Orders of the Day — ASHRIDGE (BONAR LAW MEMORIAL) TRUST BILL (By Order)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 16th February 1954.

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Photo of Mr George Wigg Mr George Wigg , Dudley 12:00 am, 16th February 1954

The right hon. Gentleman will make his own speech if he wishes.

Although I understand the reasons which have prompted those responsible for the Bill putting in this Clause, it is a weakening and enervating and not a strengthening provision. I am one of those who want to see controversy and virile argument. I am a disciple of the late Lord Lindsay. He always held that the glory of British democracy was to be found in the power of our discussions, which were carried on temperately and without the wish to do physical violence. What we have done in the last 300 years, in moments of great national crisis, has been to turn ourselves into a great discussion group. Only by such methods does one get an understanding of the issues of our times, and without understanding one cannot get reasonable and responsible action.

We must therefore be extremely cautious—and must certainly keep an eye on Ashridge College—with people who have had very strong political bias in the past, as they admit, and have had vast funds at their disposal which have now been run down to the point at which the college, as it were, has had to take in lodgers. Half the buildings are given over to a young ladies'educational establishment, called, I believe, the House of Citizenship. That is an excellent thing. But the Conservative Party has now brought this establishment to the edge of bankruptcy. The Conservative Party, of course, has got something in exchange. It has a temporary majority. A great deal of the work in the propaganda field has had its origin at Ashridge.

To be frank, I should not have discovered the merits and demerits of this Bill if I had not, for some months, been engaged in thwarting the hon. Memberfor Croydon, East. Where his interests went I followed him. I felt this to be a proper subject for study, and although we regret the hon. Gentleman's absence on this occasion, I am grateful to him—and the House and the country ought to be grateful to him—because we want to make quite sure that adult education is being enriched. We want to be sure that the British public is not buying a pig-in-the-poke, and that public money is not to be poured into Ashridge so that, at the second stage, another propaganda machine comes forth, this time not under the banner of a Conservative Party, but in the guise of independence and lack of bias.

I have made my protest and drawn attention to what existed in the past and what is now proposed, and I hope that my hon. Friends will not press this to a Division. But this experiment should be watched to see that it is not abused under this new guise of independence. We know what Tory independence means, and that one of their famous devices is to discover new alibisfor themselves. We should give an opportunity to those responsible to live up to what they profess to be. On the other hand, we must watch that public money is not to be used as a means of supporting and furthering the interests of the Conservative Party.