HC Deb 11 March 1969 vol 779 cc1311-33

10.25 p.m.

Sir Dingle Foot (Ipswich)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that she may be graciously pleased to withhold her consent to the Statute, made by the University of Oxford on 17th July 1967, a copy of which was laid before this House on 11th February. This is the first time that a Motion has come before the House under the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge Act, 1923. The procedure is that any Statute made by either university must be approved by Her Majesty in Council. If it is petitioned against, it must be considered by the Privy Council, and if the petition is rejected then it is submitted to Her Majesty in Council for approval, unless within one month either House of Parliament prays against it.

In this case a petition was presented. It is regrettable that there was no oral hearing. The result might have been different had there been, but there was none, for reasons into which I do not now propose to go. This Statute was laid before the House on 11th February; it is now 11th March; so this is the last day. If justice is to be done, and if wise counsels are to prevail then it must all be accomplished tonight.

For the benefit of any Cambridge men, or others, who may be present, I will explain briefly how the University of Oxford is governed. There is the Hebdomadal Council which is in a sense the cabinet of the university. There is Congregation, consisting of about 1,600 dons. They are all members of the teaching staff of the university or the colleges——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Might I remind the hon. Gentleman of the Instrument which he is debating, which affects Convocation only, not all these other bodies.

Sir Dingle Foot

Yes. Mr. Speaker, but I have to distinguish between the bodies. It is a strange state of affairs from our point of view at Westminster. It is as if nearly all the functions of this House were being discharged by the other place.

Finally, there is Convocation, which comprises all of the graduates of the university who hold Masters' degrees. For many centuries Convocation played a leading part in the government of the university. Indeed, to this day, it is described in both the Longer and Shorter Oxford Dictionaries as the great legislative assembly of the university. But during the last 100 years or so its powers have been gradually eroded. Now there are not many left. It can elect the Chancellor of the university and make such other elections as may be assigned to it by Statute, including, of course, the election of the Professor of Poetry.

It can elect persons for presentation to benefices in the gift of the university. It can confer degrees by diploma and honorary degrees. It can approve letters from the university to the Sovereign and to other universities and learned bodies, and such other letters as may be submitted to it by the Hebdomadal Council. Perhaps the most important remaining power is that it can accept or reject such statutes or decrees as may be submitted under the laws of the university.

It is proposed by the Statute which we are considering tonight that even these modest powers are to be taken away. Under this Statute all that is proposed to be left to Convocation is to elect a chancellor, and to perform such other duties as are or shall be assigned to it by the statutes or by decrees. That means such functions, and only such functions, as Congregation, the body of dons, may be graciously pleased to confer upon Convocation.

I submit that this is a most retrograde step. It deprives the great body of graduates of any effective voice in the government of the university. At a time when other universities—I am thinking particularly of the University of London—are strengthening their Convocations, or whatever the corresponding bodies may be called, and are even thinking about student participation, the University of Oxford proposes to do precisely the opposite.

At present Convocation, in effect, has a suspensory veto over statutes and some decrees passed by Congregation. I know that it is said that this power is rarely exercised. That is no doubt true. It is true because the majority of members, under the present system, are not notified either of the meetings or of the business to be discussed. That is something which ought to be considered. We ought to be moving in the other direction, as the University of London and other universities have done. But at present the only way in which the business and, indeed, the meetings are notified is by an announcement in the University Gazette, which has a very modest circulation.

I know that we may be told that this change was recommended by the Franks Commission. That is perfectly true, but the Franks Commission gave no reasons for its recommendation. After all, the Franks Commission is not the only Commission which has considered university affairs. There was the Commission presided over by Mr. Asquith, as he then was, which reported in 1923. Brought up as I was, I still prefer the authority of Mr. Asquith. He dealt with this issue in his report. That Commission was dealing with both Oxford and Cambridge, and in Cambridge the corresponding body is the Senate.

Mr. Asquith dealt with the proposal for abolishing Convocation and the Senate altogether by saying: This solution would be simple and much could be urged in its favour. On the whole, however, we are of opinion that it would involve an unnecessary breach with old historic associations, that circumstances might arise of an exceptional character in which the intervention of the general body of graduates would serve a useful purpose and that the right to some voice in university matters would strengthen the bond which we all must wish to see maintained between non-resident graduates and the university to which they belong. As I have said, I rather prefer the views of Mr. Asquith and his Commission. It would be very strange if the body of graduates—and about 35,000 hold Masters' degrees—could make no useful contribution to the government of the university.

I should like to quote one passage from the petition which was presented to the Privy Council which admirably sums up the matter: The functions and powers of Convocations vary greatly from university to university but the petitioners believe that the common factor in all cases is the right to discuss any matter relating to the university concerned and to make representations regarding it. It has been objected that university affairs are complicated and laymen cannot understand them but, while the petitioners would eschew intervention in day-to-day administration, they cannot accept that a body, whose members have all spent several years at the university and who cover almost the entire spectrum of national life, are unable to contribute any relevant views on major matters of university policy. We can see the force of that if we merely look around this House. Take, for example, the Government Front Bench. There is my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity—[An HON. MEMBER: "Where are they?"] I have no doubt that they will be along a little later.

If we cross the Floor of the House we see—or no doubt we shall see—the right hon. Member the Leader of the Opposition. No doubt one reason which led the party opposite to choose the right hon. Gentleman as its leader was that he was educated at Oxford's most distinguished college. And then there is the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party. Will it really be argued that they could make no useful contribution to the government of the university of which they are all graduates?

We have received on this occasion, not a Whip—that would have been inappropriate in this debate—but a letter from the Vice-Chancellor of the university. I say with great respect that I am not wholly impressed by the arguments it contains. For example, he says at one point: The suspensory veto of Convocation applies only to statutes and to certain decrees passed by Congregation by a majority of less than two-thirds. This power has been brought into operation on four occasions only in the last twenty years. On each occasion Convocation has confirmed the earlier vote of Congregation. Moreover, if Convocation rejected a statute or decree, it could under the present statutes be brought before Congregation again three terms later and on this occasion a simple majority in Congregation is sufficient to carry it. There is in consequence no question of the University seeking to remove a valuable democratic safeguard. We are in this House devoting our best endeavours to a consideration of the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. One of the matters which we are considering is the suspensory veto of the other place. There are very different views in different parts of the House, but nobody would suggest that that suspensory veto is of no importance, that is to say nobody would apply to that Bill the argument used by the Vice-Chancellor.

I have nothing against Congregation as such. I have nothing against dons. Whenever I think of the dons of my day I recall the lines of Hilaire Belloc:

  • "Those regal Dons !
  • With hearts of gold and lungs of bronze,
  • Who shout and bang and roar and bawl
  • The Absolute across the Hall,
  • Or sail in amply billowing gown,
  • Enormous through the Sacred Town."
I think that that would be echoed by all who have the good fortune to be graduates of the University of Oxford. But although I have the greatest admiration for the dons, and for Congregation, I do not want them to have things all their own way. I think that we ought to preserve this democratic element in the university.

10.39 p.m.

Mr. John Boyd-Carpenter (Kingston-upon-Thames)

I think that the right hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Sir Dingle Foot) is to be congratulated on his vigilance in picking out this Statute from the list of Statutory Instruments which is laid before us, because the object of laying this Statute is to give this House, if it so desires, the opportunity of reviewing what is for this purpose a piece of subordinate legislation.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has raised a point of some importance to the University of Oxford which matters a great deal to many of us in the House and is of some general importance to the country. It is a move quite contrary to the general tendency of thinking about university government in this day and age. The tendency at the moment is, rightly—some of us would think belatedly—towards student participation. This is a move in a diametrically opposite direction—to exclude even masters of arts from the small share which they have previously had in the government of their university, with the one exception of the election of the Chancellor.

Therefore, the onus of proof is on those who support the Statute rather on those of us who support the Prayer. This is a move contrary, certainly, to the normally accepted doctrine in these matters and it is up to those who would take this step to justify it and to satisfy the House that it is right.

If I had had any doubt that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was right to put down the Prayer, it was completely cleared from my mind by the Vice-Chancellor's letter to which he referred. It seems to make an even stronger case for the Prayer. May I take one or two extracts from it in support of that proposition? In paragraph 1 there is the curious statement: The policy of vesting the effective control of the University in Congregation instead in Convocation has thus been that of Parliament over the last hundred years. The present statute seeks to recognise the present de facto position. If that is so, why is it necessary to have a Statute to recognise this? Seeing the Solicitor-General here recalls the Attorney-General's argument on the Preamble to the Parliament (No. 2) Bill about giving "statutory recognition" to some concept.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman dealt with the second paragraph. The third demonstrates an approach by the proponents of this Statute which should give rise to some vigilance in the House: We believe that the responsibility of governing the University should rest with those who have to live with the results of the decisions taken. We do not think it would be right that any part of this responsibility should be vested in persons who have no continuing direct concern with the University and who are in no way accountable for what is done. With due respect to the Vice-Chancellor, it is in a measure slightly offensive to many of us who continue to have a deep concern and interest in our university to be told that we should be excluded from any say in its affairs because we have no continuing concern with it.

The following paragraph is in many respects plain misleading: Much of the administration of the University is governed by rules laid down by the University Grants Committee and the University is accountable to the Public Accounts Committee of the House of Commons. It is true that the Government, in their wisdom, accepted a recommendation of the Public Accounts Committee a little time ago that the accounts of all universities should be examined by the Comptroller and Auditor General and thus by the Committee and so brought within the scope of the Public Accounts Committee.

But this is a strictly financial supervision. It has nothing to do with the general management of the university. With respect, the Public Accounts Committee is neither equipped nor desirous of exercising such a power; and to call this in aid as an argument in favour of this proposal, coming, as it does, from a man with the highest academic qualifications, indicates an absence of argument which is disturbing.

There is, then, the remarkable sentence at the end of paragraph 4: There is thus no question of Congregation being able to go its own way regardless of the public interest. Neither the Public Accounts Committee nor the University Grants Committee can possibly be a safeguard in this respect, other than in strictly financial matters. It is, therefore, odd that they should have been brought into the matter in this context.

Paragraph 5 states: The University accepts the need to seek outside opinion and advice on many occasions, but it considers that such advice should come from representative bodies rather than from such individuals as are qualified, and choose, to vote in Convocation. The tone of that is not altogether helpful.

Paragraph 6 says: The University has been criticised, e.g. by the Robbins Committee, for delay in reaching decisions. These criticisms have by no means always been justified, but there can be no doubt that any extension of the powers of Convocation would make for serious delay … There is no question of any extension of these powers. What is at issue is a diminution of them; indeed, their virtual extinction. Thus, to drag in the wholly misleading concept of extending the powers and to refer to … any extension of the powers of Convocation "— making for serious delay… is misleading, since this is not at issue. If the House accepted the Prayer the status quo would remain.

Mr. Eric Lubbock (Orpington)

Read the rest of paragraph 6.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Certainly. Paragraph 6 concludes: … would make for serious delay; a body of 35,000 spread all over the world cannot be consulted in a hurry. Indeed, we believe that such a body cannot be consulted effectively in any way.

Mr. Lubbock

Hear, hear.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Despite that support from the hon. Member for Orpington, if one reads paragraph 2 of the Vice-Chancellor's letter one sees that consultation is not only possible but that it has occurred. Paragraph 2 states: This power has been brought into operation on four occasions only in the last twenty years. So the suspensory veto of Convocation has been used on those occasions. If the Vice-Chancellor really believes that Convocation could not operate effectively, there is no reason for him to worry about it retaining this power. We read: The suspensory veto of Convocation applies only to statutes and to certain decrees passed by Congregation by a majority of less than two-thirds. In other words, it arises only when an issue of some controversy arises and when there is a substantial minority, of at least one-third, in the academic body which is objecting.

Is not this a clearly limited power which it is reasonable to retain? There is no suggestion of it having been abused. It has been exercised, on average, once every five years for the last 20 years, and subsequently, after further consideration, it has apparently been overridden. Nobody can therefore pretend that this is a very considerable power. Indeed, it may be subject to the criticism that it is inadequate as a safeguard; but that is not at issue. At issue is whether this small safeguard, operating only on matters of controversy, should exist, and whether where there is a substantial minority there should or should not exist a provision for small measure of delay so that matters may have further consideration. It seems that the onus of proof is on those who would abolish it.

10.50 p.m.

Mr. Evan Luard (Oxford)

I suppose the object of those who moved this Prayer could be summed up, in the popular slogan of today, "participatory democracy". As a fervent believer in participatory democracy, for a time I too was very tempted to support the Prayer, but on reflection I decided that to do so would be in no way to do a service to democracy in Oxford. I therefore think it would be a great mistake for this House to support this Prayer.

In considering the whole concept of participatory democracy, it is crucial to analyse very carefully to whom it is considered right to give an opportunity to participate in what decisions. I suppose that most of us thinking of this concept believe primarily that those most closely concerned in particular decisions should have the right to participate. There are two particular criteria we are inclined to use in this respect. First, we feel those most directly affected by decisions should have the right to participate in them. Secondly, that those with the most first-hand knowledge should equally enjoy the right to participate in those decisions.

I wish to apply those criteria to the matter we are considering tonight. In connection with the University of Oxford, who are those who can truly be said to be most directly affected by decisions taken? First, they are the senior members of the university, the teaching members. They are obviously closely affected because this affects the whole conditions of their working lives. It affects them, not for a comparatively short period, but for the whole length of time they are working in that university.

Secondly, it affects the students directly, although they are concerned with only one aspect of university life, and they are affected for only a brief period of three or four years. The third group who can be said to be directly affected by decisions taken by the University of Oxford is the population of the country as a whole, both as taxpayers providing a considerable proportion of the funds to support the university, and as citizens who have some right to a, perhaps indirect, say in the way the university is run in the same way as they have, and exercise, a right of some control over the educational system of the country as a whole.

Now each of these three bodies already have certain powers of participating in essential decisions. The senior members of the university have this power through Congregation, the prime decision-making body of the university. The students also have a considerable amount of participation —by present-day standards—in the decision-making process, first through the establishment of the students' council a few years ago, and secondly through the agreement reached between the vice chancellors and the National Union of Students last summer; both these powers would be strengthened as a result of the recommendations of the Hart Committee which is now considering the question. Thus the three bodies which can most legitimately be regarded as having an essential right to participate in this respect, already enjoy that right.

What about the graduates of the university as a whole, those with whom we are concerned in assessing the question of Convocation? In what way can they be said to be directly concerned by all the decisions, detailed as well as major decisions, reached within the university? The answer is not at all. Not a single, solitary scrap. These are of no great or immediate concern to those who have passed through a university and left it. [Interruption.] I am talking about direct concern in their normal life. To those who are now engaged in leading their highly useful lives in Walsall West, or Aberdeen, or Timbuctoo, or Calcutta, as many of them may be, it is not of particular or acute concern. They do not lose a great deal of sleep about the decisions reached concerning whether the University should establish a new chair in microbiology, what regulations should be made concerning the wearing of academical dress, or whether to create a new sub-faculty of history. These are the types of decision we are concerned with now. It cannot be said that these ex-members of the University have a direct interest in those decisions.

Sir John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)

Will the hon. Gentleman explain by what extraordinary logic he thinks it is right for students who are up as undergraduates for three or four years to have a student council to express their views on university government, whereas those who have spent three or four years there and shown a continued interest in the university should be considered unfitted to exercise some voice and influence in the university's affairs?

Mr. Luard

Precisely on the ground I have been describing. These people are directly affected by the decisions which are reached, whereas ex-members of the university are not. [Interruption.] They are not directly affected themselves. I ask hon. Members to consider for a few moments where they would be led if they were to accept as a general principle that all ex-members of an institution should have a continuing right to a veto over decisions which are reached within that institution. Would hon. Members seriously suggest that all those who at one moment during their distinguished lives had to spend a year or two in the Army should continue for the rest of their lives to exercise a power of veto over all the decisions reached concerning the organisation of the Army? Would my right hon. and learned Friend consider that all those who had been members of a Government should continue throughout the rest of their lives to exercise veto powers? [Laughter.] It may well be that my right hon. and learned Friend would appreciate some such power, but I do not think that even he would suggest that this would make for particularly efficient decision-making by Governments.

Finally, if this principle were to be extended even nearer home to the House of Commons, would it be seriously suggested that all those who had at one time been Members of the House of Commons were to continue to exercise the right to vote in the House, despite the fact that they were not here, that they were not particularly interested in the subject under discussion, that they had no great or detailed knowledge of the subject under discussion, and, above all, that they had not even heard the debate on the subject?

Sir George Sinclair (Dorking)

I have never heard such a travesty of the rights and privileges of members of the university, which masters continue to be. Does not the hon. Gentleman consider that there is a continuing concern among such members for the governance and the development of the university, shown through, not only the Oxford Society, but the many appeals that go out to the very sort of people he describes—the chap in an outpost in Calcutta seeking the support of his firm in establishing a chair of microbiology or whatever it was the hon. Gentleman was suggesting? This travesty——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harry Gourlay)

Order. Those intervening must not make speeches.

Mr. Luard

There is continuing concern among many people about decisions that are reached in institutions they have left. This does not normally give them the right to continue to have a veto power over decisions reached within those institutions. The petitioners mentioned the particular interest that schoolmasters who have been members of the university-have had in the arrangements made within the university. It goes without saying that this is a concern shared by every schoolmaster by reason of his function as a schoolmaster, and there is no reason whatever why it should be confined to schoolmasters who at one time studied at Oxford University.

Coming to the second criterion by which it might be claimed that certain people had a right to participate in the decision-making processes within an institution, namely specialist first-hand knowledge of the matters under discussion, again one could claim that senior members of a university perhaps had this detailed first-hand knowledge of arrangements decided within a university. One could add that students have some knowledge of this kind by having studied within the university and having been closely involved in the matters under discussion and by having discussed them among themselves. Finally, the same could be said of some people in the Department of Education and Science and the University Grants Committee. But it could not reasonably be said of all ex-graduates of a university who do not have the facilities to remain in touch with the major decisions to be reached. They have neither the knowledge nor the interest. They are far too busy leading their useful lives in Timbuctoo and Calcutta and trying to find a way to earn their livings than following the details of arrangements made within the Hebdomadal Council for the government of the university.

On neither of these criteria, therefore, namely grounds of close involvement or being closely affected, or on grounds of having first-hand knowledge, can the graduates of a university be said to have an automatic right to participate in decision-making. The fact that, on the whole, Convocation has not shown itself qualified in this way has been confirmed by experience in the last 20 years or so. I am not referring only to the fact that this power has been used on only four occasions. More important is the fact that only a small number have used their votes. Even in the case of the election of a Chancellor, the number was only 3,000. A few months ago, in the election of a Professor of Poetry, the number voting was about 1,000, rather less than Congregation, and of those voting the vast majority were members of Congregation. Thus it cannot be said that members of Convocation have shown any great enthusiasm for making use of the powers in the past.

There are other and far more important considerations. This is not only an unrepresentative minority, but a highly conservative minority. Let us consider who are those who in practice cast their votes on these occasions. There are the senior members of the university who already have a vote in Congregation. There are the country parsons and a few others who live in the countryside immediately around Oxford who can easily get there to cast a vote. And there are the wealthy plutocrats who can afford to take a day off from work in London to cast a vote in Oxford. What more conservative body could there be therefore than these dons, parsons and plutocrats? But it is precisely these whom my right hon. Friend is trying to retain in decision-making at Oxford. It is true that this might be alleviated to some extent—[Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. We heard one side of the case in silence. Perhaps we can now hear the other side.

Mr. Luard

The unrepresentative and conservative nature of this electorate might be overcome if the university were to institute something like a postal vote. The university claims that this is impossible. I cannot assess whether it is practicable or otherwise. I should have thought it was practicable. Even if the authorities did not have the addresses of the persons qualified, at least they could allow them to write in and then check them against the lists of graduates. But that is not the point that we are discussing. We are discussing whether Convocation should continue with its present powers.

The fact that it is such a conservative body might not have mattered in years gone by when Oxford was so supremely conservative that it made little difference whether one gave another conservative body the power of veto on decisions to do nothing much. But the situation is changing. Oxford has decided, reluctantly and hesitantly, to reform itself. Nothing could do more to retard the process than if one gave the right of veto over the decisions reached to the troglodytes of the class of 1913 or 1920 suddenly emerging from their caves to clobber on the head any tentative move towards reform that the university, somewhat hesitantly, has felt able to make.

Both right hon. Gentlemen who have spoken have made the point that they are not demanding the right to intervene in detailed questions of administration of the university. But they totally ignored the fact that there is no distinction of this kind implied in the present arrangement of the university. The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter) read out the present arrangement, which is that questions go to Convocation if they have not received a two-thirds' majority in Congregation. This does not imply that these are particularly important questions. If the right hon. Gentleman will inquire into recent history he will find that the matters that have raised most controversy in Oxford are such as what would be the future of the Indian Institute and what arrangements should be made for parking for senior members. I submit that these are not questions on which the vast body of M.A.s scattered about the country are particularly well qualified to vote.

Another point ignored by the two previous speakers is that the university has gone out of its way over the past few years to try to make further arrangements for consultation in general with M.A.s of the university, and M.A.s in a much more representative sense than they are ever represented in the votes of Convocation. This is done partly through the Oxford Society. One particular proposal made that I should like to see carried further is that Convocation or something like it should be re-established without the right of veto but with the right perhaps to pass resolutions, which would then have to be at least considered by Congregation. This would be one means by which ex-members of the university could exercise what I accept is a legitimate right, at least to cast opinions upon the decisions reached within the university about the general arrangements of the university. This is different from a right to cast a veto on decisions already reached.

The right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames mentioned that on four occasions this right had been exercised and suggested that a veto had been cast on these occasions. That is false. On each occasion Convocation accepted the decision of Congregation. It may be said that this means that it does not matter. But what matters is that there is considerable delay involved in this consultation, and that delay would be more serious if Convocation exercised its right of veto and there was a year's delay before new institutions could be introduced.

I will not speak any longer, but I want to stress one point that needs emphasising. I hope I have said enough to show that this is not a question, as both previous speakers suggested, of democracy, of representation, and, above all, not a question of progress and advance in the arrangements of the university. It is very much the reverse.

I think that I can say, without fear of being thought partial, that Oxford and Cambridge Universities are the two most democratically run universities in the world. I know of no other university in the world in which the original decisions are made by a body which itself is democratically elected by every senior member of the university and in which every one of those decisions subsequently comes up for confirmation or rejection by a body consisting of 1,500 people comprising every senior member of the university. And I have already referred to the other measures for consultation with students and other bodies.

I hope, therefore, that the House will not be misled into thinking that by passing the Prayer it would strike a great blow for democracy. Far from it. It might, indeed, continue into the future a piece of antediluvian mediaeval flummery which would be much better abolished at once. For those reasons, I ask the House to reject the Prayer.

11.11 p.m.

Sir John Foster (Northwich)

I suppose that I ought to declare an interest. I am a Fellow of an Oxford college and, I believe, technically a resident.

The Prayer has been put forward as a great blow for democracy. It is important to notice the rather curious way in which the issue will be decided by the House. No evidence will be taken. Many of the Members who vote will have been to neither Oxford nor Cambridge. They will have heard some argument on each side, but they probably will not know that there was a petition against this Statute, and that petition was heard by the Universities Committee of the Privy Council. Evidence was taken, and, having taken that evidence, the Universities Committee of the Privy Council rejected the petition against the Statute. In other words, another body has heard——

Sir Dingle Foot

The hon. and learned Gentleman will recall that there was no oral hearing, though it was requested, and no reasons were given for the Privy Council's decision.

Sir J. Foster

There is no contradiction in what I said. I said that evidence was heard——

Sir Dingle Foot

Not heard.

Sir J. Foster

It was read, and it was considered by the Universities Committee of the Privy Council. As a result of that evidence, the petition, which was the equivalent of this Prayer, was rejected.

It should be noted also that this is the end of a long line of reform. In 1854, the government of the university was by the whole body of M.A.s. This was found to be an abuse, and gradually over the 19th century the powers of Convocation, the powers of the M.A.s, were curtailed, until now they are, in effect, only three. Two of them are of little practical importance. The three powers are the election of the chancellor, the election of the professor of poetry, and the right, where a Statute has failed to obtain a two-thirds majority in Congregation, to refuse to pass it in Convocation, which will hold up the legislation for three years.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Ipswich (Sir Dingle Foot) mentioned the Parliament (No. 2) Bill. What he is dealing with here is an assembly of about 35,000 backwoodsmen entitled to appear in Convocation. It is not a question of allowing Convocation to have a say in the government of the university, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman suggested. That does not arise here. The only question that arises is whether its power to limit the passing of a Statute which has not obtained a two-thirds majority should continue. This is the end of what the Royal Commission recommended in 1854 and what the 1923 statute carried much further. The Franks Committee recommended that Convocation should be shorn of this power because it thought that it was of no practical use.

Hon. Members talk as though all those 35,000 M.A.s were longing to rush down to Oxford to appear in Convocation. They are not. When Convocation is called a handful turn up, and the other 35,000-odd remain oblivious to whether a Statute which deals with the position of the Indian Institute should or should not be passed. I agree with the hon. Member who said it was an important question, but my argument is that even though it is important that 35,000 do not bother to turn up in their thousands in Oxford to discuss——

Mr. Peter Kirk (Saffron Walden)

Will my hon. and learned Friend allow me?

Sir J. Foster

Not for long.

Mr. Kirk

As most of the 35,000, including me, were totally unaware that Convocation had been called together, how were we supposed to get to Oxford?

Sir J. Foster

That is my point; they do not get to Oxford.

Mr. Kirk

We were not told.

Sir J. Foster

Maybe they have a grievance about not being told, but that is not the point of the Prayer. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thatnes (Mr. Boyd Carpenter) took it amiss when it was stated by the Vice-Chancellor that this was legalising a de facto position. I do not know what his grievance was. The de facto position is that Convocation does not bother to deal with these things, because it does not turn up.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

My hon. and learned Friend is grumbling that Convocation does not bother to turn up. If he looks at the Vice-Chancellor's letter he will see that the Vice-Chancellor, on the contrary, is grumbling because it did so on four occasions in the past 20 years.

Sir J. Foster

That is a way of looking at it with which I cannot agree. I am not grumbling that it does not turn up but just stating the de facto position. My right hon. Friend is astonished that the statute should legalise the de facto position. Well, it does; that is it. The Vice-Chancellor is not grumbling that on four occasions Convocation dealt with a Statute which had not got a two-thirds majority, but only stating as a fact that on four occasions in the past 20 years a Statute which did not have the two-thirds majority was considered and passed. Therefore, Convocation has not, as far as one can see. exercised its suspensory veto.

What is the House about to do? Hon. Members who have not heard the arguments will come in to vote. People who are not members of either university will perhaps decide which way to vote on a whim, according to whether they prefer the opponent or proponent of the Prayer. They will know the difference between Oxford and non-Oxford, but they will not know the arguments for keeping Convocation's two powers out of three or three powers out of three. They remind me of the girl who says, "Of course, I know the difference between right and wrong, but I can never remember which is which". The long line of reform from 1854 has just one notch more.

The Vice-Chancellor has assured members who opposed the Statute before the Privy Council that they will keep their power of electing the Professor of Poetry. That seems a very good exercise for the amusement of the populace. One can put up anyone, whether he is a poet or not, as Professor of Poetry. The M.A.s can be useful in electing the Professor of Poetry. But I agree that the 35,000 will not be useful in the administration of Oxford.

It was for this reason that the government of Oxford, which was in the hands of all the M.A.s before 1854, was split off so that Congregation, which consists of about 1,600 resident dons, should be the governing body. There is no sovereignty in the democratic sense in the existence of 35,000 backwoodsmen. The university is governed, in effect, by the 1,600 resident dons eligible for Congregation. It is not governed and there is no participation by the M.A.s, who are scattered all over the world.

Why, it has been asked, when students are being allowed to participate, should the M.A.s be excluded? The first comment on that is that the M.A.s are not at present taking part in the government of the university anyway; the second is that there is a distinction between the students and the M.A.s in that the students are at Oxford. They are there.

I agree that a larger measure of student participation should take place, and machinery is being created for it. Surely those spending their studentship there should be able to participate and make their views known. The M.A.s who have left Oxford and, ex hypotheri, are not there and are scattered all over the world, cannot be compared with the aspirations and activities of the students. The students are part of the life of the university which is taking place. The M.A.s, however much they may take an interest in the university, are not in a position to take part in its life. If they were, they would be members of Congregation.

To satisfy the concern and interest in Oxford, the Oxford Society was founded by Lord Grey of Falloden. It is through consultation with the Society that important questions put forward in the university for debate are sent out. The Oxford Society has many sub-societies all over the world. It is through this machinery that the Vice-Chancellor and the Hebdomadal Council get to know the views of M.A.s. It is not through any announcement in the Oxford Gazette that Convocation will be held three weeks next Saturday, for hardly any nonresident M.A.s turn up, that these great questions will be properly debated. Often, questions cannot be debated because Congregation has usually passed the statute by a two-thirds majority. It is only an occasional question which does not get such a majority and which then goes for discussion in Convocation. Only about four Statutes in the last 100 years have been dealt with like that.

I hope these arguments appeal to the House. We are not whipped; this is not a question of Right against Left, although the right hon. and learned Gentleman tried to make it so. In so far as it is left in the hands of the university, we are carrying out the reforms of the last 100 years. It is not a question of age against youth, nor of Front Bench against Back Bench. The House has listened with attention to the views put forward in a serious debate. It has to take into account the fact that the Universities Committee of the Privy Council considered and rejected the thesis of those who are putting forward this Prayer. The House has not heard the evidence here, but it is sufficient to say that the Franks Committee, which had great authority, and worked for years writing a report on the government of universities, also came to the conclusion that Convocation should have this third power, the suspensory veto, eliminated, leaving the other two main powers with it.

It would be frivolous of this House, in the light of 100 years to reform, the considered views of the Universities Committee of the Privy Council, and the decision by the Franks Committee, to come along and say, "We have heard the arguments on both sides, we have not had any evidence, but it seems to us that the arguments put forward by the right hon. and learned Member for Ipswich, that this is contrary to student participation should obtain, and that the Prayer should get the majority vote." I urge the House to consider this very soberly, and come to the conclusion that the university, the Privy Council, the Franks Committee and 100 years of Parliamentary reform were right.

11.27 p.m.

Mr. Michael Foot (Ebbw Vale)

There has been some talk about people declaring their interest. I would say at the start that I am not a Master of Arts at the University of Oxford, I am not even a Bachelor of Arts. I discovered when I was leaving the place that I could recover, if that is the word, my stake money by not taking either of these. I decided to take my £30 back. In that sense I have no interest in the matter. I have merely come along here this evening, in words that are familiar to Labour Party members at any rate, to convey my fraternal greetings.

It might be thought, as a good case for taking away from Convocation the rights it already has, that it has misused its powers in the past, but no evidence of that kind has been adduced. Convocation has exercised its powers very well, notably in the election of the latest Professor of Poetry, which was a great achievement. No one can say on that basis that Convocation is a reactionary body. It greatly sustained the reputation of literature by the election of Mr. Roy Fuller.

I see the force of the arguments of the hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster), but I do not think this can be best dealt with in that way. I can put the matter best by referring to a resolution moved at the Oxford Union on one occasion when someone proposed the restoration of the Bourbon Monarchy. Others defended the Republic and some attempted to move a Bonapartist amendment. What I wish to do is to move a student power amendment. It is all very well for the hon. and learned Gentleman to pretend that he is defending the cause of democracy. If we had to choose between his democracy and that

of the right hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter), we should have a very difficult discrimination to exercise.

It so happens that if we were to carry this Prayer it would jolt the University of Oxford and make it realise that it is not satisfactory merely to proceed by taking away powers from Masters of Arts, but that it must consider much more fully than it has hitherto the demands of students in the universities for much greater powers. I hope that all who support student power at Oxford will also vote in favour of the Prayer, and that we can have a student power vote which will make those who are seeking to enlarge their authority in Oxford realise that the House of Commons is keeping a very close eye on what they are up to——

It being half-past Eleven o'clock, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question pursuant to Standing Order No. 100 (Statutory Instruments &c. (Procedure)).

The House divided: Ayes, 46, Noes, 88.

Division No. 116.] AYES [11.30 p.m.
Archer, Peter Cower, Raymond Sinclair, Sir George
Bell, Ronald Hay, John Smith, John (London & W'minster)
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S. W.) Hirst, Geoffrey Speed, Keith
Booth, Albert Hooson, Emlyn Stainton, Keith
Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John Hutchison, Michael Clark Tapsell, Peter
Boyle, Rt. Hn. Sir Edward Jackson, Colin (B'h'se & Spenb'gh) Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Carlisle, Mark Jackson, Peter M. (High Peak) Taylor, Edward M. (G'gow, Cathcart)
Clark, Henry Jeger, Mrs. Lena (H'b'n&St. P'cras, S.) Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Clegg, Walter Kershaw, Anthony Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Cooke, Robert Kitson, Timothy Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Crowder, F. P. Mallalieu, J. P. W.(Huddersfietd, E.) Wilson, Geoffrey (Truro)
Dickens, James Noel-Baker, Rt. Hn. Philip (Derby, S.) Wylie, N. R.
English, Michael Orme, Stanley
Eyre, Reginald Page, Graham (Crosby) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Fletcher Raymond (Ilkeston) Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Mr. Peter Kirk and
Foot, Michael (Ebbw Vale) Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James Sir Dingle Foot.
Goodhew, Victor Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Atkinson, Norman (Tottenham) Fitch, Alan (Wigan) Irvine, Sir Arthur (Edge Hill)
Bishop, E. S. Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Jones, Dan (Burnley)
Brooks, Edwin Ford, Ben Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)
Brown, Hugh 0. (G'gow, Provan) Forrester, John Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, West)
Buchan, Norman Foster, Sir John Judd, Frank
Carter-Jones, Lewis Fowler, Gerry Lestor, Miss Joan
Concannon, J. D. Freeson, Reginald Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Cooke, Robert Gray, Dr. Hugh (Yarmouth) Loughlin, Charles
Davidson, Arthur (Accrington) Grey, Charles (Durham) Lubbock, Erie
Davies, G. Elted (Rhondda, E.) Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. McBride, Neil
Dempsey, James Hamilton, James (Bothwell) McCann, John
Diamond, Rt. Hn. John Harper, Joseph Mackenzie, Alasdair (Ross&Crom'ty)
Doig, Peter Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Maclennan, Robert
Dunwoody, Dr. John (F'th & C'b'e) Hill, J. E. B. McNamara, J. Kevin
Ellis, John Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Mahon, Peter (Preston, S.)
Evans, Fred (Caerphilly) Howell, Denis (Small Heath) Manuel, Archie
Evans, loan L. (Birm'h'm, Yardley) Hoy, James Marks, Kenneth
Faulds, Andrew Hughes, Roy (Newport) Mendelson, J. J.
Finch, Harold Hynd, John Millan, Bruce
Miller, Dr. M. S. Rhodes, Geoffrey Watkins, David (Consett)
Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Rose, Paul Watkins, Tudor (Brecon & Radnor)
Morris, Chants R. (Openshaw) Ross, Rt. Hn. William Wilkins, W. A.
Newans, Stan Sheldon, Robert Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford) Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Oakes, Gordon Spriggs, Leslie Winstanley, Dr. M. P.
Ogden, Eric Steel, David (Roxburgh) Woodburn, Rt. Hn. A.
O'Malley, Brian Tinn, James
Page, John (Harrow, W.) Urwin, T. W. TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Palmer, Arthur van Straubenzee, W. R. Mr. Evan Luard and
Pentland, Norman Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne Valley) Mr. Edward Lyons.
Price, William (Rugby) Walker, Harold (Doncaster)