HC Deb 01 August 1951 vol 491 cc1429-35
9. Sir Richard Acland

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will make a statement on the circumstances leading up to the writing of a letter from the Director of Colonial Scholars on 19th July telling certain colonial students in Hans Crescent that their positions as scholarship students would have to be reconsidered if they did not vacate the accommodation they were occupying; and what is the latest position arising from this letter.

20 and 21. Mr. Wedgwood Benn

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies (1) if he will make a statement on his policy with regard to the dispute between the British Council and the colonial students at present in the Hans Crescent hostel, in view of the letter written by his Department to these students on 19th July;

(2) whether he will request the British Council to stay the eviction order made by them against the colonial students at present in the Hans Crescent hostel, pending a general reconsideration of all welfare and accommodation problems affecting colonial students in Great Britain.

Mr. J. Griffiths

Owing to the length of the answer, I will, with permission, give it at the end of Questions.

Mr. Peter Smithers

Can the Secretary of State say whether he proposes to publish any target figure which he hopes to reach for the accommodation of these students in hostels? This is extremely important.

Mr. Griffiths

I am making a full statement at the end of Questions.

Mr. Smithers

Is the information for which I have asked in that statement?

Hon. Members: Wait and see.

At the end of Questions:

Mr. J. Griffiths

I am concerned and anxious to make the best provision I can for students from the Colonies who are staying in this country. There are now about 5,000 students from the Colonies in the United Kingdom, about half of whom are in London. Unfortunately, the problem of accommodation for students is more difficult in London than anywhere else in the country, but many students want to come to London for special reasons, such as studying law.

The House will realise that in existing circumstances the provision of hostel accommodation for all colonial students is not practicable, even if it were desirable. Apart from any question of cost, there is the difficulty of building, or of finding any conveniently placed buildings suitable for adaptation in the inner London area.

It has therefore been my policy to reserve the available hostel accommodation mainly for newly arriving students who are in particular need of such accommodation while they are getting used to English conditions, and also during vacation for students who are visiting London.

Of the 167 students who had been accepted for residence at Hans Crescent for the 1950–51 academic year, 112 were asked to leave to make room for new students. I may say that more than a thousand new students will be coming here during the next few months.

All the students who were asked to leave were offered alternative accommodation by the British Council, and the majority accepted this offer. A little over 40, however, have refused offers of alternative accommodation and have been staying on in Hans Crescent without the Council's permission. Included among these latter are four colonial scholars to whom the Director of Colonial Scholars wrote saying that if they continued to occupy accommodation to which they were not entitled, their position as scholarship holders would have to be reviewed. I have not, however, caused 'any deductions to be made from the allowances paid to them.

At the same time, I must repeat that these students are retaining accommodation to which they are not entitled and which is required for others who need it more. I have arranged that the Under-Secretary shall meet the students in Hans Crescent this evening to discuss their position with them and I hope that it will be possible to arrive at some amicable settlement.

As regards the general position, I think that with the continuing growth of the student population more hostel accommodation is needed, and to help meet the influx of new students this summer I have already arranged with the British Council for Moray Lodge, Campden Hill, to be opened as a temporary hostel. It will accommodate 60 students at one time. I am also discussing with the Council the permanent provision of extra hostel accommodation, and I hope that it will be found possible to add as much as 200 beds to the present capacity.

I must, however, repeat that there is no question of His Majesty's Government providing hostel accommodation for all colonial students. Most students must continue to rely upon lodgings, and it is not true that suitable lodgings are impossible for them to obtain. The British Council have done a great deal in helping students to find suitable lodgings and now have on their books many hundred addresses of good lodgings where colonial students are welcome. This service is at the disposal of any colonial student. In addition, the Council get valuable help from voluntary societies in providing accommodation for colonial students.

Sir R. Acland

As regards the letter about the scholarship grants, as this was sent without any consultation with the colonial Governments who actually paid money for the scholarships, and as it has caused more bitterness than any other question in this story, would the Minister consider the advisability of withdrawing it, as it was a mistake to have sent such a letter at that time?

Mr. Griffiths

I am sure my hon. Friend will realise that, by arrangement with the Colonial Governments, the care and welfare of these students, about which we are deeply concerned, particularly in London, is left by them to myself and to the Colonial Office. I have not acted beyond that. When we provide scholarships for students, it is not unreasonable to ask them to accept the regulations and rules which we make in the interests of the students here, of whom there are 5,000. We are glad to welcome them, we are doing our best for them and, with their co-operation, we can make a big success of this.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn

Is my right hon. Friend satisfied that with regard to the 40 students at present in the Hans Crescent hostel there was not at any rate a misunderstanding, if not an actual breach of faith, by the British Council in regard to the length of time that they understood they were to be allowed to stay in that hostel?

Mr. Griffiths

I am sure there was no breach of faith. There may have been misunderstanding by those men about the term "academic year." As I have said, the Under-Secretary is this evening meeting the students concerned and, if I may appeal to hon. Members, I think it would be better if we leave him to discuss this matter with them in the hope that there will be a settlement.

Mr. Gammans

Does the last part of the statement mean that the British Council has available more lodgings on its books than there are students who may want that accommodation? And would it be true to say that no colonial student in this country who has registered for accommodation through the British Council cannot find it?

Mr. Griffiths

It is true that the British Council have now a list of accommodation which they investigated personally to make sure that it is satisfactory. That accommodation is not occupied at present, and therefore it is available to the colonial students.

Mrs. Middleton

Will my right hon Friend say when these students are made aware of the fact that the accommodation in the hostel will be limited to one year only? Is it made before they come to this country, or after their arrival here. and who is entrusted with the task of conveying the information to them?

Mr. Griffiths

The task is entrusted to the British Council, and they are made aware of that. Also, the policy has been made known collectively that, since there is limited accommodation with regard to these hostels, we think—and I am sure I will carry the House with me here—that it is better to confine this at present to as many new students as possible in order to give them 12 months in which to accommodate themselves to conditions here. After 12 months we hope and believe they will be able to fit into the available accommodation in lodgings. That is much better than young people having to do so when they come here for the first time.

Sir R. Acland

Will my right hon. Friend ask his hon. Friend this evening and subsequently, to pay special attention to the possibility of the personal relations between the students and their representative, on the one side, and the representatives of the British Council, on the other, being a little better in the future by being more tactfully managed than in the past?

Mr. Griffiths

My hon. Friend will meet them and will discuss the problem fully with them. I am sure the hon. Member will agree with me that cordial relations are a two-way traffic.

Sir Edward Boyle

Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that accusations of that kind, however unjustified, can spread like wildfire in the Colonies from which these students come. Would he, therefore, on this tricky matter, assure us that he is keeping constantly in touch with the respective governments?

Mr. Griffiths

Yes. I am deeply conscious of the fact that among the many thousands of young students who come here are the future leaders of their countries in five or 10 years time in an important developing stage of the Colonial Empire. I am, therefore, deeply anxious about any rumours that may spread.

That is why I sought the permission of you, Mr. Speaker, and of the House, to make a full statement so that this can reach people in the Colonial Territories. I have asked my hon. Friend to meet the students this evening, because I do not want any misunderstanding of this kind to spread in the form of rumours that might misrepresent the position and cause ill feeling between us and the people of the Colonies.

19. Mr. Wedgwood Benn

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies whether he will receive a deputation from the Consultative Committee of Colonial students' unions to discuss the general problems of welfare and accommodation of colonial students in Great Britain.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I am very ready to receive a deputation from representative student bodies and will arrange to do so at an early date.

Mr. Wedgwood Benn

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this statement will give great satisfaction among the students who have hitherto felt that they have been prevented from getting to the Department which is responsible for the administration of hostel accommodation?

Mr. Griffiths

I do not think that they have been prevented. I am always ready and anxious to receive deputations and to discuss problems with them.

Commander Noble

Has there been any question of the Minister refusing to see such a deputation?

Mr. Griffiths

No, I have not refused to see any deputation.

Mr. Peter Smithers

Did not the right hon. Gentleman refuse to receive a deputation from West Indian students about this matter recently?

Mr. Griffiths

I think that the Minister ought to receive deputations upon problems of this kind from those who are directly responsible for the administration and those directly concerned.

Forward to