The UK’s cultural and sporting assets are of enormous value in cultural diplomacy. They enhance the UK’s influence, reputation and soft power around the world.
The 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games and the enduring success of the premier league ably demonstrate how British sport can put us on the world map. Does the Secretary of State agree that more can be done to exploit our sporting reputation through the British Council as a means of extending British influence overseas?
My hon. Friend is right to recognise the valuable role that London 2012 played in taking Britain’s image around the world. It is an enduring legacy. He is also right that we can do more, and the British Council, together with UK Sport and national governing bodies, can certainly do a great deal to enhance and strengthen our influence. The sports Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), recently met the chief executive officer of the British Council to discuss precisely that.
What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the potential role of the UK’s cultural and sporting assets in advancing human rights, specifically lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights? There is some evidence that in Africa and the Caribbean in particular things are going backwards on gay rights, not forwards. Surely some soft diplomacy on the issue could help.
The hon. Lady raises an extremely important point. We want to increase participation in cultural and sporting activities for all, and that is at the heart of the work that the Arts Council and Sport England are doing. She is also right to say that LGBT rights in particular have a natural partnership with culture, and I have been examining that, particularly in this, the year of culture that we have with Russia.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that soft power is all the more important in increasing understanding between ourselves and countries with which we may have differences of view? She has just referred to the forthcoming UK-Russia year of culture. May I invite her and the shadow Secretary of State to join me at the launch of that event in this place on 24 February, in advance of her attending the winter Olympics in Sochi?
My hon. Friend’s invitation is kind, and I will certainly see whether I am able to attend that event, although I think he will know that the games start next week.
I agree with my hon. Friend that there is a huge opportunity to utilise the role of culture in developing our relations with a whole host of nations. I was pleased to sign a cultural agreement with my counterpart on my recent visit to China, and in the past 12 months we have also signed a cultural agreement with South Korea. He is right that the UK-Russia year of culture will be an enormously important opportunity.
I have been slightly pre-empted by other Members mentioning the UK-Russia year of culture. It was reported in December that Sir Ian McKellen was advised by the Foreign Office not to travel to Russia because he is gay. How does the Secretary of State think we can use cultural diplomacy to overcome some of the issues with LGBT rights in Russia, and should we not use people such as Sir Ian and encourage him to go to Russia to make the case?
I am not aware that the FCO would make that sort of advice available to people, although it is obviously important that we advise people on security issues, as we do in relation to many nations. The hon. Lady is right to say that we can use culture and cultural links to advance many human rights issues. When I visited Moscow and St Petersburg in December to discuss the year of culture, I used that opportunity to meet a wide selection of human rights organisations, including those that support people on issues of domestic violence.