HC Deb 26 March 1998 vol 309 cc679-80
14. Dr. Desmond Turner

If he will host the Commonwealth Education Ministers conference in summer 2000 in the United Kingdom; and if he will make a statement on the bid from Brighton and Hove to host the conference. [34907]

Dr. Howells

The Government have no plans to offer to host the next Conference of Commonwealth Education Ministers in the United Kingdom. Britain will play a full and positive part in the conference wherever the Commonwealth decides that it should be held.

Dr. Turner

May I remind my hon. Friend that all branches of the education profession are enthusiastically in support of the conference and would deeply appreciate it being held in this country, especially in millennium year? We think that this would send a good message to the Commonwealth and would be a hugely popular decision throughout it. Will my hon. Friend reconsider the question of hosting the conference in the United Kingdom?

Dr. Howells

The Government have made their commitment to the Commonwealth clear. We demonstrated that in a practical way at a highly successful Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting at Edinburgh in October 1997. We think that we have played our part. There are 54 nations in the Commonwealth, and we think that the chance to host such conferences should be shared equally.

Mr. Boswell

As a joint chairman of the parliamentary side of the Council for Education in the Commonwealth, may I ask the Minister to accept from me that his answer is extremely disappointing? Will he reconsider it in the light of the high-powered representations that he has received from the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and others, including Professor Tim Brighouse, that there is a strong wish to bring the conference to the United Kingdom after 41 years? I am sure that lateral thinking will secure adequate funding. Will the Minister remember that, even if Brighton or Daventry are not acceptable, there are some strong and powerful higher education claims round Sheffield, which might just tip the balance?

Dr. Howells

I am always interested in the hon. Gentleman's lateral thinking, especially on questions of funding. Perhaps we could have a cup of tea to discuss it later.