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 Willie Hamilton Mr Willie Hamilton , Fife West 12:00 am, 26th January 1966

This is an arguable proposition. All I am saying is that each Government will decide their own priority. I might have my own difference of opinion. I often have with my hon. and right hon. Friends on the Front Bench as to what their priorities are and what they are doing about them, but this must be a matter of judgment by the Government. What I am saying is that so long as capital resources are limited it must be within the judgment of the Government as to how they use those limited resources. I do not believe that the allegation made by the right hon. Gentleman, that the universities are pessimistic and regretful now as compared with when the Robbins Report was produced, is true.

The universities are very conscious of the vital part they have to play in the future well-being of the nation. They must know that any Government recognises their importance. No Treasury will sanction an investment of £200 million a year unless it believes it to be in the national interest. I sense, in this debate and outside, much more public interest in our universities than has been the case for probably over a century. The gulf between the masses of the people and the universities is still very much wider than I would wish, but I think that it is narrowing. I hope that this debate will have done a little to carry us further in that direction.

It has been accepted by all, and I have accepted it in this debate, that the principle of freedom for universities is one on which there is virtually unanimous agreement. That does not mean that we must not seek further measures of public accountability for the ways in which this money is spent. I would like to see many more debates on how the money is spent on universities. I believe that we have carried this principle much too far for the public good. My right hon. Friend produced in his speech what he called a caricature of the man in the street and the questions he was asking. I am one of the men in the street asking precisely those questions.

I want to know what we are getting for our money, in much greater detail. We have a Bill going through the Scottish Grand Committee, the Scottish Universities Bill, and we are doing precisely the opposite. We are deleting the part of the 1889 Act which compels the Secretary of State to present an annual report to this House. The amount of public money being paid to the Scottish universities at that time was £500. Today, it is £20 million. I should like my right hon. Friend to bear in mind what the Public Accounts Committee has been saying. We want to establish a much greater measure of public accountability without infringing on the academic freedom to which we all pay due regard.