Dr Julian Lewis: I am extremely grateful to the Minister and am very encouraged by everything he has said so far. Does he agree that, despite the covid-19 pandemic forcing us all to move into the virtual world, the physical footprint of organisations such as the British Council must be maintained and restored, because in international competitive environments, where we leave a vacuum, other countries with less benign intentions will be all too ready to fill it?
[The Minister for Asia (Nigel Adams): My right hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. The footprint of the British Council is huge globally. If he is referring to potential office closures, no decisions have been taken. Clearly, the British Council is operationally independent in that regard. We will work and are working extremely closely with the council to ensure that any negative impact on its work is minimised as much as possible.
Despite the hardship endured throughout the pandemic, the British Council has continued to innovate and it has adapted to digital delivery. I understand the point of my right hon. Friend’s intervention. Previously, the digital footprint was nowhere near what it is now in terms of delivering the English language. Currently, more than 80,000 students are learning English online. ... I have no doubt that the British Council will continue to play a vital role, and the FCDO will continue to support it as one of our most valuable soft power institutions.]