HL Deb 17 January 1979 vol 397 cc959-62

2.58 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 the assurances given by the Baroness Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe on 20th July last that consultation with all concerned on his proposal for a Commission for Overseas Students (originally submitted to the Secretary of State for Education and Science in September 1977) would begin "very soon" is still binding.

The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE (Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge)

My Lords, I will not conceal from the House that both my noble friend Lady Llewelyn-Davies and myself are disappointed that the answers we gave, she on 20th July last year and I on 8th May, have proved too optimistic. The problems are complex and a proper solution extremely important. They have in no sense been shelved. Discussions continue, but a clear proposal for general consultation has not yet been arrived at. As soon as it is, I shall advise the noble Lord.


My Lords, while not thanking the noble Lord very much for that clearly unsatisfactory reply, may I ask whether the Government would not still think it desirable to have early unofficial talks with UKCOSA and the Council for Education in the Commonwealth, on the basis of some revised proposals which we have very recently submitted? Is it not conceivable that ensuing agreement in principle in setting up some body would actually help the Government in formulating some new policy with regard to overseas students, which they have found such immense difficulty in doing up to now?


My Lords, I am aware that the noble Lord has recently written an elaboration of his proposals to the Secretary of State who is studying them, and I think that they will be of great assistance to her. However, the Government feel that they must get their proposals into an orderly and correct form before they and the bodies whom they will be consulting can decide how an advisory body might fit into a new scheme. As I have said, in the last few days the noble Lord has written in, which shows that there is still time for second thoughts and for the elaboration of thought. I can only say that it is not the Government's view that it would be helpful to appoint a commission or a body to give advice when the general plans are not yet clearly laid down.


My Lords, may I ask a rather particular question of the noble Lord. I ought to disclose that I am a member of the court of the Polytechnic of Central London. In considering the whole problem of overseas students in this country, are the Government fully aware of the friction which is constantly being caused between local authorities, governors and students because of what is basically a national responsibility being placed upon local authorities, some of which are very unequally affected by the nature of the problem—Central London in particular being one?


My Lords, I think that this is a highly important and relevant question. I do not think that it arises under Lord Gladwyn's Question, and I should like to have notice of it. I will answer it at length another day.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, may I ask the Minister what we are waiting for? Are we waiting for the Oakes Report? In the meanwhile, could not the Minister set up a working party consisting of institutions of learning and voluntary organisations dealing with students? Everybody, including the British Council, is becoming very frustrated by the delay, and it is upsetting both their work and the attitude of the students.


My Lords, what the Government are waiting for is internal agreement which, because of the importance and complexity of the case, is difficult to arrive at. I do not think that it would be wise to set up a working party at this stage, because this would simply be another body which had to agree on these very difficult arrangements. The plan is perfectly clear. A Government policy will be stated and sent out for consultation. We do not believe that it is either helpful or wise to appoint any advisory body until that moment has arisen.


My Lords, would not the noble Lord agree that the recent Statement by the Secretary of State for Education and Science was extremely helpful, in that it recognised that in all institutions of higher education a mix of home based students and overseas students is highly desirable? It also recognised the great financial benefits which overseas students bring to this country. It also asked institutions in both the autonomous sector and the public sector to bear in mind that there was a limit to the number of overseas students which the Government thought it right to subsidise—as undoubtedly they do subsidise such students. Is not the right way forward to ask the institutions in both the autonomous and the public sector to come forward with proposals, as the Secretary of State has asked them to do, to deal with this problem?


My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend. The Secretary of State's speech on 19th December to the World University Service Conference in London puts admirably her position and makes it perfectly clear that there is no shuffling of the feet or unnecessary delay; that it must be reasonable to limit the figure to somewhere around the 72,000 to which she refers, which is already a very high figure indeed; and that the £100 million which is already allocated to this could be better used than it is at the moment—and she has never suggested diminishing it—in a discriminatory way but that the machinery for doing so is complicated and difficult.


My Lords, have the Government read the letter in the Daily Telegraph by a member of the London School of Economics which totally contests the idea that we are subsidising these people at all and that the figure of £100 million is simply a myth?


My Lords, the Secretary of State and I and the Department have read this letter. The noble Lord will be surprised to hear that we do not agree with it.

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