Anti-benefits, pro-tuition fees: meet Lancaster Uni’s new Pro-Chancellor
The new Pro-Chancellor is a former Conservative MP
Lancaster University has announced the appointment of a new Pro-Chancellor, Alistair Burt, who will serve until 2025. Burt was a Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party until the 2019 general election, where he retired from politics.
As an ex-MP, Burt’s voting record is freely accessible, so The Tab Lancaster decided to take a look at Lancaster Uni’s latest lord and master, and see where he stood on a number of issues during his time representing the good people of Bury North (1983-87) and the charming folk of North East Bedfordshire (2001-19).
Gay Rights and Marriage Equality
Burt’s voting record is mixed on gay rights, meaning that he didn’t express a strong commitment in favour of or against gay rights, though a fair assessment would be that he generally toed the party line where appropriate.
In 2002, Burt was one of 145 MPs to vote against the Adoption and Children Bill – Suitability of Adopters (which allowed unmarried homosexual and heterosexual couples to adopt) alongside his fellow Tory MPs Theresa May and Ann Widdecombe.
The following year, Burt voted to sustain the prohibition on promoting homosexuality in schools; whilst the ban was overturned in this vote, Burt was one of 76 MPs who voted to keep the ban in place in schools.
One of the UK’s most prolific gay rights legislations was the Equality Act (2006) – Burt voted against the Act’s Sexual Orientation regulations; meaning that Burt voted against outlawing discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities, services, education and public functions on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Despite voting consistently against gay rights in the early 2000s, Burt has consistently voted in favour of same-sex marriage from 2013 until he retired – including the 2019 vote to permit same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.
Burt voted in favour of smoking bans on a few occasions, although he also happened to be absent from a number of votes on smoking bans in public areas like pubs, and was absent from the vote on banning smoking in cars with under-18s in (though he later voted to strengthen this law).
Burt was against reducing the amount of income a NHS foundation trust is permitted to make from private patients in 2012 – showing him being in favour of private healthcare within the NHS. In 2011 he voted in favour of the Conservative government’s reorganisation of the NHS.
Notably, Lancaster’s new boss spoke for 27 minutes to deliberately block a law to give the NHS cheaper drugs.
Alistair Burt voted consistently in favour of the “bedroom tax” – meaning that if someone was claiming housing benefits, but their home had “excess rooms” (i.e. a spare room) then they would face benefit “penalties.”
He voted against paying higher benefits for those unable to work due to illness or disability. Burt also voted five times against raising welfare benefits in line with prices.
Our new Pro-Chancellor generally voted against the country’s membership of the EU, and supported the proposal for a referendum on British membership of the Union – though during the referendum he campaigned to remain in the EU. Burt voted against EU nationals’ right to remain if they’re already living in the UK.
However, it does appear as though Burt was against a “No Deal Brexit,” and was one of several Tory MPs to be expelled from the party late in 2019 – though he later had the party whip restored.
The ex-MP voted against the “banker’s bonus” tax, and against higher taxes on banks; he also voted against the “mansion tax” and almost always voted for more restrictive regulations on trade union activity. The Pro-Chancellor voted against increasing taxes for incomes over £150,000, and voted to reduce rates of corporation tax.
Despite this, Burt did vote to raise the personal tax allowance, meaning that individuals can earn more income before they begin to pay income tax. He also voted to increase VAT and to increase tax on alcohol.
In a move that was condemned by students across the county, Burt was one of many Conservative MPs who voted in favour of increasing the undergraduate tuition fee cap to £9,000 per year.
It appears that Burt changed his mind between 2005 and 2010, because in 2004 he voted against raising tuition fees from £1125 per year to £3000 per year. Even further in 2004, Burt voted in support of abolishing tuition fees – whilst simultaneously voting against the immediate abolition of all tuition fees, the re-introduction of maintenance grants of up to £2,000 for students from low-income homes, and changes to the country’s higher education system.
It’s all very confusing for Mr Burt’s record on tuition fees.
The voting record for Lancaster University’s new Pro-Chancellor might have been a cause for concern for the university, considering their commitment to sustainability and their recent response to the calls for the university to declare a climate emergency.
Alistair Burt generally voted against measures to prevent climate change – he voted against the government bringing forward “a green industrial revolution to decarbonise the economy and boost economic growth” in 2019, less than two months before he retired from politics.
In 2016, Burt voted against reducing the permitted carbon emissions from newly-built homes.
To wrap up…
Burt’s voting record is a very mixed bag, one that Lancaster University should not take lightly considering his history of being anti-equality and human rights legislation, and his stance on environmental protection laws.
Upon his appointment, Burt said: “I am honoured to be chosen as the next Pro-Chancellor of Lancaster University. I am also thrilled to be returning to my native Lancashire to a University where all who work here have built an outstanding international reputation, and also a deep commitment to the region, and to ensuring that all our diverse students make the most of their opportunities.
“At a challenging time for Higher Education, I am confident that Lancaster will be in the vanguard of all that is best for its future.”
Vice-Chancellor Andy Schofield said: “I am delighted that Alistair will be taking on the Pro-Chancellor role at a time when we are developing and carrying through the new strategy to build on Roger [Liddle]’s legacy.”
When contacted, Lancaster University Press Office said: “We don’t have a comment to pass on at this stage.”
Lancaster University Students’ Union Full-Time Officer team has been contacted for comment.
Alistair Burt’s full voting record can be found here.