§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Crawley (Buckingham)
By the happy coincidence of our Business having ended early, the Minister being still present, and I having been fortunate in being able to catch your eye, Mr. Speaker. allows me to raise another subject connected with education, in which I wish to lift the eyes of those interested beyond the horizons of Middlesex, Surrey and Essex to those of the whole world, because the subject which I wish to raise is that of U.N.E.S.C.O.—the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation.
It is high time that we had a Debate in this House on this subject. This organisation has now been in existence for about three years, and only recently it issued its third annual report, following the Conference at Beirut. Subsequently there was a further Conference in London attended by representatives of various bodies interested in U.N.E.S.C.O. which dealt with its subject very fully. But there has been no recent Debate in the House on this subject, although we do, in fact, pay quite a considerable sum to this body—£250,000 for this year-and although the objects of U.N.E.S.C.O. are important to the whole of our foreign policy and to the British way of life 600 which we are trying to extend in the world.
In addition, I think it is true to say that U.N.E.S.C.O. has been the target of a great deal of very irresponsible and unjust criticism in the past. I am going to make some criticisms of it myself, but there is always a part of the Press, both in this country, in America and elsewhere, to which any organisation which is calculated to improve our civilisation is instinctively repugnant, presumably because such organisations might reduce the amount of scandal or tragedy or other type of sensation in the world, and therefore reduce the amount of news in which that type of newspaper deals. Newspapers of that character have on principle attacked U.N.E.S.C.O. on every possible opportunity. But even much more reputable newspapers in this country, such as the "Manchester Guardian," have, in fact, made what I think are very irresponsible criticisms. To give just one example, when U.N.E.S.C.O. held a conference on biology at high altitudes—which they did at the request of Chile and Peru who needed assistance in developing their agriculture, which in this stage of history one would have thought desirable—the "Manchester Guardian" came put with a derisory article headed "Sex at High Altitude." The sub-editor responsible for that heading may have got a kick out of writing it, but it was very unfair to U.N.E.S.C.O.
Even in another place, when U.N.E.S.C.O. was debated not very long ago, there were a great many ill-founded criticisms made, partly due to the fact that there had not been much information available, but also because the noble Lords did not read the information available to them. Lord Simon made a long speech about the faulty accountancy of U.N.E.S.C.O., but ignored the fact that, although that was true in 1945, a special committee of inquiry had sat and had since that time overhauled the whole system of accountancy to the satisfaction of the very best accountants.
The same sort of criticism was made about salaries and staff. We have all heard about the fleets of motor cars which used to stand outside the headquarters of U.N.E.S.C.O. in Paris, of the exorbitant salaries paid and the little work done, with the result that a lot of people got the idea that U.N.E.S.C.O. was art 601 organisation which provided a lot of jobs for second rate people and produced nothing at all. Yet only last year the administrative costs of U.N.E.S.C.O. were reduced by about half a million dollars, and an inquiry into the whole scale of salaries was made. Although, no doubt, many improvements can be made in that direction, the general picture has never been fairly painted at all. Nevertheless, with such a body which must deal sometimes with what can only be rather vague projects, one is entitled to ask what has been done.
Rather surprisingly, when one comes to try to answer that question, one finds that really quite a lot has been done during the three years of U.N.E.S.C.O.'s existence. Its work, I suppose, could be divided under two headings. There was, first of all, the work to be undertaken for reconstruction after the devastation caused by the war. That work has, more or less, come to an end, but when one looks at it, it is really a remarkable achievement. First of all, there were the surveys which had to be carried out—essential work—in 16 countries to find out what books and other educational facilities remained. At the end of the war I myself saw several hundred thousand books burned in Germany and other countries, and one realised then what a tragic dearth of all educational books there was going to be. Those surveys gave the countries of the world which still had a surplus of books some idea of the desperate plight of those who had been devastated.
Through the organisation known by the initials T.I.C.E.R.—I hate initials—some attempt was made to supply those deficiencies—of books, radios, cinematograph projectors, and so on, but it is when one looks at the figures, that one gets an idea of how much was done. For example, 230 million dollars worth of goods and services connected with education, including fellowships and scholarships, were provided by one method or another by the United States under the aegis of U.N.E.S.C.O. in the past three years. Only last year, one million dollars was subscribed by Canada, and, what is more, the money was spent and these services and goods have been provided.
Affiliated to U.N.E.S.C.O. has been the appeal to help children all over the world, to which this country subscribed 602 £500,000, of which £60,000 was devoted to scholarships. Then there is the scheme of book coupons under which, when a student wants a book which only exists in a dollar country, he or she sends a coupon to U.N.E.S.C.O. which exchanges it for the book, and itself supplies the dollars. I think that system is spreading, and it is of most practical and valuable assistance to the countries who are short of books due to the war. All that is very good, and when the reconstruction period comes to be looked back upon U.N.E.S.C.O. will be judged to have done a really useful job in this particular field.
It is when one passes on to the long-term work that some criticisms begin to arise, and one wishes to ask questions. In connection with long-term work there have been some useful conferences of librarians, museum keepers and universities, which have been very valuable, and some seminars, which have been less valuable because so many people never answered the invitations. It is when U.N.E.S.C.O. itself seems to go directly into the field of education that I would begin to criticise it. Like most people who had experience of mixed troops during the war, those who were interested in U.N.E.S.C.O. were obviously impressed by the possibilities of what was at one time known as mass education.
When the West African troops returned to West Africa for instance, those who had commanded them were hopeful that some scheme would be devised by which they could "set the bush alight," or in other words, try to start a literacy campaign by getting the Africans who had learnt to read and write to pass on their knowledge to their neighbours. It was a most attractive idea, but when it was gone into it was not only found impossible to get the Africans under peace-time conditions to sit down and do it, but also that the mere fact of literacy raised so many other problems affecting education in its true sense that it could not be done on a mass scale. There were not the people who were technically qualified to guide people to use their new-found literacy, and there were not the books in the vernacular to help those being trained to continue to read when they had learned how to do so, nor were there even books in English.
603 By trying itself to provide what one might call fundamental education in the world, U.N.E.S.C.O. was making a mistake. They ignored the experience of those pilot projects which had been undertaken and the difficulties into which they had run. It does not seem to me that U.N.E.S.C.O. can itself directly teach the world. I should have thought that Dr. Beeby's thesis for the educational rôle of U.N.E.S.C.O. that it was to be the broker, the means of exchange for ideas and equipment, was a much sounder conception of its functions. In science—and I speak here with great ignorance—I am told that U.N.E.S.C.O. has done most valuable work, and that apart from supporting a great many scientific institutions the mere fact of its being able to bring together a thousand scientists in one conference and another has been a great benefit to science in the exchange of information, the standardisation of scientific terms and making available scientific literature. In a world as distracted as ours, these services may appear trivial, but in the long run it is work such as that which can lay the foundation for great improvements.
I am a little worried, on reading the report of the conference, and the report which my hon. Friend, as leader of our delegation, made to the Minister on the Beirut conference, about the danger of overlapping. Take for example the heading "Natural resources." If U.N.E.S.C.O. is to constitute itself a food authority it will overlap with the Food and Agricultural Organisation. Science has obviously an important part to play in the development of our food resources, but I should have thought that the job of organising and co-ordinating food production in the world was rather one for the Food and Agriculture Organisation, which is also connected with the United Nations, than for U.N.E.S.C.O.
It is when one comes to the social science and cultural side and even the communications side of U.N.E.S.C.O.'s work that one becomes more critical. Reading some of the projects under the heading "Social science," I began to have the feeling that U.N.E.S.C.O. was in some way usurping the functions of the Almighty. It seemed to me that members had sat back and surveyed this planet, had found that a great deal of it was 604 not very good, and had then thought of how they might try to devise ways and means of putting it right.
Perhaps I can give a couple of examples. One reads about the project to study "Tensions affecting international understanding." I am aware that this type of project arouses a great deal of interest among our very good friends the Americans and that on the other hand some of our own delegation may have been little more sceptical about it, but surely the tensions affecting international understanding, or indeed human understanding of any kind, are a problem which has existed for at least 5,000 years. I should have thought that in that time we had not only learned a great deal about what those tensions are but in our philosophies, codes of ethics and our religions, if you will, we had also evolved a good many means of dealing with them and that our problem was less how to deal with them than how to put into practice what we already knew.
But even if we need a new philosophy or a new religion, I rather doubt whether U.N.E.S.C.O. is the body to give it to us. I should have thought, again, that the job of broker was the correct one in this connection also. I am told that there have been valuable psychological experiments carried out in the United States and elsewhere to do with man's reaction to his environments. If there is valuable information of that sort, by all means let it be passed through the universities from one country to another, but I do not think U.N.E.S.C.O. will succeed if it tries itself to act even as one of the Almighty's lieutenants in this field.
To give a more trivial—or perhaps a more obvious—example, U.N.E.S.C.O. called for a study of the techniques used by the Nazis and Fascists. Yet surely there are tens of thousands of people in Europe and a great many thousands in this country who have detailed, first-hand experience of all the techniques used by the Nazis and the Fascists. One could describe in great detail the whole system of what was called terror—and I do not mean only shooting but the elaborate organisation by which dictatorships of that kind establish themselves and make themselves popular through various blandishments and social policies and so on. I think that if my hon. Friend, who may or may not be in agreement with some 605 of what I have been saying, inquired at the Foreign Office, he would get a very detailed and very accurate report, as I am sure his American colleagues would if they inquired of the State Department, of what were the techniques used by the Nazis and Fascists. If U.N.E.S.C.O. intends to spend time on that sort of thing I think it will be wasting a great deal of its energies. When looking at the communications side of the report I had a little of the same feeling. I notice that on page 19 of my hon. Friend's report, under the heading ofRemoval of Obstacles to the Free Flow of Information,there appears this sentence:Such obstacles are high prices of newsprint or radio sets, high tariffs, restrictive currency controls and transport difficulties.That is all perfectly true but, again, are they really the subject for action by U.N.E.S.C.O.? I should have thought that every government in the world, and particularly in Europe, has, through series of sub-committees after another in the last four years, been studying ways and means of overcoming all these difficulties, and if my hon. Friend will consult the authorities of O.E.E.C., to name only one, he will get even fuller reports of the difficulties and the methods by which it may be possible to use to overcome them, than he would if he inquired at U.N.E.S.C.O.
It is in these fields, the rather vague and long-term fields, that I think one has grounds for criticism, but I should like to end by saying that in spite of that, both the work that has been done and the tremendous amount of practical work that is under consideration in the field of education and science in particular, particularly bearing in mind the comparatively small cost—and I think small cost of this organisation to this country needs emphasizing—are of the greatest value. I think it is time that the idea that U.N.E.S.C.O. is a wholly and useless body, which is expensive and unproductive, was exploded.
Finally, I would say one word of congratulation to the late Director-General, Professor Huxley, who undoubtedly gave great inspiration to U.N.E.S.C.O. in his first two years of office. Whatever alleged shortcomings he may have possessed in administration, I should have thought his intellectual inspiration has 606 put U.N.E.S.C.O. on the right road. We are fortunate in having as his successor M. Torres Bodet, who was Foreign Minister and Minister of Education of Mexico, and who has already set about work on the administrative side of the Organisation in no mean fashion. I hope my hon. Friend will be able to say something about some of the criticisms I have made, and reassure us a little about some of the vaguer projects. I congratulate him and our delegation on the part they have played, which is testimony to the fact that U.N.E.S.C.O. is trying to build the sort of world we in Britain and the democratic countries want.
§ 3.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Hardman
With permission to speak again, I should like to answer my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Crawley). I am very grateful to him for raising at last in this House some questions concerning the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. He has certainly put his finger on a number of weaknesses, which we would all admit; but I am most gratified that he has also been good enough to emphasise the strength of this comparatively new Organisation.
He began by referring to the many ill-informed, uninformed, inaccurate criticisms that have been made in the Press, and, indeed, in another place when a Debate occurred there lately, and elsewhere, too, in regard to the programme of the Organisation. He referred to the salary scales which, it is true, have been described as abnormally high by our standards. It is, however, important to remember that those salary scales are scales agreed upon within the United Nations Organisation itself, and that those scales apply to the United Nations Organisation and to all the specialised agencies. The salaries are intentionally attractive, because the Organisation and the United Nations itself feel that, in order to get the highest grade staff, and in order to compensate for the very high cost of living in Paris, and for what is, undoubtedly, a strain, the strain of international life, the salaries should be at a very high level.
Reference has also been made to the questions that have been raised about the so-called accounts of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. It is now well known, since the Debate in another place, that the 607 criticisms of those accounts apply, not to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, when set up, but to the preparatory commission which worked out the details for the establishment of the Organisation. I think it is only fair, now one has an opportunity, to remind the House that, after the first report from the auditors, to which reference has been made in the Press and elsewhere, there came a second auditors' report from the same auditors, Price, Waterhouse and Company, 11 weeks later. The second report says:It will be seen from the foregoing that important improvements in the controls and accounts have been made, and that further improvements are being introduced.Elsewhere in their report the accountants say:The present state of the accounts and records appears to be generally satisfactory.So I hope we shall hear no more criticism—inaccurate criticism, uninformed criticism—on a matter which, in fact. is not the concern of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation at all, but of the Preparatory Commission.
Then I was glad that my hon. Friend referred to the rather facetious gibe that has been made in this House to my right hon. Friend about "sex at high altitudes." Nature is not, after all, as benign and benevolent in other parts of the world as it is in Wordsworth's poems and in the English Lake District, and this question of biology—to give it its proper name, research into biology at high altitudes—in Peru, Venezuela, and Chile, and all the countries of the Andes, is a question of life or death. I have gone to some trouble to discover what in fact the problem is in a country like Peru—a country which I will, with respect, remind the House is five times the size of Spain, and a country which, I understand, is potentially one of the greatest oil producing countries in the world. The problem is simple when one looks at it upon paper. Animal stock are short lived at high altitudes and the fertility of imported animals' rapidly declines at high altitudes. The stamina of all livestock is a matter, therefore, of the greatest importance to those who have to live above 10,000 feet or 11,000 feet in the Andes. The problem also concerns the living conditions of those who belong to the higher altitudes and 608 who marry those who come from the tropical valleys at the foot of the mountains; and to look upon this as a facetious matter is to ignore the tremendous importance of investigation into this problem from the point of view of a great many millions of people and a great many countries in Latin America.
I was delighted that my hon. Friend gave me an opportunity of saying that the world is, to those of us who think at all, a very much bigger place than when merely looked at North from Brighton or South from London. These are problems which are life and death to a great many people in different parts of the world. It is certainly true, as my hon. Friend has said, that in the realm of science U.N.E.S.C.O. has done a first-rate job of work. After all, it is an organisation which has only been at work for well under three years. There was the Paris Conference of 1946, which established the Organisation, the Conference in Mexico City in 1947, and the Conference in Beirut in 1948. In fact, the effective working time of the organisation is very little over two years, when one thinks of the time that had to be employed in getting representative staff. representing countries from all over the world.
I have considerable sympathy with the distinguished leader of the Indian Delegation who, in Mexico City, made the point that the majority of the staff of U.N.E.S.C.O., which at that time was about 512, came from England, America and France. We can all sympathise with him in his view when he pointed out that, after all, U.N.E.S.C.O. was a worldwide organisation and there had been civilisations for a very long time in the Far Eastern parts of the world. It took time to get the staff together, so the effective working time of the organisation has been little more than two years.
In the building up of the programme, there is another point which I should like to mention. That is that one can conceive a programme in two parts. There are the items in the programme which are urgent and require immediate attention, and there is the long-term policy. We have discovered, as, I understand, all the other specialised nations have discovered, that we know very little that is accurate and authentic about most countries of the world. I think that it 609 was at the Statistical Congress in 1947 that the Secretary-General of the United Nations' organisations made a plea for more accurate information to enable policies to be enacted, and he pointed out, if I remember rightly, that we had very little accurate information indeed about the people of three-quarters of the area of the world. So the long-term policy has, as my hon. Friend indicated in speaking of the educational side of U.N.E.S.C.O. work, to be a clearing house for the collecting of information and its dissemination where it can be most valuably used.
Certainly in the realm of science, during its short life, and having the International Council of Scientific Unions already established to help it, the scientific section of the organisation has done extremely good work, in permitting the travel of nearly 1,000 scientists annually from all countries to meetings which they would not otherwise have been able to attend, permitting the publication of some 60 international scientific bulletins, giving a limited number of short-term travelling fellowships, contributing to the upkeep and the functioning of international laboratories, stock rooms and bureaux operated by the International Council of Scientific Union, and then in the Field Science Co-operation Offices, four of which are being maintained at the present time—for Latin America in Rio de Janeiro, for the Middle East in Cairo, for South-East Asia in New Delhi, and for East Asia in Shanghai.
Looking through the effective programme of the scientific section of U.N.E.S.C.O. I think that there is a good deal of which we in Britain should feel extremely proud, first of all because the organisation itself was born in this country out of the efforts of the right hon. Member for Saffron Walden (Mr. R. A. Butler) when he was Minister of Education, and the work of the right hon. Lady who preceded my right hon. Friend as Minister of Education. From the work of the Preparatory Commission we can say that this organisation is, in effect, a British child. When we look at what we have done in the realm of science—and I have given only a few samples of it this afternoon—we can feel extremely proud.
We can also feel proud, I think, though not to the same extent, about what U.N.E.S.C.O. has done for reconstruction. My hon. Friend mentioned the £1 million 610 worth of goods and services that have passed through U.N.E.S.C.O. to the devastated areas. There are also the contributions, totalling another £1½million, which have come from Canada, Australia. Belgium, Norway, New Zealand and France. Through our own Lord Mayor's Fund we have contributed one-tenth, some £70,000, towards reconstruction in Europe and the Far East. The organisation has just allocated £5,000 to help in educational rehabilitation of the Arab refugee children, of which we saw something at the Third Session in the Lebanon.
My hon. Friend referred to the seminars and conferences which U.N.E.S.C.O. has been responsible for organising. In the educational field it is of tremendous value that experts in the sciences and the arts and teachers should get together and be able to discuss their particular problems and the methods they employ in their professional work. The view of the British Delegation at the Beirut Conference was that those seminars and conferences should have adequate and thorough preparation to get the most out of them, and although we have had, not wholly successful but reasonably successful seminars and conferences so far, we look to better achievements in this particular field in the years that he ahead.
It is also, I think, fair for my hon. Friend to comment upon some of the curious items that appear in the programme—curious because we feel they are perhaps rather high-flown, because the wording is not very clear, and because perhaps in some instances we can honestly say that we do not understand what they mean. As hon. Members will appreciate, we represent but one country—our own and the Colonial Empire; at these commissions and at plenary sessions we have but one vote. Other countries have many ideas which in many respects differ from our own.
As my hon. Friend said, the United States has been extremely enthusiastic about this study of philosophical concepts. I would point out to my hon. Friend that there is a very strong case to be made out for this being put into the programme of the organisation. First of all there is a general feeling among professional philosophers and social scientists that a considerable part of the tension between the Communist countries and 611 the countries of western civilisation arises because of the different meaning each side attaches to words like "liberty" and "democracy." To the American delegation, and to many other delegations, it seemed a suitable task for the philosophical experts of U.N.E.S.C.O. to examine this problem. I am not here to say that U.N.E.S.C.O. has tackled the problem in the right way, but I believe it can learn by experience. After all, a new organisation like this is bound to make mistakes in the initial stages. I am prepared to defend the resolution as passed, but I suggest it will take a very long time to get this information and find out how it can be used. Nevertheless I think it is worth doing.
Moreover, it need hardly be pointed out that when we are in a minority, and that in this particular instance there was an overwhelming majority in favour of a study of this particular problem, it is our democratic way to accept it. In other words, the vote was in favour of this examination of tensions being included in the programme. Much play has been made in the Press of this particular side of U.N.E.S.C.O.'s work and the difficulty experienced by the ordinary man or, indeed, the educated man in understanding what many of the resolutions mean. I feel however that we should recognise the difficulty of translation. Resolutions will appear in the first instance in Arabic, in Spanish, in French, in English, or perhaps in some other language.
There then comes the question of translation into the official language being used. Let us be frank about this. I think it is generally admitted that in the realm of aesthetics the English language has not got the finesse of some other languages. When one translates or tries to translate into English matters which appear in one language and are concerned with philosophical concepts or aesthetics, or involve cultural problems, then the translations can be very clumsy indeed and can appear to be quite meaningless; whereas in the original language, in French for instance, the meaning is perfectly clear.
I notice that the very week "The Times Educational Supplement" was referring to this particular problem, its 612 opposite number, "The Times Literary Supplement," contained a letter which pointed out that to render exactly in English matters of aesthetics is extremely difficult because our language is ill-adapted to the mysteries of aesthetics. It went on to point out that in German such matters would be crystalline and concise whereas if read in our language they would be extremely complicated and perhaps meaningless.
My hon. Friend referred to the realm of social sciences, and this particular part of the U.N.E.S.C.O. programme offers an interesting comparison with the realm of the natural sciences. It is suggested that an international council should be established on the lines of the International Council of Scientific Union, but here the natural scientist is dealing with facts and measurable phenomena, whereas the social scientists, in the programme U.N.E.S.C.O. has defined for them, are dealing with immeasurables. They are dealing with human attitudes of aggressiveness, conflict, misconceptions and prejudices—those very international tensions to which I have already referred. I will only say this about this section of U.N.E.S.C.O.'s programme: the simple and pressing question is, can the social scientist by skilful analysis and trained judgment, release us from our present international predicament? Can he reveal to us the source of our political science? Above all, if wars really begin in the minds of men can he make our minds any clearer in order to build more surely the defences of peace?
My experience of the building of this organisation since the days of the Preparatory Commission convinces me that there are tremendous possibilities in the hands of U.N.E.S.C.O. for good and for peace. I can remember, in the days after the First World War, attending conferences, in a rather lowly capacity, of a new organisation, then under the League of Nations, known as the International Labour Office. I remember spending three weeks attending a conference which discussed the question of night baking; I remember attending another conference which discussed the use of white lead in paint. I can also remember the question of the prevention of the use of phosphorus in the manufacture of matches being discussed at great length. I can remember, also, the general face- 613 tious and sometimes patronising remarks which could be noticed in the Press and elsewhere in the early years of that organisation. Who, it was said, was interested in such a question as the abolition of night baking? It did not seem to be anything which could make a contribution towards world peace. That organisation had to go through its growing pains, but I think we would all agree that after many years it has established itself as a worth-while organisation. We cannot imagine the international field of activities which is concerned with peace being able to expand without the work of the I.L.O. I feel that the same kind of things will be said in a few years about U.N.E.S.C.O. We must break down the barriers, the high walls, which separate one country from another.
Is it possible that in the future we in this House may get to know more about the work of U.N.E.S.C.O. and of all the specialised agencies? I have found it extremely difficult to obtain information about the work of these agencies, and no doubt those who are not particularly conversant with, or have experience of, U.N.E.S.C.O. also find it very difficult. Great strides have been made in making known the work of this organisation, but perhaps a great deal more could be done to let us know what is being done by all these specialised agencies. Is it possible that these agencies can in far greater measure do more in the way of combined operations? I am bound to admit that overlapping exists, certainly in connection with the organisation we are now discussing today. Can we eliminate that overlapping, and can the specialised agencies go in for combined operations? Though I have had only brief notice of this Debate, and I would have liked a fuller discussion on so important a problem, I am very gratified that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham has raised this subject, even though it must have been embarassing to him as well, to have had to raise it at such short notice.
§ 3.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
The House is indebted to my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Crawley) for having seized the opportunity which presented itself this afternoon, and which unfortunately so rarely occurs in our Parliamentary timetable, to initiate a discussion on U.N.E.S.C.O. Both he and I as well as a number of 614 other Members have for some weeks past been searching for an opportunity to ventilate some of the many problems which are associated with U.N.E.S.C.O. When I asked the Lord President of the Council a few Thursdays ago whether there would be an opportunity in this House for discussing the U.N.E.S.C.O. Report, which many of us read with the greatest interest, he said he thought it would be an appropriate subject for discussion in the House, and hoped that the Opposition might make use of a Supply Day in order that we might have a discussion. I do not know whether these facilities are to be provided, but I am very glad that my hon. Friend has raised this question this afternoon. It is a disadvantage that when these opportunities occur that it is not always possible to give all the hon. Members who are interested the necessary notice to enable them to take part in a discussion on the subject, which is one of great importance.
We know that the Parliamentary Secretary, with the blessing of the Minister, has during the last two or three years devoted a great deal of his time to the work of U.N.E.S.C.O. In 1947 he went to the conference in Mexico City, and in 1948 to the one in Beirut, on each occasion as the leader of a strong and powerful United Kingdom delegation. His attendance at those conferences has meant considerable absence from this country. In some quarters I have heard criticism of the fact that the Parliamentary Secretary and the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Education have spent so much of their time abroad attending U.N.E.S.C.O. conferences. Those criticisms are not well founded. The work of U.N.E.S.C.O. is of great importance, and the time spent by the Permanent Parliamentary Secretary and the permanent head of this Department can, I think, be justified. But it follows as a corollary from that that the work which they have done and the work which has been done by U.N.E.S.C.O. should be adequately followed up and understood in the country.
I well remember raising the subject of U.N.E.S.C.O.—I think, for the first time in this House—about 2½ years ago. That was also on a Friday, when we had two or three hours available for Debate, and when my right hon. Friend's predecessor, the late Miss Ellen Wilkinson, made an 615 important speech in this House about the objects, hopes, ambitions and ideals of U.N.E.S.C.O. What we in this House have to ask ourselves today, and what those in the country who take an interest in this subject are asking themselves, is how far those hopes, ideals and aspirations which were put in U.N.E.S.C.O. as one of the specialised agencies of the United Nations are being fulfilled; and what, if anything, we can do to strengthen their purposes.
As the Parliamentary Secretary has recited, and as is always recited on any discussion about U.N.E.S.C.O., its objects derive from the theme that peace begins in the minds of men.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am sorry—that war begins in the minds of men. As a corollary, if we are to have world peace, the ideas and the concepts of world peace must be firmly founded in the minds of men. It is unfortunate that U.N.E.S.C.O. has been boycotted by the countries behind the Iron Curtain.
§ Mr. Hardman
If my hon. Friend is referring to the Beirut Conference, I should like to point out that Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Poland were not present; but that if he is referring to the Iron Curtain countries as refusing to play any part in the work of U.N.E.S.C.O., Czechoslovakia and Poland have representatives on the Executive Board and have, of course, attended previous conferences. I am not now going into the question of why those three countries did not send delegates to Beirut, but there has not, in fact, been a boycott of U.N.E.S.C.O. as a whole.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Of course, I accept that correction. When I spoke of the countries behind the Iron Curtain I had in mind the predominant country which we always think of being behind the Iron Curtain—Soviet Russia, who, unfortunately, has never sent a member to U.N.E.S.C.O. It is perfectly true, as my hon. Friend has said, that some of the other countries which are now, but formerly were not, behind the Iron Curtain such as Czechoslovakia and Poland, have maintained their membership of U.N.E.S.C.O. I think it is worth while drawing attention to the fact that the 616 reason why Poland, at any rate, among those countries of Eastern Europe, felt unable to attend the conference at Beirut, was the rather tenuous reason that there was no diplomatic relationship between Poland and the Lebanon, which is another ground of criticism, as was reinforced by the United Kingdom delegation, for their original objections to Beirut as the meeting place of the Conference. I have criticised that venue in the past, but since criticising the choice of Beirut as the meeting place of the Conference I am bound to admit that there may well have been some advantages in the choice of Beirut.
I hope we shall find that as a result of this international conference at Beirut a suitable impression was made upon the Arab States of the Middle East about the intentions of Western civilisation to improve not only social conditions, but educational conditions also, which exist in those countries.
§ It being Four o'Clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Joseph Henderson.]
§ Mr. Fletcher
I hope that suitable opportunity was taken of the occasion to show our profound sympathy not only with the hundreds of thousands of Arab refugees suffering in the Middle East, but also our conviction that a tremendous amount of work must be done in the Middle East to remove the conditions of illiteracy which constitute one of the prime reasons for the backward nature of those States. We in this country have a full recognition of the importance which the Arab countries of the Middle East—Syria, the Lebanon, Transjordan, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the others—have to play in making their contributions to world progress and prosperity during the next generation.
I believe that there is one field in which U.N.E.S.C.O. can play an important part in removing some of the illiteracy and backwardness which exists in those countries. We must never lose sight of the fact that not only does U.N.E.S.C.O. exist for some of the—I was about to say grandiose—ambitious and academic projects of which the Parliamentary Secretary has spoken, but 617 it also exists for the more humdrum, limited and pedestrian objective of trying to increase the standard of education and intelligence throughout the world, for making a mass attack on illiteracy and for providing the essentials of knowledge—literature, text books and so forth. I shall always regard that as one of the most important of the objectives of U.N.E.S.C.O. I hope that it will not be overlooked in these rather more rarified discussions about scientific and philosophical subjects which take place at the international conferences of U.N.E.S.C.O.
There is one other aspect to which it is important to draw attention. I should like to welcome the presence here today not only of the Parliamentary Secretary but also of the Minister of Education. I do not know whether he proposes to take part in our discussion, but I was very glad to see that he was present in person at the conference which took place a week or 10 days ago at Church House for the purpose—for the first time, if I remember rightly—of trying to provide some kind of public forum to listen to the reports of the members of the United Kingdom Delegation and offer criticisms and suggestions. The matter of importance at the moment is that if U.N.E.S.C.O. is to be a success and a reality—and unless it is, I think these long visits abroad of Ministers and eminent civil servants will be largely wasted—it is essential that there should be built up in this country a responsible and independent body of opinion for the purpose of supporting U.N.E.S.C.O.
In America, they have a kind of commission which is not centralised and does not derive its strength merely from the centre, but aims at bringing together spontaneously from all parts of the United States in a common membership people who are prepared to think and talk about U.N.E.S.C.O. and to criticise it, because it is very important that the activities of any national degelations at U.N.E.S.C.O. should feel that they are responsible and responsive, not only to their own Governments, but also to informed and enlightened public opinion in their own countries.
§ Mr. Hardman
On this particular point, the co-operative bodies—I know that my hon. Friend knows the position and that I need not describe them—consist of some 250 places, and the 618 Ministry of Education, which is often criticised for being the controlling body and wielding the power, occupies only half-a-dozen of these places. Other Government Departments occupy more places, but I would point out that the co-operative bodies do provide an ample representation of various interests in U.N.E.S.C.O. If we look at the list, we find that it includes the British Council, local authorities, universities, the arts, industrial design, music, films, the drama, the acting profession, agricultural interests, the T.U.C., the iron and steel industry and so on. I have no need to go right through the list. There is no truth in the suggestion that my right hon. Friend has centralised the efforts of the country concerned with U.N.E.S.C.O. In fact, they are very widely distributed, and we have the magnificent and admirable services of distinguished representatives of practically all the cultural organisations in this country.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am quite sure that the whole House will be very glad that my hon. Friend has taken the opportunity of making that clear, because there has undoubtedly been a good deal of misunderstanding about it. I am very glad that he has explained that these co-operative bodies are not dominated by the Ministry of Education. I myself was puzzled till now to know how this national Commission was constituted. For example, when they had this meeting at Church House about 10 days ago, I only heard about it two days before it met, when with his usual courtesy my hon. Friend, extended to me, as an interested person, an invitation to go, which unfortunately I was unable to accept.
Nevertheless, there is a public misconception about it, and it is important that the public should know that machinery exists for enabling anybody interested in the matter to join this co-operative and co-ordinating organ, and thereby to make a contribution to the national policy that will have to be worked out during the interval between one biennial conference and another. There are numbers of people interested in this subject, not only at the level to which my hon. Friend referred, but, apart from the universities, schools and industry, in the churches and in various other walks of life. As I have tried to show, if the hand of the Minister is to be strengthened, it seems to me 619 vitally necessary that a vocal body of opinion should be built up drawn from as wide a circle as possible and prepared to study the reports of U.N.E.S.C.O. and to direct the policy which should be recommended to U.N.E.S.C.O. by the United Kingdom delegation.
Broadly, I think that my criticism of U.N.E.S.C.O. at the present moment would be that it is attempting to do too much, and that it is in danger of failing to take advantage of its opportunities and to fulfil the ideals with which it set out by having too vast a plan of objectives. It would be very much better if it confined itself to a smaller number of objectives which are specifically and immediately practicable.
I also very much doubt whether it is really wise for U.N.E.S.C.O. to impinge on the activities of some of the other specialised organs of the United Nations. For example, I notice a large part of the report of one section of U.N.E.S.C.O. is devoted to the work of the Commission of Human Rights which has been meeting, and still is meeting, as a department of the Economic and Social Conference, and is doing valuable work. Suggestions are made in the Report that U.N.E.S.C.O. should also concern itself with the production of what appears to me to be some rather philosophic disquisitions about human rights. I have no doubt that they will be very interesting when they are prepared, but I do not know whether they are really of great practical value. I should have thought it better to leave matters of that kind to the Commission of Human Rights which is in the process of trying to work out first a Declaration and now a Convention of Human Rights and which has to consider the matter not only from the point of view of legal principles, but also from that of what are practical politics.
I also hope that the Press will feel able to give the same kind of attention to popularising the work of U.N.E.S.C.O. that goes on—for example—in the American Press. Only two or three days ago, I happened to be reading one of the leading daily American papers which reported on its front page a speech made by Sir John Maud, the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Education, when he was addressing—which I am 620 very glad he was able to do—a widely attended meeting of the American national organisation supporting U.N.E.S.C.O. According to the report, his opening words were, "Fellow Unescans," and after a lucid and enlightening speech he concluded with the words, "Let us Unesc." That is the right spirit if U.N.E.S.C.O. is to be made a success. I conclude by repeating what I said at the beginning, that I wish it had been possible to give other hon. Members adequate notice that this important subject was going to be raised this afternoon.
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Sir Patrick Hannon (Birmingham. Moseley)
It would be a pity if some one on this side of the House did not say a word in view of the extremely interesting Debate which we have had. I am one of those who, for a considerable time, have entertained a feeling of doubt whether we were getting value for our money from U.N.E.S.C.O. The original concept of this great international project appealed to everyone, but I have felt from time to time that perhaps these journeyings to Paris, these long discussions, this translation into a variety of languages of the subjects to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, were perhaps a slightly heavy burden on the British taxpayer. After the interesting speech of the Parliamentary Secretary I am satisfied that U.N.E.S.C.O. performs a practical and hopeful part in influencing the international outlook of the times.
I would say how gratified I am that the Parliamentary Secretary has been able to give so much time to attending meetings at U.N.E.S.C.O. I do not know whether all the other nations which are contributing to this great organisation have someone who is giving the same amount of time, thought and constructive intellectual force to the interests of U.N.E.S.C.O. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be able to say that that is so, because this organisation can play a most important part in international relations in the future. We have had reference made to the concept of peace, and these lofty aspirations are always welcome in this House. Are they borne out in actual practice in the organisations to which reference has been made? I am satisfied that U.N.E.S.C.O. is performing a very valuable part in that re- 621 spect, and I am glad that this discussion' has taken place this afternoon because what U.N.E.S.C.O. is doing is not familiar to a great many Members of the House.
I was pleased to note from the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary that he is giving a great deal of thought to this work, the importance of which we all realise. After the speech he has made this afternoon many of us will change our view from one of being a little critical of U.N.E.S.C.O., in view of the plain and wholesome way in which he has presented the situation to us. Any contribution which this House can make to the success 622 of an organisation which can soften the asperities which prevail in Europe today, and which brings nations closer together, will be a most gratifying element in the outlook for the future. I am glad that the Parliamentary Secretary has made the statement we have heard today. I am certain that his colleagues in this House will appreciate it and give him substantial support in the future in continuing the great work which he is doing.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at Eighteen Minutes past Four o'Clock.