HC Deb 25 March 1925 vol 182 cc586-92

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Commander Eyres Monsell.]


A fortnight ago I addressed a question to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury in regard to the matter of the Welsh University grants. On account of the answer, I felt it my duty to give notice that I would raise this matter at the earliest moment on the Adjournment. It was not possible to raise it before to-night, and, therefore, with the indulgence of the House, I would like to refer to it of this moment. The question I addressed to the Financial Secretary was one with a two-fold reference. First, it referred to the prospective grant which the Treasury has recently announced to the Universities throughout the country; and, secondly, it had reference to certain negotiations which have taken place between the Treasury, or, rather, the University Grants Committee and the Welsh University authorities in the past.

I want, in the very short time at my disposal, to limit myself to one portion of the subject, namely, the reference to the past, and not to the future grant. On 14th August, 1918, a deputation was received by the then Prime Minister of the Coalition Government, assisted, I think, by my right hon. Friend the Member for the English Universities (Mr. Fisher), who was then the President of the Board of Education, in regard to the difficult financial situation in which the Welsh University then found itself. It was a deputation thoroughly representative of Welsh life generally, and they came up, of course, as most deputations do, to Downing Street, in pursuit of the eternal quest, financial aid. After the deputation had presented its case, the then Prime Minister intimated that he would only entertain the application on two very specific conditions. One was that the University authorities would accept, in the main, the proposals of what is called the Haldane Report, and, secondly, that no grant would be given unless the local authorities in Wales would pool their resources as a condition of the grant.

Subject to those two conditions, the Prime Minister of that day announced that a pound per pound grant would be made by the Treasury in respect of all moneys raised by the local authorities in Wales. In regard to that, I am not raising any controversy to-night. The other point that was promised was that a similar pound per pound grant would be made in respect of new income that would be accruing to the university from that date, August, 1918. I think that my right hon. Friend opposite will not repudiate or deny that such a promise was made. If it were denied, I could quote textually from the promise then made, which indicates that the promise was absolutely clear and precise as made to the deputation at that time. Indeed, the promise was almost confirmed by the answer given by my right hon. Friend a fortnight ago. There is only one observation I should like to make in regard to that reply. He said that the right hon. Gentleman the then Prime Minister had no right to commit the Government in perpetuity. I would be the last to expect the Prime Minister, or any future Prime Minister, to commit any Government in perpetuity, but I indicated in my supplementary question that there was no suggestion that any promise was made for all time, but that rather it covered the next five years. May I say that the five years suggestion came, not from the deputation itself, but was the suggestion of the then Prime Minister himself, as I could show by quotation, if time allowed.

What is the case that we have to present to-night? It is specifically in regard to that five years' period, and my point is, and, indeed, the point of the University authorities is, that this promise—what we call, I think rightly, pledge—has not been honoured fully and completely in the sense which the then Prime Minister indicated. I want to limit that statement in some degree. It was honoured as from August, 1918, to the end of December, 1920, and I believe I am right in saying that a sum of money has been paid by the University Grants Committee to the Welsh University authorities covering the period from August, 1918, to the 31st December, 1920; but since the 31st December, 1920, that pledge has been wholly and completely ignored, in so far as it refers to private benefactions. That promise made in August, 1918, was again confirmed in March, 1919, and a claim was presented at an interview in 1922 by a deputation which waited upon the University Grants Committee. The answer given on that occasion was this—I will quote only a very short relevant passage: The Committee could give no guarantee that these amounts would rank for equivalent grant, but it would be an advantage if the University sent in a full statement of all gifts and benefactions received since 31st December, 1920. As a matter of fact, the University authorities have presented, in pursuance of that suggestion, their statement of claim each year, for 1921, 1922, 1923, again in 1924, and again in 1925 in respect of 1924. My point, therefore, is this, that the pledge, as made by the then Prime Minister, covering the prospective five years, has not been honoured in respect of the period from the end of 1920. I do not want to be unfair to or unreasonable with my right hon. Friend. I admit quite frankly that there has been a period of financial stringency since this promise was made; I admit that, on that account, not only the Welsh University authorities, but authorities all over the country, have similarly had to curtail, their demands upon the Treasury; I admit, further, that the total sum which the Welsh University authorities estimate as being mow due to them, which will amount at the end of June to about £30,000, in respect of this pledge, is a big sum to ask the Treasury to give right off, but just as it is a big sum for the Treasury to find, so it is a big sum, I submit, for the Welsh University authorities to do without. It cuts both ways, and, therefore, I want to put to the representative of the Treasury to-night this very important consideration. When this pledge was made, supreme efforts were made naturally, by the University authorities to get various donors who were charitably disposed to present sums of money to the Welsh University authorities.

Let me give a case in point. There what is known as the Radcliffe benefaction which amounted, I think, to some £50,0000. Such sums as that were given on the understanding that they would rank for this grant, which was a pledge, as we understood it, given by the then Prime Minister in 1918. What has been the result? It has not ranked for grant. A grant has not been given, and the consequence has been—I say it regretfully—that the reservoir of charity, which would have been available to the Welsh authorities, has been in a large measure limited by the knowledge that gifts such as these will not, in future, rank for these special grants from the Treasury This means loss of confidence and trust. Add to that, that the Welsh authorities have in the past received substantial grants from our merchant princes in South Wales and elsewhere. There is great trade depression in South Wales, and, naturally, the resources from which private gifts and otherwise have been made have been very largely dried up. Therefore, we have suffered in two ways. We have not been able to get all the university grants, nor can we now anticipate, with some measure of confidence, future grants from charitably-disposed donors. I do not, as I said, want to be unreasonable, but might I make a suggestion to the right hon. Gentleman opposite, on my own authority and without reference to any other authority?£30,000 in one year is a good deal to expect. Would it not be possible for the right hon. Gentleman to suggest that the payment of this sum shall be given to the Welsh authorities, and distributed over a number of years to make it easier for the Treasury? That would safeguard the Welsh authorities from this very serious loss. I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for his courtesy in coming here to listen to what I have to say.


May I reinforce what my hon. Friend has just said. I realise that nothing is likely to have been said by the Prime Minister, or the right hon. Gentleman, either in 1918 or in 1920 which would justify us in expecting this grant to the Welsh University to be given in perpetuity. I do not think that the University is unreasonable in saying that when the Government- started to give this pound-for-pound grant in 1918, it was inflicting a hardship upon the University suddenly to withdraw it in 1920, two years later, and that, at least, the University may not expect some different treatment.


The arrangement made with the Welsh Universities in 1918 was terminated after due notice. The hon. Gentleman who has raised this point seems to be under a misunderstanding as to what was exactly the promise of the then Prime Minister. The hon. Gentleman spoke as if there were a guarantee from the Treasury that for five years a pound-to-pound grant would be given. There was no five years' condition as to public funds. The five years' condition clearly applied to private benefactions.


Exactly; that is what I mean.


The Prime Minister was asked, what is the time limit of any such benefactions, and the Prime Minister said: "I suggest five years." There was no promise of any kind from the Government that they would go on giving pound for pound grants. They said that they would not give a pound for pound grant for any benefactions which were not guaranteed for five years. The hon. Member mentioned the Radcliffe gift. That gift was made in 1923 and it could not have ranked for grant for £50,000 because it was distinctly laid down that these capital benefactions were only to rank on their interest. The Radcliffe gift was nearly two years after notice had been given that this arrangement had to come to an end. Under the 1918 undertaking of the Prime Minister the grants to the Welsh Universities went up very rapidly. They went up from £36,500 that year to;£52,000 the following year, and in 1920–21 they went up to £95,000. Then came the Geddes Committee and the University grants were cut down by £300,000 a year. The Committee sent a letter to the Universities and explained that their resources had been decreased, and that it followed that the Committee would not be in a position to recommend any additions to the present annual grants-in-aid until the state of the public finances permitted His Majesty's Government to reconsider the position. So there can be no misunderstanding on the part of the benefactors that their grants were going to earn the pound for pound equivalent.


But the University authorities have carried out their bargain absolutely and fully.


So did the State. The State said they would give pound for pound, with no definite term, for any benefactions guaranteed for five years. They gave notice that they would have to bring that to an end, and therefore I am afraid it is impossible to re-open it, because when that pledge was given the whole system was different, there was only less than half-a-million given to all the Universities together. Since then the public assistance has greatly increased, and the then Prime Minister said in 1918 that whatever was done for Wales would have to be done for the rest of the country. I hope that. Wales will share in the advantage of the increased grant, but the revival in its full application of the pound-forpound grant beyond what the University Grants Committee have still observed, the pound-for-pound equivalent of rates found by local authorities, would be absolutely inconsistent with the new system which was set up since 1918, under which Parliament votes a lump sum, and entrusts the allocation to the University Grants Committee. It is clearly impossible, as that Committee has only a definite sum to deal with, that they should be faced with demands which they could not measure, and if they were called upon to find pound for pound throughout the country it would clearly be impossible for them to work to a fixed figure. But really Wales is very well off. Their University is getting £95,000 a year—more than Oxford, more than Cambridge, half as much again as Liverpool, and half as much again as London. They are getting 45.8 per cent. of their total resources out of Imperial funds, whereas the average percentage in England is only 34.7, and in Scotland 34.1.

It being Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.