HC Deb 28 February 1985 vol 74 c490

5.1 pm

Mr. Clement Freud (Cambridgeshire, North-East)

I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely, the reaction of the Secretary of State for Education and Science to the report of the Visiting Committee of the Open University. The matter is specific in that the Open University was set up by Act of Parliament and does not have a UGC or NAB to act as an intermediary. The long-awaited paper which was published yesterday, coming, as it does, after seven years of real-term losses in funding, gave the Open University a glowing bill of health and expressed the hope that the Government would be prepared to state their confidence in the university and in its continuing role, so as to help dispel the concern that is being felt in the institution, and to encourage it to look to the future.

It is an important matter because, despite a positive and enthusiastic assessment, the Secretary of State has awarded a niggardly £100,000 out of a total provision of £50 million, though he has moved a cut—a severe cut at that — from 1986 to 1987. The allocation of £1.6 million for redundancies is money that should be spent on education.

An urgent debate is necessary because if nothing is done to persuade the Secretary of State of the error of his ways, students will be lost, teachers will be dismissed, broadcasts will be cancelled, and, perhaps most importantly, the Open University's ability to react to national needs will be destroyed.

The cuts are deeply and disproportionately damaging to an institution with high fixed costs. An increase in grant would enable a 20 per cent. increase in student enrolment. The present ungenerous award will mean not just a diminution in student numbers but a substantial slap in the face to a worthwhile, innovative and well-run institution that should be enabled to plan ahead. I beg you, Mr. Speaker, to grant Parliament the opportunity of a short debate on this subject in the light of the report.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East (Mr. Freud) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 10 for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely, the Secretary of State's announcement of the grant for 1985, 1986, and 1987 for the Open University. I regret to tell the hon. Member that I must give him the same answer as I gave to the hon. Member for Bootle (Mr. Roberts). I do not consider that the matter that he has raised is appropriate for discussion under Standing Order No. 10. I cannot therefore submit his application to the House.