HL Deb 12 March 1964 vol 256 cc535-51

3.30 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I would first say that this Order establishes the new Secretaryship of State and the federal structure of his Department; and secondly, that it transfers to him the functions of the other Department. These are the functions relating to universities, the functions of the Education Department; and finally the function of the Office of the Minister for Science. I know that this is a fairly complicated Order, and I should like to give an explanation in some detail. By doing this I hope it will help your Lordships in your consideration of the matter.

Article 2 (1) provides for all functions of the Minister of Education and of the Minister for Science to be transferred to the new Secretary of State. The Order deals only with ministerial functions as they are assigned at present. It takes no account of the changes recommended by the Trend Committee which, in general, the Government have decided to implement, as was announced on February 6. Article 2 (1) also provides for the Ministry of Education and the Office of the Minister for Science to be dissolved. Article 2 (3) of the Order is needed to transfer to the Secretary of State two minor functions of the Lord President in relation to agricultural research. These were not taken account of when the Lord President's other scientific and research functions were transferred to the Minister for Science in 1959.

Article 2 (4) is consequential upon the transfer of functions. It provides for the transfer to the Secretary of State of all the property rights and liabilities to which the Minister of Education and the Minister for Science were entitled. Article 3 and the Schedule provide for the amendment, repeal and adaptation of enactments and instruments. This will enable references to the Secretary of State to be substituted for references to the Minister of Education and to the Minister for Science.

Article 4 (1) and (2) provide a saving both for legal proceedings pending when the order comes into operation and for acts such as appointments or directions by the Minister for Science before the Order comes into operation. Article 4 (3) refers to the Charities Act, 1960, because under that Act the Charity Commissioners are responsible to the Secretary of State for Home Affairs in some matters. That is some of the detail which is contained within the Order, but, of course, the main point of principle behind this was touched upon by the noble Lords, Lord Shackleton and Lord Taylor, among others, in yesterday's debate.

I should like to say something on the principle behind all this. I think we all agree that the question of what is the best organisation for dealing with schools, the universities, scientific research and advanced development work is a difficult one. None would deny this. The Leader of the Opposition himself in another place said in November that there is probably no perfect solution. As we know, three solutions are possible. First, we can put higher education and scientific research and development under one Minister and then the schools under another. The second solution is that we can put higher education and school education under one Minister and scientific research under another. Or, finally, we could make (as we are doing now) one Minister responsible for the whole, with two Ministers of State and two Permanent Secretaries dealing with school education, on the one hand, and higher education and research, on the other.

The first is the solution recommended by the Robbins Report, and certainly there is much to be said for it as well as against it. The Robbins Report stressed (to use its words) that the organic connection of the universities with other forms of organised research is even closer than their connection with the work of the schools". We fully accept the close connection between research and higher education, but we conclude—and I think the noble Lords opposite agree—that the arguments against dividing responsibility for education should not be disregarded.

The second is the solution which the Opposition Party favour. There are strong arguments against their solution. The universities are not only great teaching institutions; they are also the points at which knowledge is preserved and the frontiers of learning extended. We believe that it is essential for teaching and research to be handled together, whether at universities or in Whitehall. And we are strongly supported in this by both the Robbins Committee and the Trend Committee as well as by other learned opinion.

I submit that there would also be a danger that financing of research would become unbalanced since two Ministers would be responsible for it. One Minister would be responsible for the University Grants Committee which provides the bulk of the funds for research in the universities. Another Minister would be responsible for the Research Councils which provide grants for specific researches in the universities—and they are doing this on an increasing scale—and also facilities for costly research which can be used in common by the universities. Recent experience has shown that there is a real need to establish harmony between these two sources of finance.

Therefore, I would say that the third solution is the right one. The only objection that might be raised against it is that one Minister becomes responsible for a very wide range of activities. This is worrying, and certainly was the burden of what the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, have said. But the research Councils and the Atomic Energy Authority have a large measure of autonomy in the conduct of their affairs. The Secretary of State will be responsible for general supervision, but not detailed control. He will finance all the authorities, but he will not take their scientific decisions.

I would say that there is no reason at all why the Minister of State who will be in charge of higher education should not have reasonable time and opportunity to fulfil the ministerial functions in respect to atomic energy and industrial technology, as was envisaged for the Minister in the Trend Report itself. I think that it is universally agreed that the Research Stations and the Atomic Energy Authority could make, and ought to make, a bigger contribution to teaching and particularly post-graduate training in the universities. I should have thought your Lordships would agree with me that this is far more likely to come about if one Minister has the general supervision of the University Grants Committee and the research organisations.

I think that it is also true that on the education side the load should not be too heavy. Most of the administration which we are discussing is indirect: the schools are run by the local education authorities; the universities get their money through the U.G.C.; and the Research Councils are practically autonomous. So administration is in one degree removed and thus shelters the Ministers responsible from undue strain—which is the chief worry in the minds of noble Lords opposite. Finally, I should say that the whole range of functions is met by the decision to have a Minister of State over each of the two units, thus enabling the load to be spread.

We believe, therefore, that the case for dealing with universities and research in the same ministerial set-up is overwhelmingly strong. We think it is right that the same Minister should control civil science as well, so that in dealing with scientific priorities and allocations this Minister can see the picture as a whole; and that is what this Order is designed to bring about. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that the Secretary of State for Education and Science Order, 1964, be made in the form of the draft laid before the House on the 4th of March, 1964—(Viscount Blakenham.)

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, I had hoped that we should not be forced to take this Order this afternoon. It is rather short notice and it is a very important Order. It was dealt with last night by another place—I think they divided at a time which is not recorded in the Hansard which has been circulated this morning. The Special Orders Committee looked at the Order only yesterday and reported that it needed very special attention. For all these reasons, I should have hoped it would be possible to postpone it. There is one other reason, and that is that, frankly, I have not myself had time to give it the study it deserves. But I am persuaded that there is an element of urgency about it, and the noble Viscount himself has explained the Order with such care and such lucidity that I feel a little less embarrassed in dealing with it this afternoon.

Let me say at once that we on this side absolutely agree with the Government's decision that there should be one Minister responsible for education. We have no quarrel about that at all. In so far as we disagree with the Government's decision, it is on the extent of the functions which are to be transferred to him. We think they are far too wide. The noble Viscount, in explaining the Order, told us that a number of the functions to be transferred to the Minister are of so indirect a character that he will have very little to do. But, of course, as he knows perfectly well, a Minister who is responsible for a service cannot divorce himself from taking a very close interest in it. At any time something may arise, he may be asked a Question in the House, some problem may come up, and for a Minister to say, "I am only indirectly interested in this" would be no answer to this place or another place, and would be very unsatisfactory. He is either responsible or he is not. If he is responsible it does not matter whether he is directly responsible or indirectly responsible.

We think that the Order goes too far in giving responsibility to the Secretary of State—not for research in the universities; we accept that. We accept the argument that research in the universities is closely allied to the work of teaching in the universities and should not be dissociated. But this Order goes very much further than that. It gives industrial research to the Secretary of State, together with responsibility for the Atomic Energy Authority and—this is debatable—also for the University Grants Committee and its functions. I myself feel that this is going to be too much for the Secretary of State for Education.

We all know the great capacity for work of the present Secretary of State. We have had many examples of it, and we do not question at all that he personally might be capable of handling all this. However, I am not sure whether he is still responsible for unemployment in the North-East of England, and whether he might have to break off occasionally from his educational work to visit the North-East; or whether he is still interested in sport and a variety of other things that have been "wished" on to him. But if he is still interested in them he will be a veritable Pooh-Bah. He will be much more than a Secretary of State for Education; he will be a Secretary of State for an enormous variety of subjects which are quite outside the function of education.

It was for that reason that we sought to criticise this Order and we still do, and that is why the other place voted against it. The noble Viscount can take comfort in the fact that it is not our practice to divide the House in these matters, and we just have to sit quietly and accept the position. But we wish to protest against this very wide extension of the functions of a Secretary of State, and we wish it had been possible to limit his functions to what we regard as pure education.

There is only one other thing that I should like to say. When we last discussed this matter I expressed the hope that it might be possible, before we finally came to a decision, for the Government to issue a White Paper which we could discuss without commitment on either side, when we might stand a chance, each of us, of convincing the other of our point of view. I always think it is well worth while to do this in a matter of this kind, which ought not to arouse strong political controversy. We have general agreement to a very great extent, and if the Government had seen their way to accept my advice—I think the noble Viscount said that he would see that it was considered, but I never had any indication that it was; I presume it was—it would have been very much better for the House as a whole. We could then have exchanged our views without feeling that we had to accept the position whether we liked it or not, and I think both sides would have been the better for that. But, in the circumstances, as I have said, we have no alternative but to accept the Order as it stands.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Viscount, Lord Blakenham, a question? If I should know the answer I apologise, but I do not. I think I read that Mr. Quintin Hogg, as well as being Secretary of State for Education, was to continue the duties of Lord President of the Council. I am not quite clear in what capacity Lord Hailsham, as he then was, was given responsibility for the North-East, but I am quite certain that he was given responsibility for sport in his capacity as Lord President of the Council. All who are interested in this subject of sport, both inside the two Houses of Parliament and outside, are rather concerned as to whether the Minister, with all this additional work under him, will still carry responsibility for sport. I am wondering whether the noble Viscount could give me an answer to that question.


Is the noble Viscount going to answer the questions in his speech in reply?


With your Lordships' permission, I was going to do so.

3.49 p.m.


My Lords, before the noble Lord makes his final reply, I should like to speak in my capacity as a university teacher, as an officer of the University Teachers' Association and as a Member on these Benches. I do not want to repeat what I have said on more than one occasion in the debates which we have had on the Robbins Report. The university teachers, who are obviously very much concerned in these matters, were by an overwhelming majority at their last council meeting in support of the proposals in the Robbins Report, and very much opposed to what I call "the Eccles view". The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, is not here and I hope he will not mind my talking about "the Eccles view". The university teachers' attitude on this matter was put up to the Prime Minister, and I would say that it is quite obvious that the present scheme has received a great deal of thought and we cannot complain that our views have not been taken into account.

I think that the present scheme is certainly a great improvement on what I call "the Eccles view". At the same time it is a complicated scheme and, obviously, a great deal is to be said against it from a number of points of view, particularly, as my noble friend Lord Silkin has indicated this afternoon, from the point of view of research. As your Lordships know, we had yesterday in this House a most interesting and valuable debate on these problems. It was made clear by more than one noble Lord who speaks with great authority on these questions that the Robbins suggestions were much better, from the point of view of the general research work in science over the country, than the Government's proposals.

It seems to me that the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, was absolutely right when he said that these matters are of such very great importance, and that to get the subject on a proper balance is so vital to the future of this country, that it is not good enough, important as speed is—and certainly speed is of the essence of the contract here, because we must get ahead quickly—that a complicated and difficult solution to the problem should, to to speak, be pushed on to the universities, on to industry and on to the country as a whole, with no real chance being given either to the community or to those of us who work in the universities to have a proper look at it, put forward our views, and make such criticisms as may occur to us. I feel that this measure ought not to be allowed to go through without this being said on behalf of the universities—and, indeed, on behalf of education in this country.


My Lords, is the noble Viscount not going to reply?


Certainly. With your Lordships' permission, I should like to comment on one or two questions which have been raised. First of all, so far as the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, is concerned, I can assure him I was not trying to make out that the Secretary of State was going to have nothing to do. I was merely trying to show that his burden would not be as intolerable as many noble Lords opposite think. Of course, the Secretary of State alone will be the spokesman in Parliament over the whole range of his responsibilities. He will be responsible for questions relating to the present Ministry of Education and to the present office of Minister for Science, and he will assume the responsibilities relating to the University Grants Committee which were formerly discharged by the Treasury. He will be entirely responsible to Parliament for all these matters. Both the Ministers of State will be responsible to the Secretary of State, and will report to him, but he is the head.

Now I said in my opening remarks—and I am grateful to the noble Lord for the way he took it—that I realised that some noble Lords felt that they had not had quite enough time to examine this rather complicated Order. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and to the noble Lord, Lord Chorley, for having recognised that I have tried my best to explain the details of the instrument, and for saying that, in view of the circumstances, they do not wish to divide the House.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, asked me about the office of Lord President, and whether or not Mr. Hogg would be responsible for sport. At the moment, he is responsible for sport. I am not saying that there may not be further consideration of this, but at present his responsibilities for sport remain. So far as his responsibilities for the North-East are concerned, these have been absorbed in the new set-up under the Secretary of State for Trade, Industry and Regional Development. Responsibility for the North-East, therefore, is no longer the Lord President's; it is within the purview of the Secretary of State for Trade.


My Lords, am I in order, with the permission of the House, in asking a question on that particular matter? Might I just ask the noble Viscount whether he realises that one of the reasons, as I understood it, why the Government felt that the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, should co-ordinate sporting activities and assume responsibilities for it was because he was not a Departmental Minister? Is the noble Viscount aware that this would seem to be an entirely different concept; and do I understand that it is at the moment decided by the Government that after April 1, Mr. Hogg will be responsible for sport? I know he is responsible at the moment, of course; but do I understand that he will be after April 1?


No, my Lords. I think I said fairly clearly that at the moment he is responsible, and no decision has yet been taken as to whether after April 1 new arrangements will be made; but there is time for this matter to be considered.


My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend? It is rather important, I believe—I may have missed some Paper or statement—that we should know precisely what responsibilities the Minister of Sport in this country has. Is there any White Paper which lays down his responsibilities and duties? It could be a rather wide-ranging responsibility.


We have not got a Minister for Sport.


The noble Lady has, I think, given the answer, My right honourable friend is responsible for matters of sport, but he is not a Minister for Sport.

My Lords, I have endeavoured to try and answer the questions which were put to me, and I am grateful to your Lordships for giving me the chance to speak again.

3.57 p.m.


My Lords, this really is—I do not know how to describe it—a "dog's dinner". We do not disapprove of the idea of a federal Minister, but the fact is that the Secretary of State for Education will be responsible for scrapie disease in sheep and for rubber spool potato graders. If one looks through the list of subjects which will now fall to the Secretary of State for Education, one sees it contains vegetable and pig research and stress-grading of timber. He is also going to be responsible for shipbuilding research. Mr. Hogg, when he was the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, was responsible for injecting some necessary research and, indeed, energy into industry; and in fact he is going to be Minister for Industrial Development, because the Industrial Research and Development Association is also going to belong to him.

My Lords, this really is fantastic. We know that there were certain difficulties in the Government at the time they were choosing a Prime Minister, and we also know that Mr. Hogg is a man of great and, indeed, exceptional ability; but you do not have to give him the whole of the Government as a compensation prize—and this is really what it is becoming. Why not give him the Board of Trade and Regional Planning as well? There is a very strong argument for doing so, and it obviously fits in with schools. The noble Lord, Lord Newton, I understand, is going to be one of the Ministers of State. I am surprised we were not told about his job; it is rather interesting. We have an important new Minister in this House—I do not know where he is—and I should have thought he would be interested. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Newton, will tell us how he fits in with scrapie disease.

The Secretary of State is going to be responsible for natural resources, ecology and hydrology. I see there is some connection between these subjects—all human activity is connected in some degree—but I think the Government have got themselves into an absolutely impossible position. Driven, on the one hand, by views such as the views of my noble friend Lord Chorley, and, on the other hand, pressed a bit by my noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry on sport, they have completely mucked up the Government machine.

The Lord President of the Council was a most useful individual, particularly in the days when my noble friend Lord Morrison of Lambeth was Lord President of the Council. A number of jobs that did not clearly fit into any pre-defined Ministerial structure were given to the Lord President of the Council; and the one that was peculiarly well adapted to this was, of course, responsibility for science. My Lords, I do not believe that the majority of the Government like this solution. This is a political compromise which will not last for long. It has been rushed through, even though the Special Orders Committee said that in their opinion the provision of the Order raised important questions of policy or principle. But I do not think we can hold it up long. My Lords, this Government have done some astonishing things in their time, but this is one of the most astonishing.

3.59 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Shackleton having mentioned me and my former office of Lord President of the Council, I cannot resist saying a few words about this Order. I must say that the more I hear about it the less I think this is a decision on the merits of the machinery of government as against the merits or the demerits of Mr. Hogg.

And, by the way, there is a new Minister at the Ministry of Education (if this is to be called the Ministry of Education, and not the Office of Education): that is, the noble Lord, Lord Newton, to whom we offer congratulations. But I think it is his duty to be here and not to, hide himself at the end of the Episcopal Bench. Really he ought to be on the Government Front Bench—he is not a Bishop. I do not understand this business of an Order affecting the Secretary of State for Education and the other Ministers, of whose number the noble Lord. Lord Newton, is one; and then he goes and hides himself as far as he possibly can at the end of that Bench. He would have been far wiser to stay outside altogether; then we should not have seen him—but then we should have complained about that. But he ought to be here, winding up this debate.

My Lords, what is the real story behind this. The former Leader of this House, the former Lord Hailsham, gave up his Peerage in the hope of becoming Prime Minister. There was a problem about the formation of a Government under the present Prime Minister—and I am not making this a matter of personal abuse. I should not think of doing it. But everybody knows—it is common talk—that there was a bargain between the present Prime Minister and the former Lord Hailsham. There was a sort of discussion as to whether or not he would join the Government; and there was something like discussion as to what position he would join the Government in; and something like a bargain, in the end.


My Lords, is the noble Lord acting as an honest broker in this matter?


My Lords, I am acting as an honest noble Lord. The noble Earl, Lord Swinton, is always available to come to the rescue of the Government when they are in a tight corner; and I pay him my compliments. I believe he renders a valuable service to the Government in being its apologist, though he is no longer the Deputy Leader of this House or a Minister of the Crown. But long may he continue in this unpaid and honorary activity as the main supporter of the Government when they are in difficulty! What I am saying I am saying not as an honest broker, but as an honest noble Lord who believes what he has to say.

I do not like it—the idea that this business of offices under the Crown and the machinery of government should be subordinate to the personal ambitions of a particularly pushful Minister. That is what is happening. Here is the position. He has got the whole of education; he is the Secretary of State. He is two Ministers of State; and he is still the Lord President of the Council. Why is it essential for him to be Lord President of the Council? Nobody has said a word on that. The noble Viscount, the Chairman of the Conservative Party organisation, who introduced this Motion, has not told us why the former Lord Hailsham has to remain as Lord President of the Council. I think we ought to know the reason. There is no necessary tie-up between the two; therefore I think that this is wrong. Now the Secretary of State for Education, as proposed, is to be Secretary of State for Education, Lord President of the Council, supervisor of Sport. I do not complain about the sport. That will not take a great deal of his time; although I am sure my noble friend behind me will hope that it will take up a lot of his time. But I think it will not; though my noble friend will "push" him now and again to get an answer across the Floor. So he will do that job.

My noble friend Lord Shackleton is right. The scientific work of the Government was going on quite well under the Lord President of the Council. I do not think there was a need for a Ministry for Science, although I admit that my people have flirted with the idea, and earlier on invented quite a number of possible new Ministries. I did not wholly agree with them. I did not think there was any need; it was obviously a political move which we all understand. But the Lord President was in the position that he was otherwise pretty well a non-departmental Minister; because the duties of the Lord President of the Council, as such, take little time. It means a visit to the Palace for Privy Council meetings from time to time, or possibly to other Royal places. But he has plenty of time; and it is not as if the Minister for Science or the Lord President must be an actual scientist himself.

My noble friend Lord Attlee held the office; so did the noble Marquess, Lord Salisbury; so did I. I would say that, as the office has to deal with science, it would probably be a bad thing that the Minister concerned should himself be a scientist because scientists are specialists, and they quite naturally favour their own branch of science. It is desirable that the Minister should be impartial and above that battle; but he should be interested in science. He should inspire the work of the scientists, give them leadership and some guidance, and listen to them and see that research is done on an active scale. And there is another point: we are not taking much notice of the fact that the results of scientific research must be applied in industry, and I guarantee that nearly half the results of research are not yet being applied to British industry as they ought to be. That is part of it.

I should have thought the best thing would have been to keep scientific research under the Lord President of the Council, where it was done quite well in the past, with a limited but able staff, and with three Research Councils, plus the Nature Conservancy in action as well. And what about the university matters? Responsibility for these lay under the Treasury. I admit that that was illogical, because it was a spending body under the body that has to safeguard the spending of money. On the other hand, it was not very harmful; but if this responsibility had to go elsewhere, and if it had to be tied up with scientific research—for which there is something to be said—that also could have come under the Lord President. Instead of that, we are involved in this new empire, built up to please the personal ego of the proposed Secretary of State for Education. That is what is happening, and I do not like it. I do not believe that it is good machinery of government, and I do not believe that it will be good for education.

It was a great point in the debate on the Robbins Report, and rightly made, that the independence of the universities should be maintained. I think we all agree in principle about that. It is not improper for a Government to inspire the universities with branches of learning on which the nation may be short; but the universities should be academically independent, and I think we are all agreed about that. They could have been left where they were, or been placed under the Lord President of the Council. But I do not object, in principle, to their being under the Minister of Education, although I say that it is not essential. But scientific research could have stayed where it was. As things are, we are in danger of building up too large an edifice for the pleasing of a man who is energetic and, as we all know, ambitious. I do not believe that it is good from the point of view of the proper organisation of the machinery of the Government and, although we do not in this House divide on these Orders, I must say I do not think any of us is particularly enthusiastic about what has been done.


My Lords, I was brought up to believe that people in glass houses do not throw stones. I have been noting down some of the capacities of the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, not so very long ago. From 1945 for a number of years he was Lord President of the Council; he was the Leader of the House of Commons; he was boss of the Socialist Party; he was the nationaliser of coal and transport and of electricity and gas; he was the reformer of Parliamentary procedure; he was the Great Panjandrum himself in politics. And compared to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, so far as office goes, Mr. Quintin Hogg is a comparative cipher.


My Lords, may I interrupt—


If the noble Lord will allow me to finish my sentence, I should prefer to continue. Then the noble Lord, if it is allowed by the Rules of the House, can make another speech. As I was saying, so far as office goes, Mr. Quintin Hogg is a cipher compared to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth. But I am glad to say that, compared to the noble Lord, Lord Morrison of Lambeth, Mr. Quintin Hogg's intellectual capacity puts him in the nature of a giant.


My Lords, I merely wanted to ask the noble Earl, before he sits down (I know how he enjoys "having a go" at me when he can, and I do not resent it) what Offices of State he has ever held? Is not the answer, "None"? And is he not now having great difficulty in finding even a Parliamentary constituency for which he can stand?

On Question, Motion agreed to: the said Address to be presented to Her Majesty by the Lords with White Staves.