HC Deb 07 December 1951 vol 494 cc2724-33

Question again proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."

12.24 p.m.

Mr. Sorensen

If the gentleman who has just visited us had only delayed his visit for a few minutes longer I should have felt much happier and should have been able to complete my remarks. I shall not now detain the House long.

I was saying, when the unfortunate interruption came, that it is to the credit of the British Council that they meet some 99 per cent, of the students who come to this country and find places for some 95 per cent, in homes in and around London. This is all to the good. But a great deal of other excellent work is being done and we must not forget the splendid service which is done by the Victoria League, the Y.M.C.A. and Y.W.C.A., the International Friends Centre of the East and West Council and, very significantly, the members of the West African Students' Union and the Dean of West-minster's Fund.

With their two centres, W.A.S.U. provides fine accommodation and good fellowship for numbers of students. Perhaps the students may not always act as wisely as we should like, but students are not always as mature as are those who are no longer students. At the same time, it is highly desirable that these two centres should be kept going, because they are run democratically by the students themselves on behalf of the African student population in this country. I hope they will continue to receive the attention and sympathetic assistance which they have received in the past, and for which they are very grateful.

Although much work is being done by numerous organisations on behalf of African and other students, we must recognise that after the students have been initially settled in accommodation in London they often have to find accommodation for themselves. Although what I am about to say applies only in a very small minority of cases—I am sure that the great majority settle down happily—there is still evidence of a colour bar and colour discrimination in some parts of our land.

I plead with landladies and landlords to realise that every time they shut the door on an African student because of his colour they are really committing an act of war. It may seem extravagant to say it, but they are helping to shut out those friends of ours on whom we hope to rely to a very great extent in future to set to the world an example of Anglo-African friendship.

This criticism does not apply only to landladies and landlords, most of whom I exonerate from the criticism. Occasionally it applies even in the hospitals where coloured nurses and medical students are taking their training. I want to quote a letter which I have received. I shall not give the specific reference because it would be unfair to do so. The letter reminds us that there are still cases of coloured discrimination.

It says: The appointments officer at a certain hospital refused to consider coloured applicants … A recent vacancy was advertised, and there were six applicants, one African, one Pole, one Indian and three British. Only the British applicants were shortlisted, and each of these withdrew. The medical superintendent refused to consider any of the other applicants as they were not English, and the post had to be re-advertised. The letter is not from an African, but from a person in a very responsible position associated with a hospital. I cannot give names except privately and secretly, but I am sadly persuaded that this is an illustration of the existence of colour discrimination in a minority of cases. Likewise in some hospitals we find African nursing sisters while in others there are no African sisters, and that also may lead us to the conclusion that the colour prejudice operates in that respect.

I want to make it clear that I do not apply this to the majority of landlords, landladies and hospital authorities. I believe we have long since, for the most part, put aside the stupid irrational idea that because of the difference in pigmentation there is a difference in innate mental or spiritual capacity. On the contrary, I believe that this country is desirous of implementing its profession of democracy.

Therefore, I hope most earnestly that financially certainly, but in more ways than that, in the spirit of friendship and of moral responsibility we shall do all we can to make the visits of our African overseas students happy so that when they return to render service in their own lands they will go back with the consciousness that they have met here people who are not arrogantly superior to themselves but who are, in the deepest and finest sense of the word, their equals. For the promotion of that purpose I am glad that this debate has taken place.

12.30 p.m.

The Minister of State for Colonial Affairs (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)

I am sorry that the most interesting speech of the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Sorensen) was interrupted a few moments ago. I need not assure him, for he knows it already, that the time of the arrival of Black Rod is not one of those events over which the Government have any control.

We were very glad indeed to oblige the hon. Member for Rugby (Mr. J. Johnson) and to agree at very short notice to a change in the subject matter of this debate. Although the matter we are discussing is of enormous importance, we all agree that a short debate of this kind would not have been suitable for the first Parliamentary discussion on the proposed Federation of Central Africa. It would, of course, have been open to the former Secretary of State for the Colonies to have taken part in such a debate, but I think it is generally recognised that in debates on matters of this kind on the Adjournment, Front Bench speakers on both sides of the House should occupy as little time as possible.

Mr. A. Fenner Brockway (Eton and Slough)

In view of that statement, will the right hon. Gentleman do his best to secure us a full day for that subject when the House resumes?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

That, of course, is a matter that must be discussed through the usual channels, but I have no reason to doubt that there will be a very full discussion indeed soon after the House reassembles. I am sorry in many ways that we are not having that debate today, because I should like to have said to the right hon. Member for Llanelly (Mr. J. Griffiths) how very much the Government appreciate the patience and sympathy that he has shown to the problems of federation in Central Africa and how deeply indebted we all are to his zeal and understanding, and also to that of the former Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations.

That matter of federation in Central Africa transcends all party politics. Indeed, it is true also that what we are discussing today is, similarly, beyond all party dispute. There has been great unanimity on both sides of the House to the problems that face us in regard to higher education. If the debate today has been confined solely to a discussion of higher education in Africa, that does not mean that it is not a world-wide problem throughout all our Colonial Territories; and I hope that those who are doing wonderful work in other parts of the Empire will realise that our thoughts are constantly with them also—with the University College of the West Indies, the University of Malaya, the University of Hong Kong and the University in Malta, where in all these cases such extremely high standards have been set and are being achieved.

The House will realise also, as this transcends all party differences, how deeply indebted are the Colonial Empire and education in the Colonies in particular to the friend of everybody in the House, the late Mr. Oliver Stanley. It was whilst he was Secretary of State that two epoch-making commissions were sent out to the Colonial Empire.

In 1943, there was the Commission under the present Lord Justice Asquith to inquire into the problems of higher education in Colonial Territories as a whole. It was, as the House will remember, as an offshoot of that Commission that the particular inquiry took place into the problems of higher education in the West Indies. Then, at about the same time, we had the Commission to West Africa, so brilliantly presided over by my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). In all this work Mr. Stanley played a predominating part.

Shortly afterwards—I think it was in 1945—and when talking of Colonial problems in general and development in particular, Mr. Stanley used words that were, unhappily, only too prophetic. None of us"— he said— can expect to see the task accomplished by ourselves or even, perhaps, in our time. All we can ask is that we shall be given the chance Of laying a few bricks and that these few bricks shall be a secure foundation on which others can build. If we are now going to be able to build on those secure foundations I know that the House will like to pay a special tribute to the memory of a man who did so much to lay the foundations. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

There are many competing claims for colonial education. To many people, the problem of mass education is of the first importance, but I share the view that the task of providing the teachers is quite beyond the capacity of the United Kingdom and that we have to find in Africa itself many of the teachers on whom a development of primary education will depend. In my capacity as Minister of State, I preside over the Advisory Committee on Education in the Colonies, and I know something of the work that was done during the late administration in regard to the problems of mass education in Africa and elsewhere.

I share also the view expressed by the hon. Member for Rugby, by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Alport) and by the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) in regard to the all-important part of the education of women in Africa. We will certainly do all that we can to overcome the many formidable difficulties that, as all those who have spoken know, surround that particular problem. But if we are to get the leaders in engineering, in agricultural science, and in the host of other professional needs in Africa due to the higher education of Africans themselves, then we have got to turn to them to supply that need.

As the House well knows—it has been referred to once or twice already to-day—there are at present some 5,000 colonial students in England. Some 2,000 of them are following university courses, and some 3,000 are at non-university bodies like the Inns of Court, the teaching hospitals and the polytechnics. Colonial Governments are giving generous aid by way of scholarships, and Colonial Development and Welfare funds has also allotted about £1 million for the further education of those people who are anxious to play a part in the higher administrative posts in their own country.

We all welcome these undergraduates to London and to other and provincial centres. We will give them a warm welcome, not only in Aberystwyth, but in any other university. But we feel in our hearts that the best contribution we can make to their future welfare and their role as leaders in their own country is to stimulate in every possible way the development of colonial universities, and then, after the impressionable undergraduate period is over, leave postgraduate training as the British universities' contribution to the future leaders of the African Continent.

I know that I speak on behalf of the Government and of the Opposition also when I thank the universities in England, in Scotland, and in Wales for the work they have been doing on the Inter-University Council for Higher Education in the Colonies. This has been a quite invaluable body and has given a much needed stimulus to the creation of university colleges in Africa and elsewhere.

The House may be interested to know that, more lately, an advisory committee on colonial colleges of art, science and technology has been set up. Dr. Harlow, well known, I am sure, to many Members of the House, and a former Principal of Chelsea Polytechnic, is now advising the Colonial Office on the problems of technical education. He has completed two invaluable tours in Africa, which have put British Colonial Territories in Africa very much in his debt.

There is not much opportunity today to go in any great detail into the various universities and colleges throughout the African Continent, but I have been asked a number of questions and I will try to deal with them and, at the same time, make one or two other general observations dealing briefly with each of the areas in turn.

I take Central Africa first. Had the House today, as originally intended, debated the proposed federation of Central Africa or the discussions for a federation, hon. Members would have had before them the report of the officials on closer association. It will be seen from that report that the problem of higher education in Central Africa was very much before the officials as providing one of the strong arguments why some closer association was necessary. They say: There is clearly a great and urgent need in Central Africa for post-secondary education, academic and technical, both for Europeans and Africans; but we do not believe it is possible for at any rate some of the territories to provide the services themselves. His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom are watching with great interest the development of the Rhodesia University Association which has a money-raising object to try to provide funds eventually to establish a university college in Southern Rhodesia. I understand that it is possible that the Southern Rhodesian Parliament may shortly have before it a Bill to set up a university board and it is possible that the Northern Rhodesian Government may be associated with that board. There are also one or two most interesting schemes of technical education progressing now in Northern Rhodesia and in Nyasaland and the goodwill of the whole House is with the people who are carrying through these schemes.

In regard to East Africa, the House will have watched with pride and gratification the steady progress made by the University College at Makerere. I hope to pay a visit there shortly. I went there many years ago and I am told that the transformation between these two visits will prove quite remarkable. As hon. Members know, Makerere caters for the four territories, Kenya, Uganda, Tanganyika and Zanzibar. It has, in addition to the ordinary schedule, a school of agriculture, a school of medicine and a school of veterinary science and it will play its part with the other East African university developments in providing splendid opportunities for the youth of East Africa.

I have been asked whether Makerere proposes to have an engineering faculty. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester asked that. It is not proposed to have an engineering faculty because the new Royal Technical College at Nairobi is to provide a full course in engineering and it appears better to concentrate engineering teaching at Nairobi. I have also been asked whether Makerere is full and the answer is that it is quite full and newer hostels are being pushed on with as fast as possible.

The hon. Member for Rugby asked about the high cost of maintenance of students at Makerere. It is very high, about £600 per year per student, but I am informed that the staff is based on the assumption of a much larger number of students than there are today and the cost will diminish very considerably per head as the number of students steadily increases.

Mr. J. Johnson

How does that square with the fact that we have had only 31 staff and the teaching ratio is only 13.08 per cent.? I do not quite follow that.

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

The point I was making was that a great deal of finance has to be incurred for the limited number of students but in time, when there are more students, the actual cost per head will be considerably diminished.

Mr. Alport

Is the technical school at Nairobi to cater for all four territories and are the other Governments to contribute?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

Yes, it is intended to cater for all the territories. The Uganda Government is contributing £100,000; Kenya, £120,000 and Colonial Development and Welfare funds, £150,000. As hon. Members know, work is starting on the Royal Technical College and we wish it every possible success. At the same time, an Institute of Muslim Education at Mombasa opened last year and is getting well under way. This Institute has had a number of very generous private contributors, not least from the Aga Khan, to whom and to whose community throughout East Africa and elsewhere all friends of good government owe a debt of gratitude.

In regard to Makerere, I would remind the hon. Member for Rugby that the school of physics there has lately received from Doctor Williamson of Tanganyika the very munificent gift of £50,000. The traditions of private benefactions to the universities which have been one of the distinguished attributes of our university system here are steadily spreading throughout the Colonial Empire.

Mr. Archer Baldwin (Leominster)

When at Makerere, will my right hon. Friend see if there is any method of ascertaining the results of the education given there, because when I was there they did not have the slightest idea of what became of the students afterwards?

Mr. Lennox-Boyd

I shall certainly pay particular regard to what my hon. Friend says and shall follow the future of students with very great care. I understand that the General Medical Council at the moment has three visitors at Makerere who are trying to see whether their Diploma can be recognised. If it is recognised it would give anyone holding that Diploma the right to practice anywhere in the world.

My right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kelvingrove asked a number of questions about university colleges at Ibadan and Achimota. He will be glad to know that very considerable progress is being made in both these valuable institutions. It is hoped that the college at Ibadan will be transferred to its own home some time next year, and by 1956 it is hoped that the number of students will increase to something like 600.

In regard to the University College of the Gold Coast, it is hoped that by 1956 there will be some 600 students there as well. At present there are 340, but steady and sure progress is being made. We wish every success to both these colleges and also to the new ventures in technical education in Nigeria and the Gold Coast on which so much of future leadership depends, for it is the great task of the new generation in Africa and European and other administrators to try to overcome the prejudice, which undoubtedly exists in some parts of Africa, against practical and academic education.

If the problems are to be solved they will only be solved by a partnership of all races in which leadership schemes come more and more from Africans themselves. I am sure that the devoted British people running the universities at the moment, Dr. Mellanby, who is known so well, Mr. Balme, who has gone there after a brilliant war record in the recent war, and the head designate of the Gold Coast College of Technology, Dr. Andrews, will realise that they have the goodwill of the whole House in the very important task in which they are now engaged.

We have a great responsibility in Africa and we are anxious to share that responsibility with Africans and believe that partnership there will bring prosperity and happiness hitherto undreamed of. We are trying to train the leaders of their own people and, in partnership with us and within the framework of the British Commonwealth, we can provide a striking illustration of how different races can settle down in harmony together. We shall not forget the words of Lord Curzon, that we are very lucky people for the Almighty has placed our hands to the greatest of His ploughs in whose furrows the nations of the future are germinating and taking shape. It is up to us, to drive the blade a little further in our time and to feel that somewhere among these millions we have left a little justice, or happiness, or prosperity, a sense of manliness or moral dignity, a spirit of partnership—a dawn of intellectual enlightenment, or a stirring of duty where it did not exist before.