HC Deb 22 May 1957 vol 570 cc1289-91

6.56 p.m.

Mr. Michael Stewart (Fulham)

Even those of us not well versed in the subject of water supply will have listened with very great interest to the debate which has just concluded. I now invite the House to turn its attention from the ordinary spring and the supply of water to the Pierian Spring and the supply of learning from our universities.

Anyone who raises the subject of our universities in this House must approach it with great care and respect, because our universities, for a long time now, have rightly prided themselves on the fact that they enjoy academic freedom, both freedom from being turned into instruments of political or social propaganda and freedom to arrange their own academic affairs in the manner which seems to them, in the light of experience and the needs of the community, to be best. It has not always been so.

In earlier centuries, Cavalier and Roundhead, Hanoverian and Jacobite, Whig and Tory, have sought to turn the universities into instruments of propaganda. It was, indeed, at one time in the eighteenth century, after the Hanoverian succession, the practice to require students at Oxford and Cambridge to take an oath of allegiance to the reigning dynasty and a further oath declaring that they believed the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England. The professors at Oxford and Cambridge, being Jacobites almost to a man and disloyal to the Hanoverian dynasty, did not administer the oath of loyalty to the students, saying that persons so young could not understand the nature of such an oath; although, curiously enough, they continued to administer to them the oath of belief in the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Church of England.

Those days, when universities were regarded as seats of power to be seized by the ruling group, are happily gone. But it is interesting to notice that, after those days were over and our politics had taken a more civilised and reasonable turn and we had begun to appreciate the importance of academic freedom, no sooner had universities escaped from the domination of the Government than it was shown that they were fully prepared to respond to the needs of the community. The nineteenth century witnessed the university system of this country expanding in size and varying greatly in quality. New universities began to spring up. New branches of learning were studied at university level. All this was in response to the needs of a community becoming increasingly industrialised. We notice the growth —

It being Seven o'clock, and there being Private Business set down by the direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS, under Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking Private Business), further Proceeding stood postponed.