HC Deb 05 July 1922 vol 156 cc468-77

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I need only say a very few words regarding this Measure. It has been brought forward on behalf of, and with the entire assent and approval of, the four Scottish Universities, and it has been passed in another place without Amendment. Its purpose is to extend the existing power of University Courts to pass ordinances. It enables ordinances to be made for three purposes, which are enumerated in the Bill, and all of which I hope the House will agree are desirable purposes. The Universities are empowered, first, to pass ordinances imposing age limits upon the tenure of office of any principal or any professor in a university; second, to institute a new pension system for principals or professors, in addition to, or substitution for, existing pensions schemes; third, to provide for the admission of lecturers or readers to the Senatus Academicus. Apart from these provisions, these gentlemen would have no right to form part of, or take part in the proceedings of, the Senatus Academicus,

These three provisions result from the somewhat narrow and inadequate provisions of the Universities (Scotland) Act, 1889, which are now supplemented by those I have enumerated. The rights of the Crown with regard to any principal-ship or professorship of which it has the patronage, and the rights of principals and professors who are already in office are duly safeguarded by the Bill. There is just one other provision to which I need refer. The Bill provides for the admission to the general council of university lecturers and readers during their tenure of office. This provision confers ex officio membership on lecturers or readers who are graduates of other universities, and who otherwise would not be members of the general council in the University in which they are acting. That, I think, is a wise and beneficent provision, and I hope it will receive effect. I should add, what is not unimportant in these days, that the Bill imposes no charge whatever on the Exchequer. I hope, without further parley, the House will be good enough to give a Second Reading to a Measure which, if introduced late in the Session, is a useful Measure, and one which is agreed upon by those concerned in securing it, namely, the four Scottish universities.


If I may mention the students of the Scottish Universities at the moment, I should say they welcome this Measure not less heartily than any professor, reader or lecturer. There are only one or two general considerations in connection with the Bill to which I propose to direct attention. In the first place, the Bill provides for ordinances dealing with the age limit of professors and other holders of posts in the University. That is a desirable provision. I admit it is very difficult to lay down a hard and fast age limit for professors or lecturers, because what is at stake is not so much the age of the holder of the office as his capacity to discharge the duties devolving upon him. It is not unfair to say that many of our Scottish professors for whom we have the very highest respect, have held office sometimes, when, perhaps, their knowledge was greater than ever it was, but when it was perfectly impossible for them, by reason of the condition of their health, to make themselves either audible or, in a few cases, intelligible to the students who were at their mercy. That is a condition of affairs against which Scottish students are entitled to be protected, and I am grateful for this Clause in the Bill.

That leads us naturally to the provision in the Measure instituting a scheme of superannuation. This Bill provides that a superannuation scheme may be instituted, and I gather if such a scheme is instituted, it will form part and parcel of the federated superannuation scheme which applies to other Universities and is regarded as particularly appropriate for the holders of such posts. On that I make no comment at all at the present time, but it will be observed that in the Proviso to Sub-section (2) of Clause 1 it is laid down that any existing holder of an office is not compelled to come in under the scheme unless he consents. There is no compulsion. I have no desire to compel holders of offices in Scottish Universities to enter any superannuation scheme if they do not desire to do so, but we must be true to the principles of superannuation. It is our duty to ask whether it would not be proper, if we could get the agreement of the holders of these offices, to introduce some age limit into this Clause. After the age of 55, in general superannuation, the holder of an office is not eligible for inclusion in a scheme.

We may get holders of offices in Scottish Universities who were appointed as comparatively young men. They are at the moment holders of these posts, but if they decline to come under the scheme, then of course there is nothing to compel them to do so. I think I am correct in saying that this scheme is on an endow ment basis, but that docs not take away the mutual character of all superannuation. The question I put to the Secretary of Scotland is, whether this Clause could not be strengthened a little in the direction of bringing in officials or holders of offices, especally when those men are comparatively young. A fair way of doing that would be to insert—if agreement could be secured to the insertion—an age limit in the Clause. I think that is in the interests of superannuation as a whole. In other spheres in Scotland we have had ample experience of the breakdown of superannuation schemes for many reasons, one being that a comparatively large number of people remained outside, and left only a narrow basis of contribution, and when burdens were placed upon the fund, this led to breakdown and in some cases to insolvency. On that particular point the Secretary for Scotland may have some reply to make, but on the general principle of superannuation there is substance in my contention.

8.0 P.M.

I venture to speak on behalf of some of the lecturers and younger men in the Scottish Universities in saying that they cordially welcome Sub-section (3) of Clause 1. There has been an agitation in Scotland for many years to try to bridge the gulf between the professors on one side and on the other the lecturers and the new class that is springing up in Scotland, namely, that of readers who are of the nature of professors. The gulf between the professorial class on the one side and the readers and lecturers on the other has not ministered to efficiency and sometimes not even to good will in the work of the Universities. I think I express the feeling of these younger men when I say that they welcome and very cordially welcome the provision for the admission of lecturers and readers to the Senatus Academicus. Clause 2 of the Bill provides that a lecturer or reader appointed by the University Court of a Scottish University who has held the office of lecturer or reader for one year shall thenceforward become a member of the General Council of the University. Why should it be laid down that the lecturer or reader must have held that office for one year in the University before he becomes a member of the General Council? Let me be perfectly frank and say that the powers of the General Council and its influence are comparatively limited, but I think the Secretary for Scotland will agree that there may be men coming to these posts in one Scottish University from another Scottish University with a considerable amount of experience. For a whole year, namely, during the first year of the holding of the office, you deny membership of the University Council, while, in point of fact, during that year it may so happen that very important questions may arise. I see no reason whatever why, on their appointment to any Scottish University, they should not automatically become members of the General Council. They are already graduates of another University, and they have all the qualifications for being of immediate, rather than of deferred, service, because deferred service to the extent of one year is involved in this Clause. With these points of criticism, I desire to say that students, and, I think, all others interested in Scottish Universities, will give a very cordial welcome to this Measure, and we are grateful to the Government for having introduced it.


There are not many comments I want to make on this Bill. I think it is, perhaps, rather inadequate to the purpose for which it is intended. I think the principal result of a Measure of this kind might be that Chairs in Scottish universities might be open more than they are now to younger men. A number of Members now in the House are graduates of Scottish Universities, including my right hon. Friend opposite, and he will remember from his experience of the same university as he and I attended that one of the complaints of the students was that the professors held on far too long, that there was a great danger that the reputation which several Scottish universities have had in the past for attracting the very best men on every subject would lose that reputation if the men hung on to the posts after their usefulness had been completed. This task of settling the standard of age is committed to the University Court. As members of Scottish universities present will remember, the University Court is not a particularly democratic body. For instance, the students who, after all, are the main interest at any university, and who number many thousands, are only represented on the University Court by the Lord Hector and his Assessor. As the House knows, the Lord Rector of a Scottish university is usually a man engaged in public business elsewhere, and very seldom, unless he happens to be domiciled in the district, attends the meetings of the University Court. Therefore, the only representative of the students on the University Court is the Assessor of the Lord Rector, who is in touch with the students' representative councils, and he is to that extent able to convey to the University Court the public opinion of the students on any particular topic. Otherwise, all the members of the Court are professors, and you are throwing by this Bill the onus on to the members themselves of fixing the age limit at which they will retire.

I think that is rather a difficult task to throw on the members of a Scottish University, because a Scottish University Chair is a very desirable appointment. It has a very excellent salary attached to it, and it means, in mny cases, less than six months' work in the year. It is not likely that they are going to fix the age at which they retire earlier than they are compelled to fix it. I observe that there are certain appointments in our Scottish universities which are in the gift of the Crown, and my right hon. Friend opposite deals with those appointments. There are other appointments which are in the hands of the University Court. But a large number of Chairs in our Scottish universities are in the appointment of the Crown. This Bill says that the University Court shall give some sort of indication of the normal age at which the professors shall retire, and that the Secretary for Scotland for the time being shall agree to the limitation by intimating that to the University Court. Why should not my right hon. Friend fix a time limit for the Crown appointments? He will set a far better standard, and do it far more quickly than if it be left to the University Court. Of course, the men now in the Chairs would require to die out or retire before my right hon. Friend could do that, but he could easily, in the case of all new appointments, fix an age limit; at which that professor shall be called upon to retire from his Chair.

There are other points in the Bill which one might discuss, but, as I say, the main question is to get a younger class of teacher in our Chairs as rapidly as possible, and I am wondering whether the Secretary for Scotland might not, in the exercise of the Crown's Prerogative, set a standard himself which would encourage the University Court to put their standard of age at a limit which would lead us to believe that an appointment to a University Chair did not mean a chapel-of-ease to certain learned men for the rest of their lives. I am quite sure that the whole efficiency of the University depends upon the men who are in the Chairs, and, therefore, I suggest that the right hon. Gentleman should set a standard, and not wait upon the University Courts.


This is an important Bill, and its importance is in inverse ratio to its size. Although it is a very harmless, innocent document, I am inclined to think that in a comparatively short time it will work up a revolution in the universities of Scotland, because, as has been already mentioned, one of the distinct grievances of Scottish students in the past has been that so many men, for whom we have had the most kindly regard and respect, clung on to these Chairs long after their usefulness was past, and when the tide of knowledge and advancement of science and learning had passed them. Therefore, I welcome the improved status which the right hon. Gentleman proposes to give to the lecturers, because it is from the lecturers that the Chairs ought to be recruited. There is a term new to me in the Bill, but it is a long time since I was at a. Scottish university. The term to which I refer is that of "reader." I used to hear it in connection with English universities, but it is absolutely new to me with regard to Scotland. I think it is one of these English innovations. I remember, when I was at the University, that what was called the Oxford pronunciation of Latin came down and absolutely changed the pronunciation of words. In the few words of Latin left to me, I stick to the old rather than the Oxford pronunciation. This inclusion of the word "reader," however, is not a fatal blot upon the Bill.

I do welcome the provision giving an improved status to the lecturers. They have been fighting for an improved position for several years, and the natural jealousy of professors may have stood in the way of that improvement in their status, much to the disadvantage of the students and the learning provided at, the universities. A university professor was like a Scottish bailie, "Aince a bailie, aye a bailie." Once a man was promoted to a university chair he remained there until he was practically carried away. I am glad the right hon Gentleman is inclined to remedy that grievance in Scottish university life. I should like the principle extended to the question of competence. Sometimes a man is appointed to a university chair because of his learning, but he is abso lutely incapable of teaching. Knowledge and the imparting of it are two absolutely different things, and I think the Secretary for Scotland should give power to the university courts, or take some power himself to make the question of the professor's competence a determining factor in his continuance of office, independently of the question of age. I have known instances of men who have not reached their retiring age so to speak, who were absolutely incompetent to discharge their duties of professor, although their knowledge of a subject was, perhaps, very great indeed. I hope that in Committee some Amendment may be made extending the discretion of the university courts in regard to the question of the incompetence of a man after having a fair trial. I do not see why the universities, and the cause of learning in the Scottish universities, should be compromised by maintaining in a chair a man who is unfit for his post, whether it is on account of age or on account of incapacity for teaching. I have much pleasure in welcoming the general lines of the Bill, and I hope some Amendments can be made to it.


With the consent of the House, I may, perhaps, be allowed for a moment or two to reply to the criticisms which have been made against this Bill. The points which have been raised are, if I may say so, really all Committee points, which can be dealt with when the Bill goes upstairs. My hon. Friend the Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. W. Graham) suggested, first of all, that some scheme should be provided whereby existing holders of office should be brought within the superannuation scheme. I can foresee difficulties in connection with that suggestion, but I will not enumerate them to-night. If my hon. Friend puts down an Amendment in that sense for the Committee stage upstairs, it will receive careful consideration. The other point he raised was similarly a Committee point, namely, that there was no reason why a lecturer or reader should have to tarry for a year before becoming a member of the General Council. I think prima facie there are reasons why a man who goes to a university to hold a post should hold it for a space of time to acquire experience of his duties and the atmosphere of the new university with which he is associated, before the benefit conferred by this Bill devolves upon him. On the other hand, I appreciate the view my hon. Friend put forward, and he and I probably will have an opportunity also upstairs of discussing it.

Then my hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Hogge) suggested some alteration in the Bill, also, I think, rather of a Committee character. He said that he saw some difficulty in the duty being remitted to the University Courts of fixing the age limit. I am not sure he was quite correct when he said the University Courts consisted almost exclusively of professors. I am not so familiar with these matters as I was at one time, but I think that is rather an exaggeration. You are dealing with a body of a responsible character, a body on the spot which knows the requirements of the University, and knows from experience the work which professors have done, and which, I venture to think, is far better qualified and equipped, by means of that knowledge and experience, to deal with this matter than anyone who chanced to hold my office. It is true that the Secretary for Scotland has a right to recommend professors where the appointment lies with the Crown. It is not a duty which I covet, and I do not desire, so far as I am concerned, to add to this responsibility any new responsibility such as my hon. Friend proposes to lay upon my shoulders. I think the same effect-really is brought about by the Clause in the Bill to which the hon. Member for East Edinburgh has referred, namely, that the consent of His Majesty must be signified through the Secretary for Scotland to any scheme which is proposed by the University Court. There again, if my hon. Friend thinks the point is worth pressing, we can debate it upstairs in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Dr. Murray), in one of his picturesque speeches, if he will allow me to say so, dealing with rolling tides and other things of that kind, indicated that he disapproved of the term "reader." If he consults the Hon. Member for Central Edinburgh, who knows much more about that subject than I can claim to do, I think he will be thoroughly enlightened on the point and may possibly become reconciled to the nomenclature. Seeing that that is really the only point he pressed, I do not think I should be justified—


There was the question of competence for the office.


He said the Secretary for Scotland should retain some control over the competence of the professors whom he recommended the King to appoint, but I think that is already sufficiently provided for through the University Court. The times are somewhat changed from those which he and I experienced, a great many years ago now, I am afraid, in the universities, but if he thinks it is worth while putting down an Amendment to give that power to the Secretary for Scotland instead of to the University Court, then I shall be prepared to debate that question also with him upstairs. All these matters being, as I really think, truly Committee points, I should not be justified in occupying the time of the House of Commons by debating them now, and I hope, after the, if I may say so, interesting discussion which we have had, the House will give the Bill its Second Reading.