HL Deb 15 August 1901 vol 99 cc886-9

My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government whether the Irish Government and His Majesty's Treasury have considered the equitable as distinguished from the legal aspect of the case of the professors of the former Queen's University in Ireland after the erection of the Royal University; and whether the Government will lay on the Table of the House the correspondence which has passed between them and Professor Pye and other professors of the Queen's College as well as the colleges themselves on this question. I must ask the indulgence of the House for a few moments while I explain my reasons for asking this question. The House will recollect that a good many years ago an Act was passed creating a new university in Ireland, called the Royal University. That Act was passed in 1879, and it affected to a great extent the Queen's Colleges, and, of course, did away entirely with the Queen's University. The question has arisen as to how far the Act affected the various professors connected with the three Queen's Colleges in Ireland, and there was a correspondence upon the point whether the professors had any right to compensation for the loss which they had sustained in consequence of the passing of the Act, for I think it is admitted that they have not had so many fees and the same chance of promotion as they might have had if that Act had not been passed. The matter was referred to the Irish Government more than once, and up to 1883 the answer had always been that there was no legal claim whatever on the part of the professors. One of the professors then appealed to the Court of Exchequer in Ireland, and that court decided that the Act which regulated these matters did not meet the case, and therefore did not apply or give a legal position to the professors. It is not merely a question of the strictly legal position; there is the equitable aspect of the case. When I was in Ireland one of these gentlemen—Professor Pye—wrote to the Irish Government and received a reply, which no doubt I sanctioned, in February, 1884, in which he was informed that the further consideration of the matter must be deferred until more experience had been gained. That does not deliberately state that were was an equitable claim, but I think it may be inferred from that there was, in the opinion of the Irish Government of that day, some claim for consideration. Later on there was a still stronger opinion expressed. Correspondence between the colleges and the Irish Government took place at various dates, and the colleges were referred to the reply which was given when I was Lord Lieutenant; but in January of 1886 a more direct answer was made. On 20th January, 1886, the Irish Government wrote— His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant has inquired into the case, and admits the hardship, but the present is not an opportune time to approach the Treasury. It is therefore evident that the Irish Government at that time thought there was a hardship, and that the Treasury ought properly to consider it; and when the Act of 1879 was introduced in this House by the Lord Chancellor of the day, the noble and learned Lord used words which certainly may be quoted as favourable to this view. Lord Cairns said— Our intention and anxiety has been not in any way to interfere with the Queen's Colleges, and if there is any change whatever it is for their advantage, for they will be connected with a university larger and more extensive, and, I hope, stronger than ever the Queen's University has been. That certainly has not been the result, because, as I understand, several of these professors have been deprived of nearly half the salary which they received previous to the passing of the Act. I beg to ask the question standing in my name.


My Lords, I have myself no personal knowledge of this matter, but I have made inquiries into the subject, which is not a new one. It has been made the subject of departmental correspondence for many years, and as far back as November, 1887, when Professor Pye was informed that the claim put forward for compensation had been considered by the Treasury, and that they had arrived at the conclusion that the claim had not been substantiated. That did not satisfy Professor Pye, who, acting within his rights, appealed to the law. He instituted the proceedings referred to by the noble Lord, and the matter came before the Exchequer Division in Ireland, who arrived at the conclusion that, under the circumstances, no claim for compensation could be substantiated having regard to the University Education Act of 1879. The matter was afterwards brought forward in the House of Commons, and the Attorney General for Ireland (the present Mr. Justice Madden) stated that he had carefully examined the judgment of the Exchequer Division, and that it was quite clear that losses of the kind sustained by these professors could not form the basis of a claim to compensation under the Act of 1879. It was pointed out by the Treasury that the professors were not entitled to expect that no change would be made in the conditions affecting university education in Ireland during their tenure of their respective chairs, or, in the event of such a change, that the State would compensate them for any loss resulting therefrom. The Treasury have considered the matter in all its bearings, both legal and equitable, and have come to the conclusion that these, professors have ho claim to condensation. I may say that Professor Pye, as recently as 15th March last, was informed by the Irish Government that this decision was final. Under the circumstances I cannot hold out any hope that the case will be reopened. With regard to the correspondence mentioned by the noble Earl, I am told by those responsible for the Departments that it is very voluminous, extending over many years, and it is not considered advisable or expedient to print it.