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House of Lords

Wednesday, 13th May 1998.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Carlisle.

Oxford and Cambridge: Funding

Lord Annan asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Following the abolition of college fees at Oxford and Cambridge, how many senior lectureships they will enable the Higher Education Funding Council for England to establish at each university so as to give them parity of treatment with the older civic universities.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the new funding arrangements for Oxford and Cambridge announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State on 17th March are planned to come into operation from the year 1999-2000, subject to ensuring that excellence in teaching and research at the two universities will be protected. The new arrangements are intended to promote a more transparent and equitable distribution of funding. On the question of staffing, it is for higher education institutions to appoint staff and determine their terms of employment and status in the light of their own particular needs and requirements. The Government have no role in such matters.

Lord Annan: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Surely the Government have a role in providing some money. Can the Minister say how much money will be provided so that there will be equitable treatment between the two ancient universities and the finest of our civic universities? Further, on what grounds will that sum of money be decided? Will it be paid in a lump sum, and at once? Alternatively, will it be spread over 10 years, with or without indexation?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I think it unlikely that I can answer all those questions. Continuing discussions are taking place between the Secretary of State and the Vice-Chancellors of Oxford and Cambridge. Further decisions will need to be taken on the question of provision for excellence, which will be announced in the autumn.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, does the Minister agree that in withdrawing the college fee the Government risk undermining the college system? Moreover, in undermining that system, is there not the risk of undermining excellence? I imagine the Minister will have seen the recent press reports in The Times regarding the evaluation of universities, and that he will have noticed where Oxford and Cambridge stand in that respect. Is there not the risk of levelling down rather than levelling up?

Lord Whitty: No, my Lords; I do not believe so. The new system will be dependent upon the assessment of

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excellence. If the Oxford and Cambridge colleges achieve a high assessment, they will receive a return for that, as, indeed, will other institutions. That is what we mean by an "equitable provision".

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos: My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister give me an assurance that the University of Wales will be given parity of treatment with all the other older and civic universities?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I have no doubt that the University of Wales has areas of great excellence in its provision. All universities will be treated equally in this assessment.

Earl Russell: My Lords, does the Minister understand that universities and colleges are different corporations? Indeed, it is no more possible to replace money given to colleges by money given to universities than it is to replace money given to this House by money given to another place.

Lord Whitty: No, my Lords; I do not directly accept that analogy. Obviously, there are complications in collegiate universities, but we are interested in making fair provision for universities which are collegiate and those which are not.

Lord Taylor of Blackburn: My Lords, as regards the settlement, can my noble friend the Minister say whether there will be anything in it for former Vice-Chancellors and Masters of College who have retired?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I hesitate to declare an interest on behalf of certain Members of this House. However, I do not believe that that is covered by these provisions.

Lord Beloff: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there are distinctions between the organisation of the ancient and the civic universities, and that the idea that extra senior lectureships would contribute anything to the problems faced by Oxford and Cambridge denotes a lack of appreciation of their real motives and interests? Indeed, what the colleges want, above all, is freedom to charge their own fees and to seek their own endowments so as to escape state control, rather than be condemned by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, to yet another dose of it.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am not sure that I agree with the second part of the noble Lord's contribution. However, he is correct to say that there is no direct connection between changes in the funding of collegiate universities and the provision of particular grades of lecturer.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, does the noble Lord share his right honourable friend the Prime Minister's admiration for France and the belief that Her Majesty's Government should give more money to elitist universities, like Oxford and Cambridge and the civic universities, in the same way as the French

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Government do as regards the grandes ecoles? Does the noble Lord believe that we should follow the French example and be prepared to support elitist institutions?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, of course I share the views of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in every respect. However, I do not believe that the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, has correctly represented them. We believe in excellence, not elitism.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I declare an interest as a graduate of Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford. Is the Minister aware of the popular but totally misinformed conception that all Oxford and Cambridge colleges are rich? Many of them, particularly the newer colleges and the former women's colleges, are harmed by the current financing proposals.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the new system will recognise the different situation as between colleges not only within Oxbridge, but as between Oxbridge and other universities.

Lord Glenamara: My Lords, will the noble Lord bear in mind that Durham University is also a collegiate university and that each college in Durham employs a large number of tutors? Will he ensure that Durham University is treated on a basis of absolute parity with Oxford and Cambridge?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I recognise the structure of Durham University. However, it has not hitherto been funded on the same basis as Oxford and Cambridge. Certainly Durham will receive equitable treatment in terms of recognition of excellence.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the burden of higher education might fall less heavily on the taxpayer if more students were to work their way through college as they do in the United States of America?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I do not accept that as a direct analogy. I believe that society as a whole has some responsibility to make provision for students in higher education.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, tell that to the students outside! I am afraid that the answers given to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, showed a misunderstanding of how the collegiate system works. The noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, made the same point; namely, that the collegiate system is a different system. Is the intention to destroy the collegiate system in Oxford and Cambridge and in universities such as Durham? Will the noble Lord give me the figure for the loss of college fees to Oxford and Cambridge, as the Department for Education and Employment has chosen not to allow me to see the terms of the arrangements?

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Lord Whitty: My Lords, as regards the noble Baroness's first point, it is not the Government's intention to destroy the collegiate structure. The structure of universities and colleges is a matter for them. As regards the second point about the final outcome of the change in funding for Oxford and Cambridge, the noble Baroness will have to wait until further negotiations have been completed.

Organophosphate Pesticides

2.45 p.m.

The Countess of Mar asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What measures they are taking to ensure that the dietary intake of organophosphate pesticides in fruit and vegetables is below the reference dose for infants and children.

The Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Donoughue): My Lords, we have a comprehensive programme of monitoring pesticide residues in home produced and imported food. We are also conducting research to see whether residues of organophosphates on a single fruit or vegetable--for example, an apple or carrot--could result in the acute reference dose being exceeded. We have suspended the use of one organophosphate compound on carrots and parsnips. In addition, we are leading international discussions on the approach to acute risk assessment and management and will host a conference on this later this year. Finally, we have initiated a review of all organophosphate compounds approved for use as pesticides in agriculture and horticulture.

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