HL Deb 30 June 1966 vol 275 cc837-48

6.17 p.m.

LORD STRANGE rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they would be prepared to consider sympathetically suggestions for development in the Isle of Man, of mutual benefit to the Island and to Britain, such as a technological University. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to ask the Question against my name on the Order Paper. I must declare a small financial loss in the Isle of Man, but it is shared by the whole population. I trust that your Lordships will credit me with speaking for the island and not for myself.

Your Lordships may have noticed that in a Question I asked earlier this afternoon I mentioned the term, "loyal". The Manxmen have proved their loyalty to this country in many ways. During both wars there was a higher proportion of freely enlisted Manxmen per head of the population than of nationals from any other country in the British Empire. They have paid their debts honourably and paid their defence contribution. They have been striken down suddenly by the seamen's strike in a manner which has proved devastating to the island. When the strike happened it hit the tourist trade which was just beginning, which was taking bud for the season.

The Tourist Trophy Race, which is internationally famous, had to be put off and this meant that lodgings which had been hooked up for a year ahead had to be cancelled. It hit the Steam Packet Company which had eleven vessels all laid up in harbour. Among those vessels are two drive-on—drive-off ferry boats capable during the season of taking on a double journey over 300 cars a day. It has also hit the provision of spare parts for hire cars. Many hire-car merchants in the Isle of Man buy their cars new every year, and these vehicles were left lying undelivered at Liverpool. One car manufacturer has £25,000 worth of carslying at Liverpool. Gradually the turn-round was slowed up and hit the whole pace of this happy island.

To give spot details, a hotel which has fifty bedrooms, and is normally packed, had one visitor. A small boarding house was expecting 27 visitors and did not get any. All its accommodation was booked. We got to the stage when there were more staff in the shops than customers. The island was reduced to a state of complete frustration which will affect the future. In fact it will be difficult for the island to recover. Although the island has tremendous power and guts, and will definitely fight to recover its losses, this will be very difficult to do. I know that suggestions have to be put through official channels, which would be the House of Keys, the Lieutenant Governor and the Home Office. I am sure that the Home Office, recognising the loyalty of the Isle of Man, and that they have always paid their debts and their defence contributions, will jump over backwards to help them.

I can say something on this question, because it is a national and not a local one. As I look at your Lordships, I see the faces of Manxmen who have come to me and said, "Try to do something". This is the first time I have had the honour of initiating a discussion in your Lordships' House and I am extremely nervous. I should never be nervous of your Lordships, with your kindly and learned faces, your sympathy and good manners, but I am nervous, when I am making this appeal, that I may put it wrong in some way. I am sure that your Lordships have felt this at some time or another. After an interview, or perhaps a row with your wife, in the morning you wake up and say that you wish you had said that or were sorry that you had said this. That is how I feel now, approaching this subject.

The problem is that we are leaving the hot war for the cold war. What were formally munition factories have to be changed into universities, and the production of shells has to be changed to the production of brains. That is the cold war, which we are bound to go into for the future and which, in many ways, is a better thing than the hot war. As your Lordships know, China and Russia are making universities on a scale undreamed of in the world before. They are of such a complexity and technical scope that they make our universities seem like naked houses.

In the Isle of Man, there is the ideal site on which to create one of the large universities of the future. I have thought it all out carefully. I have paced the corridors of your Lordships' House trying to get it down to something simple to tell your Lordships. I have cut it down to three points, and your Lordships will know at the end of the third that I am going to stop, which will give you relief. Although we have a great many universities in this country and they are dedicated to expansion, any form of expansion means more student accommodation, the cost of which comes either from the Government or from a gift from some kind person or institution or company. Your Lordships know that the national housing scheme has to catch up with all sorts of derelict houses, including bungalows rushed up which are already out of date and need replenishing. There is also the building of new houses at a rate which is difficult to fulfil, and finally there is the housing problem created by the fact that the population will probably be doubled in less than thirty years.

In the Isle of Man this student accommodation problem does not exist, because the vacation period of the university will coincide with the tourist season. Nowadays students go away to work in factories and laboratories with the idea of gaining technical experience, and this period, along with the normal vacation, is going to work in exactly with the tourist season. This means that during the university months there will be over 47,000 accommodation units, and many more if desired, for students. I do not think we can produce that so readily around our universities in this country.

My second point is this. The main trouble of the universities in this country is the brain drain. It is difficult to attract the top teachers in technological subjects. As your Lordships will remember, the old charming classical professors of our youth did not want very much. If they had good meals, good wine and good company, they were quite prepared to take their holidays in Switzerland, roping themselves together and climbing hills. When they got older, they rode on bicycles on the roads for exercise, and when they were older still they went with their wives to see classical ruins and poked about them with umbrellas and were quite happy. That will not do for the technical teachers of to-day. They are teaching about money and they want it for themselves. In this country, we have the most colourful system of taxation in the world. In the Isle of Man, with which Her Majesty's Government could well co-operate in the taxation system, the brain drain would change to a brain flood, from which the best teachers could be taken.

The third point—as your Lordships will be glad to hear—is the question of site. The Isle of Man has over 200 square miles of the finest green belt country in the British Isles. It is a beautiful place, with hills and mountains, clear streams, plains and valleys, and miles of beaches. The air is so clear that the flowers look unnaturally bright and the tourists wonder if there is something wrong with them. The meadows are filled with delight, with flowers everywhere, and everybody is gay and happy and energetic. What a place for young people! In addition, there are over 400 miles of good roads.

I was going to talk about winter climate, and knowing that there might be a lot of doubting remarks I took the trouble of checking up a few universities against the Isle of Man. The University of Durham has 160 hours less sunshine in the winter than the Isle of Man. A University called Keele in Staffordshire has 89 hours less. Coming South, there is a University called Reading which has 15 hours less. All these places have a lower temperature in winter than the Isle of Man, and have more snow.

I have said my say, and I know that to-morrow morning I shall wake up and say, "I wish I had said that". I shall kick myself, but I cannot keep your Lordships here for ever. I am British through and through, and I know that we have a system of "muddling through" by which we carry on. Foreigners think we are extraordinary for having this system and laugh at us. But I like it, because I know that in times of trouble our hereditary leopard will change its spots. When it changes its spots it can get going in doing things.

This is a time that we have to change and get going doing things, and we have to put some of the millions we are spending on rockets which go off like damp squibs, into a new university for the future on a scale that we have not anticipated before, and that university should be in the Isle of Man. I like not to tread on corns, and I know I have said a lot that people will not agree with. Therefore, I should like to end with something rather pleasant—a text or something like that. In Westminster Abbey yesterday, in that beautiful service, I was very struck with a quotation from Proverbs which was the First Lesson. If I remember it anywhere near correctly, it was something like this: Those who hate wisdom love death.

6.31 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to address the House for two or three minutes. I must confess that I am always sympathetic with the lone campaigner, but that is not the only reason why I am supporting the noble Lord to-night. When I was at the Ministry of Food I was sent to the Isle of Man to discuss rationing with the hotel and boarding-house keepers on the island. I arrived in this delightful spot—every noble Lord will agree that islands exercise tremendous fascination—and I said: "Why have I not found the Isle of Man before?" The description of the island that we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Strange, is indeed not an overstatement. Everything seems so green and balmy, and the people are cheerful. Perhaps, having been attacked at the Ministry of Food for so many years, I was particularly impressed with the fact that they received me in a kindly fashion and courteous manner and were not aggressive.

Then fate decreed that I should go from a constituency in London, which I had represented for eighteen years, to the North, to Warrington, and I became familiar with the Universities of Manchester and Liverpool. I also became familiar (I hope those in the North will forgive me for saying this) with the grime, the darkness and dreariness of some of the places in the North where our young people have to live. Many of them went to the Isle of Man for their holidays. I often used to think what a pity it was that all this accommodation on the Isle of Man was used for such a short season. Why, oh why, could not the adolescents enjoy the wonderful air and the beauty of the Isle of Man for a longer period?

Now I have heard the noble Lord put his case for a university. On educational grounds, I agree that I cannot say to the representative of the Government here tonight whether it is feasible or not, but I would put this point to the House. When these new universities were under consideration, some of us thought: is this the right place? How was it that this place was chosen? To take one example, there is the University of Sussex. When the University of Sussex was established, some of us, accustomed to the Universities of London, Oxford and Cambridge, thought: "This place will never do down there, with Brighton as its focal centre." On the contrary, Sussex University, I am told, is sought after; it is attractive and has already proved successful. I am told that now, if men and women cannot get into Oxford, they sometimes put Sussex first on their list. Why is that? Well, in life Jack must not only have work; he must have a little play, as well. The young people, and indeed ourselves, like to go to places where there may be opportunities for study, and where the buildings are attractive. Nevertheless, the open air, the Downs, in Sussex, and the sea have attracted these people; and now they are so attached to Sussex University that they are persuading everybody who can possibly get a place to go there.

In the light of these thoughts, I hope that the claim which the noble Lord. Lord Strange, has made for the Isle of Man as a site for a university will be recognised. If the Ministry of Education say that we do want another university in the North, there could be no more delightful place for these young people in the North, brought up very often in the darkness of their native homes, to go. I heartily support the noble Lord.

6.35 p.m.


My Lords, there is a saying in Shakespeare that the words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. Not being Mercury, I feel that after the last two speeches I may do more harm than good by saying anything at all. I shall, therefore, not say any words of my own, but merely read an extract from Encyclopœdia Britannica which contains one of the only two facts that I know about the Isle of Man. It is one which seems to support what the noble Lord, Lord Strange, has so admirably said. The other fact I did not extract from any encyclopædia but from my own memory. It has to do with the Island's history. Speaking from this Bench—I am not, of course, speaking officially for the Liberal Party—I feel that the Isle of Man has not been as liberally treated in the past as it has been liberal in its institutions. Indeed, I was rather surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Summerskill, did not mention that one of its peculiarities is that women are entitled to inherit property in default of a male heir, in the same way as the Crown does, which might give it a certain possible right to be considered. The Encyclopœdia Britannica says that at the beginning of the last century The hereditary Lords"— who were members of a certain family, and I hope I may say this without treading on anybody's corns— were far from being model rulers, but most of them had taken some personal share in its government and had interested themselves in the wellbeing of its inhabitants. Now —and this, of course, was long before a progressive Government came in, I suppose before 1800— the whole direction of its affairs was handed over to officials who regarded the island as a pestilent nest of smugglers from which it was their duty to extract as much revenue as possible. Some alleviation of this state of things was experienced…when the fourth Duke of Atholl was appointed Governor, since although"— I will leave out the next remarks as the noble Duke is not here, but it goes on to say that, in spite of what it says about his being unduly solicitous for his pecuniary interests, he did occasionally exert himself to promote the welfare of the island. After his departure the English officials assumed their sway. That shows that in the past also we had a certain debt to the Isle of Man.

The only other thing I know about it is the heraldic symbol, which I think is three legs in a wheel—I do not know the heraldic term, whether it is "three legs extended in a wheel revolvement", or what; nobody knows what it symbolises. The wheel might symbolise the bad times coming back—


My Lords, if I may interrupt the noble Viscount, the Manx say that it symbolises kicking the English off the island.


I was about to say, in a more tactful form, that it might symbolise two legs to stand on, one, possibly, to remind the Government of their obligations by prodding them in the seat of the trousers. If that is a correct interpretation, I should like to congratulate the Isle of Man on its present Third Leg. I will not say anything more, as it might put me in the position of a square leg dropping a catch.

6.38 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Strange, is one of the few people I know who never wakes up in the morning and says, "I wish I had said that", because he always seems to cover every possible point in his speeches. And certainly on this occasion, if he had left out anything at all, which I think is unlikely, my noble friend Lady Summerskill has most certainly filled the bill.

I personally have never visited this beautiful island, and apart from novels, my knowledge is confined to an observation which was made on one famous occasion by Sir Winston Churchill, which I will not now retail. But I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Strange, that his picture of the Isle of Man, drawn in such glowing colours by one who so obviously loves the island, was such that my noble friends are only waiting until I sit down before dashing out to make arrangements to spend their holidays there. Indeed, since there is common ground between us that the Isle of Man mainly depends on tourism, and that an increase in tourism would solve many of the problems he has mentioned, I think he should now devote his life as an advocate for the island, as I am sure he must be the very best advertisement for it.

I was glad that the noble Lord commenced his speech by making reference to the well-known, respected loyalty of the Manxman. That has never been in question. We all regret that the T.T. races in which, apart from Manxmen, the whole population of the United Kingdom takes a good deal of justifiable pride, has been cancelled this year. I hope he is quite wrong in thinking that it is likely to be a permanent cancellation. Indeed, it is regrettable that the island has suffered grevious losses through the curtailment of the holiday-making industry during the last six or seven weeks. I am very glad indeed to feel that it is possible that this week-end the influx may be starting and the troubles in future may well be over.

The noble Lord, Lord Strange, is perfectly well aware that suggestions for schemes for relief in the island would have to come from the Government. I am bound to say that he did not mention what cynically-minded people might regard as yet another major attraction to his beloved island, and that is that income tax is 4s. 3d. in the pound—only half that we have to pay in this country. This is a factor of no little importance when we arc considering the kind of proposals and suggestions which the noble Lord has put before us. The Isle of Man Government return a proportion of their Customs and Excise revenue to the Exchequer as a contribution to defence and common services. Apart from these dealings, the Isle of Man is financially independent of the United Kingdom (of which it never formed part) and the island Government's revenue is their own to spend as they will. They may also tax the Manxman as they will.

It is the case that the Isle of Man enjoys a large measure of independence which is dear to the people of the island, and fully recognised by Her Majesty's Government—as the noble Lord has just said, by a three-legged symbol which says, "Kick the British off the Island." While that feeling is cherished, it is something to which we must have regard; and, so far as I am concerned, good luck to it! But independence of that kind entails obligations and liabilities as well as advantages, and under the present constitutional relationship the island does not look to the United Kingdom for financial support. Very strong arguments would have to be produced to persuade the United Kingdom taxpayer, paying double the tax, that he should be taxed to support projects of which the benefits would flow to the island. I know that the noble Lord would say at once—and I would agree with him—that the proposition he put forward of a university might be considered to be of benefit to the people both of the island and of the United Kingdom. But I am bound to say that, although the Government are naturally willing to give sympathetic consideration to any proposals for developments which would be of mutual benefit, those proposals could be considered only on their individual merits and against the background of the Isle of Man Government's prime responsibility for the island's welfare.

I would deal now with the one suggestion which the noble Lord made of a project, and which he mentioned in his speech, of a technological university. Here somewhat different considerations have to be taken into account. I am sure he will agree that the considerations which apply to the siting of a university anywhere in the United Kingdom should, and must, also apply to his proposal in respect to the Isle of Man, quite apart from anything that I have already said. I have before me the plea based on his three points he just mentioned, including the fact that there are some 47,000 accommodation units for students, which is a matter not without its importance. Any proposal to establish with United Kingdom funds, or mainly with United Kingdom funds, a university of the island would in any case he in competition with claims from other places in the United Kingdom which naturally want their own university. The University Grants Committee have set out in paragraphs 276 to 290 of their Quinquennial Report certain criteria which they have applied in deciding on the location of the six new universities which they recommended between 1959 and 1961. My noble friend Lady Summerskill has referred to Sussex, which had to satisfy those six considerations. I am bound to say that so far, from what I have heard, the only one of those six which is satisfied by the noble Lord's proposition is that there is plenty of lodging available, at least in the early stages.

While the Robbins Committee on Higher Education did not wish to criticise the criteria which the Grants Committee applied, they placed great emphasis in their Report on the importance of siting future new universities in great centres of population or in their vicinity and, in addition, to providing a large catchment area, supplying lodging and stimulating cultural activities in the city, because such a location would bring great benefits to the institution itself. Paragraph 499 of the Robbins Committee Report says this: It is most valuable for the teachers and students in academic institutions to have convenient access to national institutions such as libraries, museums, galleries and other cultural centres and to learned societies. It is also important for them to have easy access to centres of industry, commerce, medicine and law, to institutions of central and local government, and to research institutions. Two-way traffic between such centres and universities is of great benefit particularly in the natural sciences, technology"— the points the noble Lord has made— medicine and the social sciences. Such intercourse is most readily established in large centres of population and particularly in great cities. I am bound to say that it seems very doubtful whether the Isle of Man could establish a strong case on academic grounds for priority consideration for a new university, even if another university were needed to achieve the Government's objectives. As the noble Lord will doubt- less be aware, it is not possible to go any further with this at the moment because the Government have decided that there should be no new United Kingdom universities for the present—at least for the period of some ten years—because the Robbins Committee has estimated that the number of university places which are, and will be, required can be provided by existing universities and other institutions of university status. Therefore, much as I genuinely admire the noble Lord's love for the Isle of Man, and his anxiety for the welfare and wellbeing of her people; much as I agree with him about their loyalty and, as my noble friend Lady Summerskill said, their kindly and courteous manner; much as I should like to be able to say "Yes" to him, I am afraid that, apart from wishing them "Jolly good luck, good hunting and a very good summer's business," I can do no more on this occasion.