HC Deb 07 April 1981 vol 2 cc913-25 10.57 pm
The Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. John Patten)

I beg to move, That the draft Queen's University of Belfast (Northern Ireland) Order 1981, which was laid before this House on 25 February, be approved. The senate of Queen's University of Belfast, has petitioned Her Majesty for a new charter. The new charter has been requested as a result of changes in circumstances since the university was incorporated at the beginning of the century and with a view to the better management of its affairs. The general objective of the revised charter and statutes is to simplify and clarify the statutes and to make their provisions more appropriate to present-day circumstances.

The changes have two main effects. First, the statutes are re-arranged in a more logical order, and unnecessary detail and obsolete provisions have been removed from them. Items likely to be the subject of frequent amendments are also removed, and will now be dealt with by resolution of the senate from time to time as necessary. Secondly, provision is made in the new charter for all categories of academic staff and the student body to have a voice in the academic affairs of the university, and for a reduction in the work load of some of its existing committees.

At every stage in the development of the revision of the charter and statutes the appropriate university bodies were consulted, and they included the students' representative council. It is hoped that the proposed new charter will come into operation in January 1982.

If Her Majesty is pleased to grant the new charter, certain legislation relating to the university will require to be repealed. The order now before the House provides for those repeals. The most important repeals concern the financial arrangements of the university. Those provisions authorise grants payable to the university and require the accounts of the university to be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General.

The provisions relating to the payment of grants no longer serve any effective purpose because the amounts of the grants authorised are deducted from the total figure recommended by the University Grants Committee. At present grants paid by the Department of Education to the university run to over £21 million a year. Of that sum only £60,000 is based upon the statutory authority of the legislation which will be repealed if the order is approved. That is unusual. For the future we propose to rely on the statutory authority of Appropriation orders for all the grants payable to the university by the Department of Education. I reassure the House that payment will be conditional upon the Comptroller and Auditor-General being accorded continued access to the university's books and records.

Mr. Michael English (Nottingham, West)

Which Comptroller and Auditor-General—the United Kingdom one or the Northern Ireland one?

Mr. Patten

I am referring to the United Kingdom Comptroller and Auditor-General.

The changes will bring Queen's University into line with comparable practice in other United Kingdom universities. We are not differing from that practice. The provisions of the new charter supersede part of the remaining legislation being repealed while the rest has simply become obsolete with the passage of time.

I commend the order to the House.

11.1 pm

Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

The debate provides the House with an opportunity to discuss the new charter and statutes. It is important to discuss the formation of the senate, as designated in the new statutes and charter and to make a few points about the representation of university staff and students.

I call attention to the time that has being taken in preparing the new charter and statutes and contrast it with the brief consultative procedures. The move to change the charter and statutes began in the late 1960s. The students, who make the university what it is, were allowed to comment on the proposals only after a lengthy legal quibble. Then they had to meet an almost impossible timetable of less than three months. Perhaps the Minister will reflect on what he said about that, because he appears to be wrong.

The trade unions which represent the non-academic employees were not consulted at all. To omit consultation with such interested groups shows that the nineteenth century statutes that we hope to repeal tonight have pervaded attitudes towards students and non-academic staff. There is not much evidence of forward thinking by the Committee that reviews statutes in that respect. I am sorry that the Committee did not follow the practice of most other public and commercial institutes of undertaking close consultation with all interested groups at an early stage.

The Committee erred by acting without prior consultation with groups with an interest in the government of the university. It decided rightly that there was no justification for the anomalous position whereby the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce was represented on the senate when the Northern Ireland Committee of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions was not. Rather than follow the sensible course and give the unions a seat in the senate, the committee decided that a seat should not be given to either group.

What makes the position rather worrying is that the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce has plenty of opportunities under the provisions of the statutes to gain representation on the senate. For instance, Northern Ireland industry gains a disproportionate representation on the senate through appointments to the executive committee of the better equipment fund. This fund was originally set up to improve equipment at the university in 1908 but is now a dated anachronism. I find it hard, for instance, to understand why the committee on the review of statutes did not consider the backdoor appointments of the fund to the senate to be out of keeping with a twentieth century charter and statutes. In the past the better equipment executive committee has appointed three individuals from the spheres of banking, industry and commerce to sit on the senate, and it appears that that practice is to continue.

I also find it hard to rationalise the situation whereby outsiders have a stronger influence on the governing body of an institution than do certain important groups within that institution, namely, the students and non-academic staff.

A more detailed examination of the proposed form of the new senate reveals some interesting and, in many cases, welcome departures from the existing structure. I would certainly commend those to the House, but they are few. Two members from the non-academic staff are to be elected to sit on the senate, but how they are to be elected is still not clear, and perhaps the Minister will tell us this when he winds up. The problem with this is that a representation of two is insufficient to cover three types of non-academic staff—technical, clerical and manual. In my view, there should be at least one representative for each of these groups and they should be elected through their appropriate trade union machinery.

I also note that there is to be a place on the senate for one member of the student council in addition to the student union representative, and that of course is a welcome move, but considering that there are in excess of 6,000 students in this university. I believe it to be an inadequate representation. There is no justification for the clause which gives voting rights to these representatives only if they are graduates.

I am sorry to note that the representation of the convocation has been increased from eight to 10. Only a very small fraction of the graduates of Queen's are active participants in the current work of the university and I therefore suggest that those extra seats should have gone to the students and the trade union representatives, as I have outlined.

Dr. Brian Mawhinney (Peterborough)

Am I not right in believing that it is a requirement of the University Grants Committee that undergraduate students do not have the right to vote and that it is something that pertains not to the statutes of this university only but to those of all universities?

Mr. Pendry

The point to make is that this is a new charter, which is bringing up into the twentieth century legislation which in many cases, as we see from the order, dates back to the previous century. I am suggesting, and I think it is reasonable to suggest, that this is a great opportunity to make some innovations and to set a trend for the future. There are not too many new charters for universities around at the moment and I think it would be a great opportunity for this university to act in a twentieth century way.

Queen's University is an important academic institution which has made a lasting contribution to the community in Northern Ireland and beyond. I wish it well in the future and I certainly hope that some of the points that I have made will be taken on board by those who will scrutinise the charter once this order is passed by the House, as I hope it will be tonight.

11.10 pm
Mr. John Biggs-Davison (Epping Forest)

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) has made some suggestions about the terms of the new Royal charter for the Queen's University of Belfast. I am not quite sure where the university has got to. Is this charter a draft, or is it in its final form? Will account be taken of the suggestions made by the hon. Gentleman and other suggestions which may be made in the debate?

I realise that the Royal charter is more a matter for the prerogative and the Privy Council than for this House. Nevertheless, the heart of the order is the Royal charter, which I have not seen. I believe that the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde must have seen it, because he was referring to what he considers to be omissions from it. Will the charter, whether it be in draft or in a final form, be made available to hon. Members?

I wonder why the university petitioned Her Majesty for a new charter in advance of the main report to be submitted eventually by Sir Henry Chilver, who in December 1978 undertook to consider the present provision of higher education in Northern Ireland, to review both the general and the particular needs of the Northern Ireland community in the 1980s and 1990s for higher education (including advanced further education) and to make recommedations". The Chilver committee has, of course, produced an interim report on teacher training. This has, I believe received the approbation of the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder), but it has also aroused considerable concern in the Roman Catholic community in Northern Ireland. The Government have not yet announced their intentions following the arrival of the interim report. It is something that the House would want to debate, whether in the Northern Ireland Committee or in this Chamber.

But the main report, which we still await from Sir Henry Chilver and his committee, will presumably make proposals for the future of the new University of Ulster at Coleraine and for the Ulster Polytechnic at Jordanstown, as well as for Queen's University, Belfast, which is the subject of the order. What if Chilver makes recommendations which run counter to what is contained in the Royal charter? Will the Royal charter be held for a while, or what will happen? What will happen if Chilver produces recommendations which appear to be excellent and the charter has gone off in a quite different direction?

11.12 pm
Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)

Despite the two interesting speeches to which the House has just listened, what is before the House in the order is not the charter itself but simply the question whether the repeals set out in the schedule, and certain minor arrangements in the control of the financial support of Queen's University, should be made simultaneously or in connection with the granting of the new charter.

So far as my hon. Friends and I have been able to ascertain, there is in no quarter any disposition to dispute those changes in legislation which are being made by the order. Nevertheless, the short debate so far has thrown up a certain requirement—not as a matter or right but perhaps of courtesy to the House—and that is that the House, and particularly Northern Ireland Members, should be able to have a view of the charter in its proposed form at an appropriate stage. It obviously imports substantial changes, and I mean no implication that there would be any disposition to criticise or seek to change these, but at least there is something curious in our tidying up before or after a charter of the contents of which we have no official knowledge.

That said, I have only one comment to make upon the order itself, and that, I am afraid, is a comment which I too often have occasion to make when such orders come before the House. Article 1 states that the order will come into operation on such day as the Head of the Department of Education may by order appoint. Those who prepare, print and present the order to the House know that nothing of the sort will happen. They know that the order will be made by the Secretary of State and not by the non-existent entity the "Head of the Department of Education". That refers to the non-existent constitution which is in suspension by reason of the 1974 Act.

Even if it is obligatory to continue printing in these orders what nobody means and nobody intends shall happen, at least I make a plea once again that the explanatory notes, which presumably, to judge by their name, are intended to explain and accompany the orders, should not repeat the mumbo-jumbo that does not apply but should tell hon. Members—not only Northern Ireland Members but Members generally—what will happen and the procedure that will be followed. That having been said, I welcome the minor tidying-up of the legislation connected with Queen's University which the order effects.

The public support of university education has from a very early period run through the concern of the House with Ireland and subsequently with Northern Ireland. It goes back to the grant to Maynooth under Peel's Administration, which had the bizarre result of bringing about the first resignation of Mr. Gladstone. That was not because he disagreed with the grant to Maynooth—indeed, he agreed with the grant—but because he believed that it was inconsistent with his election address, a kind of conscientiousness that is perhaps somewhat disused today, although it may have its connections with the sort of debate that one understands is going on in the Labour Party.

Mr. English

He was Tory at that time.

Mr. Powell

I am well aware of that. I was not trying to associate Mr. Gladstone directly with the current internal affairs of the Labour Party. I was merely saying that the question of what should be the relationship between what is stated in the manifesto and how those who are elected on that manifesto behave when they are elected is still a live question, even though we do not always today handle it with the same delicacy and subtlety—a subtlety that baffled Sir Robert Peel, who admitted to be completely nonplussed by the attitude of his Vice-President of the Board of Trade in the matter.

Mr. English

Surely the right hon. Gentleman will agree that at the time Gladstone was not elected on any election manifesto.

Mr. Powell

He was elected upon his own manifesto.

Mr. English

No. There was no party manifesto.

Mr. Powell

I did not say that it was a party manifesto. I referred to the manifesto upon which he had been elected, the propositions to his electorate upon which he had been elected as well as the opinions that he had expressed in that extraordinary book "The State in its relations with the Church".

I move on from Maynooth. It is ironical but by no means discreditable that it was in the year of the potato famine that Parliament proceeded to endow the three Queen's colleges of the Queen's University of Ireland as non-sectarian places of university education. In a sense, the structure of universities, other than that of Trinity College, Dublin, has since that time been built upon that provision. That is a fact worth putting on record since there is so much popular misrepresentation of the concern of the House and of this country for the affairs of Ireland in the period of the famine.

The next statute—I promise you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that I will not go through them seriatim and, indeed, this is the last that I shall mention—is the one that stands at the head of the repeals that are set out in the schedule. It attached to the maintenance of the university which was to be converted into the Royal University of Ireland—though it would contain the same constituent colleges—funds which had been produced by the surplus at the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland by the Act of 1869.

Thus the intentions which had been professed in connection with the disestablishment that the revenues should go to the purposes of education—and of education applicable to the whole of the population of Ireland—were carried into effect by that statute. So far as Northern Ireland was affected through the Queen's College of Belfast, as it was then, we are now tidying up the ultimate derivation of that public maintenance of non-sectarian university education in Ireland and now in Northern Ireland.

Therefore, it is not an unworthy history which lies behind the minor adjustment of the law which the House, I am sure, will make in a few moments.

11.22 pm
Mr. James Kilfedder (Down, North)

The hon. Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) alluded to my attitude to the future of teacher training colleges in Northern Ireland. I agree with him that it is a tragedy that the Government, who protest that they have so much courage, have abandoned the right attitude to sectarian teacher training in Northern Ireland.

The three teacher training colleges—St. Mary's, St. Joseph's and Stranmillis—should be abolished. Teacher training should be placed properly either at Queen's University Belfast or the new University of Ulster. I hope that something can be done to ensure that teacher training is taken out of the sectarian area and is placed in a nonsectarian university.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

I think the hon. Member said that that was my view. I never expressed that view in the debate.

Mr. Kilfedder

I hope that I have made it clear that I merely said that the hon. Member alluded to my attitude. If it is thought that I was trying to suggest that he was critical of the Conservative Government. I withdraw that. Enough Conservative Members are critical of the Government, without adding the name of the hon. Member for Epping Forest.

The right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) rightly referred to the history of university education in Ireland. I also pay tribute to what was done in the past. Queen's University of Belfast is one of the great Queen's colleges which Sir Robert Peel established by his Act of 1845. That Act of Parliament was one of the noblest achievements of Peel's intrusion into Irish affairs. The other was his decision in 1840 to separate the education of Roman Catholic clergy from the university education of Roman Catholic laity. As a consequence, the new Queen's colleges were to be open to students of all denominations, and there was to be no instruction by the colleges in dogmatic religion.

The signal achievement of Queen's University, Belfast, is that, since its foundation, the institution has managed to keep itself free from the virulent taints of sectarianism. It has survived attacks from many quarters, from the early part of the nineteenth century, for instance when Archbishop John McHale led the assualt in 1845 on what he dubbed the godless colleges, to the present.

That Government, unlike others since, were not prepared to compromise on such a vital principle as nondenominational and non-sectarian higher education, and they firmly rejected all the demands made to create a religious divide, including the demand that Roman Catholic students at the Queen's colleges should be educated by Roman Catholic teachers approved by the church even when they were being instructed in history, logic, moral philosophy, anatomy and geology. Thank God that we do not have sectarianism in the university in Northern Ireland.

Ulster and Southern Ireland owe a profound debt of gratitude to those who framed the Irish universities legislation of 1908 and to the men and women of the old Queen's colleges who persuaded the Privy Council in the previous century to grant the Irish universities a radical Royal charter. Queen Victoria's charter has continued to this day, although it will be replaced in due course. It is the rock base of the administration of Queen's University of Belfast.

Because of the charter, and because of the 1908 Act, the arrangements for the internal government of the institution were far in advance of those for British universities. It should be made clear that we led the field in Ireland. Many of the provisions of the charter were not repeated in the articles of government of many Great Britain universities until after the commission of inquiry into student discontent about 12 years ago. That is especially true of the provisions relating to wide academic involvement with the university authorities on important committees dealing with finance.

The old Queen's College, Belfast, when it became Queen's University, never broke faith with its charter or with the far-seeing provisions of the Irish universities legislation of 1908. It owes much to a succession of outstanding vice-chancellors. None was hampered, as are many of their colleagues in Great Britain, by unnecessary restrictions in charter provisions.

I hope that the Government will heed the criticism of the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry). I share his disquiet. The non-academic staff and students should have been consulted in greater depth and earlier. I feel strongly that it is not sufficient to have only two student representatives on the senate, one the president for the time being of the students' union as an ex-officio member and the other a member of the students' union council to be elected by that council. A university with 6,000 students should have four student representatives. I do not know how many officers there are on the students' representative council, but I see no reason why we should not have the president, the secretary, the treasurer and another officer as ex-officio members of the senate.

In conclusion, I refer to an article published in the "Higher Education Review" some years ago by Professor Moodie and some students and staff of York University. First, it states that: A university can either try to persuade its students that it is deserving of confidence in the exercise of its traditional authority, or it can take such action as it feels appropriate to enable the individual to identify himself more closely with the processes by which his institution is directed. The second course seems to us to be preferable. It has been increasingly evident that students (like many others) wish to see their views being taken seriously, and that they are no longer willing to believe that these views can accurately and effectively be transmitted by anyone from outside their number … At the heart of current problems of university government, therefore, there lie basic questions about the nature and purpose of authority in universities as well as questions about the procedures by which it is exercised. The other quotation reads as follows: authority within a university must be exercised in a manner consistent with its own nature and source. If one accepts the traditional liberal conception of learning as involving criticism, thinking which is open to evidence and argument, and the twin intellectual qualities of freedom and integrity, then it follows that any authority which derives from a person's role in the learning process must not be exercised in arbitrary or despotic ways. Facts may be arbitrary and logic despotic but those who deploy them dare not be. Universities must therefore encourage and not merely permit discussion and criticism of their decisions by others, including the general public and, particularly, their own members … Understood in the ways we have outlined, the nature and source of authority carry with them important implications for the role of students (and others) in university government. I believe that just as Queen's University has led the field in the past, the Government should ensure that it will point the way for other universities in the future by provision being made to ensure that the students have a proper, adequate and effective voice in the senate. This can be achieved only if there are four representatives of the students themselves. Who better is there to fulfil that role—and this would be the simplest way—than those in whom the students have reposed their confidence by electing them as the four officers in the students union?

Mr. English

I ask one simple question. The Minister said that any audit would be carried out by the Comptroller and Auditor General of the United Kingdom.

Mr. John Patten

I inadvertently misled the House. It would be done by the Comptroller and Auditor-General for Northern Ireland. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman and to the House.

Mr. English

That ends my speech.

11.33 pm
Dr. Brian Mawhinney (Peterborough)

I hope to speak for a little, though not much, longer than the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English). We have had an interesting debate which was greatly aided by the historical perspective given by the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) from his considerable erudition and added to by the hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder). Perhaps I may make a slightly more up-to-date contribution.

As one of what I believe are only two graduates of Queen's University at present in the House, I commend it not only in historical terms but also in terms of experience. As one who has enjoyed both the friendliness of a provincial university and the high academic standing of an international institution of academic renown, it may be helpful to put on record the fact that at least one Member of the House can testify to the excellence of the teaching and the facilities of that university.

I believe that my hon. Friend the Minister could help the House by responding positively to two or three of the points raised in the debate. The point raised by the right hon. Member for Down, South about making the charter available to Members of the House in advance, before it is finally confirmed, would be of assistance. It would be helpful to couple that with the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) about the Chilver committee. I am not expressing a preference when I say that I suppose it is technically possible that the Chilver committee will make a report which in some way sought to combine Queen's University, Belfast, with the new university at Coleraine. If it were to do that, and if that were to find acceptance, this new charter would soon have to be replaced by another and different one. It would be useful for the House to be told by the Minister whether there is any rush to introduce this charter, or whether it can await the report of the Chilver committee.

As someone who was elected to the students' representative council and served on it for a number of years, I welcome the increase in the number of students on the Senate.

Mr. Pendry

One extra student.

Dr. Mawhinney

That is right, but as one who teaches statistics I realise that one extra student is a doubling of the number, or a 100 per cent. increase. The argument is not, however, about an arbitrary number. Four have been offered, and two are on offer. Someone else might make a case for three. What is useful is that these days more recognition is given to the role of students in higher education.

I suppose that I have a vested interest, in that I am still a member of the academic staff of the University of London. Academic staff have a long-term vested interest in the universities at which they teach, inasmuch as they will spend perhaps all of their working lives in that institution, but the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) was right when he said that non-academic staff also have a lifetime contribution to make to these institutions.

It is not my intention to argue numbers with my hon. Friend the Minister, save to say that, not having seen these proposals—just as most other hon. Members have not seen them—I have to take his word for it that the numbers will be about right. If there were a preponderance of people from outside the university over those who make their living at the university, that would not accord with the forward thinking referred to by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde.

Finally, I wish to put one question to my hon. Friend. I accept that he will not be able to answer it this evening, and perhaps he will write to me. He spoke about the tidying up of statutes and the removal of some. I ran into considerable difficulty while at the university. There was a substantial disagreement with the vice-chancellor of the day over the interpretation of one statute which spoke about the university recognising only those religious activities that were under the auspices of the chaplains to the university. That made life difficult for those independent Christian-based organisations—Catholic organisations, Christian Union, Student Christian Movement, and so on—that are recognised in all British universities but which, if they wished to do something more substantial, ran into trouble because of the statute. I hope that the review has taken the opportunity to resolve that difficulty. This is a matter of detail and, as I said, I do not expect my hon. Friend to have the answer, but perhaps he will write to me at an appropriate time.

I welcome the move to bring up to date the charter of a fine university. It is one of the finest universities that the United Kingdom boasts, and I welcome what my hon. Friend has said this evening.

11.40 pm
Mr. John Patten

I thank that the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) exemplified the constructive and, in all senses, helpful tone of most of the debate. I am sorry that, as he suggested, I shall be unable to help him tonight on the last point he raised, but I undertake to write to him about it.

This has been an interesting debate in many ways. It is the first time that I have had to apologise to the House and to the hon. Member for Nottingham, West (Mr. English), who is no longer in the Chamber. Perhaps I owe the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) an apology for what he may have thought was happening on this side of the House during his speech. He drew attention to the fact that I appeared not to be listening to him while I was engaging in consultations with my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough. My right hon. Friend was engaged in a most interesting historical discussion. I assure him that 10 years or more as the fellow of a college in Oxford, with the Byzantine machinations of an Oxford common room, taught me to listen in two directions at once, and I was listening precisely to the point he n-lade about Mr. Gladstone.

The right hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend have raised a point of substance about the availability to the House of the proposed charter in its present form. This is primarily a matter for my noble Friend the Lord President of the Council, but I shall certainly draw this sense of unease to my noble Friend's attention and convey to him the request for every possible provision of the charter to be conveyed to right hon. and hon. Members. The right hon. Member also raised a point to which he returns repeatedly when we enact these orders, and that is the use of the terminology "Head of Department" or, from time to time, "the Department". That arises simply from the legislation which governs the order at the moment, which is the Northern Ireland Act 1974. Everything that we are doing and the form of words are consequent upon that Act.

Mr. J. Enoch Powell

At least it would be a help if the explanatory memorandum would be translated into actual practice, though I think that the Minister will find that the form of the legislation relates to the 1973 Act, and the translation or transposition into what will actually happen derives from the 1974 Act.

Mr. Patten

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for those observations.

The hon. Member for Down, North (Mr. Kilfedder) and my hon. Friends the Members for Epping Forest (Mr. Biggs-Davison) and for Peterborough, all in their different ways, mentioned the present position of the Chilver committee, which is presently examining the proper provision of higher education in Northern Ireland. In many ways the Chilver committee echoes what the Lockwood committee was trying to do in the early 1960s when it examined the proper provision for and of higher education in the Province in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. The Chilver committee is attempting to find the best way forward for higher education in the Province in the 1980s and 1990s.

I must explain that the committee is an independent committee. It has yet to present its conclusions. It has presented an interim report, but it is some way, since its formation in December 1978, from presenting its final report. We hope to have sight of that report towards the end of this year. It will then be open for public examination. But I think that it would be wrong for me from this Dispatch Box to seek to anticipate in any way what its final recommendations will be. Least of all, I must tell the hon. Member for Down, North, should I anticipate the Government's reactions to those recommendations when the report is finally published.

Mr. Kilfedder

We know them already.

Mr. Patten

I am well aware of the hon. Gentleman's strong feelings about what he terms sectarian education in Northern Ireland. I well remember during an earlier debate that he heartily and heavily attacked me and alleged that I was a supporter of educational apartheid, something I greatly resented then. I do not think that the future of teacher training colleges and other related issues and their effects on religious education can be properly and fully debated until we have seen the Chilver report.

I hope that my hon. Friends the Members for Epping Forest and for Peterborough will also accept that it has taken 10 years to prepare the charter. It does not do much to the university's basic statutes. However, it makes better provision for the financial management of the university. It also brings into play certain amendments to the provisions for membership of the senate. In addition, it repeals various pieces of obsolete or otiose legislation.

It would be a great mistake to delay the introduction of the charter after such a lengthy period of preparation. However, the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) feels strongly that there was less than adequate consultation with the trade union and student sides. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that many of the matters that he raised involve the Lord President of the Council and the university. The university has not been specific about naming the trade unions or other bodies that might be fit to be represented on the senate, because it wants the statutes to be durable. It does not wish to list all the different bodies that could have a right to make nominations to the senate. Indeed, that is why the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce has been omitted, although it was included in the earlier statutes.

Although trade unionists may not be named as having the right to be on the senate, they will have many opportunities to serve on it. The academic council nominates six members—four of whom must be professors—to the senate. Several of them will probably be members of the Association of University Teachers. I am sure that the three members of the academic body who are not members of the academic council but who are elected by the non-professional body of the university will include trade union members.

Mr. Pendry

I think that the hon. Gentleman has missed the point. Indeed, the hon. Member for Peterborough (Dr. Mawhinney) took it up. Some technical, clerical and ancillary staff are just as much part of the university as academic staff. They were not consulted, although they should have been. They should have places on the senate.

Mr. Patten

I am sure that the senate and those university authorities responsible will read what the hon. Gentleman has said with interest. Non-academic staff within the university will have the right to two places on the senate. If Her Majesty the Queen grants this charter, the Crown's provision of senate places will increase from four to five. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will accept that there will be at least one trade union nomination from amongst those put forward by the Government for membership of the senate. Those nominations may not be made by trade unionists working within the university, but under the old statutes members of the senate have long included trade union members. Indeed, they have contributed greatly to the running of the university.

The hon. Gentleman also felt strongly that the number of members—three—who could be nominated to represent the better equipment fund could be a crooked, back-door way in for industrialists and those on the commercial side of life in the Province, while the trade union side would be somehow excluded.

Members of the committee are actively engaged in exploring ways and means of further fund raising. It is true that at the moment the majority of members of that committee are industrialists and people involved primarily in the commercial and professional life of the Province. I am sure that they would welcome trade union involvement in that fund raising because we know that all bodies such as universities have to depend from time to time on the fund raising activities of voluntary bodies of one sort or another.

The proper interests of trade unions are recognised under these arrangements. Despite what the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde said, the interests of students are equally well represented, because the students not only have a 100 per cent. increase in their representation from one to two on the senate but an increased representation on the libraries board, where they have four members, on the finance committee where they have a member and on the buildings committee where they have a member. I know that the student voice in the university will be heard just as loudly now as it was when my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough was a member of the student representative council in the University of Belfast.

Mr. Pendry

I am sorry to keep interrupting the Minister, but will he address himself to the point I made following his statement about full consultation with the students? Why did the legal quibble have to be ironed out before the students were allowed to make their contribution? When they were allowed to do so, why were they given only three months in which to make their case?

Mr. Patten

Those are surely matters between the university and the student's representative council. They are not matters for Her Majesty's Government in the first instance.

The student body and outside interests are well represented on the potential future senate of the University, which could have up to 51 members—a considerable increase in size over the senate under the old statutes.

Mr. Kilfedder

The Minister said that there would be up to 51 members hi the new senate. Surely it is disgraceful to allow the students only two representatives. Will he consider that point again? It is important, because we want to ensure that the students are fully identified with the university, because they are the university. If he consults student representatives he will find that they are anxious to have more members. Four is a reasonable number.

Mr. Patten

I know that different bodies in the Province have all had a considerable amount of time to make representations to the University authorities about issues such as this. The full consultation process was gone through and the charter was advertised in the London Gazette and in the Belfast Gazette. It is always difficult to get the right balance between conflicting interests in a body such as the senate of the University of Belfast. I shall draw the hon. Gentleman's views to the attention of my noble friend the Lord Elton, whose responsibility this is.

In that sense and in all other senses the charter is good for the Queen's University of Belfast. It has been the subject of 10 years' careful preparation and I commend the order to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the draft Queen's University of Belfast (Northern Ireland) Order 1981, which was laid before this House on 25th February, be approved.