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13 Mar 2007 : Column 27WH—continued

If we are to have the real benefit that other hon. Members also want, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office must co-operate with the Olympic organising bodies and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and must include cultural representatives in any plans for a British diplomatic effort in 2012 and the years around it. There will be Olympic handover events in Beijing and London following the 2008 games and, as the Demos report suggests, they could be used as a vehicle for improving UK-China relations, with staff from UK cultural institutions being seconded to work
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alongside our embassy staff in Beijing on the UK’s public diplomacy strategy for the games, and returning after the games to advise us on preparations for the London games in 2012.

There is still more that we could do. For example, more British exhibitions could tour the world, not least in countries that we need most of all—for example, Brazil, India and China—and where we must do more to cultivate long-lasting cultural relationships. Those countries will be among the superpowers of this century and, if their citizens hold a high opinion of us because of the cultural groundwork that has been done, that will have huge diplomatic and economic benefits with increased tourism, foreign investment and sales for our cultural exports.

However, the current infrastructure in those countries means that touring there is often prohibitively expensive. Organisations such as the Royal Ballet can afford to tour to international destinations only when they receive a good financial deal from the promoter. If we want our ballets to be seen in countries such as Brazil, China and India, we must find ways of ensuring that they can afford to go there. Negotiating trade agreements and encouraging investment from those soon-to-be-superpowers will be much easier if we have laid that important cultural groundwork.

The Minister for the Middle East (Dr. Kim Howells): I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s thoughtful and constructive speech. He knows that a problem with exhibitions travelling in this country, let alone abroad, is insurance and what to do to ensure that they are properly protected. He also knows that we have made advances during the past 10 years in ensuring that the environment is right for exhibitions in Britain and that they are insured. Has he thought about how that might be extended to travelling exhibitions abroad, which he suggests might be increased?

Mr. Foster: I am rather looking to the Minister to come up with some suggestions, which is why he is here to respond to the debate. He is right to say that insurance is a key issue, but it is not the only one. There are all sorts of challenges for owners of artistic artefacts on display, and I know that he has been involved in discussions about that. Many of us were amazed to hear about the painting that is being moved from the Uffizi gallery in Florence to Japan, and the huge structures that have had to be designed to ensure that it is transported safely. The cost of that project is astronomical, so there are key issues to consider. I do not profess to have hundreds of solutions to the problem, but I am delighted that the Minister at least acknowledges that we must examine the issue.

Mr. Clifton-Brown rose—

Mr. Foster: I note that the hon. Member for Cotswold (Mr. Clifton-Brown) is going to provide a solution, and I look forward to hearing it.

Mr. Clifton-Brown: Indeed, I am. Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that one good way of enabling cultural institutions to tour abroad is for commercial companies in this country with an interest in another
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country to sponsor an organisation? For example, the English National Ballet could be sponsored by a bank that is doing well in south America, and if we could persuade insurance companies to undertake some sponsoring, perhaps they would cover the insurance, too.

Mr. Foster: All Members will be grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion. They will know about examples of such activity taking place already, and, of course, encouraging others to follow those examples is a sensible way forward.

Above almost anything else, there should be far more co-ordination within the Government and more collaboration between the Government and our various cultural institutions. The FCO, the Department for International Development and the DCMS all carry out cultural diplomacy, but their attempts are not well co-ordinated. They must work together and provide cultural institutions with information about local partners or the best way of carrying out international activities, so that we can participate in as many cultural exchanges as possible. The Minister may say that the public diplomacy board, which was set up in light of the Carter review of public diplomacy, already provides that service. I agree that it is a step in the right direction, but it does not go far enough. Its panel members come from the FCO, the British Council and the BBC World Service, but there is no one from DFID or DCMS—two key Departments that disseminate and sometimes directly fund cultural diplomacy—and that is why something broader is needed.

We should not do any more than work with cultural institutions, because cultural diplomacy should not be a propaganda tool. Our cultural institutions, such as the Victoria and Albert museum and the BBC, are so well respected because they are independent and their foreign partners know that they are dealing with an institution that will not automatically prioritise the needs of the British Government. We do not want to send our institutions off to carry out the Government’s policy aims; instead, we must let the institutions decide the exchanges in which they wish to take part and the partners with whom they want to liaise. By all means, we should advise the institutions of the countries that they should prioritise, help establish contacts and help them with funding and insurance problems, but we should manage neither their relationships nor the messages that they send out. As I said earlier with reference to the BBC, such work should reflect Britain, not the British Government. If we provide our cultural institutions with the opportunities, they will get on with the job.

If we carry out my suggestions—no doubt colleagues will suggest others—what will we get out of it? We should not expect instant results, and they will not be easy to measure. We do not have any way of knowing how important our cultural strength is to securing a deal, nor the amount of extra money foreign investors invest because of what we do, but we cannot ignore the issues. There is no benefit in ignoring the strength of cultural international relations, because to conduct affairs without a policy of cultural diplomacy would simply allow misconceptions to continue without challenge.

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The Demos report says:

I have suggested some of the possible ways forward, and I am sure that other Members will add more, but without further action, we are in real danger of failing to exploit fully our fantastic position as one of the very best cultural nations.

Several hon. Members rose

Miss Anne Begg (in the Chair): Order. I should like to call the Front-Bench spokespeople at midday, so if the Back-Benchers who are standing would bear that in mind, we will get everybody in.

11.25 am

Derek Wyatt (Sittingbourne and Sheppey) (Lab): I congratulate the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) on securing the debate. I have sent four letters to Mr. Speaker in the past four weeks requesting a debate on soft power, because it is a very important part of cultural diplomacy.

I have been most influenced by Joseph Nye’s book on soft power. I was lucky enough to meet him at Harvard university just before Christmas, and we have not fully understood the way in which cultural diplomacy and soft power can work together. In the forthcoming spending review, I bet that the one activity to be cut will be all the cultural diplomacy and soft power touches, because we cannot see them. I should like to see the cultural diplomacy budgets across Government, and I should like to see them itemised. Do they amount to 1 per cent., 5 per cent., or 10 per cent.? It is easy to do that for tanks, weapons and missiles, but it is less easy for cultural diplomacy, but if we are to realise what soft power can do in the world, we must see those budgets.

Although I agreed with most of the hon. Gentleman’s speech, the British Museum has let us down badly in two ways. First, it does not fully understand the globalisation of cultural diplomacy. One can hardly move but for the Gulbenkian museums and other museums that have spread worldwide, and I look at the Getty museums and the way in which they have developed not only in their own country, but overseas. We must take the British Museum out of its current location. Why cannot we settle the Elgin marbles dispute by locating the British Museum in Athens, so that it is jointly owned and the marbles are permanently on loan? There must be a satisfactory resolution to the Elgin marbles dispute, and there must be a similar resolution to the dispute about the Maqdala treasures from Ethiopia. They are the oldest Christian relics in the world, and they sit in a cupboard in the British Museum. That is not reasonable; they belong to Ethiopia.

Mr. Vaizey: I do not want to induce a heckle from the Minister about a spending commitment, but it may not be the British Museum that has let us down. The Louvre’s work in Dubai has been undertaken in
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partnership with the French Government, and although I wholly support the proposals being made by the hon. Member for Sittingbourne and Sheppey (Derek Wyatt), they cost money and they need Government support.

Derek Wyatt: The French have a very different view of soft power. The British Council’s budget is embarrassingly small compared with what the French give, but we should examine what we do with it, because we do 10 or 15 times more than the French do through their equivalent.

The British Museum’s board must think about the globalisation of the space that we call cultural diplomacy, and the Tate must do so, too. It is fine having the Tate in Liverpool and in Cornwall, but we need it in India or in Kenya, and in the next 10 years, we must galvanise the idea of a shared culture and a shared diplomacy. We need a different viewpoint from the one that currently emanates from the Government.

I always struggle to find the location of cultural diplomacy in any embassy or anywhere that I travel, which is a shame. That is partly because we disaggregated the British Council from the museums under Mrs. Thatcher, and although the British Council quite welcomes it now, at the time it was a mistake. I chair the all-party British Council group, so I am probably president of its fan club. What it does is extraordinary, but I shall come to that later. My main worry is that, in the spending review, the one activity to go will be cultural diplomacy.

How could a more sophisticated cultural diplomacy policy work? Let us start with the English language. Almost 90 per cent. of the internet is in English, so we must make the British Library the global space for learning, knowledge and understanding on the net. However, we cannot do so without much more investment in the library’s digitisation. Although Microsoft has been unbelievably generous in providing £100 million, it is not enough. We need £100 million every year if we are going to realise that aim. If we do not do it, the Smithsonian Institution will, and that would be a great loss, because the British Library is the oldest, deepest library in the world. We must galvanise it and create an online version.

Mr. Michael Wills (North Swindon) (Lab): I am sorry to interrupt such a fascinating speech, but will my hon. Friend say how he would get round the problems of copyright in digitisation?

Derek Wyatt: There are several ways round that. One is the creative commons approach that Lawrence Lessig of Stanford has proposed. A second way is for authors to give back their copyright, so that the British Library could hold it. There are a couple of different ways, although it is tough for the first 70 years after death. The issue is complex. Although this is for a different debate, we need the equivalent of an Ofcom for intellectual property.

Mr. Wills: I rise briefly to say that in my intervention I should have declared an interest in that I am published author.

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Derek Wyatt: Well, I have written six books too, so there.

The teaching of English in the British Council has been stopped in Russia, but what on earth would be wrong with setting up an online English language laboratory, which we have never done? The same applies to immigrants trying to learn our language here. The easiest thing for us to do would be to put Dorling Kindersley together with Berlitz, the BBC and the British Council and to create a body that could carry out online English language teaching. That would be so simple and so much cheaper than all the things that we currently do throughout the world. Every year, 2 million people come to learn English, yet we still do not have an online language centre. That is a great mistake.

People have referred to the British Museum, the British Library, the Tate and the National Gallery, but they are not yet world-class institutions and they do not serve us as well as they should overseas. We need to find the budgets, but we also need to ensure that one person on their boards of trustees is responsible for cultural diplomacy. We would then know who to target when we needed to.

Dr. Howells: I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend, but I am not sure about his statement that the Tate, the Victoria and Albert Museum and our other great institutions are not world class. Is he trying to say that they would become world class if they put the pictures hanging on their walls on the internet? Frankly, I cannot think of anything more crass than the notion that putting pictures on the internet somehow increases the value of an institution in the eyes of the world.

Derek Wyatt: I rise nervously to answer the former Minister for the arts who said one or two things about the Turner prize.

Dr. Howells: I never was—they kept me well away from culture.

Derek Wyatt: Perhaps it was the Turner prize that I remember, then. I think that the Minister misunderstands, because I do not mean that. I mean that the Tate should be overseas as a physical entity. That is what the Gulbenkians and the Gettys are doing, and that is why they are successful.

We do have three stunning world-class institutions, one of which is the British Council. We are asking it to open more offices with less money, but cultural diplomacy simply does not work that way. We cannot expect the British Council to do more on schools in Brazil and China and to open more offices but then say, “Bad luck, you’ve got less money.” I hope that the British Council will not face cuts in the spending review.

I should also like to mention the Open university, which is probably the most unsung hero overseas. For example, it has educated 5 million Africans, including MBAs for 21 of the 23 Ministers in Ethiopia. The Open university was the result of Jennie Lee and Harold Wilson’s work. It is an astonishing organisation and I am proud to be a graduate. What we are trying to do with the Open university, the British Council, the BBC and others is to create an online primary school for
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Africa in five languages. That project is simple and cheap, costing probably less than £300 million, so would it not be wonderful if the Department for International Development, the Treasury and the Department for Education and Skills could get behind it and see what a difference it would make to cultural diplomacy? What more can we say about the BBC’s brilliant World Service, which is stunning? Nevertheless, it faces cuts, too.

In the past we have granted scholarships. They started at Oxford with the Rhodes scholars, and we now have the Gates scholars at Cambridge and the Chevening programme, all of which bring people here. However, there are none going the other way. That is nuts. If we are going to get our younger people to connect to what is happening in the world, we have to give scholarships the other way. Internally, we have taken Arabic centres from the middle east to Exeter, Durham and Edinburgh. That is fine, but studying the middle east in Exeter is not quite the same as Frank Gardner being in Cairo, Qatar or wherever else. We need to give joint honours between educational institutions if we are to develop cultural diplomacy at a profound level. We cannot keep bringing people to this country; we have to go abroad.

I say that because I shall be leading a group of academics to India at Whitsun to look at the computer science system there. Our computer science graduate numbers are declining, but in India and China they are increasing. We need to twin Imperial college, Oxford, Durham and so on with the great computer science centres in India and China. We need joint honours. We do not need people to board a plane, do two weeks on a campus in Singapore, Beijing or Shanghai and then say, “Hey, I’ve got a British university degree.” We need a real change in how we see cultural diplomacy. We need joint institutions, joint honours and so on. Indeed, when the Secretary of State for Education and Skills said yesterday that children are going to do French and German in primary schools, I had to have a hollow laugh. What about Chinese and Spanish, perhaps? We have got to tune into the global space and get the present generation of primary school children to learn world-class languages.

Finally, I have a few quick points to make. Please look at sport. Please look at carbon trading. Please look at Web 2.0, especially in connection with intellectual property rights. Look at what Gilberto Gil has done for Brazil by freeing up all rights out of Brazil and Portugal for all music and all literature. That has been an absolutely stunning success. Why can we not do things like that?

The only thing to say about the Olympic games is that we should not think about what they can do here. We should think about what we give back to the Olympic movement through the cultural Olympiad and to the rest of the world after 2012, which includes bringing back the medals, which until 1924 we used to give in music, philosophy, art and poetry. I shall stop there, as I know others are desperate to speak.

11.37 am

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