HC Deb 16 July 1956 vol 556 cc851-4
53. Mr. Dodds

asked the Minister of Education if he is aware of the concern arising from the issuing of Circular No. 307; and, in view of the need for encouraging further education, if he will give consideration to withdrawing the circular.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education (Mr. Dennis Vosper)

My right hon. Friend is encouraging further education, but he thinks it reasonable that students aged 21 or over should pay at least 10s. a term towards the cost of providing a part-time day or evening class. He does not therefore intend to withdraw the circular.

Mr. Dodds

Is the Minister saying that the country's finances are in such a horrible mess after five years of Tory rule that the Government have to charge extra for further education? This is trifling in comparison with the finances of the nation, but it can mean so much to individuals. Is the hon. Gentleman not aware that Kent Education Committee estimates that 10 per cent. of the students will drop out because of what has happened? Will he explain why the Minister gave education authorities such short notice that many of them have to call special meetings?

Mr. Vosper

The hon. Member may not be clear that this circular refers almost entirely to non-vocational classes. I do not think it is unreasonable that a fee of 10s. a term, or approximately 10d. a week, should be charged for non-vocational courses. I regret the short notice, but my right hon. Friend is willing to consider cases where that is causing difficulty.

Mr. Dodds

Why was there short notice?

Mr. M. Stewart

Can the hon. Gentleman say not only that he regrets the short notice but whether there is any justification for it? Also, if he wants to hide behind the fact that this relates mainly to non-vocational courses, may I ask whether he remembers that his right hon. Friend gave me an answer recently when he said that he was making plans for the purpose of encouraging liberal education?

Mr. Vosper

In answer to the second part of the Question, I repeat that 10s. a term should not discourage liberal education. The reason for the short notice is that it was necessary to get out this circular for the autumn term. Had it been delayed longer, it would have been necessary to wait a further year.

Mr. Nabarro

Would my hon. Friend put this matter into its correct perspective and say what one of these courses costs and, therefore, how much is borne by public funds, being the difference between 10s. and the actual cost of the course? Secondly, would my hon. Friend not agree that the former charge of only 5s. per term was grossly inadequate and unrelated to present monetary values?

Mr. Vosper

The only information I can give to my hon. Friend is that, in the circular, it was stated that the cost of further education to local authorities was about £32 million a year, of which fees represented only £2.5 million.

Mr. Lindgren

If the Government are trying to induce industry not to raise prices, why is the Ministry of Education, as a Government Department, itself raising prices? Does the hon. Gentleman appreciate that to young workers even 5s. is a considerable sum which has its effect when trade unions come to negotiate wage claims?

Mr. Vosper

The hon. Member speaks of young workers, but this circular refers to workers over the age of 21, and these fees represent only a very small proportion of the total cost of providing the courses.

Mr. Redhead

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the many educational settlements affiliated to the Educational Centres Association are gravely disturbed that work of great social importance may be brought to an end by the deterrent that this increase is likely to have?

Mr. Vosper

My right hon. Friend is discussing this matter this afternoon with the L.C.C. He has also said that hardship may be taken into account for remission of fees.

Mr. E. Fletcher

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the London County Council, to whom he has referred, regards this circular with consternation? Is he further aware that the L.C.C. regards it as a great blow to the cause of liberal education, which it has been building up over many years for the working men and women in the Metropolis? In view of the protests that this circular has received all over the country, will not the hon. Gentleman advise his right hon. Friend to withdraw it?

Mr. Vosper

My right hon. Friend is giving the London County Council an opportunity to put that point of view this afternoon. I have no doubt that he will take into account its views as well as those of the hon. Member.

Mr. Nicholson

Do not the questions from hon. Members opposite reflect an entire lack of any sense of proportion?

Mr. Gibson

Is the Minister aware that most of these classes in London are attended, in their spare time, by men and women who are trying to extend their educational background, and that the effect of this circular over the course of a year is to raise the cost by 200 per cent.? In view of that fact, does not the Parliamentary Secretary think that the Minister should have another look at the matter and withdraw this circular until later on?

Mr. Vosper

In the first place, the fees in London are considerably below the level for the rest of the country. In the second place, the hon. Member may not have observed in the circular that, where the increase will more than double the fees, it can be made over a period of two years.

Mr. Swingler

Is the Minister not aware that the indecent haste with which these extra charges are being imposed casts grave doubt everywhere among education authorities of the Minister's sincerity in claiming to be in favour of further education? Is the hon. Gentleman not further aware that these classes are of especial value to the lowest paid workers and pensioners, and folk of that kind, to whom every increase in the cost of living comes? As the Minister is, therefore, contributing to putting the squeeze on the lowest paid workers, who get the greater value from this kind of education, will he not reconsider the statements he has made about the policy of further education?

Mr. Vosper

I do not dispute that these courses are of value to the lowest paid worker. If, in fact, the lowest paid workers cannot pay the free of 10s. a term on the grounds of hardship, remission can be made.

Commander Agnew

In view of the agitation which this matter has raised among the Opposition, is not this a suitable subject for them to give up a Supply Day in order to have a rather fuller debate?

Mr. Speaker

This really is becoming a debate.