HL Deb 29 April 1965 vol 265 cc712-4

3.8 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that following the transfer of the ten colleges of technology to the control of the University Grants Committee each has now been instructed to insure separately for various financial risks; that heretofore the Ministry of Education and Science carried such risks and that the change will result in a considerable increase of expense and administrative work.]


My Lords, the colleges of advanced technology were informed in a recent memorandum, which was issued jointly by the Department of Education and Science and by the University Grants Committee, that they would cease on March 31 to be indemnified by the Crown for purposes of fire and other insurance, and that it would be for governing bodies to decide what insurance cover they considered necessary from April 1, and to meet the cost from within their own resources. This is in accordance with Government policy aligning the colleges with other universities which, as autonomous bodies, arrange to insure their own property. Adequate financial provision has been made in colleges' block grants to meet the cost of this change.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for his reply, may I ask whether Her Majesty's Government are aware that this infringes the basic principle of insurance, to wit, that the body with the larger financial resources—in this case, Her Majesty's Government—does not take out insurance with bodies with smaller financial resources? And is the Minister aware that, as a result of this direction, presumably to the U.G.C., every university in the country is negotiating separate insurances with insurance companies, with the result that a great deal of money which could have been saved is thus being wasted?


My Lords, I think that I had better give the noble Lord an answer in two parts. In the first place, universities are autonomous bodies whose finances are in large measure under their own control. It would therefore not be in accordance with normal Government practice for the Government to insure them against the various contingencies to which they are liable. The colleges of advanced technology will merely be conforming to the practice which has been followed for many years by all other universities, and this seems to us quite proper.

In terms of the general question of the amount of money to be saved, I think that the difference between the cost of insuring with an insurance company and the corresponding cost of insuring, as it were, with the Government should not be very great. I have had considerable experience of this matter in my previous incarnation (if I may be forgiven for so describing it), and I assure the House that the details are complex. I have had occasion to deal through insurance brokers who have given us the very best possible service. This has not proved to be an unreasonable burden on our finances. In fact, adequate grants have been made to all the institutions referred to in the original Question.


My Lords, may I ask Her Majesty's Government, as this kind of special insurance tends to be rather expensive, whether they will keep some account and make a comparison with figures of the past with a view to making a change if they should deem it necessary?


My Lords, it might he possible to make an adequate comparison from the figures already at our disposal. I will look into the matter.


My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the cost of this insurance is rising steeply for universities, that in the last five years it has increased by more than twofold, and that this is a serious drain on university resources?


My Lords, this has not been my own experience. But the number of things against which one can take out insurance is almost unlimited. There are some things against which the changing activities of the universities make it more and more necessary to insure. But my experience has always been that it is not a difficult or unusual matter to take out insurance policies against the normal risks run by universities.