Grants to Universities and Colleges (Estimates Committee's Reports)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th January 1966.

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Photo of Mr Roger Cooke Mr Roger Cooke , Twickenham 12:00 am, 26th January 1966

First of all, I want to apologise to the Minister for not being present during his speech on this interesting subject. I was engaged upstairs with a Select Committee. Perhaps his hon. Friend will make my apologies to the Minister.

I am not pretending that I can enter into the little revolt of the Welsh back benchers opposite, and I will confine myself to the Estimates Committee's Report, because I was a member of the Sub-Committee dealing with it.

I want to take up four interrelated subjects which give me some concern and which I will detail as follows. The first of them is the obsolescence of many university buildings. The second is the planning of new buildings. The third is the need for research into industrialised building techniques. The fourth is the obsolescence of some of the scientific equipment that we saw at the universities.

We went to look at two of the older universities, Edinburgh and Birmingham, and we heard evidence from some of the others. Many of us know some of the other universities as well. Undoubtedly, when one looks at them with a fresh eye there are many inadequate buildings as a result of obsolescence which is only slowly being made good at the present time. Obviously, there is a long backlog since the war, and the oldest universities are the hardest hit in respect of buildings because, naturally, the new universities started with new buildings.

The University Grants Committee gave us evidence that it is setting about a Domesday survey of the buildings at present, and that should be very valuable. The U.G.C. went on to say that it has scheduled 1967–72 as a period for the repair of obsolescence in buildings, and the Chairman told us it had put on a floor of £25 million a year for that purpose. But since he told us that, there has been the six months' deferment in building and there has come to the fore the need to expand our universities to take in the Robbins estimates of the expanded university population.

If I might have the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary, having thought about these obsolescent buildings the question I would ask him is, will the period 1967–72 which the Chairman of the U.G.C. told us was going to be a period for the repair of obsolescent buildings now be used for the repair of obsolescence, or will it be merely used to take care of the Robbins expansion? That is a very important point, and it should be answered. In other words, are they going to be replaced? Can we start replacing in 1967, or not? I think that many of us would like to know the answer to that.

It is a truism that universities should know their building allocations as far ahead as possible. This enables them to plan ahead, to avoid extra professional fees which come about through deferment, through staging, and to avoid cutting down on the quality of finish, which happens because of delays, because if a sum of money is set aside for a building one year and, in fact, it has to be built in four years' time, by the time one gets round to building it the price has gone up, and therefore the standard of building has to come down.

In 1958, new building allocations were known about four years in advance. We were told that the information now is given only 18 months in advance. Sir Robert Matthew, a past President of the Royal Institution of British Architects, called the present position the worst condition for economical building and said that the uncertainty of this programme was a very big factor in inefficiency at the present time.

That is why we brought forward Recommendation (ix), that confirmation of building should be given four years in advance of their being built, and we were sorry to see that the Department was not able to adopt that. In its reply the Department said: It is the Government's intention to give as long notice as possible of the amount available for capital investment", and so on, but it did not commit itself to this four-year programme which we would like to see, and which was available to the universities in 1958.