HL Deb 16 May 1962 vol 240 cc624-50

2.30 p.m.

THE EARL OF LONGFORD rose to move to resolve, That this House regrets the statement of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on March 14, concerning the future of Government assistance to the universities. The noble Earl said: My Lords, I rise to move that this House regrets the statement of Mr. Brooke, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, which he made on March 14 of this year about grants to the universities and related matters. Five years ago, as the House will remember, we debated university education on a Motion of mine, and two years ago we debated university and other higher education on the Motion of the noble Lord, Lord Simon of Wythen-shawe, whom we miss so sadly this afternoon. In those debates we ranged widely over many of the most fundamental issues in university education. There are a number of noble Lords who intend to speak this afternoon who are exceptionally well-equipped to do so, and, of course, I am not presuming to restrict in any way their speeches, but I hope I shall be forgiven, and indeed approved, if I confine my own remarks, which I am afraid will hardly be brief, to the Motion on the Order Paper.

There is, however, one small exception to that. In the debate of 1960, in your Lordships' House I devoted my main argument to a single highly controversial topic. I urged then that the responsibility for sponsoring the universities should be transferred from the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the Ministry of Education and I brought quite a hornets' nest about my ears. I do not mean to pursue that topic to-day, but I must at least say this. Events of recent months have made me more certain than ever that it is quite hopeless to leave the universities as now to the sponsorship of this new Minister, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who has, of course, appeared on the scene since our last debate and who is specially concerned with economy. The Principal of London University, for example, whose report we might all study with the greatest profit, describes the role of the new Minister as that of a Minister whose main duty is actively to discourage and, indeed, forcibly to restrain his colleagues from spending.

We can all admire—and I have very good reasons to admire from ancient days—the undoubted qualities of the present incumbent of this office, but we can all realise that universities may well feel towards him as Red Riding Hood felt towards the wolf disguised as her grandmother. We can imagine them saying, "What big teeth you've got. Sponsor". His reply is now history, "All the better to eat you with, my dear"—the action being suited to the words. But, as I say, that is not the issue to-day. The statement of the Chief Secretary should provide enough material for one speech and indeed for a number of speeches this afternoon. This is not a question, I perhaps need hardly say, of a personal attack or even of a political attack on one Minister. There is only one Latin quotation I think I am permitted in this House: Et ego in Arcadia vixit; and I can interpret that in my own case this afternoon as, "I, too, have worked in the Conservative Research Department under the Chief Secretary," although that was thirty years ago, and I know of old his moral fibre. He is perhaps the only man in public life who may have too much moral fibre; but it is a fault we may all copy from. I know of old his seriousness and public devotion. But certainly his statement has obtained an amazingly unfavourable reception.

The Leader of the Opposition in another place said it was discreditable in substance, dishonourable in presentation, and deplorable in its consequences. The section of it dealing with salaries was at once described as an insult by Dr. Urwin, the Executive Secretary of the Association of University Teachers. I certainly wish to endorse those scathing comments myself, as will many noble Lords in various parts of the House. Noble Lords opposite, particularly Ministers, may affect to disregard these particular comments as unduly biased or interested, and may refuse to accept them, though The Times described the statement as "thoroughly disappointing" and it has had a very bleak reception in public discussion. But noble Lords opposite, even the most intransigent loyalists, can hardly disregard the remarkable, I would almost say unique, statement which was issued by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals on March 27. The Vice-Chancellors and Principals said that they were "profoundly disturbed" by the Government's announcement. I can remember nothing quite like this, and I doubt whether even the eldest Member of this House can; certainly not in the world of university policy.

The Leader of the Opposition in another place on April 5 naturally made much, as was his duty, of the Vice-Chancellors' statement and the House will indeed want to know how this very forthright criticism by the Vice-Chancellors was replied to by the two Ministers who undertook the task of defending the Government, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury himself and the Financial Secretary, a very gifted man. The answer to that of course is quite simple; neither of the Government Ministers so much as mentioned the statement of the Vice-Chancellors. Perhaps they were wise in their generation, but the House of Lords is entitled to draw the conclusion, which I myself certainly draw, that they were quite incapable of answering it.

But I am anticipating. The House will want to know what Mr. Brooke's statement of March 14 amounted to, to make so deplorable an impression. To put it briefly, he did two things. First, he indicated targets for university places in 1966–67 and 1973–74. The targets were 150,000 places for 1966–67 and 170,000 for 1973–74, against 111,000 places at the present time. That was one thing he did; he indicated targets. The other thing was this. He announced the financial provision that the Government were prepared to make for the purpose of achieving those targets. The non-recurring grants, the building grants, had already been announced. The recurrent grants, which cover, for example, salaries—though special additional grants are made for increases of salaries—were to rise from the present figure of £49½ million to £56 million in 1962–63 and by stages to £76½ million in 1966–67. The immediate increase in salaries was to be kept down to 3 per cent., which would add an extra £1 million to the £56 million in a full year.

We, on our side of the House—and I think we are joined by many others, and I hope and believe we are joined in most of these opinions by noble Lords of the Liberal Party—say two things. We say, first, that the targets are shockingly low; and second, that even these low targets, and more particularly the first (150,000 places by 1966–67), cannot be achieved with the financial aid offered by the Government or, at any rate, cannot be achieved without grave jeopardy to academic standards. We are equally convinced of both points, but the second, the fact that these limited targets cannot be achieved, is the one that the Vice-Chancellors are concerned with and, with the permission of the House, I will take that first.

The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals say that they are profoundly disturbed (that is their expression) by the Government's announcement about the resources to be made available to universities during the coming quinquennium, and above all, by the fact that the advice of the University Grants Committee as to the grants required if the number of university places is to be increased to 150,000, has not been accepted.

May I break off to point out that this is the first occasion when a difference has publicly occurred between the Government and the University Grants Committee. I think I am right in saying—though these things are not revealed to us—that this is the first time there has been any serious difference between those two bodies. In our last debate in 1960, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, who I am glad to think is winding up to-day, said he would like the University Grants Committee and the Vice-Chancellors to regard themselves as being responsible for providing what he called [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 223, col. 726]: a kind of running commentary on university problems. If they have a fault, he said (this was the noble Viscount during our last debate), it is that they are perhaps too conservative. The Government at that time was talking in very expansionist language. On this occasion the Government, I am afraid to their own discredit, are finding these bodies a great deal too radical.

The Committee of Vice-Chancellors then go on to state their opinion (and here I am quoting), that the target cannot be reached by the date specified with the limited provision which the Government proposes to make. There is grave danger that the effort to do so will produce What they call a wholly unacceptable deterioration of standards. They go on to emphasise three fundamental points which certainly ought to be before the Whole House to-day and, if I may say so with the utmost respect, particularly before any noble Lord Who is going to be present this evening when this matter is taken, as it will be, to a Division. This is what the Vice-Chancellors said, and I have taken the liberty of rearranging their three points. They said, in the first place, that even if the building grants were originally sufficiently large, they cannot cover the cost of the necessary building owing to the rise in prices since they were made. They go on The building programme, therefore, to increase the number of places to 150,000 cannot be completed by 1967. According to the best information available to me—and there is obviously some room for argument here—the rise in prices which has occurred has already whittled down the value of the grants by about £20 million for the purposes of the next four years. That is the equivalent of about a year's building. I am told that, in practice, the harm is likely to be greater than that.

The Vice-Chancellors say, secondly, that it is "abundantly clear" (those are their words) that the grants for the first years of the quinquennium will scarcely cover the increasing costs of existing commitments. They say it is "abundantly clear"—and this is really fundamental: if I can, so to speak, inject no other fact into the minds of noble Lords, this is the fact that I should like to be in the minds of everyone—that the grants for the remaining years do not make sufficient provision for the scale of expansion which a total of 150,000 places by 1966–67 would require. That is for the recurrent grants, which include provision for salaries apart from any additions to salaries.

I am not going to become involved in the detailed argument here. Mr. Gaitskell gave some figures and Mr. Brooke gave some further figures. If anybody is deeply interested, and has the time, perhaps the fullest explanation as to why the grants are insufficient can be found in the Report I mentioned just now, by the Principal of London, Dr. Logan, at page 7. I only point out that during that period, apart from ordinary development, there is to be the establishment of new universities (and I am particularly glad to think that the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme is to speak to-day), and there will be increasing provision for science. We must also expect rising prices. As I have said, I am not going to get involved at this stage in the details, because I have a great deal more to say. Leaving aside particular calculations, we rest our criticism on the broad conclusion that the Vice-Chancellors, who have every interest in standing well with the Government, would not lightly have published these most damaging findings. All the evidence suggests that the Vice-Chancellors, with their expert information, are much more likely to be right than the Government, who have produced no evidence whatsoever to support their bland optimism. The Government must not be surprised that no one—or no one that I have discovered—with any knowledge of universities believes in their side of the case.

Thirdly, the Vice-Chancellors declare that an aggregate increase of 3 per cent. in the bill for academic salaries is entirely unrealistic. They say that the increase in salaries, no matter how distributed, will not enable the universities to retain and recruit the academic staff for the proposed expansion. I should explain (I think I touched on this point just now) that the recurrent grants which I mentioned include salaries as a whole, but an increase of salaries per head is treated as additional. For example, an increase of 3 per cent. in the salaries means an extra £1 million or so on the recurrent grant, and takes it that much beyond the figure of £56 million for 1966–67. An extra 17 per cent. or thereabouts, which it was reasonable to expect, would have added another £5 million or so.

Here there may be a danger, though I hope I shall not fall into it, of appearing to overstate the case. In another place, the Minister argued that university teaching staffs have been increasing recently rather faster than student numbers. There can be argument about that, which I leave to others; but I may be pressed to say whether I am quite convinced that the failure to increase university salaries by more than 3 per cent. this year must inevitably leave us short of university staff in these crucial years. If we are talking in global terms, we, the nation, will probably collect, somehow or other, the staff which, on paper, globally speaking, is adequate, though even on that basis a shortage of scientists, technologists and social scientists is seriously threatened. But if we are talking about quality—and I am sure the Government claim to be quite as much interested in quality as we are—there is no doubt (I have not found any doubt in the university world) that if we continue to underpay our university staff, and still more if we increase the differentials against them, we shall lose more and more of our best people to America or other countries, or shall fail to attract them in the first place. And this, indeed, is already happening. The policy of the Government is certain to aggravate the evil.

I have said that we are underpaying our staffs and that these proposals make the position worse. It may be asked what do I mean by underpaying? I agree that there can be no final demonstration in this matter, but few will accept what appeared to be the Chief Secretary's contention elsewhere that comparisons with other occupations are more or less impossible. He said, "there is nothing exactly like university work". Of course there is no work exactly like other work, but this blinding flash of the obvious cannot really help us very much, and it can be dangerously obscurantist. The Chief Secretary explicitly sets aside the comparison with industry and also with the Civil Service. To be fair, he admitted the relevance of the rise of 17 per cent. in the salaries of those at the colleges of advanced technology; and he did not, I think, seek to set aside Mr. Gaitskell's comparison with the lecturers in technical colleges and those in teacher-training colleges. They received increases, running, I think, at 16 and 20 per cent. respectively, and these figures can reasonably be compared with the 3 per cent. for university teachers.

For my part—and I know there has been much correspondence about this in the papers—I have not come across a better summary of the whole situation than that given in The Times of Monday. April 23, by Mr. John Read of the Chemistry Department of the University of St. Andrews. I know that that will appeal to the noble Lord, Lord Boothby, who I am glad to see is to speak later. I quote the salaries attained in the seventh year after graduation in various occupations. These are the figures: in industry, £1,230; the Patent Office, £1,400; the Scientific Civil Service £1,460; schools, £1,250; technical colleges, £1,720; universities, £1,050-much the worst of the lot. That comparison, so far as I know, has not been refuted anywhere.

Even if we could for a few years rely on the prestige of the university career, and the devotion of the staff, to keep up the numbers, I am quite convinced that the country which pays its university teachers worse than other graduates as a whole will never get a proper proportion of its ablest men to go into university teaching. I am biased enough in favour of my old profession to believe that dons ought, on average, to be of exceptionally high intellectual character. Dons, we know, are extremely tiresome people, but the one thing one has always said in their favour is that they were clever. If we are going to finish up with a race of stupid dons, heaven help the nation! In the end, a country which went on doing what the Government propose to do might or might not get the right number of dons for university teachers; but it would certainly get, and would deserve to get, a second-rate staff and it would finish by deserving to get third-rate students.

The Government therefore stand condemned by their own meagre estimates for the next five years, in the sense that they do not make provision even for their own limited purposes. They stand condemned even in relation to building grants, non-recurrent grants and the increase of salaries. Three times, as Sir Winston Churchill once remarked, is a lot. The triple failure, I am afraid, exposes a whole philosophy of negation. a mean and mingy scale of values, a sort of callousness towards university expansion, which has made the most painful impression on those who care for the universities in this country and elsewhere.

So much for the achievement of the targets. What of the targets themselves? We on this side, and many others, say that they are shockingly low. But here again there is admittedly the problem of the criterion: how are we to judge the lowness or otherwise of these targets? The noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House faced this problem fairly and squarely in this House in 1960. He began by saying very clearly and well—and I am sure that he stands by this; I have never known him to go back on anything, even when he was wrong, so to speak, so I hope that he will not go back on this, because I am sure he was right: Speaking of quality, I have absolutely no doubt about the answer. Britain has never had an adequate core of graduates in point of numbers. That is what the noble Viscount said, and truly said, last time we debated these matters. He went on to ask by what standards should we judge whether the number of graduates is adequate or not. He asked: Should we judge by the efforts of other countries? To which he gave the answer: No, I think not.

He went on to argue that the comparisons brought forward by a number of previous speakers, including myself, which showed Britain in a very poor light, were in fact invalid because they were not comparing like with like. As to that, I would say that two conclusions would surely be reached by any dispassionate group of students who were trying to arrive at the truth rather than win an argument. They would agree, in the first place, that one must be very careful in drawing these comparisons, and one must certainly disregard a certain amount of the data which comes readily to hand. But some would surely agree—a dispassionate group would surely agree—that some comparisons are possible. Even following most austere lines of reasoning, one must surely agree with the present Minister of Education who said recently that we have the lowest proportion of our population going to universities of any highly developed country in the world. The present Minister of Education did not find it impossible to make this comparison; nor did he find the comparisons apparently irrelevant for some purpose. At any rate, he certainly made a comparison, and made it in a way that it has been made many times in this House.

I hope that I may lay this fact of great importance before the House. This is a quotation from the Minister of Education in another place. The Leader of the Opposition gave some percentages of young persons going to universities. In the United States it appears to be one in four; in Canada one in nine; in Australia one in nine; in France one in ten; in Russia one in twelve; in West Germany one in sixteen; and in Britain one in twenty-four. That is evidence that has been given before in this House. Allowances have certainly to be made for uncertainties in the statistics, as the Leader of the Opposition said; but no one would deny, as he also said, that this is, or appears to be, a shocking state of affairs.

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury countered by claiming that the true comparative test is not the percentage of the whole relevant age group which goes to university, but the percentage which succeeds in graduating; and by that test the Chief Secretary claims that we are doing better than France, Holland and Belgium and also Germany. I cannot pursue that comparison now, but I would point out that he ignores the fact that in Germany, for instance, it takes much longer to graduate. I have been in touch with the German authorities and I am informed that in Germany a graduate usually achieves that position between the ages of 24 and 26; so a comparison between graduates in Britain and graduates in Germany is an imperfect one. If the comparison produced by the Chief Secretary is so obvious, it is peculiar that it has taken so long to produce, that it was not produced two years ago.

I think I can say, too, that it has taken the Government five years to think this up with the help of an interesting and stimulating but very unpretentious book, which certainly makes no claim to expertness. But I do not wish to set aside the Minister's contentions altogether. I would rather say this to him. If we are talking about a comparison with Europe, the French, for example, are planning to increase the capacity of the universities and equivalent institutions from the present 220,000 places to 500,000 in 1970. In other words, they are planning to more than double them. The Dutch also are planning to double their capacity between 1959 and 1973. All this is far in advance of our plans. If we turn to the Commonwealth, no amount of quibbling can obscure the fact that today there are as many students in universities in Canada as there are in this country, in spite of our having three times Canada's population.

In the United States—and I know that the noble Lord, Lord Francis-Williams, will speak with special authority in this connection—a single State, California, is spending at least as much as our national total; and if in the face of all the evidence the elephantine argument is brought forth, that American universities are not by our standards universities at all (I hope the House will not allow themselves to listen to that or, at any rate, will support me in my argument to-day), let me remind the House that a child in the United States has three times the opportunity of going to a university that a child in this country has of going into the sixth form. Again, I do not think there is any disposing of that argument. I can well understand that the Government are determined to deny the possibility of international comparisons, but in no circumstances can it be right that they should get away with it.

I must return now to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, of May 11, 1960. He asked: Can we judge the adequacy of our graduate numbers by reference to the talent in our schools? He said: Yes, I believe we can, but I would say now that the talent in our schools is something which we have consistently underestimated. We agree with him wholeheartedly on both points. As regards the first point, the test of the talent available, it is a pleasure also to quote from what the Chief Secretary said (though he did not occupy that office at the time) when he was Minister, on November 1, 1956. Mr. Brooke said: It is the Government's desire that all those boys who have the mental and general ability to profit by university education should do so. So I hope that the third point will be in the recollection of the House when to-day is over: that it is the Government's desire that all the boys who have the mental and general ability to profit by university education should do so.

So we are all apparently at one in our ultimate test of adequacy for graduate provision; but I would quote here in regard to this second point, the way in which the estimates of talent fluctuate, a sentence from the report of a conference promoted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 1961: The most striking single agreement that was arrived at in discussion was the ready abandonment of the pool of ability"— that is the idea of a fixed pool of ability— as scientifically misleading and from the point of view of policy irrelevant. The report went on to refer to the complex processes by which potential qualities are transferred (to use their slightly technical language) into recognised and educated performances. What they meant was that you cannot say at any one moment that only a certain proportion of the population will be capable of ever going to a university; that education at an earlier stage can make a tremendous difference.

The truth is, as was brought out last time in the speeches made by both Lord Dundee and Lord Hailsham (and I am sorry to refer to the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, in his absence; I am afraid I was not able to give him notice of this, but I do not think the quotations I will make will be very damaging), that the improvement of our national system of education has revealed at every stage a much greater supply of young people qualified and anxious to proceed to universities than was previously suspected. The noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, himself said last time that Between 1958 and the mid-sixties the sixth forms in this country, so far as I can tell, are going to double in size, and in my view at any rate there is no reason to believe that the increase will stop there. These sixth forms will yield a reservoir of talent"— I call particular attention to this quotation, where he says they will yield a reservoir of talent— which at the moment undoubtedly exists and is going to waste. That is the considered view of the Leader of the House. He forecast that the present proportion, the much larger number, of sixth-formers clamouring at the gates of the universities and trying to get in would be maintained.

How right he was! Every time estimates are prepared, for future sixth-formers and therefore university candidates, the numbers go up. Even the calculations of so wise and ardent an expansionist as Sir Geoffrey Crowther in his famous Report are now regarded as considerable underestimates. I hope I am not confusing the House with too many figures, but let me give just one set of figures from a recent statistical bulletin of the Ministry of Education. Take, for example, the number of pupils aged seventeen in maintained secondary schools. In 1950 there were 23,000; in, 1960, 46,000—twice as many. In other words, the number of pupils in the maintained secondary schools staying to the age of seventeen doubled between 1950 and 1960. In 1970 it is estimated that they will number over 80,000, or three-quarters as much again, and in 1980, on these estimates, they will number 183,000. Therefore, between 1950 and 1980 it is reckoned, according to Ministry of Education estimates—which are conservative as I hope to explain in a moment—that the total number staying on to age seventeen in these schools will have multiplied six times. That is the tremendous social and educational revolution that is taking place all around us. It gives us some measure of the immense challenge and opportunity to which the Government are reacting in so lethargic a fashion.

It may well be true—I should hesitate to offer a dogmatic opinion here—that we cannot now improve on the 150,000 target, owing to the long delays and feeble grants, without a "crash" programme, which no one expects from this Government. As regards the aim of 170,000 by 1973–74, that seems on the whole rather less ambitious than that commended to the House by Lord Dundee in 1960. I do not want to go into that in detail, particularly in the absence of the noble Earl, but, if challenged, I would substantiate that point. It seems, as I have said, slightly less ambitious than what was held out to us at that time, and since that time the expectations of those available to take advantage of university education by staying on into the sixth form have appreciably increased.

The truth is that the immediate policy of the Government is concerned only to maintain the shamefully low proportion of our young people who go to a university. That is their programme for the next few years. Mr. Brooke made no bones about that in another place with reference to the period 1966–67. During the next five years, in other words, even the target—and as I have said earlier it seems unlikely that it will be achieved without lowering standards—makes provision only for the "bulge" due to the increase in the birth rate. It does not make any provision for the trend—that is the ever higher proportion of every hundred young people qualified for university education, the trend I indicated when I quoted the figures for those staying on in sixth forms. After 1966–67 some allowance in the Government's plans is admittedly made for the trend, but, as I was indicating just now, even so the Government seem to have gone backward rather than forward. Certainly our programme for the next twelve years looks very shoddy compared with much that is being planned in Europe, the United States and the Commonwealth.

I sum up, if I may, from the standpoint, which I think was shared by the noble and learned Viscount in 1960 (and I hope it is still shared by him to-day), that our present provision falls much below what is required to cope with the numbers of suitable young people coming forward. The figures produced by the Ministry are what I would call conservative. For example, there is no allowance made in these Ministry calculations for any increase in compulsory school-leaving age which we on these Benches, and I am sure many others in this House, think is absolutely necessary. But even on these conservative figures it is estimated that there will be an increase of something over 60 per cent. in the numbers leaving school in the age group seventeen, eighteen, and nineteen, between 1961 and 1973—something over 60 per cent. in those coming forward, even on conservative figures. The Government set a target for an increase of something over 50 per cent. of places available. Already the competition to get into the universities is unfairly keen and damaging in all sorts of ways. It has shown that after twelve years of much vaunted progress planned by the Government the student suitable for university, of given ability and training, would find it very considerably harder to obtain a university place than he does at the present time.

Speaking from outside the Government, one cannot pretend to lay down precise objectives. Mr. Gaitskell mentioned a figure of 200,000 for the later sixties. I have no doubt that he would regard that, as I should, as a minimum. Of course, the Government should spend more on the universities than ever before; so also, so far as I know, does every other civilised country. I have reminded the House before that prior to the war in this country we were spending Jess than £3 million per year on university education. If we include building grants—and much is of course for obsolescence, and I should like to stress that point—non-recurrent grants and grants to students, which I have not been otherwise concerned with, it is reckoned that even under the limited provision of the Government we shall be spending out of public funds £155 million five years from now. But all this is part of a world-wide and long overdue development. California, a single State in America, is spending more than we are.

There is nothing in anything the Government have told us, quite apart from the pay pause and their immediate economic muddles, which suggests that they have any conception of the onerous duty and, at the same time, the wonderful chance that has come to them. I mean the duty and the chance of providing university life and training for the mass of young people who are pressing forward in greater and greater numbers, clamouring—as the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, has said, and I am sure would say again—at the gates of the universities and trying to get in.

Under pressure, intense pressure, almost unparalleled pressure in academic quarters, under all this criticism, the Government have promised reviews, definitely or hypothetically, in the main fields affected—in buildings, non-recurrent grants, and salaries. They must forgive us if we on these Benches, and other critics also, remain unexcited and unimpressed. I am sure that in their own way the Government are sincere in supposing themselves to be interested in university education, but what they mean is worlds apart from what we mean by a national system of university education which is worthy of all our people in general and the rising generation in particular. Between us and them there is a great gulf fixed.

This Motion, I repeat, is not in any way a personal attack on a single Minister. It is a severe vote of censure on the Government as a whole. While the Government continue to preach to us in the language of generous university expansion, and to practise a policy of narrow restriction, of stifling and strangling hope and faith, and of exploiting the charity and straining the devotion of a magnificent profession, there will always be this difference between us. At least, there will be no humbug on our side and there will be an abundance of it on theirs.

Moved to resolve, That this House regrets the statement of the Chief Secretary to the Treasury on 14th March concerning the future of Government assistance to the universities.—(The Earl of Longford.)

3.12 p.m.


My Lords, this, of course, is a financial question. No one is going to controvert the case which has been so ably put forward by the noble Earl. But the Government will, I am sure, with the usual urbanity which the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Hailsham, shows, express a good deal of sympathy with the Motion and will then say that they are very sorry but they have no money. "No money for the things that matter" will be written on the tombstone of the Government.

Coming back after many months abroad, I find it very noticeable how seriously the Government and the Conservative Party have been buffeted by their own wind of change. The whole atmosphere of easy success and irreplaceable efficiency has gone, and a buoyant and hopeful Liberal Pasty has unexpectedly appeared on the horizon. Your Lordships will be familiar with the phenomenon that when one returns from going away for some time one sees in the faces of one's friends a sudden change, and the lines of anxiety, frustration and failure more deeply written on their faces. The Government have had a long lease of power but their old age has come upon them very suddenly. I expect they are surprised at their own unpopularity, but the explanation of it is easy enough.

I am not myself in the Establishment: I am only an ordinary member of the affluent society. But in spite of our affluence, we are disappointed. Our general view of the cold war that is being run by the Establishment is that if it is not an insoluble problem it is at any rate a static situation. The noble Earl, Lord Home, who everybody agrees is a very able Foreign Secretary, has … heard great Argument About it and about: but evermore comes out by that same door wherein he went. It reminds me of a book which I read recently, in which for 300 pages Sir Walter Raleigh tries to make Queen Elizabeth I marry him. I met an Ambassador the other day who said that he thought the policy of "keep them talking" was a good one and that it might last for 30 years. In his view, even if by chance we came to an agreement with Russia, the same trouble would begin again with the Chinese. Not a very promising prospect, my Lords, for those who are hoping for increased grants for universities.

We of the affluent society agree with the Establishment, that a war which nobody can win is very unlikely to break out. War in the old days was like a motor drive from London to Birmingham, a great strain on the nerves and the possibility of painful mutilation at any minute. But war nowadays is like flying over the Alps at 32,000 feet; it is much more dangerous but not at all alarming, because if there is an accident you are dead. So we are taking no precautions and not a hole in the ground is being dug.

As the months of verbal repetition go by, the voters have ceased to worry about the cold war, and they know that the noble Lord, Lord Gladwyn, will never be able to explain to them the meaning of the Common Market. But they do know that there are three things which spoil our affluent society, three problems which have to be solved before we have a civilised community in this country. Those three things are housing, traffic and education. It is no good being affluent with an outside lavatory; it is no good being affluent if you spend half your life in a traffic block; and it is no good being affluent with lots of leisure and an empty mind.

But the Government have no money for these things: no money to pay the nurses; no money to prevent young doctors and young teachers from seeking higher incomes abroad; no money for the patients waiting in a long list to go to hospital; no money for university grants or to make places for the long line of students who want to go there. We are taxed up to the hilt but we have no money to spare. And all because the obsolescent industry of armaments is so expensive. The Government keep a very wary and watchful eye upon other obsolescent industries that are on their way out. Unprofitable coal mines, for instance, do not get the tender consideration that the Services receive. An old friend of mine, the wife of a miner in the North, who writes to me two or three times a year to tell me what is going on up there, describes to me how sad is the closing down of the pits. She writes: A great many people travel to Darlington to work. As many as 50 buses leave here every morning taking people to Darlington, where they can get some work to do. Now the unprofitable railways have been put into the powerful hands of Dr. Beeching, who, in addition to his vandalism over the Euston Arch, has no hesitation in relentlessly examining the increasing obsolescence of the railways and closing them down without regard to the comfort and convenience of those who use them. How very different from the Navy, who are actually building twelve obsolete submarines at £2 million apiece because we cannot afford to pay the £2ê million which a real submarine costs! How very different from the days of Lord Fisher and the "Dreadnought"! That is being done with the object of preventing the Chatham Dockyard from being closed: very different from the mines in Durham. Why should we not have someone even worse than Dr. Beeching, with an even larger salary, to cut out the obsolete from our armaments and use the money that we obtain from that for university grants, for the High Wycombe By-pass or for the Glasgow slums?

We know that we made bows and arrows for a hundred years after the invention of gunpowder; we remember, some of us, the wonderfully equipped cavalry who stood behind the lines of the trenches in 1914 and were never used. We know all that; and we are now spending £20 million a year on pretending that England can be defended against nuclear attack, and to give your Lordships four minutes' notice of the arrival of a nuclear attack. Some of your Lordships are not very active, and will not be able to do much during those four minutes. I am not very active myself, and I certainly do not think it is worth while the country spending £20 million on giving me that four minutes' notice. I grudge those £20 million, which would go a long way to making us an educated nation.

I believe that a super-Beeching, totally unconnected with armaments or the Services, could shave some £500 million a year off what is being wasted on armaments now. The revolution in education in that case would be immense. At present, our education is on a middle-class, commercial basis, seeking out always the clever fellows; stiff sets of examinations, leading up to a good job. If we had enough money, we could widen this closed shop and could let more and more people know what it is like to be an educated man or woman. My Lords, it is the greatest fun to have a wide appreciation and understanding of the world and the wonderful things that it contains. That is the modern aristocracy. That is the secret class division that removes boredom from daily life. Surely, my Lords, we cannot increase too much, or distribute too widely, those who possess this enormous privilege.

3.27 p.m.


My Lords, I have no doubt that all your Lordships have enjoyed the racy speech which we have just heard from the noble Viscount, with almost all of which I find myself in agreement. At the outset of my remarks I have a piece of good news for your Lordships. I had intended to quote the unprecedented Report of the Committee of Principals and Vice-Chancellors almost verbatim; but the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has already done it; and so, by that amount, my speech will be mercifully curtailed.

The action of the Treasury in this matter has been, as usual, furtive, disastrous and dishonest; and I want to ask the noble and learned Viscount the Leader of the House whether he will answer two questions at the end of this debate, because I think we ought to be in possession of the information. The first is: what is the precise measure of the disagreement between the Treasury and the University Grants Committee? We do not know. We have never been told; they have kept it dark. It must be pretty considerable, because I have no doubt that in previous years there have been disagreements which have ultimately been reconciled; but this disagreement must be a very severe one for the University Grants Committee to have made the report they did. We have never yet been told exactly how much money is involved in this disagreement, and I think that Parliament ought to know. The second question I want to ask the noble and learned Viscount is this: what is the ultimate target of the Government? When he was himself Rector of the University of Glasgow——


I am now.


Then in the early days of his Rectorship of the University of Glasgow, he talked gaily about a figure of 200,000 university places by the year 1970. He has been suspiciously silent on the figure ever since. He is on record as saying that the future of this country depends primarily on its higher education and technical skill. Does he really think that the decision of the Treasury which has now been announced is going to facilitate that, or improve it?

My Lords, this is a debate in which I think we have to be very accurate, because the noble Viscount knows a great deal about the subject, and it is no good slipping into mistakes, because I know he will catch one out. So I am going to make some quotations from people who really know what they are talking about; and just add a few savage sentences of my own at the conclusion of my speech. You cannot quite disregard Professor Rosenhead, the pro-Vice-Chancellor of Liverpool University, who has said: The cuts in university grants may well bring many departments to the verge of collapse. Academic staffs will not be available, and university buildings will not be available for instruction. That is clear, and you know where you are.

But I have searched for information from other people who really know, and I turned, first of all, before this debate, to my old friend and I think an old friend of the noble Viscount, one of the most distinguished and effective Vice-Chancellors the University of Oxford has ever had, Sir Maurice Bowra. I asked Sir Maurice to let me know, on a single sheet of notepaper, his views about the policy of Her Majesty's Government. These are his views, expressed in characteristically terse language: Universities have been encouraged to make plans for expansion in numbers, and therefore in staffs, libraries, laboratories, etc. They have given much time and trouble to working out plans, which now they will not be able to put into effect. The refusal to raise salaries makes recruitment difficult, since other jobs, which call for less qualifications (technical schools, etc.) offer more pay and less arduous work. The new universities have been handed a large raspberry. At York there is not a single book. How can they get reasonable libraries? The expansion of science calls for a lot more new posts. These are not forthcoming. Lots of clever young men, who have been expecting them, will now go to the United States. I have heard of six here in the last week. It is impossible to create a new university without halls of residence. There is really no room in lodgings in York, Canterbury, etc. Where will the boys and girls live? Oxford and Cambridge have worked out very careful schemes of science expansion, for example, in nuclear physics in Oxford. These require both capital expenditure and jobs. Neither is forthcoming". And the final sentence is very characteristic, very good, and really sums up the whole argument: If the Government really believe in the expansion of universities, they must pay for it. They don't. I really have very little to add to that, because it is said with an authority far greater than my own, and which cannot possibly be disputed by the noble Viscount the Leader of the House; but I also asked the Principal of the University of which I have had the honour to be Rector during the past three years to give me a precise and factual statement of the effect of the Government's proposals upon the University of St Andrews. His name will be familiar to the noble Viscount who sits on the Woolsack, the man who was my predecessor. It is Sir Malcolm Knox. These figures are rather more impressive, because under these proposals St. Andrews is probably better treated in the immediate future than any other university in the country. He has said—and I must beg your Lordships to listen to this, because it is important: In 1959 we lodged with the University Grants Committee in accordance with its request our proposed building programme for the years 1960 to 1963 inclusive. This programme was approved but early in 1960 we were asked to provide an outline of the building programme which we would wish to carry through in the years 1964 to 1968"— and these are the ones which we have been planning over the last three years. But we were told not to give any precise detail for the years after 1965. The grants actually intimated to us for the years up to and including 1965 fell short by about one-third of what we had asked. The result was that we had to readjust our building programme and this had the effect of postponing until after 1965 the building of more residential accommodation in St. Andrews. And, of course, this applies, in greater measure, to every other university in the country.

Our estimates of cost on which the grants intimated to us were based were estimates founded on prices ruling in 1960. The U.G.C. has admitted that building costs have risen by 12½ per cent. since then but have explained that only 5 per cent. of this increased cost is to be made available to us by way of grant. We have been told that we must make up the difference by postponing until after 1965 work that could otherwise have been carried out within the grants intimated up to that date. What we have been told to do is to make up any deficit in the 1962 costs by drawing on the 1963 allocation, to make up a deficit in 1963 by drawing on 1964, and to make up what is by this time an accumulated deficit in 1964 by drawing on 1965. The money available to us in 1965 will therefore be substantially less than what was originally granted to us for that year. The total effect of this procedure so far as we can foresee it at the present time is that in the second stage of the new Men's Residence in Queen's College we shall have to reduce the residence places by 30. We shall also have available for the first stage of the Chemistry Building in St. Andrews about £100,000 less than we had anticipated. At the present time we have no idea what capital grants are to be available after 1965, but it is of course clear from what I have said that our expansion programme will take longer to complete than we had originally expected. I must point out, however, that this deceleration of the expansion programme is most unlikely to have any effect on the number of students which we can admit during the quinquennium up to 1967, although we expect that in the year 1966–67 we shall have great difficulty in finding places for students to live in both St. Andrews and in Dundee. If. however, much larger capital grants are not forthcoming in 1966 and the following years, then indeed it will not prove possible for us to reach the figures of student numbers which we had expected to reach by 1970. What we must have in 1966 and the following years is a capital grant large enough not only to complete the necessary teaching buildings but to provide residential accommodation on a large scale as well. It is fair to add that this University is in a much better position than many others are because our recurrent grant has been generously assessed up to 1966–67. Other Universities may find themselves quite unable to raise their student numbers in the quinquennium of 1962–67 by anything like the amount which they had estimated in their quinquennial programme when it was drawn up last summer. And drawn up, I might add, with the approval of the Government. These are fairly formidable statements from men who know what they are talking about, and I am wondering what the noble Viscount will have to say in answer to them. Because the Chief Secretary to the Treasury in another place made no reply to these criticisms at all.

I have already quoted Sir Maurice Bowra saying that he had heard of six people going to the United States of America from our universities—highly qualified teachers—in one week, but I do not know whether the noble Lord's attention was drawn to the letter in The Times by the scientific professors of London University a short time ago, in which they said: Our departments constantly receive requests from Universities in North America for the names of our best young men, who might be attracted to their teaching or research posts. We give one actual example of the effect of the recent announcement. A married man of 29 with a first-class honours degree, a Ph.D., two years' post-doctoral experience abroad, and the equivalent of three years as an assistant lecturer, received recently an offer of nearly $10,000 per annum, in an American university. His offer in this country was £1,100 as a lecturer, which included one increment above the minimum; for some time he has been waiting for the salary announcement before deciding what to do. What advice can we give him now? Three per cent. is the total salary increase allowed to the university lecturer! The letter concludes: We urge the Government to act upon the advice of its own University Grants Committee and of the Vice-Chancellors in regard to grants for the next quinquennium and university salaries. Even if an overall salary increase is refused, we consider that immediate increases of at least 20 per cent. at the lower end of the lecturing scale are essential if our best science and engineering teachers are to be retained in this country. My Lords, I would say only this in conclusion. I believe this to be a major attack by the Treasury—which does not surprise me—upon higher education in this country, at the worst possible moment that it could come. Last October, 88 posts were left vacant in 14 British universities, and at the same time 144 of their staff left to go abroad. In Scotland, it has been accurately estimated, I think, that none of the universities which we have—and we are not to have another—will be able to meet its own calculations by as much as 33 per cent.; and the demand for university places is likely to exceed the supply by 9,000 in Scotland alone in the year 1970. The authority of the University Grants Committee, which has, on the whole, done a good job in this country, has been undermined; and, in particular, the authority of Sir Keith Murray. I do not think that he will ever be able to exercise again the influence he has done, after the public rebuff he has received from the Treasury. In another place, Sir Edward Boyle promised a biennia review of recurrent grants. So far a: university education is concerned this is no good at all. University planning is long-term planning, or it is nothing. And we have now been reduced by the Government to reckless and helpless improvisation.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford quoted figures about university education in other countries, and, of course they can be used to reveal nothing or anything; but I think there is absolutely no doubt that university education, not only in Western Europe but in the United States and also on the other side of the Iron Curtain, is going ahead at a far faster rate than it is in this country. I know that the Treasury like to talk about the number of "graduates", but it is not only the number of graduates that matters. We are not going to run this country, or any other in the modern world, with a handful of star academic performers. It is the good second-rate students that constitute the essential core of any country.


They are graduates, too.


I dare say. I am not saying that they are not. I am only saying that one of the arguments of the Treasury is that we must concentrate on producing a small élite at our universities.


My Lords, the noble Lord is really stating what simply has no relation to the facts at all. My right honourable friend's point was that the test was the proportion of graduates as a function of an age group, and I really do not agree with the noble Lord that we are going to run this country on a core of failed B.A.s, which is apparently his argument.


My Lords, I never suggested that we should do that. The proportion of those failed, as the noble Viscount well knows, has fallen from 11 to 9 per cent. The noble Viscount cannot ride off on that. It is pure quibbling.


My Lords, the noble Lord mistakes the case. The charge he was making against my right honourable friend was that he said we must concentrate on a core of élite, but the second-rate or ordinary run-of-the-mill student is every bit as important to university life. That is common ground between us. But when the noble Lord intervenes between the noble Earl, Lord Longford, and myself about whether the correct way of comparing foreign with British universities is to consider the number of those who matriculate as distinct from those who graduate, all I can say is that the only meaning I can put to his abjection is that the noble Lord thinks that those who fail are better than those who get through.


My Lords, all I can say is that I do not think that, and the noble Viscount well knows it. But I do not think that we are going to encourage higher education in this country by ruthlessly cutting down the student population of our universities, as is the present purpose of Her Majesty's Government. I do not know whether the noble Viscount has seen a study made in West Germany, and published only recently, which gives a table of the number of university students per 10,000 of the population for various countries. The figures are: Great Britain, 19; Norway, 21; Denmark, 29; Holland, 31; Germany, 32; Italy, 33; Belgium, 35; Switzerland, 36; Sweden, 39; Austria, 39; France, 47. And I can tell him, from personal experience, that they are concentrating on university education on the other side of the Iron Curtain to just as great an extent. I myself was at the University of Cracow in Poland not very long ago, and the noble Viscount knows very well what they are doing in the Soviet Union. The answer is that we are behind the lot.

As for the figures of the United States, the noble Earl, Lord Longford, said that California alone was spending more on university education than this country; and with over 3 million students a figure of 165 per 10,000 is not unreasonable, I think, to suggest. By 1970, if we reach our target of 170,000, we shall have 33 per 10,000. France, with a smaller population, is aiming at 600,000 university students by that date, or 140 per 10,000. These figures may give satisfaction to the noble Viscount, but I can only say they give little satisfaction to me.

I am sorry if I have spoken a little heatedly, but I have been rather involved with university education for the last three years and I feel very strongly on the subject. I have sat watching successive Governments in this country for the greater part of my life with a highly dissatisfied eye; and I can only say that, with one exception, I think that this is the worst thing I have ever known any Government to do. The exception is the failure of the Government before the war to rearm this country, and implement Mr. Baldwin's pledge that in no circumstances would we allow our Air Force to fall below parity with that of any Continental Power. Apart from that, I genuinely think that this is a most wicked thing, because this is a race comparable in importance with the air race before the war. This is the race, above all, that we cannot afford to lose in the latter half of the 20th century.

Universities—and the nurses—do not possess an advocate of the power of Mr. Frank Cousins, but that only imposes a greater responsibility upon Her Majesty's Government. Your Lordships well know the views that I have always held about the Treasury. This is one of their blackest deeds. I am not condemning the Government as a whole; I am condemning that dreadful Department which has for so long been the root of all evil in this country. I would say to your Lordships before I sit down that here is an opportunity for your Lordships' House to fulfil its purpose, its responsibility and function, by voting against the Government tonight. You will not bring them down; but what you will do is to compel them to think again. After your Lordships have listened to the arguments so far in this debate, and to the rest, you must surely believe this to be your bounden duty.