HC Deb 06 February 1964 vol 688 cc1339-45

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Prime Minister whether he will now make a statement on Ministerial responsibility in the field of education.

The Prime Minister

When the Government made their statement on the Robbins Committee Report on Higher Education a decision on the machinery of government for education and civil science was deferred until public opinion should have had opportunity to express itself.

After taking full account of the views that have been expressed, I have concluded that the right course is to have a single Minister with total responsibility over the whole educational field, who should be Secretary of State for Education and Science. Under him, there will be a single Department, but it will include two distinct administrative units and this will give the organisation something of a federal character. Broadly speaking, one unit will be concerned with the schools in England and Wales, and the other with civil science, and, through the University Grants Commission, with institutions of university status. The detailed allocation of work between these two units will be adjusted in the light of experience. The Secretary of State will be supported by two Ministers of State.

There will be no substantial change in the responsibilities of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland. Scottish universities will be financed through the University Grants Commission, and will thus be within the sphere of the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The Secretary of State for Scotland will continue to be consulted on the appointment of members of the University Grants Commission and on other university matters.

As regards civil science, we shall, in general, follow the recommendations of the Trend Committee on the Organisation of Civil Science. Two new bodies will be formed out of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research—a Science Research Council responsible for supporting research in the universities in pure and applied science; and a separate agency for Industrial Research and Development to take over the majority of the research stations now managed by the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and to support industrial research. It is also the intention to form a Natural Resources Research Council.

The detailed scope of these bodies is at present under discussion. These bodies, together with the Medical Research Council and the Agricultural Research Council, will become the responsibility of the Secretary of State for Education and Science. The National Research Development Corporation, which promotes the development and exploitation of inventions, will, however, continue to be associated with the Board of Trade.

There must be close co-operation between the research agencies and the relevant Government Departments, and this will be recognised in the arrangements for appointiing members of the controlling bodies.

Legislation will be required, for instance, to set up the new scientific agencies, but the changes in Ministerial responsibility need not wait. The new Department should begin to function at the start of the new financial year. A more detailed statement will be made nearer that date.

My right hon. Friend the Lord President of the Council will then become Secretary of State for Education and Science. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Education will become one of the Ministers of State and I have invited him to continue to sit as a member of the Cabinet.

Mr. Crossman

While thanking the Prime Minister for such a long and complex Answer to such an often-postponed Question, may I ask him just three questions on our first impression of his statement? The first is about the D.S.I.R. Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the Government scientists were deeply dismayed by the Trend Report, and made the most urgent representations to his right hon. and learned Friend? Can he say why those representations have been totally disregarded in this recommendation?

Secondly, on the division of Ministerial function, do I understand that the Prime Minister has entirely accepted the views put from this side, and that there will be two Ministries with two accounting officers, or are there only to be two Ministers of State?

Thirdly, on the question of selection of personalities, after the three-month contest between the "battling twins", why does he feel it necessary to give the prize to the Minister who opposed his solution, and to demote the Minister who stood by the idea of a single Secretary of State?

The Prime Minister

On the question of the division of function of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, we have, after much thought—and this is a matter of debate, of course—thought it much better to separate it into two.

On the question of division of Ministerial function, there will be two accounting officers, so we do accept, in fact, what the hon. Gentleman and his hon. Friends have put forward. On the personalities, I do not propose to go into that, except to say that both the Ministers concerned are highly qualified to do any job they are asked to do.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the decision to keep together that part of the universities that deals with research and that part which deals with education will be very greatly welcomed in the universities? Can he give an assurance that this new arrangement will at least, by having the University Grants Committee as a buffer, and the new arrangements resulting from the Trend Committee's Report, preserve the Haldane system?

The Prime Minister

Yes, Sir. The answer is that this will preserve the Haldane system. I am obliged to my hon. Friend for making that clear.

Mr. H. Wilson

Is the Prime Minister aware that it has taken nearly three and a half months for him to reach the conclusion that we put forward in detail on 19th November? It was put forward in this House on 19th November, and was then much barracked by hon. Gentlemen opposite.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in so far as any Conservative Minister is popular in educational spheres it is the present Minister of Education?

Is the right hon. Gentleman further aware that there will be very great concern about the fact that, after this three-month battle between the two right hon. Gentlemen, he has finally reached this extraordinarily illogical division of functions as between those two Ministers on no other basis, so far as the public is aware, except that of a piece of squalid horse trading last October, when the right hon. Gentleman was trying to persuade his right hon. and learned Friend the Lord President of the Council to join his Administration?

The Prime Minister

If the right hon. Gentleman has been right about the scheme all the time, I do not know what he is complaining about. The reason we took three months is that we had the courtesy to consult outside opinion before making the arrangements.

The answer to the last supplementary question, with its assumption that there has been friction and a battle between my two right hon. Friends, is that I can only assume that the right hon. Gentleman thinks so because that is the practice always on his own Front Bench.

Mr. Denzil Freeth

First, in a point of detail, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether it is correct that the Atomic Energy Authority will still remain under the new Secretary of State? Is my right hon. Friend aware of the great pleasure that his announcement will give to the country that the Agricultural and Medical Research Councils are not to be handed over to the executive Departments for Agriculture and Health, nor the Road Research Laboratory to the Ministry of Transport, as was so foolishly advocated by the Leader of the Opposition in November?

The Prime Minister

The answer to the last part of that question is "Yes" The answer to the first part is also "Yes", because the Atomic Energy Authority will be under the authority of my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. Grimond

Is the Prime Minister aware that, quite apart from the personalities, there will be regret that the choice of the new Minister of Education will appear to have been come to on other than educational grounds?

May I further ask whether the right hon. Gentleman can tell us who will be responsible for the estimates of the need for scientific manpower? This is a matter which is causing considerable concern among universities and among scientists. Can the right hon. Gentleman also tell us whether only one or both Ministers will be of Cabinet rank?

Hon. Members

The Prime Minister said so.

Mr. Bence

No, the right hon. Gentleman did not.

Mr. Grimond

Can the Prime Minister say rather more about the position of the Scottish universities? Is it the position now that the Scottish universities will be administered through one of these two Ministers of State, who, in turn, will be to some extent and for some purposes subordinate to the Minister of Education and Science, or will the Minister of State for this purpose act under the Secretary of State for Scotland?

The Prime Minister

Would the right hon. Gentleman mind repeating the last part of his question? I could not hear it.

Mr. Grimond

I should be glad to repeat it. Would the right hon. Gentleman be a little more specific about the position of the Scottish universities? Am I right in thinking that the Scottish universities will come under one of the new Ministers of State and that he, in turn, will come under the general Minister of Education while the rest of Scottish education will remain under the Secretary of State? If so, this would be a change; or is it the intention, at least for some purposes, that the Minister of State will, so to speak, report to the Secretary of State for Scotland?

The Prime Minister

No, Sir. The situation is as the right hon. Gentleman described it. There will be no change, in effect, in the position of Scottish universities.

To turn to the other part of the supplementary question, it seems to me extraordinary that the right hon. Gentleman should suggest that my right hon. and learned Friend is not fit for this post. He has been both Minister of Education in his time and Minister for Science, and now we are combining the two.

As for estimates—and I understood the right hon. Gentleman to be talking about estimates in the sense of calculations—they will be under the overall supervision of my right hon. and learned Friend.

Mr. W. Yates

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many of us quite understand that the bogus enthusiasm for science on the benches opposite arose only during the Labour Party conference in September? May I ask whether, if the Robbins Report means that there should be more scientific universities, there is to be one in the Midlands? If so, is it to be in the new town of Dawley, in my constituency? Thirdly, which Minister in the Cabinet will be taking the decision?

The Prime Minister

I should like to see that question on the Order Paper.

Dr. King

Is the Prime Minister aware that his decision to override the Robbins Report in this connection and to treat education as a unity will be welcomed by almost everybody in the country? Can he assure the House and the country that the fact that he has not chosen the present Minister of Education to be the first new Minister does not mean that he is giving the schools second place to the universities?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Member's question was not a very good one. I think that everybody recognises that my right hon. and learned Friend is fully qualified in every way to take this post.

Miss Herbison

On a point of order. The statement made by the Prime Minister affects the position of Scotland and Scottish universities very much and no Scottish Member from this side of the House has been allowed to ask a question.

Mr. Speaker

I allowed myself to be misled into regarding the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party as a Scottish Member. I will allow the hon. Lady to ask a question if she wants to.

Miss Herbison

Will the Prime Minister tell the House what opinion in Scotland he consulted during the last three months, since he has said that he was doing a courtesy to people by consulting them? Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us whether his answer to the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) means that instead of the present position, where Scottish universities are under a United Kingdom Minister, they will now find themselves under an English Minister?

The Prime Minister

No, sir. The Scottish universities will be under the new Secretary of State. I think that the Scottish universities are perfectly content with this arrangement.

Mr. G. Thomas

Since you have exercised your generosity in your own discretion, Mr. Speaker, and since no Welsh Member was called, may I ask whether you would agree to allow a question from the Welsh point of view?

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid that it shows, almost in Welsh, how wrong I was to recede last time. We must have regard to our other business. No doubt if the House wants to discuss these things it can do so when there is a Question before the House.