HC Deb 13 December 1955 vol 547 cc1003-6
50. Mr. E. Fletcher

asked the Prime Minister if he is aware that Great Britain is far behind the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in technological education; and what steps he is proposing to take in the matter.

53. Mr. A. Henderson

asked the Prime Minister whether he will appoint a committee of inquiry into all aspects of scientific, technological and technical training, in view of the growing demands of industry and whether he will make a statement.

57. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Prime Minister if, in view of the fact that Britain has allowed herself to fall behind the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in the development of technological education in the last ten years, he will appoint a Minister for Technical Education.

The Prime Minister

As I said in the debate on the Address, the Government are determined to make a big advance in the sphere of technical education; and my right hon. Friends the Minister of Education and the Financial Secretary, who were the spokesmen for the Government, told the House, on 21st July last, how our plans were being developed. The Government are, of course, very much aware of the importance of this problem and have the advice of authoritative bodies. I have been in frequent consultation with my right hon. Friends upon the problem, and a further statement will be made shortly by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education about technical colleges. I do not think a committee of inquiry will help, nor the appointment of another Minister.

Mr. Fletcher

Would the Prime Minister say whether he agrees with the observations of the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) who, speaking in his constituency a week ago, said: This is an all-important subject … We are already surpassed by Russia on a scale which is most alarming. In the last ten years"— and, after all, the right hon. Gentleman was Prime Minister for nearly half of that time— the Soviet higher technical education for mechanical engineering has been developed both in numbers and in quality to an extent which far exceeds anything we have achieved. This is a matter which needs the immediate attention of Her Majesty's Government.

The Prime Minister

I am fully in agreement, especially with the last sentence. The matter is receiving immediate attention. We spent last year about £4½ million on improvements in various spheres in this connection. This year we shall be spending £7 million, and next year £9 million. If the House is interested, there are figures which I should like to give, since there are many Questions on the subject, about the contracts placed for technical colleges in this country. In 1946–47 there was none, in 1948–49, £222,000, in 1950–51, £874,000, in 1952–53, £3,307,000, and last year just under £7 million.

Mr. Henderson

Is it not a fair explanation of the fact that Russia appears to be so far in advance of this country in the training of technologists that the Soviet Government have given the highest priority to training in both science and technology? If that be so, can we take it that the Prime Minister's reply indicates that Her Majesty's Government are going to attach the greatest importance to training in science and technology? Will they lead a campaign to influence parents and children to realise the importance of this training?

The Prime Minister

I referred to this matter in the debate on the Address and, as I said, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Education will make a further statement very soon. I think that we are all alive to this very serious issue but, of course, methods of dealing with these problems in a free country are very different from the methods in countries which have not the same system as ours.

Dame Irene Ward

Would my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the University of Durham would like a little more financial assistance as it has been rather left out in the cold, compared with Birmingham, Glasgow and Manchester?

The Prime Minister

The universities are being treated alike in this respect.

Dame Irene Ward

Yes, but not at the same rate.

Mr. Hughes

Is the Prime Minister aware that the speech of the right hon. Member for Woodford was the most inspiring that the Young Conservatives at Woodford have ever listened to? It is the most amazing tribute to the efficiency of Communist education that has ever been paid. Would the Prime Minister tell us, in the light of that, whether he is not only playing about with the subject of teachers' superannuation but discouraging teachers from joining the teaching services?

The Prime Minister

No doubt I shall have the help of the hon. Gentleman in the work we are now doing in order to keep us abreast of the Soviet Government.

Mr. C. I. Orr-Ewing

Will my right hon. Friend do what he can to speed the expansion of the Imperial College, which is to cost £15 million?

The Prime Minister

I am conscious of that problem which, as my hon. Friend probably knows, has many complicating factors.

Mr. Stokes

Whilst myself favouring classical education, may I ask the Prime Minister whether the situation is not now so grave that the Government will have to encourage people to abandon classical education and pay a great deal more attention to science?

The Prime Minister

That is a matter into which I would hesitate to enter at Question Time, but I can say that it is one which concerns not only science but technical engineering even more, in certain respects. Facilities are being increased by many activities, including considerable help from industry itself, as no doubt the right hon. Gentleman knows.

Mr. Callaghan

Has the Prime Minister thought of sacking the Minister of Education and putting in his place the right hon. Member for Woodford?

Hon. Members