HC Deb 10 February 1943 vol 386 cc1356-9

Considered in Committee and reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."—[Mr. Adamson.]

Mr. MacLaren (Burslem)

Before the Bill passes I want to say that I hope the day is not far distant when universities will not have to rely for raising their funds upon such processes as are embodied in the Bill. The consolidation of these funds is all to the good; it is expedient and businesslike, to say the least of it, but, in view of the changes that are bound to take place over the face of our educational system, the universities should look to the future and try to come to some arrangement about their funds. In future I am sure that universities will have to depend upon the financial backing of the State rather than upon these private endowments, and that the day is coming when universities, like other educational institutions, will be better advised to pursue their true object of promoting education rather than to be constantly evolving new ways and means of raising money.

I always thought it was rather despicable to find educational institutions engaged in land speculation and finding out new ways of getting rents in order to support colleges and universities rather than in using their opportunities to dissipate this system of society. Nevertheless we find these organisations rather backing this system in order to obtain their funds. I hope they will take a different view of things in the future and will try to reach a compromise with the Government, through the President of the Board of Education or some independent education commission, whereby the funds of universities shall come from honourable sources rather than from the sources from which they are now derived.

I therefore put in that caveat at the moment, and wish to say nothing further about it. I hope that what I have said will reach the ears of these academic institutions and will make them less concerned with ways and means of getting funds and bequests and more concerned about their real function, which is to enlighten the mind and bring about a better form of society. I repeat that it is distressing to watch this side of their activities and to find representatives of colleges and universities touting around to see where they can speculate in land in this country. It has always been a reflection on our educational institutions that they should tell us on the one hand to look, for example, at the refinements of culture of Greece while they themselves are deriving rents from slum areas in the towns and villages of our country. The universities will now go on to consolidate their funds, and I hope they will come to some arrangement with the Government in the future by making over their funds to the State and getting on to a more respectable and dignified basis of existence.

Mr. Edmund Harvey (Combined English Universities)

I did not intend to speak on the Bill, but as I am the only University Member present, I cannot allow the speech just made by the hon. Member to pass without reply. I think that he has misjudged the whole purpose and position of the universities and colleges. There may have been some instances in the past in which they have not been the best of landlords, but, taken as a whole, I think they are now exceedingly good landlords and most desirous of doing justice to their tenants, treating them as friends and doing the very best for them. While I recognise, as we all must, that it will be necessary in the future for more national money to be given for the work of the universities, it would be a great loss to the country if the universities were put entirely in a position of dependence upon grants received from the State. We all owe a great debt to those who make bequests for the advancement of learning and who, in the past, have made possible the work of our ancient colleges and universities. There are indeed few ways in which private possessions can be better used. I am very sorry that my hon. Friend, in his zeal for land reform, for which I have much sympathy, should have cast these reflections upon the conduct of our universities.

Mr. MacLaren

The Bill empowers the universities to enter into the market to buy more land. That is a most undignified function for a university to perform.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

I gather that the hon. Member for Burslem (Mr. MacLaren) is not proposing in his will to leave any of his fortune to a university. I want to make one word of protest. When he implied that those who, in the past, have left money and great benefactions to our seats of learning do not constitute an honourable source—

Mr. MacLaren

Oh, no.

The Attorney-General

With great respect to him, it may have been unintentional, but he said he hoped that universities would look to more honourable, or to honourable, sources for their funds. We do not want to prolong this Debate, but I must say that in centuries gone by, when there was no question of State grants, we surely owed the greatest debt of gratitude to those many persons who, through the Middle Ages, the founders of the trusts with which the Bill deals, did, either in life or on their death, endow our seats of learning and enable them to carry on.

Mr. MacLaren

I would not like that impression to go out. In the past, as we know, these bequests were made by distinguished people to promote learning. That is past and finished with now. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why?"] The Bill empowers universities to buy land in order to secure rents to sustain universities and colleges. That is in the Bill. I am referring to the future. Now that we are marching into a period of communal responsibility for education I hope that the universities will move in that direction father than under the powers of the Bill, entering the markets to buy and sell land. That is a most undignified source from which to get their money.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.