HL Deb 19 December 1967 vol 287 cc1406-31

4.58 p.m.

LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY rose to ask Her Majesty's Government whether steps are being taken to enable children in Hong Kong to have free primary school education. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I feel like a maiden who has been abandoned by the very knight who should have come to rescue her, because I am forced to ask your Lordships' permission to ask this Question in the absence of my noble friend Lord Moynihan. I rise to speak to your Lordships' House for the first time with a very real diffidence, but perhaps it is just a little bit affected by the fact that I feel I am contributing to one of the better beliefs about your Lordships' House. It is, as your Lordships know, generally held that there is no subject so recondite that there cannot be found a noble Lord who has personal experience of it; and, as a former chairman of a primary school in Hong Kong, I cannot but feel that my elevation in time for this Question was almost providential.

My Lords, I know the great difficulties that the Hong Kong Government have had to experience ever since 1935, when the great influx of refugees started, and how well they have done in coping with so many of the problems of housing, health and crime which seemed to them the most urgent. So much so that Hong Kong is not a show-case of British democracy, for there is no democracy there; it is not a show-case of British capitalism, because some parts of capitalism in Hong Kong are by no means to be exhibited in a show-case; but it is at any rate a show-case for British administration. But I feel that there is one side in particular in respect of which the Government have been overkeen to rely on help from outside, and have therefore been a little too complacent, and this is education.

First of all, they have been able to rely on the tremendous feeling and desire for education on the part of the Chinese parents and, secondly, they have been able to rely on the tremendous work done by the voluntary societies, notably by the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches and, in particular, by one extremely great man to whom Hong Kong probably owes more than to anyone else in the course of this century. I refer to the retired Bishop of Hong Kong, Bishop Hall. Scratch the surface of any movement of social security in Hong Kong and you will get down to something which Bishop Hall first suggested at a time when he had to combat sometimes opposition, but always apathy. Now, because of this great work, because of the schools built by the Churches and the voluntary societies, and because of the desire by Chinese parents for education, I feel that certain aspects of this matter have probably been left out of account.

First of all, my Lords, there is no free education in Hong Kong. As your Lordships probably know, 20 per cent. of the places in the primary schools are free, and I am glad to hear that this has just been raised from the previous level of 10 per cent. But this is not by any means what we would know as free education. In many of the schools where this applies there is a classroom charge. a small one, to pay for chalk and electric light. There are still fees for taking examinations, even the examination to secondary schools; there are uniforms which are compulsory and which, for the lower primary, will cost something in the neighbourhood of 60 Hong Kong dollars, and for the upper primary, 80 Hong Kong dollars. There are books and paper, which are not provided free and which for the lower primary schools cost in the neighbourhood of 45 Hong Kong dollars, and for the upper primary schools 80 Hong Kong dollars. Your Lordships will readily realise what a drain this can be upon parents, possibly unskilled labourers, who are working together for a total salary of 400 Hong Kong dollars a month.

That this does not appear to have a great dissuasive effect on school attendance is to the credit of the parents concerned—although I am not entirely certain that I accept the figures that we are given of 99.8 per cent. of the estimated number of children in the 6 to 11 age group being in primary schools. I have consulted quite a number of people who have worked in Hong King recently, and all say that this is quite unrealistic. Possibly the mistake comes from a mistake in the estimated number of children. But there is undoubtedly some kind of dissuasive effect here which is doubled when one realises that there is no subsidy for, and no free places in, the pre-primary schools: the day centres, the day schools, the play centres, the nursery schools and the kindergartens. These are almost as important as the primary schools. The last Hong Kong Government Report admits that there is pressure for subsidisation; and I hope we shall see it. So often what happens is that the education of the older children is itself damaged by their having to stay at home to look after the younger children in those cases where both husband and wife have to work and work hard to get even the barest living wage. All this is of extreme importance.

My noble friend Lord Moynihan will be putting more strongly than I am doing at the moment the case for universal education in Hong Kong; and I thoroughly abide by the necessity of that principle. If the answer is that this cannot at the moment be afforded, then I ask that very careful consideration be given to the provision of grants towards uniforms, books and paper to make free places absolutely free; to the provision of a child attendance service, which, in spite of the figures we are given, I am still convinced is needed; and to the provision of a subsidy and free places in the pre-primary schools. I think that this would go a long way to meet the point. But if it is argued that there is no leeway in which extra taxation could be raised to pay for this—and I do not accept that argument—then, as is being done in secondary education in the Colony, the standard fees for those who can afford it should be raised in order to pay for those who cannot.

My Lords, Hong Kong, as we know, is going to face a more and more difficult time in the near future. It is up to us, as the responsible Government, to prepare them for this as much as we can. It is certainly up to us to try to produce the best education that we can and to try to relieve some of the grinding poverty—a great deal of which is contributed to by the amount of money that has now to be paid for schooling, if not technically for school fees. I beg to ask the Question standing in the name of my noble friend.

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, I have rarely had such great pleasure as I have in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitney, upon the speech he has just delivered. One of the values of your Lordships' House lies in the fact that it contains people of experience in many fields of activity; and the speech to which we have just listened has emphasised that point, in that we have had the chairman of a primary school in Hong Kong opening our debate to-day. I do not know whether it was through Destiny that Lord Moynihan was not able to be in his place to open this debate; but I am quite sure that he himself welcomes the fact that his noble friend was able to do so. I hope that we shall hear him often. As one who has delivered more than one maiden speech—here and in another place—I should like to congratulate him upon the way in which he spoke and to say that I am sure that we all hope to be able to hear him many times again.

My Lords, I was not at first sure that the procedure of your Lordships' House allowed me to intervene at this moment since Lord Moynihan's name was first on the Order Paper; but, after consultation, I understand that he would prefer to conclude the debate rather than to take part now. I am very ready indeed to meet his wishes on that point. Although the Minister, my noble friend Lord Shepherd, is not at this moment on the Front Bench—although he is within hearing of my voice—I should like to say that I am very glad that he is to reply to this debate, because I am well aware of the very deep concern which he feels about Hong Kong. I know that not only his sympathy but his influence will be exerted to the fullest extent to meet the requests which have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitney, in opening this debate.

I should like to emphasise one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. Quite honestly, I find it impossible to believe the official figures which suggest that 98 per cent. of the children are attending primary schools. I acknowledge at once that I have never been to Hong Kong. I have never been further East than Sabah in Borneo, though I was born in the East. But I am intensely interested and I have had information from those who are there, including one of the district councillors in the Hong Kong district. She informs me that no one in Hong Kong except the officials believes this figure of 98 per cent. So my first request to my noble friend Lord Shepherd is that he will investigate this figure which has been issued.

None of us who at all understands the poverty of the people of Hong Kong could believe that, on their wretchedly low wages, they are able to send their children to fee-paying schools where only 20 per cent. of the places are free. As the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, indicated, the term "free places" is a misnomer, for the parents of the children have to pay for the exercise books which their children use; and they have to pay for the pencils and the chalk, and for the uniforms the children wear. They actually have to pay for the examinations which their children take if they wish to go further in education and take scholarships for the secondary schools. It is beyond credibility, when one knows of the appalling poverty which exists among the mass of the people in Hong Kong, to accept the official figure that 98 per cent. of the children of school age are able to go to the primary schools. I ask my noble friend Lord Shepherd to examine that figure in very great detail.


My Lords, would the noble Lord allow me to intervene? Would he agree that in many cases quite a number of Chinese firms give free food and accommodation to the servants who work for them, and that that has a relationship to the cost of living?


My Lords, I appreciate that some do, and that others are in a position to do it. I am not sure that the word "many" in proportion to "all" would be appropriate, but I appreciate the point. I think my noble friend would agree that, even taking that into consideration, it is beyond the gulf of credibility to believe that 98 per cent. of the children of school age are able to attend primary schools, as the official figures would lead us to believe. My main reason for intervening in this debate is to emphasise the fact of the poverty in Hong Kong, which prevents advantage from being taken not only of primary education, but still more of secondary education facilities.

I do not think that any Member of your Lordships' House would be very proud of the circumstances in which the British occupation of Hong Kong began. It was to impose opium upon the Chinese people—when the Government of China sought to reject it—in exchange for Chinese trade. My Lords, I think it possible that the future of Hong Kong may anticipate the Day of Judgment and that we may be in the dock when history comes to make that judgment. What I wish to say immediately is that, while recognising, as I do, the contribution the Government of Hong Kong has made to housing and to health, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, has mentioned, nevertheless, as I know my noble friend Lord Shepherd appreciates, the problems of housing and health in Hong King have not begun to be solved. As rapidly as housing is made available to the people there are as many squatters as there were before the houses were built. And, unless I am misinformed, the number of deaths from tuberculosis in Hong Kong is still between 20 and 30 every week.

This situation has its effect upon education of the children. There we have a mass of people living in poverty. First, I decline to believe that such a large number of children are going to school. Secondly, I know from experience in Britain that when children come from overcrowded homes and are living in poverty they cannot take advantage of education. Thirdly only an insignificant number of children in Hong Kong are able to go to secondary school. I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Shepherd now has responsibility at the Commonwealth Office because I know of his great sympathy with the problems of Hong Kong. I appeal to him to try to make this a special issue to which he will give his attention, because, despite all that has been done regarding housing and health, Hong Kong is now one of the black spots in the British Commonwealth.

I wish to appeal to my noble friend to do that, not only from the economic point of view but also from the political aspect. We have passed the day when there should be no elected authority to represent the wishes of the people of Hong Kong. If this seems a little farfetched from the problem of education, which was my primary motive in speaking, my Lords, I would say this to my noble friend. All experience shows that as democratic rights are extended in territories the enthusiasm which is latent among the common people for their children to have an opportunity to be educated finds expression through those democratic rights. I believe that my noble friend will have all these things in mind, and I am hoping that the contribution which I have tried to make tonight will be regarded, not in any sense as a censure, but rather as an encouragement to him in the task which he has undertaken.

5.19 p.m.


My Lords, I should like first to apologise most sincerely to your Lordships' House and in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, for my late arrival. I am not sure that I would agree with the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, that it was fate that held me up, but I would certainly agree with him that nobody in your Lordships' House could have spoken with more experience or could have put the case for further education in Hong Kong better than my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley.

I should like to cast your minds back to the last time Hong Kong was discussed in your Lordships' House and to quote from the Hansard of that date what the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, said: Some 18 per cent. of the annual budget goes into the field of education."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 9/11/67, col. 576.] I am sure that that is the case, but I should like to be reassured of it, because in the Hong Kong Education Department Annual Summary on page 31 there is the following: The actual total recurrent expenditure on education is 13.8 per cent. of the actual total of current expenditure of the Colony. That was for the year 1965–66, the latest figure available to me. It is perfectly possible that that figure could have increased to 18 per cent. in the next year, in which case, I can assure your Lordships nobody would be happier than I, but I think that probably that is too large an increase to be true. I wonder where that figure of 18 per cent. came from, and whether the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, can reassure me when he comes to answer.

My noble friend Lord Brockway found it incredible that 98 per cent. of children in this age group in Hong Kong were in schools. May I point out to him that the published figure is not 98, but 99–8 per cent., which I am sure he will agree with me is even more unlikely to be the truth. Without any shred of evidence at all in my hands I hesitate to say that 99.8 per cent. is untrue, but I feel it must be extremely unlikely that that is a genuine figure. Possibly, as the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, said, the trouble with that figure is not the percentage of children that we know about but the large number of children we do not know about, who would decrease the percentage considerably. Anyway, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will not stress that figure of 99.8 per cent. too hard, because he has been assured now by three people that they are in some considerable doubt as to its validity.

If the percentage of children at school in Hong Kong is high, it is not really because of the British Government or the Hong Kong Government, who have done precious little to help the percentage rise. It is due basically, as I am sure noble Lords who know the Chinese people and who know Hong Kong will agree, to the wonderful acceptance by the Chinese people of the extreme necessity to better themselves and to provide the best form of education possible for their children. I take my hat off to-night to the Chinese parents, not to the Government officials, for this high figure, if indeed the figure is what it is supposed to be.

The Chinese people in Hong Kong have over many years come in many ways to trust the British Government there. One feels sometimes that they rely on the British to an almost naïve extent, and it is certainly up to us not to let them down. What kind of education do the children get when in fact they get to school? Are we letting them down? I should like to quote some figures about the qualifications of teachers at present practising in Hong Kong. At primary education level, there are 943 trained graduate teachers, 1,713 untrained graduate teachers, 10,951 teachers who are not graduates but have had some form of training, 4,896 teachers who have had secondary education themselves and no training whatsoever, and 141 teachers who have no secondary education and are totally untrained. The total number of graduate teachers, irrespective of their academic qualifications, is 6,750.

There may be some noble Lords who believe, as I do, that this is not good enough. One third of the total number of teachers at this level in Hong Kong are totally untrained and one quarter are totally untrained without a degree. On several occasions in Hong Kong I was asked whether I would teach in a primary school. I never did, possibly because I felt that I was unqualified to do so. Had I been aware of these figures, I might have felt that I could have contributed something to the education there, because I certainly should not have been alone in my lack of qualifications. There is a large number of totally untrained wives of British Service personnel stationed in Hong Kong who are making extra money out of teaching in primary schools. I am not saying that it is not a wonderful thing that these women should give up their time and dedicate themselves to the teaching of these children. What I am calling into question is whether we, in our responsibility to the Chinese children, are giving them what their parents think they are buying—and I use the word "buying" advisedly, because they are in fact paying for their education.

I should like to consider for a moment the language difficulties in the Anglo-Chinese schools in Hong Kong. This is a very difficult problem. I do not expect that the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, will be able to answer this, because I think it is unanswerable, but I should like to draw his attention to it. I quote a Chinese official, who said: Indeed it is no exaggeration to say that to a Chinese pupil in an Anglo-Chinese school every lesson, whether it is arithmetic or science or whatever you will, is in the first instance an English lesson, for he has first of all to understand the language—and the English used in mathematics and science textbooks is often peculiar—before he can comprehend a problem. He therefore learns much more slowly than he would if the language used had been his mother tongue. This is not all, for if the tests and examinations are conducted in English, he has to be able to express in English what he has learned; and to be able to express something in English is much more difficult than just to understand a thing in English. There is a tendency for many Chinese pupils attending Anglo-Chinese schools to spend most of their time learning from textbooks and learning to reproduce, sometimes in very poor English, what they have learned. They have little time for anything else: not even to think for themselves, or to try to apply the knowledge that they have acquired from textbooks to daily life, not to mention developing wider interests and learning through the medium of a foreign language. This, therefore, hampers the mental and general development of Chinese pupils.

I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, exactly whose "Holy cow" it is that taxation cannot be raised in Hong Kong. We understand that the very existence of this Colony depends upon high profits. But are not the profits at the moment just a little too high, and the standard of the social services, in particular of education, just a little too low? Is it not time that we did something about it? Your Lordships are sitting in a country to which free education came at a primary level in 1918; but in fact since 1870 there has been virtually free primary education in this country. In Hong Kong, from September, 1966, we have taken the reactionary step of raising school fees from 360 dollars to 480 dollars.


Can the noble Lord tell me when these fees were raised?


In September, 1966. I obtained this information from the Education Department Annual Summary. I do not have it with me, but I will certainly get the exact page and line for the noble Lord.


My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the noble Lord for one moment. I have been looking at the same document, and it appears to be 9 per cent. of the fee income for primary education.


My Lords, I am afraid that, without holding up the proceedings, I cannot find it at this stage, but I assure your Lordships that I will find the exact page and line showing that in September, 1966, fees were raised from 360 dollars to 480 dollars. When the question of Hong Kong is raised, it is very often said by members of the Government in this country—not only the present Government, but all recent Governments—how much better off the people of Hong Kong are in relation to the surrounding territories; and I mean, in particular, the surrounding free territories. One is told that in comparison with the other parts of the Far East they are very well off, and that we must make our comparisons with other Far Eastern countries and not with the United Kingdom.

I fully appreciate the logic of this. But is the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, aware that, whatever the figure be in Hong Kong—whether it be his figure of 18 per cent. or my figure of 13.8 per cent.—in the Philippines, which most noble Lords who have been there will agree is perhaps one of the most poverty-stricken areas in that part of the world, the figure is not 18 per cent., not 13.8 per cent., but 30 per cent.; that in Korea it is 19 per cent., and in Malaysia 21 per cent.? I am not making any comparison between the United Kingdom and Hong Kong; I am making direct comparisons between Hong Kong and the nearest geographical surrounding free territories.

This leads one to suppose that the Governments of the Philippines, Korea and Malaysia are doing more for the education of the people of those countries than we are doing for the people of Hong Kong. I sincerely hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, comes to reply he will hold out some hope to us that the percentage that we are spending in Hong Kong, whether it be my figure or his figure, will be raised.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, I apologise to your Lordships for intervening in this debate when my name is not on the list of speakers. I should first like to pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, who made a most able maiden speech. I know it will be the wish of your Lordships that we shall hear him often in the future.

In the few words that I want to say this afternoon I do not wish to go into a great number of statistics, but, having heard what other speakers have said, I hope that due credit will be given when we have the reply from the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, to the great way in which the Education Department of Hong Kong has carried out its duties in difficult times over the past years, and that whatever has been said in this debate will not in any way be construed as being a criticism of that Department.

As I understand this Question, it relates primarily to free education in primary schools in Hong Kong. So far as I am able to gather from the Annual Summary for 1965–66, in English primary schools in Hong Kong the amount paid is purely nominal, and represents only 9 per cent. of fee income. In Hong Kong there are a great many problems facing the Colony, not the least being the question of space. Many people from the mainland come there because they prefer the conditions of living in Hong Kong to those on the mainland of China. Apart from anything else, if one is to consider the problems affecting education, one has to find space for new schools.

From the long experience over many years that I have had with the Chinese, it is quite true, as noble Lords have said, that they are most concerned with giving their children a good start in life, and they will make any sacrifices to that end; in the way of paying fees for education or in other ways. There are a great many Chinese who under British administration have become millionaires—and this goes for Hong Kong as well as for Malaysia, where I was. I feel that the Chinese in that category would make a marked contribution towards an educational trust fund, if such a fund could be set up. I wonder whether this would be an appropriate measure to see if something of the kind could be adopted.

My Lords, that is all I have to say, but I sincerely hope that when the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, comes to reply he will at least give some credit to our Administration out there for the work they have done for education over past years.

5.39 p.m.


My Lords, I am prompted to intervene only by the fantastic vision of the truant officer looking for that missing 0.2 per cent. in Aberdeen—that is, Aberdeen, Hong Kong. The figure is quite absurd. This is not a question of whether the facilities are adequate, available and so on. The fact is that in the situation of Hong Kong, with which some of us are familiar—and I am particularly familiar with it only in terms of the refugee problem—this figure cannot make sense. What we are talking about is the desperate efforts of people to get education in Hong Kong. And I subscribe to everything that has been said about the determination of the Chinese people to provide their children with this education, which I regret to say I think the authorities in Hong Kong have, in this sense, failed to provide.

The burden of the problem, as has been stressed, lies in overcrowding. It lies, as my noble friend Lord Brockway stressed, in the fact of poverty: the poverty of people suffering from the effects of prosperity in Hong Kong. And it applies particularly to those who in fact have what I call "hot doss-houses" in Hong Kong where people literally move in and out of the same beds in the course of the same day. Let us be realistic about this problem. I know from my own experience the tremendous efforts which voluntary organisations have made, and are making, to cope in the main with the need for education in Hong Kong. I very sincerely hope that my noble friend Lord Shepherd will give some encouragement to our thinking that, under our influence, this Colony of ours will at least give some substance to the lip service given to the anti-illiteracy campaign, of which I am one of the spokesmen.

5.41 p.m.


My Lords, we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for introducing this aspect of Hong Kong life, and we congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, on his maiden speech. We have heard a number of percentages given across the Floor of the House. It reminds me of when I went into Mrs. Gartside's shop, in the village where I lived, and asked her how she was getting on. She said, "Very well." I said, "Are you making a profit?" She said, "Yes, I am. But I don't agree with these people, you know, who make 5 per cent. profit. I am satisfied with one. If I can buy something for 1d. and sell it for 2d. I am very happy indeed."

This Question, however, concerns a serious subject, and one of which everybody concerned with the well-being of this Colony will have to take due notice. My intervention is not to vilify or blame. My intervention is perhaps something modestly constructive—so to influence opinion that we can stay there until the end of our legal tenure. Because if, in our day and generation, with the economic situation of the country as it is here at the present time, we neglect any opportunity in future years of selling into that great continent of China, which we should be able to do in abundance, we shall have neglected our duty.

I had hoped that the debate would have been a touch wider than concentration on primary schools. But, even so, I think it is permitted in these debates to draw attention to the consequences of neglect or inaction in primary education, and also to what happens after primary education. The repercussions can be immense. It is here, in education, that if economies and savage cutbacks are made we shall have another example of eating our seed corn. This is precisely what they will be faced with in Hong Kong if they do not do certain things that need to be done.

I well remember seeing a tiny little wizened old lady at a function in Hong Kong, and I asked who this interesting person was. I was told that she was an American-born woman. She had gone to the Far East with her father and mother when she was 21 as a twenty-first anniversary treat, now many years ago. She went to a village in the territories of Hong Kong and there saw a small female child who had been left there alone and neglected. She picked it up. She went to the head man of the village; she went to the British representative, and eventually to the Governor. Nobody could do anything about it: and she still had this child in her arms. She stayed there the whole of her life and built something into Hong Kong that will be remembered when many of the more excitable happenings of recent days have long been forgotten. This was a long time ago. The woman was living last time I went there—and I have been many times—and has been followed by sincere people who have tried to make a contribution in the education of the young in Hong Kong.

But we must remember this. All through these years the Hong Kong economy has been in the middle of a low-wage economy in North and South Korea, Japan and China, and low wages are the only thing that can spell success for Hong Kong. This situation has been connived at by Governments—a Government which has paid its way out of current revenue, with 250 million here in London in reserves. It is connived at by the manufacturers. This has gone far, and has resulted in the troubles that we have had with the concentration on the political elements in the unions. It has gone far enough. It has reached its end. It is the end of an era. That being the case, what can be done?

We must remember, first of all, that the autonomy that Hong Kong enjoys, built up over the years by tacit acceptance by successive Governments and successive Ministers, first of all in the Colonial Office and then in the Commonwealth Affairs Office, has led to a state of affairs which is extremely difficult. Nobody now knows better than the present Minister of State how far removed the actual influence of Government here in Britain can be. We have an example of this. Your Lordship's know that during the last few weeks we devalued—though perhaps some of you have forgotten the fact. Hong Kong, tied to sterling, devalued by some 14 per cent.; and within three days revalued. For the first time they realised—and they realised very forcibly during those three days—that they were more tied to the Peking currency than to the currency of anywhere else in the world.

So they put up the exchange rate again, because they realised at once that if they devalued the full amount, the prices of foodstuffs would rise 20 per cent. In fact they did. Now they have revalued, and I understand that the prices have settled at a point where the increase is round about 6 per cent. Here, again, the old philosophy is creeping in of being adamant against rising wages all along the line, because if the 20 per cent. increase in foodstuffs had gone on the workers would automatically have been asking for large increases in wages, and it was said that that could not be afforded.

There is a big change coming in the thinking of the people in responsible positions in Hong Kong. For the first time the Hong Kong Employers' Federation, the Hong Kong Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Hong Kong Industries and the Chinese Manufacturers' Association have come together to discuss their common problems. This has happened for the first time in the last few weeks, and not a little of this has been due to the intervention of the present Minister of State, who gave a very good impression there.

What I really want to say this afternoon is that the seed corn must not be neglected. Never mind what has gone before, let us look to the future. If the people of Hong Kong are to increase their technical know-how so that they are able to engage in new manufactures that they can sell throughout the world, there is a need for education. This is known by responsible people; how much it is known in Government circles I shall be eager to hear when the Minister of State replies. But I do know that this is engaging the attention of responsible people in Hong Kong, who are going for it as hard as they know how, as they realise that they are stepping out of the old, low-wage economy era into a new era, because the old days of laissez-faire have gone for ever.

Not only that, but more interest in this subject would be good business. Time and time again it was pointed out to me in the areas in Kowloon and the territories dominated by a few Communist people how these Communists set up schools, not allowing non-Communists to enter those schools; and the parents and the children realised that unless they said that they were in favour of what the Communists were trying to put over, the children would not be able to enter the schools. This is another aspect of the stupid business of the political elements in unions and the tacit acceptance of these by the Government in the past—in other words dividing and ruling. Here, again, I make a plea for the recognition of really good tip-top men who are trying desperately to do something about the industrial unions in Hong Kong, because if the education is not given the seed corn will be eaten away and, as I have said before, Hong Kong is no different from any other manufacturing country in the world. If you eat your seed corn you erode your future.

5.55 p.m.


My Lords, first I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, for rising to the occasion to ask the Unstarred Question in the absence of his noble friend. Of course, I understand that such absence was something over which the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, had no control. I should also like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley, on the way in which he made his maiden speech, thus starting this interesting and, I think, important debate.

The noble Lord referred to the fact that he had been a chairman of a primary school in Hong Kong, and my noble friend Lord Brockway said that this illustrates one of the great features of your Lordships' House. I could not help but reflect that some years ago I saw a Question on the Order Paper drawing attention to cruelty to whales—not the Wales of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, but the whales that are to be found in the Antarctic. On that occasion I noticed on the list of speakers the name of a right reverend Prelate and I wondered how the Church had become involved in cruelty to whales, but it turned out that the right reverend Prelate had been the chaplain of a whaling fleet many years before and he was able to speak with infinitely greater authority than the noble Lord who was then asking the Question. We are fortunate for the way in which we attract into our House those who have an intimate knowledge of far distant places, and Hong Kong clearly is very much in the minds not only of your Lordships but of people throughout the country, particularly during these difficult times in the Colony.

The debate has ranged rather widely, from the problem of the balances and how they can be achieved to the point that was made by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, about whether we should not raise taxation in Hong Kong and the point raised by my noble friend Lord Brockway about the constitutional advance of the Colony. I may touch on one or two of those topics, but certainly not the last one. However, in the first instance I should like to keep close to the Question which has been put. Since 1963 the educational policy of Hong Kong has been under extensive review. In that year an Education Commission was set up to study the Colony's educational needs and to advise on the most economical and practical ways of meeting them. The Commission reported in October, 1963, and a working party of officials and non-officials was then set up to examine their recommendations and to make specific proposals for their implementation. The working party presented its report early in 1965 and a White Paper was then prepared outlining the educational policy for the future.

The Government White Paper accepted the view expressed by the Education Commission that although it was incapable of achievement at the present time the final aim of the educational policy must always be to provide every child in Hong Kong with the best education that he or she was capable of absorbing, at a cost that the parents and the community could afford. The White Paper recognised that although free primary education for all those in the appropriate age groups who seek it has long been the aim of Hong Kong policy, this too, was incapable of early achievement. The circumstances on which that decision was based should be set out, particularly in view of a number of harsh strictures that have been made upon the Government of Hong Kong and the Colony. I think it is wise to remember not only the massive immigration problem that arose in the 1950s—and I will deal with that matter a little more specifically later on—but it is well to reflect that some 22 years ago, in 1945, which is not very long ago, the Colony emerged from the Second World War after a very harsh occupation by the Japanese. Then the Colony consisted of some 600,000 to 650,000 people, none of whom were living in very affluent conditions.

My noble friend Lord Brockway, I am sure, will agree with me that only those who came out of the prison camps, or those who went to the Far East immediately after the occupation, can fully appreciate the ravages that had occurred in that area. In Hong Kong many of the school buildings had been destroyed. The school teaching staff, particularly those who were expatriates, were in need of rehabilitation because of ill health arising from captivity. At that time, in the first year after the reoccupation, we had in all grades of our schools 4,000 children. Two years later there were 81,000 attending primary schools alone. In 1965, this figure had leapt to 190,000; in 1967, to 500,000, and at the present time the total enrolment in primary schools alone is 690,000. Over the same period of 22 years the population had increased from 600,000 to nearly 4,000,000. The school population had increased in those 22 years from 4,000 to over 1,006,000.

I believe there is no territory, at least to my knowledge, that has had to cope with such a fantastic strain, such a tremendous demand upon all the resources, not only in terms of buildings and finance, but also in terms of teachers. I must say that I bitterly resented the picture that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, gave of the very devoted teaching staff that we have in Hong Kong. It may not be as adequately trained as we should like it to be, but progress is being made, and I think it would be wrong for it to go out from your Lordships' House that the people of Hong Kong are not doing the best they can with the resources available. Bearing in mind the tremendous growth in the numbers of children, let us also recognise, as my noble friend Lord Brockway recognised, the tremendous scale of operations in the field of housing and hospitals. It was not so many weeks ago that I saw that the one millionth local man had been rehoused in Hong Kong. That in itself is a tremendous achievement. When everything is taken into consideration, in terms of bricks and mortar I do not think that Hong Kong has anything to be ashamed of.


My Lords, if I may clear up one point, in the course of my speech I did not make any reflection on the devotion to duty of the people carrying out the teaching in Hong Kong. Far from it. All I did was to call your Lordships' attention to the lamentable number of totally untrained and unqualified teachers, not to any lack of devotion.


My Lords, it may not have been the noble Lord's intention, but I remember a speech which he made in your Lordships' House not long ago, and I well remember seeing the newspaper reports in Hong Kong in which his speech had been gleefully received. I challenged the noble Lord in order that he could correct the impression he gave to me, and perhaps the impression he might have given in Hong Kong. He has now put the Record straight.

The second factor in this decision about fee paying in the schools in Hong Kong is due to hard economic facts. In view of what the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, has said, in challenging the figure of some 18 per cent. which I gave the other day, I must weary your Lordships by giving the scale of increase of expenditure on education in Hong Kong since 1950. In 1950, it was some £290,000; in 1960–61, some ten years later, it was £13.8 million; in 1965–66 it was some £15.3 million; and this year, 1967–68 the estimate is £20.3 million. The figure that I gave of some 18 per cent. of the budget on education is perfectly correct. It includes the recurrent expenditure, and also the capital expenditure for the educational service.

As I have said, few people can appreciate the enormous strains which were placed upon the economy when the decision was taken to admit the hundreds of thousands of refugees. Many of our problems in Hong Kong to-day arise from that decision. It is true that the increase of population which came about with the refugees brought in many brilliant men, both industrialists and workers, who added to the economy, but it also added some impossible strains. I think the Government of Hong Kong was right to accept this flood of refugees, but this tremendous pressure caused many of their difficulties. The decision had to be taken whether to provide a first-class primary education and first-class secondary education for a limited select few, or whether they were right, as I believe the Hong Kong Government were, to say "We must first of all seek that all children in Hong Kong should at least receive primary education". I believe that decision to have been the right one.

How far have we got? We believe that we have now covered some 90 per cent. of the children in primary schools. I do not say that that is a correct figure. The Hong Kong Government has always said that it was an estimate. But this is a figure which, taking into account the 1961 Census and those children who are now in our schools, we believe to be right.


My Lords, does the noble Lord definitely revoke the figure of 99.8 per cent?


My Lords, I am not sure where the noble Lord got this figure. I will come back to it in a moment. There is a figure, I know, of some 98 per cent. or 99 per cent. I believe this arises from the fact that there is a figure of 90 per cent. for children in this particular age group, and a figure of some 8 per cent. of children in the primary schools who are in fact over age. As my noble friend Lord Brockway asked, I will certainly look at this figure. I recognise the very severe difficulties. If you want to carry out a Census in Hong Kong it is a very protracted and difficult operation. I will look at this figure, but I believe it was the best figure that the Government of Hong Kong could give at that time.


My Lords, I based my 98 per cent., as distinct from the larger percentage that has been mentioned, on the facts which the noble Lord has given.


My Lords, now let us come to the future. As part of the programme of the Government of Hong Kong, it is the aim to provide by 1970–71 subsidised places in Government and Government-aided primary schools to accommodate all pupils of the right age group who may wish to attend them. Under this programme of expansion, 100,000 additional places have been found since 1965. At present, some 450,000 children—nearly two-thirds of the figure that we believe to be the total primary enrolment—are now accommodated in public primary schools. To complete the programme, an additional 170,000 places, or the equivalent of 80 new standard schools, will have to be provided by 1970. On the advice that I have been given, there seems no reason to believe that this target could not be met.

Estate schools are now provided automatically in the new resettlement and low-cost housing estate: the present programme envisages the construction of some 60 of these schools in the next four years. The capital cost of this stage of the programme will be approximately £3 million, and by 1971 the annually recurrent cost of primary education will be in the region of £12¼ million. It may here be remarked that the total provision for primary education in the estimates for the current year is £10.8 million, a little more than one half of the entire educational budget.

Let us now consider the tuition fees that are charged in Government and aided primary schools. These are low, and although I fully recognise that for many families in Hong Kong they are particularly hard, I think we should put on record the figures that we are talking about. They vary from 12s. 6d. annually in rural schools to 62s. 6d. in the urban schools. They have not been increased for 15 years. The 20 per cent. (I think it is) increase was referred to by the noble Lord. I am grateful to him for sending the paper, but I am sorry he did not read it a little more carefully before he sent it. The figure that he marked is for English schools, primarily urban. These schools are not only for English-educated but for European children. They do not come into the class of children about whom, presumably, this debate is concerned. Funds, are, nevertheless, provided to permit the partial or full remission of fees in cases of hardship. Funds for the remission of fees are expressed as a percentage of total school fee income. In 1965 the maximum provision of funds for this purpose was doubled from 10 per cent. to 20 per cent. I would make it clear, as the Government of Hong Kong have made it clear, that additional funds will be sought if the demand for fee remission should make this necessary.

The Education Department has recently completed a survey of the extent to which free places have been taken up in Government and subsidised primary schools for the present school year. It has been found that the rate for remission taken up in Government primary schools has increased from 15 per cent. in the last school year to 18 per cent. at present; in other words, there are more remissions of schools fees than there have been in the past.


My Lords, may I interrupt my noble friend just once again? He mentioned that the cost was 62s. a year in the urban schools. That may seem small; but when wages are below £1 a week it is a very large sum indeed.


My Lords, I fully recognise this; and that is why I qualified my words at the beginning. The Hong Kong Government are themselves aware of this position, which is perhaps due to ignorance on the part of families about what services are available. The Government recently issued some 85,000 copies of a pamphlet in Chinese to give publicity to the existence of free places in the public sector. A further 100,000 copies are being printed for issue in the near future. I have asked the Hong Kong Government to see what other means can be found of conveying information to the public in Hong Kong in regard to the service that is available. I think I can leave this question which is greatly in our minds.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Brockway, who referred to what one might call the socio-economic problem, the question of how parents who go out to work are able to send their children to school, and how often a child has to be left at home and perhaps is denied education because he is needed to look after some of the younger children. This we know to be a problem. We are taking steps to increase the provision of kindergarten places and day nurseries to deal with this particular problem, but I would not say that the present situation is in any way adequately covered.

I should like now to deal with the question about whether the Government of Hong Kong should or should not remove fee-paying from primary schools. The noble Lord, Lord Brockway, knows very well the demands of the developing countries, particularly those in the East, and how one has to balance priorities. A figure of 500,000 has been brought in in connection with fee-paying. We are talking now only of primary schools. There is an urgent need not only for the development of secondary schools in Hong Kong, but also for the development of technical schools. But here the Government of Hong Kong have a good record. I see that some 72 per cent. of the primary school pupils who completed their primary day schooling in July, 1965, were admitted to secondary schools in September, 1965. This is a remarkable achievement, considering the places that were available, say, some ten years ago.

We now have some 200,000 children in our secondary schools; and new places and new school buildings are being provided at the rate of some 14,000 annually. We have our universities. We have now some 4,200 university students in the two universities of Hong Kong compared with 1,600 some five years ago. We have our technical education. Our technical college was opened in 1963. It was built for some 9,500 students, and we are now accommodating and educating some 13,500 students. So noble Lords will see that even here we do not meet the needs, though efforts are being made to increase our ability. Therefore, with these pressures for technical education, for university education and for the provision of secondary education, and having regard to the limited sums available, the question arises whether it would not be better to continue as we now are, certainly seeing that in cases of hardship there are opportunities for fees to be remitted, instead of holding back some development in one of the other facets of education.

It has been said that we could raise revenue in Hong Kong by increasing taxation. I am not unsympathetic to the idea of raising money to meet the needs of Hong Kong. I realise that the economy of Hong Kong is based on its ability to manufacture and to export. It needs vast sums of overseas capital to develop the economy, and in the past this need has been successfully met on a low tax basis. Whether the stage has come when an increase would be possible I do not know, but this is a field in which we rely very much upon our officers, our Government in Hong Kong. My noble friend Lord Rhodes drew attention to their own decision in the field of devaluation, a field in which we delegated responsibility to them to decide what was right and proper for Hong Kong. I know that this matter is exercising the thoughts of the Government of Hong Kong, not only as to how one raises revenue but also as to how one should use it.

Having given these figures of the development of education in Hong Kong, outlining, I think, a very great achievement, I should not like it to be thought that we or those in Hong Kong are in any way complacent. Certainly one has only to read the papers in Hong Kong to see this subject being healthily discussed. I think there is a great deal to be done in the field of education. I believe that not only have we to provide a system of primary education for all children, not only have we to increase the range of secondary education, but we have to pay very special attention to the development of the technical schools. Speaking personally, I hope to see the establishment of a real polytechnic, as we understand thy; term in this country.

I should be less than frank if I did not say that one thing which concerns me more than the question of quantity and quality of education is what happens to the boys, particularly those who leave primary school and who do not get to secondary education. Some of them may be attracted into the technical schools. I hope particularly that, as there is this new radical thought among employers in Hong Kong, particularly in the field of labour relations, they will feel that they have a special part to play and a special responsibility in the matter of education, particularly in regard to those children who leave primary school and are unable to go to secondary school.

I should like to see a massive effort made by the employers—and I am sure that the Labour Department of the Hong Kong Government would be ready to participate—in regard to a scheme of apprenticeship. This would be of great value, and not only to the youth who can be trained for the top industrial jobs in Hong Kong; my belief, which I think is shared by my noble friend Lord Rhodes, is that increasingly Hong Kong will need highly skilled engineers, lathe workers and the like. Hong Kong is turning from the old traditional "spinning and weaving" into more sophisticated fields of production. I believe that this is a field where the employers in Hong Kong have a very special part to play.

Hong Kong is in no way complacent. One can recognise the genuine and real achievements which are taking place there. There are limits to what can be done, not only in the field of finance but also from the point of view of construction and in regard to teacher resources and so on; but I think that, given what I believe will be a long period of stability, we shall see growth in Hong Kong; and, having recently been there, I believe that education will be very much in the forefront of the Government's mind and that they will not need the spur, either of the Commonwealth Office or of your Lordships' House.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I say how much all of us have been inspired by the great speech which the noble Lord has made? It will be appreciated, not only in this country but in the wider sense among Europeans and Chinese in Hong Kong.