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 Leo Abse Mr Leo Abse , Pontypool 12:00 am, 26th January 1966

No. The hon. and learned Member can make his own speech.

I do not want to enter into an argument about the merits of Aberystwyth, but because of excessive admiration and over-valuation of Aberystwyth the department which is developing in the Welsh C.A.T. is very frightened. It is to the credit of the Welsh C.A.T. that it has built up a law department in a part of Wales where, as I well know, boys can attend, where clerks are articled and where people live and want to work. It has built it up to such an extent that it has had 250 applications to take the course. How disappointing it is that as a consequence of this decision people will not be able to take an LI.B. there and the only possibility for them is to take an external degree, doubtless an L1.B.(London) or something like that.

The point which I am trying to make—and the interventions of the Minister and of the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery only emphasise it—is that if it is suggested the law faculty should be established elsewhere than Aberystwyth a resentment and resistance is immediately aroused, and it has been expressed in the House. Therefore, when I say that the Welsh C.A.T. is afraid that it will not have the necessary teacher-training development or expansion of the law department I am merely giving two illustrations of the way in which Wales can suffer as a consequence of what I regard as an ill-judged decision.

It has been suggested that this feeling of alarm is unnecessary and that whatever was wrong with the federal structure has been put right. Despite the rejection of the Commission's majority report clearly calling for defederalisation and the setting up of separate universities, it has been suggested by those who hold passionate beliefs, which I understand, that reforms have taken place and therefore that these apprehensions on the part of the Welsh C.A.T. or anyone else are quite unnecessary.

I hope that the Minister of State is aware that this week more than three-quarters of the staff of the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire have unequivocally declared that no real attempt has been made to deal with the federal structure. They say that they have received with considerable indignation—and here I use their language in a document which doubtless will come to the Minister's notice— this distorted and exaggerated view of the proposals recently accepted by the Federal Court of Governors". More than three-quarters of the university staff in the college at Cardiff have reaffirmed that the Federal Court should not be judge and jury in its own cause and regretted the rejection of the Commission's majority report.

The Secretary of State for Wales and the Minister of State should face the fact that the academic staff in the C.A.T. and in the University College in Cardiff are in uproar about this decision. Because one may hold a particular view, it is no use trying to smother the view not only of the academic staff of the university but of hack benchers who do not yield one whit in their loyalty to Wales. I know the history of the University of Wales. One may be nostalgic about the idea of a federal university. We must have a university which matches the requirements of the twentieth century. It is this which is bothering people particularly in South Wales and in Monmouthshire. As my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West said, the fear is that what is likely to happen is curtailment. My hon. Friend pointed out that there is grave concern that the University of Wales should be curtailed. Many influential voices are being raised suggesting that the Welsh character of the university will be affected if curtailment does not take place.

This is not just a notion in my head or in the head of my hon. Friend. I received a letter on this subject from a distinguished professor in a most important department. I have his permission to bring it to the attention of the House. Professor Hughes has the chair at the department of microbiology, a very important department. All of us in South Wales are very interested in it. It deals with the problems associated with the oil, coal, machine tool and aircraft industries as well as civil engineering. It is doing work which I hope will mean that we can dispense with the expenditure of millions of pounds in foreign royalties. I attach more importance to this department than to a faculty of Celtic studies. It is relevant to twentieth-century Wales and the export market.

Professor Hughes wrote to me as follows: My feeling is growing that it is such departments as mine at which the calls for curtailment of growth are aimed especially as we are now attracting students from all over Great Britain. I am very proud to hear that a department in the college in Cardiff is attracting students from outside Wales to the extent that this one is doing. Professor Hughes states: Although there is no direct interference in growth there is the indirect effect on my recruiting the highest quality teaching and reserve staff that we are already experiencing. Who, he asks, would want to be associated with a prospective development knowing that there was an intention for it to be strangled?

These are real apprehensions expressed by some of the liveliest minds in our university. It is no use, because of looking backward at a proud record of yesterday, ignoring the fact that twentieth-century Wales needs people of the type of Professor Hughes and his department. He is concerned that his plans to set up the first postgraduate school in the country to train engineers in biology is likely to be sabotaged by this restrictive attitude.

It may be said that these fears are unreal, but they are felt. They are believed in. Some of us who have lived in Wales have these fears as well. I trust, therefore, that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State—