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Lord Quirk: My Lords, any progress in this area is good news and I am grateful to the Minister for the crumbs of comfort that he has been able to offer. But may I ask him whether, in view of the fact that it is not just the exporting industry but the promoters of tourism in this country who need to be shedding their complacency, he can assure us that they also are heeding the DTI's warnings that not all foreigners are equally comfortable in the English language?
Further, could I just ask, given the fact that it has long been easier to persuade, say, Spanish people to learn English than it has been to persuade English speakers to learn, say, Spanish, how come that other English speaking countries are so much more accommodating and enterprising than our own country?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, there are two aspects to this question. On the business side, we live in a world of international trading. Perhaps we in Britain have been slower than some other nations to appreciate that language skills and the ability to deal with people in languages that we do not ourselves speak is an essential business tool. Clearly, against that background we want to see improved skills throughout. Efforts are being made to bring that aboutand not only at the educational level through the national curriculum. That seems a good basis on which to build.
Lord Renton My Lords, bearing in mind the obvious expansion that is taking place in business and trade in the Far East, will the Government do all that they can to encourage the learning of the languages of the Far East?
Lord Ennals: My Lords, the Minister says that there is evidence of improvement in relation to this very important issue. Will he give the evidence, indicate the percentage, and give whatever other statistics he has at his disposal?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I cannot helpfully quantify this matter. Suffice it to say that the response to the National Languages for Export campaign has been good. Activity is taking place on the ground, and we are confident that the campaign will not only raise awareness of the problem but that it will also lead to better language skills.
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. The primary duty of the education system in this country is to ensure that all our citizens can read and write and are properly equipped in their own language. However, we must not be seduced by the fact that there is a very considerable use and knowledge of English elsewhere around the globe. If we are trying to sell things to people, we must remember that the customer is always right. If the customer wants to deal in his own language, he is entirely entitled to do so. It is for us to try to ensure that we deal with him on that basis where appropriate.
Lord Haskel: My Lords, does the Minister therefore agree that good relationships are essential in today's tough business environment and that languages play an important part in that? Can he say how many telephone operators at the DTI speak a foreign language so that inquiries from abroad do not fall at the first hurdle?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question. I am afraid that I am not immediately in a position to give him the reply that he seeks. Had the noble Lord rung up the DTI himself, he might have been able to gain the answer that he seeks at first hand.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, after English, to which my noble friend Lord Eccles referred, the second most internationally spoken language is Spanish? Is he further aware that there are today in the United Kingdom a large number of public and private institutions teaching that languageI must declare an interest in that I am associated with two of themand that the facility to learn Spanish is now widely available?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, clearly, the noble Lord is right: the best place to start acquiring a knowledge of languages is in school. That is why we made it mandatory under the national curriculum in 1992 that languages should be a part of what every child is taught. The appropriate way to deal with this is through the education budget.
Lord Quirk: Nonetheless, my Lords, to what extent does the Minister agree that until employers show, perhaps through their job ads, that language skills are valued in the job market, schoolchildren will not take up the option of learning foreign languages?
Lord Inglewood: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. It is crucial that people realise that if they want a good job, one of the best ways to get it is to have these skills which are very valuable to business.
Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, which will give great pleasure to the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, and I hope to others as well. However, in the light of the statement that was made earlier this week by the Labour Party spokesman on higher education that his party, if elected, would abolish the funding for Oxford and Cambridge fees, can my noble friend assure the House that this Government are not committed to going down the route of giving equal funding to all, regardless of quality, but that they will continue to reward academic excellence in those universities which are capable of attracting the brightest and most able students and the brightest and best staff?
Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am very happy to give my noble friend the assurance that she requires. Of course, I do not have any inside track on Labour Party education policy. It has occasionally seemed to me that those sitting opposite do not have one either. However, it appears sometimes that some members of the Labour Party do not believe in excellence in education except where their own children are concerned.
Lord Lucas: My Lords, in 1994-95 the average cost for a student at Oxbridge was £4,852. That compares with the next most expensive university, which is Imperial College, London, at £4,465. I shall be happy to supply the noble Lord with extensive information on value added but we do not have any particular index to offer.
Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, the Minister may be aware that on 1st March his honourable friend in another place, announcing that the HEFC had been asked to advise on the annual increase of the average college fee at Oxford and Cambridge, said:
Lord Lucas: My Lords, the subject was decided in agreement with the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. In fact, the practice has been followed for some years. What has happened this year is that the responsibility for determining the final figures has been transferred to the Higher Education Funding Council.
Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, I beg the Minister's pardon. People were talking and I did not quite catch the beauty of his opening sentence. Did I hear him correctly or incorrectly? Did he say that this matter had been decided in consultation with the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and no one elsefor example, not with the Universities of Wales or London, which are collegiate universities, or with Sheffield University, which works on halls of residence?
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