HC Deb 24 April 1964 vol 693 cc1797-808

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. J. E. B. Hill.]

4.3 p.m.

Mr. James Boyden (Bishop Auckland)

I am grateful for the opportunity of raising the subject of grants for adult education following the decision of the Minister of Education to keep a standstill on grants to the extra-mural department of the Workers' Educational Association for the year 1964–65.

The Minister's answer so far has been that by extending capital aid to the residential colleges he thinks he is doing enough for adult education. But the grants to the residential colleges begin only in 1965–66. When I raised the matter on the Adjournment in July the argument was not that there was not adequate money but that the load on the building industry was too much to take these very tiny extensions of buildings in the residential colleges.

In any case, the argument for the extending of the residential colleges is hardly in the same category as that for grants for extra-mural and W.E.A. work. The Minister also argued in answer to questions put to him that as in the current year there has been some slight increase of grant to provide for another dozen full-time tutors and an increase in fees for part-time tutors, he cannot find any more money for the year ahead.

I was not particularly satisfied with the Minister's answer to me on the subject of the residential colleges. The original answer about extended grant provision for the current year for extramural classes and W.E.A. extensions was, I thought, unsatisfactory. It was an unfortunate answer in that there was a muddle and the question was only partially answered. However, having considered all the facts and the double answer which I got, I still remain of the opinion that the extension of grant was not satisfactory. So the present situation is far from satisfactory.

When Lord Eccles was Minister of Education, he was always hostile to adult education. He said that there were no votes in it, and he showed that obviously. The present Minister who is responsible for higher education has always beer friendly in his words, and so, too, has the Secretary of State for Education and Science. They say flattering words, very sweet words, but it seems to me that the more flattering the words are, the less is the money. Probably there is a new Boyle's law—that the amount of grant is in inverse proportion to the sweetness of the words. The facts are that the responsible bodies haw had very little more than words, words, words, and if they find the Minister's actions stale, flat and unprofitable, it is not surprising that they do so.

The recent standstill has brought a large body of protests. The general Secretary of the Workers' Educational Association, Mr. Harry Nutt, has said that standstill means contraction, and he has described the right hon. Gentleman's attitude as grudging and mean,

The secretary of the Universities' Council for Adult Education, Dr. Kelly, said: Faced as we are by a rising tide of demand, we feel a sense of frustration amounting almost to despair at this renewal of the standstill on Ministry grant for our work. These gentlemen and the people they represent are not given to anger or high praise.

The sum of money involved in this standstill is absolutely tiny. The total expenditure on responsible body work is 0.1 per cent. of the national expenditure on education, and the sum that the responsible bodies ask for is 0.01 per cent. The practical effect of increasing the tiny grant would be very much larger than the monetary value that it represents. Adult education must be voluntary, and it must be encouraged by the Government. Voluntary work becomes extremely difficult if costs become more important than voluntary action. This is the present situation which will face the responsible bodies in the coming years.

I quote a number of examples to give practical effect to this argument. In the North-East, for example, the Northern District W.E.A. has organised over the years a most successful linked week-end course. The Parliamentary Secretary and his inspectors have commented very highly on the quality of this work. The Northumberland miners have been particularly successful and assiduous in encouraging this type of work. If no more funds are available there will be restriction on the amount of work, and other trade unions and other unions, which might catch the enthusiasm of the Northumberland miners and other unions, are likely to have their applications turned down because insufficient money is available for classes. Organisations in the field are less likely to pioneer if they have questions of cost over-hanging them all the time. They will go for the existing classes which perhaps need strengthening rather than pioneering into science, social studies and other subjects. It is also easier to play for safety, especially when money is so acute.

In London the Director of Extra-Mural Studies has written to me to say that last year he was able to appoint two tutors under the slight thaw which took place but that if these tutors are successful the extra work which they will generate cannot be done and the extra classes cannot be taken because there will be no money to pay the part-time tutors. The Oxford Delegacy has raised private, voluntary money for a small residential centre in Oxford, which I think the Parliamentary Secretary would find highly commendable, with special courses for professional people, industrial relation courses and the orthodox liberal education courses. Oxford are in the position that, having got the college nearly ready, they will not be able to have the funds to provide the tutors to run the college.

The president of the Universities Council for Adult Education and the president of the W.E.A. said in a letter to The Times on 26th March—and this summarises the position very neatly— Previous experience demonstrates all too clearly that such a standstill, especially in the face of rising costs, means an actual diminution of planned work, a loss of momentum and a serious over-burdening of very limited administrative energies. In March, 1963, the Labour Party very clearly went on record about adult education—and I refer the Parliamentary Secretary to page 33 of the Taylor Report, in which he will read: In a healthy democracy, adult education is not a frill to be cut at the first sign of economic recession. It is an essential part of the national educational system; for democracy itself depends on art educated adult population. It is in this light that a Labour Government should encourage its growth. During the whole period of Conservative administration, the main bodies providing adult education—the local education authorities, the W.E.A. and the Extra-Mural Departments, have been starved of funds and subjected to irritating limitations on their work. Adult education needs for its expansion more organising and tutorial staff. The present ceiling on grants to Extra-Mural Departments and W.E.A. Districts should be raised and a higher proportion of their teaching costs met from Government sources. I do not know whether this produced the 12 tutors, but there was a remarkable coincidence between the publication of the Report and the minor concessions which the Minister gave to adult education in allowing last year an increase in the number of tutors and in the amount available for paying part-time tutors' fees.

In October came the Robbins Report, with paragraph 518, which made special reference to the contribution which extra-mural departments and the W.E.A. have made to the general education of the community. The Robbins Report said of adult education, The demand exists on a large scale. The Robbins Committee observed the position rather differently from Lord Eccles who, seeing the same evidence, thought that there was not much demand. I prefer Robbins observation, since the Robbins Committee had done its work much more thoroughly than Lord Eccles is apt to do in education. The Robbins Report praised the pioneering of the W.E.A. and the university extra-mural classes in all parts of the world—the rôle of Oxford in the West Indies and West Africa, the rôle of Durham in Sierra Leone and the rôle of London in several overseas territories. There was clear evidence that the work of the voluntary bodies was a great success and that developing countries modelled their style of adult education on it. The old Commonwealth countries have done this from the beginning.

How have the Government been supporting adult education? The Robbins Report has been accepted by the Government except, obviously, for this particular, and I should like a clear assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that in the future the Government intend to accept paragraph 158. The National Institute of Adult Education produced a report on staffing and accommodation, and the Minister sent circulars to local authorities commending cooperation in this field in respect of accommodation, but I must point out to the Parliamentary Secretary that there were two years of work in the National Institute's report and that all the Minister did was to spend two hours drawing up a circular and passing the buck back to the L.E.A's.

I want to ask plainly, do the Government accept paragraph 518 of the Robbins Report? This standstill has aroused a big volume of protest. Many of my hon. Friends and a number of hon. Members opposite support me in the spirit of this Adjournment and some wish to speak today. All my colleagues in the northern group are in favour of removing the standstill, and, in particular, my right hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Creech Jones) and my hon. Friends the Members for Bradford, South (Mr. George Craddock), Leeds, South (Mr. Merlyn Rees), Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), Colne Valley (Mr. Duffy) and Southampton, Itchen (Dr. King), have asked me to mention that they support the lines on which I am speaking.

There is a very simple answer which the Parliamentary Secretary can give today. He can reply in one sentence by apologising for the typing error in which a "1" was left out of his reply, so that the increase of grant for 1964–65 instead of 0 per cent. should be 10 per cent. This will satisfy me very well, and I will give him his typing error. But perhaps he wishes to elaborate on that.

He could, however, if he wants to, be a little more elaborate, and say that he accepts paragraph 518 of the Robbins Report, page 33 of the Taylor Report, and paragraph 74 of his Ministry's publication Further Education issued in 1947.

I will conclude with that. His Ministry's own Report in 1947, when adult education was booming, says this: If a great extension of technical education is essential to the well-being of our economic life, so equally is a wide development of general adult education necessary if we are—as individuals or as a nation—to deal competently and democratically with the complex political questions of our time, or to develop those interests and activities which go to the making of a full and satisfying life. The Joint Under-Secretary has a very easy task before him today and he can satisfy us very easily indeed.

4.16 p.m.

Mr. Charles Curran (Uxbridge)

I suppose we can regard it as non-controversial that we are all in favour of the promotion of adult education. The question is whether the State ought or ought not to play a larger part in it than it is playing now. I speak as a member of the W.E.A., somebody who has supported it with money and with services for a good many years. I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary will resist, and resist vigorously, the suggestion that the only way to promote adult education in this country is by providing more and more money from the public purse. I do not believe it. It is high time that the W.E.A. recognised that this is not 1903, that Albert Mansbridge has been dead for a long lime, and that the England in which the W.E.A. was created is not there any longer.

I dare say it was true 60 years ago that, if adult education was to survive, it had to be promoted by the State and had to be supported more and more by State funds. This is not so in the England of the 1960s. I can see no reason why adult education should not flourish on the voluntary contributions of those who want it and who benefit from it. So far from seeking to extend the amount of State support to it, I want to encourage voluntary support. I think that those who benefit from it—a great many people do benefit from it—might reasonably be asked to pay for it, and to pay much more than they do.

It seems to me idle to suppose in the England of the 1960s that the beneficiaries of adult education are so poor, so wretched, so helpless, that they cannot do anything for themselves and that money must be provided for them from the public purse. I believe that, so far from extending public grants to the W.E.A., we should on the contrary stimulate the beneficiaries of the work of the Association to pay for it, and to pay more for it. I think—I am again speaking as a member of the Association—that it is very undesirable and unsatisfactory that this body, which has done such valuable work, should still be imprisoned in the past. It is high time that the Association abandoned its soup kitchen position, the position of supposing that the beneficiaries of its work are all too poor to help themselves, and recognised the fact that in this increasingly affluent England of today the beneficiaries of adult education might reasonably be expected to pay at least as much for it as they pay for booze and Bingo.

4.19 p.m.

Mrs. Eirene White (Flint, East)

I do not want to take more than a moment or two, because this is really a back bench occasion. However, I do not want the debate to pass without it being made perfectly clear that we on this side of the House, at any rate, believe that adult education is part of a civilised life, that it is just as entitled to support from public funds as are, for example, art galleries, and public libraries which we have been discussing in Committee. We should be very happy indeed if the Government would pay attention to the very strong feeling that there is about the standstill of expansion in this field. We feel this is regrettable.

I want to make just one specific point. The reason given publicly for this action by the Government is that they are assisting the residential colleges. This assistance, however, welcome though it is, is to be spread over three years, not beginning until 1965–66. It amounts to 50 percent only of the capital grant of about £400,000 in total expenditure and, therefore, to about £200,000 altogether, spread over three years. These establishments have not received a penny from public funds hitherto on capital account. We shall still have to collect a very large amount ourselves and we do not recognise this as any excuse for not helping the responsible bodies, as they are called, in adult education.

4.21 p.m.

Mr. Merlyn Rees (Leeds, South)

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran) is entitled and correct to start with the premise that social conditions are different today from 1902. The hon. Member is, however, wrong to suggest that the W.E.A. people in early years were moved out of poverty and wretchedness in the sense in which he expressed himself. In my view, the changed social conditions of today, of automation and the like, need a development of adult education equally as much as people did 50 or 60 years ago. State and voluntary activity must be as much a partnership today as it was in the past.

I do not seek to detain the House long, because I shall be interested to hear what the Government's representative says. I have had strong representations in Yorkshire from constituents, trade unions and the W.E.A., the northern district in particular. Even as things are, plans in North Yorkshire for 28 classes in the current year had to be halved, the duration of another 19 classes has had to be cut by half, 300 students have been turned away and nearly 300 students have had shortened classes. We are grateful for the extra £200 that was given, but this was on top of a cut in the original estimated expenditure.

The point which I rose to make is that in North Yorkshire it was aimed to have a tutor in industrial relations on Humberside. This is the sort of work which goes hand-in-hand with the work which has been done under the Industrial Training Act, but that is narrowly vocational. The work that is done with the trade unions on the liberal arts side is equally important. Through W.E.T.U.C., the W.E.A. can do a good deal. I felt it necessary to bring these facts to the notice of the Under-Secretary of State.

4.23 p.m.

The Joint Under Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Christopher Chataway)

I am left with a very few moments in which to reply to the debate, but I appreciate that there are a number of hon. Members who take a keen interest in adult education. The last occasion, as the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Boyden) reminded the House, on which I replied to him on an adult education subject was in July last year, when the hon. Member raised the question of capital grants to the long-term residential colleges.

As the hon. Member and the hon. Lady the Member for Flint, East (Mrs. White) have acknowledged, those grants have now been sanctioned to the long-term residential adult colleges. The four colleges which have firm plans for expansion should start their building work during the period 1965 to 1968. The hon. Member may fairly point out that the expenditure to which the Education Department is thereby committed, a sum in all of £200,000, does not fall upon this year's Vote. I point to the incident, however, as a refutation of the suggestion made by the hon. Member that my right hon. Friend has no sympathy with adult education.

The first thing that I wish to make clear is that there is no question of a reduction in grant to university extramural departments or to the Workers' Educational Association or any of the responsible bodies for the current year. It is not even the case, as the hon. Member suggested and as has been suggested in the document which was sent by the Universities Council for Adult Education and the W.E.A. to a number of hon. Members, that there will be a standstill on Ministry grants to responsible bodies this year.

That is not the case. Total grants to the responsible bodies, residential colleges and national associations in the financial year, 1963–64 amounted to £879,090; for. 1964–65 the total will be £934,250. Total grants have, therefore, risen by about £55,000. Looking only at the figures for the universities and responsible bodies, we find that whereas the amount was £791,060 for 1963–64, the estimate for the coming year is £839,000. Moreover, that figure does not include a further sum of certainly over £70,000 which will be required to meet the recent university salary award, and which will need a supplementary Vote.

The House must, therefore, accept that there is here no question of a standstill in grants—still less of a reduction in them. What has happened is that we have had to say to the voluntary bodies that we cannot, for this year, finance any expansion of activity; and that the increased sums made available are broadly necessary in order to finance activities on the same scale as the year before. When the hon. Gentleman said that the House would be satisfied if I could suggest that there would be a 10 percent. increase in grant for the coming year he was giving me too easy a let-out, because there is, as I say, a recognisable increase. What has caused disappointment is that we have been unable this year to finance any further expansion in activity.

In answer to the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland, my right hon. Friend who was then Minister of Education said that he did not feel justified in proposing further expansion in 1964–65 over and above chat sanctioned in 1963–64 in view of the Government's heavy and increasing commitments on other forms of education. That we were able to finance some improvement in staffing in the previous year was acknowledged by hon. Members. Additional funds were provided last year to allow 15 new tutor appointments and give higher fees to part-timers.

I appreciate that the responsible bodies are disappointed that we cannot take this a stage further in the current year, but I suggest that it could not be accepted by any Government that an expanded grant in one year involved some sort of commitment to a further expansion in grant in the succeeding year. It is said that small sums are involved. Compared with a total educa- tional expenditure now running at over £1,300 million, that is true. Nevertheless, the total grant to adult education may well amount this year, as I have indicated, to over £1 million, and looking back over the years it is clear that there has been an appreciable increase in the grant made available to the responsible bodies and to the national associations.

The total of grants to adult education through the Ministry of Education was about £390,000 in 1954–55—that is 10 years ago—and the fact that there has been this increase in expenditure despite all the other pressures on the Ministry of Education does not tally with the somewhat ungenerous statements made by the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland about my noble Friend Lord Eccles.

With those increased sums the responsible bodies have succeeded in appreciably increasing their scale of activity. Whereas, in 1954–55, there were 7,448 classes in 1962–63 the figure was 9,056. That was a drop over the year before, resulting purely, as I understand, from an exceptionally bad winter. Again, the numbers of full-time tutors have increased over that period.

There were a number of other figures that I had wished to give to the House, but, as my time is almost up, I would simply say this. I do not believe that the improvement that we see taking place in general education will lead to any elimination of the need for adult education. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Curran), and it is a valid point. There is little doubt that over the years people will be in a position to pay more for the adult education that they want, but, equally, I think that it will be accepted in all parts of the House that one result of a better formal education will be an increasing demand for adult education if only because one of the purposes of any educational system, I take it, is to produce people with a desire to educate themselves. Some of those people will not wish to make demands on any formal system of adult education, but some may.

I would not, therefore, have the House believe that the standstill in activity which my right hon. Friend suggests for this year—the modest increase in grant—heralds some agonising reappraisal by my right hon. Friend of the rôle of the responsible bodies. That is not the case. The fact of the matter is that, however desirable would be an early expansion of some of the activities to which hon. Members have drawn attention, there are at the moment more urgent priorities. It is for that reason that my right hon. Friend has had to confine the increase in grants—

The Question having been proposed after Four 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 twenty-seven minutes to Five o' clock.