency in terms of language skills. It is a problem that we do not just have now: we are storing up problems for the future. I know the Government are aware of this, but is there any progress? Have we seen any progress in relation to this issue of our representation at the EU? It is worth underlining that because I know of a British Commission staff member who is in the process of taking up alternative nationality because of concerns about the UK’s ambivalent attitude towards the EU project. It is damaging and it is happening. These people are our eyes and ears on these organisations.
I would like to draw attention to the kinds of staff representing us as well and the need for diversity at the FCO. In 1998, Robin Cook drew attention to the fact that 48% of successful applicants to the FCO were from Oxbridge. He said that he wanted a less male-dominated FCO, with fewer from private schools. There have been improvements, but we need to go further in terms of reaching out beyond the usual suspects. We have a huge pool in the UK of first-generation UK citizens who move very easily from Farsi to English, Mandarin to English or Urdu to English. It is not essential that your ancestors came over with William the Conqueror in order to serve in the FCO. The failure of the FCO to reach its own targets on recruiting females does not fill me with confidence. Only 20% of the heads of missions overseas are female. Reflecting the diversity of the UK nation in our FCO staff is as important when giving a UK message to the world.
Beyond the Diplomatic Service, we have two absolute jewels in our soft power treasure box: the British Council and the World Service. So many Peers have talked about them today. I pay tribute to the British Council and thank all noble Lords who have talked about it. It needs support. The World Service has a world-class reputation. It is seen as independent and at arm’s length from politicians. That was also discussed in the report: the need for soft power to be seen as more independent. It is worth noting that there have been significant cuts in the service, with 22 bureaux cut, including the one in Ukraine. Radio programming in seven languages, including Russian and Ukrainian, was cut in 2010, although the Russian BBC online service has had that impressive reach that was outlined by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. This is at a time when 25 countries have launched their own English language world affairs outlet. Let us not throw away the head start that we have. Following up on the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Birt, on the influence that the FCO has on the World Service now that it has been effectively transferred to DCMS and the BBC funding pot, will the Government say what the relationship is between the FCO and the World Service today?
It is also worth asking whether UK soft power assets such as the BBC could be used for conflict prevention—not directly, of course, but could the BBC World Service, for example, broadcast factual programmes with examples of peaceful conflict resolutions, without taking any particular side and without compromising its independence? Could the
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, on her very impressive maiden speech. It was worth listening to the way that she underlined values and emphasised respect for evidence, accuracy and transparency and the consideration of opposing views. These are worthy British values and things that we need to underline. It is also worth taking up and considering the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Crisp and Lord Kakkar.
The UK is uniquely placed in terms of history, legacy and expertise. We have a huge advantage through being involved in a wide range of international institutions, such as the Commonwealth, where we have developed worthy reputations over generations. Again, this advantage should not be squandered. It is essential that we build on the strengths that we have, while recognising that the world has changed. Young people around the world today are as likely to watch young Brits sticking home videos on YouTube as representatives of the UK and UK values as they are to tune in to the World Service, but there is still a role for the state to contribute. There has been a shift in terms of economic power to the east and we need to recognise that the old structures are not the only way of co-operating.
We are just about to enter an election race which will determine what kind of country we will be in terms of interacting with the world. The report itself says that it will be difficult for the UK to portray itself as an open and tolerant country if, at the same time, we are engaged in an increasingly vitriolic debate about immigration. I dearly hope that any debate around the issue of immigration at the election will not damage our standing in the world and reduce our reputation as a tolerant nation. I hope that, as a country, we will not waste the advantage that we have but will encourage the use of these valuable assets in the area of soft power. It is essential that we remain an outward-looking country, open to the wider world, a world where we can influence with hearts and minds, not just with bullets.
My Lords, this has been a very wide-ranging debate on a wide-ranging report. It is clearly going to be impossible for me to respond to all the points made, so I had better start by saying that I will do my best to write on some of the points that I am unable to cover. I loved the backwards compliment which the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, gave to the whole exercise when he said that, in the end, it was “quite an enjoyable experience”. I used to be a university teacher and recognise that students often say things like that.
There has been a lot of comment and study on the concept of soft power. Several noble Lords mentioned the excellent British Academy report, The Art of Attraction. There was also a British Council report, and we have talked about the relationship between soft power and hard power, with smart power coming in between. However, we have not talked very much about economic power. In our current relationship with Russia, economic power, in terms of the imposition of sanctions, and the attempt to produce smart sanctions that affect those who you are targeting in particular, is very much part of the mix that we are proposing. The problem with economic sanctions is that, like soft power, they are slow power and do not work immediately. With hard power, you can have an air strike or whatever; soft power takes years to build up and years to have effect. You have to invest in it and cannot be too deliberate about it, which is part of the problem but also the beauty of it. Much soft power grows over time, and only partly as a result of government action. As the British Academy report says, it is about reputation, trust and prestige. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, called part of this “moral authority”. That is perhaps a difficult thing for government to set out and build—it has to grow from a whole range of different aspects.
The importance of the rule of law and Britain’s reputation as a country in which we have a sound legal system is something which has taken a very long time to build up. As noble Lords have said, the Commonwealth in particular, with its shared tradition of common law, is part of that reputation, which has expanded. Culture, the quality of education, literature, music and theatre—the whole creative industry, which the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, talked about—take generations to grow. Sport has been mentioned, as have other institutions, the openness of society and the image of London as one of the world’s most international global cities. Civil society as such, our traditions of diversity and tolerance, and our history and our culture, are what we see as Britain’s soft power.
However, we have to be conscious that our power of attraction in a partly illiberal world has competitors. We even see some disillusioned and disadvantaged British citizens attracted by the image of radical Islam and going out to join ISIS. We see the Russian Government using the Orthodox tradition as a way of trying to grow soft power across eastern and south-eastern Europe. I stress that soft power has to be partly non-governmental: it depends on civil society. States in which government funds everything do not have soft power. One of the reasons why Britain and the United States continue to have great prestige and international reach—much of which is seen as an enormous threat by states such as China and Russia, and sometimes Saudi Arabia—is that we have all these autonomous and semi-autonomous institutions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, spoke of our universities and schools in her wonderful maiden speech. As she spoke, I was sitting thinking about a Singaporean student I had who always stood to attention when he came in. I tried to persuade him that he should disagree with me and that that was the way to succeed, but it was a very difficult concept to get across. I am very conscious, having taught politics and international relations, that one’s students go on to do all sorts of interesting things around the world. I established my credibility as a new Minister in 2010 partly because a bunch of us went across to Brussels and, as the President of the Commission summed up our discussions over lunch, he said, “As Professor Wallace has said—I know you think of him as someone else, but I still think of him as Professor Wallace”. It did my reputation in government quite a lot of good. However, of course, these things are not all a one-way trade. I also remember going to Damascus some years ago with several of our colleagues and watching while President Assad was given a St Thomas’ tie to remind him of his time as a medical student in this country—it does not always bring that emotional tie which holds us all together.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, also talked about research networks, scientific research and, of course, the whole question of life sciences and health. I will return to that and merely say in passing that we saw the impact of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine on global health in the Ebola campaign to a quite remarkable degree.
Our non-governmental organisations, which the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, talked about, are extremely important. They are partly supported by government but are also, very importantly, independent of government. Governments quite often get very irritated by them, but they give additional reach to the reputation of Britain and to British values. Then there are our think tanks. I used to work for a think tank and when I first went there I was appalled that the British Government gave us virtually no money and we were operating in an international world in which our French, Dutch, German, Italian and other counterparts were mostly or entirely funded by their Governments. However, as I got used to it, I recognised that we were meaner, hungrier and more up to the mark because we had to go out there and persuade people that they should fund what we were doing. After a month attached to a German think tank entirely funded by the German state, I came back very happy that we were not too dependent on state funds.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, that our museums and creative industries are not entirely funded by the state. There is a great battle as to how much they should be. Part of the reason why London has five world-class orchestras, four world-class music schools and a wonderful theatre infrastructure is that they are not entirely controlled by DCMS. They fight very hard, and politics in an open society is a fight for limited government funding. We have heard from a range of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, who would like us to fund a renewed Trident and a larger defence budget at the same time as we fund all those extra things. Actually, we cannot do all those things; we do what we can.
In his report, the noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned the British Museum as an asset and that the sending of the Cyrus cylinder to Tehran was a great example of cultural diplomacy and soft power. I understand that the Foreign Office was opposed to that when Neil MacGregor wanted to do it. It is a good thing that the British Museum had a degree of autonomy and sent it. I know that next year, the British Council will put a lot of effort into the Shakespeare anniversary, but I also note that the Globe Theatre is already engaged in a major project to produce Shakespeare in a range of different languages—again, the Government are supporting it, but others are also acting on their own. The noble Lord asked for more deliberate co-ordination of British soft power, but part of the reputation and value of British soft power is that it is not entirely co-ordinated. It grows, it competes with the Government, it often disagrees with whichever Government are there at the time and is not too state directed.
Of course, we have been concerned above all with government resources and government investment—in the BBC, in the British Council, in scholarships, in the aid programme, in the quality of diplomacy and resources of the Foreign Office and in defence engagement. However, I shall say just a little about one of the underlying issues in the report, which states in its summary that,
“the British need to feel confident in knowing who we are and what our role is in a transformed and turbulent world … There needs to be a long-term strategic narrative about the international role of the UK, promulgated from the centre of Government”.
That is about national self-confidence. We all need to be aware just how contested that is at present. We have a very confused attitude to British identity, Scottish identity, and our relationship with our neighbours across the channel and elsewhere. We should all remember —I have certainly been hearing this while canvassing in recent weekends—that those who most dislike our European neighbours are not those who wish to engage more with the Chinese and the Indians. They want the whole world to go away, sadly.
We see the diversity of our society—above all, London—as a major soft power asset, but outside London, as an excellent Chatham House report on British attitudes to the world suggests, an awful lot of the public, sadly, see the diversity of London as a threat and something which they would very much like to reduce. As we have heard throughout this debate, we see the BBC as one of Britain’s most precious global assets but, day by day, the Murdoch press, which sees it as a bitter competitor, and the Daily Mail, which sees it as a left-wing threat to Britain, do their best to suggest that the BBC is not the asset which the noble Lord, Lord Birt, and others, say that it is.
I should perhaps touch on Britain’s European commitments, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, suggested that there was a gap there. It is quite clear from the Prime Minister’s recent remarks and speeches throughout his time in office that he sees Britain’s future within a reformed European Union. We should all pay credit to the Prime Minister for how much effort he has put in to building and maintaining a closer relationship with Germany. The Foreign Secretary has just completed his visit to the 24th of the other 27 EU capitals since he took office, discussing our relations with them on a bilateral basis, and our reform agenda, so we are very much engaged and committed. Our European commitment is seen as the foundation for our global role.
Something that came forcefully to me when performing the balance of competences exercise within the EU was that the EU itself is a major international network intertwined with other global and regional networks. As I see from papers within the Foreign Office, British posts abroad work with their European partners, and DfID workers work with other European aid programmes together across the world.
We are talking about the various things that the Government do. Perhaps I may rapidly flag up some which have not been mentioned in the debate. Several noble Lords are members of the advisory board for the commemoration of World War I—a real exercise in soft power, as we saw last August with the Commonwealth commemoration in Glasgow at the end of the Commonwealth Games and the British-German commemoration in St Symphorien. That combined history, domestic education for the younger generation, reconciliation with former enemies and good will for former and current partners and allies.
The Commonwealth is of course very much a part of the projection of soft power and of its assets. As the noble Lords, Lord Janvrin, and Lord Luce, said, it is not just government to government, it is the non-governmental links—in particular, the legal links, as was suggested—which help to hold it all together, as well as the diasporas. I have been associated with Francis Maude’s open government initiative around the world, which has attracted a great deal of respect from Governments trying to come to terms with the digital revolution. I have noticed the role of the Department for Energy and Climate Change, with UK officials and scientists building a reputation as a country that is seriously engaged in persuading others of the case to deal with climate change.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, and others, talked about the role of the Government and others in sport and the enormous work that we have put in and which British posts are still putting in to promote the Paralympics around the world—which, as the noble Lord rightly said, also helps to change attitudes towards the disabled. The GREAT campaign has also been a major achievement and a great way to pull together in other countries the different aspects of government investment in soft power. Last week’s great festival of culture in Shanghai was opened by the Duke of Cambridge and celebrated the UK-China year of cultural exchange, for example.
Health was mentioned, particularly by the noble Lords, Lord Crisp and Lord Kakkar. Again, from what I see in government, I am well aware of the extent to which health networks and discussion with the Chinese, the Gulf states, Turkey and others about health programmes are very much part of the projection of Britain’s reputation abroad.
I think that it is the British Council and the BBC which are most important to people here. The FCO continues to fund the British Council at the rate of £162 million per year to support its global reach and impact—rightly, that is not all of the British Council budget, but it is part of it. As the triennial review stated:
“In a globalised, competitive world the UK needs a first class cultural diplomacy capability to further our national interests worldwide”.
The British Council is the main UK official body for that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Suttee, asked about Young Arab Voices. It is a jointly funded exercise with the Open Society Foundations and the Anna Lindh Foundation in which we are continuing to invest to help young people across north Africa to think much more openly about the world in which they live after the Arab spring.
The question of government scholarships was raised. The Government have tripled the funding for Chevening scholarships in developing countries between 2010 and 2015-16. That is complemented by Commonwealth scholarships—which, I must say to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, are under review, but which will be continued.
The question of languages was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, and others. The Government are tackling this issue but we have gone an awful long way back in the last 20 years and it will take some time to pull us back together. The Foreign Office language centre is training people from other departments. We do not yet have a full record of who speaks what within Whitehall. When I was on the Civil Service Board, I spent some time trying to pull that together and I recall a fascinating conversation in which I was asked by an FCO official, “Do you know of anyone in the Civil Service who speaks Hausa?”. I did not, but we eventually found one in DWP. All those languages are there because we have a diverse community within Britain.
There are some severe problems of language in the question of the recruitment of Brits to international institutions, including the European Union. One of the reasons why it is so difficult to get British nationals into the European Union is that nationals from other countries almost all use English as their foreign language when they apply to the European Union. We, of course, cannot, and one is not allowed to use Polish or other second languages, so we have a severe problem there. The redevelopment of the European fast stream has helped in this regard but we all recognise that there is a long way to go.
Regarding the BBC World Service, we will of course be opening a discussion with the BBC on the future review. We recognise that the BBC itself is being transformed by the new media but the relationship with the FCO remains strong. The BBC and the FCO meet annually at Foreign Secretary, chairman and director level, and more regularly at lower levels. The question of languages is a matter for the BBC to raise with and put a case to the Foreign Office, and then for the Foreign Office to respond. I recognise the passion with which the BBC and its world services are defended here. I merely say that I trust that that passion will be conveyed as regularly as possible to all those who edit right-wing newspapers.
Visa policies have also been touched on. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, that the Government intend that exit checks will be in place by the end of April 2015. We recognise that there are tremendous problems in striking the right balance with visas for students and non-students alike. I have to tell your Lordships that, on the doorstep, that is one of the most controversial issues in British politics at present.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, mentioned women and girls. I say with great compliments to William Hague and the noble Baroness, Lady Helic, who was his special adviser, that the British Government have put a huge amount into raising the rights of women and girls around the world. DfID and the Foreign Office continue to do so.
I am conscious that the time is now short and that I cannot cover all the other issues raised. I say merely that soft power grows out of both government and civil society. States in which Governments control most social and cultural institutions have little soft power. Government must nevertheless invest in the elements which constitute soft power, in partnership with others. It is part of the strength of Britain and the United States that we have private foundations which help to fund these things and do not have to rely so much on government. This Government—and, we hope, their successor—will continue to invest.
My Lords, it remains for me to thank your Lordships for your very favourable reception for this report. There were some terrific speeches and I think that we were all very pleased to hear the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf of Dulwich, about her expertise in universities. I hope that we will hear a lot more from her.
I am left with the overwhelming impression that there is a lot more to be said on this subject—not merely by the Minister, who has to fit within his time, but generally. So many leads were opened by fascinating speeches. The report probably should have said more on healthcare innovation. I very much take that point. The most reverend Primate was saying the other day that we should have said a bit more on religion and the churches, and we probably should have. I can tell my noble friend Lord Addington that the report gave quite a lot of coverage to sport. We had a number of hearings, which included the absolutely stunning statistic that 1.4 billion people watch English Premier League football on television. That is almost a quarter of the entire human race. There is no doubt where the source of sports inspiration comes from; it comes from this island and this country.
My final hope is that we do not just leave it here, so that this was a one-off debate on a one-off subject. In our report, we say, “Please could the National Security Council move on from dealing with incidents and look at this strategic issue once every six months?”. We also asked, “Please could a government department, maybe the Cabinet Office, report to Parliament at least once a year?”, and, “Please could we make it a habit of having annual debates, rather like the one we have just had today?”. Despite Dean Acheson’s jibe many decades ago, a very clear role has appeared for a nation like ours in this new digital world. We have the assets, the skills and the experience. All we have to do is to make them work much better.