HL Deb 18 March 1981 vol 418 cc761-850

2.56 p.m.

Baroness David rose to call attention to the effects of expenditure cuts and increased fees on the quality and availability of the education service at every level; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. First, I wish to say that we are very disappointed that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, the Minister, is not able to be here today to answer the debate. We should like to send to her our sympathy in regard to the reason for her absence. However, we are very pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, who will be answering the debate instead of the noble Baroness.

This is the first major debate on education that we have had in the House since the Government took office nearly two years ago, apart from debates on Bills, and it seems an appropriate moment to take stock. Judging from the long list of speakers it would appear that other noble Lords think likewise, and we are in particular looking forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Swann. I think that it is particularly interesting to have this debate at this time, in the light of last week's appearance of the. Government's expenditure plans for 1981 to 1984, slipped out very cleverly on Budget day, and in the light, too, of recent reports: those of HMI on the effects on the education service in England of local authority expenditure policies; the Macfarlane Report on 16- to 19-year olds; and the leaked report on reorganisation of higher education in the maintained sector. The Government would appear to me to have very little policy, except that of slow strangulation—though in some areas it is not so slow. They seem to be drifting without clear and positive policy decisions, and where some initiative has been taken, it has come from the Department of Employment, not from the Department of Education and Science.

First, I want to consider the HMI report, based on both direct observation by HMI and returns made on all LEAs in England by district inspectors. The report shows without shadow of doubt that the quality of education has suffered severely as a result of reduction in expenditure. It is just not possible—as Ministers claimed—to keep up standards while at the same time imposing massive cuts. I congratulate the Government on having the courage to publish the report. I hope that having studied it, and bearing in mind the words in the Queen's Speech in May 1979 that The quality of education will be maintained and improved", the Government will reverse their policies, put adequate resources into the service, on which the whole future of the nation depends, and restore the morale of those, both teachers and administrators, who are trying very hard to cope with appallingly difficult and depressing circumstances, not made easier by the falling rolls situation.

To turn to the schools side of the report, teaching staff have been reduced over the last year by the equivalent of 10,000 full-time posts. The methods of reducing staff have varied, but some adversely affected the staffing establishment of individual schools with inevitable effects on the curriculum and on children's options. There was evidence of teachers teaching subjects for which they were inadequately qualified or not qualified at all, of large teaching groups and of classes too widely mixed in ability or age, or both. Authorities are being faced with the dilemma of having to choose between arranging that all classes are of moderate size or accepting large classes for the most part in order to provide a small remedial class.

Specialist knowledge and skills had been reduced with bad effects on the teaching of science, mathematics, remedial work, craft and music. Both the less able and the gifted have had to have less provision of specially designed courses. Charging for instrumental music tuition or for swimming have taken those activities out of the reach of some children. Here, of course, the interesting judgment of Mr. Justice Forbes last month on the Hereford and Worcester case will have effect, particularly as I understand there is to be no appeal against the judgment. I fear that the provision will go, and I know that holiday and county orchestras have already vanished in a number of authorities. The sad fact remains that subjects not of the core—I do dislike that word, and thinking of a curriculum that is only the core is very gloomy, but those subjects which add quality to life—will vanish.

In-service training was judged by the HMI satisfactory in about half the LEAs. What about the other half? In-service training is particularly needed to equip those who will have to teach subjects for which they are not primarily trained, and to increase the number of those needed to teach subjects where there is a national shortage. Provision for the induction of probationers remains, say HMI, at the low level of previous years. It has been affected by the same constraints as in-service training—difficulty of obtaining contributions towards travel, reduced numbers of advisory staff and lack of cover for release. And the reductions in the level of advisory services, sometimes by freezing posts so that some subjects were not covered at all, have been a major reason for the quality of the service being reduced.

Poor coverage was mentioned for maths, English, science and modern languages. The number of foreign language assistants, for example, was reduced in 1980–81 in just over a third of the authorities and to none in four, and among those which showed no decline were included 15 who had employed none since 1977 and six who employed none in 1979. This is at a time when communication with EEC countries is vitally important and when I would have hoped that our modern language teaching would have been concentrating rather more on oral work, enabling business men and women and politicians to talk freely with each other. And what about Russian and Chinese?

As to books, in nearly four-fifths of LEAs the purchasing power of per capita funding for books, materials and equipment has been reduced compared with 1979–80, HMI say. I myself have been chairing a committee on the supply of books to schools, and I can say that almost 4 million fewer books were bought in schools in the first nine months of 1980 than in the corresponding period of 1979. The reduction in the third quarter alone was 17.7 per cent. down on the previous year, indicating that the situation is becoming increasingly serious. There is evidence of money being raised by parents in individual schools, in one case amounting to £20,000 in five years. Much of this was used to purchase essential resources rather than provide extras. I personally have letters as evidence from heads of departments about children being asked to provide text-books. This cannot be right; that is, that essential text-books are not available. It means that some schools, some children, are getting much better served than others; that children in richer areas are getting preferential treatment. The law, in the light of Mr. Justice Forbes' judgment, is being broken. I ask the Minister specifically to tell us when he replies what action the Government intend to take.

No doubt we shall hear from the Minister that pupil/teacher ratios are not seriously affected; that primary and secondary expenditure in 1980–81 shows only a 3½ per cent. reduction as against spending in 1978–9, whereas pupil numbers have fallen by 7½ per cent.; and that HMI said staffing was judged to be satisfactory in 80 per cent. of schools in the survey, as was the supply of books in 70 per cent. But, what of the others? I think that the report is a damning indictment of a significant proportion of the service provided in our schools—and, even more alarming, the implications for the next few years are horrendous, with the cuts biting even deeper. I remind the House that the report is the result of a survey carried out before the cuts announced in the summer of last year, and more cuts are to come. No wonder there is despondency among so many dedicated to the service.

A word on school closures and amalgamations. We had a short debate on the closing of village schools about a year ago, and I appeared to surprise the noble Baroness, Lady Young, at that time by supporting closures for educational reasons where numbers had fallen. I still do. HMI said there had been more vigorous action on the part of LEAs, and that many more authorities have firm proposals for future action. What I should like to ask the Minister is why it takes such an unconscionable time for the department to come to a decision once proposals have reached the DES, objections have been received and answers to those objections given. I asked last week what was happening in my own authority about this. I heard there were long delays, making forward and economic planning extremely difficult and frustrating. In the case of Litlington Primary School, in a really grotty old building if ever there was one, there has been a wait of three clear months after two separate lots of objections have been answered by the LEA. I wondered whether the fact that the school is in the South Cambs constituency of Mr. Francis Pym had anything to do with the delay. There have been other cases, including one of two years over the closing of a secondary school; and six more proposals are in the pipeline from that same authority. If this is happening all over the country, how is the DES going to cope with the pileup? I should like an answer from the Minister to this.

I turn now to the Macfarlane Report. I have for some years been an advocate for and supporter of tertiary colleges. As witness, I produced a minority report of one when on a working party looking at 16-plus provision in the Peterborough area four years ago. I was very disappointed by the weakness and wetness of the Macfarlane recommendations (we are told that we have to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for the watering down, but I do not know if that is true) and by the ignoring in the report of a large part of its remit, particularly to take into account geographically and socially disparate rates of participation in 16-plus education; co-existent training and apprenticeship provision; the perceived requirements of employers and industrial training boards; and the relationship between education and training agencies.

The report merely reviews the needs of a minority of the age group—those on full-time courses—and virtually ignores part-time education and training and the neglected needs of those 300,000 16–19-year-olds in each year group who receive no education and training on leaving school. Forty-four per cent. of 16-year-olds leave school without any significant qualifications at all. In West Germany, it is 9 per cent.; in France, it is 19 per cent. The rate at which the 16–19s take up full-time education in this country is 24 per cent.; in West Germany, it is 69 per cent.; in France, 54 per cent. As a nation, can we afford not to educate and train all these young people? The opportunity that tertiary colleges can offer of a combination of vocational and academic courses is something that should not have been missed—and it has.

Nor does the report tackle one of the major causes of inequality of provision—the financial barriers. Very few 16–19-year-olds in full-time education receive allowances. If they do, they are derisory allowances of £5 per week or less. Compare those on youth opportunity programmes, with £23.50 a week. If young people are registered unemployed and study part-time and receive supplementary benefit, they get £13.10. There are conditions on taking up supplementary benefit, making it difficult in some cases to get on to courses. I have had correspondence, as I think the noble Lord who is to reply is aware, with three departments about this, and I have had some slight satisfaction; but there are further concessions that I should like to see. There should surely never be occasions when people are paid benefit on condition they do nothing, for at present, with jobs vitually non-existent, being "available for work" or "looking for work" means exactly that. Mandatory income-related grants should be provided for all 16-, 17- and 18-year-olds in full-time courses. The "Think Tank", I see, is recommending to the Government that all 16- to 19-year-olds in education or training should be paid grants. Have the Government anything to say on the Central Policy Review Staff proposals for a new national training strategy?

Another anxiety is that there will not be enough courses available for the 16-year-olds leaving school in the coming September, which is the peak in numbers this year. In my own area they are expecting to be over-subscribed. Even last year, 50 part-time GCE applicants had to be turned away; the catering course at the technical college had to turn people away; and 100 students on a variety of courses had to be refused at Huntingdon Technological College. Staffing cuts were responsible for most of this. And this is happening all over the country at a time when jobs are getting harder and harder to find. Matters are made worse by the 1980 Education Act, which treats school and further-education students differently, in that school pupils need no permit to attend courses out of their own authority area and can have them paid for; while the further-education pupil does not have that right.

To turn to further and higher education, there has been outrage and dismay over the leaked document which proposes to hive off the "polys" and the colleges with about 70 per cent. degree-level work from the LEAs and all the other colleges. A national body, it is suggested, is to be set up to fund them. I doubt our getting much out of the Minister on this matter and we have no idea of the eventual outcome. We should all agree, I think, that some rationalisation of public sector higher education is necessary, that capping the pool was a temporary and bad expedient. Everyone said that it would be a very blunt instrument and produce any amount of inequities and unfairness. If it has turned out to be a blunt instrument, it has also turned out in some cases to have a very sharp cutting edge.

Take Hatfield Polytechnic. In the current year its budget has had to be reduced by 10 per cent. (£800,000) on a budget of £8 million. In 1981–2 Hertfordshire is asking them to reduce expenditure by one-third or by £1.5 million. They could do that only by getting rid of 10 per cent. of their teaching staff. Think of the effect on courses—and Hatfield has 66 per cent. of students studying engineering, technology, science and mathematics. Think of the effect on industry if a lot of those courses have to go! Even with all this, the director at Hatfield would not like a national body divorced from local links and local industry. The story of Newcastle and Kingston polytechnics is very similar. There has been poor planning by the Government, injustice to institutions and students, and indignation, almost despair, among those trying to run the service.

I want to ask the Minister a few questions. If any division takes place between nationally- and locally-funded establishments of higher education, will attention be paid to the regional and local quality and availability of courses? What is to be the educational thinking of a national body in respect of non-advanced further education inside the hived-off section? Will there be part-time and short-course provision or only full-time? If only full-time, what will be provided for the many part-time, day-release and mature students who rely on local provision for their further and continuing education? Does he think that the LEAs will be willing to fund those colleges left outside the magic circles and currently having a percentage, quite a large percentage, of advanced work? The only tidy solution would seem to be to move to a position where all the advanced further education would be inside the grants committee institutions and non-advanced in the rest. But that would be seen to be educationally completely unsound and physically impossible. The spread of advanced further education work over the region is important. Has that been considered? Will the universities come into the calculations when regional planning is being considered?

I see great problems in providing the right courses in the right places for young and older people—and it is courses and not institutions that matter. I should like to make a suggestion to the Government. Would strengthened regional advisory councils with strong advice from regional inspectors, be able to determine the courses provided in the colleges in their areas? The regional advisory councils in the past have been pretty "wet". They have said "Yes" too readily to many courses; but, toughened, they could be a basis for regional and rational planning.

We accept that some cuts have to be made in the public further and higher education sector. But the cuts proposed in the recent White Paper seem harsh indeed. Current spending on advanced further education is to be down by 11 per cent. next year. The universities—and I am leaving others to speak for them as they, unlike the maintained sector, have plenty of representatives in this House—are to be cut back by 5–3 per cent. Non-advanced further education is to be cut by 8.7 per cent. This is the crucial area where school leavers, the less-highly-skilled, will be needing more and more courses—the non-academic who, as I said earlier, are the neglected in our system.

Mr. Carlisle last week, in a speech to the Association of Principals of Colleges, referred to enrolment being lower than predicted. This may be because of employers being unable or unwilling to pay for employees to go on courses during a recession. But the fact is that the colleges are full to capacity. A recent survey by the National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education reports 4,011 students unable to find places in the 100 colleges that replied to the survey. Over half were intending to take up vocational courses such as catering, engineering, accountancy, secretarial studies and nursery nursing. A substantial number were also turned away from GCE O-level courses. The reasons given for turning away students were: inadequate or diminishing resourses, lack of space, fewer teaching hours, lack of materials, no grant to study outside the home authority.

And here we come to discretionary grants where cut-backs have had a punishing effect at a time of rising fees. Out of 97 authorities surveyed in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, 35 are making fewer awards now than in 1977–8, despite an increase in the relevant age population and the thousands of potential candidates in the dole queues; 29percent. of respondents fail to make awards for advanced courses at the full rate in spite of the DES advice that they should reflect the full cost of board and maintenance. Grants for the 16- to 19-year-olds range from a means-tested £60 per annum paid by Tameside to £672 by Leeds for the same age group. I suppose one could say that those young people who are getting any award at all are lucky. Most receive no maintenance support, and those who do are constrained by residence and local course provisos. The attitude of most award panels now is, "How can we avoid giving that person a grant?"

It is the same tale for adult education. The House, I am sure, is aware of my concern about the massive cuts that this service has endured—in fact, its demise in many areas. I shall not enlarge on this as my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek is devoting his speech to it. But I should like to ask the Government their intentions in this field. If they do not want to polish off the service, would they show in the Bill, which I believe we are promised in the next Session, their good intentions by toughening up and clarifying Section 1 of the 1944 Act which puts a duty on every LEA to secure the provision for their area of adequate facilities for further education and includes leisure-time occupation in such organised cultural training and recreative activities as are suited to their requirements". I should like to ask a question about the new unemployed, those with academic qualifications with industrial experience and who have the technological know-how. I should like to ask the Government what provision they are making to deal with this particular group.

The Government have set up a committee under Mr. Alan Thompson to review the youth service, where the same story of cut-backs and sackings could be told. I hope that some strengthening of the law and a new vision may come out of the committee's deliberations and that those deliberations will not take too long. I hope the rumours of a scheme for the introduction of military service as part of the Youth Opportunities Programme are untrue. To do this would be going back on the commitment given by Mr. Prior last November that it is trying to work towards the point where every 16 and 17 year-old not in education or in a job would be assured of vocational preparation lasting as necessary up to his or her 18th birthday. On the other hand, I feel that some form of community service at some stage between the ages of 16 and 25 would be a good idea.

Whichever part of the education service one looks at the tale is the same; a reduction in quality, a narrowing of opportunity. Cannot the Secretary of State and his Ministers stand up to the Chancellor and to the Secretary of State for the Environment, who appear to be controlling the education service? What has been done in the way of education and training has been done by the Department of Employment, to which the DES seems to have abdicated its responsibilities. We are expecting a statement on the curriculum shortly. I suspect that it will not be much help, nor that it will take us any steps forward—maybe a step backward. At a time when an injection of new ideas and new imagination are needed, there is a vacuum.

I was much interested and impressed by a long article, Manifesto for Change, that appeared recently over the signatures of 32 men and women distinguished in every field of activity and from all political parties. They looked at secondary education in particular, and commented: The traditional curriculum of isolated subjects, often developed as specialisms at too early an age, is inadequate for the modern world. We need to educate minds that are well-informed over a wide range, that are practised in finding and using information in the solution of real problems". On the "examination scramble", as it calls it, the article goes on to say: It distorts the curriculum, excludes vital elements in education, generates a damaging sense of failure among a large section of the student population, and positively rejects—at great risk to society—some 10 to 20 per cent. of the least able". On the costs of national competence, the article states: Saving money by reducing teaching personnel to a point where schools can no longer be effective as civilised and civilising communities is self-defeating. Under-educated, socially hostile, irresponsible adults cost the nation vast sums annually".

I find myself in very strong sympathy with this approach. The consumer angle for the product—"product" being the man or woman at the end of his or her education—needs a great deal more attention and research in the national interest than it gets. If you are a firm and produce unsaleable goods, you go bust. If you are a nation and produce the wrong sort of people you hang a millstone around the nation's neck and it is a source of misery to the people themselves. I ask the Government to take a new look, to retreat from the disastrous situation into which they have got themselves, and to remember what an earlier Tory—Disraeli—said in another place in 1874: Upon the education of the people of this country the country depends". I wonder whether Mr. Carlisle and his Ministers might even take off the shelves and give a dusting to the Prime Minister's document A Framework for Expansion, which was published in 1972.

3.23 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, I know that my noble friend Lady Young will be grateful for the regrets of the noble Baroness, Lady David, at my noble friend's enforced absence today, and I hope that the noble Baroness will not think me ungrateful for the welcome she gave me when I say that, although I was most interested in her speech, which ranged quite consider- ably over the education field, I must ask her to be aware of the warning given many years ago by Mr. Micawber. As he described it, the dividing line between happiness and misery was a number of pennies. But in fact the Opposition are talking in terms of millions and millions of pounds. Their expenditure plans, so far as we can understand them, would be bound to lead to tearaway inflation. I do seriously ask whether the sort of policy which would be an inevitable consequence of many of the points which the noble Baroness made in her speech today could truly be in the interests of children and young people who are in education.

May I explain to your Lordships what I mean? I ask the House just to cast its mind back for a moment to the second half of the 1960s, when perhaps for the first time since the war, so far as the general public was concerned, we suddenly realised that inflation was rising and that the value of our money was falling. What was the Government of the day able to do to improve the prospects for those children under the age of five who were in need of nursery education? The answer at that time was, little or nothing. I believe that that one example shows that the present Government's determination to give first priority to tackling the rate of inflation is based not only on common sense but also on caring. I do ask the House to accept that our education policy must reflect that determination.

May I first of all say a word or two about higher education? On 10th March, the Government published in Command Paper 8175 their revised expenditure plans for the financial years 1981–82 to 1983–84. The exact apportionment of the resources for higher education as a whole in 1982–83 and 1983–84 has yet to be settled. But the University Grants Committee and the local authority associations have been told by my right honourable friend's department to assume, for illustrative purposes, reductions of rather more than 8 per cent. for the period up to 1983–84compared with the plans of March 1980. The Department is discussing separately with the UGC and the local authority associations the implication of this. Final decisions on the exact apportionment of the resources available to higher education as a whole for these later years will be reached and announced later. The Government do not pretend that the planned reduction in expenditure over the next few years is not going to pose considerable problems and challenges for the higher education system. But, although the noble Baroness's terms in her speech were dulcet and although the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, is indicating her concern, surely we all ought to join together in looking positively to the future and to those courses in higher education which produce graduates with the skills and motivation to foster growth in commerce, industry and technology. Growth in these areas is essential to the country's economic well-being and development.

The fact is that the total resources that are being made available to the higher education sector in the next few years—both in universities and in the maintained sector—are still by any standard going to be very substantial indeed. With ingenuity and a careful rethinking of priorities, it is possible to look for progressive improvements in the efficiency with which we deploy these resources in higher education. I realise of course that solutions are bound to depend, in part at least, on the particular circumstances of the individual establishment—on its mix of students, staff, courses of study, buildings and equipment. But I think it is clear that if universities are to continue to be centres of excellence, with developments in the most advanced subjects, then inevitably there must be some contraction and rationalisation of courses.

In the recent past the University Grants Committee Subject Sub-committees have shown that the spread of Russian studies has exceeded demand and, not very long ago, a similar conclusion was reached in respect of agricultural economics. I really do find it difficult to believe that there are not other subject areas which have become undersubscribed and which could not make some perhaps quite significant contribution to the resources universities need to ensure their own particular development.

As I have said, I do realise that a good deal will depend on the particular circumstances of the individual institution. None of us, I think, would deny that in some institutions there must be scope for reducing student unit costs, and I feel sure that economies can be secured in this way. I recognise that this carries with it the implication of some reduction in the number of teaching posts. It is not possible at this stage to predict the precise scale of such reduction. Much will depend on the way in which decisions are taken at local and institutional level to implement the Government's expenditure plans. I should like to say that I am aware that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has received representations on this particular aspect of the financing of universities, and is taking serious account of the representations which have been made. Then, too, there must also be some scope for economy in non-teaching costs. The Government are convinced that there is the scope—and the need—for some degree of rationalisation in higher education if we are to maintain educational opportunity and quality in the years ahead.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Lord? I do not know whether he is leaving the universtities for the moment; I am going to speak about them later, as are others. However, has the noble Lord seen the statement by the chairman of the University Grants Committee in which he says that about 3,000 university teachers will have to be made compulsorily redundant? That is in The Times this morning. That cannot be possible without a lowering of the standard of the provision.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I can neither confirm nor deny that particular figure. The level of resources to be made available in 1983 to 1984 has not yet been finally determined. I endeavoured to make that clear earlier on in the remarks that I was making. Until it is, to speak with any precision of a given number of redundancies is—if the noble Earl will allow me to say so—premature.

In all this field, the presence in our institutions of students from overseas—and indeed the presence of our own students in institutions in other countries—is very important. During the middle 1 70s—as many of your Lordships will know at first hand much better than I—the numbers increased dramatically and went up to more than double, from 39,000 to 83,000. Universities and other institutions of higher education in this country are international places. But before the current academic year the British taxpayer has been providing an entirely indiscriminate subsidy to these students amounting to some £100 million a year.

We are not the first to look at this particular area to try to find savings. The previous Government attempted to do so by fixing a quota. We have gone for the option of full cost fees because we believe that overseas students should pay a fair price for the excellent value offered by our educational system. However, the dramatic increase in the number of overseas students is only half the story. That is welcome providing it can be accommodated; but the worrying factor in all this is that the mixture of home and overseas students has changed dramatically without our institutions apparently being able to do anything to control this trend. In the postgraduate field, for example, the number of home students pursuing science and technology between 1971–72 and 1978–79 declined by 19 per cent., while overseas students increased by 67 per cent.

One can question whether home students would have come forward in greater numbers, I admit. But I think that it is indisputable from the facts that an increasing proportion of our resources has been devoted to overseas students and, in the end, we found that we simply were not able to afford this. In talking of this particular area, let us not overlook the fact that of course European Community students are charged the home level fees. We have funded a bursary scheme for outstanding overseas research students which the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals have kindly agreed to administer, and which by 1982–83 will be enabling some 1,500 of them to enter our universities at the home fees. UN recognised refugees and the children of migrant workers are charged the home student fees.

As a transitional arrangement, the Government included in the universities' recurrent grant settlement for the current academic year an earmarked sum of £5 million to be made available on the recommendation of the University Grants Committee to ensure that uncertainty about prospective income from overseas students did not adversely affect selected postgraduate work of particular importance to this country while universities are adjusting to the new policy.

For next year that sum is to be followed again, this time by £3 million. There are this year, some 67,000 students from overseas, compared with 79,000 in 1979–80, a drop of 15 per cent. My right honourable friend has said on a number of occasions that he will be monitoring the effects of his policy over the next two or three years. It is perhaps worth remembering—and it is an interesting point which the noble Baroness did not touch upon—that for entry in 1980–81 almost four applications were made to UCCA for every one admission accepted through the UCCA system, and it is unlikely that all those turned down were inadequately qualified. I would just add this: something that is absolutely certain in the overseas student field—

Baroness David

My Lords, I did not talk about the universities and university entrants at all.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, that is true, and that is why the noble Baroness did not mention this particular matter. There is something I should like to add, which I think is certain: I do not think that we can go back to the days of indiscriminate subsidy. We can and we shall continue to offer selective assistance through our overseas aid programme. As your Lordships will have heard, steps have already been taken to allocate sufficient aid funds to training programmes in 1981–82—another £8 million in fact—to restore the number of new awards for students and trainees from developing countries under government-to-government programmes and bring the Commonwealth scholarship and fellowship plan up to about the levels of 1978 and 1979. I am sure that that is right, and I believe that your Lordships will weclome it.

In the univesrity field—if the noble Baroness will forgive me for continuing with this for a moment—education is necessarily closely linked with research. Under the "dual support" arrangements for support of university scientific research, grants are given by the research councils for specific, selected projects. There are other ways as well in which the research councils support university research. The amount of money, therefore, that the Government can give to the science budget of the Department of Education and Science, from which the research councils receive their annual grants in aid, is a very significant factor for the health of university research.

The new expenditure White Paper, declares that: The Government wish to give protection to the support of basic science, an activity which underpins further development and is a particular strength of the United Kingdom". The White Paper makes it clear that the plans allow for provision for science to be held broadly at the current level throughout the period up to 1983–84. It continues: It should thus be possible for the research councils, along with their other activities, to maintain their selective support for research in universities and polytechnics at broadly the current level at a time when provision generally for higher education is planned to decrease".

Lord Boyle of Handsworth

My Lords, I apologise very much to the noble Lord, as I have only just taken my place. But I hope that the noble Lord will not forget that a very high fraction of the total cost of the scientific effort in universities is financed not through the research councils but through the dwindling recurrent budget of universities financed through the UGC. There has been very great concern caused to vice-chancellors by the fact that apparently the Prime Minister—and, it appears, the noble Lord also—is not fully aware of that. It is the running costs of departments that finance a very high fraction indeed of the total scientific effort of the universities.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his intervention. He is quite right to give me the advice that he has done. But it was because I was talking about the general situation in the universities through the recurrent grant to the universities rather earlier on in my speech, that I devoted what I had just said to the work of the research councils. That was the reason, although I am grateful to the noble Lord for the advice which he has given me.

Despite the fact that the Motion includes fees, the noble Baroness did not refer specifically to them because other noble Lords are to do so. In the interests of time, I shall speak about adult education for a moment or two if I am, by leave, allowed to speak at the end of the debate.

If I may turn now to the schools area, at a time when the number of pupils in our schools is falling, it is surely not illogical to expect some reduction in expenditure. We know that pupil numbers are going to fall by as much as 13 per cent. between the time this Government took office and 1983–84. The Government's expenditure plans, which were published on 10th March, provide as they did last year for a 6½ per cent. reduction in expenditure during the same period. My mathematics are not very strong, as your Lordships know, but it occurs to me that on any interpretation of those figures we are planning for a significant increase in expenditure per pupil in real terms compared with the last year of office of the previous Government. Because of certain additional costs which I openly admit—for example, the higher cost of teachers' salaries as the teaching force becomes more senior—we recognise that there will be some tightening of staffing standards.

As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in another place last week, the standard which our public education service has attained since the war has been one of the strengths of this country. Some 5½ per cent. of gross national product—twice the proportion devoted in 1950—now goes to the education service. Many of your Lordships who are experienced in international affairs will know that that compares not unfavourably with many of our European neighbours and indeed compares favourably, I believe, with Germany and Italy.

During the first year in which the Government were in Office we spent more in real terms on schools than had ever been spent before: twice as much in cash terms as was spent 20 years ago. It is therefore not surprising that the pupil-teacher ratio in secondary schools has improved steadily, having gone from 17.0:1 in 1976 and 1977 to 16.6:1 in January 1980. It is now the most favourable pupil-teacher ratio ever recorded. And alongside this improvement in provision there has been a gradual improvement in examination results, which I think we can all welcome. One of the things which have impressed themselves upon me more than anything else in preparing for today's debate is that 15 years ago 5 per cent. of school leavers had three A-level passes or more. Today that figure has gone up to 7 per cent.

The HMI report on the effects of loal education authority expenditure policies in England for 1980–81, which the noble Baroness specifically spoke about, documents the effects of expenditure restraint in terms which give rise to concern but which do not provide a basis for scare-mongering. The tightening of staffing standards in the years ahead and indeed the rate of contraction of the teacher force—which has nothing to do with any Government wanting to reduce the size of the teacher force but is simply going to be in response to the dramatic reduction there will be in the size of the school population—will have some effect on the school curriculum. I do not conceal that authorities and schools will need to plan very carefully to ensure that pupils' programmes do not become restricted or unbalanced.

It is in this context, as I have said, that we must see the HMI report, and I was grateful to the noble Baroness for welcoming the fact that my right honourable friend has published this report. Her Majesty's Inspectors drew attention to what were currently considered to be causes of anxiety which could become major problems unless positive action to counter them can be built into policies. Problems already found in enough schools to cause concern included, in secondary schools, the loss of some subjects and opportunities, particularly for younger secondary school pupils and for the less able throughout secondary schools and, a narrowing of the range and content of work in certain subjects together with limitations on the work and quality of work resulting from increasing demands being made on teachers to cover subjects for which they lack qualifications or experience. Her Majesty's Inspectors reported that these effects were not found in all schools by any means but were found in enough of them to cause some concern.

It is in that general context that I am sure it has been absolutely right that my right honourable friend's department has made a major effort to review the school curriculum. A year ago we published our consultative paper: A Framework for the School Curriculum. During the year there were intensive and wide-ranging consultations on these proposals. I am sure that the noble Baroness will not mind if I say that I did not think her welcome for what has been done in this area was particularly enthusiastic; but my impression, reading the papers about this, is that really there have been two genuine advantages. On the one hand, it has been possible to concentrate people's minds on essential elements in the curriculum. Secondly, it has been possible to achieve a measure of agreement, even among critics, that there are national needs in schools which need to be recognised. At any rate, the consultations have shown that there would be a wide welcome for a Government statement on the curriculum. This will follow very shortly, so I must not be tempted even to try to anticipate it.

However, if I may, I should like to mention one aspect of the curriculum which will become increasingly important as technological advances have an ever-greater effect on all our lives. The Government announced last year its decision to initiate a micro-electronics education programme for England, Wales and Northern Ireland—Scotland will have a separate one—at a cost of £9 million over this year and the next three years. The decision to make this sum available is a mark of the importance which the Government attach to the development of this new technology. The programme's full-time director took up his post in November and very shortly we shall be publishing a paper describing the strategy for the programme's three remaining years. Under three broad heads, it will consist of: curriculum development work, the development of effective means of meeting the need for teacher training, particularly in-service training, and action to promote the exchange and dissemination of information. Here I join the noble Baroness in agreeing that education is indeed an investment in our future; but the investment is not only a matter of how much is spent but of how it is spent.

May I, just at the end, mention an area or two in which the Government are taking positive steps to improve the quality of education without incurring significant additional expenditure and placing further burdens on the taxpayer? The provisions of the 1980 Education Act giving parents and teachers a place on governing bodies in schools by right will be brought into force soon after Easter. The school admission provisions, which will give parents more say as to which schools their children will attend, have already been brought forward and will apply for the first time to autumn 1982 admissions. In the present Education Bill currently before the other place we are attempting to establish a new legal framework and general strategy for special education, following the very important report of the Warnock Committee. In the examination field the present Government have resolved three major issues since taking office: the retention of GCE A-levels, a decision to reform the system of examining at 16-plus and proposals for a new pre-vocational examination.

We shall not achieve the goals which we all desire unless we make some sacrifice, for, unless we cut public expenditure and release the resources that are needed to refuel the economy, our educational system and much else that we rightly hold in high esteem in our country is going to stand in much greater peril. That, my Lords, is the truth which the Government, through their policies, will continue to face.

Lord Balogh

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord a question? How does he reconcile the very sympathetic speech he has just made with the report of the very savage cuts in university grants which are endangering the capacity for research and development?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think really I have now said as much about the university sector as at this stage I either can or should say. There will be many speeches to come from those who are closely involved in the university sector of education and I shall do my best to answer the questions they will ask at the end of your Lordships' debate.

3.50 p.m.

Lord Evans of Claughton

My Lords, may I join the rest of the House in expressing from these Benches our deep sympathy towards the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in her bereavement. I must say that she has found an excellent substitute for this debate in the noble Lord the Minister, who put forward his case with such reasonableness that one almost feels as if one is breaking up a pleasant party in possibly disagreeing with one or two of the things that he has to say.

Also, we should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady David, for initiating this very topical debate against the background of the announcement last week in the public expenditure white Paper that spending on higher education is being considered as an illustration only—I think those were the words of the Minister—of a possible reduction of 8 per cent. over the next three years, of the cuts introduced necessarily under the block grant system for the maintained sector, the secondary and primary schools, and of the report of Her Majesty's Inspectors on the effects on the education service in England of local authority expenditure policies for 1980–81.

I am only sorry that my noble friend Lord Beaumont of Whitley, the Liberal spokesman on education, cannot be here today to make this speech. It is somewhat ironic that he is visiting Leningrad at a time when, in the view of the University Grants Committees, there are proposals that, as a result of the proposed reductions in the public expenditure White Paper, they will be recommending the reduction of Russian departments in universities by 19 or 20. So, possibly, my noble friend will be able to bring back some appeal from the Russians not to bite into what I regard as a very important area in university studies. Though the demand for Russian studies is falling, it is very important that there are sufficiently large numbers of British citizens who are fairly fluent in this very important language, and I much regret that this is happening.

In apologising to your Lordships for acting as his inadequate substitute, I must also apologise for the fact that, because I am a substitute—as you will find out fairly shortly—and because the debate was announced rather late, I shall, unfortunately, not be able to stay till the end of the debate. I hope that your Lordships will accept my apologies for having to leave before the end of what will, obviously, be a very important and useful discussion. But my noble friend Lady Seear will be here and I am sure, from my experience, that she will make a more than adequate substitute for me.

Perhaps I should first declare a kind of interest in this subject. As with most Welshmen, practically every member of my family appears to have been engaged in the teaching profession. My mother, my wife and my eldest daughter are, or have been, teachers; two great-uncles have been headmasters; an uncle is a professor at the University of Liverpool; and that is not to mention assorted aunts, cousins and other kinspersons of various kinds. So if I do not have much personal expertise in the subject, I have certainly built up over the years a mass of educational prejudices at second hand.

I should like to touch, first, on further education. This year the grant of £979 million, which was announced last week, is 3 per cent. down on the previous year and the public expenditure White Paper, as we have discussed, is setting up the figure of 8 per cent. as a figure to be considered as an illustration for the next three years. No doubt many of your Lordships will have read yesterday's article in the Education Guardian entitled "A Chill Wind on Campus", which underlines that it is not just the university grants income which is slipping away. There is an income crisis arising in many universities because of the raising of overseas students' fees. I am glad that the Minister spoke at such length about this very serious and, to me, fundamental problem of this Government's relationship with students wishing to come to this country to further their studies. It is not just a question of the fees being put up to the full level; there is an additional problem, of which your Lordships will he aware, that the opportunity for overseas students to benefit from the National Health Service of this country has been removed. I understand that Malaysia and other overseas countries are not allowing students to come here because they cannot afford the cost of insuring their health. So it is not just an increase in the fees; there is also this change in the National Health Service regulations. The numbers of overseas students dropped by between 11 and 12 per cent. last year and, as I understand it, applications are down 32 per cent. this year.

I commend to your Lordships the National Union of Students' pamphlet on this subject, Overseas Students: A Programme for Survival, because the National Union of Students is taking a realistic view. It is not saying that overseas students should come here completely free, but it is suggesting to the Government ways in which the very important commerce between this country and overseas countries in the education field could be continued at not such an enormously increased cost. This is particularly serious in the case of those universities which take a lot of overseas students, such as the University of London. The Swinnerton Dyer report on the future of London University suggests that its income will have dropped by 15 to 20 per cent. by the end of this decade, which will be an absolutely tragic drop if it is correct.

Filling the places left by overseas students with, as it were, home-grown undergraduates is not feasible, in the light of the Government's refusal to allow local authority mandatory grants to increase and the brutal—I can only describe it as brutal—extermination by some local authorities of discretionary grants, as well as the fact that, in any event, grants for home students cover only about one-fifth of their tuition costs. In addition, I understand that postgraduate awards have been reduced, through the fees support scheme for the coming academic year, from a figure of £500 to £300, and many universities depend for their income very largely upon the fees from research students.

In the universities, the cutting back of staff by redundancies is not always an option that is available. We are told, so far as the polytechnics and the maintained sector are concerned, that, if the worst comes to the worst, redundancies can always be declared. Obviously, no-one on any side of your Lordships' House would want that, but it is said to be an option. But, as I understand it—and I wonder whether the Minister can deal with this point—the statutes and regulations of many universities give security of tenure to any professor, lecturer or teacher in the university, until his retirement. Therefore, if the worst came to the worst, the option of declaring redundancies might not be available under the statutes of many of our universities.

So, quite apart from the damage done to the fabric of the country by a reduction in higher education places, just at the time when the 18-year-old bulge is reaching its peak, the Government are presenting vice-chancellors with a dilemma which they cannot resolve themselves through their own devices. This is particularly piquant to me, and I suppose to some others of your Lordships, because I have one child who is hoping to go to university very shortly and who is right at the peak of the bulge, and two more who will be on the higher slopes of the bulge in the coming two or three years.

I turn now to primary and secondary education and the fairly chilling conclusions, suggestions and reports—I do not want to overstate the position—that came out from Her Majesty's Inspectors' report for 1980–81. The report concedes, I think, that it is often impossible to disentangle the results of spending cuts and in- flation from the effects of the falling number of pupils. The inspectors make this point quite clear. But in the area from which I come, the Wirral metropolitan borough, the ruling Conservative group argue that school closures are entirely because of the fall in numbers and not because of cuts. I cannot believe that this is true. I am sure that there is an entanglement. I am also sure that the cuts imposed by the block grant settlement and by earlier activities of the Government must have had an effect.

Whatever the reasons, these closures in many areas are having a very serious effect on local communities, whether rural or urban. This is particularly serious in inner urban areas where schools were in many places being successfully developed to act as community centres: open not only during school hours but all day, with provision for adult leisure activities, old people's clubs, and so forth. These schools are closing in areas where there is no alternative community provision whatsoever. I understand this to be true also in many rural areas.

A serious implication of expenditure reduction on teaching costs in schools is that the figures are not now likely to take any account of what used to be known as the operating margin. The result of this and of the cuts is that the reduction in the number of specialist teachers is reducing subject options, particularly at sixth-form level. I know that local authorities can and should look for changes in their sixth forms by developing sixth-form colleges, but the fact is that over a wide area the options at sixth-form level are being reduced because of the reduction in the number of specialist teachers. If they have to reduce the number of their staff, junior schools tend to lose their remedial teacher, who very often is a part-time teacher. The teacher who helps disturbed children is a very important part of the staff of a school. It is those teachers who are tending to be removed as the size of schools is reduced and the number of staff goes down.

Another rather important consideration is that in general the reduction in teaching staff is by natural wastage only. This means inevitably that very little new blood and new ideas are being recruited. Schools are often stuck, quite frankly, with mediocre staff, recruited in the "anything goes" boom days of the 1960s. The comparability awards under Clegg which were commenced by the outgoing Labour Government but which had to be implemented by the incoming Conservative Government were, quite bluntly, a great drain on finance and made a nonsense of many of the Government's directions to local authorities on spending.

There is a crying need for additional provision for educating the under-fives. The noble Lord the Minister mentioned this point. I suggest to him that in the present financial position there is no likelihood of increased provision for the education of the under-fives, which again in many parts of this country is of the utmost importance if children are to grow up literate and numerate and able to work with their friends when they reach primary school level.

Under the new block grant system, local education authorities, faced with various forms of straight percentage cuts in expenditure have very little room for manoeuvre. This is the same point which I have expressed often in your Lordships' House about my objection to the block grant. There is very little room for manoeuvre and their capacity to avoid damage both to the curriculum and to the fabric of education is sharply reduced. This is particularly serious in local education authorities which in past financial years, before the introduction of the block grant this year, made cuts voluntarily in order to comply with central Government's wishes. I suspect that one of the problems is that local education authorities who have obeyed Government directions, who have not been profligate and who have cut back are now, based on last year's figures, faced with even greater and more severe cutbacks than the profligate, or more profligate authorities who did not make cuts in the past. Again this is true of the authority in which I live and, from the evidence I have been able to obtain, of many other authorities throughout the country.

The severe cuts in expenditure at every level and the increased fees for overseas students in particular is, in our submission, eating the seed corn of this country's future. We shall not be able to provide people with the skill, the knowledge and the adaptability to run our industries and to export our know-how and, indeed, our goods. When the recession is over, whatever Government are in power I fear that because of this eating of the seed corn we shall be unable to grasp the opportunities to restore prosperity and competitiveness. Quite apart from the educational reasons which we have been discussing, this to me is the fundamental point. If we are not a skilful country, if we are not a professionally capable country, we are certainly not going to be able to compete in the very competitive world of the last quarter of this century.

4.6 p.m.

Lord Swann

My Lords, it must always, I think, be a matter for some alarm to make a speech in a new environment, and in none so much as this august one. The noble Baroness, Lady David, has laid a bait so infinitely attractive to someone who has been an academic for most of his life that I found the temptation unable to be resisted. But the whole business is alarming, the more so in that, of all the issues which she might have chosen what could be more contentious than this and therefore more unsuitable for a maiden speaker? If to noble Lords my speech may seem odd on occasions, I hope they will attribute it to what as a biologist I recognise as displacement activities, which are peculiar or irrelevant things which an animal does or which a human animal says when confronted with wholly unresolvable conflicting pressures.

As an academic for much of my life, I have long sought some incident or phrase which epitomises that very peculiar world. I found it only very recently, having moved as a head of house to Oxford a few months ago. The story is told of the head of an Oxford college who fell ill. His college fellows resolved to wish him well, so they sent him a message which read as follows: Best wishes for a speedy recovery (passed by 14 votes to 13)". Nothing, I think, more neatly enshrines how academics behave to each other. There must, therefore, I suppose be a certain poetic justice in the fact that society is now behaving rather in the same way as they. After all, has it not been for many years a question of "Speedy recovery, universities; just passed by 14 votes to 13", or, as perhaps at present, just not passed by 13 votes to 14?

Cuts, of course, and the raising of fees in universities are nothing new. They have been going on for quite a long time. I want to quote to your Lordships what my old friend, the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, who once taught me not only what I know about chemistry but about a great many other things, had to say in a lecture which he gave no less than five years ago. Of course universities, like everyone else, must expect hard times, but it is not simply the scale of the economies which causes me concern but a certain glee that I detect in some quarters when they are imposed. The truth is that the university image, to use the popular word, has become tarnished over the past few years. The harm done to it by a minority of students has been greater than one could have guessed. Universities have become strangely unpopular. The feeling goes deep that in some ways the universities have failed the nation and that they are full of ineffectual dons and revolting students, remote from the real world and inhabiting luxurious and unused plant''. The assumed revolution, of course, faded away as quickly as it came and perhaps ought to be forgotten by now, but somehow or other I still detect a degree of unpopularity of the universities in the public mind. I am led to ask how that has come about because, after all, when the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, published his classic report a great phase of university expansions—rightly, in my view—was brought about. Is it perhaps that the universities themselves and society began to expect too much of universities? I seem to recall—and I joined in this euphoria myself—that they were going to put society right at a stroke. Of course, nothing puts society right at a stroke, and when in due course it turns out that the universities cannot do all that is expected of them—they never could have done all that was expected of them, I suspect—then society has a tendency to turn round and feel somewhat less friendly towards its previous darling.

The fact is that British universities have been—and still are—among the best in the world; some people would say they are the best in the world. But inevitably that means that they are expensive. The level of staffing, the level of facilities, and so on, compare immensely favourably with those in most countries in the world, so that universities have—I think inevitably—become a target for economies when the economy gets into trouble.

Universities, of course, are not uniformly excellent. Even the best ones have their shaky corners and even the least distinguished have their excellences. On the contrary, however, the financing of universities is quite remarkably uniform and I suggest to your Lordships that one of the things that we should be doing in this difficult area is to question whether financing all the British universities at a level that allows all the members of staff to do substantial amounts of teaching is something that is in the best interests of the system as a whole. It has often been questioned; little has ever been done about it.

I have been chairman of the BBC, and of course that leaves an indelible mark on everybody because the BBC, as your Lordships know, has to be deeply impartial on all occasions and when you have said something nice about an organisation you have to search around for something less nice to say about it. There fore, I want to make just a couple of suggestions, a little critical perhaps, of possible economies that the universities might make which I suspect will not be provocative to your Lordships.

I refer to university bureaucracy, and of course everybody wishes to do bureaucracy down, but university bureaucracy is rather different. In my experience the actual university administrators are splendid people, hard working, very thin on the ground. But sitting on their shoulders are gigantic pyramids of committees, convocations, congregations, councils, faculties, boards of faculties, sub-boards of faculties, departments, departmental committees and a plethora of committees on everything from catering to car parking, on which vast numbers of academics while away happy hours. Is this not an area where conceivably one could look for some modest economies?

This complicated bureaucratic system leads to some very curious things. I am minded to suggest that my erstwhile organisation, the BBC, should mount a new programme on the lines of those programmes which it is so keen on, where individuals, or even sometimes whole families, get prizes for doing peculiar things. I want to suggest to your Lordships a new programme, which tentatively I call the "golden mortarboard award", which is for bizarre bits of university bureaucracy; and I wish to make the first nomination, which is the university of which I am now a member, namely, Oxford.

Every year that university requires anyone who has not had the inestimable value of being at Oxford himself as an undergraduate, to go through a curious ritual. You have to fill up a form. I had to fill one up, as a Fellow of the Royal Society, sometime vice-chancellor, sometime chairman of the BBC, now head of an Oxford college, and now a new Life Peer, which required me to state what school certificates I had passed some fifty years ago or thereabouts. It went on to require me to say who my parents were—both alas! long since deceased—where they lived, what they did; and were they responsible for keeping me while I was at Oxford? That, I should say, is only the first step in a complex labyrinthine series of bureaucratic exercises which finally transmute the base metal of one's inferior degrees into the pure gold of an Oxford degree itself. Possibly, I suggest, there is room for economy there. But, an old BBC man to the end, even-handed to the last, I wish to make a dual nomination of a university which does exactly the same, namely, Cambridge.

4.16 p.m.

Lord Oram

My Lords, it is indeed a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Swann, who has just delivered such a remarkably entertaining and erudite maiden speech. I am quite sure that just as we eagerly looked forward to his maiden speech, we shall eagerly look forward to futher contributions that he will make on future suitable occasions. I think he was fortunate in having, so soon after he had joined your Lordships, such a suitable debate in which to participate. In that he was much more fortunate than I, as I recall, when I made my maiden speech. Soon after I came to your Lordships' House I was plunged into a vast number of minor technical chores from the Government Dispatch Box and I found myself making my maiden speech on the metrication of packets of margarine. I am quite sure that if the noble Lord, Lord Swann, had been similarly placed he would have made a far more entertaining speech than I was able to make on that occasion.

This debate already reveals itself as having many sides and this is because the education cuts are themselves many-sided. The Motion refers to the unfortunate consequences at many levels of education, and it is for that reason that the debate will be widespread. I intend to confine myself to only one subject within it, a subject which has already veen referred to by the noble Lord the Minister and by the noble Lord, the Lord Evans of Claughton, namely, the decision of the Government to charge to overseas students the full cost of their tuition.

When that decision was announced it aroused a chorus of objections and the whole world of education was united against that decision. The debate and the protests continue. They come from a wide range of organisations and institutions. There is the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of Universities, who have made their views clearly known; the British Council, the Royal Commonwealth Society—both engaged in education in the Third World; the Committee of Directors of Polytechnics, trade union educators, student unions (which have been referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Evans), and high commissioners, ambassadors and many others have joined in the condemnation of the Government's decision.

That condemnation was vigorously expressed in the reports of two Select Committees in another place, one from the Education Committee and the other from the Foreign Affairs Sub-Committee, which looked at this particular problem. One of their major criticisms was the fact that the decision was taken so precipitously, without consultation with or communication to the relevant departments and the institutions concerned with the implementation of that decision. The chairman of the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs said this: Reading between the lines, what happened was that the Treasury reached a decision, the Department of Education and Science implemented it and the Overseas Development Administration took the thick end of the stick". In defending that decision, the Secretary of State in another place has offered but three arguments, and they are arguments which have been echoed today by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead. The first was that this Government is merely following a precedent set by Labour Governments. But what the Minister has failed to point out is that there was a vital difference between what was done in 1966 and what is being done now. Then it was a strictly limited increase in fees with a continuing substantial subsidy. Today, in contrast, it is the complete withdrawal of the subsidy. Then it was a carefully thought-out proposal based on discussion between Departments. I know, because I was personally involved in those discussions. I was myself a junior Minister at the Ministry of Overseas Development, and I recall the care which we took to lessen the impact, particularly on students from developing countries. Today in contrast, those who are getting the best treatment under the new régime are the students from the affluent EEC countries. In addition, of course, there will be students from oil-rich Third World countries who can afford the fees, and they will come. But poor students from poor countries will be the ones to find themselves shut out.

Secondly, the Secretary of State denied that the result of his action would be that our universities and other institutions would be priced out of the market, and immediately in that debate to which I am referring he was contradicted by one of his own honourable friends, Mr. Anthony Kershaw, who himself had had Ministerial experience at ODA. I should like to quote a paragraph of what he said: There can be no doubt about the effect on some overseas countries. I have just returned from Malaysia, which has 17,000 students over here. The Ministers in Kuala Lumpur gave me a proper roasting. Shock and disappointment was the reaction of one, and another said that it was the end of an era. Applications from Malaysia are drastically down. There used to be 100 students at the British Council in Kuala Lumpur every morning, trying to find out about courses in this country. On the day that I visited the British Council last week there were only 10 students". That warning from Mr. Kershaw has been dramatically up-dated, I suggest, in the last 10 days. I heard the announcement on the BBC, I think the weekend before last; the announcement was that the Government of Malaysia will be sending no more students to Britain but they will be seeking places instead in the United States of America, in Canada and elsewhere. What a sadness that such a situation has developed between two countries which have had for so long such good economic and political relationships! Small wonder that the shock announcement to which I have referred brought forth a stinging letter, not much noticed, in The Times from Sir Eric Norris, the current chairman of the Royal Commonwealth Society and a former High Commissioner in Malaysia. This is what he said. The issue of students' fees is one on which this Society, with other concerned organisations, has been campaigning for over a year, and it was a major preoccupation for the Society's late President, Malcolm MacDonald during the last year of his life. How much more evidence of damage to Britain's relationships and long-term interests will the Department of Education and Science need before it reconsiders its policy? I believe there will be many in your Lordships' House who will echo that question: how much more evidence do the Government need?

I believe that what is proving true of Malaysia will undoubtedly be true of other Commonwealth countries, and we are likely to find that this ill-thought-out decision on students' fees will have done irreparable harm to our Commonwealth connection. I believe the Secretary of State's unfounded optimism is already being proved ill-based.

This brings me to his third and most fundamental, but most expected, defence, and it was a defence which the Minister again today brought out. The Government's excuse for taking this action about overseas students' fees is the same by which they attempt to justify all other attacks on the economic and social life in this country over the past two years, namely, the need to cut public expenditure. What they do when they echo that slogan is simply to look at one side of the balance sheet and not to look at the other side, and that applies to this question as much as to the many others which the nation is debating at this present time.

The Government have consistently claimed that elimination of the subsidy of fees for overseas students will save the British taxpayer something over £100 million a year. It is a figure which has been challenged as a gross over-estimate, and particularly it was challenged in the two Select Committee reports to which I have referred. It has been pointed out, for example, that the calculation should have been based on marginal rather than average costs, and that makes an important difference in the calculation; that it fails to take account of the foreign exchange generated by overseas students when they are here, or of the unpaid but nevertheless valuable research done by many of them. But, perhaps most important, it overlooks the fact that students, having studied here and then going back to employment in their own countries, are in a position to stimulate major export contracts for British technology and equipment with which they have become familiar while studying in this country. That is the other side of the balance sheet which it is folly to ignore.

If I may just sum up, I would say that there are two sets of major victims of the Government's mistaken policy in respect of overseas students. First, there are the British institutions of higher and further education. Indeed, I am sure that other speakers in this debate will deploy this argument from greater knowledge than I possess. The minimum fees for overseas students are being increased to levels higher than anywhere else in the world—£2,000 for courses in the arts; £3,000 for science and engineering courses; and £5,000 for medicine. Already, as the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, pointed out, that is leading to a drastic decline in applications from students from overseas. That is but the beginning. I think that it is not unreasonable to estimate that as the news of the increased fees gets around the applications will plummet still further.

The net effect of higher fees for overseas students is that British institutions are not getting higher incomes to compensate for savage cuts in Government grants; they are getting an alarming decline in income, and that inevitably will mean serious cuts in teaching staff and a deterioration in the quality of instruction. Moreover, I believe that the effect will be most severe as regards those courses which are most vital not only for students from developing countries but also for economic development here in Britain. We have had debates in your Lordships' House several times about the need for more facilities in sciences, engineering, technology and mathematics and it will be courses of that type which will suffer disproportionately as a result of the Government's policy in this respect.

The second summary point that I would wish to make in conclusion relates to the situation of the developing countries themselves. As I have already pointed out, the Government's policy represents discrimination against poorer students from abroad and particularly poorer students coming from developing countries. Before this increase in fees took effect there was an alarming shift in the mix of foreign students from the poorest countries. For example, from 1975 to 1980 the number of students from the Middle East increased by 32 per cent., while those from the poorest countries declined by 23 per cent. That decline was irrespective of the increase in fees and it is clear that the effect of the full cost fee decision will make that situation even more blatant.

I fear that there will be an effect also in the developing countries themselves. Hitherto they have been able to rely on our own institutions and those of older Commonwealth members for providing the higher levels of education for their most promising students. But if they cannot now find those places there must be an inclination for them to rely, so far as they can, on their own resources. That may well mean a switching of resources from primary and secondary education, which they so desperately need, in order to try to provide the higher levels of education themselves. The overall effect on the education situation in the developing countries will, I believe, be a sad one indeed.

In his speech, the Minister informed the House of a whole series of measures that the Government are taking to mitigate the effect of the major decision which I have been condemning. Of course, as he read them out, we found they were ones which we could all welcome; for example, the provision of extra grants for scholarships. But I believe that, by comparison with the damage that has been done, the points that he read out are inadequate indeed. Welcome though those measures might be, I believe that the Government will find they will have to do much more than they have already announced in order to try to overcome the damage which has already been done by their fateful decision over a year ago.

4.35 p.m.

Lord Vaizey

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady David, for putting down the Motion this afternoon. It has already led to an interesting and important debate. I think that this is a very important afternoon for your Lordships' House, not least because it has enabled the noble Lord, Lord Swann, to give us a maiden speech which was wise and helpful, and those of us who are old friends of his will have had exactly what we expected from him.

I must profer the excuse that I may not be able to stay until the end of the debate as I have a medical certificate. That enables me, as this is the first time that I have been able to speak in your Lordships' House this Session, to thank the officers of the House who were kind enough to rescue me when I passed out at the end of October and ferry me very rapidly to St. Thomas' Hospital, and not least the Opposition Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Stone, who, with stethoscope at the ready, is always prepared to come to the help of your Lordships when they are in difficulty.

I should like to speak a little about the background to the present position in which the education service finds itself, and I hope that some of my remarks at least will be found helfpul on all sides. We have lived through a period of quite remarkable expansion in education provision. According to my own calculations, in the 1950s education expenditure went up by about 40 per cent. Then in the 1960s—the heroic decade of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, for example—education expenditure went up by another 80 per cent. In the 1970s—although it was a tiresome decade—education expenditure still went up by another 20 per cent. in real terms. That is to say, over the period 1950 to 1980 education expenditure, in real terms, trebled. By any standards, that is a very large increase indeed. Of course, it was due to two factors. It was partly due to two birth bulges— the one in 1947 and the one which culminated in 1964. But, above all, it was due to rising standards of provision: the raising of the school leaving age; the improvement in the schools; and the multiplication of higher education by no less than 10 times.

I sympathise very much with what has been said, particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady David, about the HMI report. She said that it was a damning indictment of the state of the education system at present. I cannot help feeling that there is a basic question which underlies this and it is one that I should like to put forward, because I have no particular axe to grind and I am not sure of the answer. I do not believe that the present state of the education service could be said to be due to shortage of resources. I do not believe that, if a service which has tripled its real expenditure in 30 years—admittedly the population has increased a bit—is in dire trouble, it is because there have been cuts last year and this year. It must be more serious than that.

I ask myself whether the resources which have been given to the education service have been wisely used. I would say that, once the schools have been rebuilt and the new schools provided on a very large scale, the bulk of the expenditure has gone on an improvement of the pupil-teacher ratios. We have some of the most favourable pupil-teacher ratios in the world. I am not wholly convinced that that was a wise decision. We are at the moment cutting out things which are occasionally called "frills"—for example, instrumental music teaching, a psychological service. Quite candidly, I do not think that those are "frills". I am not at all sure that the small size of classes has been as successful in teaching children as we should have expected.

I think that the standards of teaching are improving, if only because the shortage of jobs is making teachers stay much longer in one school than they used to; and however bad they may be to begin with, a little of learning on the job must raise some of their capacities some time. But, generally speaking, I think that that has been the fundamental question which is posed by the falling rolls, because now, although the rolls are falling, and they are falling very dramatically—I think that the noble Baroness, Lady David, was perfectly fair in saying that we should have to cut down because of that very fact—the pupil-teacher ratio is still improving. I know the difficulties in dealing with the trade unions and so on, but I ask myself: Is that wise? Is that where the cuts ought to fall in the face of falling rolls? There is the additional problem—

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, if the noble Lord will forgive me, before he leave that very important point, may I say that as an ex-teacher and a governor of a school certainly the teacher-pupil ratio is better. But when I taught it was about 52 pupils to a class; it is now only down to about 35; whereas our public schools are in a very different position. Therefore, it is quite wrong to suggest that the pupil-teacher ratio is now admirable. It still has a long way to go.

Lord Vaizey

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, for that intervention. When I was at elementary school there were 52 to a class. The number now is not 35. The pupil-teacher ratios, which the Minister will be able to give at the end of the debate, are incredibly more favourable. Whether or not the teachers are wisely used inside the school is, of course, another question. I genuinely think that this is a serious question. I am not making a debating point; I am trying to ask a serious and fundamental question. I think that the noble Baroness and I probably agree on some points about this matter and not on others. I cannot help feeling that we need to look at this question.

At the moment there is another problem which is not concerned with real resources but with finance. The noble Lord, Lord Evans of Claughton, referred to the catastrophic effect of the Clegg awards. Teachers' salaries have gone up between 40 per cent. and 50 per cent. in less than two years. That is very good for the teachers; it is quite good for me because my income has followed that of the teachers, but I am not completely sure that it has been wholly in the interests of the children in the schools. That is the first and fundamental question I want to pose about the schools.

I must honestly say that the Macfarlane Report—which was referred to by the noble Baroness on the Opposition Front Bench as "wet"—strikes me as being wet to a degree which not even I, as a peruser of Government reports, had hitherto believed possible. It is a veritable ocean of wetness. In this critical area of the I6s to 19s, of a position where catastrophically few of our young people go into any kind of skill training, the need for a fundamental re-examination of education and the Department of Employment and the Manpower Services Commission provision for the 16s to 19s is long overdue.

Quite frankly, I hope that the Select Committee on Unemployment, on which I have the privilege of serving, will come up with some really new ideas about the provision for this age group. But I do not want to dwell on that; I just want to register my sense of despair and disaster about the present attitude of the Departments of Education and Science and Employment to this problem and to move on to the area which has hitherto taken up a great deal of people's speeches: that of higher education. Here I have an interest to declare as I draw a professorial salary.

We have lived through a period of vast expansion of higher education, of, as I have said, over 10 times, and at the same time rising standards of provision. Almost all university teaching now takes place in buildings which date from the 1950s, the 1960s and the 1970s; our pupil-teacher ratios have become more, and not less, favourable than they were; and provision for research is far more lavish now than at the time when, say, as young men the noble Lords, Lord Robbins or Lord Swann, were doing their important research. I do not think that the universities have failed the nation. Whenever the Government have asked for a positive effort on the part of universities they have responded. Whether it was absorbing the ex-Servicemen at the end of the war, which they did with two-year degrees, packing them in; whether it was the expansion of the medical faculties when it was suddenly discovered that we were short of doctors; or whether it was the switch to engineering and science, the universities have responded remarkably quickly and effectively—at least they have from my position, and I am in a position to throw bricks at the universities.

I turn to public policy. It was a big mistake shortly after the founding of new universities and shortly after the transfer of the colleges of advanced technology to the university sector to declare 30 new polytechnics. The over-provision which resulted from that has quite genuinely been very serious. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady David, frequently says that there is no spokesman for the polytechnics and further education in this House. With respect, I do not honestly think that that is quite true. I have always, I hope, spoken forcibly on their behalf in this House. I want at the end of my speech, which will be very shortly, to come to a positive proposal in that area.

I think that the universities have brought much of their present trouble on themselves. They totally ignored the 13 points which Mrs. Williams put forward as suggestions for economies, when she was Minister of State at the Department of Education and Science. Now, 11 or 12 years later, the problems have caught up. A very good example is that of overseas students. Since 1966 Secretaries of State have been asking the universities whether or not they needed to admit quite so many overseas students. Year in and year out they have admitted more. The last year is the first year when increasing the fees has actually caused the numbers to drop. Hitherto every time they have increased the fees the numbers have increased. We have unbelievably favourable pupil-teacher ratios; they are twice as favourable as those at Harvard or Yale Universities. I cannot believe that it is not possible to teach quite effectively and to do research at a pupil-teacher ratio of something approximating to that of great universities such as Harvard and Yale, not to mention the great universities on the Continent of Europe.

I think that there is a genuinely urgent need throughout the higher education sector—throughout universities, polytechnics and other colleges where advanced work takes place—for a mechanism to co-ordinate courses and to look carefully at the allocation of resources. I have no need to apologise for this as I have been proposing it since I first submitted a memorandum to the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, nearly 20 years ago, saying that this was what was needed.

I can speak as a former member of the Inner London Education Authority. In London we have duplication of provision in the public sector and in the university sector which is unnecessary and wasteful of resources. To a puritan like myself, waste of resources just for the sake of waste is offensive. Quite candidly, I think that we can make very substantial savings just by more careful planning of courses, without at all adversely affecting the level of provision.

I have spoken longer than I intended. I want to conclude with a remark which I have included in every speech on educational expansion that I have ever made, either in you Lordships' House or long before I had the privilege of being a Member. We argued for educational expansion partly because the population was increasing, partly because we thought the expansion would lead to greater social equality and peace, and partly because we thought that it would help economic growth and development both here and abroad. I always said that we should be in grave difficulty when the population fell, and that we should be in even graver difficulty if we found that the great expansion had not been followed by greater equality and social harmony and by enormous propsperity. It has not, and the population is falling. I am not at all surprised that we have reached the stage to which the noble Lord, Lord Swann, referred in his admirable maiden speech of people being prepared to throw bricks at us for not having performed the completely unrealistic tasks which we set ourselves 20 years ago.

4.50 p.m.

Baroness Denington

My Lords, I should like to start by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Swann, on his most interesting and polished maiden speech. I am sure we all hope that we shall hear him many times in this Chamber. I would hope that we can agree, all of us, that we are discussing the country's greatest potential asset, its future citizens, and the educational standards that we are to offer them and the training standards that we are to provide to fit them to make their contribution to this nation in the future. I cannot think of anything more important.

In this highly technical age we surely cannot afford to neglect or waste the development of any latent talent which any single young person has to offer. That valuable talent, that really precious national economic asset, must surely be nurtured and developed at every single stage of education right through from the nursery school to the university and the higher technological institutions.

I am not proposing, as other speakers have done so well, to go into a great deal of detail. There are many people in this Chamber who will obviously be dealing with detail when they speak. What is concerning me is the education which, if these cuts are made, is going to be provided for the vast majority of the nation's children who are in the state-maintained schools. I thought—in fact, I am certain—that as a nation we were pledged to provide education to meet the needs of the age, ability and aptitude—those well-known words—of all our young people.

When we refer to needs we must surely mean meeting the fullest possible potential of every single individual. The Government's attitude, which has become quite clear from studying all the documents that outline it and the speeches about the cuts that are to be made, prompts me to ask: are the Government now going back on this national goal? If the cuts are made I cannot see that these national aims, so well established, are going to be able to be met. This prompts me, I am sorry to say, to consider the possibility that the Government are taking the view that the standards of education reached in the state schools perhaps do not matter overmuch.

They have introduced as a Government—and we debated it I think last autumn—the system of assisted places in the non-state schools, thus creaming off the most able of the children from those schools and taking them out of the state system. I wonder whether the Government, or some influential people in the Government or outside the Government, take the view that, with the strengthening of the direct grant, the private and the public schools, and the reduced number of places in certain excellent universities and in all those institutions where the tuition shall be of the highest possible quality and nothing spared, there will be a sufficient reservoir to provide enough talent to meet the nation's needs at the top. I wonder whether they believe therefore that all that the state system need provide is enough education to enable people to pass their leisure time fairly well; to mind machines; to be shopkeepers, shop assistants, clerks and unskilled workers; and that out of that pool enough people will rise to be the foremen and to do the slightly more important jobs in that realm.

I really am wondering whether the thinking goes that there is no need to look to the state system to provide for the brains and the leadership that this nation demands. I fear that that is a perfectly logical interpretation to put on the Government's actions and their attitudes. It fits in with their apparent refusal to listen to representations being made to them by the various bodies and institutions involved in the whole of the education process against the cuts that will damage the fabric of our education system.

I may be accused—I probably shall be—of taking a prejudiced view of the Government's thinking. But I read HMI's report, and I see the AMA, in the representations that it made to the Government this week, I believe yesterday, stating: It is not too serious a view to take if one says that the healthy survival of the maintained sector of public education is at risk". Those are serious words from a serious and responsible body. It reports that authorities are being asked to make—and again these two words are their words—"impossible reductions". When I read all that and see these documents, I cannot feel that I am being unduly critical.

One can understand and sympathise with the Government asking that education shall save as much expenditure as it reasonably can. That is a perfectly proper thing to do, particularly in the present national situation. I do not think that anybody can say that that is not correct. But what cannot be tolerated is a demand for savings that are actually damaging to a vital service. No one is against the elimination of wasteful expenditure: no one in this House or outside it, or in the teaching professions or the universities, is against that when it comes down to it. Just no one. But, when the waste has been cut out, you then come to consider what can be done with the non-basic, non-standard activities in the schools and institutions, and they must come under very close scrutiny. This is an important area, and it is here where the danger really lies that judgment and wisdom are called for.

I should like to consider—and I take this quite deliberately, being aware of the recent case much along these lines—for a moment the case where a single child or a small group of three or four children in a state school have a teacher to instruct them in school time in, say, playing the flute, or any such instrument. Let us take that. What we have to ask is whether that is a luxury that should be axed. I am quite aware that some people would, and do, immediately answer, yes, it is and that the parents should arrange for them, and pay for their tuition if they want it. But these may be children of low-income parents, non-musical parents, who would not dream of providing such tuition for their children, and who could not afford it anyway. Are we to say that the state has no duty to develop the children's talent—I am assuming it has been discovered they have such talent—and give it an opportunity to blossom?

If they were the children of better-off parents who had been favoured by the Government with a cut in their income tax from 33 to 30 per cent., they would get their tuition privately. There would be no financial bar to such tuition. Thus it appears that we have in this nation one group to whom the Government have been beneficient—by putting more money in their pockets by reducing their tax—and another large section of the community who must be deprived of the sort of tuition I have been describing. Clearly, if extra money is given to some, it must come by taking that benefit from somebody else, and presumably—I think it a reasonable assumption—it is taken from people who are presumed to be of lesser value to the nation. To me, that is an absolutely unacceptable attitude, one the whole nation should reject, because we are a nation of fair-minded people who like fair dealing. The latest cuts are unjust and discriminatory and that is what is so objectionable about them.

Much more serious than the example I have given is the demand for further cuts in teaching staff generally. Basically, education depends on few but critical elements. The first is good, well-qualified teachers, and there are many in the schools today who lack adequate qualifications. The second is a pupil-teacher ratio that allows the teacher to provide every child with the neeedful inspiration, guidance and help in learning. The third is sufficient books to allow individual study, both in the classroom and at home. If pupils are sharing books, as we read that they are having to do, how can they take books home to do proper study as part of their homework, which is vital? The fourth is that the necessary up-to-date equipment in every sphere of activity must be provided. And the fifth is satisfactory conditions in which pupils can study.

There is no doubt that the present cuts will mean those criteria not being met. Fewer teachers will mean not only a deterioration in the pupil-teacher ratio but a lack of fully qualified and specialist staff to teach all the subjects needed, a lack of teachers to fill in in cases of staff sickness and a curtailment of the options open to students—and that is particularly important. A lack of books means inability to study properly, a lack of equipment means impeded progress and a lack of higher education places means frustrated and wasted talent.

The present Government have become like a compulsive gambler, hooked on a system they declare is sure to win in the end but which month by month looks more convincingly certain not to win. The tragedy is that it will not just drag the Government down. I use the word "tragedy", but if it were only the Government who were being dragged down I should not use that word. I use it because what is being dragged down is the future of the whole nation. That must not happen. The demand for cuts in services in education must be opposed, and the opposition is not just party political; it is informed opposition which comes from those who care deeply about the future of this country and who care about the principle of equal opportunity for all. They see the unreason- able education cuts that are now being demanded as a damaging refusal by the Government to invest in the nation's future, and that road inevitably leads to disaster. We beg the Government to listen and, having listened, to take heed.

5.6 p.m.

Lord James of Rusholme

My Lords, it gives me particular pleasure to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Swann, on his maiden speech because he is not only a very old friend but, as he said, I once had the privilege and immense difficulty of trying to teach him. He is a man who covers an unusually wide field of interest and I am sure we can rely on hearing him on a number of occasions on a wide variety of topics.

I confess that I find myself in an unusual and difficult position today. After a lifetime spent working in education, during much of which I have stressed the need for adequate resources—I do not say I have made the same sort of speech as the noble Baroness, Lady Denington; I have never subscribed to what I might call the conspiracy theory of education—I intend today to take the line that in some areas of education considerable economies are possible without really harming the essential fabric. Thus, while I have a great deal of sympathy with many of the points which the noble Baroness, Lady David, made so clearly, I cannot believe that cuts on the scale of those now proposed or under way will cause irreparable harm.

There is however one field which constitutes a partial exception, and that is the university sector, and here I believe, in spite of all the special pleading, that the Government should proceed with a good deal of care. The trouble is, as the Guardian said in an admirable editorial (I have often pointed this out myself, anyway), that the universities have damaged their case in the past by complaining far too loudly, far too often and, quite frequently, unjustifiably. Some universities have sometimes abused their proper freedom. They have created departments in subjects which should probably not be in universities at all, such as nursing or physical education, or in minority subjects which, valuable thought they may be, are already covered elsewhere, for example Eastern European studies or Islamic studies, which are perfectly well dealt with in existing university institutions. It is madness for a new university to embark on something like that.

Above all of course, by their insistence that all departments everywhere should devote a considerable proportion of their time to research, irrespective of whether they have anybody in them with an original mind, they have insisted on staffing ratios and backup facilities which are very expensive and which frequently produce results of staggering triviality. Noble Lords may be asking which side I am on now, but I have said all this before. All those things can, and should, be put right. I believe that this time the universities have had such a shock that they are trying to put them right. But because university staff have tenure, putting them right will take time. I know that while there is death there is hope, but we did recruit rather a lot of youngish men in the 1960s. If the shrinkage is carried out too quickly, it will be immensely expensive.

Further, we should not allow the fact that abuses exist, that there are many idle dons, and many dons who—as Mark Pattison noted in 19th century Oxford, and as the noble Lord, Lord Swann, has noted in 20th century Oxford—regard an afternoon spent on a trivial committee as work, to obscure the no less demonstrable fact that the productivity of our universities, in terms of the standard of graduates and the short time required to produce them, is probably higher than anywhere in the world, and certainly higher than most of British industry.

I am not saying that reforms and economies are not possible and necessary—they are; and many in universities really are struggling to bring them about. As I have said, they will take time, and drastic, across-the-board, quick cuts in university finance may well be counter-productive in terms of national prosperity, to say nothing of national culture.

If I were looking at places where I think economies would do less harm, might be interesting and might even do some good, I would take a fairly long, cool look at the arts and social science departments of some polytechnics—by no means all—and some colleges of higher education. I am very glad that this sector is in fact having a certain look at its organisation. A much smaller, but much more obvious target is nonvocational adult education; very small, yet significant. When one uses the phrase one tends to think of Tawney and the glorious years of the WEA. But much of it is not really like that at all. Someone quoted the piece about the obligation on local educational authorities to provide this stimulus to culture, education, and all that. Absolutely true!—but it is not like that, either. When I realise that 20 miles from my home there were last year classes in Latin American dancing, advanced hostess cooking and beauty care, all subsidised by the ratepayer and taxpayer, I wonder what all the talk about cuts in education adds up to. It is a tiny thing—

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, will the noble Lord give way?

Lord James of Rusholme

Of course.

Lord Davies of Leek

Economically, home cooking is one of the most excellent things to keep a man happy, God bless him!

Lord James of Rusholme

I could not agree more, my Lords. What I referred to was not home cooking, but advanced hostess cooking, which is not the kind of home cooking that I am used to in my own home. That is a small point, however. Such classes as I have just mentioned may be very desirable, but whether they can really be called part of adult education is doubtful. But what is at any rate certain is that at times of financial stringency the people who themselves participate should pay the full, economic cost.

Now I turn to a much more important area where economies may well be thought to have the greatest effect—the schools. That the schools—in particular the secondary schools—are going through a very difficult time at the moment cannot be denied. However, I do not think that I would go as far as one or two speakers who called the HMI report a damning indictment. It is not at all a damning indictment. About 85 per cent. of it was quite accurate, fairly laudatory, and the educational systems of many countries would be proud to have such things said about them. However, the report revealed great difficulties; and of course there are difficulties such as those related to the decline in school population. But we must be clearer than we sometimes are about not only the scale of the difficulties, but also about the actual causes. Recently one of the Sunday papers had a middle page spread about the awful effects of the cuts in education. It mentioned, as I think the noble Baroness mentioned, that it was no longer possible to stream pupils by ability. It went on to speak of the impoverishment of the curriculum and pointed out—the noble Baroness did not go this far—that in most schools it was not possible to teach Greek, or even Latin. Finally, it asserted that many pupils were being taught science and maths by teachers without qualifications in those subjects.

All those assertions are of course absolutely true. But most of them have nothing to do with the cuts. Streaming has been abolished in some schools not because it is expensive, but because trendy educational theory regards it as élitist. So some local authorities have abolished it not on educational or economic grounds, but on political ones. Teachers are teaching subjects in which they are not qualified because there is an absolute shortage in some subjects, and there has been for years. It is not that we are not paying them. It is because there are other, new avenues, such as breakfast-time television, which those people want to go into. As regards impoverishment of the curriculum, a great deal of nonsense is talked. Schools boast of the number of subjects they offer regardless of the intrinsic value of those subjects or whether they are taught well.

As regards other subjects that I should like to see taught, I wonder whether I may read to your Lordships a brief quotation, as follows: It is proposed that all children, whatever their intelligence, should go to a common comprehensive school. Whatever the form of such schools, it is possible to forecast with some accuracy the effects on the content of education. The most important will be the complete disappearance of certain subjects from the curriculum. A very small proportion of the population has both the desire to learn Greek and the high intelligence to make such a study profitable. Even in a very large common school it is arithmetically impossible that a sufficient number of pupils will wish to learn the language to make it at all feasible to supply it". That forecast was made over 30 years ago; I know because I wrote it myself. It is the sheerest disingenuity to say that cuts are solely responsible for any harmful impoverishment of the curriculum. What is responsible is the compulsory dispersal of pupils with different needs and different abilities among a number of schools, in the knowledge that there will be insufficient numbers in any one school to make certain subjects viable, or insufficient teachers to teach them. The impoverishment of the secondary school system in this respect, with its consequent denial of opportunity, is not the result of parsimony, nor of the present Government's action; it is the achievement of the last, and I have shown that it was both foreseen and foreseeable.

Let me turn to another crucial question, that of books. My mind goes back many years to a time when I was President of the School Library Association. The Secretary of State attended our annual meeting, and he happened to be one of the wisest Secretaries of State we have ever had. His name at the time was David Eccles. In the course of his speech he pointed to all the new pieces of hardware coming into the schools, and he warned us that the day would come when we might have to choose between, say, television and books. I remember the occasion well, because in my few words of thanks to him afterwards I said that in the case of Manchester Grammar School, if ever that were the choice, then television would enter the school over my dead body. The press got hold of that of course, and said, Television in Manchester Grammar School over James's dead body which was not quite what I said.

But how right was the then Secretary of State to force us to face the language of priorities. We have faced the priorities, and very often we have chosen unwisely. To some of the schools—and I know some—which complain about the absence of books I would say, "How many cupboards have you filled with expensive audio-visual equipment that is either broken or unused, very often because members of the staff don't know how to use it?" The case is true even with those prestige objects, language laboratories. They are prestige objects because we now realise, owing to the researches of Hawkins and others, that you have to be an especially and highly-trained teacher to know how to use a language laboratory. We have bought them and put them in and said, "Oh, you will be able to speak Russian soon". They were a waste of money. In any case, I would say to teachers: Have you really ever asked yourselves whether, with all these modern aids, even when they work, your teaching is really more effective than in the days when we had none of these things?

It is in a time of real difficulty like the present that this question of getting your priorities right becomes ever more vital. I wrote a reference some time ago for an old pupil of mine who wanted to be headmaster of a middle school of 800 pupils. In the particulars they listed the ancillary staff. The list was pretty lavish, but what struck me was that when we got to the end of the list we found that in this day school of 800 pupils, believe it or not, it included five secretaries. Had that authority got its priorities right? How many books can you buy with one secretary, at modern salaries, even with the modern price of books? When one thinks of the schools where not only the head but also one or even two deputy heads never teach themselves at all, I refuse to believe that economies on the present scale will be fatal to English education. Painful, perhaps, but not fatal.

What is the greatest priority of all? It is, of course, the quality of teaching—not the quantity but the quality, because even here it does not follow that the more you spend on education the better the education will be. As that immensely experienced education administrator Lord Alexander of Potterhill has pointed out, there is in fact no demonstrable gain in having classes of 25 rather than 35, at any rate in the middle school. But when I speak of the quality of teaching I am in a difficulty. Your Lordships will ask me how I would improve it. We know some answers, but they do not touch the root of the matter. The root of the matter is in the long run a question of idealism.

It involves the kind of dedication (to use a pompous word) which makes it inconceivable for a teacher ever to strike; which makes it natural that he should give up his free time to help with the scouting, with the games, with the acting or with the music; and which accepts it as a fact of life that in return for his holidays (in which in any event he may, unpaid, be taking boys camping) he regards teaching as a full-time job. It was this attitude which characterised many of the men who taught me, including one who was sitting on the Woolsack a little earlier this afternoon. It characterised many of the men who taught with me. It is an attitude that will survive cuts. But how do we recapture and encourage that attitude and the kind of education that flows from it? That is our problem.

My Lords, I have not any simple answer; but what I am fearful of is that we can discourage that attitude. It is understandable that we should deplore economies, even necessary ones. But one can harm morale by creating in the schools an atmosphere of crisis and depression that will encourage those attitudes of militant unionism which have corroded and devalued a great calling, and which are not justified by what is happening in the system. After all, if one cannot have this film projector or that number of free periods, or go on yet another subsidised school journey, and even if one has occasionally to write one's own letters, those things have ultimately got nothing to do with education, and it is our job to say so.

5.25 p.m.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, I should first like to thank my noble friend Lady David for introducing this very important and pressing debate. Then I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Swann, on his maiden speech. I met him some years ago at an Observer dinner, and I always wanted to meet him again. I find it a pleasure to hear him in this House.

I hope the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will forgive me if I introduce a more sombre, if not a sour note into this debate. There has been great criticism of Mark Carlisle's politics. Journalists who study and specialise in education, like those with the Guardian, have condemned the measures that he has proposed. The professors at Sussex University have condemned the Carlisle cuts in very strong terms—stronger than I have heard for a long time. I do not like disagreeing with as kind and popular a Minister as the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, but a professor at Sussex University stated that there were three prospects for today's education—the bad, the worse and the appalling.

My noble friend Lady David has given the facts and figures. Public expenditure is reduced by 8 per cent. over three years at universities, and this means a reduction in the number of pupils and teachers. When we consider that the best scientific research is done at the universities, this is a very unpalatable fact. A reduction in the number of students and increased competition—that feeble remedy that the Government have proposed—is a derisive remedy. Staff redundancies and the closure of departments must occur, causing much bitterness, especially at a time of such high unemployment. We are again adding to the unemployment figures in this country. Is that what we need? With all this, it is a sad fact that this country has one of the smallest university populations in the civilised world—and that is quoted from the Industrial Society; I have not made it up.

I should like to mention the visit of the President of Nigeria to this country. He was greeted with a rise in the fees of the Nigerian students. There are various sides to the question of overseas students, but it does a lot of good for overseas students to come to this country and receive a period of education. Nigeria is an oil-rich African country with whom we could have much trade. So, while we have to make cuts, I believe that the cuts that have been made are very damaging. They cannot be excused, even when we talk of making savings. Education is the last area in which we should make cuts.

5.29 p.m.

Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, who speaks shortly and with some passion, but I shall not follow her in what I am going to say. I will, however, tell her that I am speaking from this Bench rather than from where she sits because I believe myself to be a true follower of her very much beloved husband. The noble Lord, Lord Swann, made an altogether delightful maiden speech, and I congratulate him on it. He said that he was going to avoid controversy and he succeeded in that. I made a count of the House while he was speaking. I do not think it was really necessary. There were 15 noble Lords opposite of whom he might have made enemies and 50 or 60 on this side of whom he would have made friends. What he did was extremely entertaining. I am grateful.

The noble Lord, Lord James, has gone so that I need not renew my argument with him. I will say that I seldom think that what he says is relevant to the debate and I seldom agree with him; but I did agree with one point, which is that the only thing that we know about education is that it depends upon good teachers and we do not know how to get them. That does not take us very far but it seemed to be central to what the noble Lord said. I agree with every word which the noble Baroness said in opening the debate. With industry collapsing all around us, we may be inclined to say that education and the arts must bear their share; but as a number of speakers have emphasised today, the cuts imposed will affect the quality of life of the next generation and, through it, that of the generation after that. I suppose that the most remarkable social change in the last 100 years is the penetration of culture to more and more people who a generation ago would have been denied it. In using the word "culture" (which is an ugly word) I mean the appreciation of the things of the mind of whatever quality. I was a devoted reader of "penny dreadfuls" as a boy of six or seven. They were usually about Buffalo Bill. I remember the great Monty James who came to tea one day and found me reading one. My mother complained that her son only read trash. He said, "It does not matter what he reads, so long as he gets the habit". How right he was! That is what has been happening over the last two generations because of the widening of the scope of education.

There has been the incredible expansion of the reading public through our marvellous library system—700 million books a year borrowed without a penny having to be paid, except for keeping them too long. This is now under attack. The paperback explosion started by Penguin's sixpenny books before the war, the huge sales of records and tapes, the crowded concert halls, museums, picture galleries and theatres—all demonstrate the transformation of society in this country. The main factor in bringing this about has been universal education. We have now had several generations of universal education allowing the most important of all influences on the child, the conversation in the home, to take effect. This has led to a steady demand from parents for their children while at school to be exposed to music, to the theatre, to pictures, to literature; in fact, to the arts in general. This has been a steady development but there is a long way to go and still a very wide culture gap. But the gap is narrowing and the concept of education constantly widening.

And now, my Lords, bang!—the Government have gone into reverse, as with so much of their policy, more by mistake than on purpose. But it is this tragic acceptance of the alleged necessity to back-pedal on art and education to which I want particularly to draw your Lordships' attention. I made some inquiries from the Association of Art Institutions, of which I have the honour to be president, from the Arts Council from the Library Association, from the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries, and the story is the same everywhere: gloom, depression, back-peddling. I give a few instances. There are many requests from talented youngsters (I am told by the arts institutions and the Arts Council) who have been offered places at a variety of excellent training schools but who are being refused a discretionary grant—and the noble Baroness raised this point in opening—from their local educational authority, because of cut backs. The Arts Council quoted 17 local education authorities where this has already happened.

Secondly, one of the most important and encouraging developments of the 1960s and 1970s was "Theatre in Education". I saw a lot of it when I was Minister and formed a very high opinion of its contribution to education directly, of its performances in schools and in the countryside, where teams would go to out-of-the-way halls and sometimes to village greens or pubs where they were enthusiastically welcomed by the local population. The normal way of financing this was from two sources: from the local education authority, because of the work in schools, and from the Arts Council, because of the work in the countryside. The Arts Council have not been cutting these companies but there have been severe local education authority cuts. The theatre education team attached to the Duke's Playhouse in Lancaster suffered a cut of £20,000 from its LEA; Nottingham lost £30,000 and have virtually stopped their school work; the Perspectives Group in Peterborough lost £10,000 from the Cambridgeshire LEA. It is inevitable that LEAs will cut the marginal items in their perfectly legitimate efforts to maintain basic standards; but I find it impossible to forgive the Government for imposing cuts without bothering to calculate the consequences.

The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said that we had to concentrate people's minds on the essential elements of the curriculum. This is not enough. What I have been saying surely demonstrates that the width of the curriculum and the edges of the curriculum, the arts, the ways teachers can stimulate their students, apart from direct teaching, is as important as anything else; and to allow this to wither as it is now is unforgivable. Some local authority and design advisers are being made redundant. The way the arts are brought into education in all local authorities is through the advisers who are experts on it.

Gloucester and Cornwall have sacked their drama advisers and Lincolnshire have reduced their team from four to one. In Avon the LEA is threatening foundation courses at Bristol Polytechnic and the Bath Academy of Arts. These things must be noted; they are facts and disastrous facts. Then there is the Hereford and Worcester case where Mr. Justice Forbes concluded that learning a musical instrument was a proper part of education but that, since education had to be free under the Act, the LEA could not impose a charge. The Incorporated Society of Musicians claim that at least half the LEAs in England and Wales now charge for music lessons. Now it has been declared illegal. What will happen about this? I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, who said that she would like this tuition to be free. If it cannot be free, at least it is reasonable that it should be available and paid for. To forbid that as well is stopping one of the most important developments on the edge of education.

I understand that the Standing Commission on Museums and Galleries is as unhappy as the rest of us. Pretty well all museums and galleries, national, local authority and private, take great trouble to train local teachers who then bring round their classes; and you have only got to go to any museum to see crowds of children simply loving it. You may say that this is unnecessary for them. I differ fundamentally from anybody who says that. Nobody knows what is useful for you to learn. What is important is to see new things and enjoy it. This is effectively done all over the country by the museums. Teachers who train teachers are invariably supplied and paid for by the local education authorities. But for how long? I have no figures about this but I should be very surprised if there have not been serious cuts.

Finally, libraries. In the number of 700 million books borrowed each year, there is to be a 10 per cent. reduction, not of the borrowings but in the supply of books from 1980 to 1981. In Humberside, the county as a whole has been asked to trim its spending by 1.8 per cent. It will cut its book fund by 14.3 per cent. At the moment libraries are fundamental to the edges of education, not only for getting school books but also for getting reading books, and children depend on a fairly easy supply of this kind of thing. The schools spend approximately £51 million a year on books, of which some £16 million are spent on library books. Public libraries buy £61 million worth of books; they spend £10 million on children's books. So far as schools are concerned, in the first nine months of 1980 the total number of books purchased fell by 4 million compared with the number in the previous year. The provision of children's books is becoming increasingly difficult. It seems to me that it is the children who are going to suffer under all these cuts, and this really is a very disagreeable situation. These are just a few instances of the irreversible damage which is being done.

The curriculum not only is being reduced, which, as the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, has said and for all I know may be a good thing, but it is being narrowed; and certainly that is a bad thing. The steady widening which over the past few years has done so much to enhance the average school child's enjoyment of life, and the ability to enjoy curiosity and to ask, which does not leave him as he grows up, are to be less and less available today. My fear is that this is only the beginning and that it will go further and last longer than anyone dares to foretell. I wonder whether the noble Lord can give us any assurance at all that I am wrong?

5.41 p.m.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, it has been said: Nations die of softening of the brain which for a long time passes for softening of the heart". It seems a particularly appropriate comment on the subject we are discussing this afternoon. Both politicians and the media have typically exaggerated and highlighted only certain criticisms contained in the report of Her Majesty's Inspectorate. I would add that it seems quite extraordinary to me that, despite repeated requests and the diligent efforts of the Printed Paper Office, I have managed to obtain a copy of the report only today. In the knowledge that this debate was going to take place, surely it would have been helpful to those of us who are speaking and others who are interested if copies of the report could have been made available in your Lordships' House for the past week.

Everyone knows that there are good, indifferent and bad local authorities, just as there are good, bad and indifferent schools and teachers. Over the past 30 years it has been increasingly argued that more money, new buildings and new equipment would produce better schools, better teaching, better results and better education all round. That is a false, naïve and unrealistic argument. In my experience as a local councillor in the past and, as such, having served as a governor of several schools, and having been involved in the educational world for 27 years, I speak with some knowledge. I may be regarded as an amateur, but so are many people concerned with education—even, may I say, some governors, officers in the educational bureaucracy and some of Her Majesty's inspectors, who have so often been out of the front line of the classroom for many years.

The hysterical response to the Government's relative cuts in the education provision—the response highlighted in the media—indicates a woeful ignorance of both the problems and the needs of schools. Shortages of books, out of date textbooks and leaking roofs do not occur within a year. Inadequately-trained teachers of mathematics, English and languages do not suddenly appear. In fact, defects in many schools are a cumulative process and cannot be attributed to the actions of any one year, any one Government or any one person.

Certainly finance is important, but much more important in the past 20 years, when financial provision has steadily increased, has been the lack of stability in the educational system. The doctrinaire philosophy of the party opposite regarding comprehensive schools, and the belief in economics of scale which has led as well to the closing of so many village schools are the two factors which have done most to undermine the quality and morale of our schools. By destroying, combining and closing schools which contained dedicated staff, a tradition of loyalty, and the confidence of parents and the local community, we have done much to diminish "the maintenance and enhancement of educational standards".

Resources, both human and material, have been wasted by uprooting established communities. There is an analogy here with the deplorable town planning policies—now generally recognised to be deplorable—which pulled down individual houses, putting in their place at a cost of billions of pounds, monstrous anonymous tower blocks where the individual felt lost and alienated from his neighbour. Incidentally, much of the new building was shoddy and it is already accepted that much of it needs replacement. There is no doubt in my mind that a good deal of new school building suffered in a similar fashion, since many of the architects and builders were the same.

Of course, in the great educational upheaval there have been marked successes, particularly in rural areas; but I believe many people feel that in the large urban conurbations the finance which has been poured in has produced questionable dividends. A good school depends on a dedicated staff, adequate buildings and good equipment, properly used. Above all, morale is important, and I believe there is little doubt that this has suffered greatly. Strikes by civil servants indeed strike at the heart of our society, but strikes by teachers also do irreparable harm to the young, who in so many ways learn by example.

Society and its leaders must take a large measure of responsibility. The values of materialism have taken over, both individually and nationally. Money has come to be regarded as the cure for all evil; if there is enough of it about we can solve our problems. I do not believe this to be so. Certainly in the educational field, what we need is to review existing resources and the nature of our schools. This is no easy task, and it is both painful and time-consuming. Above all it can be done only in a non-doctrinaire atmosphere. I regret very much that the party opposite is so doctrinaire in the matter of education, just as I regret the indeed prejudiced remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Denington. We are living with the tragic mistakes of the past two decades, and I dread to think of the policies contained in the Labour Party programme. This is not a matter for discussion now; however, I do await, with gloomy interest, to learn the other aspects of the educational views of the Social Democrat group to which the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge, now belongs.

What is certain now is that we have more than adequate resources for our educational system if they are properly used. It is time to concentrate our minds in this period of financial stringency. Standards of provision, opportunity and performance will best be safeguarded by examining afresh what we mean by these words in the light of recent experience. That experience in no way indicates that more resources—human or material—either safeguards or improves standards. Indeed it could be argued that we have been consuming a placebo which has prevented a proper diagnosis of where we have gone wrong in planning and organising our educational system. Let us have sense and not sentiment. My Lords, nations indeed die of softening of the brain.

5.49 p.m.

Lord Kaldor

My Lords, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, will forgive me if I do not take up her rather contentious points. First, I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Swann, for his eloquent and witty maiden speech; it had all the qualities we have come to expect from him. I should also like to thank my noble friend Lady David for having brought this Motion in terms that make it legitimate to discuss this problem from all kinds of different aspects. The main question I wish to discuss is whether there is any case for cuts in public expenditure on education or indeed on anything else at this time of deep economic recession. Having discussed that, I will then discuss the further question of what priorities should be from a national point of view.

The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, pointed to the very great increases in educational expenditure in the 1950s and particularly the 1960s for which we have to thank the unique services of the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, in the expansion of university education. He did not mention that now at last, after 100 or 200 years, we have reached the same percentage of educational expenditure as Germany, and that means that, in terms of expenditure per pupil, our real educational expenditure is only one half as high as that of Germany. If the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, is right, that in addition we waste such expenditure as we do incur, our technological backwardness in relation to Germany and other industrial countries will increase alarmingly.

The belief that public expenditure must be cut in order to balance the budget, which is clearly held passionately by the Prime Minister and her immediate associates, derives from an anthropomorphic conception of economics. Primitive religions are anthropomorphic. They believe in gods which resemble human beings in physical shape and character. The Prime Minister's economics is anthropomorphic, in that she believes in applying to the national economy the same principles and rules of conduct as have been found appropriate to a single individual or a family: paying your way; trimming your expenditure to fit your earnings; avoiding living beyond your means and avoiding getting into debt. These are all well-worn principles of prudent conduct for an individual, but when applied as policy prescriptions to a national economy, I submit they lead to absurdities.

If an individual cuts his expenditure he will not thereby reduce his income. However, if a Government cut their public expenditure programme in relation to tax rates and charges, they will reduce the total spending in the economy and hence the level of production and income. It will reduce the revenue yielded by existing taxes and it will cause public expenditure on unemployment benefits and on the support of firms in trouble, and other similar items, to rise. It is a policy that is appropriate only in times of excess demand and over-full employment, as was the case in the period of Crippsian austerity after the war. At a time like now, with 2½ million unemployed, far from being a recipe for prudent housekeeping and future prosperity it is a recipe for ruin. To keep tightening the budget in the hope of "balancing the books" is to keep reducing the output and income of the nation and hence failing to balance the books as tax yields shrink and expenditures to support the disintegrating economy increase.

As a result of this kamikazi policy of repeated efforts to cut expenditure and to raise taxes in order to reduce public borrowing, the tax burden has risen substantially, both absolutely and as a percentage of the national income, and is much higher now than under the previous Government. The PSBR as a percentage of the GDP is higher than it was last year and higher than in the last year of the Labour Government, when it was exceptionally large. The net results of the Government's policies are thus the very opposite of what they intended to achieve. They are in the grip of a vicious circle of having to make more cuts and impose more taxes in order to compensate, even if only partially, for the increased deficit caused by the previous round of cuts. At the moment they have to take two steps backwards to make one step forward.

If you add to the money which is raised by the Budget the monies raised through fiscal drag in income tax and the 1 per cent. addition to the employees' contribution, you get a total of between £6 billion and £7 billion taken out of the economy. For what, my Lords? In order to effect a prospective reduction by £3½ billion in the PSBR. That is very much a hope. The relationship worsens the whole time. Soon they will not be able to reduce the borrowing required by however much they increase taxes and by however much they cut expenditure, because the yield of existing taxes will fall so fast and expenditure will rise so fast in consequence.

The one positive result of this Budget—which they claim they have brought in to help industry—is the reduction of MLR to 12 per cent., which is what it was before they began to raise it in 1979. To take pride in that is to be like the legendary Duke of York, feeling proud when he succeeded in marching his troops down the hill, even though they were battered and very much enfeebled. That is the policy imposed on the nation by the Prime Minister with her belief in anthropomorphic economics—a belief fully revealed in her impromptu speech at a luncheon last week.

We have been through this nightmare before with Philip Snowden, the nearest historical equivalent to Mrs. Thatcher. He had the same highly moral, austere, anthropomorphic outlook. And when during the depth of the depression in 1931 the prospective Budget deficit threatened to reach £170 million, which was then 4 per cent. of the GDP (as against 6 per cent. today) he insisted on putting into effect the recommendations of the May Committee—a 10 per cent. cut in all public sector wages and salaries, in forces' pay and in unemployment benefit, plus a large dose of additional taxation in an emergency Budget of September, 1931. All this was done in the name of "sound money ", which meant in those days remaining on the gold standard. Keynes told an all-party parliamentary group two days after that the Government's emergency Budget: It is one of the most wrong and foolish things which Parliament has deliberately perpetrated in my lifetime". He also wrote to an American friend, in reaction to Snowden's Budget: To read the newspapers just now is to see bedlam let loose. Every person in the country of super asinine properties, everyone who hates social progress and loves deflation, feels that his hour has come and frequently announces how, by refraining from every form of economic activity, we can all become very prosperous again". Luckily, a few days later the French came to our rescue and saved us from the awful consequences of Snowden's anthropomorphist policies. They withdrew their loan and thereby cleared out all the gold remaining in the vaults of the Bank of England. So the great deflationary Budget came too late to save "sound money ". We went off gold as there was no alternative.

And within a few months, with new elections and the then progressive and sensible Tory "wets" in power—they were all protectionists, all anti-monetarists and all nationalists—the dreadful Snowden was removed from his seat of power and succeeded by Neville Chamberlain who, in contrast to his later failures, served the nation well in those years by introducing the cheap money policy, which was backed up by the greatest conversion operation in our history—converting a 5 per cent. war loan to 3½ per cent.

Thus began the era of low interest rates which lasted for 30 years and which enabled us to borrow our way through a Second World War and to borrow enormous sums—a much greater proportion of the GDP than now—in medium- and long-term loans of 3¼ to 4 per cent. It gave rise to the greatest building boom of the century. And, with the new protective tariffs extending to all manufactures which Stanley Baldwin had tried to introduce ever since 1921, Britain entered a relatively brief period of a new summer, I would say almost a second golden age, when in a span of five years she almost succeeded in making up for the neglect of 50 previous years. Thanks to that period, our industrial capacity was greatly enlarged and strengthened; we again rated as a leading industrial power and were in a position to confront Hitler and face the perils of a Second World War.

Who knows? All this might happen again, but it is well to remember that the great economic recovery of the 1930s was possible only after we abandoned the gold standard and after the introduction of extensive controls on the import of manufactures, mounting to 50 per cent. ad valorem duty in the case of steel.

I now turn to the question of what priorities should be given to expenditure on education. The Chief Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. Brittan, in another place took pride in the fact that Education expenditure will in the coming year be nearly 10 per cent. lower than planned by our predecessors"— a wonderful achievement! The duty of any Government which cares for Britain is to extend education, and not to contract it—and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord James, that part of it might be wasteful and if it is then it should be cut—in order to enlarge others, particularly high-level education in engineering and related fields where we are so much behind our competitors. For nearly 100 years we have been supposed to be making an exceptional effort to close the gap in education in science and technology between Britain and Germany, between Britain and Franca, between Britain and the United States and now between Britain and Japan. There was no equivalent in Britain to the famous Technische Hochschule at Charlottenburg or to the French Ecole Polytechnique, or to MIT and other famous technological universities in America. Now Japan has reached the position of having more engineering graduates per inhabitant than any other country in the world, and they are of very high quality. This is the time when we should make a big effort to expand our technical and scientific education at a high level. The resources are here; they are lying idle. All we need is a Government who have the will to exploit our opportunities, instead of crushing them.

6.4 p.m.

Earl Grey

My Lords, I must apologise to the House, because I shall be unable to stay to the end of the debate as I am due to attend a function which was arranged before I agreed to take part. The Government claims that cuts in Government spending on education are offset by the reduced demands of a small school population. This claim is undermined by the recent HMI report which, once one has understood the official jargon, makes it clear that standards are unsatisfactory in areas where LEAs spend less on education. To see the problem in perspective it is worth looking at an unofficial survey made by the Northamptonshire Association of Parents, since Northampton is bottom but one of the expenditure leagues. The Northamptonshire County Council's capitation allowance for 1980–81 in the 11–16 group; for example, has gone up by only 33p to £18.33. To restore the real purchasing power of the 1975–76 allowances, it would have to be £35.10. The figures speak for themselves. The effects that such levels have had on the three secondary schools included in the Northampton Parents Association survey are clear. One school lost as many as eight members of staff, with the result that classes are mixed-target ones, with CSE and O-level students together, and they are far too large.

In another of the three schools 19 per cent. of the 1980 intake were remedial pupils as a direct result of cuts in the feeder primary schools in the area which no longer has remedial specialists. All three schools are short of equipment, to the extent that in one of them parts of the chemistry syllabus at O- and A-levels have to be omitted, and fewer experiments carried out. Under these conditions, what chances are there for students to satisfactorily complete their education and enter university?

The head of one school commented that the school was receiving 60 per cent. below the finance needed to set up new courses or to allow for depreciation in existing stocks of books. At another school the total capitation allowance in 1979 was £20,000 short of the amount needed to cover basic requirements. The Parent-Teacher Associations at all three schools have done much to contribute funds; for example, at one school £4,280 was raised in 1980. There is obviously a great deal of concern here but the Northampton Parents' Association state that after repeated attempts to gain a hearing at the County Education Committee they succeeded in presenting their case and in forcing the Council to make a small increase in capitation rates for this year and next.

There is a problem that is faced by concerned members of the public all over the country—that of seeing, understanding and trying to participate in the process by which the LEA spending is decided. There are inherent difficulties which have to be overcome if this is to be done. First, there is the problem of timing because by the time amounts available are made public or cuts are announced it is often too late to alter them. Secondly, there is the language, which is a confusing mixture of jargon and precise financial terms and which is difficult for the layman to understand. Thirdly, there is the lack of a recognised occasion for a public discussion. Council meetings announcing spending policy are held far too late for effective intervention.

Would it not be possible to set up a recognised place for public discussion and intervention at an earlier stage? This would provide a positive means of using the parent-teacher co-operation, concern and closer involvement in local authority work that has resulted from increased cuts in education. Finally, my Lords, great care and consideration must be taken when dealing with special schools; schools for the handicapped and disabled. The allowances have not always been sufficient to cover inflation. One must not need to rely on charity organisations to maintain standards and ensure survival.

6.9 p.m.

Lord Alexander of Potterhill

My Lords, I come to this debate in a state of some confusion and uncertainty. I am bound to say that when the noble Lord, Lord Kaldor, was speaking my confusion became very much greater. I did in fact accept the view that this nation has been spending substantially more than it has earned for a very long period of time, and it seemed to me this offered us two alternatives—either greatly to increase our earnings or substantially to reduce our expenditure. But, I gather from the noble Lord, Lord Kaldor, that is infantile economics. I would not know.

Lord Kaldor


Lord Alexander of Potterhill

I therefore accept that there is a case for economy and for cuts, because I see little prospect of a substantial increase in earnings. I am, however, very conscious that education looms very large in the costs of local authorities and, therefore, cuts by local authorities are inevitable.

But I am very worried by what has been happening in the last year, particularly, in the utter denigration of local authorities as if they were the niggers in the woodpile. On Monday, I suffered an hour of television examining in detail a local authority, Camden, which was said to be entirely typical. It is the highest rated authority in the country, the best possible example of over-expenditure and the programme seemed to suggest that it was typical of local government. It was not. We had a similar leader this morning in the Daily Telegraph.

It is necessary to start with some facts. What are the facts in these last two years? Let us start with the last year. If you take current and capital expenditure, local authorities were expected to reduce by 6.2 per cent. They reduced by 6.9 per cent. The local authorities fulfilled their target. What about the current and capital expenditure of central Government? They were expected to reduce by 0.7 of 1 per cent.—not a major objective. In fact, expenditure increased by 4.2 per cent. I am bound, therefore, to say to the Government that they must not belabour local authorities when they set such a bad example themselves.

Indeed, the principal lecturer, or should I say hectorer, of local government, the Secretary of State for the Environment, did not set a very good example when his department provided the staff for the Clegg Commission and allowed them to make an obvious error of £130 million which I regard as sheer incompetence by that department. I hope, therefore, that this Government will recognise what I said some six or seven years ago in this House. So far as the education service is concerned, distribution of power is fundamental to a democracy and they are unwise to appear to denigrate local authorities, particularly in relation to the operation of the education service.

In 1945 I became Secretary of the Association of Education Committees. At that time, this country spent £150 million on education. I believed, then, that if we could get a substantial increase in investment in education we could increase the wealth that the country created, and be enabled to carry out all the desirable things that the postwar situation demanded and that we wished to do. During the time I was in office, we increased that expenditure from £150 million to just over £7,000 million—at the moment, it is £8,000 million—and I was wrong. We did not have a great increase in productivity. We did not have a creation of wealth that would enable us to do all the things we wanted to do. I have often tried to ask myself why. I have no doubt that the answer is complicated. The change in the attitude and values of adult society was obviously relevant.

But there was one reason of which I am quite sure and that was our over-emphasis and over-esteem of that which was academic, and our under-emphasis and under-esteem of that which was directly relevant to industry and commerce. Of this I have no doubt. If I may say so to my very good friend, the noble Lord, Lord James, as he spoke this afternoon I became convinced that it is still true. This I raise because I am very worried about the impact of the cuts on the polytechnics of this country. This over-esteem of that which is academic has been a problem for a very long time. We established technical high schools; they became grammar schools. We established colleges of advanced technology; they became universities. Our last hope are the polytechnics, where the courses provided are much more directly relevant to the needs of industry and commerce than many of the courses provided in the universities.

I recently had the privilege of taking part in the degree and diploma awarding ceremony at one of them, Hatfield, to which the noble Baroness, Lady David, referred, and 66 per cent. of its students are in engineering science and technology. There is not a university in the country which could claim 66 per cent. of its students in these fields—more than twice the national average. I fear that the cuts which local authorities have to meet will impact with very unfortunate results on the polytechnics. I very much hope, therefore—and I accept that this is in the hands of local authorities—that this will not take place.

I turn now to the problem of the 16 to 19 year-olds, which to me is the most critical problem facing the education service. The tragedy of young people leaving school and becoming unemployed is a very real thing. I say this not from theory, but from practical experience. In 1929, I took charge of what we called a junior instruction centre in Greenock. I looked at the records of those youngsters when they had left school a year or two before, and they were perfectly good youngsters and perfectly good records. After a year or two years, and in some cases three years, of unemployment they were unemployable. They were ruined for life and nothing that we could do could alter that. Therefore, this problem of the 16 to 19s is critically important and I do not believe that we are facing up to it at all seriously.

I myself, as some of your Lordships probably know, am wholly committed to the concept of tertiary colleges. This seems to me so obvious. If you organise on a comprehensive basis and have, at the same time, a fall in school rolls, the maintenance of sixth forms in the schools is neither educationally nor economically viable. This is a simple fact. I should also be very concerned not to keep those who are pursuing A-levels and academic courses wholly separate from those who are pursuing courses in technology or other subjects. Therefore, I would myself prefer the concept of the tertiary college to that of the sixth-form college.

Why are the Government opposed to this? Because they are; let us not make any mistake about that. I understand that on the instruction of Ministers the Macfarlane Report was rewritten in part after it had been completed in order to put in a paragraph, paragraph 97, suggesting that to organise on a tertiary basis would impact unhappily on the 11 to 16 secondary schools. I wonder what evidence there is to support that view? I have visited five authorities which run the tertiary system. They have no problem because of recruiting teachers from the 11 to 16 schools.

Why is there this opposition? Is it because the Government think that the only schools which would then have sixth forms would be the independent schools and that there would be no schools in the maintained system with sixth forms? If that is their worry, they do not seem to understand the nature of an independent school. I was governor of one for 20 years. An independent school is much closer to a sixth form college than to a secondary school. Over 50 per cent. of the pupils of the school of which I was a governor were sixth formers. They are in essence much closer to the tertiary system than to the secondary system. This is the reality of the situation. I very much hope that the Government will look very carefully at the problem of the 16- to 19-year-olds.

Frankly, I do not believe that what the Manpower Services Commission are doing is a very great contribution. They are providing short-term training for narrow skills, for jobs which in many cases will not exist in four or five years' time. The need is to raise the educational level, the datum line on which these young people can be trained for the technological society in which they will have to live. Therefore, I very much hope that this matter can be re-examined. Indeed, I should hope that one might go further than that: that one might face the reality that we have reached the stage at which we need a new Education Act and a really serious attempt to remove from education the party political bickering which has done infinite damage to the education service. it is not helpful when there are changes of policy every two or three years. It is time that we recognised that a committee should be set up in this House, of all interests, of all sections, which could examine whether or not agreement could be reached on how to organise the education service in the interests of the nation.

I turn now to the Government. I say to them that morale in the education service has never been lower in my experience, which goes back a fairly long time now. There is increasing doubt as to whether the Government really care very much about the maintained system of education. The assisted places scheme did not help in that connection.

All that the Government do seems to be impacting unfortunately upon morale. We still have very many thousands of very good teachers. When I find these people expressing almost a sense of despair, I worry. When I was chief education officer, everybody went on until they were 65. Today every chief education officer is retiring at 60, the day he can get out. Why? For the same reason. They are finding it too difficult to struggle. Therefore, I plead with the Government to show some initiatives which indicate concern.

If they are to do that, they must face a second problem: that they have no means of doing it now. They can put money into the block grant which they intend to be used for education, but it will not necessarily be spent on education. I remember that I persuaded a previous Minister to put into the rate support grant £9 million for the in-service training of teachers. I found that £2 million of the rate support grant was spent on education. What the other £7 million was spent on I would not know, but it was certainly not spent where it had been intended to be spent.

This means that the Government must use the instrument of specific grants for particular purposes. They must be earmarked for those purposes. For myself, I should have liked to give my grants for the whole of the education service. But I accept that that might not be politically acceptable. It would probably not be acceptable to the local authority associations. Because of local government reorganisation in 1974 and the development of so-called corporate management, which has been a disaster for the education service, one could not expect it to be happy with a grant which was earmarked for the education service. But surely we can earmark grants for certain specific purposes—for example, for the in-service training of teachers, for the training of head teachers, for comprehensive schools. This is a new job. It is not one which previously existed in the education service. If they are to do the job properly, people need to be trained for it.

Above all, I hope the Government will realise that they must take action which will restore morale in the education service and which will restore the confidence of the teaching profession and of the administrative profession. The Government should recognise, as was recognised in 1944, that the words of Disraeli, which are used as the preamble to the 1944 Act, are as true today as they were then and as they always will be.

6.28 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, spoke movingly about the 16- to 19-year-olds. Like other noble Lords, at times I have been quite obsessed with their problems. When I was a member of Sir Harold Wilson's Cabinet I obtained his permission to undertake an inquiry into young people during their first few years after leaving school when they were going on to full-time education. That inquiry was cut short because I felt it to be necessary to resign from the Cabinet when they, in their wisdom or otherwise, declined to raise the school leaving age. There are others beside me in this House tonight who protested about that decision. There was then in my mind the same concentration on young people in their first few years as has been brought out so effectively today by the noble Lord. I want to concentrate on the universities. I was tempted to reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, and to the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, but they have fled from the Chamber.

A noble Lord: The noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, is still here.

The Earl of Longford

Then I shall begin by saying how delighted I am to see the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, restored to health and in excellent form. I know that nowadays, under some new form of medical treatment, he runs three miles, so perhaps he has run three miles since last he was in the Chamber. He is certainly a lovely illustration of the heroic form of cure. Since I am to reply to him, I shall have to cut down some of my other remarks in order to keep within the time limit. He dealt with this question of the teacher-pupil ratio. I do not know whether or not he agrees with it; I do not think he will agree with what I am going to say now, but in my opinion it is an absolutely fundamental aspect of it and it has always represented until now, and still represents, the great difference between the education which most of us underwent, or at any rate the education that we are providing for our own children and the education that is received by the mass of the country.

After I left Oxford I was associated in adult education in the Potteries with the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, but I was also teaching during the day in a school that today would be called a secondary modern school and I asked myself, coming fresh from Eton and Oxford, why it was that already at 11 those children were so far behind the children among whom I was educated. When I was 11 I knew quite a lot of Latin, some Greek, some French (more than I can remember now) and really quite a lot of mathematics. The children of 11 whom I was teaching knew very little about anything. I analysed it then and 50 years later I analyse it still; that the great difference was not that the teaching was better. A lot of the teachers at the preparatory school that I went to, and even at such a famous school as Eton, were inferior to what one found then at various ordinary schools in the country. But, apart from the fact that a good many of the parents came from more cultured homes, I believe the basic difference was the pupil-teacher ratio. Until we rectify that it is no good people talking about the attempt to build a classless society, which is still the aspiration of those of us on these Benches and it may be elsewhere.

Lord Vaizey

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for his kind remarks about me, but I beg him to accept that if we compare like with like—the maintained sector and the independent sector—there is now very little difference in class sizes. Indeed, again comparing like with like, if anything the class sizes in the worst afflicted local authority schools in the inner city areas are more favourable than they are in the independent sector. Like the noble Earl, I have for years been arguing for smaller classes. We have now achieved that, but I do not think we have achieved the desired result. I was not being in any way party political, I do assure the noble Earl; I was trying merely to get at the truth.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I should need a lot more proof than the noble Lord has given me before I accept the idea that the ratio is the same in the great public schools—such as the one over which Lady Trumpington's husband presides—as in the ordinary schools attended by the working class children. However, to come back to what I intended to talk about, the universities. Today is rather a field day for the professors and the vice-chancellors and suchlike. When I opened the first debate on this subject ever held in this House in 1957 I was the only authentic college tutor. I was replied to by the noble Lord, Lord Cherwell, and there were one or two people with academic backgrounds, but in those days I was the only college tutor. That is by no means the case now.

I am not entirely extinguished (shall I say?) by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, greatly though I respect his educational achievements. In the first place it was difficult to know which side he was on. He said himself at one time; "People may wonder which side I am on ", and he made a good point there because people did wonder which side he was on.

Lord James of Rusholme

My Lords, it is not a bad thing to be somewhat impartial.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I think confusion of mind is never an academic quality. At any rate it does not usually win a very high mark in the schools of which I have knowledge.

Lord James of Rusholme

My Lords, I am sorry if the noble Earl cannot distinguish impartiality from confusion. It does not surprise me—but I am sorry.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I do not want to go on with this, but only in the case of the noble Lord was it quite so obvious. I only say that because I was provoked and if the noble Lord provokes me any more I am afraid I shall be still more tiresome to him, so let us leave it there. Let us look at what is happening about the universities; of course the noble Lord himself was a famous vice-chancellor, but no longer, alas! The chairman of the vice-chancellors and principals has spoken about the performance of the Government in terms that I hope have not escaped the noble Lord, although perhaps his kindly advisers keep this sort of thing from him because they think it might give him a heart attack before speaking.

I am talking of the universities now and this is what the chairman of the vice-chancellors said: The Government now intend to run down the British university system by about one-eighth over the next two years". That is what the chairman of the vice-chancellors said. It is no good people saying to me that I am out of touch or that I am an old fuddy-duddy; I am quoting the up-to-date statement of the vice-chancellors. I must apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, as I may not be here as night falls and he replies, but I must ask him how he deals with that. The chairman of the vice-chancellors goes on to say: We believe this new policy of the Government to be profoundly misguided". That is plain enough speaking; it does not fall into the ambivalent category which was so applauded by the noble Lord, Lord James. Then later comes this passage—which is perhaps stronger still: For these reasons we think it a kind of madness for the Government at this particular point in British history to be planning a destructive onslaught on the universities". That is the considered view of the vice-chancellors, so I think there is quite a lot there to which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, must reply. They go on to criticise the way in which these cuts are being made, but in the short time available I perhaps had better not quote any more. In the Government Blue Book on expenditure plans for the next three years, we come across this astounding sentence: The Government remain committed to the objective of maintaining and improving the quality of education". For sheer effrontery that takes the biscuit; to say that they are seeking to maintain the standard when they are cutting it drastically and conducting what the vice-chancellors call a "destructive onslaught". I suppose one can only say, "You are joking", but perhaps it is too serious a matter to joke about.

No one can doubt that these are the most damaging cuts that the universities have ever encountered. They will certainly have to consider making academic staff redundant at a very heavy cost, human and financial, and I ventured to interrupt the noble Lord earlier on this point—although I seem to have mislaid the quotation at the moment—the chairman of the University Grants Committee has made it abundantly plain that academic staff are going to be made redundant in large numbers. Three thousand academic staff are probably going to be made redundant and 4,000 non-academic staff, or 7,000 people altogether. That is as much beyond argument as anything in this field can be. We are told that a number of universities may be bankrupted. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, can give us any reassurance about that, but whether or not any particular universities are bankrupted there will no doubt be fewer students educated and there is bound to be a fall in the quality of education. Nobody can cover this up. No amount of words can smear them over—the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, would not wish to smear them over, but that is what is being embarked upon and we are bound to ask ourselves why it is all being done.

I should just add as I pass on, that up to now the Government have not given any guidance at all as to how this programme is to be implemented, but perhaps they will tell us how they intend to do it in future. The vice-chancellors may be forgiven for calling this a kind of madness, but I think that is too charitable a view. Sir Alec Merrison, the chairman of the vice-chancellors, has stated: We have been given not the slightest explanation for this quite extraordinary decision by the Government". I think we must assume that that is still the position. We sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Belstead—we of course extend sympathy to the noble Baroness, Lady Young—for stepping forward in this gallant fashion. But up to till now the vice-chancellors say they have been given no explanation for this extraordinary decision. I am not putting it down to any personal animus against the universities among the Government. There are two Fellows of All Souls in the Government and several gentlemen who I believe got first-class degrees at Cambridge, which I suppose is nearly as good as getting a first-class degree at Oxford. At any rate, there are a number of gentlemen of high academic attainment in the Cabinet, though one of them was rather gratuitously dismissed recently.

I try to look at this broadly. When I opened that debate in 1957, earlier that day the noble Lord, Lord Bowden, who was then a leading academic gentleman outside the House, had already made proposals of this kind. I called for a great expansion in university numbers. Again in 1962 in this House, from where I may have been sitting just down below for the Opposition, I called on their behalf for a large expansion in numbers, and indeed divided the House in that sense on that occasion. Well, no doubt not in any way as a result of anything I said—there was a good deal of other pressure going on—the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, produced his marvellous report, which marked an epoch in the whole history of education in this country. For the first time the principle in his report was accepted—that anyone capable of benefiting from a university education and willing to do so should have his chance. I do not know what the noble Lord would say, but I should have thought we had gone a long way, through not the whole way, to giving effect to the principle enunciated for the first time by the noble Lord, Lord Robbins, and accepted by the Government.

Now, the Government are trying to do something quite different, to put the clock back. We have been moving forward in an educational sense, and now, for a reason that eludes the vice chancellors and eludes perhaps many of us, they have decided that the universities have got to be cut by l 2½ per cent. in two years. There must be some reason. I do not put it down to malice or sadism, though it looks at times like that. The noble Lord, Lord Thorneycroft, told us in a recent debate here that the Government are not being carried along by any theory; politics, he said, speaking from over there if I remember rightly, is about what has to be done. So we must assume that the Govern- ment are convinced that this appalling cut, this outrageous onslaught, as the vice-chancellors say, for some reason has to be carried out.

What is the reason? Well, it is a theory, really. I do not see how you can call it anything else. In an article in The Listener, in the current number I think, we are told that Professor Hayek and Professor Friedman are still thoroughly behind Keith Joseph, who is thoroughly behind Mrs. Thatcher; they are piling guru on guru. They are happy, and she is, except that she is being sabotaged—I am interpreting what they have said rather freely—by the "wets ". Well, God bless the "wets ", may they prove wetter than ever, and, if you like, drown their rather insensate leader. But that is by the way.

I know that the noble Lord is under instructions; he has taken this over at short notice, and we cannot expect him to announce a sensational change of policy. But it is right to put on record, as one of the Labour backbenchers of a good many years of experience here, that there has never been a time when opinion outside the Government was so unanimously opposed to what they are doing. I wish Mrs. Thatcher nothing but good personally; what I said just now was just joking. All one can pray for is that somebody else comes along, some other professor, or possibly this new professor who has been brought back from America; good luck to his elbow.

All I am saying now is that we are told there is economic stringency. What is this economic stringency? If we accept this cut of 12½ per cent. in the universities we are subscribing to the theory that this economic stringency exists. I think if we subscribed to any such theory we should be betraying the universities, noble institutions, but what matters much more, betraying the young people and the future of this country.

6.46 p.m.

Lord Davies of Leek

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Earl. He may have forgotten, but it is many years since we played rugby together on the same field, and then he had the temerity to teach me how to play Gaelic with a group of others. That was in the days when he was a lecturer, and also teaching in a secondary school where my wife was responsible for mathematics teaching. I think that was good. Whatever happened to mine? I spend a lot of my life in the area which I really love, and that is the adult education area. Looking at this HMI report—this is not the final report, despite the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, reporting it—I see that paragraph 72, on page 16, says: Adult education remains more seriously affected by expenditure reductions. Forty-nine authorities have further reduced their allocations for general adult education. Of these authorities nine are in the lower level baseline group. No examples of increase have been recorded. There continue to be overall reductions and concentrations of programmes throughout the country. Rigidly applied minimum recruitment criteria are enforced, and many minority subject courses have been withdrawn". If the philistines have their way, cookery will be withdrawn.

Let us face the reality of it. Some people are out of touch with the world in which we are living. Taking adult education, one of my favourites was the old Workers' Educational Association, and this is an appropriate evening to remember it because it is the centenary of the birth of dear old Tawney, Professor Tawney, whose contribution was so great to education, and in particular his contribution to working-class education, together with others, including later Archbishop Temple, the Master of Balliol, who has in his room a painting of a typical working-class member of one of his great classes in the Potteries way back in the 1920s. These people were real teachers, who enjoyed a light in the eyes of those people whose minds they opened.

The educational system with which we are living today is one that tends to forget the underprivileged about whom the noble Earl has just been speaking, who left school in the old days at the terrible age of 14. If you were lucky in South Wales and were a little bit clever, you could pass a silly little examination called the labour examination. If you got through that at 13 you had the great honour of being allowed to go down the pit. You could work down the pit at 13 years of age if you passed the labour examination. It took years to kill these things.

I heard the noble Earl saying how he knew Greek and Latin at 11 years of age. I did not know it at 11, but I struggled a long time and mastered it later on.

The Earl of Longford

I did not know it well.

Lord Davies of Leek

What hope was there for a little boy of 13, who won the right to wear a collier's belt and go down the pit, of learning these wonderful things and having the joy and the culture in the world? The philistines, even in this debate, are denigrating such things as music being taught in schools. One of the greatest trumpeters in the British Army today came from the village school where I used to teach a WEA class. He first taught his trumpet playing in a little village school on the borders of North Staffordshire, and he is one of the crack trumpeters in the British Army today. That came through schools being allowed to do something besides just the "three R's "—for example, building up the right to get into the spheres of music and playing instruments. It was not a waste of money if local authorities subsidised it.

I enjoyed the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, because he made a crisp analysis of the local authorities and the way in which they marshalled their expenditure as compared with the affluent way in which the Government, despite talking about savings, exceeded their limit of expenditure to a great extent. I do not want to give masses of figures because they blur the trend of a speech. But when local authorities are charging fees for further education or for further technical education, one must remember that that is partly caused by pressure from the Government above. How right the noble Lord was. We should keep exerting pressure in this House for a Select Committee from this House to form a new Education Bill. There is so much know-how here—from the highest academics to people like myself who have roughed it in the field of education and who have received great joy out of it—that I am sure we could produce something worth while for guidance to any Government.

We are moving (and this has been hinted by two speakers) into a second echelon of society where the "haves" and "have-nots" will be added to by the Draconic education cuts that we are facing by the "knows "and "know-nots ". The Educational Journal of the College of Perceptors when talking about adult education made a point which was also noted by the noble Lord, Lord Alexander. It said: Quietly a vast change has been taking place in the field of electronics. In the period of the last 10 years as much progress has been made in the field of electronics as has been made in aviation over the last 80 years. Such dramatic change has, by its very nature, enormous consequences for living, learning, being and teaching". How are we facing that? What are we doing sacking 10,000 people in the local education authorities? According to the HMI report 10,000 teachers have been sacked. How are we facing them? How are we training our teachers?

It was the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, who sits behind me who made a brillant speech on the Finniston Report about engineers and training in skill. Engineers are not Philistines; they are men who understand the beauty and the use of metals. They understand how to turn mathematics into something useful for mankind. But that can only come when the Government are training. What fools we are! We are spending £5,000 billion on a nuclear approach. We want great armaments but we shall have a crowd of people who are unable to fire those instruments because without training they will be so ignorant about the sophisticated machinery of the world in which we live. In fact, silly fools that they are, they do not see that strength in armaments needs an educated crowd willing to use them. I cannot understand it.

Let me return to my first love. The number of local authorities that have reduced the activities of the WEA and who in some cases have stopped all nonvocational training is rather pathetic. If we compare ourselves with little countries on the Continent and even with faraway little countries such as Albania, we find that in the non-vocational world and on the edge of education they are doing better than we are. In 1980–81 the amount included in the support grant for adult education was cut by 25 per cent. Over the next three years that cut will average at about 33 per cent. The Russell Report, which I shall avoid the temptation of quoting—it is all there for an intelligent audience like this one to read—gives a full account of the residential colleges that the WEA uses. Some are now closing down. For example, there is Coleg Harlech. Ruskin, incidentally, is not closing down. But many are now threatened by financial stringencies.

I should like to make one other point. Another way of damaging workers' education classes or adult education classes—many of which are voluntary—is by charging rent for the school buildings. The rents for school buildings in a big authority could be £150,000 a year with lighting, heating and so on. All the efforts to get hold of people who are either above 19 years of age or in the 16- to 19-year old age group and to bring them into the non-vocational workers education association or any other groups will be shattered completely in some cases if education authorities are not willing to let their buildings be used in the way in which they have been used for many, many years.

There is another matter that we ought to get clear in the new education Act. There appears to be no statutory obligation to provide adult education in the 1944 Act. I do not want to go into that because this is an informed audience which knows the arguments. When we get a new Education Act it should be clearly spiked down that there is a responsibility on the part of the Government for maintaining non-vocational adult education as well as the engineering and technical sides of education.

Furthermore, this has been a tragic year for adult education with fees going up by an average of 33 per cent. Enrolments have been 10 to 12 per cent. down. Last year some authorities had to put up fees as much as 68 per cent. Some authorities are doing their best. The County of Staffordshire and the City of Stoke-on-Trent have been very kind to adult education. But, in view of the exigencies and the circumstances, Cheshire, for instance, is apparently thinking of charging rents for the use of its schools. Warwickshire has put forward an interesting experiment which they call the School's Industry Liaison Group for Adult Education. That has been founded by the Warwickshire County Council with a full-time director whose job it is to bring schools and industry together. That is a further avenue of adult education which is in line with the Finniston Report and with the speech which the noble Lord, Lord Scanlon, made some time ago. The importance of adult education is highlighted in a society of two and a half million unemployed: a society facing deep-rooted structural unemployment and changes.

Time is on the wing and therefore I shall not quote masses of areas in Britain that have made closures or reduced their work in adult education of all kinds—some of it religious, of various denominations—apart from the WEA. I shall not quote them or reiterate them because this is known to be a fact.

I wonder how many noble Lords remember Compton Mackenzie's Sinister Street? If they remember Sinister Street they will recall the passage where the author described St. Paul's School and one of the old masters called Elam. Elam was a kind of cantankerous curmudgeon, an usher, an old clergyman with a bad temper, but what a teacher! When he was construing Ovid he had his class before him and sometimes he would fall asleep with his handkerchief over his head. Then he would look at them, and the high master would come in but he would not even move old Elam. At the end he would say, "We have only construed four lines of Ovid. I am paid a shilling an hour; I should have construed 20. But I am not concerned with filling your minds with facts. Any fool can fill your minds with facts, as can any encyclopaedia. I want you to learn to interpret. I want you to have ideas. I want your minds not to be a frozen chamber loaded with frozen facts; I want your minds to be a powerhouse". That is what adult education can do for the under-privileged.

If you have never seen the light in the eyes of a man who has been reading philosophy at 50 years of age, and who has suddenly discovered the phrase from Nietzsche, "God is dead", you have missed something. We spent three weeks in a little class discussing that phrase. Men and women discussed it who could not speak grammatical English, but their minds were powered with ideas. Britain's greatness grew because at one time we were a nation powered with ideas. The party that neglects the root and springs of man's culture by neglecting education deserves the contempt of the nation.

7.1 p.m.

Lord Harris of High Cross

My Lords, it is a particular personal pleasure to follow, for the first time, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek. He always displays such enormous enjoyment in sharing his legendary knowledge with us that we also enjoy listening to him, and I congratulate him on getting better at sticking to our rather informal time limits.

During the course of this wide-ranging debate, we have had many heavy-weight contributions and we all enjoyed the charming and delightful maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Swann. From many speeches, particularly on the Labour side, it is clear that education comes into that category of good things on which too much of other people's money can never be spent; something also where achievement is measured by how much you can manage to spend. The trouble is that this category of good things has now become so large that we should not be surprised that other people's money is now running out. We listened with close attention to the reminiscences of the 1930s by the noble Lord, Lord Kaldor, and we note that he seemed to overlook the fact that at that time active deflation was operating in this economy, as indicated by a severe fall in prices, which is quite a different situation from that which we now have to confront.

There has been much talk about cuts. Yet at the same time, from speaker after speaker, there is no dispute that education has seen a massive increase in real resources over recent decades. Britain now spends as high a proportion or a higher proportion of national income on education than France, Germany, America and many other countries, and we do not seem to get such good value for our money. I shall confine my remarks to higher education, of which I have some experience as a pupil at Cambridge, some experience as a teacher at St. Andrew's University, and managerial experience in a kind of way as a council member of the new University College at Buckingham. I cannot obtain comparable figures, but if we go back to pre-war years we find that central Government grants to universities amounted to £2 million or £3 million. If we take any figure today for spending on higher education of all kinds by central and local government, the order of magnitude is about £2,000 million.

My experience, both as a teacher and as a pupil at university, has left me in no doubt at all that the natural tendency for staff to divert free resources to their own comforts and convenience applies to academics as it applies to others who are shielded from the real world of market pressures. I salute the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, for his forthright testimony on his own experiences at Brunel and elsewhere. Therefore, unlike many noble Lords, I have little, indeed really no, sympathy with the vice-chancellors. They seem to have woken up rather late in the day to the fact that there is no such thing as free port. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, who reminded us that the Labour Government of 1969, with Mrs. Shirley Williams as Minister of State, circulated a list of 13 points to vice-chancellors suggesting ways that they could get us better value for money. I have the list in my hand. There has been zero progress on 12 of those points. The one point on which there has been progress has been on the vexed issue of foreign students having to pay more, or the whole, of their costs.

In the same year, 1969, by remarkable coincidence there was published a declaration on The Urgency of an Independent University, which was signed by 50 leading scholars, including, I am glad to say again, the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey. Their prescient argument in 1969 was that increasing dependence upon Government funds would necessarily involve increasing control by Government, including cut-backs in times of stringency. It was from that declaration in 1969 that an initiative developed to establish an independent university, and that initiative was brought to fruition by the generous gift of £1 million by a Member of your Lordships' House. I should like to paypublic tribute on this occasion to the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, whose generosity made possible the opening of University College at Buckingham in 1976. Five years later I can report that the student body at Buckingham has grown from 65 to over 400, with five applicants for every available place. After the inevitable deficits in the earlier years, it is now covering all its operating costs from its fee income.

It is my belief that state universities have large lessons which they could learn from this pioneering example—the only example in the country—of a private university. I hope that your Lordships will allow me, briefly, to try to illustrate this claim. The starting point is that students have to pay and, therefore, the faculty have a powerful inducement to keep down expenses. It is interesting that they do not enjoy the luxury of life tenure. A result of these pressures is that our costs per student are about two-thirds the costs per student for the most comparable of the state universities. To turn to capital investment, we have to look to private benefactors, who are not always such a soft touch as Ministers doing good with other people's money, and we find, from analysis, that the capital cost of a student place at Buckingham is about £6,000 at present-day values, compared with about £20,000—which is more than three times as much—in the post-Robbins state universities.

A major source of this increased efficiency is the innovation at Buckingham of a two-year first degree course, based upon more intensive use of facilities during a four term-year, which does not run its leisurely course, as at Oxford and elsewhere, from October until June, but which starts in January and plods its way through to December. Buckingham may not be for everyone, but it has proved to be especially attractive to more mature students in their early twenties, who often know better than school-leavers what they really want from the university, who are more strongly motivated, and who have often had time in paid employment to save some money towards their fees. I should tell your Lordships that payment is made easier by selective bursaries and also by a loan scheme arranged with Barclays Bank.

The noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, will approve when I say—and I make no apology for saying it—that the courses at Buckingham are unashamedly tailored to the market place. They conform to the ideal set out in Lord Robbins's book last year, Higher Education Revisited, as the ideal for most students—not all, but for most—of a broader range of disciplines. Students at Buckingham are required to offer a language; they are required to undergo some training in mathematical and scientific method, whether their main subject is taken from the Schools of law, economics, politics, history, accounting and financial management, or biology and society.

There is now at Buckingham, interestingly enough, a proposal to develop into engineering—to develop into engineering not by recreating a completely new set of facilities but by renting under-used laboratories elsewhere. Here is an example that would be a model for other universities if vice-chancellors had not been brought up to imagine that scarce resources could be treated as though they were in free supply. I would only add that a Buckingham degree is externally examined to the standards prevailing elsewhere. It has been accepted by the professional bodies in law and in accountancy as well as by leading universities, including even Oxford and Cambridge, in satisfaction of the requirement for postgraduate studies.

In conclusion I want to say this: I shed no tears for the vice-chancellors. Instead of their begging or demanding more cash, let them go back to Mrs. Williams's 13 points of 1969. Let them turn their face towards the market place. In the light of the example of Buckingham, why do they not propose the early introduction of a loan scheme, as in almost every other country in the developed world? In return for charging students, let them offer the option of an intensive two-year degree course. It seems to me that among the many economic advantages, the graduates would then have an extra year or two of paid employment in order to recoup the financial benefit of higher education and to start repaying the capital invested in their increased earning capacity.

7.12 p.m.

Lord Segal

My Lords, may I too add my congratulations to those already offered to the noble Lord, Lord Swann, on his maiden speech. He brings to your Lordships' House a wealth of experience that is unique, first, as principal of Edinburgh University; then as head of the BBC; and now as Provost of the one surviving all-male college in Oxford, for however long a period it may yet hold that distinction. He will always have a special contribution to make to this House, and one that will always be welcomed.

I intend to confine my remarks in this debate to the very narrow field of education, and especially to the availability of education, and to deal with the London medical schools. It is nevertheless a subject that is of crucial importance, and I need make no apology for referring to it in this debate. What a bitter irony it is that this Government should go down in history as the Government that saved the grammar schools and sacrificed the medical schools. In other words, secondary schools that we have inherited from the past must be saved, while some of those great institutions that train our doctors to safeguard the health and the very lives of our people must be closed for ever.

Our London medical schools have an even greater tradition than our grammar schools. They evoke fierce loyalties not only on the rugby field but also loyalties that carry with them standards of excellence in the fields of medical science and research that remain with their graduates right through the whole of their professional careers. They stimulate individuality and competition, and cannot be dismissed as negligible. It is a proud inheritance for a doctor or a surgeon to call himself a Westminster or a St. Mary's man. The fame of these schools has spread not only to the boundaries of Greater London but over the whole of the country and even the world beyond. To destroy any of them now would be an act of wanton vandalism for which this Government would never be forgiven.

We do not blame the noble Lord, Lord Annan, who has had a thankless task to pursue in his closing months of office. Nor do we blame the University of London, which has been forced into this problem and which has fought gallantly against appalling difficulties to carry out the Government's demands. Nor do we blame the other universities which have been subjected to these iniquitous pressures with all the confusion and the time-wasting procedures that they have caused.

We blame this Government fairly and squarely for their mistaken sense of values. Now that they have come to the rescue of British Steel and British Leyland to the extent of hundreds of millions of pounds—some of it, in the case of British Leyland, doubtfully spent in the face of Japanese erosion—surely they can come to the aid of our universities to the extent of a few paltry millions of pounds which would make all the difference to the efforts of the UGC. That is just chicken-feed compared to the amounts we are now spending to aid ailing British industry, but it is a valuable investment for the future.

At present we are in danger of eating up the seed corn on which our future technology will depend, as well as risking the future health of the nation. A mere £3 million, it is claimed, will be saved if Westminster School is destroyed—and even that saving is very doubtful. It is so easy to destroy overnight, and bitterly to regret it the next day when the replacement is found to be unwieldy, cumbersome and ineffective. The transport registration centre at Swansea is a glaring example familiar to us all. This Government were far wiser to grant a reprieve to the Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Hospital just in time.

There is still time to prevent the destruction of some of our most cherished medical schools if only the Government will act now. It is certain that if some of these smaller medical schools are closed and fused into much larger amalgams of huge, impersonal medical schools, the patients are bound to suffer. Future doctors will be condemned to large, crowded ward-rounds, with the close, intimate contact of student with consultant certain to be gravely impaired. Even the personal contact of student with patient can be of enormous value and help to raise the patient's morale and assist in his recovery. For the embryo doctor, this can play a most important part in his future career. This clinical sixth sense can flower to its fullest extent far more easily in a small teaching hospital.

If we do away with some of our smaller London medical schools now we are in danger of losing a part of our great British medical heritage, and, as so often seen on the Continent, treating a patient merely as a case, as a clinical subject instead of as a human being. That is where our smaller hospitals have succeeded so notably in the past and inspired a warm loyalty which is so often found lacking in a huge, faceless institution of more than 1,000 beds. Let the Government now in their wisdom grant a reprieve or at least a moratorium, to our universities, and when brighter times loom ahead, allow them then to grow and to prosper. But above all let them grant a reprieve to that small, specialised field where the Department of Education merges with the Department of Health, so that they can both work together in a common cause and leave our medical schools intact.

7.19 p.m.

Lord Annan

My Lords, I really must apologise to your Lordships for not being in my place during most of this debate. I heard my old friend Lady David from Cambridge days, to whom I am very grateful indeed for initiating this debate, but I had to attend a statutory meeting of the Court of the University of London. The Court is the supreme financial body of the university, and, as you can imagine, we had rather a lot to discuss.

We were, of course, discussing how the university is to cope with the two cuts which the Government have imposed on the universities. The first is the volume cut which is now to rise to 8½ per cent. by 1983–84, and the second is the cut imposed by the overseas student fees policy. London University is the worst hit of all. We shall lose £16½ million by the volume cut, if the UGC applies it without mitigation, and we shall lose £22½ million if we continue to get as many overseas students as we got this year, and all the signs are that we shall not. The example of Malaysia, in refusing to send students here, will I think be followed by others. So we shall lose in three years, if we include Imperial College, about £40 million, or 20 per cent. of our income.

The universities have been reducing their costs for years, and I would break a small lance with the noble Lord, Lord Harris of High Cross, in that I do not think it is quite fair to compare the unit costs of the University College of Buckingham with those of universities, in that the universities have large scientific and engineering departments and, as the noble Lord, Lord Segal, reminded us, many medical schools, and that renders comparisons of that kind not of great value. However, I do not want, on the other hand, to neglect the point he made, namely, that the University College of Buckingham has certainly learned to live economically and can teach the universities lessons. That I accept. I accept also that the universities were very slow to take up any of the 13 points which Mrs. Williams made when she was Minister of State, and that is a matter I have often referred to in your Lordships' House.

At the same time, it is not true that we have ignored them all. Since 1974, the universities have lost each year 1 per cent. of their income and have increased the number of their students. I wonder how many other parts of the public sector can match that record of productivity. Such a reduction, of 1 per cent. a year, was containable. But you cannot contain a 20 per cent. loss in three years. And even suppose our prayers are heard by the UGC and we lose only 15 per cent., in London I do not think that that is containable either. I know well that universities are now expected to make staff redundant and I know well, too, that redundancies are occurring in industry and that the sector of higher education cannot expect to be exempt from the cuts which the Government are making. But I put it to the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that the Government may have to introduce legislation if they insist on making academic staff redundant at this pace.

It is true that the Government have recognised that redundancy is inevitable and have allocated £20 million for that purpose. But that sum is totally inadequate, because the contracts on which academic staff are employed are quite different from the terms of employment in industry or the Civil Service. Has the department calculated what the dismissal of a professor in his fifties or a lecturer in his thirties with security of tenure to the age of 65, will cost, and what it will cost for other grades of staff who will be made redundant too? We all know that vast sums of money are being given to the nationalised industries, not to increase their productivity but to finance redundancy payments. The Government may find that retrospective legislation will be required to vary the existing terms of contract, because some of the universities will be unable to meet these costs, which will be far higher than normal redundancy payments.

I do not want this evening to spend my time rehearsing the woes of the University of London. They are so serious that the Secretary of State has kindly agreed to see me, and with him will be Dr. Vaughan, Minister of State at the Department of Health and Social Security. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, that I greatly appreciate the willingness of the Secretary of State and the Minister to see me. I know that applicants with begging bowls are not the most welcome of visitors and are often open to contempt, but I asked for this meeting because unless we can get help on this question of the postgraduate medical schools, there will be many fewer senior staff left at Hammersmith Hospital in three years' time, and there are patients at that hospital.

Unlike the general medical schools, the teaching and care of patients at Hammersmith under the Royal Postgraduate Medical School is mainly done by the professors, readers and senior lecturers. Similarly, the institutes at the specialist hospitals—for instance, child health at Great Ormond Street, neurology, ophthalmology and cardio-thoracic—teach our newly qualified doctors their specialisms. Owing to the kind of arithmetic that was done about the students, so-called, from overseas who attended these institutes, but who really are the equivalent of post-doctorals in any ordinary scientific department, these places will soon be unrecognisable.

Staff are already being made redundant, and perhaps the worst hit of all is the London School of Hygiene, which is our showpiece in international organisations, such as the World Health Organisation, which are concerned with preventive medicine. It would be discourteous to the Secretary of State if I began to rehearse my case this evening, or indeed the case of the School of Oriental and African Studies or the School of Slavonic and East European studies, in which the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and industry and business have a very lively interest because those schools perform many services for them.

I have over the last 10 years from time to time predicated in your Lordships' House that the expansion of higher education which followed the Robbins Report was more than this country could afford. That report envisaged a steady growth rate of 4 per cent. in 1963. The noble Lord, Lord Robbins, has himself told me that that was the assumption on which the committee was permitted to work; but we never achieved that growth. Yet in addition to the new universities created betwen 1960 and 1965, the Department of Education and Science founded 32 polytechnics, upgraded the technical colleges and teacher training colleges into colleges of further education and founded the Open University.

I will not give my version of this folly in advancing like a general conducting an offensive on all fronts simultaneously, except to observe that civil servants may lose a battle but they never lose the war. That exceptionally able and gifted and public-spirited official, Sir Toby Weaver, who was then in charge of higher education at the DES, saw his beloved colleges of advanced technology transformed by a wave of Lord Robbins's wand from toads into Prince Charming universities, and he planned a counter-offensive.

I have some sympathy for Sir Toby. The decision to implement the Robbins Report without the customary year of public discussion was one of Mr. Macmillan's characteristic gestures. But then, of course, a general election was imminent. No doubt it was ill-advised to accept the report without such discussion, because I think the Robbins Report was wrong in recommending that the university sector should get larger and larger and the public sector smaller and smaller over the years. The noble Lord, Lord Boyle, has told me that had the Conservatives been returned in 1964, they, too, would have insisted on retaining public control over a large part of higher education. But that error gave Sir Toby his chance. He declared that universities were delightfully elegant ivory towers, but that if we wanted real factories for stoking the technological revolution to white heat, then we would get them only by vastly enlarging the public sector. And that argument fatally convinced Mr. Tony Crosland.

And so, the expansion of all forms of higher education began to roll. The UGC—despite criticisms voiced a moment ago—in the end proved to be a real brake on university expenditure. But the dyarchy in the public sector of the Department of Education and Science and the local authorities proved to my mind ineffective as a brake. The polytechnics were allowed to become "artytechnics ", and the increase in the number of overseas students, which has led to our present woes, was not so much in the universities as in the polytechnics, where over 60 per cent. of the students following some courses were from overseas.

I shall never say a word against the Open University. It was an imaginative and brilliant concept, which lives when it could so easily have been stifled at first birth.

But if one sanctioned expenditure upon that project, one ought to have cut down on adult education and extra mural courses. One should not leave out of one's sums the adult education which radio and television provide. Nor should one have permitted staffing ratios in the public sector to be far below those in the universities.

We must not deceive ourselves. We are coming to the end of an era—a wonderful era—during which, with the exception of some two dozen North American universities, our universities were the best in the world. And I ask myself whether our universities are going to suffer the fate that has befallen the universities of Europe.

Consider Europe, my Lords. France puts its faith in the grandes écoles. Its universities are second-class places, which expect a third of their students to drop out at the end of their first year, and where the standard of instruction relates solely to lectures. The Italian universities are in ruins through grotesque overcrowding and under-staffing. In Holland student and staff participation has been carried to a point where able staff can no longer endure the interminable discussion, and seek employment abroad or in institutes. The standards of Swedish universities have fallen catastrophically through false egalitarianism and open entry. In Belgium the culture war between Dutch and French speakers has literally divided universities—they have been chopped in half—and made instruction a nightmare. West Germany has followed the pattern of France. There are 46 Max Planck institutes, which are the élite places for learning and research. The universities have been downgraded by the twofold plague of student representation and direct political intervention by the Landtagen in the appointment of academic staff and the allocation of funds.

Britain is the only country where student unrest has made no impression on the curriculum, on student entry, or on the management of universities. Indeed such unrest as there has been has really been minimal by European standards. We have kept false egalitarianism at bay. We are free—and I know that both sides of this House are proud of this—of direct political intervention.

Consider another thing, my Lords. Why was it that seven years ago one of the most remarkable men in academic and public life in this country, Professor Ralf Dahrendorf, accepted the post of director of the London School of Economics—a post perhaps not entirely totally free from flak? I cannot conjecture how many posts he had then been offered in Europe and America, or how many he has since been offered. But he chose to come here, because he thought our universities were the most civilised in the world in their treatment of foreign students, in their own stability and good manners, and above all, in their intellectual attainments. Civilised standards are one of the things that British universities ought to, and do, inculcate—regard for truth, regard for evidence, regard for freedom and civility. Ralf Dahrendorf is a saddened man today, for now our universities will be unable to recruit the coming generation of our most promising scientists and scholars. That will hit hardest the expensive disciplines—medicine, engineering and science; the ones that our country can least do without.

The universities are now going to change. I do not know whether the University Grants Committee will follow our example in London and be prepared at any rate to contemplate merging institutions. But, if not, the universities will sicken from malnutrition. In London we are quite shameless of the fact that we have élite institutions which receive preferential treatment, though I think that those places will have to be treated much less preferentially in the future. I also think it is certain that we shall have to evacuate some sites. I also guess that some peripheral activities will have to be closed down in their entirety.

I personally have faith in the University Grants Committee, and I do not advocate, as others are doing, that the Government should set up what is known as a "Snibbor" inquiry; that is to say, a Robbins inquiry in reverse. But I wonder whether the Government would look benignly on this idea. Let us suppose that a foundation offered to invite four distinguished men—one or two of them perhaps from abroad—to finance an inquiry which surveyed the pattern of higher education in this country on financial or demographic assumptions which seemed sensible to the Department of Education and Science, and that at the end of the inquiry new patterns of higher education would be proposed. Would the Government put at their disposal the administrative back-up which a full-scale departmental committee would be given? I ask that question because I am bound to say that the pitcher which held the water of knowledge since the post-war years is now broken, and in the next few years we must discover in what shape the potter should fashion it for the rest of this century.

7.39 p.m.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady David, merits the thanks of the House for enabling us to debate a most important topic, especially so soon after the Budget. I should like briefly to add my own name to those who would congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Swann, on his splendid maiden speech, which was characteristic of a person who has given many years of service to academic life in all its spheres. Among all the academics—I use that word very broadly—who have taken part in the debate I must confess that I did not go to a university, but did my national service instead. However, one of my children—perhaps many of your Lordships have this in common with me—is a teacher, and has been for three years, at a comprehensive school in Nottingham. I have visited the school, and while, in ideal times, much needs to be done to it structurally and in other ways, it is a school of some 700 to 800 children and seems to function quite reasonably well. But we are not debating today the general consensus of education, although I believe this is a subject which is always admirably debated in your Lordships' House—and it is vitally important that this should be the case.

In general, education, like any other organisation, must in times of financial constraint bear its share of cuts. I think the main problem we all face here, just as when a heart transplant or brain surgery takes place, is where the incision has to be made and how carefully it is made, because if it is made wrongly or carelessly enormous damage can be done. It is a significant point that this year, according to the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science, £8 billion, I think it is, is being spent on education over the board. This figure was given in Hansard dated 5th March, and I think I have it correctly there.

I should like to turn to one specific subject which has been touched on today, and that is the subject of music in schools. I happen to be particularly partial to music, especially when performed by youngsters; and, of course, it is the musicians who start their training in the schools who frequently go to the Royal Academy of Music, who then join our orchestras, amateur and professional, and who then travel overseas and earn currency for this country. I do not think that is putting too fine a point on the matter. In the last decade or so, in particular, the number of school orchestras has grown; and instruments like the flute, the oboe, the French horn and the trumpet are now very much on the curriculum, to the extent that the violin and the piano were some 30 or 40 years ago, perhaps, when the more complicated instruments were taught to a greater extent.

I believe that the discussion regarding Hereford County Council is at present to some extent sub judice, but, in general, I think there is a case for asking for parental contributions towards instruction in music. I do not think that is unreasonable; but I wonder whether my noble friend or the department has considered how the purchase of instruments can be managed in areas where there is not much wealth and where the schools suffer from lack of finance. There could be some grant available for the purchase of instruments, even if it is done in the form of a loan. These are expensive items to purchase, and the net result of their being purchased can I think be beneficial to the school. Of course, this does not mean that parent-teacher associations, fetes and other methods of raising revenue for the school could not also be used, so that there is a reasonable supply of musical instruments for such schools to use. I think that is a point which should be considered at a time when music in our schools is becoming more and more a part of the curriculum—and I think it is right that it should.

Of course, whatever kind of financial state the country is in, it is the teachers and the quality of the teachers to whom we look. Again, figures quoted by the Minister reveal that in October last year teacher unemployment was 14 per cent. as opposed to 22 per cent. four years earlier. I am not saying that 14 per cent. is not still an unacceptably high figure, and from experience I know from friends of my own family, young friends who have tried to get a teaching post, that there is the frustration of going from education authority to education authority to try to obtain a post at a time when, of course, cuts—inevitable cuts in some cases—prove a handicap.

Finally, one word about overseas students. I recently talked in a house in South-East London to a number of overseas students about our parliamentary way of life. I was invited by the principal to do so, and I spent a lot of time answering questions. Many of these students are studying things like medicine and what I would call the practical subjects; that is, subjects in which manufacturing is very much the order of the day as opposed to the social sciences—and I have no wish to run down the social sciences. I wonder whether my noble friend can say that when these overseas students come over here there is any consulta- tion or link with the high commissions or embassies of the countries concerned, particularly as to whether any of the students need help or whether there are problems which arise, because it seems to me that this is something which could help considerably. There is no doubt that there is room in faculties such as medicine for students from overseas, but, of course, this must not be provided at a cost to our own native population, particularly at times when cuts are needed.

We must all look forward to the time when we can devote more expenditure to education, and particularly to the training of our teachers. We hear adverse reports of our teachers in this country from time to time, but my experience has been that in the main they serve our country well, and as a nation we should stand by our teachers to the greatest possible extent.

7.50 p.m.

Lord Flowers

My Lords, I should like to apologise to the House, and particularly to the noble Baroness who opened the debate, for having been unavoidably absent during her speech and most of the Minister's speech. I should like also to welcome an old friend the noble Lord, Lord Swann, and to congratulate him warmly on his delightful maiden speech. In order to avoid repeating what has already been said, at this late hour I propose to confine myself to the subject of engineering education in the universities and the additional difficulties which we now face in that respect as a result of Government policy. I do not intend to indulge in special pleading. I accept that in the present economic recession the universities must bear their fair share of the misery; but surely the education and training of scientists and engineers who eventually will take their place in industry and commerce is an essential part of the recovery that we all hope for. It is no less than capital investment for recovery and, by whatever means, we must not fail to make that investment.

I well remember the debate in this House last year following the publication of the Finniston Report. We all agreed that there was an urgent need to develop the formation (as Sir Monty Finniston called it) of engineers, to make them more professional and more adapted to the needs of industry. Since then there has been the National Conference on Engineering Education and Training which delved more deeply into this particular aspect of the problem. Its report has just appeared, and in his preface to it the Secretary of State for Education and Science said: The future should reflect at an early date the 'engine for change' at work in the education and training of our existing stock of engineers and our input to this vital ingredient of future success as a leading industrial nation". Those words are much appreciated, but I would ask the Minister to tell us what practical steps the Secretary of State proposes to take to put them into effect.

One of the key recommendations of the national conference is that there should be new four-year engineering courses leading to a Bachelor of Engineering degree and restricted to students judged to have the academic ability and personal qualities including motivation towards and commitment to engineering". Several universities, including my own, have been developing such courses over the last few years in an experimental fashion. They are courses of quality, demanded not only of the students but of the academic staff and of the industrial firms who sponsor the students, contribute to the teaching and who work closely with us. We now are ready to expand our efforts in answer to the call of Finniston and of the national conference, but the University Grants Committee is in no position, I imagine, to earmark special funds for the purpose, so we may have to provide for this vital ingredient out of our existing resources or whatever remains of them when the latest cuts have been imposed. If we cannot have earmarked assistance, it means that we have to improve our productivity by producing better-prepared students with fewer staff.

That may be no had thing, but I hope your Lordships will not lose patience if I examine this proposition. It may be misleading to apply national figures to a single institution, but it is the best that I can do, because the individual universities do not know their budgets beyond the end of the month. For the sake of illustration, I shall apply the White Paper figures to my own institution, Imperial College, in the full knowledge that there are many other institutions in broadly similar or worse situations—and, not least, as the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has said, some of the post-graduate institutions of the University of London. What I find is that over the three years for which expenditure plans have now been published, the indicated volume cuts would result in a reduction in the college's grant income of £2.1 million per annum by 1984.

I have conservatively to add to this an estimated loss of income by 1984 of £2.5 million per annum owing to the falling number of students from abroad. Overseas intake to the college was reduced by 35 per cent. last October compared with the figures for the previous year. Following the Government's high fees policy, about which so much has thankfully been said today, there will be further losses next October. Thus, there will be a loss of income of over £4.6 million per annum by 1984, to be compared with our current grant-plus-fee income of about £30 million; that is to say, a fall of about 15 per cent.—and that is a conservative estimate.

Where are these reductions to come from? About 70 per cent. of our expenditure is on salaries and wages, so it can be assumed that at least 70 per cent. of £4.6 million (namely, £3.2 million) must come from a reduction in staff. For someone over the age of 50, it is our experience that voluntary premature retirement costs us on average one year's salary. An extra sum of about £3 million spread over three years is therefore required if we are to shed staff at the rate implied by the White Paper. This supposes, as I have said, that the retirements are voluntary. If we have actually to dismiss staff, especially academic staff who have tenure, the cost could be very much greater.

We have been encouraging premature retirement in recent years, paying for it out of our uncommitted reserves. We do have modest reserves but they do no more than cover endowments we have received for specific purposes, provide for essential plant renewal and around 3 per cent. of turnover for working capital. This is not very much for an institution that among other things carries out £10 million-worth of research under grants and contracts every year. We should be stretched to find £1 million of the £3 million required for voluntary retirement alone. I am sure that much the same could be said elsewhere at other universities. I am forced to conclude that it is simply not possible to meet the Government's expenditure profile if it is to apply to Imperial College pro rata unless there is created a national redundancy scheme backed by adequate Government funds from which we alone should have to draw about £2 million even on a voluntary basis. It would be several times that in practice because, on the scale contemplated nationally, there would have to be compulsory retirements with breach of contract.

Last Friday, the Secretary of State announced in another place that he had set aside £20 million which the University Grants Committee would "allocate specifically for the purpose of adapting the university system to the reduced level of funding ". May I ask the Minister whether this is the beginning of a national redundancy scheme for the universities? Is the £20 million extra money? Is it for the first year only? If so, it may suffice for the first year but it will have to be repeated at a higher level in later years. My analysis is confirmed by the chairman of the UGC speaking yesterday to the Public Expenditure Committee. As the noble Earl, Lord Longford, has said, nationally, 3,000 university teachers will have to be dismissed, at a cost of between £100 million and £200 million, together with about 4,000 other staff; and I suspect that that is a conservative estimate. I hope that the Minister will help to clarify the status of this £20 million in these circumstances. So this is the climate in which we have to consider the development of engineering education—this "vital ingredient ". It is a climate that is all too likely to breed mediocrity instead of the excellence that is sought because the universities have a morale problem too. Of course, it is possible—some may think it likely—that Imperial College will not be hit so hard. Speaking in the college recently, the Secretary of State said that he did not believe that Government policies were intended to hit a leading institution of science and technology. I hope he is right. The White Paper says something similar, but if some of us are to be protected on the grounds of excellence and national need, it follows that others will have to suffer more. If there is positive discrimination but no extra money, it has to be balanced by negative discrimination somewhere else.

To be sure, there are persons of distinction and achievement throughout our universities and also in the polytechnics, but they tend mostly to congregate in rather few places—whether one speaks of staff or of students, of teaching or research because excellence attracts excellence. If we are to preserve excellence, discrimination is now unavoidable between institutions as well as between individuals. In the climate created by the Expenditure White Paper, that discrimination may have to be so severe as to call into question the existence of whole institutions. The alternative would be a steady slide into mediocrity for all. It is for the Government to decide what size and kind of university system the nation can afford. Our system is not large by international standards—as the noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, has said—and its average quality is high. Nor can it be truly said that in terms of higher education our society is too egalitarian. Therefore, I find it difficult, to put it as mildly as I can, to accept what is happening. I think the time has come when the Government should make their real intention known so that we can plan accordingly. Is it the pursuit of excellence through the concentration of resources or of mediocrity all round? This is not a judgment they can fob off on to the long-suffering University Grants Committee. As the noble Lord, Lord Annan, has suggested, it may require an Act of Parliament to provide the mechanisms—and I beg leave to doubt whether such an Act would be passed.

Whichever route they advocate, I hope they will also bear in mind that the proposed cuts—if they do persist with them—imply a rundown in staff which cannot be brought about without very much more help than they have indicated so far. I am sure they recognise the problem; they first met it with British Leyland. I have been speaking mostly of practical things within my own bailiwick because I wanted to convince your Lordships of the impracticability of what has been proposed. But there are intangible things, also. Universities of quality are among the principal symbols, characteristics and instruments of a free and civilised society. Therefore, it is not surprising that those who care for individual freedom and for civilisation should also care for the universities and for the preservation of excellence throughout the educational service. It is so much harder to achieve excellence than to lose it—so much easier to lose one's freedom than to gain it. No doubt the Government will say it is all an unfortunate economic necessity. Well, if contraction is inevitable let us be careful how we conduct it; there are greater things at stake than mere necessity.

Before I sit down, may I seek your indulgence to add a brief and very personal word? Since I entered this House I have had the honour of being among the Cross-Benchers. I am deeply conscious of the courtesy they have always extended to me for I am by temperament an independent. Indeed, I have been speaking quite independently today. It is only the growing polarisation of our society as it seems to me that has persuaded me with great reluctance that my independence is a small thing to sacrifice. My lot is now with the social democrats, and I shall do my best with them and with the Liberals to work for a less divisive society.

8.5 p.m.

Lord Ritchie-Calder

My Lords, it is extremely difficult to follow in this debate, because of the distinction of the speeches. I believe this is a climacteric debate and that what we are talking about at this moment is going to be a point of departure in the history of our whole education system. It is extremely difficult even to attempt to equate with the speeches which have been made here. I must say how much I welcome the maiden speech by my ex-vice-chancellor the noble Lord, Lord Swann. It was a charming speech which had wit, humour and substance, and, as we always say, we hope to hear from the noble Lord again. In fact, I can promise that you will.

The level and the content of the speeches, and their context, has been quite remarkable and I only hope that it is not a dialogue of the deaf. I want to make certain points, but I will be very brief because I feel inadequate in the circumstances. I do want to put in a word for the Open University. We heard the noble Lord, Lord Annan, say that he would not say a word against the Open University, and I hope nobody will. At the same time we must recognise that this is again one of the touchstone cases of the kind we are having to deal with tonight. The Open University—I must declare my interest, because I am on its general council—is recognised throughout the world as the most conspicuous and successful educational experiment since the war. It is important to record that it was called the Open University because it was supposed to be within the means of everyone, and accessible to everyone. It developed distant-learning techniques using, adroitly and very superbly, advances in communication and reaching out even to solitary students in remote places such as Foula or Ultima Thule. It was the University of the Second Chance for those who, either for economic reasons or through bad teaching, had their formal education curtailed and, in maturity, realised what they had missed. It was intended to open windows for those who wanted to broaden their knowledge and to open doors for those who wanted career qualifications. In those early days, none of us regarded it as a degree factory.

Over the past 10 years it has given people the innate resources to cope with the problems of what I call nonwork—such as retirement, or shorter working hours, longer holidays or enforced unemployment—which is inherent in the technological changes of modern society. Those technological changes themselves require the depth and diversity of insights and expertise which will enable people to adapt their careers to the new requirements. I would say, without any doubt, that people in the next 25 years will have to change their careers—not just their jobs—three, four or five times. We have to provide them with the depth and diversity of insights which would enable them to meet new requirements and grasp new opportunities.

As I have said before in this House, the radio mechanic who had to solder birdcage circuits is now the electronic engineer. In the days of micro-chips the electronic engineer has to be a solid-state physicist, knowing the "know why" as well as the "know how ". The Open University has been successful beyond all the expectations of those of us who were on the original planning committee. The Open University is now embarrassed in these days of stringency by its genuine success. The increase in fees which have been imposed on us by the Government is prohibitive for those who would benefit most. The essential summer schools, for which the enlightened local authorities provided student grants, are being impaired by the restrictions on local authority expenditure. On both counts, the opportunities or possibilities for the less well-off are now being restricted. I assure the House that the demand is still there. At this date the Open University has had 9,000 more inquiries than a year ago—that is 75,300 against 66,000. But it has had the same number of applicants. This is important. People are inquiring, but they are not applying; that is, they are withdrawing before they take up their options. The question we must all ask ourselves—particularly the Open University—is this: How far is that due to the fact that the fees have gone up? There is also a continuing worry, even if we retain the appli- cations at the same level: Are the people we are getting at the higher fees affecting the social make up of our applicants? Are we deterring people who have low incomes and who are the people at one end of the scale that we are concerned about? The application rates by region show lower figures from areas of high unemployment. That is true of Yorkshire, North Wales and Northern Ireland. Curiously enough, Scotland still keeps on.

If I may put this point to the Minister for his sympathetic consideration: In the days of unemployment people with compulsory leisure should be turning more and more to the facilities that we are offering, but they cannot afford them. That is all I am going to say about the Open University because I think that the university and certainly our students speak for themselves.

The point I want to make arises out of a very impressive speech—as always—by an earlier speaker (I am not allowed to call him "my noble friend "), my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Alexander. He referred to the fact that we need a new education Act. We desperately need a new education Act, not just to take care of all the loose ends that we are talking about, but we have to find something now in the spirit of the 1944 Act which will somehow reflect and cope with the changing circumstances of our time. This is not just the economic changing circumstances, although this may be something which will dictate it.

I should like to draw attention to the manifesto which appeared in The Times Educational Supplement a few weeks ago. My noble friend Lady David referred to this. It is signed by 34 people—many of great distinction—including the noble Lord, Lord Butler of Saffron Walden; Sir Frederick Dainton, the President of the British Association for the Advancement of Science and many people distinguished in religion, politics, journalism, the arts and education. It is a manifesto for change. If I may say so to the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, it is in a way the first shot to be fired in this essential demand for a new Act.

I was one of the signatories, and what we are talking about is the attempt to recognise the changing circumstances which demand must necessarily dictate. We want the kind of educational system which will meet needs—not just the national economic needs but the need for values, global awareness, as we call it, the essence of communications, and of course, a fact which is of concern to all of us, the needs of the 16- to 19-year olds which the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, pointed out we are neglecting now.

We are not just talking about the delinquents; we are not talking about the drop-outs. We are talking about the people who in the whole structure and nature of our society must now get to grips with the changes which are happening today. These are not just the things we see, regret and agonise over: the decline of what we have been calling the values. But in fact if to a 15- or 16-year old going to school is like reporting to a probation officer—a kind of semi-punishment—then we shall not achieve anything with that generation. What we have to do, and will do, is bring in a new education Act, as the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, has said. That will take into account the nature of change. The nature of change is not simple; it is very complex. It makes us recognise that what has happened and evolved in our society now demands that we meet the essence of change in our educational system.

People criticise television. They say that children are hooked on television and are being influenced. I do not mean educational television. The whole social impact of television is one of the greatest opportunities we have ever had, because in the terms the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, was discussing, television is bringing culture to people who could never have access to culture before. We begin to change people's appreciations and the nature of their appreciations. In a way, we can use television education, in co-operation with television entertainment, very effectively and achieve great possibilities.

Many years ago, when I was vice-president of the Workers' Educational Association—I think I was brought in as vice-president because I was supposed to know something about science and to develop classes in science—the great complaint at that time in the WEA was that people regarded science as something that should be learned at technical night school. It was not something for the WEA. I said then: "What are the preferred options at the moment? "And was told that it was archaeology. They said that they could not explain it but that suddenly there had been this great demand for archaeology. The answer was quite simple: it was the television programme "Animal, Vegetable or Mineral ", which had got everybody interested in things they had not been interested in before.

We started from that point and I think we did rather well in getting an interest in science. In the same way, in the whole of our approach to education we have to come to terms with the new social environment, not just with the stark necessities we have been reminded about all the time. There is more meaningfulness in life and in education than in what we have been talking about in the way of economies and so on. But if we miss this opportunity, I swear to you—and I think everybody here recognises it—we are going to have a culturally bankrupt generation which in fact will be the end of the greatness which was once Britain's.

8.22 p.m.

Lord Perry of Walton

My Lords, I will keep your Lordships only a moment or two but I should like to make two points. The noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, has said all that I might have said about fees for the Open University, except one thing. He said that the number of applications had held up remarkably well over the last two or three years; and it has. But that crude statistic hides a remarkable number of subtle differences because among the applicants there has been a dramatic fall in those who come from the North-East, from Wales and from Scotland, whereas there has been an increase in those coming from the South-East. Secondly, there has been a fall in those coming from the deprived classes and an increase in those coming from the middle classes; so a crude statistic of that sort is not the whole story. That is all I want to say about my first point.

My second point is quite different. We have debated the effects of cuts on the educational situation in the country. I do not question, any more than other speakers, the need for such cuts; but we have heard from a number of noble Lords about some of the very delicate incisions they themselves advocate. My old friend the noble Lord, Lord Swann, would excise the plethora of committees in the universities and the noble Lord, Lord James, sees many areas for economy. And so, my Lords, do I. There are indeed tumours in the educational system that really ought to be excised but they ought to be excised carefully and with a sharp scalpel, as was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Auckland.

What this Government are doing is not cutting carefully with a scalpel but battering education with a bludgeon, and I would maintain that they have shown almost no leadership whatsoever in suggesting selectivity of cuts. Their policy will therefore not improve the health of education by eradicating the cancers; it will bruise the whole flesh of education and produce shock and debility, as many people have already said. If it leaves selectivity to those who work in education I fear that the result is bound to be shared misery, with no regard to the national need.

The need for selectivity is obvious and if there might be embarrassment for the Government in suggesting what ought to be cut out, can we not perhaps ask them to suggest what might be spared? Is it not true that what ought to be spared are investments in the future? These are the things that matter most. It is ludicrous to save money now at the expense of the future. I would suggest that to put up the fees for overseas students is to take away an investment in the future in goodwill and in economic gain to the country. I would suggest that failure by the Government to do anything, especially in a crash programme to produce science and mathematics teachers, who have been badly needed for many years, is an indication of a failure to invest in the future. Also to cut research grants is to reduce the number of new ideas for exploitation.

Finally, not to provide money for continuing education, for up-dating and re-training in science and technology by whatever means, is a failure to provide that stimulus to industry that is so vitally needed. I do not believe that £3 million given for special courses in micro-economics is more than a drop in the bucket in a total expenditure of £8 or £9 billion. Can I ask the Minister, therefore, to say whether the Government will show any leadership in this matter of selectivity?

Lord Kennet

My Lords, before we come to the Front Bench speeches at the end of the debate, may I put a statistic on the record? During the last 70 minutes, beginning at 7.15 p.m.—which is not really a very late hour to most of the people in the country—we have heard from three vice-chancellors, two of them still in harness and one recently retired. During that time the population of the Opposition Benches and the Cross-Benches, taken together, has varied between 22 and 30. During that time the population of the Government Benches, including Ministers, whose actions we have been discussing, has varied between two and four, and for the greater part of the time it has been two.

8.26 p.m.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, may I first apologise for my unavoidable absence for a great deal of this debate, and express my very great regret that as a result I did not hear the obviously very distinguished maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Swann. At this late hour, and after so many very distinguished and very well-informed speeches, it would almost be an impertinence to speak for very long and I will only make a few points following what has been said and perhaps amplify one or two of them.

One fully understands—it has been said so often—the Government's desire to curtail expenditure in order to control inflation, but, like the noble Lord, Lord Kaldor—with whom, if I may humbly say so, I very rarely agree—I find it quite astonishing to follow the economics of these economies. It seems to me that one is almost deliberately killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Sure, you will get some economy over the next year or two, but, my Lords, if we look to the medium or long term the survival of this country depends on our going "up market ", to use a jargon phrase, both in terms of what we make and sell and in terms of the calibre of people we have entering into the work of the economy.

We are already short of people with adequate educational equipment to tackle the technology and indeed the middle-level technician jobs that need to be done. In the future it is crystal clear that if we are to succeed we have to increase the number of people who are capable of going into high technology, capable of tackling new enterprises and who have the skill, knowledge and initiative to go into the changing areas in which success will lie, if it lies anywhere.

If we are left as we are at present with a disproportionate number of people who lack the education and skill to tackle the economic jobs of the next decades, then failure is written on the walls in large letters. Yet at this moment, when we need to be increasing the skill and ability of people, we choose this moment to cut back on educational provision. I simply do not understand what the Government think they are doing in economic terms. So many other people have spoken so eloquently about the wider educational implications. I do not intend to talk about that side of it. I ask the Government to explain in economic terms what they think they are doing.

May I take, for example, the problem of the changes that are needed inside schools if we are to get the kind of relationship between schools and industry on which industrial success will depend? I had the good fortune to attend in the Midlands only last week the second of two conferences between industrialists and head teachers. It was quite plain that there are magnificent attempts being made there, as well as in other parts of the country, to build essential bridges between schools and industry, in order that the schools will be doing the kind of job which will enable their youngsters to do the kind of work that the future will offer if they have the proper preparation.

But what was transparently clear—and the head teachers were admitting it themselves—was that they do not have the staff in the schools who understand how to tackle this problem of the proper movement from school to work and the proper preparation of youngsters. Why, with unemployed teachers, do we not, instead of cutting down on educational expenditure at the moment, put money into retraining teachers, not only in maths and science, which we know is needed, but also in establishing proper links between school and industry—I use the word "industry" to cover all forms of employment—if the changes are to be made inside schools which will enable really effective work to be done? We are light years way from that position at present. It is urgently necessary that we should have it.

We in this country—the noble Baroness, Lady David, referred to this earlier—are turning out of our schools 300,000 youngsters a year who have no adequate preparation for the kind of jobs that we have at the present time. The one thing we all know about the future of jobs is that the opportunities for the unskilled will become fewer and fewer. We must start now on retraining teachers—and it is a big job—because goodwill is increasing among the teachers, as is the desire to do something in this area. They do not know how to do it. We have provision for in-service training. It needs money to do it. Why on earth, instead of paying unemployment pay to teachers who are unemployed, do we not put the money into getting them trained to do this job which needs to be done inside the schools?

Then, again, it so happens—I seem to be gadding about a bit at the present time—that only this morning I was at Hatfield Polytechnic. Hatfield Polytechnic do not know which way to turn for money next year for the courses which they are running. Which courses are they running? They are running courses not in the much-abused social sciences, in which I used to earn my living; they are running courses in computer science, in engineering and in mathematics, for heaven's sake! These are the things that are being cut down. These are the things that will be needed in increasing numbers. Why curtail—I shall not say "paralyse"—the work that is being done in an institution of that kind? I simply do not understand what the Government think they are doing.

I now come to the question of the universities. I have worked at a much humbler level than the vice-chancellors who have spoken today, but I have worked in universities. We all know that there are tumours to be cut out, as the noble Lord, Lord Perry, has said. Of course, there are some people who have been having a rather feather-bedded time. You can criticise in any institution. But that is insignificant compared with the problems that will be created. I am not against tackling them; I am sure that they should be tackled. I believe that we overdid it in taught MSc. degrees. I believe there is some research going on in some parts of universities which we could well do without. That could be looked at. But what sense does it make to reduce the quality of our universities?

The noble Lord, Lord Annan, referred to the director of my own college, Dr. Ralf Dahrendorf. I talked to him earlier this week. I can confirm everything that the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said. Dr. Dahrendorf said, "You in this country had something in your universities which no other country had ". I asked him, "Is that why you came here?" and he replied, "Yes, it was ". But he then said "You are destroying it and if you go ahead in the way you are going now, that unique achievement of this country of the highest calibre of university education will go, and what has been built up over decades cannot easily be restored. If you break down the whole characteristic of British university education, then it will be gone for decades, perhaps for centuries".

This is valuable not only in itself. I said that I would stick to the economic arguments, but this is something which countries overseas will pay money to have. We have something to give here. I deeply regret the Government's approach to the fees of overseas students. But if you have to charge—and, in my view, it is most mistaken—there will be more and more demand, if you keep the fees within reason. This I believe to be true. These are money-spinners in the longer run. And, of course, as we all know, by having overseas students here we build up goodwill in countries all over the world, which is a pearl of great price that we lose at our peril. And yet, we are deliberately throwing this away. Why, my Lords?

Again, just look at the figures. I am told by Dr. Dahrendorf that for one student at the London School of Economics there is an estimated cost of £3,000 a year, to which is added £1,600 for the student grant. That is just under the figure that it costs the state to maintain one unemployed person. What on earth is the sense of reducing the number of students, in order to increase the number of unemployed at a greater cost to the state than keeping them as students? Then, if you reduce the number of students, you also reduce jobs for people who are employed not only as academics, but in other areas inside the university and they join the ranks of the unemployed and have to be paid for by the State. I ask the Government: what kind of economic sense does this make?

8.37 p.m.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, I begin, as other speakers have done, by expressing our sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and I regret that she could not have been with us during this debate. Secondly, I should like to express my warmest congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Swann, on his maiden speech, to which we all listened with great delight and entertainment.

It has been a long debate and a wide-ranging one. What comes out at the end is a realisation that what we have been discussing is not a regrettable but still tolerable reduction in what might be called the graces and amenities of education; we have been discussing the danger of a serious assault on the nation's welfare and on the nation's chance of recovery from its present situation. That has been the measure of the debate. After all, what are the cuts as proposed? We are talking about reductions of £800 million between 1979 and 1984. When one makes a cut of this size one should, as the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, put it, be very careful where one makes the incision. It is a pity that that advice could not have been given to the Government before they started on the operation, because that appears to be exactly what they have not done. I think the noble Lord, Lord Perry, made the point that there does not appear to have been any rationale about how the cuts have been imposed.

It is possible—and it has been done before—when you are cutting education, to try to make a distinction between what some people call the frills of education, by which you mean such trifles as an understanding of music, and the core of education, by which you mean science, mathematics, languages and so on. I am not at all sure whether that distinction has in it any validity. I am even less sure after listening to the eloquent speech of my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek, who brought out the importance in education of the kind of thing that is sometimes described as a "frill". So, indeed, did my noble friend Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.

But I suppose that one could say that at the present time, a time of admitted economic difficulty, we ought to pay some degree of special attention to those parts of the educational system which are most closely and obviously related to the national recovery. If one said that, I do not think one could be said to be too philistine. It is exactly what one would have expected a Conservative Government, with their passion to maintain a tradition of hard-headedness and common sense, to do. But the more one looks at the probable results of the cuts, the more apparent it is that they are not doing anything of the sort: that so far as the cuts affect one part of the whole process of education rather than another, they appear to bear with exceptional heaviness upon those parts which are most closely and obviously related to the national recovery.

In that connection I want to refer, as so many speakers have naturally done, to the HMI report. First I should like to say a word about the method whereby the report presents the facts. It is the very reverse of scaremongering. It tries to present the most agreeable picture that it can. For example, it says: The district inspectors report that the position of books is satisfactory in just over half the local education authorities". The other way of putting it is that nearly half of the local education authorities are very badly provided with books. It reminds me of a story which is probably apocryphal but which I think is to the point in this context. It is to the effect that when Mr. Khruschev was in the United States he played a game of golf with President Eisenhower and lost. This episode, so the story goes, was reported in the Russian press as follows: In an international golfing contest Mr. Khruschev, although he had never played the game before, came second. The President of the United States was next to bottom". That is a perfectly true statement but you have to turn it upside down. And that is rather what you have to do with the HMI report in order to see the real grimness of the picture which they are presenting.

One of the increasing shortages and difficulties, despite falling rolls, which local authorities are going to be faced with is that of staffing. I must say I listened carefully to the argument between my noble friend Lord Longford and the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, on how important is the question of the pupil-teacher ratio. I begin at the purely earthly level. When I was doing secondary school teaching I remember the difference that there was in a year when there were 30 pupils in a class compared with a year in which there were 35 pupils in a class: the extra strain involved not only in teaching the class as a whole but in giving them the individual attention which they required. In those days I was lucky that the number never ran above 35. So I would require a good deal of persuading that size of class does not matter.

I am bound to say that one of the things which might persuade me would be if I saw the most expensive schools in the country prepared to be content with the kind of pupil-teacher ratio which most of the public sector has to accept. But we do not find that. We know quite well that people who can pay for a really favourable pupil-teacher ratio do pay for it. Its deterioration in the coming years is going to do damage.

Here—this is the point I was making earlier—the inspectors point out that the damage will be particularly noticeable in the teaching of science and mathematics and in one other area: in schools which are in special problem areas. Again one has to recognise the national problems of today: the alarming alienation which occurs, particularly in large cities, between a particular section of the population and the rest—those who are generally disadvantaged and who sometimes belong to ethnic minorities as well. It is the schools working in those areas which are going to be put at special disadvantage by staffing shortages. So you have an admitted social problem, and your way of tackling cuts in education is so to arrange them that, if anything, you will make that particular problem worse.

If I may turn to equipment, here we may cheer up because only one-third of the local education authorities are in an unsatisfactory position about equipment. In some of them the problem is being dealt with by reliance upon parental contribution. There has been much argument about what schools ought to do when parents offer to contribute out of their own pockets for things which the State ought to be providing. I cannot find it in my heart to blame any parent who wants to do that, if necessary, for his child. But of course the parent ought never to have been put in that position. And some parents will not be able to do it. In many schools there just will not be the resources in the pockets of parents to do it at all. Again this is going to make the difference between the advantaged and the disadvantaged school greater. It is going to aggravate one of our social problems.

While speaking of equipment—I mentioned books earlier—I must take up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme. It is fair enough to say that a school should be careful that it does not run itself short of money for books by spending its money on equipment that it will not use properly. But how widespread is that problem? I have no doubt that you could find examples. A generation or so ago, if you had looked hard enough, you could possibly have found a practical example of a working-class family who kep coals in the bath. That was one of the popular arguments for not making proper public provision in the field of housing.

I do not believe that you can make out a serious case that a shortage of books in any but a very few schools is due to those schools being cluttered up with expensive equipment which they do not know how to use. If such an abuse exists, by all means let it be put right, but do not let us imagine that curing small, single abuses of that kind will solve for schools the problem of scarce money and resources that the Government's cuts are imposing upon them.

I would say a word on premises. According to the report, half of these are unsatisfactory. The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, pointed out that a leaky roof does not occur immediately. If, however, she will look at the report, she will find that the people who compiled it were looking at the situation as they found it in particular schools and considering what is going to be the effect on a school so situated of these cuts going on and on over the next five years. Many of the schools already, for reasons of economy, have been postponing unavoidable repairs and now find that they will not be able to get them done at all.

A great deal has been said about the morale of teachers. I have often heard economies at the expense of school buildings excused on the ground that, after all, it is the teachers who matter more than the buildings. I suppose this is so. It is most desirable that the morale of teachers should be high, but it is not in human nature to maintain your morale high if you have to go on, month after month and term after term, teaching in a classroom where the rain always comes through the roof, or looking after an infant school where the toilets seem almost perpetually to be out of order. We must notice, too, that children are not fools. They can learn mathematics and science by instruction but they learn their standard of values by looking at their elders' behaviour. If they find that for certain luxury buildings there always appears to be plenty of money, but that the school is always down at heel and in ill-repair, they will come to the conclusion that all this stuff which their elders talk about the importance of education is so much bunkum because we do not live up to it. The effect on the morale of teachers and on the attitude of children is the result of the continual neglect of premises.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to what luxury buildings he refers?

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, I have seen public houses going up. But it is the business of a civilised society to see, whether it is provided by public or private enterprise, that the provision made for education shows that we respect education as much as we respect a restaurant or a public house. The point I am trying to make is that we are not doing that.

I have spoken about economies and cuts in schools. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, was suggesting that if we were to hand over the schools to private enterprise they would be able to do better with the amount of money that the Government give them.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I am very interested that the noble Lord should find public houses to be luxury buildings.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, any buildings, of course. Some schools at one time were luxury buildings. Any kind of building can be either luxury or it can be down-at-heel. What I am saying is that one can find plenty of luxury buildings in the private sector whereas schools are continually allowed to become down-at-heel, and I do not believe that is a desirable thing. If the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, thinks that it is not happening, she had better have another look at the HMI report—and I noticed that, although she was prepared to accept stoically that schools could go short of books, she felt it to be an absolute necessity that she should have a copy of the inspectors' report the moment she wanted it. Now that she has got it, I hope she will study it.

Turning now to education beyond school, I was very glad to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, said about polytechnics, which was very much supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, in reference to a polytechnic at Hatfield. Here we really have got a part of the educational system which is most directly and seriously and immediately related to our economic difficulties and here we are told that there will be shortage of equipment and shortage of technicians and that it will be particularly the technical courses in the polytechnics that will suffer.

As for the universities, I found the contributions from those noble Lords closely connected with universities extremely interesting. I remember, many years ago, being a co-author with other members of the Labour Party of a party publication on education in which we put forward, among other things, the idea that there ought to be an inquiry into the use by universities of the manpower and womanpower at their disposal. This of course was treated by the learned world of the time as the kind of ignorant, vandalistic remark that would be made by the kind of uneducated louts who belonged to the Labour Party. Therefore I was interested this evening to find that some of the people inside the universities themselves have doubts as to whether the manpower and womanpower is always put to the best use, and one really did wonder, listening to some of them, exactly which side they were on. I think the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, said that what the Government was doing about the universities was a menace to the national welfare and the national culture. I hope I have got that right.

Lord James of Rusholme

My Lords, the noble Lord has not got it right, but never mind; his argument will be exactly the same.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, it seemed to me that in his impartial speech the one sentence that was critical of the Government was thrust in in so apologetic a manner that it was very difficult for the rest of us to hear what exactly he said. I thought the noble Lord was criticising the Government for what they were doing to the universities. If I was wrong I will withdraw.

Lord James of Rusholme

My Lords, in actual fact I began by saying that there was one area where I made a real exception as regards my feelings about the justification for the cuts and that was in the field of the universities, where I felt that the universities had to go very slowly and very carefully because it was impossible, because of the problems of redundancy, for the universities to make the economies that were suggested in the timescale proposed, but that is too technical to go into at this time of night. That is what I actually said. I have not got my text because it has been taken away, but the noble Lord will be able to read it.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

I will certainly read it, my Lords, but I am bound to say that it seemed to me at the time that it did not take quite so long as the noble Lord has just taken.

Lord James of Rusholme

My Lords, that is because I was trying to explain it to the noble Lord.

Lord Stewart of Fulham

My Lords, we then got from the noble Lord, Lord Annan, an extremely impressive, formidable and alarming exposition of the situation that the universities in fact face. What was perhaps most alarming about it was this. It looks as though the Government have rushed into the proposition of a 12.5 per cent. reduction on universities without any serious consideration in advance of what the problems involved will be. That came out, I think, in the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Annan, the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, and my noble friend Lord Longford. I do not suppose that in the time available tonight the noble Lord, Lord Belstead—and, after all, it is not his department—will be able to expound very greatly on this, but it seems to me that the Government must pay very great attention to what has been said in this debate about the cuts on universities. After all, the remarks come from very well-informed sources, which are not prejudiced against the Government, and they deal with something that is absolutely vital to the educational structure and to our national life and our nation's chances of recovery.

If this is the situation in the universities, polytechnics, schools, adult education, and so on, what chance have we of the Government doing anything about the new ideas that are floating about? What is going to be done about the proposals in the Warnock Report? Is the piece of writing on the 16- to 19-year-olds really going to come to anything? And as to all the elaborate procedures in the 1980 Education Act to give parents freedom of choice to elect governors, and so on—what use will all that be if the quality of the schools is steadily going to decline?

Finally, I want to make this point. If we argue against cuts we shall always be met with the economic argument. The Government will say that it is greatly to be regretted but there it is; the nation is up against it; we cannot afford it. I must remind the Government, as I have done before in this House, that one of their earliest actions was to make massive reductions in income tax that mainly benefited people with incomes of £10,000 a year and over. That is one of the reasons why they are short of money for public expenditure now. The argument behind it was that if you encourage the rich in that way it will give them an incentive, they will all work hard and invent and the wheels of industry will turn—just as we see them doing all the time! It is not working.

The sacrifice made on this particular altar has been very considerable and therefore I think there is a great deal to be said for the comment made by my noble friend Lady Denington, that the Government really do seem to want to tilt the whole balance in favour of the private sector as a tax policy which shunts wealth into the pockets of those who are already wealthy, which makes it easier for them to pay for private education, and if that is not enough there is the assisted places scheme, and the Government then proceed to bash the nation's own schools as hard as they can.

The noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, said that he did not believe in the conspiracy theory of education. Of course, Julius Caesar did not believe in the conspiracy theory when he went to the Senate House on the ides of March, but it was there, all the same.

I think the other thing that has plagued the Government is a notion about what they call "the creation of real wealth". The idea is constantly put forward by the Government that it is always the private sector that creates real wealth and the public sector that spends it—as a sort of parasite on it that lifts off the wealth created by the private sector and spends it. Of course, that is economic nonsense. To argue that everything in the private sector creates wealth and the public sector does not, commits you to the proposition that somebody who is printing or bookbinding a trashy novel or a piece of pornography is creating real wealth, whereas a lecturer in a polytechnic helping his students to become skilled engineers is not. That is plain nonsense. There are some activities, both in the public and the private sector, that are more directly related to increasing the community's wealth-creating powers than others.

What we are faced with now is a situation in which the Government, having placated the private sector with grest chunks of tax reduction, are now paying for that extravagance, because that is what it was, by bashing at things in the public sector which are closely related to our nation's welfare and its chance of ever getting out of our present difficulties. This is indeed, as speakers on the Liberal Benches have said, killing the goose that lays the golden eggs and devouring the seed corn. It is that charge that stands against the Government tonight.

9.1 p.m.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I think that this has been a useful debate because it has been an informed debate. It has also been a very long one, and I hope your Lordships will forgive me if, in replying, I am not able to deal with all the points which have been put. Particularly come to mind the very interesting speech which the noble Lord, Lord Ritchie-Calder, made about the Open University, and the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, on links between schools and industry, which perhaps at this hour I would not go into. I think what we should all agree is that it has been a great pleasure to have the noble Lord, Lord Swann, making his first speech in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord described himself as an academic, and indeed he is, and most distinguished at that. But the noble Lord has also those wide abilities and tastes which, of course, made him until very recently a most distinguished chairman of the BBC. The noble Lord in his speech said that it was a matter of some alarm to speak for the first time in your Lordships' House. I will confess to your Lordships that when I am pursuing the even tenor of my work at the Home Office, I have in the past viewed it also as a matter of some alarm when I have seen the noble Lord, Lord Swann, coming in my direction. But this evening, or rather today, I have been very pleased to see the noble Lord. I have welcomed the speech which he has made, and I am sure all your Lordships will join with me when I repeat what has been said many times this evening, that we hope very much that the noble Lord will return to speak here again many times in the future.

My Lords, I, like the noble Lord, Lord Alexander of Potterhill, find myself in a state of some confusion at the end of this debate. On the one hand there are those of your Lordships, like, as I understood him, the noble Lord, Lord Kaldor, who saw no case for any reductions in public expenditure at all; and if the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, will forgive my saying so, I think his speech came very close to that also. On the other hand, there are those, like the noble Lord, Lord Alexander, himself, who pointed out, quite rightly, that the Government had not reduced its public expenditure as it had intended. Well, that is the reason why the Government are trying to do so again.

Let us bear in mind that we are talking, as my noble friend Lord Vaizey reminded us, in the context, so far as education is concerned, of dramatic expansion in educational expenditure, really ever since the war. In that context the new White Paper on public expenditure has these effects on education. First, in each of the next three years it shows an average reduction of just 2 per cent. in spending within the responsibility of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, compared with the last White Paper of a year ago. Like my noble friend Lady Trumpington, I must say I am sure, as she said she was, that we can improve the quality of education, even within these financial restraints. My noble friend went on in her speech to speak of certain educational considerations, including school buildings. May I take a slightly different tack and amplify what I am saying by referring simply to finance. The total expenditure now planned for the period up to 1983–4 will be getting on for £8 billion, and that is going still to represent 10 per cent. of all public spending—only a slightly smaller proportion than was achieved in 1975–6. Yet over those 8 years between the 1970s and the early 1980s there will have been a drop of well over 1 million in the school population in England alone. In other words, it is quite wrong to think that in some way education has been singled out for specially harsh treatment.

Many of your Lorships spoke as though you were under the impression that the spending on individual pupils in the schools is something which is going to be cut severely. Current spending per pupil in real terms is, on the present plans of the latest public expenditure White Paper, going to be higher in 1983–4 than in 1978–9. The average pupil-teacher ratio over the lifetime of this Parliament will be significantly better than the average during the last Parliament. I really would ask the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, and the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson—and, indeed, on the pupil-teacher ratio aspect, although I know that was not exactly the point she made, the noble Baroness, Lady Seear—to accept from me that what I am saying is, so far as I know, absolutely true. I repeat it once again: by 1983–4 the current spending per pupil in real terms will be higher than it was in 1978–9. So I really do not think that our plans so far as schools are concerned can be represented in the way that they have been in the debate this afternoon.

Further, so far as higher education is concerned, despite the substantial reductions we are planning in expenditure on higher education, we believe that with the rationalisation of courses and what the White Paper calls a significant tightening of staffing standards there need be no large reduction in student numbers. I listened very carefully to the speech which the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, made. If the noble Lord will forgive me, I am not going to follow him in all the points he made, because I devoted a considerable part of the speech I ventured to make at the beginning of this debate to the points which the noble Lord also made. I would just register that the views which the noble Lord gave about the effects, as he saw them, on many institutions, not least, of course, the very distinguished institution of which he is part, did not entirely chime with the evidence given in this debate by my noble friend Lord Vaizey, who gave a very interesting comparison of our university staff-student ratio with that to be found at Harvard in the United States. On this general theme I was most interested by what the noble Lord, Lord Swann, had to say, in the suggestion that the noble Lord made that there is an administration bureaucracy, as he put it, in universities which could be slimmed down a bit. I am sure that this is a suggestion which should be taken to heart. Finally, on this general area of talking about the effect of the White Paper, may I repeat in one sentence that we are maintaining expenditure on scientific research funded by the research councils broadly at its current level throughout the period.

Let me try to answer the questions that were put to me by your Lordships. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, made a very interesting analysis of the HMI report to which, of course, the noble Lord, Lord Stewart, devoted a good deal of the last part of his speech. Let me make it clear that paragraph 6 of that report says: …it is not possible to disentangle in the returns the results of financial policies and inflation from the effects of falling rolls". My noble friend Lord Vaizey asked whether perhaps too much in the way of resources had not been devoted to the improvement of the pupil-teacher ratio over recent years—whether the money had not in fact gone the wrong way. In January this year at 18.6:1 the pupil-teacher ratio—taking nursery education, primary schools and secondary schools all together—is at the most favourable that it has ever been. However, for reasons which I indicated when I first spoke, there is bound to be some tightening of staffing standards in the years ahead. For that reason, I am glad that we have improved the pupil-teacher ratio to its present level.

I was also interested by the views which the noble Lord, Lord James of Rusholme, gave of the HMI report. I would not seek to improve on what the noble Lord said except to add that, as the HMI national surveys of primary and secondary education have shown in the past, many schools and teachers could, I think, do even better by their pupils if they raised their pupils' expectations as to what those boys and girls could achieve and extended them more. That relates in particular to girls as well as to boys.

Several of your Lordships referred to the question of books so far as it comes out of this report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate. The noble Lord, Lord Stewart, was very critical of the situation which the inspectorate found. On 5th March at col. 448 in a debate in the House of Commons, my right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Education and Science, speaking of the honourable Gentleman Mr. Kinnock said: It may come as a surprise to the hon. Gentleman, after all the speeches that he has made on the subject, to know that the amount spent on books per pupil in secondary schools consistently fell in every year of the lifetime of the Labour Government". So because stocks of books are cumulative things, all that I can say is that we are left to try to do something about the situation which we find. Of course this is not, in fact, a matter to do with politics. It has been deliberate policy in many schools to rely less on textbooks than in the past—a fashion which, I think, perhaps arguably has been taken too far. Certainly it will take time to correct that situation now that resources are tighter and the cost of books has been hit by inflation. But the shortage of books has been a matter of some concern and there is evidence that reductions in provision in 1979–80 have impaired the effectiveness of teaching in some areas. We have therefore allowed in the rate support grant settlements for 1980–81 and 1981–82 for a real improvement in expenditure on books and equipment of 2 per cent. compound a year. The White Paper on Public Expenditure published on 10th March announced the continuation of that increase to 1983–84.

A number of your Lordships mentioned the recent decision in the High Court on charges for instrumental music tuition in Hereford and Worcester. The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked what action the Government would take as a result of that judgment. My right honourable friend is studying the transcript of the Forbes judgment in the same way as local authorities are studying it. But I should like just to make three points which are related to the judgment. First, charges for instrumental music tuition are not something new. In many authorities they are of many years' standing. Secondly, the judgment applied only to the particular circumstances of the Hereford and Worcester case. Before local education authorities have taken legal advice, it would be premature to assume, as I think the noble Baroness did, that the effect will necessarily be a reduction in music provision. Thirdly, the noble Baroness, Lady Denington, suggested that those authorities which charge for instrumental music lessons are discriminating against pupils who have parents in the lower income groups. I would simply point out that in many, if not in most, authorities arrangements are made for the remission of fees specifically for those who are not able to afford them.

I know that probably for a very great part of his life the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, has had a close interest in adult education. I should like to make the point in response to that passage of the noble Lord's speech, that the Government are maintaining the level of their grant in real terms to those bodies which they fund directly, such as the Workers' Educational Association, and the extra mural departments of the universities, long-term residential colleges and various national institutions such as the Townswomen's Guild, the YMCA and the WI college. I assure the noble Lord that I fully appreciate that the present financial targets will not be easy for local authorities to meet.

However, I note that, although average fees have increased by about a third this year, to average 41p per hour, the number of enrolments has fallen by only some 10 per cent. It is also encouraging to note that most authorities have continued to give priority to work in literacy and basic skills, thus following the lead taken by the Government in establishing the Adult Literacy and Basic Skills Unit last year. Your Lordships will recall that this unit was given over half a million pounds for this year to encourage the development of work in this important area, and it is expected that this will be significantly increased for next year and the year after.

I should like to say a few brief words on overseas students, a subject which was raised by several of your Lordships. The noble Lord, Lord Oram, spoke about them. I think that the take-up of places from overseas at the moment shows a picture which is patchy. By that, I mean the following. On the occasion of the visit to this country of the Head of State of Nigeria I was very interested to learn that entrants for this academic year from Nigeria—both postgraduates and under-graduates—show a very welcome and significant increase. Having said that, none the less the noble Lord charged the Government with insufficient care to protect poor students from poor countries. Here again, I cannot say that I agree. A total of £8 million has been allocated for next year to restore the number of new awards for students under government-to-government programmes and the Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan to the levels of 1978–79.

But we cannot devise a system which will ensure help for the most deserving individuals. What we can do is to help the most deserving developing countries through the overseas aid scheme, and this is what we are determined to do our best to achieve. Incidentally, my noble friend Lord Auckland, who spoke on this subject, wanted to know about support for overseas students. The ODA's scheme for the support of overseas students is run in close consultation with overseas Governments and is closely related to the needs of the countries that take part in the scheme. This close consultation and co-operation is an essential and a most valuable feature of the scheme.

I shall write to the noble Baroness, Lady David, about non-advanced further education on which I have a note. However, to the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, who spoke about enriched engineering courses, I would point out that at the request of the UGC a number of universities have been developing enriched engineering courses for exceptional students. These were the forerunners of the kinds of courses included in the Finniston recommendations. But Finniston went well beyond this, as the noble Lord will know much better than I, and advocated courses that would include considerable practical experience, which would require extensive provision of university workshops. The Government have not yet decided what they will be able to do about the Finniston recommendations, and those adopted by the national conference on the Finniston Report, which the noble Lord mentioned.

As I said earlier, if your Lordships will forgive me and because I devoted a considerable amount of what I sought to say at the beginning to this matter, I shall not follow the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, through the points that he made concerning the effects in particular on university staff of the current financial situation. However, I should just like to repeat that the Government believe that solutions will of course differ according to the different sorts of university institutions and that we believe—for reasons which I attempted to set out at the beginning of the debate—that many of the assumptions which the noble Lord was making are assumptions which need not, in fact, come to pass.

The noble Lord, Lord Flowers, asked me specifically about the £20 million in the UGC grant announcement. That £20 million is not extra money; it is part of recurrent grant, and is not additional to it. On the advice of the UGC, it has been identified in the grant announcement as being a sum that the UGC might use to help the university system to adapt to the reduced level of funding that would be available in 1983–84.

May I just add to what I have said on this? I am very much aware of the speeches which were made by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, and also in a smaller part of his speech by the noble Lord, Lord James. The noble Lord, Lord Annan, as he said, is visiting my right honourable friend in the near future. It was not possible for the noble Lord to be here this afternoon, and I said and would repeat again now that my right honourable friend has received representations particularly on the difficult points raised this afternoon concerning staff. My right honourable friend is closely and carefully considering the representations that have been made.

I should like to refer to one last thing which is the management of the public sector higher education. The debate today is about resources, but clearly the way in which the public sector of higher education might be managed in the future has, or will have, a bearing on resource distribution in that area. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State is determined that if a new management structure—talking about the LEA sector of higher education—is being developed, it should be such as to encourage and develop the distinctive characteristics of higher education in the public sector. It is an essential part of the sector's task to cater for the widest possible range of those able to benefit from higher education through all types of course.

What I wish to do, however, is to correct the impression that has been given by recent press articles that the Government have reached decisions on the future management of public sector higher education. What has been receiving publicity, in fact, is a stage only in the Government's internal deliberations. So, far from having reached decisions, the Government have yet to formulate proposals. If any changes are to be proposed, the Government will certainly want to consult about them with the interests concerned.

May I finally make the point that the standard which our public education service has attained since the war is one of the strengths of this country. It has been built up by enthusiasm and commitment of all who work in it—councillors, their officers, teachers and staff, as well as so many people who are represented by your Lordships who have spoken today. But it has been achieved also at a cost which has increased dramatically as the years have gone by. The noble Lord, Lord Alexander, with his enormous experience, spoke of the morale in the local authority service. We can continue to achieve our educational goals, which we all want, provided the economy upon which public education depends is strong. Without achieving that goal, our education system and therefore our childern and our young people will suffer. This is why the Government's first priority is to root out inflation, which has plagued this country for so many years, and in this we are determined to succeed.

9.23 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, the Minister has said that we have had a useful debate, and I think it has certainly been a very interesting and stimulating one. I shall think we have had a useful debate if he takes back the arguments to his colleagues in the Department of Education and Science and impresses on them the great anxieties that have been expressed here today about every sector of the education service.

I should like to take up arguments with him about various things he said with which I thoroughly disagreed; but I feel that it is too late for that, so I should like to conclude by thanking everybody who has taken part. We have had some extremely interesting speeches. Only one, I think, from the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, entirely supporting the Government, and a great many doing very much the opposite. I should like to thank everybody very much and to withdraw the Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.