Grants to Universities and Colleges (Estimates Committee's Reports)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 26th January 1966.

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Photo of Sir Hamilton Kerr Sir Hamilton Kerr , Cambridge 12:00 am, 26th January 1966

The hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) has referred to a crisis of confidence in the University of Glasgow. I shall confine my short speech to another crisis, though of a very different nature, which has arisen between the city authorities of Oxford and Cambridge and the universities themselves. On 25th February, 1964, under the Ten Minute Rule, I submitted to the House a Private Member's Bill the purpose of which was to include the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge in the First Schedule to the Rating and Valuation Act, 1961. As hon. Members may recall, under this Act the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge were rightly classified as charitable institutions. In consequence they were liable to a lower rate of local rates, but in consequence, also, the citizens of Oxford and Cambridge were compelled to find the measure of money which the college rates had formerly supplied.

When I submitted my Bill, I told the House that my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) would have been a more able advocate, but he was tied by a vow of silence on the Front Bench as Minister at the Home Office, and I, therefore, did my best to put the case as clearly and briefly as I could. We argued that the situation could be remedied and the which had arisen between the universities and the cities be allayed only by putting the colleges into the First Schedule. This would have had the unfortunate result for the colleges that they would have to pay higher rates, but they would, on the other hand, have been able to obtain a compensating grant from the University Grants Committee.

We argued the case on several grounds. First and foremost, as my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford had pointed out in previous speeches, we referred to the number of colleges, principally in Oxford, already receiving grants direct from the University Grants Committee as distinct from the university itself. Second, we argued that the Minister need not fear the creation of a precedent because the Cities of Oxford and Cambridge were peculiar in this, that the colleges occupied a very large area of the cities and, therefore, a large proportion of the rateable value. Third, we argued that, with the expansion of education, our two oldest universities played a vital part and aroused loyalties not only in this country but on many college campuses overseas, in Africa, America and Asia.

As a result of the discussions arising on the Bill, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph), then Minister of Housing and Local Government, undertook to summon a conference of the authorities of the two cities in conjunction with the college authorities to see whether some agreement could be reached. Nothing has happened. This unfortunate tension still exists in the two cities. I therefore ask the present Minister to be good enough to ask his right hon. Friend the Minister of Housing and Local Government whether this conference is near reaching a conclusion. Second, if it fails to reach a conclusion, would it be possible to accept the original thesis, that is, for a grant to be made available from the University Grants Committee? Finally, if those two solutions are not feasible, could the problem be tackled in some general scheme for the reformation of rates?

It is most unfortunate that tension should exist between the colleges in these two great cities and the city authorities. Luckily, the days are past of town and gown rows when the colleges saw bloody noses and cracked heads, but it is most regrettable that in our two great university cities a state of tension should exist between the city authorities and the universities. Will the right hon. Gentleman be good enough to undertake this inquiry?