HC Deb 04 February 1969 vol 777 cc232-7
The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Denis Howell)

With permission Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science has decided to institute an inquiry into adult education in England and Wales. He has come to the conclusion that this important part of the education service, which has shown considerable growth in recent years, needs a new definition of its role in a changing society. He has accordingly decided to establish an independent Committee of Inquiry to examine its purpose and structure and to make recommendations for its future development.

The Committee will have the following terms of reference: To assess the need for and to review the provision of non-vocational adult education in England and Wales; to consider the appropriateness of existing educational, administrative and financial policies and to make recommendations with a view to obtaining the most effective and economical deployment of available resources to enable adult education to make its proper contribution to the national system of education conceived of as a process continuing through life. I am pleased to inform the House that Sir Lionel Russell has accepted my right hon. Friend's invitation to be Chairman of the Committee. I will circulate a full list of the members in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. J. E. B. Hill

We welcome an independent inquiry into this most important field of education, which we think is long overdue. Will the Committee be free to interpret "non-vocational" in its terms of reference? Will it be able to examine some of the ground which seems to have been pre-empted by the Open University, particularly with regard to the use of television, tutorial resources, and residential facilities? Will the Committee pay regard to the provision that is being made from private and independent sources as well as Government ones, and also to the special difficulties of rural areas where the W.E.A. has played such an important rôle over the last 50 years?

Mr. Howell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his words of welcome. I agree that this inquiry is long overdue. I confirm that all the points the hon. Gentleman mentioned will be within the Committee's terms of reference.

On the special point about the Open University, I am happy to say that one of the members of the Committee will be Mr. Brian Groombridge, who is a member of the Open University Planning Committee. The importance of coordinating activity in this field with the Open University is certainly appreciated.

Mr. Murray

How long is the inquiry likely to take? As there is to be the inquiry, will my hon. Friend ask authorities such as Kent to hold back the increases in fees they are about to make of between 300 and 1,000 per cent. until Committee reports on the financial aspects?

Mr. Howell

This is an independent inquiry. Its Chairman, Sir Lionel Russell, believes that to do the job adequately and thoroughly in a field which, as the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) said, has not been inquired into for many years, and to get the structure and financing right, he will need at least two or three years.

We are well aware of the difficulties of the financial policies of certain local education authorities at present. These difficulties, which have come to the surface very recently, are among the matters which the Committee will be looking into. I hope that local education authorities will pay heed to the fact that there is now to be a thoroughgoing inquiry into the whole service.

Sir S. Summers

Will the Minister, for the purpose of his statement, define "adult"?

Mr. Howell

Parliament itself is about to do that in legislation which is shortly to be put before it.

Mr. Park

Does my hon. Friend agree that adult education has been a most successful and expanding service in recent years? Is he aware in particular of the contribution to the improvement in industrial relations which has been made, and which will continue to be made, by such bodies as the Workers' Educational Association and university extramural departments in their provision of educational courses for trade unionists?

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the need for this Committee to take an expansionist view of its responsibilities and not to allow itself to be used for false economy measures which could do a great deal of damage to the whole service?

Mr. Howell

The whole purpose of the inquiry is to establish the importance, as the Government see it, of the service as a whole. I am happy to say that there has been a considerable growth in the service and particularly some very exciting opportunities occurring for adult education in the whole field of industry, especially the education of trade unionists in the processes of management. Therefore, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has specifically appointed four members who have special regard to this matter—Mr. Jim Conway, General Secretary of the A.E.U., Mr. John Marsh, Mr. Clifford Barclay and Sir Alfred Owen.

Mr. Geoffrey Lloyd

Will the Under-Secretary note that the fact that Sir Lionel Russell is to be Chairman of the Committee will give great satisfaction?

Mr. Howell

I am obliged to the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. McNamara

I welcome this statement, but will my hon. Friend define more specifically the phrase "non-vocational", because many people would say that there is no distinction between the various types of education? While agreeing that there is an important part to be played in training people for leisure in the future, the phrase "non-vocational" tends to suggest that there are unnatural limits in education, where, for example, a business course could be extremely vocational but also extremely educational.

Mr. Howell

The interpretation of this part of its terms of reference will be a matter for the Committee's common sense. The House will readily understand that it was necessary not to have an inquiry ranging over the whole field of technical education. Therefore, it was thought best to exclude from its terms of reference that part of the educational service.

Mr. Lubbock

Is the Under-Secretary aware that in some local education authorities the most savage cuts are being made in the adult education service, out of all proportion to the cuts being made in other services, in an effort for the authorities to meet their financial responsibilities? If this process continues, there will be nothing left for Sir Lionel Russell and his Committee to inquire into. Therefore, will the hon. Gentleman impress on local authorities that they should not make savage economies in this service at a time when the Committee is about to begin its investigations?

Mr. Howell

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for making that point. I fully support him and greatly regret the savage cuts which have been made in certain areas. In fairness to the education authorities, it is right to say that the authorities that have thought it right to make, to quote the hon. Gentleman, savage cuts, are in a very small minority. This is a good opportunity to remind local education authorities of their overall responsibility for education as a continuous process throughout life, that being the concept of the 1944 Act, under which they operate.

Mr. Coe

While not going right across the whole technical field, will my hon. Friend expand on what he means by the fields which he would like to see the Committee tackle?

Mr. Howell

This is not the time for me to give all my views on the matter. Indeed, it would be improper, since we have appointed a Committee to advise us. However, I should have in mind three great areas of activity in which there ought to be considerable expansion and effort, and it is my personal hope that the Committee will look at them. One is the whole range of adult education in industry. Another is the tremendous growth of interest, particularly among women and housewives, in the possibilities of the adult education service. The third is the new and important service beginning to emerge in education for retirement and the opportunities which it can offer to retired people.

Mr. Lane

I welcome the inquiry, but is it not yet another reason for deferring plans for the Open University, at least until the Committee has reported?

Mr. Howell

No, Sir.

Mr. Roebuck

If it is the fact, as my hon. Friend the Member for Gravesend (Mr. Murray) and the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Lubbock) have said, that local authorities are cutting down savagely on education grants, cannot my hon. Friend suggest that they would do a far better job if they cut down on some of the grants for the roistering, guitar-strumming students of the London School of Economics rather than cut down on the educational opportunities being offered to decent taxpayers and ratepayers?

Mr. Howell

I do not think that I should be drawn into that argument.

Following is the list of members of the Committee:

Sir Lionel Russell, Chairman, former Chief Education Officer, Birmingham.

Mr. Clifford Barclay, banker, industrialist, currently President, British Film Producers' Association.

Mr. Jim Conway, General Secretary, Amalgamated Union of Engineering and Foundry Workers.

Mr. R. D Salter Davies, formerly Chief Inspector, H.M. Inspectorate.

Mr. R. T. Ellis, Colliery Manager, Wales.

Mr. Brian Groombridge, Education Officer, Independent Television Authority; Member, Open University Planning Committee.

Mr. David Heap, Dentist, former Secretary, National Union of Students.

Mr. J. W. Henry, Chief Education Officer, Salop.

Mr. H. D. Hughes, Principal, Ruskin College, Oxford; Vice-President, Workers' Educational Association.

Professor H. A. Jones, Vaughan Professor of Education, University of Leicester.

Mr. John Marsh, Director General, British Institute of Management; Member, Albemarle Committee on the Youth Service in England and Wales.

Ald. Mrs. E. W. Mitchell, Member, Northumberland County Council; formerly Chairman, Northumberland Education Committee.

Dr. Elizabeth Monkhouse, Senior Staff Tutor, London University Extra Mural Department; co-opted Member, Civil Service Council for Further Education; Vice-Chairman, Governors of Kingsway College of Further Education.

Sir Alfred Owen, Chairman and Joint Managing Director, Owen Organisation; Pro-Chancellor, University of Keele; formerly Chairman, Staffordshire County Council.


H.M.I. Mr. C. W. Rowland, Department of Education and Science, Richmond Terace, London, S.W.I.