HC Deb 23 February 1915 vol 70 cc179-81

I beg to move, "That leave be given to introduce a Bill to amend the Universities and College Estates Acts, and to extend powers of the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge and the Colleges therein to make Statutes for purposes connected with the present War."

Every part of the community has made a ready and a full response to the call of the country for men to join the armed forces of the Crown, but nowhere has the response been more prompt and spirited than in our ancient universities. Anyone who visits them at this moment cannot fail to be struck by the change that has come over the scenes. At Oxford, for example, the examination schools have been turned into a military hospital, colleges are housing soldiers instead of students, the university parks have become a training ground, and practically the only undergraduates whom you can see in academical costume are those who are physically disqualified for military service. About two-thirds of the students who would ordinarily be in residence at Oxford have joined the Army, and corresponding figures, as I learn from material given me by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Rawlinson), are available for Cambridge. This splendid contribution has not been possible without sacrifice and anxiety—alike on the part of those who have volunteered and on the part of the colleges to which they belong. At Oxford, to take an example, there are some 2,000 who would be ordinarily in residence if we were at peace, but who in this time of emergency have joined the King's Forces; and of those 2,000 no less than 500 are scholars or exhibitioners—that is to say, they are young men in many cases of small means whose opportunity for going to the university at all has arisen from the prizes which they have won, and unless emergency provisions are now made such as we propose the colleges to which they belong, colleges which have elected them as scholars, cannot readily adjust their scholarships so as to provide financial aid for the present holders when they return from the War.

That is one of the objects which we have in promoting this Bill. Take the second case. Many of the younger tutors and lecturers in the universities have suspended their teaching in order to enter the Army for the time being. But they hold their fellowships on the fixed and necessary condition that they reside and teach; consequently, there is the danger of losing their fellowships altogether owing to the response which they have made to the call of the country, and, unless the colleges can promptly obtain power to suspend those conditions for the time being, these fellowships will lapse. I will take the third case. The Bill also makes emergency provisions for university and college finance. To the greater part of the institutions in both Oxford and Cambridge it means a sudden and most serious loss of revenue, and power is therefore asked to make good temporary deficiencies in income by borrowing—to make good those temporary deficiencies by enabling corporate revenue—revenue from investments and the like to subsidise funds which depend upon fees so far as is necessary, and to suspend, with the leave of the Board of Agriculture, the sinking fund repayments in respect of capital expenditure which was authorised in time of peace.

The provisions of the Bill are purely permissive, and they will only be taken advantage of so far as in individual cases the university authorities or college authorities find necessary. Moreover, the operation of the Bill is limited to the period of emergency. That period, however, will not terminate on the day when peace is declared, for it must take some time for university and college finances to recover from the strain which the situation is putting upon them. We propose in the Bill to define the emergency period as ending at the close of the calendar year in which the War terminates, or, if the War terminates in the latter part of the year, then to allow the emergency period to continue until the end of the next following calendar year. That we think will give the authorities sufficient time to adjust their position after the War has come to an end. There is only one other thing I want to say. The House will, of course, understand that the universities are not asking for any assistance from the Treasury or the taxpayer. They are merely asking for power to enlarge and modify their existing regulations so as to enable them to overcome the difficulties with which they are faced. I am confident that the House will very readily give to them the powers which they need in order that they may meet as best they can a situation which is due—and due entirely—to the patriotism of their members.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by the Attorney-General, the Prime Minister, Mr. Pease, and the Solicitor-General. Presented accordingly, and read the first time; to be read a second time To-morrow, and to be printed. [Bill 32.]