HC Deb 24 October 1968 vol 770 cc1579-81
34. Mr. van Straubenzee

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science why the recent cuts in university building ordered by the University Grants Committee have not been made public.

37. Mr. Lane

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what is the value of university building work which has been stopped following the University Grants Committee letter to vice-chancellors in August 1968.

43. Mr. Clegg

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what changes in the economic situation between January and August 1968 necessitated further restrictions being placed on the University building programme.

Mr. Edward Short

Following their normal annual review of public expenditure and probable future calls on their resources, and not because of changes in the economic situation, the Government asked for the universities' building programme for 1968–69 to be reduced. The U.G.C. informed universities of this on 1st August. After consulting all universities, the Committee sent them revised programmes, reduced from £28.7 million to £18.7 million, on 26th September. No building work in progress has been stopped. It is not the Committee's practice to publish its communications to individual universities; but universities themselves are free to do so where, as was the case here, the letters are not confidential, and most did so.

Mr. van Straubenzee

While clearly understanding the confidential nature of the communications between the U.G.C. and individual universities, does the right hon. Gentleman not feel that it was, to put it mildly, unfortunate that such a major change in policy should not have been publicly announced, so that we could all form a judgment upon it?

Mr. Short

How the £10 million was saved was for the universities. The U.G.C. decided this and wrote to the individual universities.

Mr. Lane

Can the right hon. Gentleman offer any hope to universities that there will not be another setback in their plans, at least before the end of this decade?

Mr. Short

The universities have done extremely well over building. I understood that it was the policy of the party opposite to change the priorities of education to give a greater priority to the primary schools. I have been indicating that this is precisely what the Government are doing.

Sir E. Boyle

Was it not a very extraordinary thing to reduce the university building programme by that very high percentage, by £10 million, a week after Parliament had risen, with no statement by the Government? Secondly, is the right hon. Gentleman aware that, when we have talked about priorities this year, we have always been assuming existing progress? Is he aware that we feel that this was a very serious decision, to cut university building programmes by a further £10 million at a time when the universities have not yet fully recovered from the moratorium imposed in 1965?

Mr. Short

The cut here has been in starts, fees and so on, which would save about £1 million this year, not £10 million. The right hon. Gentleman is more aware than most hon. Members of the need for a continuing review of public expenditure. This is what occurred here.