I am delighted to have secured this debate on the fundamental importance of cultural diplomacy in international relations. A large number of colleagues are interested in participating in the debate, so I shall try to keep my remarks relatively brief to allow them the opportunity to do so.
Although we are doing a great deal of good work in this area—work of which we should be immensely proud—we could and should be undertaking extra activities that could have lasting benefit. Anyone doubting the fundamental importance of culture in international relations should consider the international outrage sparked following the destruction of the Buddhist statues in Afghanistan or the appalling lack of protection of Iraq’s cultural heritage following the invasion in 2003. Both of those cultural events had a huge impact on international relations: one strengthened support for our approach in Afghanistan while the other added to doubts about our approach in Iraq.
There is nothing new in the link between culture and international relations, after all, the Romans expanded their empire through a mixture of military might, which might be termed “hard power”, and the spread of culture, which some have called “soft power”. There is a strong case for having a cultural aspect to our diplomacy, not as an add-on or as subordinate to hard power, but as a fundamental part of our diplomatic activity.
My personal journey in this area started more than a year ago when I interviewed Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, for an article in The House Magazine. I discovered through that conversation that under his leadership the British Museum, which was established by Parliament in 1753, has made great strides; among other things, there have been moves for it to become increasingly multilingual and to increase its collaboration overseas. The British Museum has been significantly involved in the opening of the new capital museum in Beijing and has provided the national museum of Kenya in Nairobi with materials illustrating that country’s culture in the context of surrounding nations. The British Museum took no lead in that project, allowing the Kenyan curators to make their decisions entirely independently.
Some have suggested that in taking a passive role in international collaborations the British Museum has missed the opportunity to let people around the world know about Britain and its history. Mr. MacGregor’s reply was particularly instructive:
“What they will come to know is that this country has, uniquely, a vision of its place in the world which is not about controlling, promoting or dominating with its own culture…We are an enlightenment institution, not an imperial institution.”
The British Museum’s commitment to internationalism has placed it in the spotlight in recent years: it played a leading role in cataloguing both the looting of the national museum in Baghdad and the destruction of the archaeological sites following the allied invasion. Perhaps there can be no better example of the crucial role of culture in international relations than the fact that the British Museum maintained close curatorial connections even in the worst days of relations with Iraq—it also did so in the case of Iran—which meant that when the museum in Baghdad was looted, the natural place for colleagues there to turn was to the British Museum. That did not help with re-establishing order in Iraq, nor did it prevent the insurgency, but it will have brought much-needed prestige to Britain among Iraqi academics and others who appreciate how highly we value their culture.
We could be doing many more things along the lines of the examples that I have given. We could use cultural talent to build up our international influence and prestige. As I have said, the British Museum is not the only successful example; the British Council and the BBC World Service are two of the jewels in the crown. The BBC’s global brand is one of objectivity and independence from Government—exactly the sort of structure for cultural diplomacy for which I argue. We want to reflect Britain, rather than the British Government.
The British Council carries out excellent work in 109 countries. We should be undertaking far more activities such as its “Turning Points” exhibition, which was held in Tehran in 2004. It was the first western arts exhibition in that city for more than 30 years. Such arts events have no specific foreign policy objectives, but that exhibition was opened by the then Foreign Secretary and Iran’s culture Minister, bringing those two people together at what might be termed a relatively low-profile event. Had it not been for that platform, they might not have met and there might not have been the opportunity for the diplomatic dialogue that ensued to take place.
What more should we be doing? A few weeks ago, Demos produced the excellent report, “Cultural Diplomacy”. Its authors argue that
“today, more than ever before, culture has a vital role to play in international relations.”
The report’s subtitle makes the challenge clear:
“Culture is a central component of international relations. It’s time to unlock its full potential…”.
That is right.
In our world of increasing globalisation, where communications are instant and international boundaries are less and less meaningful, we can develop, through culture, a shared identity that will show commonality above national identity. That is exactly what the British Museum, the BBC World Service, the British Council and many others are doing, and we need to do more of it on an international scale.
I want to suggest a series of relatively small changes that could be made; these are extensions or additions to what we are doing. We should start by including, as a matter of course, leading cultural representatives on all foreign delegations. When such inclusion has happened it has been incredibly successful, but no invitation is systematically sent to the heads of our cultural institutions. Some might say that such a move would mean a relatively frivolous addition to already large foreign delegations, but that perception would be wrong.
I have mentioned the link between the British Museum and the national museum of China. It came about because the Prime Minister was accompanied on his trip to China in 2005 by the head of the British Museum. The attendance of the Museum’s head allowed the first ever cultural agreement between a British institution and China to occur, the signing of which was overseen by the Prime Minister and the Chinese Premier. As well as providing a useful platform for diplomatic dialogue, the agreement had the additional benefit of paving the way for us to have the terracotta warriors in London this autumn. Leaving aside the importance of relationship building and of improving our international image, surely we would all agree that giving ourselves the opportunity to view those fantastic Chinese artefacts means that that trip was well worth it.
Bringing our cultural representatives along on foreign trips does more than just facilitate agreements; it demonstrates the commitment of the UK Government to cultural heritage. Valuing the cultural heritage of another nation is a straightforward way of acquiring influence and prestige. That is why I was delighted to see a further recommendation in the Demos report, that
“the FCO should ensure that all diplomats being sent to priority countries…are properly schooled in the culture of their new environments; this should be done on a programmatic rather than an ad hoc basis.”
If we believe that valuing other countries’ cultures is important, we should demonstrate that by asking more foreign dignitaries who visit our country to see our sites of cultural importance—places such as the Victoria and Albert museum, Stonehenge or even my world heritage city of Bath—and to attend cultural events from the Notting Hill carnival to those in the Royal Opera House. That would make cultural links easier to build because it would be clear that our Government are proud of our cultural institutions and events, and that we are aware of our cultural strength. When that has happened, it has been incredibly successful. For example, when the Iranian Vice-President opened the Jameel gallery in London he met the then Foreign Secretary, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw). That was an informal meeting, but the museum event provided the platform for diplomacy at a time of high international tension when an official meeting between those two men would probably not have taken place.
Our commitment to culture could be well demonstrated during the forthcoming London Olympic and Paralympic games with the planned cultural Olympiad. That is a huge opportunity for our cultural sector and one that we cannot afford to miss. The eyes of the world will be on Britain in 2012 and the time either side. We must ensure that we do all we can to facilitate cultural exchange.
Will the hon. Gentleman expand his comments, because I, for one, am worried that the cultural Olympiad will be a massive missed opportunity? As I understand it—perhaps the hon. Gentleman will confirm this—most of the budget will go on the opening and closing ceremonies. There seems to be no programme for widening the cultural opportunities of the Olympics.
The hon. Gentleman is right to express concern, but I am not sure that his view is entirely correct. We have spent a lot of time discussing issues relating to the sporting activities of the Olympics, and to date there has been relatively little public debate or planning for the cultural Olympiad. However, I am assured that work is now going on.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that if we think of the Olympic and Paralympic games as merely a sporting event for a brief few weeks, mainly in London, it will be a huge, wasted opportunity. I want a cultural Olympiad that starts now, continues to 2012 and beyond, and involves people in all parts of the country and from the huge range of cultures in this country, as well as the additional cultures that will visit us during the games. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that we must do everything in our power to ensure that we do not miss that opportunity.
I was delighted that one example of where progress is beginning to be made is the first signed agreement for a training camp facility in the United Kingdom in advance of the 2012 games. That agreement is between Bristol and—
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman’s thoughtful speech. Does he agree that the ultimate irony of the Olympics is that on one hand the sporting events could have a huge effect on cultural diplomacy, but on the other hand the lottery is being drained and many of the cultural organisations that could do what he suggested will be drained of funds between now and 2012?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue. We hope that in a couple of days the Government will announce their revised budget for the Olympics and explain how they will pay for some of the undoubted cost overruns. I have no doubt that there will have to be a serious debate on whether there will be yet more raiding from the lottery good causes. I want to put it on the record that, for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman gave, it would be a disaster if we took a further top slice from the lottery good causes to pay for any Olympic overspend. It would seriously damage the opportunities for that cultural development, and many other opportunities that are critical to the legacy that we all want from the 2012 games.
If we are to have the real benefit that other hon. Members also want, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office must co-operate with the Olympic organising bodies and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and must include cultural representatives in any plans for a British diplomatic effort in 2012 and the years around it. There will be Olympic handover events in Beijing and London following the 2008 games and, as the Demos report suggests, they could be used as a vehicle for improving UK-China relations, with staff from UK cultural institutions being seconded to work alongside our embassy staff in Beijing on the UK’s public diplomacy strategy for the games, and returning after the games to advise us on preparations for the London games in 2012.
There is still more that we could do. For example, more British exhibitions could tour the world, not least in countries that we need most of all—for example, Brazil, India and China—and where we must do more to cultivate long-lasting cultural relationships. Those countries will be among the superpowers of this century and, if their citizens hold a high opinion of us because of the cultural groundwork that has been done, that will have huge diplomatic and economic benefits with increased tourism, foreign investment and sales for our cultural exports.
However, the current infrastructure in those countries means that touring there is often prohibitively expensive. Organisations such as the Royal Ballet can afford to tour to international destinations only when they receive a good financial deal from the promoter. If we want our ballets to be seen in countries such as Brazil, China and India, we must find ways of ensuring that they can afford to go there. Negotiating trade agreements and encouraging investment from those soon-to-be-superpowers will be much easier if we have laid that important cultural groundwork.
I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s thoughtful and constructive speech. He knows that a problem with exhibitions travelling in this country, let alone abroad, is insurance and what to do to ensure that they are properly protected. He also knows that we have made advances during the past 10 years in ensuring that the environment is right for exhibitions in Britain and that they are insured. Has he thought about how that might be extended to travelling exhibitions abroad, which he suggests might be increased?
I am rather looking to the Minister to come up with some suggestions, which is why he is here to respond to the debate. He is right to say that insurance is a key issue, but it is not the only one. There are all sorts of challenges for owners of artistic artefacts on display, and I know that he has been involved in discussions about that. Many of us were amazed to hear about the painting that is being moved from the Uffizi gallery in Florence to Japan, and the huge structures that have had to be designed to ensure that it is transported safely. The cost of that project is astronomical, so there are key issues to consider. I do not profess to have hundreds of solutions to the problem, but I am delighted that the Minister at least acknowledges that we must examine the issue.
Indeed, I am. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that one good way of enabling cultural institutions to tour abroad is for commercial companies in this country with an interest in another country to sponsor an organisation? For example, the English National Ballet could be sponsored by a bank that is doing well in south America, and if we could persuade insurance companies to undertake some sponsoring, perhaps they would cover the insurance, too.
All Members will be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion. They will know about examples of such activity taking place already, and, of course, encouraging others to follow those examples is a sensible way forward.
Above almost anything else, there should be far more co-ordination within the Government and more collaboration between the Government and our various cultural institutions. The FCO, the Department for International Development and the DCMS all carry out cultural diplomacy, but their attempts are not well co-ordinated. They must work together and provide cultural institutions with information about local partners or the best way of carrying out international activities, so that we can participate in as many cultural exchanges as possible. The Minister may say that the public diplomacy board, which was set up in light of the Carter review of public diplomacy, already provides that service. I agree that it is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. Its panel members come from the FCO, the British Council and the BBC World Service, but there is no one from DFID or DCMS—two key Departments that disseminate and sometimes directly fund cultural diplomacy—and that is why something broader is needed.
We should not do any more than work with cultural institutions, because cultural diplomacy should not be a propaganda tool. Our cultural institutions, such as the Victoria and Albert museum and the BBC, are so well respected because they are independent and their foreign partners know that they are dealing with an institution that will not automatically prioritise the needs of the British Government. We do not want to send our institutions off to carry out the Government’s policy aims; instead, we must let the institutions decide the exchanges in which they wish to take part and the partners with whom they want to liaise. By all means, we should advise the institutions of the countries that they should prioritise, help establish contacts and help them with funding and insurance problems, but we should manage neither their relationships nor the messages that they send out. As I said earlier with reference to the BBC, such work should reflect Britain, not the British Government. If we provide our cultural institutions with the opportunities, they will get on with the job.
If we carry out my suggestions—no doubt colleagues will suggest others—what will we get out of it? We should not expect instant results, and they will not be easy to measure. We do not have any way of knowing how important our cultural strength is to securing a deal, nor the amount of extra money foreign investors invest because of what we do, but we cannot ignore the issues. There is no benefit in ignoring the strength of cultural international relations, because to conduct affairs without a policy of cultural diplomacy would simply allow misconceptions to continue without challenge.
The Demos report says:
“At the start of the 21st century, and as new players and technologies come to dominate, there is a significant risk of the UK sitting on its cultural laurels and being overtaken by other countries, such as China and India, that understand the value of culture in public diplomacy and are committing significant resources to it.”
I have suggested some of the possible ways forward, and I am sure that other Members will add more, but without further action, we are in real danger of failing to exploit fully our fantastic position as one of the very best cultural nations.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) on securing the debate. I have sent four letters to Mr. Speaker in the past four weeks requesting a debate on soft power, because it is a very important part of cultural diplomacy.
I have been most influenced by Joseph Nye’s book on soft power. I was lucky enough to meet him at Harvard university just before Christmas, and we have not fully understood the way in which cultural diplomacy and soft power can work together. In the forthcoming spending review, I bet that the one activity to be cut will be all the cultural diplomacy and soft power touches, because we cannot see them. I should like to see the cultural diplomacy budgets across Government, and I should like to see them itemised. Do they amount to 1 per cent., 5 per cent., or 10 per cent.? It is easy to do that for tanks, weapons and missiles, but it is less easy for cultural diplomacy, but if we are to realise what soft power can do in the world, we must see those budgets.
Although I agreed with most of the hon. Gentleman’s speech, the British Museum has let us down badly in two ways. First, it does not fully understand the globalisation of cultural diplomacy. One can hardly move but for the Gulbenkian museums and other museums that have spread worldwide, and I look at the Getty museums and the way in which they have developed not only in their own country, but overseas. We must take the British Museum out of its current location. Why cannot we settle the Elgin marbles dispute by locating the British Museum in Athens, so that it is jointly owned and the marbles are permanently on loan? There must be a satisfactory resolution to the Elgin marbles dispute, and there must be a similar resolution to the dispute about the Maqdala treasures from Ethiopia. They are the oldest Christian relics in the world, and they sit in a cupboard in the British Museum. That is not reasonable; they belong to Ethiopia.
I do not want to induce a heckle from the Minister about a spending commitment, but it may not be the British Museum that has let us down. The Louvre’s work in Dubai has been undertaken in partnership with the French Government, and although I wholly support the proposals being made by the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt), they cost money and they need Government support.
The French have a very different view of soft power. The British Council’s budget is embarrassingly small compared with what the French give, but we should examine what we do with it, because we do 10 or 15 times more than the French do through their equivalent.
The British Museum’s board must think about the globalisation of the space that we call cultural diplomacy, and the Tate must do so, too. It is fine having the Tate in Liverpool and in Cornwall, but we need it in India or in Kenya, and in the next 10 years, we must galvanise the idea of a shared culture and a shared diplomacy. We need a different viewpoint from the one that currently emanates from the Government.
I always struggle to find the location of cultural diplomacy in any embassy or anywhere that I travel, which is a shame. That is partly because we disaggregated the British Council from the museums under Mrs. Thatcher, and although the British Council quite welcomes it now, at the time it was a mistake. I chair the all-party British Council group, so I am probably president of its fan club. What it does is extraordinary, but I shall come to that later. My main worry is that, in the spending review, the one activity to go will be cultural diplomacy.
How could a more sophisticated cultural diplomacy policy work? Let us start with the English language. Almost 90 per cent. of the internet is in English, so we must make the British Library the global space for learning, knowledge and understanding on the net. However, we cannot do so without much more investment in the library’s digitisation. Although Microsoft has been unbelievably generous in providing £100 million, it is not enough. We need £100 million every year if we are going to realise that aim. If we do not do it, the Smithsonian Institution will, and that would be a great loss, because the British Library is the oldest, deepest library in the world. We must galvanise it and create an online version.
I am sorry to interrupt such a fascinating speech, but will my hon. Friend say how he would get round the problems of copyright in digitisation?
There are several ways round that. One is the creative commons approach that Lawrence Lessig of Stanford has proposed. A second way is for authors to give back their copyright, so that the British Library could hold it. There are a couple of different ways, although it is tough for the first 70 years after death. The issue is complex. Although this is for a different debate, we need the equivalent of an Ofcom for intellectual property.
I rise briefly to say that in my intervention I should have declared an interest in that I am published author.
Well, I have written six books too, so there.
The teaching of English in the British Council has been stopped in Russia, but what on earth would be wrong with setting up an online English language laboratory, which we have never done? The same applies to immigrants trying to learn our language here. The easiest thing for us to do would be to put Dorling Kindersley together with Berlitz, the BBC and the British Council and to create a body that could carry out online English language teaching. That would be so simple and so much cheaper than all the things that we currently do throughout the world. Every year, 2 million people come to learn English, yet we still do not have an online language centre. That is a great mistake.
People have referred to the British Museum, the British Library, the Tate and the National Gallery, but they are not yet world-class institutions and they do not serve us as well as they should overseas. We need to find the budgets, but we also need to ensure that one person on their boards of trustees is responsible for cultural diplomacy. We would then know who to target when we needed to.
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I am not sure about his statement that the Tate, the Victoria and Albert Museum and our other great institutions are not world class. Is he trying to say that they would become world class if they put the pictures hanging on their walls on the internet? Frankly, I cannot think of anything more crass than the notion that putting pictures on the internet somehow increases the value of an institution in the eyes of the world.
Perhaps it was the Turner prize that I remember, then. I think that the Minister misunderstands, because I do not mean that. I mean that the Tate should be overseas as a physical entity. That is what the Gulbenkians and the Gettys are doing, and that is why they are successful.
We do have three stunning world-class institutions, one of which is the British Council. We are asking it to open more offices with less money, but cultural diplomacy simply does not work that way. We cannot expect the British Council to do more on schools in Brazil and China and to open more offices but then say, “Bad luck, you’ve got less money.” I hope that the British Council will not face cuts in the spending review.
I should also like to mention the Open university, which is probably the most unsung hero overseas. For example, it has educated 5 million Africans, including MBAs for 21 of the 23 Ministers in Ethiopia. The Open university was the result of Jennie Lee and Harold Wilson’s work. It is an astonishing organisation and I am proud to be a graduate. What we are trying to do with the Open university, the British Council, the BBC and others is to create an online primary school for Africa in five languages. That project is simple and cheap, costing probably less than £300 million, so would it not be wonderful if the Department for International Development, the Treasury and the Department for Education and Skills could get behind it and see what a difference it would make to cultural diplomacy? What more can we say about the BBC’s brilliant World Service, which is stunning? Nevertheless, it faces cuts, too.
In the past we have granted scholarships. They started at Oxford with the Rhodes scholars, and we now have the Gates scholars at Cambridge and the Chevening programme, all of which bring people here. However, there are none going the other way. That is nuts. If we are going to get our younger people to connect to what is happening in the world, we have to give scholarships the other way. Internally, we have taken Arabic centres from the middle east to Exeter, Durham and Edinburgh. That is fine, but studying the middle east in Exeter is not quite the same as Frank Gardner being in Cairo, Qatar or wherever else. We need to give joint honours between educational institutions if we are to develop cultural diplomacy at a profound level. We cannot keep bringing people to this country; we have to go abroad.
I say that because I shall be leading a group of academics to India at Whitsun to look at the computer science system there. Our computer science graduate numbers are declining, but in India and China they are increasing. We need to twin Imperial college, Oxford, Durham and so on with the great computer science centres in India and China. We need joint honours. We do not need people to board a plane, do two weeks on a campus in Singapore, Beijing or Shanghai and then say, “Hey, I’ve got a British university degree.” We need a real change in how we see cultural diplomacy. We need joint institutions, joint honours and so on. Indeed, when the Secretary of State for Education and Skills said yesterday that children are going to do French and German in primary schools, I had to have a hollow laugh. What about Chinese and Spanish, perhaps? We have got to tune into the global space and get the present generation of primary school children to learn world-class languages.
Finally, I have a few quick points to make. Please look at sport. Please look at carbon trading. Please look at Web 2.0, especially in connection with intellectual property rights. Look at what Gilberto Gil has done for Brazil by freeing up all rights out of Brazil and Portugal for all music and all literature. That has been an absolutely stunning success. Why can we not do things like that?
The only thing to say about the Olympic games is that we should not think about what they can do here. We should think about what we give back to the Olympic movement through the cultural Olympiad and to the rest of the world after 2012, which includes bringing back the medals, which until 1924 we used to give in music, philosophy, art and poetry. I shall stop there, as I know others are desperate to speak.
I am grateful to be called and I shall be brief. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) on his choice of such an important topic and on giving such a good speech. I agreed with almost everything that he said, but I should like to make a few comments.
First, the cuddly element of the hon. Gentleman’s speech—that cultural diplomacy enables warring factions to come together and that substantial work therefore needs to be done by Foreign Ministers of those parties—is not really the best argument for cultural diplomacy. The same can be said for funerals. I remember well that when General de Gaulle died my father was the ambassador in Paris. The event was regarded as a working funeral. My father’s timetable over those three days was blocked from end to end with meetings with important people with whom the British Government wished to do business, but in Paris not in London. Let us therefore move away a little bit from the cuddly element of cultural diplomacy. Cultural diplomacy should be what it is: a brilliantly successful form of diplomacy with a hard edge attached, and that hard edge is the British national interest.
I agree with the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt) that we have remarkable and brilliant institutions in this country, including the BBC World Service, the British Council, the Royal Shakespeare Company, the arts, the theatre, music and, above all, the English language. Indeed, we have such an astonishing portfolio to use in cultural diplomacy that it is almost embarrassing. My point to the Minister is that as power shifts inexorably from the west to the east, which it is doing, perhaps faster than any of us recognise, and as the Foreign Office rebalances its dispositions to reflect that—which I hope it is doing and, from reading its annual reports I believe it is doing—so we need to shift our balance of cultural diplomacy to reflect those interests.
I agree very much with what the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey said about teaming up our great academic institutions with institutions abroad. However, his list of scholarships left out Churchill scholarships, which send hundreds of people abroad and are one of the most remarkable and brilliant memorials to my grandfather. They have achieved so much for people in this country and their interests. The scholarships have enabled people to discover things for themselves overseas and overseas people have learned things from them.
I so admire the work of the British Council. When I was a Defence Minister, I always tried to call on British Council offices when I was abroad. One cannot be other than awestruck by what it does and the value for money that it gives. Incidentally, I know that the Minister will understand that the same applies to defence diplomacy, which is also an extraordinarily important part of our portfolio of diplomatic effort. Every time we go abroad, we find people who want places at the staff college at Sandhurst and other great British military institutions, which are able to offer very limited numbers of places to foreigners. However, what they are able to offer is greatly appreciated and the service is in great stead overseas.
Finally, I too am a great fan of Joe Nye. All my political life since I read his book about soft power and listened to him talking about it, I have been deeply influenced by what he said about the use of soft power. What has happened in Iraq and military adventurism generally means that the rise and use of soft power will be even more important than it ever was. Of course it has to be backed by the ability to deliver a good punch if we need to do so, but it is to soft power that the modern world is best suited—something fully networked and integrated. For example, we could do far more things with our cultural diplomacy through the Commonwealth, which is surely one of the greatest unexploited institutions.
I entirely support the speech made by the hon. Member for Bath. It is extremely timely and I agree wholeheartedly with it. I urge the Government to make the diplomatic, cultural and defence diplomacy effort much more co-ordinated, as the balance of power shifts inexorably from the west to the east.
I am grateful for being allowed to speak, particularly as I arrived late; my apologies for that. I should like to make a few remarks to follow the excellent contributions that I came here to hear.
I agree with everything that has been said about the importance of soft power, which will become more and more important; I agree with the hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) very much on that. I pay tribute to all the institutions to which the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt) also paid tribute, such as the BBC and the British Council. They are wonderful and precious British institutions that we need to cherish and continue to fund adequately.
I have not heard so far about how we project soft power. The traditional view is that we exercise it through institutions, such as the British Council and the BBC World Service, that are focused specifically on projecting overseas. However, in the modern world we also have to consider what we do here. It would be a mistake if we thought that our great universities and cultural institutions—our theatres, museums and so on—had to project their presences overseas to be able to project soft power. What is important is that people will focus on what happens in this country much more than they ever used to. We do not necessarily only need the British Council, with its offices overseas, to make people see what we can contribute as a nation and to enhance our status in the world, which, as many much more distinguished contributors than I have said, is increasingly important in the whole business of diplomacy.
It is important that in this country we fund our great universities adequately and bring students here. We do not have to work that hard to enshrine English as a global language; it is already that. We need to enshrine excellence in this country. That must be the foundation. I am sure that shortly my hon. Friend the Minister will talk about funding; I hope that he will bear it in mind that there is a seamless web between what we do with our great cultural institutions in this country—they are world class and we need to keep them so—and what we do in projecting soft power overseas.
I am grateful for the opportunity to take part in this debate and I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) on securing it. As he pointed out, the reason why cultural diplomacy is high on the agenda is the publication of the Demos pamphlet on the issue. I should like to take a few seconds to praise the work of John Holden and Demos. In the world of the policy wonk, it is probably the leading think-tank contributing to debates on culture.
An important conference on the Demos pamphlet was held in the Victoria and Albert museum; delegates were surrounded by Raphael cartoons. The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport made a keynote speech on the importance of cultural diplomacy. It is interesting to note that her speech does not appear on her Department’s website. Will the Minister jot a note to her to tell her to put it there so that a much wider audience is made aware of the importance that the Government put on cultural diplomacy?
I echo the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), which were to an extent echoed by Sir Richard Dalton, our former ambassador to Iran. He was at the conference that I mentioned, and made the point that one must not load too much of a burden on cultural diplomacy or expect culture to have an enormous impact on foreign relations. At the end of the day, our Foreign Secretary can still always pick up the phone and speak to another Foreign Secretary, regardless of whether they have met at an exhibition. However, that is the only note of caution that I inject.
I join the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt) in praising the work of the British Council, which does a remarkable job. I was lucky enough to visit Iran last year and to see the work—cross-cultural work, if you like—done there on a very limited budget by the British Council. I talked to a number of Iranian students who had had the chance to study in England. It is important to recognise that the council is not simply a cultural, but an educational institution. Its work spreads far and wide. The diplomatic work of getting young people to experience our culture and vice versa is of immense value.
I should like to make a few suggestions. I hasten to add that they are neither spending commitments nor policies, but the thoughts of a young man new to Parliament and to his brief as the shadow arts spokesman for the Conservatives. First, I entirely echo the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey. I have a dream: I would love to see the Tate, the British Museum or the Victoria and Albert museum have buildings—physical presences—in some of the major capitals of the world, be they Delhi, Beijing or even, in future, Tehran.
We think nothing of having an embassy as a venue in which we can carry out our diplomatic work, although I add a huge note of sadness: some of the great buildings that the British own in capitals around the world are being sold off simply because our Government understand the price of everything and the value of nothing. They take an extremely short-term view.
I share the hon. Gentleman’s dream. I praise the work of the British Museum, which has an increasingly valuable programme with China, highlighted by the hon. Member for Bath. I hope that that will increase.
I shall reveal again my obsession with websites in saying that I had a scoot around the websites of the Tate, the V&A and the British Museum. Perhaps the disappointment of the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey comes from the fact that those websites simply do not talk about the work that the institutions are doing. The Tate is doing remarkable work in Syria, but, as far as I am aware, a person looking at its website would be completely unaware of that. Our institutions need to shout about the things that they do.
I also recommend that the Minister follow the example of the two main Opposition parties—here am I and my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown), shadow culture spokesman and shadow foreign affairs spokesman respectively, while across the Chamber are the hon. Member for Bath, the Liberal Democrat shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, and the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mark Hunter), the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman. We—and they—work in harmony together as an example of joined-up government. Sadly, no Government culture Minister is present at this debate. I believe that the Department of Trade and Industry, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and even the Department for International Development need to work together to co-ordinate.
It is interesting that tonight in New York Malcolm McLaren will promote the British music industry under the DTI’s auspices. Our cultural institutions need a one-stop shop, as recommended by the Demos pamphlet, whereby if they have a proposal and want to do something abroad they can walk through one door and have the expertise of all four Departments available.
Another important factor is the signing of cultural memorandums of understanding with other countries. I was told by a director of one of our museums two months ago—I wrote about it on my blog—that we do not have a cultural memorandum of understanding with India and that was one of the reasons why an important exhibition of Indian art sourced in the UK was unable to go to India. I confess that I do not understand the technicalities, but I offered the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who I know reads my blog, the advice that when he went to India he should sign a cultural memorandum of understanding with India. It would be interesting to know what the position is. It is telling that the Indian high commissioner in this country has sent hon. Members catalogues of the Chola bronzes that are on show at the Royal Academy of Arts. That is an example of a diplomat who recognises that his role is to promote Indian culture as well as the hard strategic interests of India.
It would be interesting to hear the Minister’s thoughts and reflections on our work with UNESCO. Many of the museum directors who I talked to and who are involved in the international museums organisations say that Britain does not pull its weight in UNESCO. That organisation offers a huge opportunity for us to shape the international cultural climate. Perhaps we do not take it seriously enough; I would be interested to hear the Minister’s views.
In some of my interventions, I have said how I feel about the importance of the cultural Olympiad. It is an enormous scandal that the Big Lottery Fund turned down proposals to revamp Exhibition road. There are huge opportunities to build or create cultural icons and institutions in the run-up to the Olympics and that would leave a huge legacy across the country and provide an enormous welcome mat for the millions of people who will come to this country.
Parliament will debate cultural diplomacy more frequently. The Tribunals, Courts and Enforcement Bill is being considered, and it provides an important snapshot showing the importance of getting the balance right between allowing exhibitions to come to this country and protecting the rights of those who feel that the cultural icons on show have been stolen from them. Later this year, I hope—perhaps the Minister can enlighten us on its progress—we will debate a cultural property Bill, allowing Parliament to show that in all our diplomatic efforts we will respect the cultural property rights of other countries. I shall be brief, because my hon. Friend the Member for Cotswold, as shadow spokesman for foreign affairs, will wind up for the Conservatives, which gives an example of our close working relationship as we take forward our thoughts and proposals on cultural diplomacy.
I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) on securing the debate. As other hon. Members have said, he has raised a number of important issues and concerns that are worthy of serious debate and a proper response.
Britain has a varied and impressive culture in so many areas—in history, art, music, literature, film, theatre, dance, science and sport, to name just a few of the more obvious. I contend that promoting that culture can and should be done internationally as an integral part of foreign policy in the form of cultural diplomacy. Cultural diplomacy should always show the rest of the world who we are and our ideals, beliefs and values. As the recent incisive Demos paper on cultural diplomacy said:
“Cultural exchange gives us the chance to appreciate points of commonality and, where there are differences, to understand the motivations and humanity that underlie them.”
The value of cultural diplomacy seems especially relevant in the light of today’s global developments and challenges.
The image of the United Kingdom as an aggressor held by so many countries across the world, especially in the middle east, needs to be combated. If it is not, it will prove to be detrimental to the long-term diplomatic position of the UK and will compromise many of our international objectives. That belief can be shaken only through cultural dialogue, and only through cultural exchange can we hope to understand the countries with which we wish to have long and stable relationships.
I believe that in liberal foreign policy, in its true meaning, cultural exchange can deliver three important things. First, it can encourage communication. Secondly, it can help to build positive relationships. Thirdly, it can allow the cultural norms of peace and diplomacy to flourish. As it creates good communication and positive relationships, cultural diplomacy is essential in creating a new thinking on the growing number of issues that can be tackled only through international co-operation—the environment, terrorism and global citizenship, to name but three. In the light of the growing acceptance of the importance of cultural diplomacy, will the Minister confirm that efforts to promote it will remain integral to foreign policy strategy?
Of course, cultural diplomacy is not a new idea. The British Council, the British Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and many other institutions have successfully initiated cultural exchanges for many years. They are adapting and responding to conditions worldwide. The British Council recently created a £20 million programme in the middle east, and the British Museum’s Africa programme reaches 20 African countries.
It is true that other countries threaten to outpace the UK. For example, France recently created a new agency—Cultures France—with an annual budget of some £20 million. China is loaning the largest collection of terracotta warriors ever seen to the British Museum for an exhibition this summer, but as other countries realise the importance of cultural exchange and the long-term influence that soft power can achieve, this is not the time to rest on our laurels. We need to support the institutions in their work and to ensure that enough funding is available and continues to be available for museums such as the British Museum. That funding is needed to allow them to continue to loan exhibitions and expand their programmes, and to allow other museums to become involved internationally. Will the Minister confirm that funding for cultural institutions, and in particular for the international exchange of culture conducted by such institutions, is recognised as hugely important? Will he assure us that he is doing everything possible to protect the budget and, where possible, to increase it?
An important aspect of cultural diplomacy is the promotion of the huge variety of British culture. We need to break down national stereotypes and, as the Demos paper stated, to challenge
“the perception that a country’s political leaders and their policies are identical with the views of their citizens.”
That is all the more important because of the damage done to Britain’s reputation by our invasion of Iraq. Although money needs to be invested in institutions that engage in cultural diplomacy, the Government cannot be prescriptive about how that money is spent or about the message that the institutions are supporting. They need to be seen to be independent, or we risk cultural exchange being mistaken for cultural imperialism and propaganda. Will the Minister confirm that any extra funding that might be given to such institutions in future will not be tied to specific targets that might limit their flexibility and status as institutions independent of Government objectives?
As we recognise the concentration on improving British Council services and the BBC World Service in the middle east, is there not a danger that if we concentrate too much on the middle east that could suck away resources from other areas of the world? That can be seen in the recent cuts to the British Council in Latin America, which could be an important region in 15 or 20 years’ time.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. He makes a valid point about priorities, which of course is what the art of government is all about. However, the debate that my hon. Friend the Member for Bath has introduced today is intended to place cultural policy firmly on the agenda and make it an integral part of what the foreign policy of this country ought to be. If the debate succeeds in doing nothing more than raising the profile of these issues, it will have succeeded.
The Government need to facilitate, not to direct, cultural diplomacy. They need to involve leading cultural professionals in the foreign policy-making process and include cultural professionals in diplomatic visits. They also need to create a framework that allows the organisations that are involved to collaborate and to co-ordinate their activities.
Cultural diplomacy is relevant not only to high culture but to popular culture, including music, films, dance, sport, fashion, comics and websites. It is by appealing to the population at large, including youth, that Britain has a chance to change the way that it is viewed by other cultures. As other hon. Members have said, we should use technology to do that. The internet and podcasts are just two ways of disseminating modern and traditional culture to the next generation. India, as hon. Members will know, is particularly successful in that respect, with Bollywood cross-over movies and bhangra dance hits getting young people all over the globe interested in Indian culture. I ask the Minister to confirm that funding will continue to be available to cultural institutions to commission, buy or manage examples of modern culture that are needed to reach the younger international community.
In conclusion, an effective foreign policy strategy is one that can adapt to new levels of complexity and the challenges of the current climate. To meet those challenges, it must include cultural diplomacy. With the upcoming 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games in particular, there has never been a better time to foster understanding of and good will towards Britain, and to encourage communication and build positive relationships with other countries. Let us be sure that we are doing everything that we can to seize those opportunities.
There have been some excellent, thoughtful speeches in this debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) on initiating a debate on a subject that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) said, the House will be debating much more in the future. The hon. Gentleman’s speech was timely and thoughtful, and there were several other thoughtful speeches to which I hope to have time to refer.
It is perhaps not a commonly known fact that the grandfather of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames), when in opposition in the immediate aftermath of the war, was one of the people who persuaded the then American President that the present United Nations regime should be set up. It is worth remembering that the universal declaration of human rights stated in article 27:
“Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.”
That right, which was enshrined in the declaration, is fundamentally important, and it is for all nations of the world.
Throughout history, all the great empires have had great cultural diversity, which they used to further their diplomatic efforts. Britain, of course, was one of the great industrial powers of the 19th century. Its industrial might has declined, but I venture to suggest that its cultural diversity, through all the institutions that we have heard about today, is still as great as it ever was. The great thing about cultural diversity is that it involves people-to-people contact. It should not be Government to Government. It was, I believe, the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt) who said that the BBC prides itself on being, not an organ of the British Government, but an organ of the British people. It is superbly successful throughout the world.
Some things will change cultural diplomacy and the world faster than anything else. I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex that the world is changing from west to east at a huge pace. Unless one visits China, India and Russia, it is very hard to imagine how quickly the world is changing. It is changing in terms of trade, tourism and educational exchanges. Above all, the thing that will change the world the quickest is quicker communication through the internet, which has already been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage. The Chinese, who currently block the BBC World Service internet site, will find it difficult to carry on doing so after the Olympics in 2008. The expectations of more than 1 billion people in China, and more than 1 billion people in India, will get greater as time goes on, but the Olympics in Beijing will do more to change China than anything else in its recent post-war history.
India, likewise, is changing at a huge rate. It has a young, vibrant population, as do several other large nations such as India, Turkey, Mexico and Brazil. Those people will drive those economies, which will become the world’s next tiger economies.
I entirely agree about the need for universal education. Education is changing the world hugely. I have a daughter who has just graduated from Oxford with a degree in Latin and Spanish and is now teaching Spanish in a rough school in south London on the Government’s teach first programme. I entirely agree with the comments of the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey that we should focus on the languages of the world that are spoken the most: Mandarin, Spanish, Urdu and Arabic. We should be concentrating on those languages, not on German and French, the languages of our next-door neighbours, because they simply are not spoken enough. I accept that great literary works have been written in them, but if we want our youngsters to have influence in the world, they should be speaking those other great languages.
I am delighted to hear that. I, too, can cite an example in my constituency. There is a Chinese academy within Katharine Lady Berkeley college, which is a state comprehensive school. Indeed, I took the Chinese ambassador to visit the students at the academy. He spoke to them in Chinese, and they were absolutely delighted. I also took him to the Royal Agricultural college in Cirencester, which has a huge number of Chinese students. Again, they could not believe that the Chinese ambassador had taken the trouble to visit them.
We should be participating apace in cultural and educational exchanges, and I agree with others who have said that we should encourage our educational institutions to form satellites in other countries. I saw some world-beating scientific research facilities in Qatar. American universities—Texas and others—were involved, but at that time no British universities were participating. We could do a huge amount in that respect.
On the Olympics, I would like to return to my intervention on the hon. Member for Bath about lottery funding. Lottery funding for the Olympics is all very well, and we totally support the games and are delighted that they are coming to London in 2012. However, I would say through the Minister, who said in an unworthy sotto voce intervention that this is a spending pledge, to other Ministers that they should get a grip on the Olympic budget. There would then not be a need to raid the lottery.
I am concerned—others have mentioned this—that several smaller cultural institutions and performing bodies will be starved of funds because of the diversion of funds to the Olympics. We need to concentrate on a tightly run Olympics with a proper budget and a legacy that will endure. I understand that some of the Olympic buildings will literally be pulled down after the Olympics. That is a great shame. We should be able to devise and design better infrastructure than that.
I totally agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage that cultural diplomacy requires joined-up government, including not only the Foreign Office and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport but the Department of Trade and Industry and several other Government Departments. After all, it was the present Government who invented the term “joined-up government”. They do not seem to be practising what they preach. I am delighted to be joined by my hon. Friend, the Member for Wantage who is the newly created DCMS spokesman for our party. I believe that we can all see from the quality of his speech this morning that he will go far in our party, and I welcome him here today.
I totally agree with those who say that we should encourage more scholarships worldwide. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Sussex mentioned the tremendous tribute to his grandfather of the Churchill scholarships, which send youngsters throughout the world to gain experience that they would not be able to get otherwise.
I shall now sum up, as I want the Minister to have plenty of time to reply to the debate. We all recognise the value of cultural diplomacy. We know from history what happened when the iron curtain started to come down. It was the efforts of the BBC World Service and the British Council, slowly making contacts in Russia, people to people—I cannot emphasise too strongly how important that is—that started to change hearts and minds. I worry a little that Russia is starting to go back on that: the British Council recently tried to open an office somewhere in the Russian interior and it faced huge obstacles in the form of health and safety regulations. Russian officials hardly know what health and safety regulations are. I do not know the status of that office today, but I hope that it has managed to overcome the Russian bureaucracy.
The hon. Gentleman says that it has closed. That is a huge pity, and I hope that the Foreign Office has made strong representations about that.
One can travel around the world and see so much good being done by the British Council. The hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) and I recently went to Nigeria, where we saw the excellent work being done in Kano, a very remote part of the country. The British Council was bringing young people together so that they could begin to talk about the problems in their lives.
The importance of cultural diplomacy is a growing theme, and the Government must take hold of it. The Foreign Office is beginning to alter its approach, as more or less every embassy and consulate has a cultural officer. However, as I said in a speech the other day, everything depends on how the Foreign Office applies its resources. It has 30 consulates in the United States of America and only seven in China. Given that China’s influence in the world is changing, the Foreign Office too will need to change. The BBC World Service and the British Council recognise that; they have closed stations in Europe and opened some in the middle east. However, I entirely agree with the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey: it is worrying that we are not devoting resources to south America, because some of those countries are the real powerhouses of the world to come.
Cultural diplomacy is an activity whose time is coming. The Government and the British people can use it to great advantage if it is considered intelligently and in a joined-up way. The Government can do much more.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) on securing this debate. I have known him for a long time, and I enjoyed today’s debate as much as I have enjoyed any in this Chamber. We heard visionary suggestions from the hon. Gentleman and from my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt) about how we should take the matter forward. I am glad to have the privilege to try to answer some of the questions that have been raised.
Cultural diplomacy is a significant subject, as we heard from almost everyone who has taken part in the debate. Cultural or public diplomacy is hugely important, and we need to work hard to continue to get it right. I assure the House that cultural diplomacy is a key component of our public effort. As we heard, we have outstanding assets in our cultural institutions, our higher education sector and our scientific community. All those offer channels through which we can conduct our public diplomacy.
I shall try to deal with some of the issues that have been raised. The hon. Member for Bath gave the good example of Neil MacGregor’s attitude and his belief that the British Museum ought to reach out to other countries and cultures. The hon. Gentleman summed it up by saying that we have to use our cultural talents to build up our international prestige. That is true.
Before I turn to the more visionary suggestions made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey, I should say this. I do not know exactly how many embassies and missions I visited last year—I think it was 35 or 36—but I have always been passionate about art and I always have a mooch around to see what paintings they have on the walls. They are often huge walls, and the pictures are seen by thousands of people every year. The number of 17th and 18th century naval battles that are depicted on those walls is depressing. The number of gloomy portraits from worthy but not very inspiring British artists of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, too, is pretty depressing.
It has always struck me, and I know that the hon. Member for Bath would agree, that one simple way to start—as he said, it would not cost a great deal—would be to use our cultural talents to build international prestige by hanging some contemporary British art. We have some of the finest contemporary artists. I am not talking about the assemblage rubbish that we so often see in the Turner prize shortlist. I am talking about a lot of tremendous art that comes from our art colleges. We should be trying to reflect contemporary British art.
If I do not see naval battles on the walls, I see pictures by Patrick Lichfield. They are lovely pictures, but it is a portrait of Britain like that shown in “Midsomer Murders”, as if we all live in thatched cottages or dreamy country houses. It has nothing of the dynamicism about which my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey spoke.
I remember being in Beijing and asking which countries China considered to be the most creative. I noted that we were not mentioned. They spoke of the United States—a military power—and of Japan and Germany. I realised after a while that, as far as they were concerned, cultural strength came from car production. I pointed out that most major car companies have British designers, and that the brilliance of the design of components, and often the manufacture of the most scientific pieces of engineering are British. The hon. Member for Bath was right that we do not emphasise that. We are hopeless at it. We do not sell ourselves as we should. My hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey made some brilliant suggestions about how we should be projecting ourselves. We should celebrate the fact that our great institutions are producing great designers, great artists and great musicians.
The hon. Member for Mid-Sussex (Mr. Soames) was being a very good parliamentarian and giving everyone else a chance to speak; I was surprised that he did not talk about the enormous impact of British music around the world. I know that he is passionate about it and particularly about those of our orchestras that go abroad. When people in Beijing told me that Germany was a great creative power, and far more creative than us, I asked, “When did you last listen to a German pop group?”
The hon. Gentleman told us that he is young, but even I am acquainted with that group. It is not a contemporary group; it is almost as old as my favourite group—Steely Dan. However, we must wake up to the fact that we do not celebrate our talents sufficiently.
I shall deal, if I can, with a number of the suggestions that have been made. My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Mr. Wills) raised an important point in his short contribution when he said—I summarise—that he was not that concerned about British universities opening campuses abroad. I tend to agree with him as that is a big financial risk. Nottingham university is the only university with a real campus abroad, which, if I remember correctly, is near Shanghai. Many British universities have a presence abroad, but the route that they have taken, as the hon. Gentleman rightly emphasises, is to try to attract people here so that they can maintain a reputation for excellence. That means that the world’s top 50 universities are still dominated by American and British universities. I am sure that he will agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey that the last thing we should do is rest on our laurels regarding that issue.
We talk—this country does so constantly—about the days of mass manufacturing that we will never go back to, about not having a steel industry that compares with that of China or Brazil and about not having a coal mining industry like that of the past. We must now live off our brains and our wits. We should ensure that although we promote excellence in UK educational institutions, as my hon. Friend said, we might be missing out on opportunities by not thinking about our presence overseas. We do so at our peril and we must be awake to that issue. That is the real value of what my hon. Friend has said and we must be careful that we do not miss a trick in dealing with that.
On the important point made by a number of hon. Members about joined-up Government, as hon. Members will know, the Public Diplomacy Board chaired by Lord Triesman now meets frequently. Lord Triesman is passionate about a number of aspects of culture in this country and is a good chair for the board. The British Council and the BBC World Service are involved with the board, and I take the point made by hon. Members that other interests should also be included. The only drawback is where to limit the number of organisations that are represented on such boards. The Public Diplomacy Partners Group—a dreadful title—is chaired by VisitBritain and is comprised of the BBC World Service, the British Council, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Education and Skills, the Department for International Development, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Ministry of Defence, the Northern Ireland civil service, the Office of Science and Innovation, the Scottish Executive, UK Sport, UK Trade and Investment, UK Visas, VisitBritain, Visit London, the Welsh Assembly and an independent member. I am sure that organisations are missing from that list, but it is enough to demonstrate that the board is very big. Having sat on the original creative industries task force—one of the worst titles ever invented—I remember how difficult it was to start to drill down to issues that might make a difference to how we portray and sell ourselves abroad and hon. Members are right to emphasise that we must get joined-up Government right in relation to that issue.
Joined-up Government is important and I have a great deal of respect for the Minister’s colleague, Lord Triesman. It is good news that he is chair of the Public Diplomacy Board. However, I gently suggest to the Minister that we need to hear more about the board’s decisions, deliberations and, particularly, what it has managed to achieve. If the board will be the gateway for the Government’s efforts on joined-up Government in relation to diplomacy, we would like to hear more about it.
That is a very constructive suggestion and I will certainly pass it on to Lord Triesman. The hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) mentioned the need generally to make information available on our websites. He also usefully suggested that if the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport makes a significant speech about our cultural relations with other countries, it should be on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s website as well as on that of the DCMS website.
That is an important point and I am sure that my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport will be interested in that.
The debate was initiated by the hon. Member for Bath and therefore I will return to some of the suggestions that he made. He said that Foreign and Commonwealth Office diplomats should be educated in the cultural heritage of the country to which they will be posted. That is a good suggestion. We try to do so already, but I will admit that the system is a bit ad hoc. Generally speaking, if our ambassadors and high commissioners are not passionately interested in the culture of the country in which they represent the UK, they are by the end of their tours of duty. If that is not the case, they become bad ambassadors and high commissioners. The hon. Gentleman was right to emphasise that issue. We try to train ambassadors and high commissioners in that area and run extensive pre-posting courses at the Department, which is an important part of the work that we do.
I think that most diplomats who are posted overseas are educated in the language of that country. The language of a country forms a passport to its cultural heritage.
That is an important feature of the work that has been done and I pay tribute to the way in which languages are taught in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I would love those courses to be expanded to outside the Department. I remember telling the Foreign and Commonwealth Office that I would like to perk up my German. When I was at Mountain Ash grammar school my German teacher used to bribe me to stay away from classes because I was so useless at German and was a disruptive influence—my teacher was very beautiful, actually. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said that I could have German lessons for £3,500 to which I said, “Hang on. I’m the Minister who is supposed to be able to communicate with countries abroad”. It is extraordinarily that even that small request could not be met. Perhaps the problem is that we do not value foreign languages highly enough. Maybe that is the case; I am not sure. Important suggestions were made by several hon. Members to rethink the kinds of languages that we place emphasis on and we are doing so. I have seen changes in my constituency where there is a shift towards learning Spanish as opposed to some of the other European languages. Of course, all the schools in my constituency also teach Welsh.
Although we can squabble about how we control the budget and on what it should be spent, I completely agree that the Olympics will provide a great opportunity for us to emphasise the importance of cultural diplomacy. The hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) said that he hoped that some of the buildings will remain in place. The Olympics will be a great opportunity for British architecture. We have some of the greatest architects in the world and I certainly always rue that such great events produce wonderful buildings which are then taken away. I hope that that concern will be heard outside of this room and I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point.
I was intrigued by a suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey. As everyone will remember, he was a fine rugby winger who played for England. He did not play for one of the great sides—we used to smash them every time we played them—but he was a tremendous winger—[Interruption]. I thought that he was wonderful. The hon. Gentleman suggested that we ought to give out gold medals as we did in the 1920s for more cerebral pursuits at the Olympics. That is a great idea and I see no reason why we should not do so. Coming from him, the world will sit up and listen to that idea—particularly as he had terrible knees.
I am suspicious of the idea of a cultural Olympiad and have never been a great supporter of cultural competitions. I always fear the increasing and creeping influence of the charcoal-shirted brigade that decides what constitutes good and bad culture. We are returning to the days of debating—