HC Deb 03 June 1954 vol 528 cc1590-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn." —[Mr. Studholme.]

10.21 p.m.

Mr. M. Follick (Loughborough)

In the first place, I wish to apologise to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education for keeping him here to-night. I know that on an occasion like this people like to get away so as to extend their holiday. I mean this very sincerely because on the last occasion when the Minister was here to reply to me on an Adjournment debate perhaps I did not behave as conventionally as you, Mr. Speaker, desire us to behave in this Chamber. I hope, therefore, that you will acquit me of unconventional behaviour on this occasion.

This evening I raise a rather peculiar question; one that is not usually understood in this House. In doing so I should like to state quite clearly that I have no interest, nor concern, nor connection with the association with which I shall deal. I have to make that very clear because the whole of my life time has been devoted to the study of languages, the expansion of languages and the general dealing with languages. This association is one that I have watched with great interest from its very foundation in 1910 in some small place in Nottingham until, today, it has developed into a spreading concern with its own offices and examining centres in 20 places in Britain as well as in Paris and Dublin.

What brings me especially to the question is my great interest in our nation. Our future will be very much more difficult to assure for a population rising to 52 million—and it is getting near that—than it was in the past. We have been giving up large territories of the world. I do not want you to think, Mr. Speaker, that I am wandering from the subject, because I am building the background and explaining why I am so interested in this association. We have been giving freedom to great territories such as India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma and, now the Sudan, gradually West Africa, where, previously, we were not only the trustees but the governing Power. We had a priority in those lands for getting tremendously big orders for bridges, harbours and railways and we shall now have to fight to obtain such orders. I was walking along the banks of the Nile some time ago, in company with the Governor of the Sudan, and looking at the bridge over the Nile built by Dorman Long, of Middlesbrough, I said to the Governor, "What are we to do with our tremendous population in Britain, to find work for them when we are dissociating ourselves from such great things?"

He turned to me and said, "Well, that is your problem as Members of Parliament." I said, "No, it is the problem of the whole of our population because we are a trading nation and it is by trading that we exist. Without trading we starve." In the future we shall not be able to have the tremendous undertakings in these territories without fighting for them. We had a relatively easy time up to the beginning of the war. We were almost guaranteed these markets. There was very little opposition because we had priority there.

We shall not have that in the future. We shall have to fight for these markets against foreigners. Since the war and until quite recently we had the export trade of the world. Germany, Italy and Japan had not come back into the world markets. But now they are all back and we shall have to fight harder than we have ever fought before, because we have to learn how to capture trade from countries with whom we have not traded before. One way of doing that is to send out to those countries salesmen who have a knowledge of the language of the country. That is how the Germans beat us in South America. We can no longer depend on the tremendous trade which we had with the countries we formerly governed.

There is in Britain an institute which was built up from small means, the Institute of Linguists. It gives diplomas, fellowships and associateships to business people who have studied languages both abroad and in this country. The Institute has a very fine system of examinations. It encourages the study of languages, not like the universities for philologists, but for people going into trade who wish to be linguists. It has established a code of ethics which its fellows must obey. I have attended its conferences and examinations which are very well conducted.

We must have something of that description officially recognised in this country. Then wholesale houses who require capable salesmen with a knowledge of languages will know that an applicant for such a position who holds a diploma from this Institute is the man they require. The Institute awards diplomas and gold, silver and bronze medals. As I have said, I have no connection with them. I am not a fellow nor am I associated with this Institute and, therefore, I am able to speak with a complete lack of bias. But I have the interests of my country at heart.

I have lived for so many years abroad that I have seen where we fail in trade. We send people out to these countries, but no matter how able they are and no matter how good they may be as technicians, they cannot explain the benefits of dealing with these countries unless they know the languages. It is true that they might hire interpreters, but they are at the mercy of the interpreters.

A man in this position has to go with the full knowledge of the language of the country where he is going. If it is to Northern Europe, and to Scandinavia, he has to know the appropriate language—and the Scandinavian market is very important to this country and we shall have to fight against Germany to maintain it. If a man goes to South America he will have to know Spanish or Portuguese or even French, according to what country he is going to so as to obtain orders.

How is a firm to know that the applicant for such a post is capable of doing this work? If official recognition can be given to this Institute of Linguists there is a guarantee of a man's capabilities, in the same way that a headmaster who might want to employ a teacher knows that if the applicant has university degrees those degrees are the guarantee of the university. I know that this is a very exceptional subject, but it is no good waiting too long. This post-war epoch has finished and we have to strive for trade. We are a tremendous population in this country, and we have a poor supply of natural resources. We shall have to fight able nations who understand this sort of struggle for markets, and if we are not to have some institution of this description properly established in this country we shall be left behind in the struggle, which will mean starvation for this country. We can live only by trade. We have little or no exportable natural resources, and if we produce the best products in the world, unless we have the people capable of going out and selling those products we cannot find the markets for them.

I know that the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education has a difficult task to answer this question. I want him to take this matter back to the Ministry of Education and put it to them as I have put it to the House tonight, and tell them that our very future depends on our being able to trade with foreign countries whose languages are different from our own. We produce the finest goods in the world, but we have to make our people who go out into the world capable of facing up to other countries whose people speak those languages. Our industrialists, wholesalers and big marketing people have to have some assurance that the people whom they send out are capable of carrying out this very important work for Britain.

10.34 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Mr. Kenneth Pickthorn)

The hon. Member for Loughborugh (Mr. Follick) need not have begun with polite expressions to me, but I am very grateful that he should have done. I say he need not, for two reasons: first, that sufferance is the badge of all our tribe, and the other, that my revenge would have been very easy if I were a vengeful sort of chap: it would have been quite easy for me not to reply this evening, as I did not reply on a previous evening.

It is quite true that the question which he raises tonight—I use the word "question" in a large sense, because he really did not ask a specific question—is a familiar one. It is a difficult question to answer. Of course, it is always a difficult task to address this House, empty or full, but my particular difficulty tonight is in knowing what specific question is really in order.

I do not want to be appearing to take responsibility for that which is not really the business of the Department which I represent. On the other hand, I do not want to avoid making the best answer that can be made. But, if I may say so respectfully, I should not have felt certain beforehand that the matter put to me was really for me to deal with.

It is quite plain, supposing that the Ministry were responsible for excluding from some advantage some person or body corporate, or unincorporate, of which there was a strong presumption that it was exactly in the same situation as other bodies which had been admitted—as if, for instance, the Ministry treated one institute of mechanical engineers differently from another, or as if by some odd chance the University of Oxford had got left out of the list of universities—it is plain that there would be some responsibility to explain why.

Or, on the other hand, there would be some responsibility, perhaps, to explain why the Ministry had included in some list, explicit or implicit, some body or institution scandalously unsuitable—obviously, I shall not give examples, because that might be invidious. But it can hardly be the business of the Ministry to explain for any and every concern which is not on such lists why it is not on such lists, because, plainly, to that there is no end.

I am quite certain that the Ministry and its present incumbent, and, for all I know to the contrary, its past incumbents and any probable future incumbents, will agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite about the importance of exports and foreign trade, and the knowledge of languages for getting them. I wish he had talked earlier on that matter to some of his leaders, in one of the languages which he has on the tip of his tongue.

Whether it is true that we are now faced in this country with much greater difficulties and dangers than in the past, I do not know. One always, of course, exaggerates the dangers with which one is heroically grappling, and one rather tends to minimise the dangers which one's ancestors so easily overcame. Geht's besser? geht's schlimmer Fragt man alljährlich. Seien einst ehrlich Das Leben war immer Lebensgefährlich. I would not like to be dead certain that life is much more mortally dangerous now than it was before.

When the hon. Gentleman opposite talks about our not getting markets now unless we fight for them, I take it that he means the opposite of what he says. I notice that this military vocabulary always springs to the lips of those who really mean the opposite. What he means, I suppose, is that there was an Empire founded upon victory, if not upon war, that there is now not so much of it, and that, therefore, fighting cannot be so much relied upon.

The Institute of Linguists has no national or academic recognition as an educational institution. I am not saying that it ought not to have, or will not have, or is not better than many others which have, but that that is not its nature. So far as my researches have gone I can state that it was in origin, and remains essentially, if not wholly, an association of professional linguists, translators and interpreters, whose job is to improve the status of their calling and maintain a standard of professional conduct. It conducts examinations in foreign languages, and—although this is a very minor part of its business—in English for foreigners, on the results of which it confers the titles of associate, fellow, and so on.

It does not run courses of teaching. Its examinations, I gather—although two of its documents which I have examined are not strictly consistent—are in the main, if not exclusively, on practical and non-literary rather than cultural or literary lines, and its qualifications seem to be intended for people in the business world rather than the academic world. I am not saying it is any the worse for that.

The hon. Gentleman has not made plain what he means by "recognition." I understood that I was being asked vaguely for some recognition of the Institute, and I have even now got nothing more specific than that. The best I could do was to see what sorts of recognition might conceivably be considered by the Ministry for which I have the honour to speak.

The Institute could hardly be eligible to be recognised for a grant from the Ministry—

Mr. Follick

No grant is required.

Mr. Pickthorn

—because that is limited by regulation to people providing courses of education, and so on, whereas this is a purely examining body. So we can reckon that possibility as being out of the question.

There are circumstances in which my right hon. Friend recognises certain schools and other establishments as efficient without conferring any right to grant. That, again, could hardly be the sort of recognition required, because, under the rules which at present date from May, 1953—although they merely repeat in substance much older ones—that is applicable only to establishments providing courses of education.

The third possibility which, on the face of it, might conceivably be suitable, can best be referred to historically. In 1935, Sir Eugene Ramsden, whom you, Mr. Speaker, will remember very well—he is now Lord Ramsden—presided over a committee appointed by the Board of Education and the Board of Trade to consider, more particularly, the question of encouraging students from overseas to come to this country, and it was then recommended that we should consider the possibilities of a suitable examination in English for foreigners and that the certificates gained by those who were successful in the examination should receive some official endorsement.

Upon advice it was decided that such recognition should be given to the certificates issued by two universities—London and Cambridge. It may be that two other universities would have been better, but nobody has suggested that these two were unsuitable, and it was not work which other universities had any particular anxiety to share. That recognition has continued, and the British Council co-operate in organising the examinations in a large number of centres outside this country. That procedure was instituted just before the war, and in the short interval before the war began there were some suggestions from various other bodies that they might be given the same sort of recognition.

But since 1939 there have not, I think, been any such suggestions from anyone, with one exception to which I will come in a moment, and our experience is that that provision is ample. The advice we get from the British Council is that that provision for recognised certificates is ample. As far as I have been able to find out, since 1939 the only actual application from anyone to have this sort of recognition was the application from the Institute of Linguists, and that application was turned down in 1948.

That does not necessarily imply any reflection upon the work of the Institute. This particular form of recognition, the endorsement of a certificate, was designed to meet an official need and, on all the evidence, it appears to be meeting that need. That recognition from this Institute's point of view was for the smallest part of its work—in English for foreigners—whereas the Institute is concerned mainly with examining Englishmen in foreign languages.

There remains one other possible sort of recognition which may have been at the back of the hon. Member's mind. Under the Report of the Burnham Committee an addition is payable to qualified teachers serving in maintained schools who hold degrees of recognised universities. Under an Appendix to the Burnham Committee's Report there are certain qualifications which are not university degrees but which are recognised as entitling a qualified teacher to be treated for salary purposes as holding a degree. That is another possible sort of recognition.

In March this year the Institute applied for its fellowship to be recognised as a qualification equivalent to a first or second class honours degree of a British University. It was then told that such applications are considered by the Burnham Committee which, as the hon. Member knows, represents teachers and employers, and is the body charged by the 1944 Act with the duty of submitting scales of remuneration to the Minister.

Appendix V of the Burnham Committee's Report contains a list of the qualifications which may be treated as if they were university degrees for this purpose. The Committee has set up a sub-committee to consider and make recommendations about the conditions for acceptance of qualifications for graduate status for the purpose of the Burnham Reports. When this subcommittee reaches its conclusions, the main Burnham Committee, no doubt in the light of the sub-committee's advice, will consider the whole matter of actual and potential equivalents of university degrees for this purpose. It is, of course, open to the Institute to press its claims upon the Burnham Committee, but because of what I have said about the work of the sub-committee, it does not seem very likely that the Committee itself could directly consider such an application in the very near future.

What I have said seems to me to cover all forms of recognition for which I can be in any way responsible.

The Question having been proposed after Ten o'Clock, and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Eleven Minutes to Eleven o'Clock.

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