To call attention to the level of co-ordination between Government departments on the use of soft power in the interests of the United Kingdom; and to move for papers.
My Lords, the two debates today might almost have been merged into one because they cover very similar ground. I look forward to the contributions that are going to be made, and I know that many noble Lords have had a long-term interest in this area. I must mention, although I do not think it is particularly relevant today, my interest as a patron of the Africa Educational Trust and that I am a member of the advisory board of Thales UK.
We could spend the whole of this debate trying to define the term “soft power”, and many academics do exactly that. I noticed that Joseph Nye will be speaking in the Commons next month, so I will leave it to the academics to hold the theoretical discussions and concentrate today on what I think is important. I want to talk about the use of all the avenues of influence that add up to soft power, and I was interested to note that at Question Time today, the Minister, when talking about NATO and the EU, said that peace was also about stability and shared values. His comments were, I believe, very relevant to the theme of this debate. I also wanted the House to have the opportunity to discuss the use of soft power, in particular the need for government co-ordination in this area, partly because of my experience in government and because of my concern that the comprehensive spending review might lead to rather short-sighted cuts that might have long-term consequences for Britain’s influence in the world.
Many people will immediately think of the British Council, the BBC World Service and of the importance of overseas students in this respect, and I will mention those issues later as, I am sure, will many others. But I want to start my comments by referring back to the Green Paper produced by the last Government entitled Adaptability and Partnership—Issues for the Strategic Defence Review. It was written by the Ministry of Defence, but crucially in close consultation with the Foreign Office and DfID. One of the themes of that Green Paper was “understanding and anticipating”. That theme is very relevant, especially at a time when domestic security cannot be separated from international security, and the pace and nature of the changing threats we face are increasingly challenging.
In the section dealing with defence diplomacy and security co-operation, the Green Paper acknowledged that defence investment in the range of activities that we know as defence diplomacy is modest. That may be something of an understatement. These activities—contributing to conflict prevention, capacity building, training, advice on security sector reform—can all play a significant part both in understanding the nature of emerging threats and in helping other countries to co-operate with us in tackling them. Yet we spend less than 0.5 per cent of the defence budget in this area, although I think it could legitimately be questioned whether all that spending should come from just the defence budget.
Some significant steps were taken by the previous Government. The Foreign Office established a strategic communications and public diplomacy board, and I would be interested in any progress on that. We also saw a very important step in the establishment of the stabilisation unit, which brought together not only funding from the Ministry of Defence, Foreign Office and DfID but personnel from these three very different departments, enabling them to work together in one unit. A visitor to the unit would not be able to identify the home department of those working there, which is a very significant step forward. As I understand it, there will soon be a stabilisation strategy which we all look forward to.
That work was very good and those steps were significant—they did represent progress. However, I am not convinced that there is a total buy-in from everyone in all the departments nor that everything is quite as joined up throughout the piece as it perhaps should be. That is why I would urge Ministers to take a very active and personal interest in ensuring departmental co-operation. Moreover, I fear that when it comes to squeezing budgets, it is often the areas of small spend that become the easy targets. It is easy to think that if the spend is low, then so must be the contribution. That is simply not the case with soft power. During my time at the MoD I saw increasing pressure—which I am glad to say was sometimes resisted—to squeeze things such as defence diplomacy, training budgets and so on.
Perhaps I may disabuse anyone who thinks that this area simply involves defence attachés going to cocktail parties. I am glad to have the support of my noble friend Lord Boateng in this, as he will know from personal experience that that is not a true image. I put on record the fact that almost all the defence attachés whom I met were modern, focused and well respected in their host countries for the practical help that they gave on issues such as stabilisation, security sector reform, training and, very importantly, establishing democratic accountability of the armed forces in those countries. I would also emphasise the need for co-operation between government departments. I do not think that every embassy achieves the same level of integration and effort or that every embassy works as much as a team as it should. There is some scope for improvement there.
Of course, I came across some specific problems when I was a Minister. As I mentioned in the debate initiated last November by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, I believe that those who work in the field of aid and development are sometimes too apprehensive about working with colleagues in military uniforms. I have a particular example in mind where the only way to get aid delivered was to improve security on the ground, which in itself required in-country security-sector reform. Although that could be delivered only with the help of our military advisers, the local DfID official was totally opposed to any military presence.
I think that some advances have been made, and I was particularly pleased when the DfID White Paper was published some 18 months or more ago. As it pointed out, unless you have stability and security on the ground, it is often impossible to provide the necessary aid. I do not want to exaggerate the problems, but ensuring a joined-up approach is definitely an area where ministerial leadership is important.
Perhaps I may get the Minister’s reaction to the fact that the United States has for the first time published what should become a quadrennial diplomacy and development review which oversees all the various contributions made by the State Department and others responsible for aid. Although I do not think that we should copy everything the Americans do, I also wonder whether we should not consider having our own version of such an overview of all these activities to ensure that we get the maximum impact from all of them.
As I mentioned in my opening remarks, many other areas are important in respect of using soft power to extend our influence. I am sure that others will mention the BBC World Service. I have long been a firm admirer of the work that it has achieved. Yesterday I received a letter—I am sure that others have received it as well—from Peter Horrocks at the BBC. In respect of the World Service, he writes:
“We know that our content has been enthusiastically consumed by audiences in the Arab world in recent months. Our online audiences have gone up by 300%, makeshift projection systems showing BBC Arabic TV have been erected by protestors in the capital cities of various Middle Eastern countries, and our radio broadcasts have been relied on when TV or online has been disrupted. But in just a month’s time, we will need to cut back dramatically on our services as a result of the funding reductions”.
This is a very serious situation and I must ask the Minister for specific assurances that he will look at it. This is a critical time for that region and clearly the work that the World Service is doing is very important indeed. Quite frankly, I do not care whether the money comes from the Foreign Office, DfID or anyone else. We need clarity on the role of the World Service and certainty about its future. Recent events have highlighted its value yet again, but it cannot fulfil its potential if it is going to stagger from funding crisis to funding crisis. I hope that Ministers will not close their minds to looking at this issue again.
Nor can the British Council stagger from crisis to crisis. It has made a fantastic contribution to the world’s understanding of Britain and the promotion of our culture and heritage. Yet it, too, is facing very severe and real cuts which will undermine much of the reputation it has established. I am sure that many people in this House also share my concerns about the future of overseas students, whose presence here has brought this country many benefits once they have returned home.
In addition to co-operation between government departments here, there is one other point that I want to raise with the Minister—the scope for co-operation with other countries in the field of soft power. We all agree that prevention is better than cure and that should be the first objective. We have long acknowledged the need to co-operate on hard power through institutions such as NATO. But it is important to remember that, as in Afghanistan, you cannot win by hard power alone. No one would say that soft power is a substitute for hard power; we need both, and we all need to recognise that. However, I should like to ask the Minister about co-operation with other countries in this area. Many allies are reconsidering their level of diplomatic presence and military representation with a view to closing posts. We could end up with a situation where many allies are pulling out of the same country and leaving a vacuum in terms of understanding what is happening there. That might be unwise and could be dangerous.
I would also like to know from the Minister the extent to which there have been meaningful discussions, and how near we are to getting conclusions, on the role of the European External Action Service and our contribution to it. What are the Government’s thoughts on the progress here? Are we linking our work on this to a proper assessment of what we should be doing collectively and what we must continue to do by ourselves? When the Prime Minister launched the national security strategy he said that it is about how we project power and influence in a rapidly changing world. To do that, I hope that Ministers are fully sighted of all the work that increases the influence of this country in the world. The challenges that we face are daunting. I think that it is crucial that we use all the influence for good that we can and that soft power must be a mainstream part of government considerations, not just in defence and the Foreign Office but throughout government as a whole.
My Lords, I have been in a debate like this before, back in 1981 in the other place when I was Transport Secretary. After many attempts, the Commons rightly used my transport Bill to introduce compulsory seatbelts for the first time in this country. You might have thought that the next day it would have been front page news, but not quite, because the morning’s papers were dominated by another event that would happen that day—the marriage of Charles and Diana. We may well find that this debate is also overshadowed, but that in no way reduces its importance.
I congratulate the noble Baroness on the excellent way in which she introduced the debate. I shall pick up one part of what she said, about the BBC World Service and journalism generally. The best of British journalism can have a big influence for the good. Honest and independent reporting of what is taking place can influence a debate inside a country; it can inform a bigger audience around the world, and when done well it brings credit to this country. I am talking here about journalism, not newspapers indulging in practices such as phone hacking that want nothing more than the information on the private lives of real and imagined celebrities. To my mind, that is not journalism but a form of unjustifiable prying, which has rightly been declared illegal, and I look forward to the day when the Government announce that they will set up an inquiry into how this can be prevented.
The kind of journalism that I am talking about is truthful, independent reporting that deals with important national and international issues and is not influenced by the prejudices and views of proprietors. I am also talking about fearless reporting, which we have been reminded of recently by the deaths of two journalists in Libya—the latest casualties in a long line of those whose jobs as reporters have put them at risk. There are outstanding examples in this country of the kind of journalism that I am talking about, and the kind of journalist, not least in the BBC—not the game show hosts, but reporters such as John Simpson, Jeremy Bowen and people of that kind.
We should not ignore the influence that this kind of journalism can have. I am chairman of the Thomson Media Foundation, which was formed half a century ago by Roy Thomson. I took over from my noble and learned friend Lord Howe some years ago. In the Middle East, we run inquirer rewards for investigative journalism, with entries from Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza and the West Bank and investigations into prison conditions and healthcare. This has been funded partly by the Foreign Office, and I pay tribute to it for that. In the gentlest way possible, I would love to know what future plans there are, following my letter of about six or seven weeks ago.
I will concentrate on the BBC World Service. I remember in 1967 being sent off by my newspaper to the Middle East war. After a rather hairy journey by fishing boat, my colleagues and I arrived in Beirut. Our aim was to get to Damascus and Amman, but for some time the borders were closed and news was censored. My abiding memory of that period was of an American journalist with his ear to the transistor radio, desperately trying to get the latest, accurate news of what was happening in the war. The World Service in those days was the gold standard.
Things have obviously changed since those days. We have channels providing 24-hour television news; in the Middle East, which I seek to concentrate on, we have powerful new channels such as Al-Jazeera; and we have the internet playing an increasingly important role. Nevertheless, taking a worldwide perspective, the BBC World Service has a formidable audience of 180 million people and retains a formidable reputation, which is paid tribute to by a wide range of people including Kofi Annan, who said that it is,
“perhaps Britain's greatest gift to the world”.
That is some praise.
The service has sought to develop as conditions have changed. It has started an Arabic television service, which has become a 24-hour service—partly, perhaps, because of the urging of the Communications Committee of this House. In the Arab world its online audience has gone up, as the noble Baroness was saying, by something like 300 per cent in the past few months, while it should never be forgotten that radio remains a powerful medium internationally, just as it does in this country. I do not claim that the development has been perfect, but that has often been because of lack of funds and sometimes perhaps because of a lack of vision in its funding department. One story, told some years ago, was that the Foreign Office was highly sceptical of one bid on the grounds that it did not really think that the internet would ever catch on.
What I know for certain is that the World Service has always had to fight hard for the resources that it needs. That certainly applied in the Thatcher years, and I remember the then Foreign Secretary, my noble and learned friend Lord Howe, battling away for money at that time. I was always rather divided between the prospect of the former Chancellor being made to appear before the public spending hanging jury, where he had sent so many of us, and supporting his cause. In the end, I supported his cause.
There have been problems in the past, and there should be no doubt about that, but nothing, I suggest, on the scale of what is now being envisaged: cash savings of 20 per cent over the next three years; the closure of five full language services; and the end of radio programmes in seven languages. Overall, the service will lose an audience of something like 30 million people. To take the impact on just the Arabic service, as the noble Baroness indicated, in a month’s time the television service will reduce from 15 live hours of news a day to seven hours by cutting out overnight and morning coverage. Yet it is competing with Al-Jazeera. Radio will be cut from 12 hours a day to seven, and 44 of the Arabic staff will be made redundant. Yet two days ago, my noble friend, who is now sitting on the Front Bench, repeated a Statement by the Foreign Secretary on the Middle East: war in Libya, crisis in Syria, unrest in Yemen and Bahrain and crucial decisions in Palestine, not to mention Egypt and Tunisia. The question that has to be asked is whether this is conceivably the right time to be cutting back on the World Service. No one blames the Government for not foreseeing what has happened in the past months in the Middle East—I do not think that many, if any, actually did—but the point is that it has happened and we now need to respond to this new situation.
Personally, I agree with the Foreign Affairs Committee of the other place, under the excellent chairmanship of my friend Richard Ottaway, that the decision on cuts should be reversed. Let me put the point another way. All the evidence suggests that the decisions on funding and transfer to the BBC were taken very quickly without exploring the options. I am not opposed in any way to responsibility going to the BBC, but if that is going to be the case, guarantees need to be written in. We might look at options for change there that would provide resources without affecting the BBC overall. Frankly, it would be to everyone’s benefit, and it would make a financial saving, if the BBC Trust were abolished and the noble Lord, Lord Patten, could become the proper chairman of the BBC with a board rather than, as at the moment, “chairman” being an honorary title. I certainly believe that it would be to the benefit of the commercial arm of the BBC, BBC Worldwide, and would mean financial gain to the corporation, if it were allowed to raise private capital to develop. That would mean changing the ownership structure, a course that was actually first set out by the previous Labour Government.
To explore these options—and there are others, such as funding from the DfID budget—will obviously take a little time, rather more than the six or seven days that it took to produce the present policy. No one would criticise the Government for a moment if these cuts were put on hold while the new situation, particularly the situation in the Middle East, was considered further along with other options.
We should remember above all that the BBC World Service is truly a world leader, that it brings credit on this country and that it is remarkably cost-effective for the good that it does. I urge the Government to think again on policy here and start fresh talks with the BBC. We should recognise that a new situation has arisen, and we should be thinking of developing the World Service, not cutting it back.
My Lords, I welcome this debate on soft power, proposed by my noble friend Lady Taylor, for the very reason that it gives me the chance to engage in a debate that I think will express a groundswell of support for what the noble Lord has just been saying about the World Service. After a career in broadcasting of 40 years, it is obvious that this is close to my heart and that developments in this area give me great cause for alarm.
The BBC World Service is indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, says, a global brand, up there with Coca-Cola and Microsoft as one of the major forces that influence the lives of people across the world. It is a brand that is the envy of every other broadcasting institution. Coca-Cola is a pleasure and Microsoft is a technology, but the World Service is more than both. It is of course a technology, but it is overall an idea and one that is among the most precious and vulnerable in the world today—the idea of truth, as embodied every day in the meticulous, thoughtful and impartial news created by highly respected and trained journalists. Peter Horrocks, its current managing director, when he was speaking to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the other House, called it,
“the most significant, most reputable international news organisation in the world”—
but, he went on, “it is being damaged”. Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he? Except that he is not alone. Voices have been raised from all corners of the globe; Ban Ki-Moon is just one of those to deplore what is happening.
This damage is not accidental. It is the outcome of the deal struck by the Government and the BBC during last year’s spending review, and that deal does neither of them credit. In return for a licence fee settlement until 2016, the BBC is to take over the funding of the World Service in 2014, but with no guarantee that it will ring-fence that funding. Meanwhile, instant cuts to the BBC’s funding require savings of £46 million a year. In January, the blow fell: as we have already heard, five language services, short-wave transmissions to China and Russia and a quarter of staff were cut. Is this the wisest way for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to share its load of the Government’s cuts? Is this compatible with the need for this country to have thoughtful and accurate influence around the world? While doubt hovers around the scale and impact of our hard power—the military—the power of the word, at which we excel, should rather be strengthened and endorsed.
Instead, the BBC’s cuts to its language services mean that it will lose, as we have heard, 30 million listeners across the world. It is hard to imagine 30 million, so let me give some leverage on that scale. Earlier this week, John Sullivan died. He was the playwright who created “Only Fools and Horses”, which was acclaimed in his obituaries as perhaps the most popular sitcom of all time. What is more, the obituary declared that its audiences regularly reached 20 million. In domestic terms, 20 million was considered extravagantly successful, yet the BBC is about to drop 30 million listeners—half as many again—from its non-domestic audience. In losing its Hindi service, the BBC will save a mere £680,000 annually and lose an audience of 11 million.
Various explanations are offered for these choices; none of them appears appropriate or convincing. The first is that everyone must take their share of the hurt of the cuts—everyone is suffering. However, is it not out of proportion for such a prestigious and valuable institution to lose 20 per cent of its funding and a quarter of its staff, with the consequent damage to British standing across the world? In his evidence to the Select Committee, Sir John Tusa, who was managing director of the World Service from 1986 to 1992, called for a,
“serious examination of the impact of these reductions on an important part of the UK’s international voice”.
Part of that examination must focus on the criticism that the world has moved on and that the World Service is somehow out of date in the context of global media—that digital technologies with their 24-hour rolling news, the rapid spread of social networks and the availability of mobile phones render the quiet and exact appraisal of the facts out of date. When was the truth ever out of date? This point of view is one seen strictly through western eyes.
Most people across the globe still receive the World Service through short-wave transmissions. In the poorest places, among the poorest people, ill served by internet reach, the World Service is prized. In places such as China and Russia, where powerful Governments seek to block information, the World Service has the potential to be ever more important. Access to short-wave radio is relatively risk-free in these countries, whereas access to the internet is not. We should not downplay our transmissions to such countries. The worldwide supporters of China’s dissident artist, Ai Weiwei, and Burma’s Aung San Suu Kyi look to the BBC’s international reach to reach them wherever they are with truthful, unbiased reporting.
Our other focus must be on the timelines of history. It is tempting in the short term—we have already heard examples—to see that economies could be made to the parts of the World Service that are directed at settled parts of the globe, and that money saved to bulwark services wherever there is trouble already or wherever there is perceived to be latent trouble. The BBC is alert to such strategies, as we have just heard. However, it is unwise to be sure how the future will play out. Who could have predicted the Arab spring? Who knows where it will be next? The standing of Britain, as sustained by the World Service, depends on something more than episodic shifts and retreats in world politics. It depends on a constant broadcasting presence and a reputation as an international broadcaster of steady, reliable news and information, whose probity is beyond doubt and whose serious reporting and analysis can always be heard everywhere.
In this day and age you simply could not invent the World Service; imagine the struggle to finance it, define and agree on its impartiality and embark on its network of agreements. It is perhaps no surprise that the excellent Arabic language channel, Al-Jazeera, founded in 1996, was founded by ex-World Service employees. The World Service is already here, established at a time when such things were possible and when the BBC could proudly boast a coat of arms that declared, “Nation shall speak peace unto nation”. It is here, and in terms of British influence in the world it gives outstanding value for money. It is here for us to support, defend and fund. Surely it would be appropriate for there to be a small transfer of funds from the Department for International Development, whose own budget will increase by 37 per cent to £11 billion. In keeping up a free flow of information to millions of people, the BBC World Service contributes to the very objectives of DfID.
I am heartened by a recent window of opportunity in that an outstanding Member of this House has been appointed chairman of the BBC Trust. Will the Minister reassure us that we can look forward to the serious reconsideration of these matters, for which I now call?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, on securing this important debate. Particularly at times of international crisis and pressure there is a mistaken tendency for us to focus on so-called hard power, and soft power can be crowded out. The noble Baroness has enabled us to focus on this important matter.
I say at the start that it is very important to clarify that those of us who regard soft power as important do not at the same time regard hard power as unimportant. On the contrary, I come from a part of the world where I am very much aware that special forces, intelligence gathering, the increasing use of cyberdefence and all the rest of the paraphernalia of hard power are extremely important, though sometimes they are at their strongest when they are used as a threat rather than when they are actually implemented. We are seeing a little of that at the moment in various parts of the world. It is very important that we sustain the capacity to project hard power, which has been leaking away in recent decades. However, it is true that sometimes those who emphasise soft power find it difficult to bring the two together. The noble Baroness pointed out earlier that DfID, for example, sometimes seeks to distance itself in a way that is, frankly, wholly inappropriate. It is very important that the various components work together in this regard. Therefore, I emphasise that when we speak today about soft power it is not as an alternative to, but as a component of, the projection of power of this country.
In recent decades there has been a hesitation to speak about the projection of power of our country as though there was something wrong with that and we should be much more held back and reticent about these things. If our country can be a power for good why should we not be proud of that projection of power? We do not have a history of always being perfect in that regard, but no country has. Anyone who travels around the world with open eyes and an open mind can see that this country has had a tremendous influence for good in many parts of the world and can continue to do so. If we do not ensure that we project that power, others with more malign attitudes will.
One of the difficulties has been that in the country as a whole, and perhaps in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office too, there has been a feeling that there are other countries with greater population and more access to resources and commodities, which must inevitably mean a falling away of power for our own country. There is some truth to that. However, when countries fell away, it was not fundamentally because their populations diminished or their resources and commodities decreased and were exhausted, but rather because their conviction about their purpose failed them.
For me, the important power that our country has and the contribution it can give lie in some of the things that the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, was talking about—our convictions and the things we believe in. The issue is not just about our systems of government, but the culture of our government and the way that we do things. These are important and we should continue to project them. They strengthen us as a country. As they strengthen us, there are other social and economic benefits for our country. This is not merely an altruistic question.
That is why it is so short-sighted to be reducing our capacity to project our ideas through, for example, the BBC World Service. I ask the Minister to confirm what I understand was said recently to the House of Lords Communications Committee by the deputy chair of the BBC Trust: that when the BBC takes over full responsibility in 2014, it will restore the funding of the World Service, and that the current cuts are primarily the responsibility of the Foreign Office. If that is true, can the Minister assure us that that matter can be attended to directly within government at this point, and not simply passed on to the BBC, which does not yet have full responsibility? I should welcome clarification on that. A number of other noble Lords with much more experience of the BBC World Service have spoken much more eloquently about it than I.
I should like to focus on two or three other areas in the time at my disposal. It has always surprised me how few people in this country realise what an extraordinary jewel the British Council is. I pay tribute to the previous Government who increased its funding over a period. It is important that that funding is sustained as much as possible over the next period, although there are threats to it. That is not to say that I entirely go along with some of the strategic judgments of the British Council.
For example, I remember that some years ago I was concerned about what was happening in Peru and other parts of Latin America. Money was being taken away, DfID offices closed and the British Council office in Peru was closed—as happened in a number of other Latin American countries—and all the funding was funnelled away to places such as China, because that was supposed to be the big area of growth and development. Frankly, I do not care how many British Council offices you put in China, they will not make a great deal of difference there. However, they would make an enormous difference in places such as Peru. The policy was particularly extraordinary, given that this country is one of the biggest investors in Peru. Yet that somehow did not seem to matter. Here was a country where we had real links and understandings. It was a country coming out of conflict after the Shining Path. We did not pay attention. We reduced our funding and influence on programmes of government. Now we find that Peru is in the middle of a political crisis and is sliding back towards authoritarianism and political fascism. We are not there and we could be doing something good in a relatively smaller country where our budget would make possible real improvement in development. That would not be possible in a country such as China.
I want to ask questions not just about how much money we put into places but about our strategy and the way that we try to deal with these issues—including in our own country. It is surprising that the British Council is not more to the fore in teaching English as a foreign language to the many people in our country for whom English still a foreign language, given that the British Council has extraordinary experience of this throughout the world. Yet, even in my own part of the world, Northern Ireland, where the peace has brought us many people from other parts of the world, the British Council is not being used as it might be in this regard.
I come back to another area that I have mentioned a number of times, and about which I know that my noble friend the Minister feels very strongly: the importance of the Commonwealth. Here we have a remarkable institutional opportunity to use soft power in a striking way. Not only the previous Government but others before them focused on the development of our relationships within Europe and outside. I am a strongly pro-European Member of this House, but our interests and relationships in Europe do not have to be at the expense of relationships with the Commonwealth. Our friends the French have not diminished their commitment to the Francophonie with their commitment to the European Union. I sometimes think that we feel that it has to be one or the other; this is simply a dreadful mistake. I seek an assurance, which I know will not be hard for the Minister to give because he is personally very committed, that the Government recognise and are continuing to build our relationships within the Commonwealth, which are of enormous importance.
The terms of the Motion address the question of departmental co-operation. This is important. For example we have, in government departments that have responsibility for policing services throughout our country, a tremendous resource when developing policing systems in other parts of the world as part of post-conflict development. We have in our medical schools and colleges throughout the country all sorts of ranges of skills. Some of them come simply from long-term academic commitments and some from the experiences that we have had in our own country and in other places. Our educational system is a huge resource and strength for us, and yet at the moment I despair of the attitude that seems to be around that we should obstruct students from other parts of the world from gaining access to our courses because of some notion that they might decide to stay. The truth is that the vast majority of students at a senior level take what they learn from us back to their own countries and become part of a network of ambassadors for our country all around the world for the rest of their professional careers.
This is not something that only we recognise. I am working with Martti Ahtisaari, a former President of Finland and a Nobel Prize winner. He wants to do something for sub-Saharan Africa, and for north Africa. With the rest of us, he is trying to establish a fund to bring 100 PhD students to universities in this country. As a former President of Finland, he recognises that the best place in Europe for them to come is to this country, to some of our best and most esteemed universities, because they will not just learn academic subjects but become imbued with a culture that can strengthen democracy, as well as professional and academic development, in their own countries. It does not come out of books or down the line; it comes when you soak up—as young students do, like sponges—the culture of the country in which you have come to live and study, and which you then take back to your own country.
Finally, I will say something not just about government departments but about this Parliament. It is the mother of Parliaments. We should hang our heads a little at how we have behaved over the past few years, and at how we are perceived; but our reputation and standing are not yet completely gone. I appeal to the Government to understand that this Parliament, in both its Houses and in all its aspects and Members, is a tremendous resource for the development of democracy in other parts of the world, and to see this as a resource that can be used through WFD, the IPU, CPA and all the relationships that we can use and develop.
Again, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing this opportunity to us. I hope that the Foreign Office in particular will accept responsibility not for looking to a continual sliding down of the strength and power of this country, but for taking the opportunity to develop all its resources and move forward with pride and a sense of ourselves as a country that has something to give to the rest of the world.
My Lords, I too, start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, for introducing this debate on an important and broad subject, and one which I would like to broaden still further in talking about the role of culture and the arts in soft power. I declare an interest both as chief executive of the Royal Opera House and as a trustee of the British Council.
The recognition of the importance of culture and the arts in the exercise of soft power is still underdeveloped and underplayed in this country. There is an enormous difference between the amount of time, money and thought we spend on conventional diplomacy and on military interventions—necessarily so; I do not dispute that—and the amount of time, money and thought we spend on soft power, cultural diplomacy or cultural exchange, call it what you will, although I rather like the term “cultural exchange”. In my view, cultural exchange is seen as desirable but not essential. Yet the impact can be as dramatic and as long-lasting. Cultural exchange is a very effective way to build trust and strengthen relationships around the world. When it works well, it helps to explain and understand what lies behind conflict. It explains and can give understanding of different viewpoints and cultures; it breaks down national stereotypes; it can help to find solutions to issues and conflicts that may seem intractable; and it can help promote dialogue and deep and lasting relationships of mutual understanding.
One of the most obvious manifestations of cultural exchange is the big tours—exhibitions and performances —going around the world which are a vital part of the international work of our arts organisations. They have a huge reach and impact and can do things and reach places that conventional diplomacy cannot. For example, when the Tate took its Turner exhibition to Russia in 2008, it was at a time of fraught diplomatic relations between the UK and Russian Governments, Russia having ordered two British Council offices to shut down. The exhibition, however, passed off without a hitch. It was able to exist outside the realm of politics, and relationships at a cultural and human level were strengthened. Mutual understanding deepened because of that exhibition.
Another example is the Shah ’Abbas exhibition at the British Museum in 2009. Working in association with the Iran Heritage Foundation, the British Museum was able to exhibit pieces never before seen outside Iran, with the effect of both building trust for the UK in Iran and developing knowledge and understanding of Iran here in the UK. Persuading the Iranian president and others to allow those objects to leave the country was a lengthy and complicated process, but the result was incredibly powerful, producing a fantastic and unique cultural event that will live long in the memory.
At the moment, the superb Afghanistan exhibition, also at the British Museum, shows how cultural institutions can do current affairs. There are some truly amazing pieces that were so nearly lost over the years. Our impressions of Afghanistan, so much from the media, are of conflict—a conflict in which we are involved—yet here you see a country at the crossroads of the ancient world and of more recent history, too.
In an article for the Times last week, the director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, wrote about the wider significance of the loan of the Cyrus cylinder from the British Museum to the National Museum in Tehran. He said:
“Exhibitions are of course about objects. They are not about politics or diplomacy. But around the objects on show, exhibitions create a forum of public discussion, a space in which people may safely discuss difficult questions”.
That is a really important point. Cultural exchange like that should never be used to achieve political aims. That will fail but their very existence outside politics enables meaningful dialogue to take place.
I saw that myself in Cuba with the Royal Ballet in 2009. The response to the tour was phenomenal. People were queuing overnight for tickets in a country where dance is so integral to cultural identity. It was a huge occasion for Cuba, for our principal dancer Carlos Acosta and for us. It struck me that all sorts of conversations could take place that otherwise would not have happened, from being stopped in the street by people to the very highest levels of government. Now all that sort of work is being done by individual organisations using their own funds. How much more could be done with greater co-ordination by the Government and with some modest funding?
The big exhibitions and tours may grab the headlines but there is a lot of work that goes on below the radar that is equally important—maybe more so. Arts and culture can help to build citizenship and a democratic plural society. They give citizens a forum for self-expression and for challenging the status quo. This is not about telling people what to do or about transplanting our own ideas into another culture; it is about helping to provide spaces in which people can express themselves. I was struck recently by a quote from a Syrian student who, when asked by a British MP how he viewed the British Council, said, “It is my bubble of oxygen. It is my opportunity to express myself”. That is a powerful idea.
This does not mean putting up buildings or trying to recreate successful British institutions overseas. It is about enabling and supporting other nations to do it themselves. I am thinking particularly of the Arab world, and Egypt may be a good example of what I mean. It takes time and a huge amount of careful effort to build trust in countries such as Egypt, and there are no quick fixes, but the work that the British Council has been doing there has been established over a long period of time. Crucially, it cannot be about telling people what to think or how to do things. It has to be about self-determination and relationships.
One of the projects that the British Council has been running in Egypt is cultural leadership international, which seeks to identify, celebrate and support the next generation of international cultural leaders and help them develop their skills and talent. The programme fosters strong relationships and is helping to develop an international network of future cultural leaders, but it also builds capacity in all the countries where it is taking place by giving people the skills to contribute to their own societies and strengthen the influence and position of the cultural sector within civil society.
Sir Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate, was telling me of an exchange programme for curators that the British Council ran back in the 1980s. It produced six curators who are now directors at major museums in Germany. The legacy of that project is invaluable. In his view and mine, building relationships with the next generation is phenomenally important, and we should be doing more of that in Asia, the Middle East and Latin America. We, the Royal Opera House, have been working with the National Centre for the Performing Arts in Beijing to develop skills and capacity back stage. This will have a lasting impact which will benefit the wider cultural sector in China and will create a long-term relationship between our two organisations and the UK and China. This kind of capacity-building work is really important for the future.
I was in Abu Dhabi recently and went to Saadiyat Island, which the Abu Dhabi people are developing as a global arts hub. They are building outposts of the Louvre and the Guggenheim, but what they want help with now is in developing the skills they need to create institutions that express their point of view and culture. Helping to develop capacity is something we are great at in this country—the British Museum is there, as it happens—and this is where we should be channelling our energies.
The opportunities for us are huge, but the current lack of clarity and co-operation between government departments and cultural organisations means that we are not making the most of them. There is a focus, a necessary focus, on trade and exports, but for our reputation and relationships generally and globally, there should be a focus on promoting cultural dialogue too. Communications between the various different agencies—the Foreign Office, DCMS, other departments, the Arts Council, the British Council and arts organisations—could be improved by the establishment of a committee or organisation to bring all those various parts together that is much broader and more inclusive than the Public Diplomacy Board. Is this something that the Minister would consider? A strategy document outlining how UK cultural institutions and individuals are able to contribute to exporting British values abroad, what might be expected of them and how they can be assisted would also help to strengthen the impact of much of the good work already being done. Again, I would love to hear the Minister's thoughts on this proposal.
The approach should not be so joined up or centralised as to become homogenised or overtly political in its aims. The independence of artists and cultural institutions to plough their own furrow gives them real credibility in the world. So there is a delicate balance to maintain. Different organisations must play to their strengths, and projects will be successful only if they are born out of a genuine synergy between contributing organisations, but the contribution of culture to soft power needs to be taken far more seriously. It needs to be properly thought through and given more powerful direction. Crucially, it must receive greater support from government, both financially and through advice and high-level backing, in order to fulfil its full potential for improving the global standing of the UK and for helping to build strong civil societies around the world.
My Lords, like others who have already spoken, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, for starting off the debate. I also extend special thanks to my noble friend and neighbour here Lord Alderdice for the extent to which he underlined the necessity for us to have confidence in the value of the soft power which we have all been discussing. It has been echoed by many others. I do not feel, although the word features in the debate, that co-ordination is necessarily the most important thought to have in mind. I do not mean to dismiss the idea just offered by the noble Lord, Lord Hall, but perhaps because of my experience in the Treasury, of which my noble friend Lord Fowler could not help reminding the House, I feel the real problem is that of allocation of resources, alongside discovery of the confidence in what we have, to defend and enlarge and expand with the right allocation there.
It will not be very popular to say this, but there is a problem because there are two candidates for the lion’s share of resource allocation in this area—the lion is not to the same scale in each case—the Ministry of Defence, which is as important as anything and does not have a very notorious reputation for skilful management or estimation of resources, and the other, I have to say with some regret, is DfID. The idea that it should have guaranteed access to guaranteed resources on the scale it does, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, pointed out, is a very powerful resource for that department. The fact that I am criticising it does not mean that I do not have a sufficiently bleeding heart. In my time in government we allocated not 0.7 per cent of GDP to the ODA, as it then was, but no more than 0.36 per cent because we felt ourselves constrained by the long running shortage of resources. One has to have that willingness to be flexible about it. I have always regretted—I would, wouldn’t I—the subsequent separation of the FCO from DfID or the ODA. I do not like one remark made by my noble friend Lord Fowler about the FCO. He suggested that it was the FCO which undervalued different aspects of it. The FCO joins with everyone who has spoken so far in recognising the value—it is the problem of allocating the resources. I feel we need to be willing to say that some things are so important that DfID should have some reduction in its allocation.
The partnership between DfID and the other Foreign Office departments was useful—it avoided duplication of bureaucratic establishments around the world: it enabled me to select rising DfID staff members and offer ambassadorships to them. I remember in particular, when I was with Her Majesty the Queen on a state visit to Nepal, feeling some pleasure that our ambassador there then, Tony Hurrell, was the first ambassador to be appointed to the Diplomatic Service from the ODA, with some pleasure being given to the department for that unification of respect. When the ambassador gave a picnic in the foothills of the Himalayas before we departed I was able to congratulate him on the knighthood conferred upon him on that visit by Her Majesty the Queen and to say that he probably did not imagine when he joined the Department of Employment as a clerk aged 18 that he would end up being knighted in Kathmandu. That integration of DfID, ODA and FCO is a virtuous state of affairs.
Beyond that, the question is how should one enhance and achieve the right balance of resources in other departments. I cannot avoid mentioning the foreign service. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, initiated not the first debate of its kind on, I think, Armistice Day last year, pressing the need for Britain to have a properly resourced and active diplomacy. That is all part of the concerted way in which we have to make the most of our soft power, as colleagues have already been pressing. It is an area, incidentally, where full exploitation of linguistic skill is important, helping the foreign service present our wider case.
Looking at the three substantive aspects of this topic that noble Lords have so far discussed, I join my noble friend Lord Fowler and others in emphasising the immense importance of the World Service of the BBC. The reductions that have recently been imposed are, quite frankly, foolish and unjustified, and the more quickly they can be restored, the better it will be for all of us.
I can offer some anecdotal insight into the extent to which the World Service has had its impact on affairs in a remarkable series of ways. On my second visit to Yugoslavia after Tito had gone, one of the things that one had to do was visit Tito’s former residence. One of the most striking features of going there was to find that the radio set was tuned into the World Service and to hear subsequently that Tito was able to protect himself against the risk of Soviet onslaught through the information that he had been getting on the World Service about what was happening to Dubcek in Czechoslovakia. In that area, the World Service was rendering a valuable cause.
I remember also visiting for the first time Prime Minister Papandreou in Athens with our ambassador there, Sir Jeremy Thomas. That was, I think, the first meeting between a British Foreign Secretary and the Greek Prime Minister since Anthony Eden had been there. When we went to Mr Papandreou’s house to see him, one suddenly heard from behind the wall the World Service theme—
“Ta-ta-tum, tat ta-ta tum, ta ta-tum, ta ta-ta tum”—
and so on. He was at pains to tell us just how important it was for him. We know also that Mr Gorbachev and his wife heard the first news of what was happening to them in the Moscow scene on the World Service. So I cannot emphasise too strongly the importance of that.
I shall not add anything to what has been said about the British Council but I shall close with one word about a representative non-departmental public body, the Great Britain-China Centre, declaring an interest as the long-serving president of that organisation. It is a very good example of an agency that is not directly under government control. It is very well suited to the delivery of soft power, allowing work to be conducted at arm’s length from government but with the reassurance that the work is not intended to destabilise China. It allows us to call on professional expertise and initiate the discussion of important issues in China. The resources that we get from government are a grant-in-aid of £270,000, and a further £1 million is raised by us to go in support of three programmes. The first is a judicial studies training programme that has been running in partnership between this country and China for some years. I think that more than 60 judges in 34 different courts in China have recently received training of that kind. The second programme is pressing the case for better legal protection for the media. The third—this, again, is interesting—is common discussion on the use of the death penalty. As a result of that, we like to think that the legislative committee of the National People’s Congress is likely within a short period of time to reduce by 13 the number of offences that carry capital punishment in China— 68 currently do so. That is an impact of soft power in a rather unexpected place.
The final example, which no one else has mentioned but which I think can be categorised as soft power alongside the importance of Parliament, is our monarchy. In China, curiously, I had an interesting insight into the importance of the perception of our monarchy in countries around the world. At the end of our negotiations on the Hong Kong prospect and at my final meeting in that context with Deng Xiaoping, he was at pains to attach importance to the antiquity and history of our relationship. It did not start in a very good way some centuries ago but now he was anxious to pay respect to our Royals. He said:
“We have decided we can trust Britain and your government and therefore would like to invite Her Majesty the Queen to come to China on a State Visit to confirm our friendship”.
So, indeed, she did, two years after the signing of the Hong Kong Joint Declaration. On the Royal Yacht—a sadly discarded manifestation of our soft power; I think that it was soft rather than hard—we were able to entertain the entire Chinese Government in Shanghai Harbour. Tomorrow’s news, it may be thought, is another example of the importance of royal soft power among the many assets which we have and which we should promote as effectively and as strongly as we can with as many well-allocated resources as we can persuade the Treasury to undertake.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, although I have to observe that I will be intrigued to see what Hansard makes of the musical interlude in the middle of his speech.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, on initiating this debate and I thank her for it. It gives us a welcome opportunity to highlight the underemphasised, underappreciated but hugely important role that soft power plays around the world. By “soft power”, I mean what can be achieved for the improvement of international relationships and for the standing and reputation of this country through culture and the arts and through sport, learning, discourse, the exchange of ideas and thought, and creativity. Of course, it will not solve all our problems and sometimes hard power will be needed. Sometimes hard power is resorted to too readily, as was the case eight years ago in Iraq. However, soft power has much to offer in helping to shape the framework of relationships and, ultimately, in making hard power less necessary.
I want to recall three moments over the past three decades that I believe illustrate that rather well. The first was in 1983. I had just been elected as a Member of Parliament in the other House and, with my other newly elected colleague, Clare Short, I visited Turkey on behalf of a number of Turkish humanitarian organisations based in this country. Turkey at that time was under military government. Military trials were taking place and the principal purpose of our visit was to observe those trials. I also had the chilling experience of talking to people who explained in graphic detail how they had been tortured and to newspaper editors who spoke of how they feared the censor’s pen with every page that they produced.
One of the people whom we succeeded in visiting was Bulent Ecevit, who had been Prime Minister of Turkey some years previously. At the time, he was under house arrest; he was to continue to be under house arrest for another three or four years. He said to us, “My lifeline is the BBC World Service. It is the way in which I know what is happening, not just in the world but in my country”. Four years later, Bulent Ecevit was released from house arrest and went on to become Prime Minister of Turkey again. The information that that lifeline had provided him with through that period was crucial in helping to shape the policies that he subsequently put in place.
Sixteen years, later, in 1999, when I was Secretary of State for Culture, I went on an official visit to China. The principal purpose of the visit was to support the tour of the Royal Ballet to Beijing. It is a great pleasure to be speaking in the same debate as my noble friend Lord Hall of Birkenhead, whose brilliant leadership of the Royal Ballet and the Royal Opera House over recent years has been outstanding.
The Royal Ballet’s visit to Beijing was remarkable. It received standing ovations every night. It was packed out. By the time of the final performance at the end of the week, the President, Jiang Zemin, had decided that, having heard so much about it, he wanted to come to the ballet. By that time, I think that I was in Kunming. I had to get back straightaway to Beijing so that I could be there to welcome him to the ballet. Not only did Jiang Zemin arrive, but so did the Deputy Prime Minister, 10 Ministers and deputy Ministers and a collection of members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. In all, there were about 50 official guests, all sitting in a row, all leaping to their feet several times during the evening to applaud what was going on on the stage. In the interval, Darcey Bussell came backstage, and the President immediately fell in love with her.
During that interval discussion, I mentioned that over the previous week I had been trying with no success to persuade a number of different ministries and organisations to agree exchanges of television programmes between our two countries. The President looked around at the army of officials who were sitting against the wall and said, “That would be a very good idea”, and they immediately wrote it down in their notebooks. At the end of the evening, the ambassador, who was with me, turned to me and said, “This is the most impressive show of engagement with our country that we have ever seen from the Chinese Government. It has been the most remarkable event”.
Two days later, NATO bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Thousands of protesters surrounded the British embassy in Beijing for the following week. The Ministry of Culture in Beijing phoned DCMS two days into those demonstrations to say, “Things are not terribly good between our two countries at the moment, but we just wanted to say how much we had appreciated the visit of the Secretary of State and the Royal Ballet. For us, culture is different”. Of course, within a year, relations between Britain and China had been substantially repaired.
The third incident that I want to mention took place just a couple of months ago. On behalf of the British Council I went to Slovakia to lead a series of discussions about support for the creative industries in that country. Not only did we have extremely good discussions about the importance of the creative industries and how they can be nurtured and supported, but with us was someone from the Ministry of Culture in Estonia, who said that over the past two or three years his country had been following a programme that the British Council had helped to put together of mapping, support, education and investment in the creative industries. He said how successful the programme had been.
From these various experiences I draw just two or three lessons. The first is the enormous importance of a number of key institutions. Noble Lords from all sides of the House have already spoken of these. They include the BBC World Service. It is remarkable that voices from all parts of the House have said to the Government that they really do have to think again about the cuts in funding that are now being experienced by the BBC World Service. The BBC World Service is far too precious and we should not lose what we have in that remarkable institution. These key institutions include the British Council and major arts organisations; all are facing financial stringency. They also include the best and finest of our universities. The decision of the Government to place a cap on the number of foreign students who can come to study at our universities is simply crazy. It sits alongside the even crazier decision to abandon all funding for arts and humanities teaching at our universities. The importance of nurturing and sustaining these institutions is something that we need to put at the forefront of our policy-making.
Secondly, the Motion before us specifically highlights the need to co-ordinate better between departments—the DCMS, the Foreign Office, UK Trade & Investment, BIS and the Department for Education. There needs to be much more joint working to ensure that we can make the best of the great strengths that we have in this country. There also needs to be joint working between the institutions themselves, by getting the BBC World Service, the British Council and the universities to work more closely and effectively together.
Thirdly, we need to reassert at the heart of government how crucial all this is. It is not just about co-ordination; it is also about leadership and making sure that someone at the heart of government at a senior level is leading the way in ensuring that all this happens. As a country, we are rightly ready to step up to the plate, to do what it takes and to pay what is needed when hard power is necessary. We should do the same, feel the same and act the same when it comes to soft power, too.
My Lords, holding a debate on how this country should best marshal and make use of its soft-power assets is surely essential at a time when our hard-power assets are tightly stretched and, I would argue, underfunded to fulfil the tasks that were set out in last October’s strategy review. However, that debate on hard power is not for today. What is surely not in doubt is that, over the years ahead, we will need to rely more on our soft-power assets and learn to put them to better use if we are to sustain the capacity to protect and further our interests worldwide. I therefore welcome the initiative taken by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, to hold this debate, all the more so as I know from personal experience how hard she worked when a Minister to improve co-ordination on conflict issues between the MoD, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and DfID —I do not mean conflict between those three departments, although in the past it has been known to occur.
My first general point is that no amount of better co-ordination, highly desirable though that co-ordination certainly is, can compensate for serious reductions in the resources available to the soft-power assets that are being co-ordinated. My second general point is that you need to co-ordinate not only over the use of soft power but over the allocation of resources to your instruments of soft power. Of that upstream co-ordination, there has been very little trace under either of the previous two Governments. First, under the previous Government, discretionary spending on conflict issues was slashed following the fall in the value of sterling in 2008. Then a number of the FCO’s scholarship programmes—the Marshall scholarships, the Chevening scholarships and the Commonwealth scholarships—were squeezed to ease pressure on the FCO budget. Then large cuts were imposed on the BBC World Service, to which many noble Lords have referred, including on the Arabic service and the Middle Eastern outreach of the World Service English programmes, just when the events in the Middle East pointed towards a need for increased, not decreased, funding, although I admit that that decision was taken before the events of what is called the Arab spring. If that is co-ordination, it was pretty well concealed. We surely need a better, more holistic approach than that.
I make no apology for concentrating heavily, as a number of other noble Lords have done, on one particular soft-power asset, the BBC World Service, which has been described, correctly in my view, in a really excellent recent report by the Foreign Affairs Committee of another place as a jewel in the crown of these assets. No one reading that report, as I did a couple of days ago, could do so without a sinking feeling that the Government have stumbled into an ill-judged and excessive cut to the World Service— 16 per cent over the next four years—without any very clear idea of the implications, above all in the Middle East.
I have two specific points to put to the Minister to which I hope he will be able to reply in responding to the debate. First, when this House debated the matter on 11 February, I and others raised the issue of the need for more, not fewer, resources for the Middle East and Arabic broadcasts. I suggested then—a suggestion that has been taken up in more detail in the Foreign Affairs Committee report to which I referred—that if DfID were to fund in some way the developmental work that the BBC already does, which has been certified as being of the value of something like £25 million a year, resources could be released without any net additional cost to the FCO budget. I wonder where matters now stand on that issue. I had a rather helpful response to a question I asked of the Secretary of State for International Development when he most impressively addressed the Cross-Benchers yesterday, and I hope that the noble Lord will be able to take that forward. Above all, when the Government respond to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report, I hope that there will be something precise there. Surely it is time to move beyond the rather vaguely helpful remarks of the Foreign Secretary when he gave evidence to the committee.
Secondly, a wider issue about the World Service is the governance arrangements once the BBC becomes responsible for funding the World Service from the licence fee in 2014. Here again, a careful reading of that Foreign Affairs Committee report does not, frankly, inspire a lot of confidence. The decision to switch funding responsibility to the BBC was taken at the very last moment in a singularly back-of-the-envelope way. The Government’s response to queries about the future governance and how one can be sure that the priorities will not be leeched away by the needs of the BBC’s domestic services now sounds awfully like flying on a wing and a prayer. The case for a new covenant between the Government and the BBC Trust—this is what has been put forward by the Foreign Affairs Committee—seems a genuinely good idea. I hope the Minister can say that the Government broadly accept it and will work up such a covenant so that we do not have a kind of death of a thousand cuts for the World Service in 2014.
I now turn from the BBC to the issue of discretionary spending on conflict issues. The irony here is that just as we in this country have begun to achieve a degree of co-ordination in this area—which is admired and is being emulated by other countries—we have in many cases cut the resources for the programmes that we were supporting. We are withdrawing support for example in places such as the Caucasus, where such soft-power assets are really very important. Last October’s strategic review had some reasonably encouraging things to say about this sort of discretionary spending on conflict issues and about the need to do more for failing and failed states, and I wonder whether the Minister could give us some specifics about how we are approaching that now after the strategic review. Are there more than just warm words in that review?
Finally, we are debating how we in Britain are co-ordinating the use of our soft-power assets. However, here, as with hard power, we are surely in the years ahead going to need to work much more in concert with other like-minded countries in the European Union, NATO, the Commonwealth and at the United Nations if we are to maximise the impact of our soft power. I give two examples from the past. First, UN peacekeeping was virtually invented by a great British UN official, Brian Urquhart. That is a massive soft-power development over the years, which has brought peace and stability to many countries that were failed or failing states. The European Union is another example. The enlargement of the European Union has seen the most massive deployment of soft-power assets—far greater than the United States, with all its hard-power assets, has been able to deploy—and it has brought tremendous benefits, both in southern Europe and in central and eastern Europe. These multilateral institutions, of which we are members—and often very, very important members—are a really crucial part of our soft-power effort.
Of course some of our soft-power assets, such as the World Service and the British Council, are more specific to us, but there are many others in conflict prevention and post-conflict peace-building on which we need to work together. I wonder what plans the Government have for strengthening that wider co-ordination of effort so that we can make less go further and help to marshal the multiplier soft-power effect that these big international organisations can have.
If I have struck a rather critical note in this debate it is because so much needs to be done and because some course corrections are sorely needed. However, given some flexibility in application, this country could achieve a tremendous amount—it is already doing so but it could achieve far more. These soft-power assets of ours are hugely valuable and are far more valuable than the soft-power assets of practically any other country in the world, so do let us make the most of them.
I welcome this very timely debate, led by my noble friend Lady Taylor. I echo the words that we have just heard: this country has so much to offer and has done so much already. It is quite extraordinary to think of the influence of the United Kingdom throughout the years. You need think only of the English language, but there are many other aspects in which we have had influence. There has been some talk today of the importance of our culture and so on, but no mention of things like football and cricket. These sorts of things carry with them an immense image of Britain. Both the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, mentioned the monarchy. It is quite true, I suspect, that this will not make the headlines tomorrow for the same reason as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, gave—because the royal wedding will get the headlines. Some 10,000 journalists are here from other countries, and maybe one message is that some of the monarchies in the Middle East might like to take a lesson or two on constitutional monarchy, which could help them to some degree.
In my opening comments, I said that this debate was timely, because I have believed for some considerable time that there is a mood shift around the world against dictatorship. That mood has been growing for some considerable time; it has been led, as several noble Lords have said, by the intervention of hard power from time to time. With Iraq, or going right back to the Falklands, which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, will well remember, the removal of dictators can at times precipitate a continuing change, which is profoundly important. But there is no doubt in my mind that one of the biggest changes at the moment, which is enabling the Arab spring and other events to take place, is the development of the internet. Perhaps we should remember at a time like this the contribution of Sir Tim Berners-Lee in developing the world wide web. These contributions that we have made are very wide and very deep.
I do not want to say anything about the BBC World Service other than that I agree with everything that has been said and it is the height of madness to cut it at the current time when people are holding up banners in some of the demonstrations in the Middle East saying, “Thank you BBC”. Attention was drawn to this by the e-mails from Peter Horrocks to many Members, but it was not the first time I had seen a banner like that in the middle of a demonstration. The BBC is immensely important to this.
I want to focus a little on what else we have to offer. When people think of the image of the United Kingdom around the world, apart from things like the English language, Shakespeare and football and so on, they will think of good governance and the rule of law—and they will think of a constitutional monarchy and freedom of speech. When all those people stand on the pavement outside the House, taking photographs of the demonstration, which so many of us are worried about, of the man who has been there for many years, that is as much about saying how the British are a free people as it is about saying, “My God, this is an environmental disgrace”. I would love to read their e-mails or letters to know which side of the argument is carried. It is a demonstration of the people’s views on the commitment in the United Kingdom to the rule of law. It is that issue that I want to come back to.
The Minister will know, as I have raised this on a previous occasion, about the development of a postgraduate school of law, which I have been working with at Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, with outreach into Palestine. That is the sort of thing that we need to do. I want to develop that theme, because it leads on to something else. The conversations that I had about a year ago led to conversations with a couple of other Arab ambassadors. One of them was the Tunisian ambassador, who is no longer with us. The new Tunisian ambassador, Hatem Atallah, came to see me on Tuesday and spent an hour with me here in the House, when we discussed in some depth what Tunisia needs. I have been very anxious throughout all my contacts—and I know that this applies to this and the last Government—not to tell countries what they need but to ask them what they need and how we can assist. That is very important.
Some of the things that the ambassador mentioned are very important. He told me that the Tunisian elections will take place on 26 July, and the Tunisians look forward to international observers on that from the EU and so on. He told me that the National Assembly will then have the duty to draw up a constitution. Then we got into the detail. He was saying that the Arab spring—I will call it that, although they were not his words—has led to enormous expectations about democracy, freedom, the rule of law and so on. Anybody in this House who has had any time in politics at all knows the danger of having raised expectations that you then cannot deliver on. The problem that we face, particularly in the Middle East at the moment, is: the expectations of democracy and so on are enormously high, but how can you deliver on them?
One thing that Mr Atallah and I talked about on Tuesday was what sort of questions you ask when you are setting up a new constitution. We talked about the importance of the Ministers being accountable so it is about what sort of questions they are asking them but, as he said, it is also about what questions they are asking the people standing in the elections. One thing that he wanted, perhaps more than anything else, was the opportunity for Tunisian people in relevant positions to come and stay here in the United Kingdom to work with various groups. This will warm the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, because we discussed in some depth how we could help them to develop a free and responsible media.
His view was that they did not need any help with journalist courses, as they have those. He said the problem was that, when somebody left one of those courses with their qualification, they had been taught all the right things but were then told what to write. In other words, they had no opportunity to learn how to report in a balanced, neutral and informative way. For example, the reporting of elections will be immensely important, but he wondered where the journalists would come from who could see an election taking place and know how to report what the various candidates were saying. He told me that it would be very useful if they could place journalists here in the UK to see elections taking place. It may be too late for next week, but he will be writing to me about that to indicate in a bit more detail what they want. I will endeavour to see that we do it. I hope that the Thomson Foundation, which both I and the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, have mentioned, might be able to help on that.
There is a range of areas here where we have to think rather differently. My noble friend Lady Taylor cast this debate in terms of the co-operation between government departments. I do not doubt that at all but we have to be more flexible in our thinking because it also needs to involve ways in which we can use all the other institutions that we take for granted—whether private, public or anything else—in order to try and place people for experience. If, as I suspect, they have the basic training right in many cases, as in the journalism example that I gave, we need to focus on how we can then help their journalists to learn beyond that.
Much the same applies to the rule of law issue. When I began to question the Zayed University in Abu Dhabi about what it offers, I was sent all the details of its law course but, not being a lawyer, I ran them past many experts here in this House who have been helpful to me. Yes, it is a good course but, interestingly, on the postgraduate side it virtually stopped. What happened was that any good student then went to Britain, the United States, Europe or elsewhere to get their postgraduate training. I told them, “If you're going to do that and are to be taken seriously in this world in future, you have to do human rights or humanitarian law and international law”. That is what we are now exploring. We are looking at doing it in an outreach operation with Palestine as well, in order to help them develop the mechanism of the state. That is working through universities but we already have here an organisation, based at York University, which helps British universities to connect with overseas ones. I am very encouraged by that and I work with it to try and make these contacts, so we really have to think much more adventurously.
I also think that we have to start looking ahead a bit. It was almost impossible to predict what happened in the Middle East. There are other areas where there is change but they are actually signalling it. I shall give the example of Cuba. If you want to read the speech of Raúl Castro, it will take you a lot longer than the 12 minutes that I have been given here. It is interesting, though, because he is clearly saying that Cuba wants to open its economy and its political system.
It is not just in Cuba or the Middle East. There is what I regard as a historical shift away from an idea that somehow or other some people are born to rule and can be in power for 40 years, towards the idea of democracy, freedom and the rule of law. We in the United Kingdom have to get away from the idea that we are somehow to blame for these things and that we are imposing our values on other people. Ideas about democracy and the rule of law are not just Western concepts; they have been around in many other forms. We can say with confidence that if you want a modern, progressive, stable and peaceful society, you need certain basic factors such as democracy, freedom of speech and the rule of law. We need to identify those areas where we can be most helpful and offer that help. I hope that in some way we can all lend our support to that.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Bolton, for her introduction to this debate, particularly at the beginning when she helped us to understand its breadth by mentioning a concept difficult to grasp at first—that of almost soft military power. She mentioned the importance of the stabilisation unit and the importance, from her experience, of a buy-in from all departments.
This has been a wide-ranging debate and, as someone who knows very little about the subject, I think it has been a valuable one. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, and my noble friend Lord Soley both touched on the concept of exporting our convictions and our values. The noble Lord, Lord Hall, and, I think, my noble friend Lord Smith both touched on the idea of culture breeding conversation and ways of influence. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, rightly pointed out to us that, important as co-ordination is, at the end of the day government is about resource allocation, and it is these resource allocation issues that we must face. I shall return to this important issue.
A feature of the debate has been the fact that seven Peers have mentioned the BBC World Service and its importance. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, brought that into play by the power of journalism and, almost romantically, the power of truth as soft power and influence. The whole dilemma that we face with the BBC was put over most passionately in the excellent speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and I hope that the Government will listen to it.
I would like to look back, say, 10 years, to when soft power was, in a sense, around. We were in government at the time. Soft power had five distinct thrusts: the BBC World Service, the British Council, the various scholarships, the conferences that were developed through Wilton Park and quite a big commitment by embassies and high commissions on what might be said to be cultural public events. This was called soft power but also public diplomacy.
Along came Jack Straw, who, if nothing else, is a pretty pragmatic and down-to-earth individual, and he initiated a study by the noble Lord, Lord Carter of Coles, into how we were doing this soft power—this public diplomacy thing. I am afraid that the outcomes were a bit of a shock. For instance, the report showed that there was little design in the range of activities that could demonstrate a link to outcomes. Research showed that over long periods, whatever the activities, people’s attitudes to the UK did not change very much. Put broadly, around the world we were not much liked. We were grudgingly admired but thought to be cold, fairly heartless people. Public diplomacy had not warmed people to us, nor—during the Iraq war, for example—led them to think worse of us. The Government of the day reacted to this. The first major change was to introduce the Public Diplomacy Board, with external expertise and consultancy help to develop programmes.
The second step—a very pragmatic and important idea—was to stop worrying about whether people liked us a lot. It would be nice, but the point was that we should develop programmes and key themes. We chose several themes, such as climate change, green cities, religious tolerance and democratisation. The idea was, through our soft power, to demonstrate values and raise issues with which we could engage people, as opposed to a simplistic “Will they like us?”. At the time there was also a review of the World Service and the British Council which, in general, did not change. There was a strategic withdrawal from broadcasting to some post-Soviet countries and the start of the Farsi and Arabic television services. The development from that was the creation in 2009 of the new Strategic Communication and Public Diplomacy Forum, which seemed to have fairly widespread support. The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee concluded that these new arrangements,
“with the relevant high-level body now chaired by the Foreign Secretary rather than a more junior minister, appear to be in accord with the more central place that public diplomacy is taking in the FCO’s work”.
The previous Government had a reasonable record in recognising the breadth and complexity of soft power and the importance of co-ordination.
What of the present Government? The Library has been the source of much of my research. It found relatively few hard statements by the Government on soft power. Mr Hague certainly made a comment, saying that he had,
“inherited a structure of government that had no effective mechanism for bringing together strategic decisions about foreign affairs, security, defence and development”.
I assume that by that group he meant soft power. He announced:
“It is our intention to transform this, using the National Security Council where appropriate to bring together all the departments of government in the pursuit of national objectives so that foreign policy runs through the veins of the entire administration”.
How far have the Government got? This is the point at which we turn to the Minister for a progress report on how far the Government have got on co-ordination, soft power and what their attitudes and positions are. Therefore, I would like the Minister to respond in four key areas. I have to mention the BBC, which so passionately concerns almost anybody who knows anything about this area.
First, do the Government believe in soft power? In other words, do they have a definition of it and does it form an important plank of FCO policy? More importantly, does it form an important part of the Government’s policy framework? I hope the answer to that will be yes. What mechanisms do the Government have in place to achieve co-ordination? What mechanisms do they have to make sure, in the words of my noble friend Lady Taylor, that all departments buy into the efforts of government to exercise soft power? There is a particular area that I should like the Minister to touch on. Again, I thank the Library for this. I would never have found such an obscure reference. Perhaps that is unfair. I would never have found it; whether it is obscure is probably a comment on my industry. The Library found the annexe Soft Power in the FCO Business Plan. Section 5 is headed “Use Soft Power to Promote British Values, Advance Development and Prevent Conflict”. That is a definition of soft power. Paragraph 5.1 of the actions to be taken under the business plan states:
“Develop a long term programme to enhance UK ‘soft power’, co-ordinated by the NSC”.
This big piece of work was supposed to be completed last month. I hope that the Minister can give us a progress report on that. Paragraph 5.1.v states:
“Devise a strategy to enhance: (a) the impact of UK contribution to conflict prevention, (b) the impact of UK educational scholarships, (c) the impact of the British Council and BBC World Service, (d) links with democratic political parties overseas, and (e) the impact of the UK’s promotion of human rights”.
I hope that we will be given a progress report on that, which may answer many questions.
How do the Government make their decisions? How do they conduct the trade-offs and decide the resource allocation issues about which we have heard? We are not talking about billions of pounds and the macroeconomy but modest sums and modest trade-offs, as has been illustrated. Do we have clear objectives? Do we measure the outcomes effectively? Do we have a sense of relative values?
It is very important that the Minister explains how the decisions regarding the BBC were arrived at, how it can be sustained and whether the FCO and the Government will reconsider them. A 16 per cent cut in a £270 million budget is not a large amount of money in macroeconomic terms. As I have stressed, it is absolutely right to get value for money. However, I believe that the first cut of £19 million will result in the loss of 30 million radio listeners. That works out at something like 65p a listener.
In response to an Oral Question from the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, on the British Council and the BBC, the Minister said:
“I like to agree with the noble Baroness on as many things as I can, but I just do not agree on this. It does not completely contradict anything. If anything, the position of the BBC World Service will be enhanced”.—[Official Report, 21/10/10; col. 884.]
A number of noble Lords have quoted from Peter Horrocks’s e-mail. It is a very telling e-mail that bears quoting again. He refers to the impact that the BBC had in reporting the recent disturbances in the Middle East. The e-mail states:
“But in just a month’s time, we will need to cut back dramatically on our services as a result of the funding reductions. For instance the TV service will reduce from 15 live hours of news a day to 7 by cutting our overnight and morning coverage. Radio will be cut from 12 live hours a day to 7. And we will lose 44 of our valued Arabic staff, many of whom played an invaluable role in the coverage of the uprisings, often appearing on English output in the UK and around the world, as well as broadcasting in Arabic”.
How does the Minister reconcile that with the statement that the position of the BBC World Service will be, if anything, enhanced?
My Lords, I know that it is something of a cliché to say that debates we have in this House are timely, but in this case the word has particular relevance, because it so happens that we are in a stage of review and policy advance in a number of key areas, of which this is one of the most key of all. Therefore, this kind of debate, which shows the House of Lords at its very best, is immensely valuable in influencing and sending messages to those who make the final policy inside and, indeed, outside government. In that sense the debate is particularly timely, and it was introduced brilliantly by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, whom we congratulate on choosing this subject and on the way in which she introduced it.
Although we are discussing these matters in advance of many developments, and despite the need for a policy review and, indeed, answers to the Foreign Affairs Committee’s report, particularly in relation to the BBC World Service, I will seek to answer as many questions as I can in the time available. There are some things that I cannot yet answer, and some that I will not have time to answer, but I shall do my best, particularly to cover the five or six points put by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, from the opposition Front Bench—all of which strike me as highly relevant.
The noble Baroness began by rightly seeking to focus our minds on the question of what we mean by soft power. Those of us in government who are trying to look at these things consider that it is the ability to influence the actions of another through attraction, rather than coercion. Soft power is working to exert this influence in order to achieve our national interests in an interdependent world and to make our maximum effective contribution to the stability, balance and prosperity of that world.
In order to do this, we need now more than ever to appreciate what is sometimes overlooked in our foreign policy debates—the new landscape of power, influence and understanding of attitudes and motives which has emerged in perhaps the past two or three years, and certainly in the past five years since the rise of the internet age in this century, which radically changes the modalities of foreign policy. In this new world it is not about power over others but about working to preserve, promote and protect our interest through the appeal of our values and culture, historical and contemporary; working with, rather than working to impose.
As it is a central theme of the debate, I have been asked about co-ordination. I want to say a bit about that. The Government have been and are looking closely at how to improve the co-ordination across Whitehall of soft power resources. This is aside from the fact that a good deal of soft power projection lies outside government and its control—and rightly so. One of the priorities of the coalition Government, as set out in their structural reform priorities, is to use soft power to promote British values, advance development and prevent conflict. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s published business plan, to which the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, referred, recognises these aims and sets out the requirement for a long-term programme to enhance UK soft power, co-ordinated by the National Security Council. The work and review of the strategy foreshadowed in the business plan has started. I have been asked whether it has finished. Although there was hope that these matters would be completed by the end of last month, your Lordships will not be surprised to hear that one or two distractions have occurred on the foreign policy scene. In fact there has been a massive range of distractions which have had an effect on how we must order our priorities and work programme. We are therefore not quite there yet; there has been some delay.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary asked the FCO to undertake a review of how to achieve the best results for the country from the soft power activity across Whitehall. That is foreshadowed in the business plan. This review, involving engagement with external experts, will not only shape the future of the FCO’s soft power output but influence how best to co-ordinate our efforts across Whitehall to improve effectiveness and value for money. The review has started. It has been somewhat disturbed by Middle East events, but an initial framework document has been produced. We attach great importance to the review and are looking for robust outcomes to enable us to use our valuable assets to drive forward the Government’s foreign policy priorities. Our next immediate step is to use the annual meeting of the FCO’s heads of mission, which takes place early next month, to test ideas. We are always drawing valuable lessons from the unfolding and dramatic events in the Middle East.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, rightly asked whether we believe in all this.
Will the review be published?
No, we do not plan to publish the review.
I was asked the basic question: do we believe in this concept? Perhaps I may personalise this a little and claim a few veteran medals in the field. I was a member of the famous Foreign Affairs Committee in the early 1980s that invented the concept of cultural diplomacy and injected it into public debate. I was responsible—possibly it is unwise to admit this—for writing books in the 1980s about “softnomics”, which foreshadowed and preceded the development and picking up of the concept of soft power by the media, experts and academics in the late 1990s. It was a little late in the day, but they got there in the end. Therefore, I need not apologise for being slow off the mark in understanding the central nature, which was bound to come with the internet revolution, of soft power being the essential oxygen and blood flow of international relations in an increasingly important way.
When my right honourable friend made his first strategic speech after taking office, he talked of a networked world where connections between groups and individuals across the globe also make up the relations between nations, and where these connections are being rapidly accelerated by the internet. He was absolutely right. The interconnectivity that the internet has enabled has led to a diffusion of power from Governments to citizens. It has also led to a transfer of power, as we all know, from the Atlantic world to the high savers and dynamic economies of Asia, Latin America and so on. However, it means that Governments must operate differently. We do not have the monopoly of data that previous Governments had 20, 30 or 50 years ago: citizens do. Intercommunication is swift, cheap and instant. It has changed the balance of power between citizens and government and turned on effective protest. This was predicted in things we wrote and argued about 20 years ago, and has now happened. Effective protest on the streets is easier and can be organised much more swiftly. The streets have been enabled, as we have seen recently in the Middle East and north Africa. These forces have shown themselves to be potent against even the most entrenched regimes.
I will make one further general point before I come to specifics. Perhaps we should not think only in terms of soft power, or of the distinction between soft and hard power. As my noble friend Lord Alderdice rightly said in his superb speech, these matters are interwoven. First, wars tend increasingly to be intrastate rather than interstate conflicts that cannot be won by force of arms; the concept of overwhelming force is redundant. Instead, parties must include ways to engage with different levels of society, using, with agility, the appropriate soft power tools that are available, namely cultural, political, military and economic. Without the elements that focus on breaking down barriers of mistrust, conflict continues and grows worse. Power in its military form does not deliver.
There are also those—again, this was predicted in the past; we saw it coming—who use the internet to generate hostility and encourage violence against our society and all advanced societies. The modern media environment means that people's perceptions and misperceptions can matter as much as reality. Persuasive words, deeds and images can be transmitted globally in an instant. That is why we have to uphold our core values of democracy, freedom, poverty reduction and human rights. Hard power remains necessary in some cases, but as the nature of conflict and of threats to our security changes, alternative methods of credible influence will play an increasingly central role. I have spoken in general terms to answer the justifiable questions of noble Lords and of the Front Bench opposite.
I turn now to the issue of soft power assets and how we wield them. This has been the central theme of the debate. Our basic soft power resources lie, as the noble Lords, Lord Smith and Lord Hall, made clear, in our culture; in projecting the UK as a nation to which others feel attracted and amicably disposed; in our political values, so long as we are seen to uphold and prosper by them at home—it is no good if we do not; in the legitimacy and fairness of our foreign policy; and in the potential for British-based non-governmental and professional bodies and institutions to influence and bond with counterparts across the globe. Those are the resources. More specifically, moving on from generalisation, our attractiveness rests on offering a positive domestic constitutional model that appears to work—I think ours does on the whole—operating under a popular monarchy, which is itself a soft power asset, as noble Lords have rightly reminded us in the debate, and on having a successful economy.
It is no use arriving on the scene of soft power projection if we are in a state of economic destitution and have lost control of our budget. Our national credibility depends on the budget rigour to keep within our means, which of course is by no means the situation now but the one, alas, that we inherited from the past; on running an efficient and flexible military; on supplying generous overseas assistance and humanitarian aid; on a highly intelligent pattern conveying how we operate our own national intelligence model; on public diplomacy, public governance and administration; on high-quality judicial advice, training standards and personnel and best practices in law; on courses in a whole range of professional fields and skills; and, as noble Lords have mentioned, on increasing educational exchanges and offering scholarships, which we do. Indeed, I have some notes which show how we have expanded our commitment from the immediate dip which was about to take place in the Chevening scholarships and other areas. As we have heard in some brilliant speeches this afternoon, soft power impact also depends increasingly on artistic and design promotion and exchange.
That is undoubtedly a formidable arsenal. In many cases we have already put it in place, but it has not always been deployed or transmitted as effectively as it should, and that is what we have to put right. To wield our soft power resources effectively in today’s information-connected world we have to avoid the pitfalls of lecturing and seeming to confront rather than work with target recipients; of failing to show deep enough respect for other people’s cultures and, even more, their histories; and of glossing over our own past errors. That is especially topical at the moment. We have particularly to face that when we got involved, as we did, in the Iraq adventure—I know that it is controversial—there was an expenditure of reputation and of soft-power impact. It might have been justified for other reasons but we now have painstakingly to rebuild it. We would be shutting our eyes not to accept that.
Fortunately, we have one major ready-made system for soft power transmission through the Commonwealth network. Again, my noble friend Lord Alderdice and others pointed this out. We also have a huge reservoir of historical experience in the emerging world with which to help repair past damage. I wanted to say a little more about the Commonwealth contribution because we have an almost ready-made system—a gigantic transcontinental network of linkages—with many common values, giving this country a unique advantage which many other countries envy and wonder why we do not use still more effectively to link ourselves with the emerging powers and the new world landscape that lie ahead.
It is this Government’s very active policy, with which I am proud to be associated, to both reinvigorate our membership of the Commonwealth and to contribute with the other 53 members to the invigoration of the Commonwealth system throughout. We have plans afoot in detail which will unfold, first, with the eminent persons group of Commonwealth experts who are about to produce their ideas, and then as we move towards the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Perth at the end of October, to expand and gain general support for them. That will be one of the most important international meetings of the first two decades of the 21st century, on a par with the global governance group which is the counter group to the G20 group, which in turn has largely replaced the G8. This is an informational age in which we have to know how to use the electronic media sensitively, which means avoiding propaganda terms, and how to avoid overcentralisation of our soft power messages and influences by working with an opening gateway for non-governmental soft power activities. It has to be accepted, and has been pointed out by your Lordships, that other media systems have vastly multiplied in power and reach. Al Jazeera is usually the one we mention. We have to compete with these latest techniques by moving beyond traditional broadcasting systems. To that I now want to turn. I would like to say more about the targets and objectives, which are obviously commerce, security, humanitarian work, political goals in foreign policy, the impact of our foreign policy soft power and the feedback into our own sense of national pride, purpose and unity. All these are subjects that should be dilated on, but time prevents me doing so.
Now let me turn to the hot issue on which your Lordships have rightly focused: the cuts to the BBC World Service. The first question was about why we have cut this budget. I do not want to go into what I know noble Lords opposite will say is the boring subject of the financial situation, but there have to be cuts all round. The previous Government were planning very elaborate cuts. We have gone even further. Everyone has taken the pain.
It is also true that the World Service cannot stand still and that online and FM audiences are growing while shortwave listener numbers have been falling. That is not true in every area, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, reminded us, but in 2009-10, the shortwave audience for the BBC World Service fell by about 20 million, not because of closures but simply because of the change in the way people get their news. For instance, in Russia, online audiences increased by 120 per cent while radio audiences declined by 85 per cent. Television news remains the key vehicle, as we have seen in recent events in Egypt and the wider Middle East. BBC World News, which is not part of the World Service network, has a weekly audience of 74 million people and within the BBC World Service, the Arabic and Persian services have not reduced their broadcast hours. Therefore, I think that my noble friend Lord Fowler, who is enormously well qualified on these matters, has been misinformed on that question. BBC Arabic TV is keeping its hours.
Some of my noble friends and the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred to the Foreign Affairs Committee and its criticism. The Foreign Secretary will be replying in detail in a couple of weeks, which is why I cannot answer all the questions that have been put today. However, there are two things that I should briefly like to mention about that report. The first is about whether it is true to say that the cuts have been disproportionate. Everyone knows that the Foreign Office took an enormous hit from the fall in sterling, and if you measure over the period from 2008, when that hit really damaged the Foreign Office budget, the net effect of the cuts to the British Council and the World Service has been to bring them back to the same proportion as they were in 2008. In 2007-08, they were 13 per cent, and in 2013-14 they will be around 14.4 per cent of the total FCO budget.
Finally, there is the question of whether the aid budget can support the work of the BBC World Service. I cannot give a final answer, but in the remaining seconds of my ration of time, I will try to bring noble Lords up to date on where we are on this issue. We believe that the BBC World Service provides a development benefit to many countries, and we are continuing to explore with DfID and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development officials whether a proportion of BBC World Service expenditure should be reported as ODA assistance. This will require the agreement of the OECD Development Assistance Committee. The BBC World Service portion of the overall FCO settlement includes £25 million a year in anticipation of being able to score some of these activities as official development assistance. I emphasise that this does not imply additional funding for the World Service although I understand that the World Service is in discussion with DfID about the funding of specific projects. Indeed, that matter is reported in the Foreign Affairs Committee report.
Any decision to reverse the reduction to the World Service’s budget would have to be funded from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s core budget. The Government believe that the transfer of funding to the licence fee will increase the BBC’s ability to achieve useful economies of scale through the whole of the BBC family. We will help a more secure future for the World Service. In spite of the challenging financial situation we believe the World Service has a valuable and promising future and I am pleased to say that we have managed to find an additional £3 million in the last financial year to help the World Service with its restructuring costs. We have also provided £10 million for investment in new services and £13 million per annum to help it meet its share of the BBC pension deficit. These are small but concrete signs that the FCO fully supports the value and reputation of the World Service.
Several of your Lordships asked whether the Government will reconsider. I cannot say that today; I can say that we will certainly consider. Some very powerful points have been made and these will certainly be brought to the close attention of policymakers. That is what I can say today—I know it is not enough for some of your Lordships but I hope it indicates the general approach and attitude of the Government to this crucial matter.
The Government are committed to refocusing our soft power efforts to ensure an efficient, innovative and more co-ordinated approach. We are currently working on a cross-government strategy, as I have described, on how best to deliver and take advantage of the tools and assets at our disposal. The key will be that our strategy has strong enough direction so that even when unexpected events occur, as of course they have in the Middle East, our response is flexible but consistent with our broad direction and not seen as a departure from the main path forward.
Finally, we must recognise our soft power limits and order our priorities accordingly so that we are clear that we cannot intervene in every crisis and to ensure that we have the public understanding of these limits. There are many more points that I wanted to add but time has run by. Let me emphasise that by increasing the effectiveness of our considerable soft power efforts we are already adjusting to the challenges of an entirely changed world. Many commentators have rightly suggested that we are moving into an age not of soft power, not of hard power, but of smart power which is a subtle new interweave of both power deployments. In the face of major new challenges from jihadism and Islamic civil war to pandemics and climate change, from rising protectionism to nuclear proliferation, we all have to formulate a new strategy that combines all the hard and soft power facets available to us not only in government but outside government as well. The Prime Minister has labelled this the new liberal realism and the task now is to tailor our UK resources and experience to fit the new direction. I believe that the UK has all the tools at its disposal to deliver on this goal in the 21st century.
My Lords, very briefly, I want to thank the Minister for his response and for the information he gave us to show that the Government are taking this issue seriously. I want also to thank all those who took part in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said that we would not get the headlines tomorrow. I think we can live with that because one of the purposes of the debate was to demonstrate the breadth and depth of the influence that this country can have and, as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said earlier, should have and should not be worried about putting forward in the future. Sometimes our history pulls us back on this and we should not be inhibited.
The debate has demonstrated the very wide range of topics that are covered here. The noble Lords, Lord Hall and Lord Smith, both gave us very good examples of the cultural and artistic dimensions and I will remember the phrase that the British Council provided that “bubble of oxygen” as well as the example the noble Lord, Lord Smith, gave us of the response of the Chinese.
We had mention of the contribution of overseas students. We could have spent more time on that, but time is always limited. I think that we enjoyed the entertaining reflections of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe, on his time in the Foreign Office, which gave an insight. He mentioned the possibility of revisiting the issue of whether the Foreign Office and DfID should be split. I might be one of those who would also be interested in revisiting that question, because I am not sure that we have always got the balance of responsibilities right.
I was grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, for reminding us so bluntly of the pressure on resources and some of the difficulties, for example, of the scholarship programmes, which have been so valuable in the past. I must admire my noble friend Lord Soley for getting in a mention of football before I could, which is unusual to say the least. He also reminded us that soft power is very significant in stabilisation and transition phases. We will have to give more attention to that in future.
Strong pleas, led by my noble friend Lord Fowler and the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, were made throughout the debate for the BBC World Service. We understand some of the constraints on what the Minister could perhaps say this afternoon. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said that no one would blame the Government for not foreseeing the situation that has now arisen in the Arab world. Many of these decisions were taken before those events. As many noble Lords have said today, it is important that the Government think again. I heard what the Minister said about the possibility of there being some difficulties with using DfID money, but I hope that those can be explored further because where there is a will, there is a way. The significance of the contribution of the BBC World Service, particularly at this moment, is so enormous that the Government will have to revisit the matter in some way.
The noble Lord, Lord Smith, said that soft power was underemphasised and underappreciated, and that we needed leadership. I think that it has been appreciated and understood. The Minister said that the debate was timely because of the work that is going on within government. I hope that the contributions today have helped him reinforce the message that soft power is important and requires co-ordination throughout government as well as with other institutions. I thank all those who have taken part in the debate. I seek leave to withdraw the Motion.