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Overseas Information Services (Cuts)

Volume 497: debated on Monday 10 March 1952

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47.

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the strong views expressed in all quarters of the House, he will now give instructions that the proposed cuts in the foreign services of the British Broadcasting Corporation and the British Council shall be abandoned.

The B.B.C's grant-in-aid is being mantained at the same level as last year, and the cuts result from rising costs. The economies are largely in overheads, and the actual output on our transmitters is being reduced by very little.

The British Council's expenditure should certainly be included in the economy measures to which many of our activities must be subject.

Since it was right during the war, when we suffered from shortages of every kind, to build up these foreign information services in order to help us to win the war, can it be right to cut that now when we want to use it to prevent war?

I think that that is a very argumentative manner of presenting a supplementary question.

Does the Prime Minister not agree that opinion is a major weapon in winning the cold war?

Opinion is very important indeed and, certainly, every effort should be made to guide it, but I am not at all sure that all the activities of the British Council have a direct effect upon the movement of opinion for or against a peaceful solution of our difficulties. I think they require careful study and scrutiny. As for the rest, as I have mentioned in the first part of my answer, we are doing the best we can, having regard to the general need for keeping expenditure within reasonable bounds.

Since the cost of restoring the cuts proposed to be made is only something over £200,000, would not the Prime Minister consider restoring those cuts to avoid the cutting down of broadcasts to Europe and Latin America?

I must say that I think it is a pity to take such a very small view of the importance of an expenditure of £200,000.

49.

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs if he will secure an allocation from the defence funds to increase the external broadcasting service, in view of its importance to this country's efforts towards world peace.

No, Sir.

May I repeat, in a different way, the argumentative supplementary which has just been asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for Derby, South (Mr. Noel-Baker)? May I ask the Minister if he does not think that this is a time when the voice of Britain should not be heard less on the air but should be heard increasingly, and that it would be a fitting thing to allocate a sum from the defence funds for this necessary and valuable purpose?

The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to add anything to the answer given by the Prime Minister. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] Might I inform him that, in regard to the smaller number of hours that the B.B.C. voice is to be heard, the total cut in B.B.C. transmissions is only in the proportion of 5 per cent.?

Does not the Minister think that even a reduction of 5 per cent. is extremely serious at this time, when the voice of Britain ought to be heard across the world?