HL Deb 02 April 1981 vol 419 cc304-6

3.21 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Elton) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 25th February be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a simple order which provides for the repeal of certain legislation relating to Queen's University, Belfast, if Her Majesty is pleased to grant a new Charter for the university. The new Charter has been requested by the university as a result of changes in circumstances since the university was incorporated and with a view to better management of the university's 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 rearranged in a more logical order and have removed from them unnecessary detail and obsolete provisions. Items likely to be the subject of frequent amendment are also removed and will in future be dealt with by the senate by resolution from time to time as necessary. Secondly, provision is made 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 workload of some existing committees.

At every stage in the development of the revision of the Charter and statutes the appropriate university bodies were consulted and these included the Students' Representative Council.

Part of the legislation to be repealed will be spent when it is replaced by provisions contained in the new Charter and part has become obsolete with the passage of time since it was enacted. The remainder consist of provisions which authorise grants payable to the university and which require the accounts of the university to be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General. In future all grants made to the university by the Department of Education will be on the sole authority of appropriation orders and it will be a condition of such grants that the Comptroller and Auditor-General will have continued access to the university's books and records. These changes will bring the university into line with common practice in other United Kingdom universities.

Your Lordships will see that the order will come into effect on a day determined by the "Head of the Department of Education ". If, as I believe, Her Majesty is graciously pleased to grant the new Charter at that time, it is intended that the order shall have effect from early next year. My Lords, I commend the order to the House, and beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 25th February be approved.—(Lord Elton.)

Lord Ashby

My Lords, it is my privilege to be Chancellor of the Queen's University of Belfast, and in that capacity I should like to express my great appreciation of your Lordships' House in that you have considered this which has been put before you so that a revision of the statutes can occur.

After the noble Lord's excellent and clear introduction as to the purpose of this change, I do not need to add anything, except to say that he mentioned that it was for the better management of the university. I think that I can assure your Lordships that the university has been quite well managed on the statutes which go back to 1909. But since then there have been many changes in the constitutions of universities and it is appropriate that the statutes should be changed, although I can assure your Lordships that even as vice-chancellor of that university for nine years, I was quite unfamiliar with the statutes and never needed to use them.

There is one interesting point which the noble Lord mentioned and which may be worth putting on record for the House. Some of your Lordships will remember that in 1968 and 1969 there was a great outcry among the student body of Great Britain to have more representation in the affairs of universities. The enlightened drafters of the statute of 1909 in the Queen's University of Belfast provided that the president of the student council is ex officio a member of the governing body. That is one of the reasons why this university has never had any serious problems in student discipline or politics.

It is a very great privilege that I should be able to get up and thank your Lordships for now opening the way for the statutes to be sent to Her Gracious Majesty and, we hope, approved by her for perhaps the next 50 to 80 years.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, without any of the official authority of other speakers, I should like to pay my tribute to Queen's University and to offer the opinion that anything it wants it should be allowed. It is some years since I took part in a debate there and, curiously enough, I was on the winning side. My colleague was a Protestant and we won very easily, but then we were opposed by two aetheists, which enabled us to prevail.

I have always found the atmosphere at Queen's University delightful and liberal. Later in a debate there an attempt was made to kidnap me, but I gather that it was all part of a joke. It was not a particularly Protestant, Catholic or even aetheist kidnap, but just part of a student rag. So my experiences of Queen's have always been the happiest and I join those who are much more qualified to speak in saying, "Let that university have everything it wants ".

Lord Elton

My Lords, I am most grateful for the reception that has been given to this order. I felicitate the noble Earl, Lord Longford, on his escape and congratulate him on the perception of his merits which was evidenced at the time of his kidnap. I endorse everything that he said, except that, of course, as the responsible Minister I cannot always guarantee to grant to Queen's University of Belfast everything it wants. However, I am very glad to assist it to achieve its new Charter.

On Question, Motion agreed to.