HC Deb 20 March 1967 vol 743 cc1319-39

5.0 a.m.

Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)

So far tonight the House has been discussing matters of wide national or regional importance, though it could be argued that the debate on the cotton textile industry was not without a certain number of constituency-angled speeches. I think, however, that it will not be thought that in seeking to raise the matter of the Government's proposal to withdraw grant from—and thereby, in effect, to close—the Studley College, Warwickshire, I shall be raising a narrow constituency point.

It is true that it is a matter of great importance to me and to those in my constituency who know the admirable work the college has done over the last 70 years, but it is also true that this subject is not without its wider implications, not only for the career position of women in agriculture, horticulture and dairying, but also for the efficiency of the fanning, dairying and horticultural industries as a whole.

I should like to begin by saying to the Minister of State that I have some sympathy with him personally, though, as I hope to show, not very much with some of his arguments. I recognise that he personally has taken a great deal of trouble, and very conscientious trouble, over this case. He has gone to great lengths to visit the college to find out what was going on, and to listen to the arguments.

I recognise that he, like other Ministers, is under considerable pressure, and this is no doubt right, to save money by methods which are politically neutral, let us say. I also recognise—and I want to say this to him quite clearly, because he will see as I proceed and, I hope, will agree—that this is a matter completely without any party political content at all. To demonstrate my sincerity in this, I want to say that I sympathise with him because I recognise that he has to some extent been left with a problem on his hands which stems from a number of years of what I can only describe as the neglect of the financial needs of this college for which his Government are not wholly responsible.

The position is that this college, which has existed for some 70 years—and it is the only agricultural college wholly for women—has only been grant aided since 1926 or 1927, when the grant-aid Department was the Ministry of Agriculture. The grant started at, I think, about £1,000 a year, and has risen in 40 years to something like £30,000 a year. During the whole course of those 40 years the total amount in capital grant has been astonishingly small—£117,000 in all. This has gone in a fairly wide range of directions, mostly on such things as cottages for farm workers. There has been no capital grant for a building of an educational nature since £10,000 was spent on a new chemistry laboratory in 1954. The House will probably agree that £117,000 in capital grant in 40 years for a college now providing a residential education for 100 students is not an enormous sum of money. And although the numbers of students have grown very greatly during the past 20 years, there have never been any capital grants from the Government for residential accommodation.

Now there is a history to this matter which, although I do not want to detain the House very long, I must refer to briefly. In 1959, the Agricultural Colleges Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture, which was then the grant-giving Department, informed the college that if the numbers could be raised fairly substantially to about 100 the college would be provided with grants to enable it to build a staff hostel, a student hostel and other necessary buildings. It was also recommended that entry qualifications should be raised.

In response to that appeal the principal, Miss Hess, to whose work I think everybody who knows anything about it will pay a most sincere tribute, produced astonishing results. In two years the numbers of students accommodated went up from 65 to 102, the entry requirements were raised to four to five O-level passes as a minimum, and it is not unimportant to notice that in fact the average qualification on entry of these girl students is now about six to eight O-level passes, and many have A-levels as well, and these include at least one scientific subject.

The plain fact is that everything that the college was aked to do the college has done. This has been so, and if the Minister disagrees with this then I hope he will say so and make clear in what respects he thinks the college has fallen short of its undertakings or of what could reasonably be required of it. The college, at all stages of its history, has invariably done what the Government asked it to do; it has sought to raise its standards, qualifications and courses to the utmost that could be expected of it.

Nevertheless, the undertakings that were given—and, of course, I absolve the Minister of State and his Government of responsibility for this except during the last two years—were newt carried out. The grants were not given and the additional accommodation was not made available to the college. And at the time when the Department of Education and Science became the grant-giving body, a circus of inspectors descended upon the college and looked at all the available resources and recommended that they should be increased.

It was subsequently suggested—and I have the assurance not only of the principal, but of the chairman of the governors for this—that they should think big and in terms of making the college one with anything up to 50 per cent. more students and providing considerably more luxurious and attractive accommodation and recreational facilities, for example, for the students.

We know that after that a period of financial stringency intervened and it was not unnatural that this should be held in abeyance. But the fact remains, and this is the point which I hope the Minister will deal with, that not only has the college always done what was aked of it, but all the promises that were held out to it have, in fact, come to nothing and the college is now paying the price for having been, within the limited resources it got, too successful.

The college has done everything that was asked of it, and it is now being reproached with the fact that it has not got the resources which the Government promised to it and then withheld from it. This is what I think the staff feel is particularly unjust, and I am sure the Minister will recognise that there is some foundation for their feeling of resentment.

The arguments which the Minister of State has produced rest fundamentally on two propositions. The first is that the Pilkington Committee's Report on Agricultural Education has recommended changes in the types of courses in agricultural education which make Studley College an unsuitable vehicle for the new courses, and that the cost per student is relatively high and could be made lower only by an amount of capital expenditure which is unjustified. There is also the additional proposition that the Pilkington Committee is alleged to have come out firmly against single sex colleges for women.

As the Minister of State has developed these arguments subsequently in Answers to Questions and in letters they have become progressively less convincing as they have gone into more detail. On the question of cost per student, we want to be convinced—I hope that the Minister can convince us—that he is comparing like with like. It is only reasonable to compare cost per successful student rather than cost per total number of students in various kinds of institution, because the demand for places at Studley College is so high that it is able to insist on a very high entry qualification. It is clearly stated by the Pilkington Committee that there is a very close correlation between entry qualifications and success of students in the courses they take. There is little doubt that if we compare the cost per student successfully completing courses to diploma level at Studley and other institutions, Studley will be found to compare favourably rather than unfavourably.

The Minister of State has gone on to use one or two other arguments which are equally, if not more, misleading. For example, he has referred various people to the list 185 of agricultural education institutions, showing that there are 40 other establishments which offer full-time agricultural education courses. This must be taken in conjunction with another argument he has used, that the greater variety of courses recommended by the Pilkington Committee cannot be provided efficiently and economically at one small college. I wish that he would explain to me and to those interested in the welfare of this college how he squares this assertion with the fact that of the 40 establishments he has quoted as available alternatives to Studley, no fewer than 29 are smaller, some substantially smaller, than Studley.

Incidentally, five are for men only. I cannot believe that he would allege that it is a small matter in capital expenditure to make an all-male residential college into a mixed college. I should like to know exactly what the cost would be likely to be. Studley, in comparison with most of the other 40 establishments, is a large institution. It is not a small institution relative to the others in this list. The question of how much capital expenditure would be involved to reduce the cost per student—and I again stress that it is the cost per successful student which is really relevant—is a matter for argument.

It had been suggested officially by the college, as the Minister of State knows, that 150 students, that is, about 50 per cent rise, would be appropriate and the estimates of what would be necessary depend to some extent on what one thinks would be the implications of the Pilkington Report when the new courses are worked out. Some official estimates have been as high as £400,000. The college maintains that £200,000 would almost certainly be adequate in the medium run and that this could be phased over a number of years. I hope that the Minister of State will go into greater detail about this.

I want to deal with one of the Minister's arguments which has caused some concern. He has said: It so happens that usually fewer students from Studley than from other places take the national external examinations and the proportion of the candidates passing tends to be below the average. This is an attempt to show—and it cannot have been adduced for any other reason—that Studley was a below average institution in efficiency.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Goronwy Roberts)

I am loath to interrupt what I regard as a fair and cogent speech, but I would be grateful if the hon. Member would give the reference of the quotation he ascribes to me.

Mr. Maude

It is a copy of a letter from the hon. Gentleman to the hon. Member for Bristol, North-East (Mr. Dobson), which was sent by the hon. Member to a student at the college and it was passed by her to me. It is not marked "confidential" and it is signed by the Minister of State himself.

I will repeat the words: It so happens that usually fewer students from Studley than from other places take the national external examinations and the proportion of the candidates passing tends to be below the average. This argument could have been adduced only in an attempt to show that Studley was less efficient that the average. Otherwise, I do not know what was the point of putting it in a letter as an argument for withdrawing the grant. This is a thoroughly misleading proposition which can refer only to dairying and horticulture which are the two main courses at the college.

Except in the years 1962 and 1963, when there was a low average for some reason, the overall percentage pass rate in the national dairying diploma has been higher at Studley than over the country as a whole. The figure has sometimes been substantially higher, ranging from 92 per cent. average pass at Studley in 1961 compared with 65 per cent. pass nationally to a 69 per cent. pass rate at Studley in 1966 compared with a 63 per cent. national figure. Over a six year average or a three-year average since 1961 the pass rate at Studley in dairying has been higher than the national rate.

In horticulture, the position is rather different and there is a simple reason for this which, I think, the Minister of State's advisers have failed to comprehend. The National Diploma in Horticulture is a six-year course. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) knows, having been a Minister of Education and having had to deal with the teacher problem, and as the Minister of State knows from dealing with the same problem, when one is concerned exclusively with women students the statistics are disorganised by the high proportion of girls who get married during the course.

To use the figures in horticulture to any purpose, it is essential to compare like with like. It is no good taking the women in Studley and men and women in other institutions, because we all know that a much higher proportion of men complete a six-year course than of women, for obvious reasons, because so high a proportion of women leave to get married before the course is completed.

I therefore hope that the Minister will either justify what we believe to be a quite misleading, if not disingenous, suggestion that Studley is a less efficient institution than others, or withdraw the suggestion.

In conclusion, I must deal with the argument about the Pilkington Report, because it has been suggested that this offers conclusive proof that there is a good case for withdrawing grant from Studley. Not only do I not regard the Pilkington Report as being in any way conclusive or as being in any sense gospel, but I do not believe that it can be interpreted as justifying the withdrawal of grant from Studley. One could adduce a perfectly good case for saying that some of the things which the Pilkington Committee regarded as most essential in agricultural education are precisely what Studley is providing.

For example, on page 53 there is a comparative table—Table 8—for 1964–65 of women students taking diploma courses in various subjects compared with the total number of students in the country taking those subjects. In dairying, out of 166 students taking diploma courses 144 are women; that is, very nearly the lot. In horticulture, out of a total of 104 students 54 are women; that is, more than half. These represent overwhelmingly women students over the whole range of agricultural, horticulaural and dairying diploma courses. These are the mainstay of Studley College. Therefore, it is clear from these figures that Studley is concentrating on and providing efficiently exactly those courses which women predominantly require and, incidentally, in activitiees in which the jobs are predominantly available to them.

Finally, the argument which has been repeatedly used that the Pilkington Committee came down firmly in favour of mixed college provision and against single-sex colleges for women simply cannot be deduced from the Report. The whole of Chapter VI on the education of women takes only 2¾ pages. It is a pretty superficial job in every respect. The only thing in it which can be adduced as an argument against single-sex colleges for women is paragraph 154, which says simply: It has been suggested to us that some parents and girls prefer a single sex college. While we do not doubt that this is so in some cases other evidence has given no indication that this is now a widely held view, and we do not regard it as justifying separate institutional provision in agricultural education. Maybe it would not justify us in making new institutional provision for women, but this is institutional provision which is already there and which the Government, by withdrawing the grant, are virtually intending to destroy. This is the difference. The Report says: … other evidence has given no indication that this is now a widely held view "— but what do the recruitment figures at Studley show? I hope that the Minister will give very careful attention to this point, because it is absolutely central to our case. In fact, as he knows, the tendency has been for the recruitment to the other farm institutes, and even the university departments of agriculture, to decline.

There is rather a difficulty in filling places. The position at Studley, on the other hand, is that Studley has steadily increased its entrance qualifications and is rejecting as many girls as it accepts. It has a waiting list for two years and is able to be highly selective among a large number of girls who wish to stay there. Studley has no difficulty in getting grants from the local authorities, which appear to consider it an admirable institution which gives an admirable education.

So, to say that there is no overwhelming demand is clearly wrong. Many more girls than there is room for want to go to Studley than apply for other institutions to which the Minister is trying to divert them. We should have some justification of the claim that their specific needs can be met elsewhere as they are met at Studley.

What the 100 girls now there feel bitter about—as do members of the staff who, with the girls, have cousins and friends at mixed colleges—is that in the mixed institutions, or the single-sex men's colleges which are now to be mixed, the emphasis will aways be on the majority; and that is the men's section. The women, always in the minority, will be the less considered of the two sexes. There are more jobs for men in agriculture, and more places for them in the colleges and farm institutions, and the girls feel that they will not get the specific attention to their needs and not get the sort of jobs they can do best.

The Minister has tended to suggest that this training can be as well provided elsewhere, but there is no comparable course, with as high an entrance qualification as Studley demands. There are courses for farm clerks and some providing a reasonably high level, but for girls with lower entrance qualifications than Studley.

I have talked to the National Farmers' Union and to individual farmers about this, farmers who have employed these girls, and nobody ever suggests that there is any other organisation turning out girls with the depth of training that Studley imparts to the girls it turns out. At a time when the whole business-like efficiency of farming is something of the greatest importance to this country, it really does seem crazy to destroy an institution which is turning out girls who are revolutionising—and that is absolutely true in some cases—the accounting methods of not very efficient farmers.

In short, it seems that, for arguments which are adduced to justify a measure taken almost exclusively to save £30,000 a year and a virtually unknown amount of capital expenditure, for arguments which are in themselves doubtful, the Government are willing to destroy an institution which has existed for 70 years, which has given satisfaction to the employers of all its students and which is regarded by women as being the institution best fitted for their particular needs and virtually irreplaceable.

5.30 a.m.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)

I support my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) in the very persuasive case which he has put forward in requesting the Minister to have further thoughts about what is admittedly a very difficult problem—difficult only for financial reasons, although I accept that they are weighty.

From an agricultural standpoint, anyone in agriculture must be very concerned at the prospective abolition of one of the most valuable sources of highly-qualified women at a time when the need for technically well-educated people at technical and officer level as well as below is not only unsatisfied, but is certain to increase. I mention only the expansion which the Government hope for in the dairy industry under the Price Review and all the obvious possibilities of joining the Common Market. These will multiply the demand for very skilled technical personnel.

For practical purposes in agriculture, one knows that the Studley-trained person is likely to be good in the sense that her potential is usually fully realised. I have seen that in a young girl from our village, who worked on my farm. She went to Studley and returned well launched on the career which followed. The last thing which I did for her was to recommend her for an important post of milk officer in a large city in Scotland. On marrying, she left the land, but, by reason of her Studley training, she was still able to apply for an important post. This is typical of the contribution which Studley people have made not only to the agricultural industry, but to all the ancillary industries.

The explanation is, I think, simple. Studley seems to concentrate on the three subjects—work with cows and plants or as farm secretary—which women do best and which they like doing. My hon. Friend pointed out that Studey insists on a very high entry qualification. I believe that the students work harder, particularly women, in a residential single-sex community if only because they concentrate more and there is probably less distraction.

But perhaps there is a deeper reason, and that is that girls are drawn to Studley because they feel very vocational about the training which Studley gives, and they are likely to remain true to that vocation which, combined with their good examination results, makes them sought after by employers. The demand for Studley "diplomats" exceeds the supply.

Like my hon. Friend, I wonder whether much too much weight has been given to the tailpiece in the chapter on women in the Pilkington Report. Even if one is against single-sex colleges, I cannot see that that is a justification for destroying the only one that there is for women. It has a waiting list, and it is significant that there is space in agricultural education both below and above Studley. The University Central Council for Admissions Report on University Places pointed out that quite a lot of agricultural places in universities were not filled. It is significant that there should be such a demand to go to Studley, which is in between, and it also reflects many employers' preference, particularly in the industries ancillary to agriculture, for someone with a diploma plus practical experience instead of a graduate for many posts.

I agree with my hon. Friend that Pilkington makes the case for, and not against, Studley. In Chapter 1, the director of the National Agricultural Advisory Service is quoted as forecasting steady replacement of mixed farming by more specialised and intensive systems. The Report goes on to say that that trend must be matched by more specialised courses instead of broad general courses, so that the subject is treated in greater depth than can be given in a one-year certificate course.

The key paragraph is paragraph 17, which states: … provision to meet these specialised needs is a most important growing point in agricultural education. It stresses that the demand for those technical people who are competent to take charge of particular enterprises is now more important than that for just the general "manager" I do not think that one can have a better example of the technically qualified person in this respect than the skilled dairy herds-woman. The paragraph concludes by saying that employers are much more interested in the specialised ex-student with training in depth, and that that kind of training makes them have more respect for, and interest in, the value of agricultural education.

In Chapter 4, on course organisation, Pilkington recommends wider ranges of courses to match the different levels of school-leaving qualifications, stressing that the following advantage, shown in paragraph 61, could be expected: (a) More effective organisation of teaching with a more homogeneous group of students. (A special study which we have made of students leaving diploma courses in 1964 has shown a positive correlation between entry qualifications and final results.) I should have thought that that is precisely what Studley gives. It is homogeneous and it has had high entry requirements and good results.

I do not believe that the suggested alternatives will effectively meet the needs of either the students or the industries.

In the absence of Studley, potential students may not be so attracted to a career in agriculture or horticulture. The industries are already short and want more all the time, and they will be worse off if Studley disappears.

Not long ago the then Minister of State, Department of Education and Science, stated that the nation could not afford to lose a single good school. I believe that to be a simple but profound educational truth. I am sure that it goes for Studley.

5.40 a.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mr. Goronwy Roberts)

As I have already made clear in this House and elsewhere, the overriding consideration governing the decision to withdraw grant from Studley College was the need to use scarce resources to the maximum educational advantage. I assure the House that the main issue here was not the continuation of the deficiency grant as such, but the long-deferred question whether it was right to incur the very substantial capital expenditure which was essential if Studley was to be made fit for continuation as an agricultural college within the context of the needs of the future.

I will come later to the question whether, even after this expenditure had been incurred, the college would still have been able satisfactorily to cope with modern requirements. I have been somewhat surprised at seeing figures of cost put on this expenditure in the public discussion about Sudley, since, as far as I am aware, an exact final estimate of cost was not agreed by my Department and the governors of the college.

But, certainly, we agreed, and I think that the figures quoted support this, that, whatever the necessary capital outlay, the total—not the first instalment, whether it be £200,000 or a little more—would be very substantial. It would certainly run into hundreds of thousands of pounds—according to my advice, upwards of £400,000.

The hon. Member for Stratford-onAvon (Mr. Maude) suggested that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which was responsible for the college up to 1964, made a promise of a major capital grant if student numbers were raised to 100. That is not so. The Ministry was concerned with the high cost per student at Studley, with its low numbers, some years ago, and undertook to consider the question of a capital grant if numbers were increased, as they were, indeed, with the introduction of the farm secretaries course. However, it became necessary to consider the problem in the context of the future of diploma courses, which were eventually reviewed by the Pilkington Committee.

The hon. Member also said that a specific promise was made to the governors on this question of a capital grant. I do not for a moment accuse him of anything except being under an impression which I do not personally believe would be justified by the facts. Her Majesty's inspectors visited the college, examined the position and advised the governors as to how to put forward proposals, but at no time promised that such proposals would be met with a substantial capital grant.

Mr. Maude

I cannot see why, if there was never any intention that this grant should be available, Her Majesty's inspectors should ever have bothered to mention it. It seems an extraordinary proposition. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the inspectors went there, said, "It would be a good thing to think big and do this and that", and then went away and said that they did not give the college to understand that it would get a grant? What were they saying?

Mr. Roberts

There is nothing extraordinary in officials going to a college, examining the position, hearing the views of the governors, and assisting to the best of their ability with advice to indicate the form of proposal which should be made, without indicating that, necessarily, it would receive a favourable answer. It is not extraordinary, and I wish to make that point clear, in fairness to those officials.

I had to consider whether rebuilding at Studley was the best way of using these resources, having regard to the general provision of agricultural education at this level and, in particular, in the light of the recent Report of the Advisory Committee on Agricultural Education.

As the House knows, one of the main recommendations of that Report, and one which has been accepted by my right hon. Friend, is that the existing pattern of agricultural diploma courses should be reorganised radically to bring it into line with the national pattern at this level. In the past, full-time agricultural courses outside universities have consisted mainly of two-year science-based diploma courses which recruited students most of whom had about six O-level passes in the General Certificate of Education, and one-year certificate courses with much less stringent academic entry requirements.

The Advisory Committee found evidence that, in recent years, there has been an improvement in the academic attainment of students indicated by the number of students with A-levels embarking on diploma courses and the growing number of students who have been entering one-year supplementary courses after doing well in the one-year certificate course.

In the light of its assessment of industrial need and student admission, the Committee recommended that above the level of one-year certificate courses, the present structure of courses should be replaced by a two-level structure under which there would be ordinary national diploma courses recruiting students with a minimum of four relevant O-level passes, and higher national diploma courses requiring at lease one relevant A-level pass or the equivalent.

This will enable students to join agricultural courses at the same levels as they can join courses leading to other industries. It will be an improvement on the present structure of agricultural courses in that it will enable students to enter courses which are appropriate to their educational attainments.

The Report also made specific recommendations affecting education in dairying and horticulture, which are the two main subjects offered at Studley. For dairying, the Report advocates separating dairy technology from dairy husbandry. The implications of that for colleges like Studley are clear. It is possible that the latter only will continue to be dealt with in the agricultural examination structure, and that dairy technology will be grouped for the future with other food technologies. In horticulture, the Report emphasises the wide variety of industrial demand, a considerable part of which is not catered for by the current Studley courses.

In view of those recommendations, it was clear that there could be no question of Studley continuing to run its courses as they are at present. This was, therefore, the right time to consider whether, at substantial capital cost, it should try to adapt its courses to the pattern of agricultural education which is now taking shape, or whether, without the same capital expenditure, the necessary educational provision could not be made as effectively, or even more effectively, at other centres which could be developed as strong centres in their respective subjects for men and women alike.

It is right to say that, following the publication of the Advisory Committee's Report, Studley submitted to the Department proposals for a number of ordinary National Diploma and Higher National Diploma courses, and I can assure the House that these were very carefully considered before our decision was taken.

I have to say that, unfortunately, Studley placed a rather limited interpretation on the Committee's recommendations. The courses it proposed were designed to lead to ordinary National Diplomas in four subjects, and Higher National Diplomas in three subjects, and they included farm administration and various post-diploma subjects. Unfortunately, the proposals showed no clear recognition of the distinctive aims and character of each type of course, and these proposals were to be achieved by continuing the mixed entry levels.

Sir E. Boyle

What does that mean?

Mr. Roberts

That the new developments will aim at Higher and National Diploma qualifications, and will seek to attract for the higher course students who are identifiable as to their attainments, partly by A-level qualifications, and will seek to attract to the ordinary course students who are identifiable as to their attainments by the relevance as well as the number of their O-level qualifications. I would not wish to detain the House or the right hon. Gentleman with a special distinction about the importance of not unduly mixing entry levels if one is to achieve coherence both of study and of attainment at the end of the study.

Mr. Maude

I am sorry if my right hon. Friend and I are being stupid about this, but we find it somewhat difficult to appreciate what the Minister is saying. Is he saying that Studley College, or any college, should not take two different kinds of students with two different kinds of qualification for two different kinds of course, that there can only be colleges specialised either in higher or in lower? If they are to do both, they must take students with both kinds of entry qualifications. What is wrong with that?

Mr. Roberts

I do not think that what the hon. Gentleman says is what is opposed. The college, like other technical colleges, will seek to train and educate for the ordinary and Higher National Diplomas. It is important that the recruitment into those courses should be from definable groups according to attainment at school that will study and profit and qualify most effectively the basis of their attainment at school and also the cohesive character of their group study both at ordinary and at Higher National level. It is a mistake to mix the entry levels at either the ordinary or the higher entry point—

Mr. Maude

I apologise if we are not getting the point across. The Minister keeps saying that it is wrong to mix entry qualifications, but we do not understand this phrase. Does it mean that the college must not accept O-level qualifications for the ordinary diploma or A-level qualifications for the higher diploma and that these two courses for different kinds of girls cannot be run in the same college? But some other institutions are doing this. If it does not mean that, what does it mean?

Mr. Roberts

This is precisely the point, that, as far as possible, there should be a proper qualification for entering O- and A-level courses—

Mr. Maude

Only one kind in each college?

Mr. Roberts

—no, both kinds, the ordinary and Higher National courses—but that for each one should try to assemble the appropriate group for each entry, each being a distinct course.

We concluded, therefore, that each course would be better placed in an establishment with better facilities for dealing with it. This is to cast no reflection on the good work of the principal and her colleagues at the college in recent years with the resources at their disposal. I interrupted the hon. Gentleman when he was quoting from my later letter, because I thought that he had received the wrong impression from one phrase. I am sure that he will accept my word that I did not intend to cast aspersions on the standards or work of Studley College but simply to indicate this trend.

Figures have been given in reply to a Question which might bear one interpretation. I agree that we should handle carefully any statistics deemed to reflect the achievement of any college. We are dealing with a changed situation both because of the changed educational requirements and because of the specified capital sums which would have to be spent on Studley: it could cost £400,000 to bring it up to the required standards, but this takes no account of the amount which would have to be spent to enable the college to revise and expand its activities to conform with the Pilkington Report.

There is absolutely no question of sex discrimination here. It is true that a substantial body of opinion, including the Advisory Committee, considers that, in agriculture as in other subjects, the balance of advantage lies in educating men and women together, in the same institutions. But this was not the reason—and I have never advanced this argument to justify the decision—for taking this decision about Studley College. My right hon. Friend and I were concerned solely with the question of making the best use of resources. As the House will understand, any saving which can be made by cutting out unnecessary expenditure means that we can devote more to other educational needs.

The hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon asked about alternative places for students who would otherwise go to Studley. The annual intake of students to the three main courses provides [...] Studley is about 25 for dairying, 15 for horticulture and 20 for the secretarial course. I am assured that there should be no difficulty about providing places for qualified applicants for such courses in other centres, after Studley is closed.

Moreover, in approving courses of the new types which I have mentioned, we shall take into account the total demand for dairying, horticulture and farm secretarial work so that there will be places for suitably qualified women. Further, more women taking other courses in these subjects at the various levels will involve substantially less capital outlay than would be needed at Studley.

As the House knows, grants will be continued until 1969 to reduce to the minimum hardship or inconvenience to all concerned at the College. This will enable the present students and those enrolled for entry this autumn to complete their courses and will permit intake into the one-year farm secretarial course in 1968.

Studley is a private foundation and its future is entirely for the governors to decide. But as I have stated, my Department will be glad to give any help and advice it can if the governors so wish. It is not a pleasant or easy task to recommend the withdrawal of grant from any educational establishment, leading to its closure. I considered this question carefully—indeed, anxiously—over a long period.

As the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon was fair to admit at the outset of his remarks, this matter has been in question for many years. I visited the college to see for myself and to discuss matters at some length with the principal and the governors. I took care to ensure that I did not take up too much of the time of the discussion which we had that afternoon at Studley, since I was anxious that the governors should have every opportunity of putting their case.

I took into account every possible viewpoint and representation. I postponed the decision until one national body had had an opportunity to consider the question and put forward its views. Then, and only then, did I take the decision, as it was my duty to do. I believe that it was the right one and that it will serve the new and developing needs of agricultural education in this country.

6.4 a.m.

Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)

The news that the Department intended to discontinue the grant to Studley College caused very great concern and unhappiness not only among the college governors and those who had first-hand experience of the college, but throughout the Midlands.

We are dealing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude) so rightly said, with a college which has given the fullest satisfaction over 70 years, to the girls who have been trained there, to those like my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) who have had experience of those who have been so trained, and not least to the local authorities who have given grants to pupils concerned.

This matter has caused great concern and I do not think that when the Minister of State's speech is read those who have expressed concern will feel much wiser about the decision. I tried to follow his argument, but I cannot say that I found his case at all convincing.

Undoubtedly, there is some conflict and disagreement about what happened in the past when inspectors visited the college. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon that it seems quite clear that in the past the college has done all it has been asked to do, but at the same time, the governors had some expectation, to put it no higher, of capital grants which have not been made available.

I come to the curious part of the Minister of State's speech, about mixed entry qualifications. We were both trying to understand what he was saying. There can be no difficulty or anything surprising about the college catering for two levels of qualification, those with a qualification of four O-levels studying for the ordinary National Diploma and those with higher qualifications studying for the Higher National Diploma. There is no disagreement that courses cannot go on as at present, as my hon. Friend made abundantly clear. In fact the average qualification has been neither one A level nor four O-levels. The average qualification is six to eight O-levels.

It seemed to me the Minister was speaking as though levels of qualification on leaving school tended to remain almost rigid. Volume 3 of the Statistics of the Department of Education and Science show that it is not so. On all the available evidence, predictions based on the Ministry's own figures, if the present average qualification is six to eight O-levels, undoubtedly more of these students could be expected to achieve at least one A-level in the future. I can see no grounds for the view that, on present trends, students would not be forthcoming under the Pilkington formula for a Higher National Diploma course.

As for the ordinary Diploma course, if a certain number of students in the college are not sufficiently qualified to take the Higher Diploma course, but more than qualified to take the ordinary course, does that matter much? One cannot always expect a perfect match between the qualifications achieved by those who have left school and their qualifications for the course they are about to undertake. The intake level has been rising and I can see no reason to doubt that one would get students well and suitably qualified for the two types of course the Advisory Committee had in mind.

As to the cost, I realise that the time had come for a considerable capital operation on the college and I only make two comments on that. First, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon quite properly intimated, I doubt whether there will be very much difference between making this available at Studley and making it available at other institutions. We know very well from many aspects of education, including secondary education, that one of the more, and surprisingly costly operations can be the conversion of a men's college into a mixed college. Turning men's institutions into mixed institutions often involves more capital expenditure than we have expected. From that point of view, therefore, I doubt whether the saving will be very substantial.

The other point is that in education we think naturally of the main blocks of capital expenditure—the school building programme, the university programme, the technical college programme—but there are a good many institutions which fall conveniently under none of those heads. I had the experience—I will not go into it now—of having to consider the future of the long-term adult colleges which come under a category of their own. The same is true of colleges like Studley, and I very greatly deplore the tendency for an old established college like Studley to come off less well over capital expenditure and to be forced to close down altogether simply because it did not fit very easily into the generally recognised pattern.

Without being sentimental in any way, I believe that we should be particularly concerned with the future of those institutions which have served the community well over a very long period—private institutions which receive public grants. I believe that we should welcome institutions which to some extent straddle the private and the public worlds. The college has served the community well, its standards have been rising and it has given the greatest satisfaction to the girls, the employers and the local authorities.

I deplored the Government's decision as soon as I read of it. Listening to my hon. Friend, I must say that I felt more than ever convinced that they must have a very strong case if they were to justify their action. I confess that after listening to the Minister I feel less satisfied than ever with the Government's action, and that after what I feel was his remarkably unconvincing defence we on this side must reserve the right to consider whether, at a future date, we return to this matter again.