HC Deb 03 December 1959 vol 614 cc1443-9
Mr. G. M. Thomson

I beg to move, in page 2, line 44, to leave out from "to" to the end of line 45 and to insert: such number not less than five hundred as the Secretary of State may from time to time decide".

I move the Amendment to give the Under-Secretary of State the chance to live up to the peroration with which he ended his excellent speech on Second Reading. He may have noted that we were castigated in the Observer on Sunday for being a little too complacent about what we were doing and how much we were achieving in the Bill. It seemed to me, on looking at the Under-Secretary's words in the cold clear light of the next morning, that he had gone rather a long way. He said on Second Reading: The Bill is a great landmark. It represents the determination of a group of…some 660 million people, getting on for one quarter of the human race, to help one another, each according to his capacity, so that the benefits of higher education, of advanced technology and research shall be shared to the advancement and benefit of all."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 25th November, 1959; Vol. 614, c. 459.] Certainly this Bill would be a very great landmark if it did all that, but at the moment all that the Bill does is to make proposals for 500 scholarships for postgraduate students as agreed at the Commonwealth Education Conference. This will be, we trust, 500 places of higher learning for overseas scholars in addition to the 25,000 Commonwealth students of all sorts and levels who are in this country at the moment. An addition of 500 to 25,000 is not a tremendous increase, although it is very valuable and we all welcome it. It is, as the Minister said, only an addition of 500 to 25,000 students out of a population of 660 million. I do not think that there is room for any of us to be at all complacent.

We have tabled the Amendment to try to make sure that the Bill may perhaps one day become a landmark. Otherwise, at the very best, the Bill will not be a landmark but a milestone. I think that Members on both sides of the House expressed the hope on Second Reading that this was merely a first instalment of wider and more fruitful ways of educational cooperation within the Commonwealth. I trust that once various Commonwealth countries and ourselves have the present ration of scholarships in full operation they will come together again at the next Commonwealth Education Conference in India in 1961 and will say, "This is going very well. It is doing good work. Let us increase the number of Commonwealth scholarships we are prepared to offer. Let us double the number between the second and third Commonwealth Education Conferences".

As I understand the position—I am not surprised in the light of the exchanges across the Table—if the next Commonwealth Education Conference decides to double the number of Commonwealth scholarships we shall provide, the Government will need to bring in a new Bill or to amend the present one. This Bill simply and solely implements the recommendation of 500 scholarships agreed at this Conference. There is no provision for the kind of future advance we all so very much desire.

I hope that I carry the Government with me in suggesting that it is very desirable within the text of this Bill that there, in due course, should be provision for Her Majesty's Government to award still more scholarships without cumbersome recourse to further legislation. All Governments, as I understand, like to find ways of avoiding coming to the House of Commons with legislation. I should have thought that it would be a sensible precaution in this Bill for the Government to take necessary steps to allow this scheme of Commonwealth scholarships to be expanded as the years go by if agreement can be reached with our fellow Commonwealth countries.

I do not suggest that the text of the Amendment will stand examination by expert draftsmen. I understand that there are problems about that, but I hope that the spirit of the Amendment will be accepted by the Government and that they will try to make arrangements so to adjust the Bill in another place that the number of scholarships might be extended as speedily and quickly as they can obtain agreement from the other Commonwealth countries.

Mr. Creech Jones

I should like to support my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson). The Clause as at present drafted appears to be somewhat restrictive. It imposes the duty, I imagine, on the Government of coming to the House to ask for further powers or to introduce further legislation if it is thought desirable that more scholarships should be given. At present, I think that we are doing very much more in this sphere than is generally appreciated, quite apart from what the Government now propose. I should like the Bill to go through in such a way that in future there is no hampering restraint on the Government should they feel that the administration of the Measure has been so successful that further scholarship awards should be made provided our resources are sufficient.

I support the Amendment because we restrict ourselves too much in the Clause. After all, there is a growth of good will and better understanding inside the Commonwealth, and we seek increasing facilities to give expression to that spirit. One of the best ways of doing it is, in my judgment, in accordance with the purpose and intentions of the Brill.

I hope that the Minister will look at the Amendment and say that 250 or 500 places will not be the limit. The necessity for this educational work is so considerable that we hope that in the years ahead there will be increased opportunities for these awards to be made. We should reach beyond the limit of 500 and work to a higher figure as soon as circumstances permit. I hope that the restrictive nature of the Clause will not stand and that it will be amended in such a way as to give this latitude to the Government in the future.

Mr. Laurence Pavitt (Willesden, West)

I want to add my voice in support of my hon. Friends. I hope that the Minister will consider the Amendment favourably. It goes beyond the mere question of the numbers concerned, but I think that it reflects the spirit of the debate from the time the Bill was first discussed in the House.

It is a good Bill, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) has said, it represents a milestone rather than the end of the journey. I think that if we can accept the general spirit and the imaginative approach which we had at the start of the debate this afternoon, when we reached back to the best ways of British thought of all kinds in order to give of the richest possible experience from this country, and if we are to engage in the multilateral process as mentioned by the Minister, then the same kind of reaching back into the countries sending people from the Commonwealth, will take place. We want the Bill to be a success. The more successful it is, the greater demand there will be from the Commonwealth for more places for scholars and for more fellows to come to this country.

In the less technically developed countries, what many of us are looking for is that there shall be a chain reaction and that as ideas flow, so they will be communicated to a great extent by those people going back to their own countries in various sectors of their national life. If that is to happen, as the scheme continues there will be a greater demand for these scholarships, particularly from the less technically developed countries.

In India, for example, in the last six years in the sector of the Co-operative societies at village level, six colleges have been instituted by the Reserve Bank of India covering most of the country from Bengal down to Bombay. These colleges in particular need postgraduate people to go back and to refresh and enliven them. This scheme in India has been going for only a short time and as yet there have not been demands from that source for the kind of education that we can give so well in this country. Inevitably, with this Commonwealth scheme, that will be yet another source of demand for scholarships.

My last point concerns the request properly made by the hon. Lady the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Miss Vickers) for consideration of the womenfolk to come to take higher education in this country. In the less-developed countries, in spite of the high rate of development in towns like Karachi, in places such as those of which the hon. Lady has great experience in Malaya the emergence of the female into the economic and social life of the country has only just started. As more and more development, both technological and otherwise, occurs in those countries they will become yet a further source of demand.

The Amendment, therefore, is eminently correct. It conveys the general impression of the Committee, on both sides, that this rather broad approach is the gateway to something greater than merely the immediate provision of scholarships up to the number of 500. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will accept the Amendment.

The Under-Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations (Mr. Richard Thompson)

The object of the Amendment is one which I readily appreciate and understand. Hon. Members, convinced that this is a good scheme, want to feel that it is not unreasonably limited and that if it is a success we can go on and make it still better without following the process of coming back to the House of Commons for further legislation. That is a generous sentiment and one which, I hope, the success of the scheme, in due course, will show to be well founded.

The Amendment covers a quite narrow point. The wording of the Clause authorises my noble Friend to award up to 500 scholarships. The form of words chosen by the hon Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) and his hon. Friends slightly alters that to "not less than five hundred" scholarships, the implication clearly being that the number could be more. We should not belittle the figure of 500. I noted what the hon. Member said about the article in the Observer, which quoted a figure of 27,000 university students in this country and reflected that 500 did not seem to be a very great increase. It is, however, bigger than we think, because the figure of 27,000 referred largely to undergraduates and included, probably, people on apprenticeship courses and things of that kind. We know, however, that the majority of people coming here under this scholarship scheme will be of post-graduate status. If we consider the number of university students of postgraduate status in this country, an increase of 500 is quite substantial.

6.45 p.m.

With our Commonwealth partners, we are committed to a figure of 500 scholarships. Certainly, we intend to go up to that level. At this stage, however, I do not think that it would be right to go beyond that figure, which we have agreed in company with our partners in the Commonwealth, until we have given the scheme a reasonable chance to work out. Of course, the number of scholarships awarded within the limits of the scheme depends upon the number of people coming forward from the Commonwealth countries, but provided that sufficient applicants come forward —I see no reason to doubt that they will—we shall certainly not fall below the limit that we have set ourselves as a beginning.

I repeat to the hon. Member for Dundee, East what I said on Second Reading. We regard the scheme as only a beginning. It should be given a chance to get going, to implement the arrangements that we arrived at with our partners in Montreal and, later, at Oxford. We could not commit ourselves now to further unspecified expenditure in this way and we have also to consider the capacity of our universities to take in such additional students as we might like to take.

For all these reasons, I counsel the Committee to accept these limits which we have set ourselves, which are in agreement with our partners and which represents a great advance, and to reflect that opportunity for reviewing the progress which we expect to make will arise at the second Education Conference in India in 1961. When we have had a chance to consider that, if the omens are good—as, I think, probably they will be —we shall be quite ready to come to the House with, perhaps, further proposals. I regard that as the proper method and that we should act now in conformity with the agreement arrived at with our partners. If we give the present arrangements a chance to work, we can see what next to do when we review the position.

With that assurance—that we regard the Bill as a beginning and that we want the scheme to prosper and grow—I hope that the hon. Member will see fit to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Marquand

We must welcome the assurance given by the Under-Secretary that the Bill is intended to be only a beginning and that the Government have it clearly in mind to go much further at a later stage. It is, however, extraordinary how, this afternoon, we on this side have moved two Amendments which would liberate the Government and give them greater discretion in the choice of their Commission—they would have given the Government wider powers to grant more scholarships—but they have refused them both. The Minister of State and the Under-Secretary delight in hugging their chains which we were willing to strike off them. I am surprised.

I might have been inclined to press the matter further were it not that the discussion on Clause 1 revealed that there were such doubtful features in the Bill that it might be better to let it stand as it is and, when the time comes to expand the scheme, to have another Bill which is a little more specific and more carefully drafted. On the whole, therefore, I advise my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. G. M. Thomson) to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. G. M. Thomson

In view of the assurances from the Under-Secretary of State, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, without Amendment; read the Third time and passed.