HL Deb 10 May 1984 vol 451 cc1011-2

3.20 p.m.

Baroness David

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

The Question was as follows: To ask Her Majesty's Government why they are reducing grants to the Workers' Educational Association and the extra-mural departments of the universities.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, these modest reductions are part of the Government's general strategy to constrain public expenditure. Fees paid by the students concerned average little more than 50 pence per hour and meet only a small proportion of the total costs. With increased fee income from those who can afford to pay and some marginal improvement in cost effectiveness, the adult education programmes of these bodies should not need to be cut back.

Baroness David

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. But is he aware that, although the cuts may not be enormous in financial terms, they mean a great deal to the people involved? These cuts will mean that in particular those living in the rural areas and the disadvantaged—the poorer members of the community—will suffer disproportionately? Fees have already increased by up to 50 per cent. and more and are, therefore, likely to increase and only the affluent middle classes will be able to benefit from these classes.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I would disagree with the noble Baroness on that matter. After all, we are talking about fees which average little more than 50 pence per hour. 1 do not think that one could go to the cinema, a football match or anywhere else for that expenditure.

Lord Plant

My Lords, does the noble Earl support what, in similar circumstances, Sir Winston Churchill wrote to the TUC in 1953 when he said: There is perhaps no branch of our vast educational system which should more attract within its particular sphere the aid and encouragement of the state than adult education"? Will the noble Earl also agree that in these troubled times it is unfortunate that this voluntary body, whose aim is to encourage people how to think and not what to think, should face a vicious cut of 8 per cent. on the £2 million grant that it has enjoyed hitherto?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I must disagree with the noble Lord's final point about the vicious cut. Expenditure on grants to the WEA districts and extra-mural departments in the financial year 1983–84 totalled £7–56 million; at 1983–84 price levels a grant of £7 million is planned for the academic year 1986–87—that is, a reduction averaging less than 2.5 per cent. per year. That can hardly be described as a vicious cut. The Government are extremely concerned about the adult education programme generally, and they have to target limited resources where they consider that they are most needed, and particularly where valuable new developments can result. So the Government are spending more on adult education and they support the WEA. In fact, in a letter last month the department promised to provide additional grant towards the training of tutors and voluntary organisers in the districts, together with a small grant to the WEA HQ for co-ordinating the work. So the Government are still firmly in support of the WEA.

Lord Paget of Northampton

My Lords, is not the noble Earl making the case that these savings are as trivial as they are offensive?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I would agree that they are trivial. I would not agree that they are offensive.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek, speaking as someone who was actually engaged under the auspices of the WEA, may I move slightly outside the WEA but still remain within the confines of adult education, and ask the noble Earl whether he is aware that the services supplied by the Open University to prisoners are now being cut by the present Government?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, not only am I delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, was engaged in that way, but I am particularly pleased to see him back in our midst after having missed him for so long. The matter of Open University grants is a different question. If the noble Earl, Lord Longford, would like to put down a Question on the Order Paper, I should be delighted to answer it.

Lord Kilmarnock

My Lords, although the noble Earl tells the House that the Government are spending more on adult education, can he tell us what standard of comparison he is using? What is it more than?

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, it is more than has been spent in the past.