HL Deb 02 November 1965 vol 269 cc732-5

2.38 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they have considered the serious effect on the planned development of higher education of the moratorium on university building announced in July; and, if so, with what results.]


My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science gave the present estimate of the effect of the deferment measures on university building in another place last week. We expect that projects to the value of about three-quarters of the current fifteen months' programme will be started by the end of this financial year. About one-quarter will be deferred until 1966–67. Her Majesty's Government are keeping the position under constant review in the light of the prospective economic situation.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for that reply, and recognising the financial stringency in which this ban was imposed, is the noble Lord aware that it is falling with unevenness, and indeed with random effect, on universities and colleges in this country; that the distinction which it embodies between development areas and other areas has little or no relevance to educational needs; and, finally, that the instrument is so blunt that it is threatening to distort the orderly development of higher education on the planned lines which I think everybody in this House approved?


My Lords, I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, that we are about to have, before Christmas, a debate on the whole subject of higher education, in which I think the general issues should be raised. It is perfectly true—and we know it—that these measures are bound to raise considerable difficulties with many universities and university institutions. This is perfectly clear. We also know that there are good reasons for selecting development districts for places where these restrictions should not apply, since in these districts the pressure on resources is not too severe. However, if the noble Lord or any other noble Lord wishes to raise the particular case of any university institution with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, I am sure that he will consider it, in consultation with the University Grants Committee, but obviously he will have to consider it in relation to the entire economic position.


My Lords, is this postponement not bound to mean that a great many young people who are able to pass the university test and are looking forward to getting a place are to be disappointed?


No, my Lords, I think that the noble Earl is probably wrong there. Though it may mean inconvenience to various entrants into various universities—and I do not minimise that—I do not believe that it will mean a substantial diminution, or indeed even a trivial diminution, in the number of persons who can get university education.


My Lords, as the noble Lord has said that he will keep this question under constant review, could he explain if that means that the Government are willing to agree to making a change in their decision?


My Lords, clearly the noble Baroness will know that the economic situation of this country is something which determines a great many choices which none of us likes to take. But we are keeping this matter under constant review, and the moment there is any relaxation we shall be able to be more generous to the universities.


My Lords, could my noble friend state at this stage what considerations have led Her Majesty's Government to differentiate between the fortunate three-quarters and the unfortunate one-quarter?


My Lords, this partly depends upon where the university is placed—whether in a development district or non-development district—and, I am afraid, to some extent upon when the project started. But I suggest that the general argument about these very difficult positions should be left to the debate on higher education which we propose to hold before Christmas.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord whether it would be logical for the differentiation so far as universities are concerned to be between older and established universities and new universities that are struggling to be born? Would it not be right that any cuts that are made should apply to the former and not to the latter, which, after all, do not have surplus accommodation available to carry on their jobs?


My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that a number of new universities are getting great help and, by the standards of older universities, rather disproportionate help according to this new criterion. We do not believe that any system of this kind can be logical. Let us do away with those words. It is not a question of logic, in the circumstances, when there is a real diminution of effort which is bound to cut unevenly between one place and another. The position has to be looked at in relation to the entire needs of the economy.