HL Deb 08 February 1995 vol 561 cc216-8

3.3 p.m.

Baroness Lockwood asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have any plans to modify the decision to terminate the provision of bursaries for students on vocational courses in translation and interpretation.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, we have no plans to do so.

Baroness Lockwood

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. In pursuing the matter, I declare a non-pecuniary interest as chairman of council of one of the universities that is concerned. Can the Minister say on what criteria the decision was made to withdraw all the bursaries for postgraduate courses in interpreting and translating? In making that decision, was the Minister aware that the two universities that are most concerned, Bradford and Bath, have a very high international reputation for the quality of the interpreters and translators that are provided, and that that in itself brings other educational business to the United Kingdom?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, we are talking here about people who are already very highly qualified and who take an additional qualification to provide them with an even more highly paid career than they might otherwise have. Surely that kind of vocational education is best paid for either by the people who are to benefit directly from it or by the employers who will employ them afterwards, as would be the case in, let us say, accountancy or the law.

Lord Healey

My Lords, is it not the case that Her Majesty's Government make great use of those who are trained under these bursaries—for instance, in the Cabinet Office, GCHQ and a large number of other departments that I could mention—as do major firms in Britain, such as the BBC and the Shell oil company, and major international organisations? How can the Government justify terminating bursaries which provide men of this quality—which made Britain world-famous i n this field—when they rightly decided to finance training at a grammar school in the same skills but at a very much lower level? Is it perhaps that the Cabinet Office has decided that it is better that we do not understand foreigners and they do not understand us?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, the Government and industry also employ many accountants, and we do not pay for their training. These are people who are being asked to make a personal investment in their own future and who will achieve some very great rewards thereby. If the Government at any stage—or, indeed, any other organisations—found themselves short of these skills they would doubtless sponsor people on these excellent courses.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, does the noble Lord the Minister agree with the vice-chancellor of Bradford University, who says that abolishing these bursaries will not mean that these highly talented linguists will find alternative means of funding? There is no corporate or institutional sponsorship for this type of training. Is the vice-chancellor correct? If so, where would the Minister advise these highly trained linguists to look for alternative funding arrangements?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, there is not at present much corporate sponsorship for these courses, presumably because there are plenty of people out there with these skills. If an individual wants to finance himself on one of these courses, then all that I would suggest is that he should apply for a career development loan, which would seem to fit the case very well.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, is the Minister seriously saying that in this country we are overloaded with people who are good at foreign languages? It is the first tune I have ever heard such a fairy-tale in this House! Do not the Government recognise that the training of graduates is of the greatest possible importance? At present there is a large increase in the number of undergraduates. Does the Minister accept that if we want people of high quality we must back graduate courses? This graduate course, producing the people who take those very responsible jobs—including simultaneous translation, which is highly skilled—is exactly what we need to support.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, these are high-level vocational courses answering the specific needs of particular employers. If those employers have a need which is not being met, they will surely find ways of financing students to learn the skills that they require, as happens in many other industries. In this industry they do not appear to need to do so at present.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, at a time when educational money is viewed very stringently, the Government's decision seems to me to be both fair and sensible?

Lord Lucas

My Lords, I cannot but agree with my noble friend.

Baroness David

My Lords, does the Minister realise that he has shocked a large number of us in this House by what he said today? It is very rare that we have these great centres of excellence in this country. To turn one down like this and not appreciate its value is really very shocking indeed. I am absolutely amazed at what the Minister said.

Lord Lucas

My Lords, excellence in vocational education is not a matter for the Government to express their opinion on; it is for the employers who make use of that particular skill. If employers wish to continue to employ graduates from these courses they will doubtless find ways of sending them on them.