HC Deb 29 July 1964 vol 699 cc1725-33

7.13 a.m.

Mr. William Yates (The Wrekin)

If there be anything which wants modernising, it must certainly be the procedures of this place. For Members to have to go through a whole night on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill in this way is neither sensible nor tolerable, and, when we come back in November, we must look at the system under which we conduct our business. No prudent man would dream of running any organisation in this sort of way.

I have to apologise to the House because I, like any other hon. Member, desired to raise a very important change in the Midlands by way of an Adjournment debate, but, incredible though it may seem, throughout the whole of July there was not time available for me to do so, and, judging by the presence of other hon. Members in the Chamber, it was impossible for many others to raise matters of concern to them. The subject which I wished to raise concerns the establishment of a university in a new town of over 90,000 inhabitants in the Midlands. Naturally, I wish now to exercise my right to speak on the Bill.

On 18th January, 1963, the Minister of Housing and Local Government announced, not to the House but to the Press—and he was kind enough to tell me—that a major decision had been taken which would alter the social life of the Midlands, that a new town, for 90,000 people, covering 9,100 acres of South Shropshire, the majority of it in my constituency and part of it in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. More), would be designated which would create housing and employment for the Black Country and for the people of Birmingham in particular. This news was received with some relief, because much of the work of the local councils had been held up, and at last we were told that this new town would be ours.

The next thing that people began to consider was what sort of new town was it going to be. Let us be quite clear about this. This area is going to present one of the major challenges to town planners in this country. Not only is part of the area studded with pit shafts of the first Industrial Revolution, but its levels are extraordinary. Although parts of it are exceptionally beautiful, some of it is perhaps not the sort of place where, at first sight, one would think of making a new town. Fortunately, however, with the equipment that we have today, everything is very much easier than it was 10 or 20 years ago.

We are going to create a new town for people to live in, to work in, but what else? Anybody can build factories. Anybody can build houses and put people in them. But is that all that is to be created? It seems to me that the first fundamental to consider in creating a new town is the soul, the spirit, and the purpose of it. To start a nuclear reactor, one must have a critical mass to get it going. What was going to be the intellectual critical mass or the social centre of this large new town for 90,000 people? Many of the executives may live outside the town. Would not we get a uniform strata of society in that town?

Quite rightly, the first to suggest a change in the idea of the new town was The Wrekin Trades Council, supported by The Wrekin Labour Party, and, at a later date, I conceived the idea that perhaps just a new town with a university, though desirable, proper and suitable, was not imaginative enough for the twentieth century, for the party that was modernising Britain, for the party that was supporting the Robbins Report. It was certainly not imaginative enough for me.

I suggested that the Government might consider the creation of a university town. That could be done by permitting the New Town Development Corporation to consider, within the master plan, the creation of Britain's first new university town since Cambridge. Fortunately, very fortunately, the general manager of the Corporation, Mr. Penrhyn Owen, replied to my suggestion that this would give a unique planning opportunity to this coun- try and to the whole of the Midlands. So at one stage one person at least was interested in this concept. I therefore began to see whether any other people would be interested in it. Fortunately, the Birmingham City Council, which was aware of other proposals, expressed the view that any new university should be situated in Dawley.

Let us consider what other proposals might jeopardise the whole concept of the creation of the new university town for science, technology and industrial research. The first opposition came from Wolverhampton Corporation, which thought that Wrottesley Park, with salubrious and pleasant surroundings, might be a better place. Fortunately, Birmingham City Council has informed Wolverhampton that it considers that Dawley would be the better centre industrially for the West Midlands.

That, however, was not the only plan that would wreck this concept to create a new university town. The other problem was the idea of creating a university for Shropshire. This has been worked on, I understand, for some time by the Shropshire County Council and, in particular, by those interested in education in Shrewsbury. Therefore, there were two other competitors.

During all that time, with all the arguments going to and fro, we never had any political dispute or acrimony. The Wrekin Trades Council, The Wrekin Labour Party, the local councils of Dawley and Much Wedlock and Birmingham City all supported the idea. Party politics never entered the picture until, suddenly, without warning, Mr. Davis, a prospective Liberal candidate, who was born in Shrewsbury, got together the four prospective Liberal candidates for Shropshire and persuaded them to sign a political document, which could do nothing else but damage the chances of the creation of this new scientific university in the new town of Dawley.

That was understandable. The gentleman in question was born in Shrewsbury and is far more interested in Shrewsbury than The Wrekin. Certainly, it was an act of complete disloyalty to the people of Dawley and to the constituency which he hoped to represent. Fortunately, the challenge is not so bad on a political front, because the prospective Liberal candidate for Shrewsbury has now resigned. Nevertheless, that was the first time that we were confronted with party politics in the creation of the new university town of Dawley.

People support the suggestion of a university, but they ask what sort of university, what its purpose would be and what would it achieve. Very often, places say that they would like a university. It would lend itself to the prestige of the town or the city. Last night, earlier in this debate, we heard about the discussions which have been going on concerning the siting of the new university in Scotland. But this is totally different. It is to give 90,000 people great spirit and purpose. It is also known that the Robbins Committee suggested another university to be sited in the West Midlands, and perhaps we shall hear about that when my right hon. Friend replies.

When one considers how this should be done, it seems that the correct way is for a promotion council to be created and for the new university to receive help from a university already established. It was for this reason that I asked to see the Vice-Chancellor of Birmingham University to ascertain whether he would be prepared to help us. As a result of that conversation, I am convinced that if the Government agree to go ahead with the great concept of the creation of this new university town in the West Midlands, Birmingham would look after the infant as a mother would care for her child. This is a great help to us, because if a new university is suggested it must be able to call on assistance from an already well-established university from the faculty point of view.

I have written four letters to the Minister and two to the Prime Minister and Questions have been asked and answered, and they all lead to the point that the Government say that there is no objection to the development corporation, now in the last stages of preparing the master plan for the end of the year, deciding to reserve an area in which to place the new university. But the Government should go a great deal further and say not only "You may", but "We ask you to do so." It is the difference between "You can if you want to, and it may be all right", and "We think this should be done, and we give our approval to do it, and we wish to see it done."

To create this new university would only be a tribute to the great heritage of Shropshire. The creation of a new university for science and industrial research would be no more than to pay tribute to the great inventions and the great history and heritage of the Industrial Revolution which was founded in the centre of the new designated area, for it was there that the first iron bridge in the world was built in 1779.

It was there that Trevethick's engine was built. It was there that Abraham Darby made some of the greatest discoveries in metallurgy. Nearby are the famous Coalport China Works. Looking back over the years, one would think that here at least the Government, looking forward to modernising Britain and with their tremendous interest in science and technology, would in co-operation with Birmingham City and with industrialists in the Midlands, give wholehearted approval to the creation of England's first new university city for science and technology to be built in the Midlands, in Dawley New Town. The University should be part and parcel of the master plan for Dawley itself and part of the great plan for Great Britain as she goes into the latter half of the 20th Century.

7.30 a.m.

The Minister of State for Education and Science (Sir Edward Boyle)

By leave of the House, I will reply for the third time during the Third Reading on this Bill on the subject of the university expansion programme. If one adds together the speech I made after midnight and the one I made between 3 and 4 a.m., I have already addressed the House for 40 minutes on university topics. As time is getting on and other debates are to follow, I hope my hon. Friend the Member for The Wrekin (Mr. W. Yates) will not think me discourteous if I reply rather more briefly to him than I did on the two earlier occasions, particularly as, inevitably, I shall to some extent be covering the same ground.

The position is that the University Grants Committee and the Government are considering a proposal for new uni- versities during their formulation of a 10-year building expansion programme. The immediate task of the U.G.C. following the Government's statement on the Robbins Report was to see how we could achieve the objective of just under 200,000 full-time students in institutions of university status by 1967–68. I shall quote again what I have already quoted once tonight, from the Government statement: This immediate operation will be the first step in formulating a 10-year programme for the 390,000 full-time higher education places in Universities, Technical Colleges and Training Colleges by 1973–74, which is recommended in the Report. Of this total 218,000 will be in institutions of University status. I draw my hon. Friend's attention to two aspects of this Government statement that are relevant to the topic we are discussing. First, I pointed out some hours ago that it may well be that the figure of 390,000 is an understatement. I gave what are good grounds for thinking that the Robbins estimate of those receiving full-time higher education in technical colleges outside the C.A.T.s was probably an understatement of the demand that will develop.

I pointed out that, as far as institutions of university status are concerned, the problem which faces the U.G.C. is the relatively small gap that exists between the university target for 1967–68 and the university target, according to the Robbins Report, for 1973–74. I pointed out that this is a matter of not much over 20,000 extra places, and this represents a very real problem for the U.G.C. in considering all the matters it has before it at the moment, including the matter so pertinently raised and the proposals for special institutions made in the interesting speech of the hon. Member for Middlesbrough, West (Dr. Bray). That being so, my hon. Friend must face the fact that at the moment this is the U.G.C.'s big responsibility. I am not in a position to make any statement about any new proposals for a new university over and above the new Scottish university which we were debating a good many hours ago. I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate that.

I entirely recognise the ambitions of Dawley New Town. My hon. Friend has by implication had one or two harsh things to say about Shrewsbury. Those of us who know the Shropshire education authority at first hand know that the Shropshire county authorities in Shrewsbury will certainly be ambitious for the new town and its educational future, but my hon. Friend must realise that there are an enormous number of proposals for new universities before the U.G.C.

I mentioned earlier the proposal suggested by the Robbins Committee for new special institutions, but in addition there are the claims of many regional technical colleges which would like to be ungraded. Therefore, I think that my hon. Friend would be surprised—because I am sure that he is aware of the present state of affairs—if I were able to give him a definite answer this morning. All I can promise him is that the U.G.C. and the Government are considering all the proposals which have been put forward, though, as I have pointed out, there is a relatively limited number of new university places within which to operate between 1968 and 1974.

Of course, we have already approved 40 institutions around or of university status. When one adds the old and new universities and the colleges of advanced technology which are to receive university status, the number of institutions already existing which need to be built up during these years is very considerable.

The only other thing I have to say concerns the Dawley Corporation master plan. I hope that my hon. Friend will not think me discourteous if I say that perhaps he has been making slightly heavy weather of this matter in his correspondence with Ministers generally. The Prime Minister put it perfectly fairly, if I may respectfully say so, when he wrote to my hon. Friend: It is, of course, open to the Development Corporation to reserve land in the Master Plan for a university site if they so wish; and there is no reason to think that the Master Plan need be delayed in any way until a decision is reached on the claims for a new university. I know that hon. Members on either side of the House sometimes complain about the tone of Ministerial correspondence and of the rather cryptic language which it sometimes contains, but I think that that is a reasonably explicit and clear statement. I can only emphasise again this morning that the publication of the Dawley development master plan will not of itself prejudice the position of the new town's claim to a university.

Mr. W. Yates

I accept the Prime Minister's reply and what my right hon. Friend says, but if the Prime Minister were saying to the development corporation, "Gentlemen, go ahead and reserve land for a university and if the University Grants Committee agrees that you should have a university, well and good", that would be a different attitude. It is the attitude about which I worry—this attitude of "Reserve the land if you want". It is a matter of emphasis. It is the spirit behind it.

Sir E. Boyle

I will give it this extra piece of emphasis: the largest number of institutions that the U.G.C. can possibly approve as new universities by 1974 and the largest number which the Robbins Committee or anyone else has spoken of is six. I have explained that in recommending to the Government what, if any, the figure should be, the U.G.C. is operating within a very narrow range of numbers. Bearing in mind the number of applications coming in and the number of regional colleges which are looking with ambitious plans to the future, I am bound to say that if my right hon. Friend were to make ambitious speeches starting with the word "Gentlemen" to every single body which put up a project, he would be acting in a very misleading and irresponsible manner. I think that my right hon. Friend's reply to my hon. Friend was realistic in view of the present situation and the factors of the new universities and the U.G.C.'s responsibilities which I have described.

Mr. W. Yates

Yes, I understand what the Minister is explaining, but when this request goes to the Prime Minister it is not just a request from some organisation. This is the creation of a town—

Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir William Anstruther-Gray)

Order. The hon. Member will bear in mind that he is only entitled to make one speech in this debate.

Mr. Yates

I was trying to explain to the Minister the difference of emphasis between what he was saying and what I was saying earlier.

Sir E. Boyle

I have explained this point to the best of my ability, and I think that if we were to carry on any more exchanges on this subject we should exhaust the patience of the House. I ask the hon. Member to be acquiescent to what I have said.