Previous Section Home Page

Column 837

doing on their behalf. I challenge them, so that they may so satisfy themselves, to go to the Vote Office--if they have sufficient confidence in their own Minister, if they believe in these 17 initiatives--and ask for a copy of the order. If they will not do so, we can only conclude that they assume that MAFF has not yet learnt the lessons of 1988.

If there is one conclusion to be drawn from this debate and from the Select Committee's report, it is not about the vanity of one junior Minister in the Department of Health, or even about the rivalry of two senior Ministers in the Department of Health and in the Ministry of Agriculture. It is about the inability of a great Department of state to respond to the conflicting pressures of producers and consumers. That presents a challenge to the Government. It is a challenge that they, and they alone, must meet because the health of the British consumer is at stake.

9.14 pm

Mr. Ryder : With the leave of the House, may I say that I greatly enjoyed the brief exchange between the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) and the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) when they were considering together the prospect of a future Labour Government in which the hon. Member for Caerphilly was a Minister and the hon. Member for Bradford, South was not. It is inconceivable that if a Labour Government were elected the hon. Members for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) and for Bradford, South would not be part of that Administration. I can see it now--Foreign Secretary, the hon. Member for Bolsover, the man who has never travelled abroad up to now. On second thoughts, it would be the hon. Member for Bradford, South who would be Foreign Secretary. After all, he has great experience of representing people in two Parliaments.

I have greatly enjoyed the debate. It has fully matched the fluency and clarity of the report by the Select Committee. I have already spoken in the debate. It is unusual for the same Minister to speak twice on an Estimates day, so I shall be brief.

At the start of the debate I stressed that I was not giving the Government's official response to the report. That will come later and doubtless there will be future opportunities to debate the question. We have heard well-informed and perceptive speeches from several of my right hon. and hon. Friends, including my hon. Friends the Members for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland), for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller), for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) and for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen). We had a balanced and authoritative opening speech from the Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin). I have also been struck by the obvious interest and knowledge of several Opposition Members. The Select Committee is fortunate to have them as members.

The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) and the hon. Member for Caerphilly queried that 17 measures, already announced by the Government, have been introduced. The hon. Member for South Shields alleged originally that only two of those measures had been introduced. In an intervention I pointed out to him that that was not the case. We have introduced far more. Some are still to come, but I read out to him at least five or six

Column 838

that we have introduced, and there are others. If he will put down a series of questions I shall be delighted to set out in detail precisely what we have done.

The hon. Member for South Shields was concerned about eggs that were allowed to enter the food chain from farms implicated in food poisoning outbreaks. I understand his concern. However, the position is not straightforward. In some cases the link between a farm and food poisoning was unclear. In others the owner followed the state veterinary service's advice to improve hygiene and reduce the risk of salmonella. Some slaughtered their flocks voluntarily and in some cases subsequent bacteriological examination yielded negative results.

Several hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton, were concerned about imports. The port health authorities are sampling imported eggs. I understand that up to now they have all proved to be negative. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry observed, such sampling is difficult. As my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton recognised in his informative speech, salmonella enteritidis phage 4 is an international problem and must be tackled at source on an international basis. That is why, as a Government, we welcomed the establishment by the EEC standing veterinary committee on 7 December of a sub-committee to look into this specific issue. My right hon. Friend the Minister has also initiated bilateral discussions with our EEC partners as well as with our United States counterparts.

My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry inquired about eggs from broiler breeder flocks. If we had reason to believe that there was a problem in a broiler breeder flock, and eggs were being sold from that flock for human consumption, we would, of course, put restrictions on the flock to prevent the sale of eggs for human consumption.

The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), who is not in his place, mentioned that the chief medical officer said in his evidence to the Select Committee that the level of contamination of eggs from Spain was between one in 100 and one in 1,000 and that, therefore, there was a risk to us from importing Spanish eggs. I understand that the chief medical officer was quoting an article from the Lancet that reported the levels detected in one or two flocks in Spain. We do not know whether that data is representative of Spanish flocks or eggs as a whole.

The hon. Member for Carlisle asked, too, about the proportion of food poisoning cases resulting from people returning from overseas. I understand that up to October that was 14 per cent. in 1988. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), whose contributions to these debates I always enjoy, talked about the relative merits of free-range versus battery eggs. As I believe the hon. Gentleman knows, there is no conclusive evidence to show that one system is any safer than the other.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove inquired about restrictions. Each case will be treated on its merits. Ministry veterinary surgeons will sample where salmonella infection is suspected on a house-by-house basis. If any birds in one house prove positive, all birds in that house will be slaughtered. If none is positive, none will be slaughtered. The veterinary surgeons will envisage killing out an entire farm only if all the birds are together in a single flock or if each separate house is found to contain infected birds.

Column 839

The hon. Member for Caerphilly enjoyed himself, as he always does, when making his reply and teased us about the Zoonoses Order of 1989. I shall clarify matters for him, because he seemed uncertain about the nature of the order. Ministers have signed an order which came into effect on 1 March providing for compulsory slaughter and compensation where salmonella infection is confirmed in a poultry flock. As well as providing new powers, the Zoonoses Order of 1989 re-enacts the Zoonoses Order of 1975 and strengthens the requirements to report the results of tests that identify the presence of salmonella. The reporting requirement applies to any identification of a salmonella organism by a serological or any other examination either in a laboratory or elsewhere.

Mr. Ron Davies : I am grateful to the Minister for confirming that that order has now been implemented. Will the Minister tell us when he intends letting us have a copy?

Mr. Ryder : If the hon. Gentleman has had any difficulty in obtaining a copy, I shall gladly take the first opportunity to put that matter right.

I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare and the members of his Committee for providing a clear and fluent report that has enabled us to hold such a constructive debate. I look forward to hearing his concluding remarks.

9.25 pm

Mr. Wiggin : With the permission of the House, Mr. Speaker, I understand that it is customary for there to be a very brief winding-up speech by the proposer of the business on a day such as this. I start by thanking all hon. Members for their kind remarks, which I take as very much a tribute to all the members of the Select Committee who contributed to the report.

I have considerable sympathy for my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary concerning his remarks on the subject of secrecy in relation to food safety. The very thin dividing line between sensible caution and starting a scare poses a hard problem for him. Whatever happened on this occasion, it was not done properly and I hope that the lessons are seriously learned. He also mentioned the interesting problem of appointing to various committees the professional consumer. I hope that he will be very cautious before going too far down that road. We are all consumers and the concept that on every committee there has to be a consumer rather troubles me.

I hope that my hon. Friend and the hon. Members for South Shields (Dr. Clark) and for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) will forgive me if I treat their exchanges on governmental and Opposition lines as being just that and, in my capacity as Chairman of the Select Committee, leave them to settle their differences.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Shropshire, North (Mr. Biffen)--I have to say how much nicer his constituency sounded when it was called Oswestry- -unquestionably made one of the outstanding speeches of the afternoon. He pointed out that the Select Committee, as it progressed, had helped to establish parameters for all Select Committees in all their activities in the future. I am grateful for that acknowledgement. He also used the most splendidly delicate words in criticising his colleagues. I

Column 840

hope that if I ever have to be criticised it will be by him, since no one uses the English language better or to greater effect.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : Well, where is he?

Mr. Wiggin : He rightly concluded his remarks by pointing out that laws on the safety of food and feeding stuffs must be enforceable and must be enforced.

The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley), who is, I know, an expert on birds--indeed, we have enjoyed his knowledge and company on foreign travel, when he has entertained us greatly with his deep knowledge- -touched on the very difficult question of free-range eggs and batteries. I refrained from interrupting him, but I have to point out that there is no way in which human beings can adjudge the happiness or otherwise of the hen except by the very reasonable indicator of how many eggs it lays. Anyone who has ever studied this matter will find that, amazing as it may seem to us, the battery hen in its controlled environment produces rather more eggs than are produced by most other methods. However, it is not the job of the Select Committee to adjudge this most tricky matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) was almost alone in his criticism of the Select Committee report, although my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Gow), who unfortunately has just left the Chamber, also voiced on Thursday some critical comments. I have to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove that his attempts to cross-quote my remarks during the time that I was Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture were rather fruitless in that all his quotations were from things said before the discovery, or even the start, of this particular problem of enteritidis in chickens, which did not start until at least 12 months after I left the Ministry. I am particularly sorry about his changed view, since his earlier, rather enthusiastic support for poultry producers seems to have vanished.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion and Pembroke, North (Mr. Howells) made some particularly kind personal remarks, which I much appreciated.

My hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Mrs. Winterton), who has been a most assiduous supporter and attender of the Committee, rightly made some important comments about hygiene in the kitchen. It is a recurring theme that hygiene in the kitchen is just as important as anything that might take place on the farm or in the production chain.

The hon. Members for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) and for Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald), who are all members of the Select Committee, represent a new and extremely energetic entry on the Opposition Benches. I respect their political comprehension and am acutely aware of it because they helped to maintain an important balance on the Committee. I congratulate them on their assiduity, and I am sure that, shortly, they will all be Front Benchers.

In his--as usual--learned dissertation, my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) mentioned the problems that will come for producers if animal health restrictions are imposed and no compensation is given. If that were to happen, farmers, producers and advisers would not come forward voluntarily to report disease, so

Column 841

it would be passed on. I accept that point. I was pleased about my hon. Friend's appointment to the Agricultural and Food Research Council, to which I am sure he will make a great contribution. He will also help our contacts with it.

In his usual enthusiastic way, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland) praised the intervention scheme-- although I suspect that his remarks will prove as fatal for the microwave oven industry as those of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) were for the egg industry. If he finds that at his meeting in the Forest of Dean he encounters a number of Japanese gentlemen protesting about what he said, it will be his own fault.

My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop), who is always an expert on constitutional and procedural matters, referred us to the Standing Orders on the referral of Members to appear before Select Committees. May I remind him that the Standing Order that might have been invoked on this matter was passed in about 1688. He wondered whether an hon. Member, appearing as a witness before a Select Committee, had to say or contribute anything, but, happily, the sanctions that existed in 1688 no longer exist. I wonder whether he has pursued the matter to its intellectual end. When Sir Leon Brittan appeared before the Select Committee on Defence in similar circumstances, he refused to answer many questions without having sanctions imposed on him.

As to the remark of my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton that women's institutes would read the Committee's report with interest--the mind boggles. One imagines that, after tea and the singing of Jerusalem, the president would read excerpts from the Select Committee

Column 842

report about salmonella in eggs. I think that things in Devonshire are different from those in my part of the world.

The hon. Member for Antrim, East (Mr. Beggs) rightly made some valid points about the suffering of producers in Northern Ireland, despite the fact that they have a clean bill of health.

With his usual assiduity and fresh approach, my hon. Friend the Member for Skipton and Ripon (Mr. Curry) discussed the political executive interplay in an interesting speech which I am sure will be carefully studied by Ministers. The press department of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is unlikely to be as wide awake on Saturday afternoons as he expects. The real world may be a little different from his suggestion.

The hon. Member for Ynys Mo n (Mr. Jones) rightly commented on the narrow profit margins in the production of eggs. The evidence shows that that problem still prevails throughout the industry. This has been an extremely worthwhile debate. I know that we are under pressure of time. I wish that we could have these debates more often. At the end of a fairly lengthy, and yet energetic investigation, it is helpful to be able to debate such matters on the Floor of the House without the constraints of secrecy entailed in the preparation of a report, and to receive valuable contributions from hon. Members who are not on the Select Committee.

With an important festival--associated with traditional fare--ahead, may I wish all those involved in this extraordinary matter a happy Easter?

The Question necessary to dispose of the proceedings was deferred, pursuant to paragraph (4) of Standing Order No. 52 (Consideration of Estimates) and the Order [28 February].

Column 843

Overseas Students (Funding)

Motion made, and Question proposed , That this House do now adjourn.-- [Mr. Heathcoat-Amory.]

9.35 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Timothy Eggar) : I am grateful to the Foreign Affairs Select Committee for this opportunity to debate our policy on overseas students. The House has seen the evidence given to the Select Committee by officials of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. So hon. Members already have a good idea of what we are doing in this area, why and how we are doing it, and what we aim to do in the future.

The Government are committed to bringing more students from overseas to study in Britain. In the current financial year we have spent more than £110 million to assist more than 22,000 foreign students to study here. Only four years ago, the figure was just over 17,000 students for an expenditure of £79 million.

Government-funded schemes have already helped to increase the number of overseas students studying in universities in Britain. By 1987 there were more overseas students on degree or postgraduate courses in the United Kingdom than in 1978 ; and 1978 was the previous peak year, before full- cost fees were introduced. At the level below degree courses the decline has not been reversed, but in the past 10 years there has been a marked improvement in higher education in developing countries--indeed, our aid programme has contributed to that improvement.

Before 1980, there was an indiscriminate subsidy for all overseas students. Now we target our expenditure to achieve pre-determined objectives. We have gained the flexibility to take on new objectives when they arise. For example, two years ago, the Overseas Development Administration set up the Sino-British friendship scholarship scheme, jointly funded with the Sir Y. K. Pao foundation and the Government of China. The FCO recently set up schemes for Hong Kong, and the ODA has introduced schemes for black South Africans.

We have also been able to respond to the challenge of glasnost, with scholarships for Hungary, Poland and the Soviet Union financed in partnership with the Soros foundation and Oxford university. We plan more scholarship activity in eastern Europe over the next three years. We particularly aim to respond to the requests that we have had from eastern Europe for help with business studies courses. We aim, too, to help to meet the challenge of 1992 with more scholarships for students from European Community countries, who have been coming to British universities increasingly in the last few years. We have just launched the Jean Monnet scheme, marking the centenary of his birth, with a number of scholarships for French students.

By far the largest part of our overseas scholarship expenditure comes from the aid programme. The vast majority--more than 85 per cent--of the students who receive assistance come from developing countries.

Recently the ODA has been targeting its technical co-operation and training programme awards more firmly on the development aid projects that it is financing. But it has also decided to route some of its money through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office scholarships and awards scheme. That is because under the FCOSAS, like

Column 844

the British Council fellowships scheme, the aim has been to select the leaders, the decision-takers and the opinion- formers of the successor generation. In addition, the ODA-funded awards must be in subjects relevant to the economic, scientific and social development of the recipient country. In this way we enable students to play the fullest role in helping development at home and in benefiting Britain's relations with that country.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark and Bermondsey) : Does the Minister accept that a criticism that can be levelled at the criteria used by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is that the choice of students on schemes is based first on British interests and only second on the interests of developing countries? Would it not be better if it were made much clearer that the interests of developing countries should come first and domestic interests second?

Mr. Eggar : I find it rather surprising that the hon. Gentleman should be surprised that, in making scholarships avaiable, we should not give a degree of priority to British interests, which is a key objective. All scholarship schemes financed by the Overseas Development Administration are discussed with host Governments and are agreed by the ODA and the Government concerned. I have already said that the ODA is increasingly focusing its scholarship expenditure on courses and degrees that are relevant to the particular development aid that it is giving the country concerned, so the scholarships are carefully co-ordinated.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : Does my hon. Friend accept that members of the Commonwealth are especially glad to receive scholarships not only in technical subjects but in administration at Government level? A Malaysian Minister said to me years ago that if someone goes to a British university it will affect him throughout his life. He said, "My wife went to an American university. She starts the day with coffee and reads the New York Herald Tribune. I went to a British university. I start the day with tea, I read The Times and my interests are wholly those of the Commonwealth and Britain." It is extremely important not to exclude the administrative layer.

Mr. Eggar : I agree with my hon. Friend. Only this afternoon, I had an interesting discussion with the Peruvian Minister of Health who was here for the ozone layer conference. He told me that he had done a postgraduate degree in medicine at Manchester university and that there were close contacts between that university and the health sector in Peru since his return. My hon. Friend's comment applies not only to Commonwealth countries, but to all countries. There is quite a high correlation between people who study here and those who retain ties of one kind or another with the United Kingdom. That is one of the significant justifications for our putting money into scholarship schemes.

The ODA has recently introduced a jointly-funded scheme specifically for Commonwealth developing countries. That was the personal initiative of my right hon. Friend the Member of Aylesbury (Mr. Raison) when he was Minister for Overseas Development. Known as the ODA shared scholarship scheme, it has 250 award-holders in the current year. The ODA contribution to their costs is £1.4 million and the rest is found by the participating

Column 845

universities and polytechnics, which are free to raise a part, or indeed all, of the balance from private sector contributions. We believe that private sector involvement in overseas scholarship activity is extremely important. If our scholarship schemes are to reflect British interests appropriately, their priorities must include those of industry, commerce and the financial sector. Everyone agrees that in bringing foreign students to this country we are making an investment in the future. But we look to the private sector to pay more than just lip service to that idea, which is why we have been placing increasing emphasis on jointly-funded schemes. We share the cost of funding with private sector partners and also with the receiving academic institutions--helping, incidentally, in the process, to build much needed links between those institutions and private sector companies. It is not just a matter of finance. It is also a question of involvement in, and commitment to, an enterprise that will bring long-term benefit to this country. The FCO scholarships and awards scheme also has its jointly-funded component, made up of direct partnership with the private sector and with academic institutions. There are 17 such jointly-funded partnerships in operation under the FCOSAS at present, with 156 award holders this financial year, at a total cost to the FCO of just under £500,000. Last year, the scheme looked after about 80 students at half this year's cost. To give but one example, we have a joint operation with British Gas and Strathclyde university encouraging students from Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh and Turkey to come to study engineering, applied science and business administration.

Our diplomatic missions overseas have identified further partners for joint funding. We have just appointed an adviser on overseas scholarship funding, Mr. David Thomas, whose job will be to canvass support among private sector firms and foundations and the academic institutions. I hope that hon. Members will draw the scheme's availability to the attention of firms in their constituencies and elsewhere.

Government funding for overseas students, whether directly in terms of scholarships or indirectly in terms of support, has been a growth area over the past few years. That growth is set to continue, but our expenditure will be carefully targeted through a range of programmes that will give us the flexibility to achieve properly identified objectives. Since 1980 we have replaced indiscriminate subsidy with judicious selection, and that process will continue.

9.45 pm

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley) : The Opposition welcome the opportunity to discuss the subject of overseas students in the United Kingdom. We also pay tribute to the part played by the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs in pursuing the matter, although we were astonished that the Government's response to the Committee's fourth report did not even mention overseas students. That was an unfortunate lapse.

It is appropriate to remind ourselves, as the Minister did, of the real value of providing education for overseas students in the United Kingdom, which benefits both the students themselves and our country. We have a responsibility within the international community, and

Column 846

particularly within the Commonwealth--as the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) pointed out--to contribute substantially to education in the Third world. It is also helpful in developing our commerce and trade if decision-makers in other countries have been educated here and understand our system and our way of life. It is also of immeasurable value in diplomatic and political terms.

At my university of Edinburgh--my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson), unfortunately, went to another university--we were proud to have provided education for Julius Nyerere and Hastings Banda, despite their different philosophies and ways of running their countries, as well as for many others who ended up running their countries and who recall their time at Edinburgh with fond memories which can reflect nothing but good on the whole United Kingdom. It was also an enriching and educating experience for British students to study alongside people from other parts of the world--although I hasten to add that I was not there at the same time as Julius Nyerere or Hastings Banda.

This is one of the most valuable forms of assistance that we can give to developing countries, particularly in certain appropriate and relevant courses. Some of the key courses, unfortunately, have suffered from Government policy in the past few years. I believe, however, that the original 1967 decision on differential fees was wrong in principle, and I strongly opposed it at the time--not here, but as president of the Scottish Union of Students. My hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton was vice- president, so he has moved up a bit since then. The really harmful decision, however, was the move to full-cost fees in November 1979. This was typical of the Government's policy--in a range of contexts--of putting expenditure cuts before principle. To be fair, however, it was condemned by a number of Conservative Back Benchers.

There was an immediate dramatic reduction in the number of overseas students, from 88,000 in the 1979-80 academic year to just over 56, 000 by 1984-85. As the Minister said, there has been a recovery more recently, but we still have a much smaller share of an increasing global demand and there have been significant and unwelcome distortions in the pattern of institutions and in students' countries of origin. The number of overseas students at polytechnics, and particularly at colleges of further education, is still much lower than in 1978, according to the Department's own figures which were collated for the interdepartmental group working party on statistics. In Great Britain as a whole the number of colleges of further education fell by 75 per cent. over that period. It is no use saying that it started before full-cost fees because there were only marginal reductions at that time--the spectacular reduction has taken place since then. Unfortunately, many of those courses are in subjects such as agriculture, intermediate technology and other subjects most useful and appropriate for developing countries. The distortion between countries is equally unwelcome. For example, there have been increases in students from Germany, France and particularly the Republic of Ireland, where students coming to Britain are subsidised in the same way as British students, and decreases in the numbers from India, Pakistan, Kenya, Zimbabwe and other developing countries. Indeed, the proportion of overseas students in the United Kingdom from OECD countries has risen from 18.4 per cent. to 24.9 per cent. while the proportion from developing countries has fallen from 82.6

Column 847

per cent. to 76.5 per cent. There has thus been a displacement and distortion which is unwelcome to the Opposition.

As the House knows, instead of students from overseas being allowed to come to Britain freely and pay the same subsidised fees as British students, they are now mainly dependent on scholarships from various sources, as the Minister said. It is important to recall, however, that it took three years of very forceful and powerful argument from diplomatic, educational and commercial circles, as well as from the Opposition and from some Conservative Back Benchers, before the then Foreign Secretary announced in 1983 what became known as the "Pym package".

Particularly significant was the work carried out by the National Union of Students, the United Kingdom Council for Overseas Student Affairs--which I had a small part in setting up many years ago--and the Overseas Students Trust, all of which still argue strongly that there is a need for an increase in real terms in the amount spent on award schemes, and the NUS rightly wants much greater flexibility in the allocation of awards between different countries.

As I think most people in the House will know, the most powerful and comprehensive case for greater support was in the Overseas Students Trust's book "The Next Steps". I am getting like the Prime Minister in bringing visual aids into the House, but I am glad that I am not like her in other ways. The Government have accepted some of the recommendations--we welcome, for example, the small new scholarship scheme funded by the Department of Trade and Industry--but there is still no sign of the full £25 million extra that that report said was necessary. Perhaps the Minister can tell us today whether the Government accept the idea in that report that the overseas research students award scheme, ORSAS, should be extended to polytechnics. He might tell us whether they plan to set up the educational purposes award scheme for overseas students below research degree level and to expand the British Council's educational counselling service, all of which were recommended in "The Next Steps".

I pay tribute to the work of the British Council, whose vice-chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Hamilton, is with us today. I hope that the Minister will say something about those particular recommendations.

If the present Government remain in office and continue their present policy, the future will not be rosy. As my countryman Robert Burns would have said,

"And forward though I canna see--I dread and fear".

I dread and fear because the Government's market philosophy is intruding more and more into universities and colleges and the search for overseas students. Already student recruitment fairs have started up in Brussels and Kuala Lumpur, setting up stalls and displays and giving away free carrier bags. At Kuala Lumpur there was a row between certain universities and the British Council which was rightly alarmed at deposit-taking in hotel bedrooms and promises of degrees within five years to students from Malaysia with the equivalent of O-levels. Competition is likely to be fierce because for many universities income from overseas students is vital to their survival. That kind

Column 848

of market bazaar approach to the recruitment of overseas students was well covered in The Times Higher Education Supplement of 30 December.

Demographic changes within the United Kingdom will exacerbate the problem, with the number of 17-year-olds falling dramatically by about 30 per cent. by the end of the century. The two displacements that I described earlier towards universities and away from polytechnics and further education and towards developed countries and away from developing countries will be exacerbated by the market approach.

The Opposition would like to see a much better planned and co-ordinated Government approach to overseas students, with the complex and increasingly sidetracked advisory round table and the inter-departmental group streamlined so that the activities of the Department of Education and Science, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Overseas Development Agency, all of which have a legitimate interest in this, could be better co -ordinated with regular top level advice from academics and industrialists as well as from Government. The round table has not met for 15 months and I am told that the last meeting, under the chairmanship of the Under- Secretary of State for Education and Science, the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), was more like an Oxbridge seminar--as one might expect, given the hon. Gentleman's background--than a business meeting. Unless there is some speedy solution to the

Government-inspired dispute in higher education, the work of all our students will be in peril and overseas students will be particularly hard hit.

I mentioned earlier the work of the Overseas Students Trust. In its report, "The Next Steps", it pays tribute to the vital support and collaboration of the Fund for International Student Co-operation in producing the report and in its work generally. It represents the kind of public and private collaboration often praised by Government spokesmen, with the private funding to the trust complemented by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office grant to FISC. It was therefore with great dismay that I heard recently that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office grant to FISC is to end. We are due an explanation from the Minister which I hope he will be able to give later in the debate. There seems to be no reason for that decision unless it be that the excellent work of the OST-FISC consortium may have caused the Government some embarrassment so retribution has to be exacted. I hope that the Minister will reconsider that regrettable decision. The importance of overseas students being educated in Britain has never been greater. Yet throughout the important area of the far east we are being overtaken by Germany, by the United States and, as in almost everything else, by Japan. The Japanese have pledged to increase their overseas student population from 10,000 to 100,000 within a decade--they understand the value of training overseas students in their country--and after four years of that decade their overseas student population is already 30,000.

Even in the Government's materialistic terms, overseas students are a good investment. We spend about £110 million of public money on scholarships, but it is estimated that overseas students spend more than £1 billion more than that in Britain, so even in the Government's materialistic terms they are worth while. The real value, however, is not in pounds and pence--I nearly gave away my age by saying pounds, shillings and pence--but in our contribution to our fellow men. It is a moral commitment

Column 849

to the countries that our predecessors exploited and which, through the world's financial institutions, we are still exploiting, and the benefit to the international community of the rapid spread of knowledge. I realise that the present Government do not appreciate the importance of those factors, but I give a pledge that the next Government will.

9.59 pm

Mr. David Howell (Guildford) : The Select Committee on Foreign Affairs is grateful for this opportunity to have a short debate on the funding of overseas students. As the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) has said, and as my hon. Friend the Under- Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has also said--I hope that he will forgive me for being a couple of minutes late for the beginning of his speech, for rather obvious reasons which I suspect apply to a number of other hon. Members--this is a matter that has interested successive Foreign Affairs Committees. Under my prede--

It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Mr. Speaker-- proceeded to put forthwith the deferred Question necessary to dispose of the proceedings on Supplementary Estimates, 1988-89 (Class IV, Vote 3).

The House divided : Ayes 175, Noes 31.

Division No. 118] [10 pm


Alison, Rt Hon Michael

Amess, David

Amos, Alan

Arbuthnot, James

Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)

Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)

Atkins, Robert

Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)

Batiste, Spencer

Beggs, Roy

Bellingham, Henry

Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)

Bevan, David Gilroy

Blackburn, Dr John G.

Boscawen, Hon Robert

Boswell, Tim

Bottomley, Peter

Bottomley, Mrs Virginia

Bowis, John

Bright, Graham

Brooke, Rt Hon Peter

Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)

Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick

Burns, Simon

Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)

Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)

Carrington, Matthew

Carttiss, Michael

Cash, William

Chapman, Sydney

Chope, Christopher

Churchill, Mr

Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe)

Conway, Derek

Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)

Cope, Rt Hon John

Cran, James

Currie, Mrs Edwina

Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)

Davis, David (Boothferry)

Day, Stephen

Devlin, Tim

Dorrell, Stephen

Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James

Dover, Den

Durant, Tony

Fenner, Dame Peggy

Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)

Fishburn, John Dudley

Forman, Nigel

Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)

Forth, Eric

Fox, Sir Marcus

Franks, Cecil

Freeman, Roger

French, Douglas

Gale, Roger

Gill, Christopher

Glyn, Dr Alan

Gow, Ian

Gregory, Conal

Ground, Patrick

Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn

Hague, William

Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)

Hannam, John

Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')

Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)

Harris, David

Haselhurst, Alan

Hayward, Robert

Heathcoat-Amory, David

Heddle, John

Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael

Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)

Howard, Michael

Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)

Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)

Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)

Howells, Geraint

Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)

Hughes, Simon (Southwark)

Hunt, David (Wirral W)

Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)

Irvine, Michael

Jack, Michael

Janman, Tim

Jones, Robert B (Herts W)

Jopling, Rt Hon Michael

Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine

Key, Robert

Kilfedder, James

Next Section

  Home Page