House Of Commons
Wednesday, 20th October, 1971
The House met at half-past Two o'clock
[Mr. SPEAKER in the Chair]
Oral Answers To Questions
Posts And Telecommunications
Telephone Service (Priority List)
Mr. Greville Janner
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications whether he will now issue a general direction to the Post Office Corporation to give absolute priority to disabled persons in the allocation of telephones.
The Minister of Posts and Telecommunications (Mr. Christopher Chataway)
No, Sir. The Post Office tells me that priority is given to disabled people who have a special need for telephone service.
Is the Minister not aware that all disabled people have a far greater need for a telephone than other people? Is he further aware that the prices which are charged and which some people can pay are a great burden on disabled people and often prevent them from having a telephone? In the circumstances, first, will he take steps to relieve disabled people of at least some of the charges, and, secondly, give a direction that all disabled persons who need telephones will be given absolute priority on all occasions?
This must be a matter for the Post Office. The Post Office gives a very high priority to—for example—disabled people living alone and requiring a telephone as an essential means of summoning assistance in an emergency. But it is essentially a matter for the Post Office.
Is the Minister aware that in my constituency two people, both suffering extraordinarily severe disablement, have been waiting since May for the installation of a telephone, and that I have been told that this depends upon the Post Office? If I were to send him particulars of this case, would he be kind enough to help to get a telephone quickly for this family who need it so much?
If the hon. Gentleman will send me details of this case I will ensure that the Post Office looks at it very carefullay, but, as he will appreciate, it is a matter for the Post Office.
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications what proportion of first-class mail posted on Fridays is delivered on Saturdays.
Separate statistics are not available for Saturdays, but I understand from the Post Office that the proportion of overnight postings delivered is rather less than that of 94 per cent. on other days because there is no second delivery and many firms are closed.
I accept that statistics are difficult to obtain, but would my hon. Friend agree that there is a fairly widespread view that it is not worth putting a 3p stamp on an envelope on a Friday if it is not going to be delivered on the Saturday? Is he also aware that much of the official mail from this House posted before the end of business on a Friday does not arrive in constituencies until the Monday?
If there is that belief, it is not well founded. I am told by the Post Office that 84 per cent. of first-class mail posted the day before is available for first delivery, and that that figure probably holds good for a Saturday—although some proportion of that 84 per cent. cannot actually be delivered because the firm is closed.
Broadcast Receiving Licences
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications whether he has studied, and is satisfied with, the terms, provisions and limitations subject to which a broadcast receiving licence is issued; and if he will make a statement.
I consider the conditions on which broadcast receiving licences are issued to be generally satisfactory. Changes may be needed from time to time, and the position is kept under review.
Now that an increasing number of television licences are for colour, costing the not inconsiderable sum of £12, does my right hon. Friend not consider that it is time to review the situation whereby such licences cannot be encashed for any reason if they are not used to their full date of expiry? Is this not a case where an arrangement could be made similar to that which operates in the case of motor licences, for example, which also have to be paid for in advance but which can be paid for quarterly and can be encashed if not fully used?
It would put up the cost of the licensing system considerably if we were to have quarterly licences and the arrangements suggested by my hon. Friend. These costs would have to be met in some way—presumably by an addition to the licence fee. On the whole therefore, I believe that the present regulation and the present dispensation for encashment within 28 days is probably as far as we should go.
Mr. Greville Janner
Is the Minister aware that there is tremendous dissatisfaction among elderly people, such as pensioners, about the present system, whereby they pay the same amount for a licence as is paid by a wealthy person with a colour television and four other sets in his house? Does he consider that that is fair? If not, will he now do something about it?
I do not believe that it would be right to have a general concession for all elderly people since, among other reasons, that would involve a much larger payment on the part of others, some of whom would be worse off than those benefiting from the concession.
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications whether he now expects to introduce legislation this year for the extension of local radio.
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications whether he can now state that he will introduce legislation to implement the Government's proposals for commercial radio in the next Session of Parliament.
I cannot anticipate the contents of the Queen's Speech.
Can my right hon. Friend confirm that in the early stages of the new system it is still his intention that stations which are licensed should include a few experimental stations covering relatively small communities?
Yes, Sir. That remains my intention.
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will make a statement on the progress of the Post Office's research into vandalism in telephone boxes.
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications whether he will give a general direction to the Post Office to ensure that a greater proportion of public telephones is maintained in order.
The Post Office assures me that it is progressively introducing countermeasures to make kiosks less vulnerable to damage, and research into further measures is continuing. It is also doing all it can to maintain kiosks in working order. A general direction would not be appropriate.
What are the counter-measures and how much are they costing?
I am afraid that I do not have a figure from the Post Office of the costs involved. However, about one-third of the 75,600 telephone kiosks that exist have so far been fitted with strengthened equipment and about another 2,000 new-type kiosks have been installed.
Is my right hon. Friend aware that at times during the Recess seven-eighths of all the public telephones at Euston Station were out of order? Is not this state of affairs extremely bad not only for the people of this country but for visitors?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is extremely important to counter vandalism by every means possible—though the national figure for the proportion of kiosks out of use is much smaller than that quoted by my hon. Friend.
Has the right hon. Gentleman considered making a payment to shopkeepers—other than those with postal premises—who are prepared to put telephone kiosks in their shops? They would be available only during shop hours, but they would represent an improvement on the present state of affairs, especially in places like Liverpool, where it is possible to search for miles without finding a telephone in working order.
I will ensure that the Post Office considers that suggestion.
Mr. Edward Taylor
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the siting of telephone kiosks can help to reduce vandalism? Will he consult local authorities to see that telephone kiosks are placed at the base of multi-storey flats and other public places which are less subject to vandalism?
I agree with my hon. Friend. The Post Office is paying increasing attention to the siting of kiosks to minimise the risk of vandalism.
Communal Television Aerials
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will encourage local authorities to erect communal television aerials in order to reduce the number of individual aerials in those parts of their areas where population densities are extremely high or where flats are provided in considerable numbers.
I recognise that there are strong amenity arguments for the use of communal television aerials. My powers under the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1949, are, however, confined to securing that no one piece of wireless telegraphy apparatus is a source of harmful interference to another.
I recognise the need for supervision within the terms of the Act to which the right hon. Gentleman referred, but does he agree that local authorities should be encouraged to provide communal aerials in areas of dense population? Will he take steps to ensure that these people, particularly in urban district councils like Rawmarsh, in my constituency, are not caused the considerable expense and fuss that occurs in this matter?
I believe that the charges made for licences are reasonable. As for the licences from my Ministry, the charges are designed simply to meet the costs involved. They do not amount to more than a few pence per year per subscriber.
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will give a general direction to the Post Office Corporation to have a reduced charge in respect of redirecting mail and the re-installation of telephones when this has been brought about by the rehousing of a family under a compulsory purchase order.
No, Sir. I understand that bodies acquiring property by compulsory purchase have discretionary powers to reimburse such costs in appropriate cases.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that I have in mind people who are being sent as far as Liverpool and who do not wish to go there, or leave their homes anyway? Does he appreciate that it is an added imposition when, on having to leave their homes, they are made to pay yet again for the installation of a telephone at the new premises? Will he examine this matter afresh?
It would not be reasonable to expect the Post Office to meet the increased costs thus incurred. However, as I say, the bodies which acquire property by compulsory purchase have discretionary powers to make reimbursement where appropriate.
Will the right hon. Gentleman bear in mind that many elderly people cannot get reimbursement from anyone although the telephone is of the greatest importance to them? They face a tremendous problem if, because of being obliged to leave their homes, they have to pay for their telephones to be re-installed? Will he re-examine this matter and see that something is done to help these people?
It is reasonable that this should be a charge on the community and not on the Post Office. It is more fitting that the bodies which are doing the compulsory acquisition should have power to compensate.
Post Office Report And Accounts
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications when he expects to receive the Post Office Report and Accounts for 1970–71.
I have presented the Report and Accounts to Parliament today and they should be generally available tomorrow afternoon.
Is the Minister aware that the Press seems to have received the Report and Accounts rather earlier than hon. Members of this House? When making statements about these documents, will he draw attention not only to the disappointing postal figures but also to the excellent telecommunications profits which the Press tell us have been earned in the last 12 months?
I would not necessarily guarantee that the Press reports which the hon. Gentleman has seen correspond to the figures that are being published tomorrow. The leak—if it was a leak—which occurred was certainly not by design.
Sir G. Nabarro
Is my right hon. Friend aware of the seriousness of this matter? On 7th October, the Daily Telegraph published an article saying that there would be a profit of £93 million on the telecommunications side and a loss of £50 million on the postal services—figures which are evidently broadly correct. Is he aware that we are told that as a result of these figures there is to be a dampening down of demand for telephones, that the tariff is to be raised and that because the postal services lost money postal charges will be increased? Can the consumer never win with this dreadful nationalised corporation?
My hon. Friend asks a number of questions—
Sir G. Nabarro
Good ones, too.
—to which I do not have time to reply this afternoon. The telecommunications side of the Post Office is required to meet a target of 10 per cent. return on capital and it has come very near to meeting it.
Sir G. Nabarro
I know—9·8 per cent.
Does the right hon. Gentleman appreciate that it is intolerable for these reports to appear in the Press before Parliament is given the figures? Is he aware that if as a result of these reports the Post Office, sanctioned by him, allows postal services to be cut and the telephone rental to be increased, he will go down in history as the Minister who presided over the worst postal services at the highest prices?
There is a later Question about tariffs. When we reach it I will have an opportunity to reply to some of the points made by the hon. and learned Gentleman. As for the ability of the Post Office to instal telephones and meet the rapidly escalating demand for them, he will know that this is conditioned largely by investment decisions taken four or five years ago.
And also because private manufacturers supplying the Post Office cannot keep to their target dates.
The demand for telephones is now running at 28 per cent. above the figure forecast. The Post Office has succeeded in connecting telephones at a rate 10 per cent. above the forecast, which represents a substantial achievement on the part of the telephone service. In so far as it is falling behind demand, that is because the investment decisions taken four or five years ago have limited capacity.
Offensive And Threatening Telephone Calls
Mrs. Joyce Butler
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he will give a general direction to the Post Office to improve the special equipment required to trace telephone calls so that offensive or threatening calls may be traced.
No, Sir. This is a technical matter within the Post Office's managerial responsibilities.
Is it not shocking that people are able to make nuisance calls involving threats of all kinds—which can be extremely upsetting—apparently without anyone's being able to trace them in less than 18 months, the time which elapsed in a recent case involving 300 such calls? Cannot we do better than that? These calls are worrying many people.
I appreciate that calls of this kind cause a great deal of anguish. When the Post Office and police are alerted they do all in their power to trace the calls. The Post Office has some well-tried methods of limiting or deterring calls of this sort.
One of my constituents had hundreds of such calls within a few months. In this technological age, is it not possible to have some means whereby a subscriber can alert an engineer in his or her exchange, so that the call can be traced?
My hon. Friend probably knows that if the Post Office and the police are alerted in such cases it is possible to detect the source of the calls.
Mr. Simon Mahon
Does the Minister acknowledge the desirability of advising subscribers that they should use only initials rather than a fuller name or description in telephone directories? That can save a great deal of inconvenience and difficulty, particularly for ladies.
I am sure that subscribers and potential subscribers will take note of that advice.
Telephones (Wailing List)
Mr. Kenneth Lewis
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications what are the total number of households in the United Kingdom still on the waiting list of the Post Office for a telephone.
According to the Post Office, 164,000.
This is a magnificent market available to the Post Office. Will my right hon. Friend arrange that the Corporation has increased investment to enable it to take advantage of this market, since it would improve its profitability if it could do so? Does it make any sense that the Post Office should be advertising extra services such as additional telephones and the like when it cannot supply people who really want a telephone?
The Post Office's advertising is designed principally to ensure that the telephone is more heavily used in off-peak hours. There are considerable financial advantages to the Post Office in a heavier use of that kind. My hon. Friend will know that investment is running at a much higher level than ever before and that the Post Office has done extremely well in making 10 per cent. more connections during this year than forecast.
But does not the Minister realise that with so many people waiting for the telephone it would be intolerable to discourage the market by increasing the rentals? Secondly, if there is a hold-up in the manufacture of telephone equipment, why on earth is he so doctrinaire as to insist upon maintaining the ban on the Post Office's manufacturing its own equipment? Why not lift the ban and let it get on with the job?
I have had no request from the Post Office for permission to manufacture and I have no evidence to suggest that that would help matters in any way. The hon. and learned Gentleman will be glad to know that delivery dates have steadily improved over the past year and that the Post Office has moved about as far as it could have done to meet the greatly increased demand.
Sir G. Nabarro
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications, having regard to the urgent need for stabilisation of prices and competitiveness of exports, whether he will undertake to ensure that his embargo on increased postal charges for 1971 is extended throughout 1972; and whether he will make a statement.
There is no embargo, but the Post Office will adhere to the terms of the C.B.I. initiative.
Sir G. Nabarro
That is a half-baked reply. It does not answer the Question. Will my right hon. Friend now read the Question in detail and answer it? If there is any increase in postal charges, as already announced by the Post Office Corporation, will it not be highly inflationary? Further, having regard to the overall surplus of the Post Office—about £40 million—is it necessary to increase either telephone charges or postal charges? Even if there is an increase, can it not be kept strictly to the 5 per cent. clamped on by the C.B.I.?
My hon. Friend is not as familiar as I should expect him to be with the C.B.I. initiative. I have told him that the Post Office will abide by the terms of that initiative, as other nationalised industries have undertaken to do. That means that there will not be increases of more than 5 per cent., although, as my hon. Friend will know if he has studied the terms of the C.B.I. initiative, it would allow for increases in certain circumstances which might take the form of a weighted average within the 5 per cent.
Mr. Charles R. Morris
In seeking to abide by the C.B.I. initative, will the Minister take an early opportunity to make a statement to allay the anxiety of Post Office staff that he is seeking to achieve the target set by the C.B.I. by making 20,000 postal workers redundant as a consequence of postal economies?
There is no question of 20,000 postal workers being made redundant, although, as the Post Office has made clear, it is examining the scope of its services to determine what is a sensible structure for them in the 1970s.
Has the Minister received any approaches for an increase of tariffs? Will he give the House an undertaking that if he does receive such approaches from the Post Office he will not grant them before the House has had an opportunity to discuss them?
I am discussing with the Post Office a number of possibilities along the lines indicated in my previous answer. No decisions will be taken in the matter without informing the House.
We should have a debate in the House.
Sir G. Nabarro
In view of the unsatisfactory answers to Questions Nos. 12 and 15, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment as soon as may be.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is out of order in the notice which he gives on Question No. 12. The reference to Question No. 15 is permissible.
Sir G. Nabarro
I withdraw the reference to Question No. 12, Mr. Speaker.
Bbc (Licence And Agreement)
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications what further consideration he has given to measures and machinery to secure compliance by the British Broadcasting Corporation with the terms of the Licence and Agreement, and the provision, whether by a Broadcasting Council or otherwise, of means of vindication and redress for television and radio performers and producers and for the public.
None, Sir. I do not accept it to be the general opinion that there is a failure by the B.B.C. to comply with the Licence and Agreement. As to the second part of the Question, I believe that the best safeguard for the public and for broadcasters is a B.B.C. governing body of high quality charged with a clear and undiluted responsibility for the conduct of the Corporation's affairs.
Does my right hon. Friend ever listen to or watch B.B.C. programmes? Is he not aware that comment is frequently made on the news by the staff of the B.B.C. which is contrary to the Licence and Agreement? What is being done about it? Is it not clear that the governors are not governing?
There is no prohibition in the Licence and Agreement upon news comment by those appearing on television or speaking on radio. I consider that our system is right in placing a square responsibility upon the governors for the performance of the Corporation.
Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Will the right hon. Gentleman pursue this a little further? The point raised by his hon. Friend the Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) on the question of the Licence and Agreement is that the B.B.C. itself is prohibited from expressing opinions. At what point does an employee of the B.B.C. cease to be the B.B.C.? Is it not the case in law that all employees of an organisation are responsible to their employers, and that if they express opinions they are the opinions of their employers?
Nothing in the Licence and Agreement prohibits comment from those who are either employed by the B.B.C. or are engaged by the B.B.C. on contract. There is, however, a clear obligation upon the Corporation to achieve impartiality and balance.
Mr. Hugh Jenkins
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications whether he will seek to change the Licence and Agreement with the British Broadcasting Corporation so that the Corporation is required to insist upon payment for advertising material broadcast.
Will the right hon. Gentleman reconsider this matter? Is it not the case that the amount of free advertising on the B.B.C. is increasing and that this constitutes an intolerable favouritism, with unfair competition, and even opens up the possibility of the danger of corruption? Will he conduct an examination into this question? There have been many instances of free advertising. The matter should be examined to see whether something is going on which should not be allowed to go on.
There is always a difficult line for the B.B.C. to draw. At the one extreme it would be ridiculous to prohibit the mention of any firms but, at the other, the B.B.C. must always be careful not to provide undue free advertising. This is a difficult line, and I think that it is true to say that it is overstepped from time to time. It is a matter about which the hon. Gentleman is right to complain on occasion to the Governors.
Independent Television (Second Channel)
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications what representations he has received on the subject of a second television channel for Independent Television; and whether he will make a statement.
The Federation of Broadcasting Unions has sent me a copy, which I have noted with interest, of a letter it has sent to the Director-General of the Independent Television Authority. As far as the Government's attitude to this matter is concerned, I have nothing to add to my reply to the hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Hugh Jenkins) on 21st July.—[Vol. 821, c. 1436]
I do not wish to press my right hon. Friend for any date or time scale, but will he nevertheless confirm that it remains the Government's policy to extend the choice available to the viewing public in television broadcasting at the earliest practical opportunity?
It is the Government's intention to enlarge choice wherever possible. As regards use of the fourth channel, the I.T.A. is to give me its views towards the end of the year about a possible ITV 2 and I shall consider them at that point.
Has the Minister noted the statement of the Director-General of the I.T.A. that there should not be a public debate about ITV 2—or TV 4, as some of us might wish to call it? Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that it would be a scandal if there were not a public debate, and a debate in the House, about the disposal of this scarce public asset?
That was a quotation taken very much out of context. There is already considerable debate about the matter.
Bbc (Chairman Of Governors)
Mr. Evelyn King
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications on what date the term of office of the Chairman of the Governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation expires; how many vacancies now exist on the governing body; how long those vacancies have existed; and when it is proposed to make appointments to fill them.
The answer to the first part of the Question is "31st August, 1972". There are three vacancies which occurred on 1st July, 31st August and 30th September respectively, and which I expect will be filled shortly.
Has my right hon. Friend studied the research just published in TheTimes indicating a majority view that the influence of the B.B.C. now exceeds the influence of Parliament? Does not that create a new situation in which precedent is not necessarily to be followed? Does he accept that the new Chairman of the Governors should, unlike his predecessors, give his full time to the post? Does he also accept in the interests of harmony it might be a good thing to keep any vacancies unfilled until he has had a chance to consult the Chairman-elect?
I saw the figures to which my hon. Friend refers, but I do not agree with the conclusions. I will take account of his observations about the next Chairman. It is important that we should fill the vacancies fairly soon, particularly that of a national Governor for Wales, about which an announcement will be made shortly.
Mr. David Steel
Will the right hon. Gentleman inform the B.B.C. that some of us are concerned that in their attempts to meet those who are trying to put shackles on the B.B.C.'s freedom the Governors should not seek to evade their responsibility by shuffling it off on to a special committee? Will he convey to them that they are the body with authority under the law to deal with complaints from the public and that that should remain the position?
I am satisfied that it is clear to the Governors that it is they who have responsibility and who are answerable to the House.
Mr. Selwyn Gummer
Is it not a fact that the Governors, having undertaken this action, have underlined the contention of many of us that it is impossible to carry out both the function of being guardians of the B.B.C. and the function of representing the staff in the way that they have seen fit to do in the past year?
I do not believe that that is the implication of the action that the Governors have taken. Certainly the Governors accept that they have a responsibility to society as a whole for the way in which the B.B.C. is run and are not simply there in order to manage it efficiently.
Mr. James Hamilton
Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree—and this applies to all Ministers in future—that when looking for chairmen of boards the Government should advertise the posts and ensure that the political persuasion of any applicant is not a barrier to his taking up a certain position? Would not that avoid charges of nepotism and any signs of patronage?
I do not think that there is much to be said for advertising such posts. In filling this post and others we shall be guided only by the desire to get the best men for the job.
Mr. Evelyn King
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications for what period of time Governors of the British Broadcasting Corporation are normally invited to serve; on what date Sir Hugh Greene was appointed; how long he served; under what circumstances he resigned; and if he will make a statement.
The normal period is five years. Sir Hugh Greene was appointed on 1st July, 1969, and resigned as from 31st August, 1971, on his own initiative, on the ground that he was to become full-time Chairman of Greene King and Sons Limited.
Does not my right hon. Friend agree that the B.B.C. must be a forward-looking Corporation, sensitive to the climate of its time; that to appoint a former Director-General—however eminent—who must be concerned with decisions that he himself took ten years ago, formed an unfortunate precedent, and that my right hon. Friend had better not repeat it?
It probably is not a precedent that many would want to follow in future. I think that that view would be shared by Sir Hugh Greene himself.
When the right hon. Gentleman makes these appointments in future, will he make it clear that the people appointed must resist the pressures that are being applied by some of his hon. Friends, who do not want comment to be made by the B.B.C.? Is it not a scandal that the programme, "It's Saturday", which criticised last year's Tory conference, came off because of the type of pressures that were being exerted by some of his more reactionary friends?
The Governors are not there only to resist pressures. They are there also to take account of feelings in the community outside. It is therefore right and proper that views should be expressed about the way the Governors are discharging their responsibilities and right and proper that they should take note of them.
I was a little concerned about what the right hon. Gentleman had to say about Sir Hugh Greene. Does not he agree that Sir Hugh was a remarkably successful and innovating Director-General; that his period at Broadcasting House was one of the most remarkable that the B.B.C. has known, and that whether one agrees with the precedent or not he is proving an extraordinarily valuable Governor?
The hon. and learned Gentleman is not quite keeping up with events, because Sir Hugh is no longer a Governor. I pay tribute to Sir Hugh for the service that he gave to the B.B.C.
Mr. Simon Mahon
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications when he will be in a position to make a statement on the future of Giro in Bootle.
Mr. William Hamilton
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications if he is yet in a position to make a firm statement about the future of Giro.
Mr. John D. Grant
asked the Minister of Posts and Telecommunications when Cooper Brothers will have completed their report on the future vialibity of the Giro banking service; whether that report, together with the report of the inter-departmental working party, will be published; and when he will make a statement about the future of Giro following examination of these reports.
I am urgently considering the views of the consultants and Post Office comments on them, which I have now received. I hope to make a statement soon.
I appreciate the difficulty in which the right hon. Gentleman finds himself, but I remind him that Merseyside has 50,000 people unemployed and that 3,500 people in my constituency are employed by Giro. These people have been very patient and are very anxious. Why are we waiting so long? Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that all the E.E.C. countries have Giro banks and control in their countries? Can I be assured that after 28th October we will have a viable and prosperous Giro organisation in this country?
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman's anxiety in this matter. I assure him that I share a number of his concerns. Over these past months I have been intent upon trying to find some basis upon which the Giro could eventually break even. It is in pursuit of that objective that I have had the advice of Cooper Brothers on a number of unresolved financial questions.
The right hon. Gentleman has not answered the point that I raised in my Question about publication of the report. Will he bear in mind that any further procrastination in the matter can only continue to damage the viability of the undertaking, that several thousand jobs are at stake, and that there is grave anxiety among members of the staff of Giro because they are concerned that the Government should not seek to carry out another U.C.S.-style exercise on Giro?
No procrastination is involved. It would be contrary to all precedent to publish confidential advice from officials. Certainly it is not usual to publish confidential reports by consultants, which must necessarily be frank in commenting on people and things.
Sir J. Langford-Holt
Will my right hon. Friend draw the attention of Giro to the fact that it is in danger of losing many customers, including me, because of the incomprehensibility of some of its cheque forms, which seem to go out of their way to differ as far as possible from those used in the banking system familiar to us all?
I am sure that the Post Office will take note of my hon. Friend's observations.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what plans he has to designate further National Parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.
The Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Peter Walker)
I am currently considering an order designating part of the Wye Valley as an area of outstanding natural beauty. I am pleased to say that 16 per cent. of the land surface of England is already designated as either a National Park or an area of outstanding natural beauty. I shall be pleased to consider any proposals for increasing this percentage.
I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. Does he agree with the principle that designation of National Parks should be based not only upon choosing areas for preservation of the inherent beauty of those parks but also deliberately taking parts of the country—not excluding urban areas, and certainly including derelict areas—which are ripe for a face-lift?
We want to extend positive policies in face-lifting bad urban areas, but I should have thought that designation as a National Park is not the right machinery. There are certain areas where we can clear derelict land and thereafter they can be designated as areas of natural beauty.
Mr. John Silkin
Does the Secretary of State now consider it appropriate to issue a directive on what sort of development he would regard as appropriate in the National Park areas? There has peen considerable controversy about this.
It is clear that there is a strong case against development in the National Park areas unless there are strong and remarkable reasons for doing so. Providing that Governments pursue that attitude there will be no problem.
House Improvement Publicity Campaign
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the progress to date of his house improvement publicity campaign.
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Paul Channon)
Fifty-six local publicity campaigns have been held to date and 40 more are planned, including a major campaign next April in Greater London. This Joint effort by central and local government has un-doubtedly been a major factor in the remarkable general increase achieved in the rate of progress with house improvement.
I recognise the publicity which has been given and the progress which has been made. Politically, economically, socially and from every point of view, is not renovation better than demolition? Is my hon. Friend prepared to keep an open mind not only on the question of increasing the grants but also on the question of increasing the proportion of the cost for which a grant will be made available?
I agree with my hon. Friend's preliminary remarks and note his later comment. He will be pleased to learn that discretionary grants are up by as much as 61 per cent.
As these grants are 75 per cent. of the total cost from public funds, why are the Government so ready to give away to wealthy landlords public money to this extent whilst at the same time they are determined to reduce housing subsidies?
The question of housing subsidies is another matter which we shall have plenty of opportunity of debating. On the right hon. Gentleman's first point, I hope that he and all other hon. Members who have constituencies in the intermediate and development areas which are getting 75 per cent. grants will encourage their local authorities and everyone possible to apply for them.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there are great anxieties about the number of houses that are being moved out of the control and occupancy of lower income groups through improvement schemes of this kind?
There is no need for any such anxiety. The hon. Gentleman must recognise that in the Government's new proposals, for the very first time in our history, all unfurnished tenants will get the right to a rent allowance.
Sewage (Conversion Into Compost)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what investigations have been made into the commercial possibilities of converting sewage into compost for agricultural purposes.
Mr. Peter Walker
The Working Party on Sewage Disposal has suggested that local authorities should investigate and embark on more positive marketing methods for sludge as a fertiliser. I will encourage them to do this.
I am delighted. Will my right hon. Friend accept my thanks for that very positive reply and accept also that with the trend towards continuous cereal cropping that has grown up in many parts of the country, with the consequent loss of humus, he can kill three birds with one stone by encouraging good farming, healthy living and the useful disposal of such sludge?
I shall certainly endeavour to kill as many birds as possible.
Does "encouragement" mean financial encouragement?
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he now expects to announce the result of his review of the system of fines imposed for pollution.
Mr. Peter Walker
I shall propose, as soon as opportunity for legislation offers, that the fines that can be awarded on summary conviction should be increased substantially, and that more offences should be dealt with on indictment.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his determination to cure offenders. Are not prevention and cure better than punishment? Will he take note that in my constituency with the assistance of the Electricity Research Council, we are attempting to cure a very serious pollution problem by means of an oxidation ditch? If we are successful, will my right hon. Friend encourage other local authorities to follow our example?
I will certainly encourage local authorities to follow any example which succeeds in this way. It is because we believe that prevention is the best possible means that we have taken measures to increase the strength and size of the Alkali Inspectorate.
Will the Secretary of State examine the whole question of the disposal of mercury cell batteries, hundreds of thousands of which are thrown away each week by users of hearing aids? This is having an effect on pollution in food intake.
I will examine this matter. The topic has not been raised with me individually. The disposal of any article with mercury in it can cause substantially adverse results. We recently discovered that the disposal of thermometers by a hospital was causing adverse effects on a river. I welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments.
33 and 34.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment (1) what representations he has received from the various bodies within the voluntary housing movement since the publication of his White Paper "Fair Deal for Housing", Cmnd. No. 4728; and if he will make a statement;
(2) what representations he has received following the publication of the Central Housing Advisory Committee Working Paper on Housing Associations; and if he will make a statement.
Mr. Paul Channon
Discussions on the White Paper have been held with the National Federation of Housing Societies and the National Association of Almshouses.My right hon. Friend has received comments on the Central Housing Advisory Committee Working Paper from a number of people interested in the voluntary housing movement. In general they accept the working paper's analysis of the organisation and financial problems facing the movement. Further consultations will take place.
I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Is he aware that there is considerable concern in the voluntary housing movement? Although the movement accepts that the White Paper is designed to assist it, it is concerned that in some circumstances it may make it much more difficult to get new housing associations going if the terms of the White Paper are not to some extent changed.
The White Paper proposes a generous subsidy for deficits on new building. There will be special arrangements to give additional help in difficult cases, if my hon. Friend has any specific point in mind I hope that he will get in touch with me.
The House will be relieved but surprised by the Under-Secretary's reply. Is he aware that at the recent conference organised by the National Federation of Housing Societies alarming statements were made by—as I understand it—every speaker about the effect of the White Paper on the future of the voluntary housing movement? The hon. Gentleman must accept that there is great anxiety on this subject. We should be grateful for an oral statement.
There are differing views within the voluntary housing movement. Many representatives of the movement have expressed full support for the proposals in the White Paper. The important point is that in total extra sums will be available to the movement, which I hope will be of considerable assistance. If there are specific problems—and I understand that there are—I will examine them further.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he intends to announce his decision concerning the Fleet Line.
Mr. Peter Walker
I announced my decision on 18th August to pay 75 per cent. grant towards the cost of the first stage of the line, from Baker Street to the Strand. This is a commitment of £26 million, the biggest grant ever made to London Transport.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that reply and for his statement after the Question was tabled, but is he aware that many people feel that the section from New Cross to the Strand is as important as the line from the Strand to Baker Street? If he is making some inquiry, would it not be a good thing to authorise that work now, as it can stand on its own feet?
The Dockland Study is an important aspect here and I am advised that this stage had to go ahead first. We will make a decision in plenty of time for the next stage if it is decided that it is the correct thing to do.
Mr. Selwyn Gummer
Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that the stretch of line from Lewisham to New Cross is a vital link now that the arrangements for motorways and similar roads in the area seem to be going ahead? May we have an early decision on this point so that the local authority may make suitable preparations for the reception of this end of the line?
As soon as we know the results of the Dockland Study, which is of immense importance to London as a whole, we will make a decision. The grant for the first stage, the extra bus grants, investments for trains, and so forth, that I have announced show that the Government are doing far more for London Transport than any of their predecessors did.
Trunk Roads (South-East England)
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to make an announcement concerning trunk road developments in South-East England.
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Michael Heseltine)
My right hon. Friend gave full details of the Government's trunk road plans throughout the country, including the South-East, in a reply on 23rd June to a Question from his hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. John Hannam).—[Vol. 819, c. 288–292.]
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there was a phrase in the report which mentioned that a further announcement was to be made concerning trunk roads in the Greater London area? Can he assure the House that no announcement will be made which would prejudice in either direction the findings of the Greater London Development Plan Inquiry now in process?
We have always made it clear that any announcements within the G.L.D.P. area would have to be viable independently of the G.L.D.P. plan.
Housing For The Aged
Mr. Greville Janner
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will now issue a circular to all local authorities requesting them to take special measures to provide housing for the aged.
The Government's policy is to encourage the provision of more housing for old people. At the moment local authorities are devoting over a quarter of all their new house-building to one-bedroom and bedsitting room accommodation, most of which will be intended for the elderly. My right hon. Friend does not think that a circular is called for at the present time, but he will keep the situation closely under review.
Is it not right that elderly people as a whole are far less well off than the rest of the community? Is it also not right that elderly people find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to obtain mortgages? In those circumstances, would the Minister reconsider his decision and give a firm directive to all local authorities that absolute priority should be given to homes for elderly people?
The figures that I have given show that an ever-increasing proportion is being devoted towards that purpose. We will certainly keep the situation under review. There is a lot in what the hon. and learned Gentleman says.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the figure of 25–26 per cent. of local authority housing devoted to the elderly has been fairly constant for a number of years? Does it not follow that if there is a reduction in the total number of houses built there will be a reduction in the number of those built for the elderly? What action does he propose to take?
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to learn that the proportion has risen to nearly 31 per cent., so that the question is not strictly relevant.
Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg
Does not my hon. Friend agree that the encouragement given to local authorities by this Government to get on with the job is far better than the issue of stern directives such as the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) suggests, which would be another interference with local government?
My right hon. Friend has no power to issue a directive on this matter. I think the views of the whole House are that local authorities should devote an increasing proportion of their time and energies to this purpose, and they are doing so.
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment what advice he has now received from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the Noise Advisory Council on the reduction of noise; and what action he will take in the immediate future.
The Under-Secretary of State for the Environment (Mr. Eldon Griffiths)
The Royal Commission has listed noise as a "priority for action". The Noise Advisory Council has recommended noise criteria for the planning of new roads and useful reports by it on aircraft and neighbourhood noise have just been published. Decisions on its recommendations will be announced as soon as possible. A further report on traffic noise is in preparation.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Royal Commission's first report said that regulations dealing with traffic noise were not frequently enforced? Will he see to it that in future there is more enforcement of these regulations?
The problem of enforcement of traffic noise regulations is rather difficult, but I take note of what the hon. Member has said and I am sure that the police will.
Stoke-On-Trent D Road
asked the Secretary of State for the Environment if he is aware of the hardship caused to individual families and firms in Newcastle-under-Lyme arising out of the construction of the Stoke-on-Trent D road; and whether he will make attempts to minimise these as much as possible.
Mr. Michael Heseltine
Yes, Sir. My hon. Friend has in fact already taken steps to minimise hardship and disturbance.
Is the Minister aware that since I last heard from him the people of Orford Street, in my constituency, have become subject to flooding for the first time and that they believe that the very difficult conditions in which they will have to live for two years or so entitle them to some compensation?
The Government's review of compensation has not yet been concluded. We are aware of the real difficulty of the hon. Gentleman's constituents. I hope he will understand that we have made every effort to ensure close liaison with the contractors and our resident engineer, and that we have done all we reasonably can for what is bound to be a difficult period until the road is completed.
House Of Commons
asked the Lord President of the Council if he will now bring forward proposals to extend the time available for Parliamentary Questions on the lines suggested by the Select Committee on Procedure in the previous Parliament.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)
Last April I indicated to the House that I thought it would be wise to consider the effect on Question Time of the various changes implemented at that time. I am certainly prepared now to consider any representations as a result of experience so far.
Does not experience so far confirm that if an hon. Member puts a Question down for Oral Answer to one of the Ministers named in Question No. 36 the odds are against his getting an Oral Answer? Does not that indicate that there is inadequate time for Answers to Parliamentary Questions? In view of the wisdom and quality of the Answers now given, would not the House be benefited by a longer time to enjoy them?
I agree with my right hon. Friend's last comment. The House as a whole must consider carefully how it wishes to use its time to the best advantage as between Question Time, Private Notice Questions and Statements, and the normal Business of the House. I am prepared to consider the exact amount of time which is used for each.
Would there not be far more time for genuine Questions if Ministers who do not like to answer Questions did not seek to have too many "stooge" Questions put down?
I would not accept that. Question Time would be much more profitable if the many odd Questions which are tabled for purely political purposes and which are not designed to seek information were not tabled.
Has it occurred to my right hon. Friend that 24 minutes each week could be added to Question Time if it began at 2.30 p.m. and Prayers were taken beforehand, with Mr. Speaker entering the Chamber at the beginning of Question Time at 2.30 p.m.? Is he aware that that would not rob anyone?
It is not for me to pronounce one way or the other on what your personal desires might be in this matter, Mr. Speaker. It is possible to start Question Time 10 minutes earlier if the House so desires. As yet I have not been made aware of any general desire of the House suggesting that this should be done. I am ready to consider it if I am given such information.
asked the Lord President of the Council whether he is aware of the difficulty experienced by hon. Members in putting Questions for Oral Answer to the Secretaries of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, the Environment, Defence and Social Services; and what proposals he has to improve the position.
I am prepared to consider any particular difficulties which may be represented to me. If changes in the Question roster would help I am always ready to discuss them through the usual channels.
Arising from that Answer and the Answer to the previous Question, can my right hon. Friend think of any other way in which the seven or eight minutes involved in the Select Committee's recommendations could be better spent than by allowing perhaps eight or nine Oral Questions to Ministers to be fully answered?
I am quite prepared to consider that point of view and am grateful to my right hon. Friend for expressing it.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the increasingly unlikely event of this country entering the European Economic Community the scope of Questions of the kind to which his right hon. Friend is referring will be greatly limited, since the E.C.S.C. rules prevent general directives being issued, in which case no more general directive Questions could be put? Will the right hon. Gentleman undertake to safeguard the rights of the House in this matter?
If the hon. Gentleman does not think that we will enter I do not see why he is asking the question.
Parliamentary Debates (Broadcasting)
asked the Lord President of the Council when he expects to set out proposals for the broadcasting of parliamentary debates.
I have previously indicated to the House that I agree that there should be an opportunity at the appropriate time for this important issue to be debated again, but I do not anticipate a debate in the immediate future.
As none of us will know how long this or any other Parliament lasts, could the Lord President say at what stage of a Parliament new Members are sufficiently mature to make a decision on this?
This is a very important and serious question. I accept it in that sense. I notice that whenever this subject is raised and I make a hopeful comment about an early decision there are nasty noises all around me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] When I say that the matter might be delayed a little longer there is a great deal of applause around me. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] If that is the case we should consider the matter in the context of the various noises made.
In view of what my right hon. Friend has done for the standing of Parliament by his part in the Government's decision to allow a free vote at least on this side next week, will lie look sympathetically in the new Session at the likelihood that the standing and understanding of Parliament among the public might be further improved by the properly supervised and edited televising of our procedures?
I must make it clear that questions of free votes or otherwise are now, fortunately—in this Parliament as compared with the last—nothing to do with me. The other question is a matter of opinion and I am quite prepared to have it debated.
Mr. Hugh Jenkins
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that if he were to decide to delay, or advise his right hon. Friend to delay, the whole question of entry into the Common Market he would get even more sympathetic noises from all over the country?
I do not think that that point arises on anything to do with broadcasting.
Upper Clyde (Shipbuilding)
The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and President of the Board of Trade (Mr. John Davies)
With permission, I should like to make a further statement on shipbuilding on the Upper Clyde.Govan Shipbuilders Limited—the company set up with private capital to bring into effect the Government's wish to see a viable merchant shipbuilding industry on the Upper Clyde—has been faced with difficult problems to surmount before it can commence its task. A condition of its receiving Government support was that it should enter into satisfactory agreements with its workers or their representatives concerning working practices and wage rates. But until very recently there was unwillingness on the side of the workers to enter into meaningful discussions with the company to this end. On the other hand the liquidator was running out of work at Govan and Lint-house, with a threat of heavy redundancy because the shipowners were unwilling, without far-reaching guarantees, to confirm their orders. Moreover, the liquidator was becoming very short of funds. In these circumstances I have had recent discussions with Mr. Dan McGarvey of the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering Unions and subsequently my hon. Friend the Minister for Industry has had talks with the shipowners primarily concerned. The results of these meetings are: Mr. McGarvey, with the full agreement of the shop stewards, and I have jointly signed a statement—the text of which I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT—undertaking that there would immediately be meaningful discussions with Govan Shipbuilders Limited on the understanding that the Government would give the requisite guarantees to the shipowners to enable work to be maintained. We have further jointly agreed to work together to encourage a purchaser for the Clydebank yard to come forward, and also to consider whether it would be in the economic interest of Govan Shipbuilders Limited to include Scotstoun within the project. The Minister for Industry is negotiating with the shipowners concerned the terms of guarantees they need to enable them to confirm their orders. The financial commitments already agreed are substantial and I am publishing full details of them in the OFFICIAL REPORT. A further statement will be made when the remaining negotiations are completed. Estimates will be presented to the House in due course. To these will be added the considerable further public funds needed for investment in Govan Shipbuilders Limited in addition to its private funds so long as the company can put before me a fully appraised proposal for a concern capable of attaining long-term viability, including, of course, evidence of satisfactory agreements reached with the unions. It is already abundantly evident that the ship orders being worked on by the liquidator are likely to realise a heavy loss, as will the new work needed to maintain employment at Govan and Lint-house. Financial guarantees will be required from the Government to enable him to do this and will be included in the further statement to be made. This refutes the assertions that U.C.S. was on the verge of turning the corner into profitability. Moreover, the likely scale of the funds involved in putting a part of U.C.S. on the road to ultimate prosperity reveals very clearly how unreal was the claim that the whole concern could have been saved by the injection of some £6 million. That might have tided the situation over for a few months but was entirely inadequate to set it on the road to viability even if ship orders to sustain all four yards had been at all in view, which they were not. The following action is now to take place. I will complete negotiations with the shipowners for the guarantees they need. The unions will enter into meaningful discussions with Govan Shipbuilders Limited. The study of the Govan-Linthouse project which I had already commissioned will be extended to look at the alternative of the inclusion of Scotstoun. I am ready to advance up to £1½ million to the liquidator over and above the £4 million already advanced, of which £2·7 million is repayable. I express the profound hope that all those having the future of shipbuilding on the Upper Clyde at heart will work together to make a success of these endeavours.
Will the right hon. Gentleman confirm that after refusing £5 million to £6 million sought by U.C.S. in June he has now been forced to give the liquidator a loan of £5½ million? Will he also confirm that he has abandoned the "Wise Men's Report" based on a two-yard solution, as he is now considering the inclusion of Scotstoun and is promising to make substantial sums available to Clydebank? Will he confirm the assertion of Mr. Douglas, the Deputy Chairman of Govan Shipbuilders, that £30 million will be required from public funds as a result of the Government's policy? Would not it be more honest to admit that he has been forced into a total retreat by the determined action of the men in U.C.S., the men whom he wholly forgot in the summer and who are now part way to securing their main objective?
It is very clear that the right hon. Gentleman's observations were written before he listened to my statement, because in practically every respect the statement dealt specifically with the points he raised. The loan to the liquidator, as the right hon. Gentleman must have just heard me say, is in considerable part reimbursable in any case. [Interruption.] Indeed, they would not only not be reimbursable but would, as I said, only be sufficient to tide it over for a few months pending the next input, and that is undoubted. The right hon. Gentleman asked about the abandonment, as he called it, of the "Wise Men's Report". I made it very clear that Govan Shipbuilders Limited is studying a two-yard project. It has been agreed that it shall in addition study an alternative to see whether the inclusion of Scotstoun could make the project more economic. That in no way indicates any abandonment of the position the Government took up before.As for Clydebank, to which the right hon. Gentleman said additional money had been promised, the Government have never said anything else but that they would hold eligible for finance under the Local Employment Acts any purchaser of Clydebank coming forward with a viable proposition. The Government still await that. This is in no way a change from the position the Government have consistently taken up. The right hon. Gentleman spoke of the cost to Government funds, and mentioned Mr. Douglas's figure. I have no idea, and will not venture one until such time as I have the advantage of a practical project put forward by Govan Shipbuilders Limited and supported by the consultants' work which I have commissioned.
The right hon. Gentleman has missed the point of my question, which is that part of the money given to the liquidator would have been repayable, as would have been the funds made avail- able to U.C.S. in response to its request in the summer.Second, the right hon. Gentleman has not given the House any account of the enormous sums of public money which the Deputy Chairman of the company he has set up has publicly said could amount to £30 million, and without that money neither Govan Shipbuilders Limited nor any other solution there could be viable. Will he now give the House the estimate he makes of the total cost of the Government commitment to maintain the policy he has said is totally unchanged since the summer?
Unlike the right hon. Gentleman, I am not inclined to throw forward assessments of estimates without the opportunity to have them studied properly. That tendency has landed us in a good deal of trouble.The truth is that as far as the advances to the liquidator are concerned it is not that they are susceptible to repayment. There is a reimbursement coming on that, beyond all doubt. There is no doubt, in the light of subsequent evidence, that any payment made to the company at its moment of absolute crisis would have been simply lost money, but it would have been only a small part of the lost money to follow it.
Mr. Edward Taylor
The news that my right hon. Friend intends to confirm the current contracts of the previous company and the recent announcement of the extension of the naval shipbuilding programme will be greatly welcomed on Clydeside, because more jobs will be secured than had appeared to be the case a few weeks ago. When will my right hon. Friend be in a position to let us know whether the Scotstoun yard can be added to the consortium? Can Govan Shipbuilders Limited now go out looking for more work?
I hope very shortly to be able to give confirmation of existing orders. The naval orders do not directly help the yards in question because they are not destined for the production of naval ships, and have not been so used, although clearly those orders will be very welcome on Clydeside. The question of the inclusion or otherwise of Scotstoun in the Govan Shipbuilders project will arise only when I have in hand the guidance of the company itself, coupled with the report of the consultants. I hope very much to have that in hand before the end of the year.
Assuming that things go as well as the Secretary of State hopes and that shipbuilding continues at Govan-Linthouse and Scotstoun, can he give the House any estimate of the redundancies which will even then result, and can he tell us, bearing in mind the frighteningly high unemployment rate on the Clyde, what other employment the Government can offer to these men?
The figures are that at the end of July when the company really went into liquidation firmly the numbers employed were 8,387 people and there are now almost exactly 1,000 less than that. The prospect for future employment, I suggest, has to be seen in a range which, at the low end, starts at the 2,500 figure put forward by the group of experts, but it has been, I think, confidently hoped that the figure might be materially improved, and improved not only by adding the numbers employed in the new project as a result, perhaps, of the inclusion of Scotstoun and perhaps of double-shift working, or, better still, at the Govan-Linthouse yard, but additionally by other employment being offered to the workers at U.C.S. and either on the Lower Clyde or at Yarrow's. Yarrow's must hope that they will be in part beneficiaries of the additional defence orders which will help to this end. The figures are not easy to conjecture, but look as though they may be considerably less in terms of redundancies than those which have been mentioned.
I wonder whether my right hon. Friend's attention has been drawn to an observation by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn) on 2nd August this year when he stated the policy of the last Government and that he had written to Upper Clyde Shipbuilders and told them that labour practices should be altered and that there should be a slimming of the labour force by some thousands of men. His recent passionate outbursts on behalf of workers on the Clyde appear to some of us just a teeny-weeny bit phoney.
My hon. Friend cites one of many interesting observations which the right hon. Gentleman gave vent to in times gone by, but, clearly, they are not those which are present in his mind at the moment.
I will study in depth later the statement which the right hon. Gentleman has made, but may I ask him this? In terms of dealing with the yards now known as lame duck industries, could there be separate guarantees as for B.S.A. by the involvement of the E.C.G.D. as a long-term banker—as for the rest of the operations of B.S.A.?
No. The situation is that with ships, as the hon. Gentleman probably knows, the arrangement for providing credit guarantees is different from though analogous to that of the E.C.G.D. This will be deployed in relation both to orders based on home delivery and export delivery on the Upper Clyde.
Has my right hon. Friend had any recent approaches from outside interests to take over the Clydebank yard?
Approaches have been made—primarily to the liquidator, because he has the task of disposing of the Clydebank yard. It is his responsibility, though, of course, I and my Department have been much engaged in discussions with people who might be interested. There is at the present moment to the best of my knowledge, only one current practical interest in the purchase of the Clydebank yard for shipbuilding. This is one of a number which he is evaluating of alternative possibilities here and on the Continent, and is unlikely to reach a definite conclusion within the course of the next month or two.
I should like to draw the right hon. Gentleman a little father along the road on which he is now progressing, and in what has been achieved so far. May I ask him to realise that this trouble started in 1964, and that the men concerned have been the sufferers and that we want to try to prevent them from being so any longer? Would he, therefore, take the step of suggesting to those concerned—and using his influence to ensure this—that two members of the trade unions with which he has been dealing should be appointed to the new board? The men may not have money to invest, but their lives, and the lives of their children and wives, are invested, and that is a greater investment than any amount of money. Would he give them that chance to be on the board to talk about the problems of the men—not only in the yards but in their homes, which are just as important, particularly to anyone who knows Govan? I urge him to take up this point.
I am, of course, sympathetic to what the hon. Gentleman says, and I know that the Chairman and management of Govan Shipbuilders Limited are, too; but the hon. Gentleman will realise that this is their task. They are a private company and it is their task to decide on who will be on the board. Certainly, however, as I have said, I am fully sympathetic to what he has said.
Can my right hon. Friend tell us whether his statement this afternoon means that the Government will be giving completion guarantees in respect of orders for ships at Govan-Linthouse, and, if so, what assurances have the Government already received about labour practices in the yard? Secondly, in respect of the query by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), is it a fact that from upwards of 1,000 vacancies are current at Scott-Lithgow and others at Yarrow's?
On that point there is no doubt that there is a substantial number of vacancies available at Scott-Lithgow's, and there might be at Yarrow's, but that is not at this moment certain. On the question of completion guarantees, as my hon. Friend will see from the paper I am circulating in the OFFICIAL REPORT, there is an undertaking from the unions in relation to this general agreement to ensure that the ships now given guarantees or to be given guarantees will be built with due despatch and efficiency. I forget the precise words, but they are of this kind. I think it is a meaningful guarantee given by the unions.
Would the right hon. Gentleman confirm that what he is in process of achieving is the painful restructuring of the industry on the Upper Clyde? Secondly, would he confirm or deny that the taking on board of the Irish Shipping Company orders—four bulk carriers at £13 million—will result in substantial losses being taken on board by the new company? How does he presume to compensate the company for these orders?
I can but agree with the hon. Member that what is taking place is a painful restructuring, but it is also a belated one, if I may say so. The losses which Govan Shipbuilders might incur as a result of taking on the Irish Shipping Company orders are, of course, a very real problem and will figure as part of the whole financial project which Govan Shipbuilders will have to put before the Government when it puts its proposals up. The hon. Gentleman's remark, of course, underlines the fact that these, as other ships in the order book, were loss makers and are loss makers. Therefore, that more than ever emphasises the fact that U.C.S. was a loss maker—now and in the future.
Mr. Wingfield Digby
Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the more promising prospects on the Lower Clyde are not being overlooked in the circumstances of available skilled labour, and whether everything necessary is being done to help the company to develop, including the provision of the necessary houses?
The position on the Lower Clyde is also very much under discussion with my Department and the interests of the shipbuilding industry there are very much in our minds. I think I can assure my hon. Friend that everything within the reasonable range of my Department's activities will be made available.
Is the right hon. Gentleman not aware that in the Lower Clyde, which I happen to represent, we have an unemployment rate of between 10 and 11 per cent.? The right hon. Gentleman mentioned the 1,000 jobs on the Upper Clyde, but we cannot get these skilled men. On what basis does the right hon. Gentleman assert that the figures now show that the company would not be viable, when every single independent piece of evidence from Professor Alexander, Ken Douglas and the Shipbuilding Industry Board, which reported to him in May, all asserted that it would be viable? Will the right hon. Gentleman let us see the evidence on which he is basing this curious assumption?
I realise that there is a serious state of unemployment on the Lower Clyde, too, but the truth is that there are vacancies in the Lower Clyde shipyards for skilled professions, and the hon. Gentleman knows that this is so.On the question of losses, or the turning into profitability, to which so much reference has been made, I recall to the hon. Gentleman's mind that Mr. Kelly, who proposed to take over the Clydebank yard at one stage, gave up because he foresaw £5 million losses. I also recall to his mind that the liquidator has made it clear that on the ships currently being built there will be substantial losses. Govan Shipbuilders Limited in respect of the ships which are currently under discussion in relation to guarantees are facing substantial losses. I find it difficult to reconcile these facts with the general statements which are made by others.
Am I right in thinking that in the agreement signed by the men and the unions the men have not withdrawn from the position that their principal aim is the continuation of shipbuilding at the four yards?Secondly, am I right in assuming that the figures the right hon. Gentleman has given today, which, with the guarantees in respect of the five ships being built, greatly exceed anything that has hitherto been mentioned, relate only to the present and immediately past position, and that the right hon. Gentleman has not yet said what special launching aid will be required for Govan-Linthouse? Will he make it absolutely clear that Govan-Linthouse is not yet off the ground, and that it will require a considerable sum of money from the right hon. Gentleman once it is off the ground? Lastly, I press on him, as I have done before, that he must make an effort to get a solution to the Clydebank problem. He cannot leave this town and the people there in these desperate straits. The unemployment figures in Glasgow are much less than the figures in this area. Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that the aid which he offers to any incoming shipbuilder to the area under the Local Employment Acts will not begin to meet the problem?
On the last point, I do not quite understand what the right hon. Gentleman means. The aid to incoming industry under the Local Employment Acts is, on the contrary, exceedingly substantial, providing the conditions are right to accord it.Of course I recognise, as was said in the joint statement, that the principal aim of the unions is to seek means to preserve employment in all four yards in the U.C.S. This is in the statement which will be circulated with the OFFICIAL REPORT. Furthermore, I have said very clearly, and repeat, that I will do all I can to encourage a purchaser to come forward for Clydebank. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that he does not need to press me on the matter, the matter has been completely stated. On the question of Govan-Linthouse not yet being off the ground, I agree with him. It is for this reason that I hope there will be the concerted effort needed to get it off the ground. This is what I have been looking forward to. The right hon. Gentleman mentioned launching aid. It is true that none of the figures I have quoted as yet have covered any specific aid to ensure that the Govan-Linthouse project in fact emerges as a viable operation.
Following is the information:
RECORD OF A MEETING BETWEEN MR. JOHN DAVIES AND SIR JOHN EDEN AND MR. MCGARVEY AND MR. SERVICE ON 12TH OCTOBER, 1971.
|JOHN DAVIES.||DANIEL MCGARVEY.|
|JOHN EDEN.||J. M. SERVICE.|
Details of Financial Commitments and Liabilities Undertaken in Relation to Upper Clyde Shipbuilders since 14th June, 1971:
PROVISION OF WORKING CAPITAL TO LIQUIDATOR
1. Payments made to the liquidator total £4 million of which approximately £2·7 million is recoverable. It has been agreed that up to a further £1½ million will be made available as additional working capital.
2. In respect of four ships now being built with the aid of a bank loan guaranteed by the Department under Section 7 of the Shipbuilding Industry Act, 1971, an undertaking has been given that if the ships are not delivered by certain dates, the Department will relinquish its right to recover from the shipowners any payments it may be called upon to make under the guarantee.
3. A guarantee similar to those under Section 7 of the Shipbuilding Industry Act 1967 has been given to another ship-owner in respect of one ship. A guarantee offered in February 1971 had not been completed at the time of liquidation and, since the Act precludes a guarantee if the ship-builder is in liquidation, an extra-statutory guarantee was necessary. The maximum potential liability which is estimated at £2·49 million will count against the present limit of £700 million for guarantees under Section 7 of the Act.
4. Expenditure and commitments have also been incurred on consultancy and advisory services totalling less than £100,000.
United Kingdom And European Communities (Debate)
Before I call the hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. McManus), I want to say a word about the Common Market debate. At noon today I knew of about 140 right hon. and hon. Members who wished to take part. It will be exceedingly difficult for the Chair to deal with a list as long as this, particularly as about a quarter of those who have written to me have not told me on which side they wish to speak. I will do my best to meet the convenience of hon. Members who have told me that they cannot be here all the time. On the other hand, they do not necessarily deserve an advantage over those who are prepared to be here throughout.I will also try to give some indication fairly early on tomorrow after the debate begins to those who are likely to catch my eye during tomorrow's and Friday's debates, but there can be no rigid lists; patience is sometimes unexpectedly rewarded. As always, my task will be made easier if right hon. and hon. Members realise that a degree of compression does not necessarily make a speech less effective.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)
Further to your statement, Mr. Speaker, I should perhaps add on a question of daily arrangements that the Government propose a suspension until midnight tomorrow, Thursday, 21st October. We should not propose any suspension on Friday. As to suspensions on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of next week. I suggest that that should depend on consultation with you about the number of hon. Members asking to take part. The last day of the debate will be concluded at 10 o'clock.
Mr. Frank McManus (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter which should have urgent consideration, namely,
This specific matter is important because the British Army, by using the Special Powers Act to lay siege to the Students' Union at Queen's University just because some speakers inside wanted to speak against the Common Market, is committing a serious breach of academic freedom which could have repercussions elsewhere in student bodies throughout these Islands. It is important because it lends further credence to the allegation of brutality by the British Army and because an eminent surgeon who has experience of the British Army and who was formerly with the Colonial Office has gone on record to say that he has examined detainees who had suffered torture. This application should have urgent consideration because allegations of torture will adversely affect the negotiations regarding the Common Market. This matter has already brought the Government into disrepute in international circles and a case may shortly be brought in Strasbourg. A prominent politician in America has publicly stated that the British Army should withdraw its forces from the North of Ireland."the arrest of Cerian O'Kane, a lecturer of Queen's University, Belfast, and the behaviour of the British Army in holding the Students' Union under siege."
The hon. Member for Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Mr. McManus) asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent attention, namely,
The hon. Member was kind enough to give me notice some time ago that he intended to make this application. The matter is for me to decide. My decision does not reflect upon the sincerity with which the hon. Member puts forward the application. Under the Standing Order I have to take the decision. I am afraid that I cannot give his application precedence."the arrest of Cerian O'Kane, a lecturer of Queen's University, Belfast, and the behaviour of the British Army in holding the Students' Union under siege."
European Economic Community
Yesterday, Mr. Speaker, I received a telegram from the Constitutional Association of Guernsey expressing anxiety about the Common Market, and, by coincidence, the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) received a similar telegram. We came to see you yesterday to seek your advice because—
Order. What the hon. Gentleman has just said is quite accurate, but I have to rule him out of order.
Orders Of The Day
Town And Country Planning Bill Lords
Considered in Committee.
[Sir ROBERT GRANT-FERRIS in the Chair]
Clauses 1 to 27 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Publicity For Applications Affecting Conservation Areas
Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Michael Cocks (Bristol, South)
During the Second Reading debate I recognised the narrow scope of the debate permitted on a Bill of this nature and asked the Government to keep an open mind on changes where required. I hope the House will accept that in drafting my Amendments I tried to keep strictly in order. However, I do not quarrel with the fact that my Amendments have not been selected, because I received a courteous and full explanation why, despite my care, they were still out of order.I feel that on the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill" I should say that the reason these Amendments were out of order highlights my earlier point, that there is a need for a change in the law. I tried to cover the point that at the moment there is need for a notice to be exhibited on the land when planning permission is applied for, and I tried to draft Amendments so that there should be a notice or notices as appropriate. However, these matters are out of order because this would mean a change in the law. The House will recognise that in the case of a small plot one notice may well be adequate, but for a large plot one notice is not adequate. The area concerned may have many sides accessible to the public and it is possible to place the notice on the least frequented side. The object of the notice is to protect the public, yet at present an unscrupulous or slipshod developer can observe the letter rather than the spirit of the law. I ask the House to recognise that an early change is required since at the moment the public are not being properly protected. The public are not generally aware of their rights in this matter, and often the time and opportunity for objection has passed before they become even aware of what is happening.
The Solicitor-General (Sir Geoffrey Howe)
The point raised by the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Michael Cocks) was mentioned by him on the Second Reading of the Bill. For reasons which have been explained to him, any Amendment in the context of a Consolidation Bill would be inadmissible because we are here concerned simply to see whether or not Section 28 reproduces the existing law. It reproduces the corresponding provisions of the Civic Amenities Act. 1971, introduced some years ago by my right hon. Friend the Member for Streatham (Mr. Sandys), and at this stage one cannot go beyond saying that that is what it does. The point the hon. Gentleman raises is one on which more than one hon. Member has expressed concern and it is a legitimate point to be considered.Section 28 applies to the duty of local authorities. Secion 26 applies to the duty of individual developers. So within the limits of Section 28 one can expect a local authority to be that much more energetic and effective in discharging its duty. It is right to say that the hon. Gentleman's point has caused concern and is under consideration by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State; but it would be wrong for me, with the limited authority I have in the context of these proceedings, to make any grandiloquent promises on behalf of my right hon. Friend. Certainly the point has been noted and is understood in the context of this limited debate.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 29 to 184 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Power To Refuse To Confirm Purchase Notice In Respect Of Office Premises
I beg to move Amendment No. 8, in page 168, line 10, leave out "that section" and insert "section 74 of this Act".This Amendment is simply to correct a drafting error. As the Clause stands at the moment, there is reference in line 10 to "that section", which would be taken as referring back to Section 81(2) in line 7. That is an erroneous reference in the light of the consolidation which has been undertaken. The reference should be to Section 74, which is where the corresponding provisions now appear in this consolidated Bill. I hope that the function of the Amendment will be understood by the House, even if not everybody has been able to follow the exact mechanics of it.
Amendment agreed to.
Clause 185, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 186 to 295 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedules 1 to 10 agreed to.
Control Of Works For Demolition, Alteration Or Extension Of Listed Buildings
I beg to move Amendment No. 9, in page 301, leave out line 14.This is another correction of an error. The paragraph of the Schedule as it originally stood limited the exceptions in the case of listed building consents granted by the Secretary of State to those granted to him in Part IV of the Act or under this Schedule. There are other provisions in the Act whereby he can grant such consent. If one eliminates the limiting words in line 14 and extends paragraph 6 of Schedule 11 widely enough to cover all the cases in the Bill, on that basis the drafting Amendment enables the Bill to make more sense.
Amendment agreed to.
Schedule 11, as amended, agreed to.
Schedules 12 to 22 agreed to.
I beg to move Amendment No. 10, in page 353, line 12, leave out "(c) and (d)".This is to correct a miniscule error in a consequential amendment which the Bill makes in the Civil Aviation Act, 1971. It removes the reference to the two lettered sub-paragraphs and enables the consequential amendment to apply to the whole of subsection (9) of the relevant Act which is being replaced.
Amendment agreed to.
Schedule 23, as amended, agreed to.
Schedules 24 and 25 agreed to.
Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, considered.
Motion made, That the Bill be now read the Third time [ Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, and Prince of Wales's Consent signified].
Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.
Business Of The House
Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)
Mr. Speaker, I wonder whether this would be an appropriate moment at which to seek your guidance on a point of order. It was clear yesterday to the managers of the Government's business that, today, we were not likely to spend very much time on the Bill that we have just completed. Clearly, therefore, the opportunity was open to the Government to put on today's Order Paper other Bills which have gone through the full stages of the House in the sense of Second Reading and Committee stages and which now merely await the formality or otherwise of Third Reading on the Floor of the House.I am concerned especially with the industrial safety Bill known as the Employed Persons (Safety) Bill, which is awaited so eagerly by millions of trade unionists because of what it does for the safety of working people. The Government have not taken the opportunity to have it inserted in today's Order Paper. If they had done so, I should have given them every co-operation and they would have earned the thanks of millions of ordinary working people. The Government's action, or lack of it, shows a great deal of carelessness, quite apart from their inattention to the real problems facing the country. Clearly there has been a good deal of mismanagement on the part of the Government. The Prayers which we are now about to consider would normally be taken after the day's Business. I hope that the problem can be rectified. One possible solution would be an assurance from the Leader of the House that an opportunity to consider the Measure will be provided next week.
The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. William Whitelaw)
Further to that point of order. The hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) has made his point, and I shall not take up any of his assertions. He knows the considered policy that I have always adopted towards Private Members' Bills. I do not differentiate between them. Some of them are extremely estimable. But they have their chance in Private Members' time. In my view, it was not right to provide Government time for Private Members' Bills, and that is the reason for the decision which has been taken.
Wood Chipboard (Anti-Dumping Duties)
The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Anthony Grant)
I beg to move,
This Order, made under the Customs Duties (Dumping and Subsidies) Act, 1969, imposes anti-dumping duties ranging from 50p. to £3 a cubic metre on imports of certain wood chipboard from producers in Norway, Sweden, Finland and the Irish Republic from 8th July this year, and from producers in Portugal from 20th August. The duties confirm provisional charges to anti-dumping duty imposed by the Anti-Dumping (Provisional Charge to Duty) (No. 3) Order, 1971, operative from 8th July, 1971, and a subsequent amending Order, operating from 20th August, 1971, which are revoked by the present Order. These duties are, however, only retrospective and end on 7th October, 1971. After that date, the producers concerned in all countries have undertaken to raise their export prices to the minimum level which the Department considers necessary to eliminate material injury to the U.K. industry. The duties and the agreed price increases do not in any case exceed the margins of dumping found on representative sales to the United Kingdom. So long as these undertakings are observed, no duties will be imposed. The anti-dumping action which we have taken follows a thorough investigation of all the facts by the Department of Trade and Industry in response to an anti-dumping application by the U.K. producers of chipboard. This has entailed visits by our officials to all the producers concerned and a detailed investigation of the position of the main British producers by our professional accountants. As a result, we were satisfied that dumping was occurring and that this had caused material injury to the British industry. We are also satisfied, after considering carefully the balance of interests, that it is in the national interest that anti-dumping action should be taken in this case. I invite the House to approve this Order.That the Anti-Dumping Duty (No. 4) Order 1971 (S.I., 1971, No. 1635), dated 7th October, 1971. a copy of which was laid before this House on 7th October, be approved.
Mr. Roy Mason (Barnsley)
As the hon. Gentleman says, this is an Order imposing anti-dumping duties on five countries in respect of their exports of chipboard to Britain.We do not object to the Order. However, since it is not specified in the Order, perhaps the hon. Gentleman could enlighten us, first, about whom it is designed to protect. In his short statement, he referred to the United Kingdom producers of chipboard. I think that he aught to advise us which firms are involved, where they are situated, and the extent to which they have suffered material injury. It is all very well saying that he is satisfied that they have suffered material injury. The hon. Gentleman should demonstrate to the House that they have suffered material injury before an Order of this kind is approved. Finally, perhaps he will say what employment might be jeopardised if the dumping of chipboard is continued. I think that answers to those questions should be given before the Order is approved.
Mr. Anthony Grant
If I may deal briefly with the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman, the application was made by Airscrew Weyroc, which is the United Kingdom producer responsible for about 80 per cent. of the production of chipboard in this country. The application was supported by a few other much Smaller producers. Effectively, all the producers of chipboard in the country support the application.On the right hon. Gentleman's second point, we are satisfied that material injury has been suffered. It may be of interest to the House to know that the firm to which I have referred and which is responsible for 80 per cent. of British production itself largely operates in a development area in Scotland. We are advised and satisfied that it has had to declare redundant 80 employees as a result of loss of business due to dumped imports, and that further dismissals will almost inevitably be necessary unless anti-dumping action is taken.
Mr. John E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
I understand that the firm is also operating in East Anglia, in a town expansion scheme at Thetford. It has been worried about dumping in the past. I welcome the action of my hon. Friend's Department.
Mr. Anthony Grant
I am grateful to my hon. Friend.
Question put and agreed to.
Education (Student Unions' Funds)
Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
I beg to move,
This item of business originally appeared on the Order Paper as a Prayer against Regulations which had been laid, but those Regulations were withdrawn during the Summer Recess and were replaced by consolidation Regulations which are the ones referred to in the Motion. The way in which our right to pray against the Regulations was preserved was by this Motion being tabled. It is a Motion to take note, and I imagine, therefore, that we have at least as wide a range in it as we should have had on a Prayer. The point which I and a number of my hon. Friends wish to raise on this occasion concerns the use and supervision of the funds of students unions. The way in which they may be paid out of public funds is that the Regulations referred to in the Motion specify, among the matters which a local authority must cover by its grant to a student, subscriptions to clubs, membership of which is made compulsory by the university or other institution. This has led to the universities and the other institutions of higher education making membership of students unions compulsory in order that the subscriptions to them shall be paid by the ratepayers as part of the grant. This in itself is not necessarily a matter which would cause concern, because one recognises that clubs and students unions are part of the life of a university, but some disquiet has been aroused by the way that this system has worked. First, in order that all clubs shall be paid for in this way out of public funds, the universities have so arranged things that the students union, membership of which is compulsory, embraces in its financial arrangements the support of all university clubs, whether political or other. Membership of those clubs is free, or virtually free, to the students, and support of them comes in a grant from the students union with funds which have been paid under these Regulations. The average level of subscription per student for this purpose to the students unions is about £11 a year. Since this applies to all university students and to many in higher education, the total sum involved is about £3 million a year. There are approximately 50 universities to which most of the money goes, so that, broadly speaking, the average sum being considered in each university is £50,000 a year, though it varies a good deal and in some cases it is over £100,000 a year.That this House takes note of the provisions in the Awards (First Degree, etc. Courses) Regulations 1971 (S.I., 1971, No. 1297) relating to the Subscriptions to Students Unions and similar bodies.
Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)
My hon. and learned Friend has quoted the figure of £3 million as the total sum involved. Will he tell the House the basis for that figure?
Yes. It is probably on the low side, because I think that it is always better to understate rather than to overstate the case. There are 228,000 university students. If the average paid for each student were £11, that would come to at least £2¼ million. I am allowing the remaining £¾ million for students at institutions of higher education, of whom there are about 200,000. but not all are covered by these arrangements, the average payment per student being £3 a year, not £11. Therefore, it would be about £3,200,000, but I am calling it about £3 million a year. As I said, for each university one is therefore thinking in terms of about £50,000 a year, though it runs up to over £100,000 for the larger universities.The first comment to be made is that over this substantial sum of money there is absolutely no control or supervision; there is no element of accountability whatever. It goes to the students unions automatically under, one might say, the provisions of the law, and they are accountable for it to nobody. They can make such rules as they like and are accountable for those rules to nobody. It seems strange to put sums of this magnitude into the hands of young men who are having their first experience of handling money when there is no provision for scrutiny, accountability or supervision. Nevertheless, it is right to say that, generally speaking, these funds are properly applied to the kind of purposes which Parliament would have had in mind in making the arrangement. It would not be right to suggest that there is any massive misuse or misappropriation of these funds, and, in a sense, it reflects credit upon those concerned that this should be so. Nevertheless, I must add that there are all too many instances of serious misuse of the ratepayers' money which is provided in this way. Those misuses fall into three main categories. The first is the financing of activities which cannot conceivably be called academic—I refer to political demonstrations and the like—the second is paying the fines and legal expenses of students, and the third is the favouring of Left-wing activities in political organisations. I could, from my records, give innumerable examples of these, but so much publicity has been given to them in the past that I shall confine myself to a few contemporary examples. First, I deal with the misuse of funds by their application to purposes which plainly fall outside the academic sphere. Last year Sussex University voted £100 to support a local dustmen's strike, £60 was given to the Black Panthers, and various sums were voted to pay the fines of students convicted of public disorders. Tomorrow, at a general meeting of the Students Union at Sussex University there is a motion to amend the budget for the year to give £1,300 to outside political causes: namely, £800 to provide school milk in a primary school in Sussex and £500 to Bangla Desh. That is not for the relief of suffering in East Bengal, which would still be outside the proper use of this money but which one could understand, but for the organisation called Bangla Desh. That will be considered at a general meeting of the union at Sussex University tomorrow. I should emphasise that I am speaking not about collections of money raised by the students from among themselves or by some activity which they would then devote to supporting dustmen's strikes or political movements in various parts of the world, but about ratepayers' money which has been levied compulsorily as part of the support of higher education. This term Merton College, Oxford—the junior common rooms at both Oxford and Cambridge get their funds in this way from the ratepayers—has voted £80 to Upper Clyde Shipbuilders; another college, the name of which escapes me, has voted £25 to Upper Clyde Shipbuilders; and Kent University has also made a contribution to Upper Clyde Shipbuilders. All this may gladden the heart of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, but it is not what the ratepayers had in mind when they paid their rate demands. On political favouritism, unfairness in the treatment of clubs, again keeping to modern instances I cite the case at Southampton University last term where the grant to the Conservative Club was withdrawn, in reality because it had elected a president who was a member of the Monday Club, but ostensibly the reason given was that it was wrong to support from union funds a club which supported an anti-student Government—whatever that meant. That was reversed only at the end of last term, after no fewer than three general meetings of the union. At York University there was a motion to take away the grant from the Conservative Association on the remarkable ground of the Chancellor of the Exchequer's tax cuts in his Budget. That was defeated only after long and vigorous debate. The Monday Club was in the possibly fortunate position of having no grant that could be taken away because it is refused a grant by York University on the ground of duplication with the Conservative Association. That is strange, because at the time the Conservative Association was controlled by P.E.S.T. But even stranger than that was the fact that at the same time the university union was giving six separate grants to Socialist societies and, in addition, a separate general grant to the Socialist Federation which comprised them. In addition to those cases of clubs there were two, in a sense, more serious cases, one at a university in Wales, and one at a university in England, where a serious attempt was made to use the threat of withdrawal of union membership to prevent an undergraduate who had passed his final examination from proceeding to take his degree. The argument advanced was that since membership of the union was compulsory, someone could not be a member of the university unless he was a member of the union. Therefore, if the union took away his union membership, his membership of the university lapsed, and he could not take his degree. Both those were attempts to prevent someone from taking a degree on political grounds, and although they failed in the end, there was a moment when, incredible as it seems, it appeared that they might succeed. Most of these things happen not, of course, with the consent of the general body of students in the university, who have far more sense than that, but by the abuse of student union general meetings by active caucuses which requisition a general meeting and pack it. The union has a rule which requires only a small quorum. It is therefore a valid meeting, and all kinds of absurd notions can be, and are, passed, and misuses of funds, which are really scandalous, are authorised. This is a matter which engaged the attention of the Select Committee on Education in the 1969 Session. We took a good deal of evidence about it, we reported on it, and we made a recommendation which I am sorry to say has not been implemented. It was a recommendation which, unlike some of the recommendations of that Committee, had support from both sides of the House. We said:
that is the Committee—"That there are difficulties is conceded by the National Union of Students, because they themselves have recommended the acceptance of model rules by the Student Unions. We"—
That is normally described as our recommendation that there should be a Registrar of Student Unions. It is only a matter of common sense that when we entrust these large annual sums of money to young men and women, who are often only 18 or 19 years old—and this is public money—there should be some kind of scrutiny. First, their rules should make sense. For example, in a university of 5,000 members 40 or 50 should not be regarded as a quorum for a union meeting, a figure which allows it to be packed at once."do not think that this is sufficient. There should be a central authority with powers similar to those exercised by the Registrar of Friendly Societies over trade unions and no Student Union should be recognised for purposes of Union grant unless it is registered with, and its constitution approved by, that central authority. We regard such a provision as compatible with full Student Union autonomy. We are only concerned to provide that the limits within which that autonomy is exercised shall be properly defined and that all those who are automatically members should have adequate safeguards to ensure that their affairs are properly conducted."
Mr. Gilbert Longden (Hertfordshire, South-West)
Would not my hon. and learned Friend agree that whatever the age of the recipient of public money there should be public scrutiny?
I agree with my hon. Friend. I was merely underlining the position by saying that when the recipients are as young and as inexperienced as these students are, the absence of public scrutiny, which one might take for granted with adults, becomes all the more absurd. It is putting temptation in the way of very young people.The recommendation by the Select Committee has particular force when one remembers that membership of these unions is compulsory. Nobody can say that he will not be a member of a union, that he will dissociate himself from all its doings; he has to be a member. In almost every case that we examined and took evidence about we found there was no limit to the number of general meetings that could be called. In some universities they can, and do, have two or three meetings a week, and it is only a matter of going on until the sensible people who want to work are exhausted. The people who want to get their way can then call another meeting, dominate it, and make these donations and pass resolutions to misapply funds in the way that I have stated. This matter has not been allowed to sleep. My hon. Friend who is to reply to the debate knows that many of us have been pressing him, by correspondence and in other ways, for some action to be taken. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have joined us in applying pressure, but so far nothing has been done. I hope that we shall not get lost in consultation on a subject like this. By the time one waits for the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals the N.U.S., the N.U.S. in Scotland, Uncle Tom Cobley, and many other influential and important people to meet an enormous amount of time will have passed, and some universities will perhaps have disappeared into the mists of time. There are two things that can be done to solve the problem. First, we could make membership of unions voluntary. But if we did that we would have to amend the Regulations before us because at present it is a case of "no compulsion, no money". It is like that, It is tightly linked. Money from the public is linked with compulsory membership. If membership were voluntary, they would have to pay for themselves. The first thing to do is to break that link. On principle, I think that that is the right thing to do, because the student unions ought to have to appeal to their members. If they do not produce the goods, they will not get members, and that would be a good thing. But that would not solve the problem, because large sums of money—£50,000, £60,000 or perhaps £70,000—would still be paid from public funds each year for those who were members and took the subvention from the rates. Therefore, there ought to be proper constitutions for the unions, and proper scrutiny of their activities. Even with voluntary membership, which, as a principle, I favour, it would still be necessary to have a Registrar of Student Unions. As the problem is so clear, and because the abuses, unfortunately, are growing and accumulating—I have referred to the issue, which is to be raised tomorrow, of providing £1,300; that is a bigger sum than we have had in the past, and they are getting bolder and more absurd—I do not think that we can sleep on this any longer. We really must have action now to stop what is a bad abuse, even though it affects only a small proportion of the total money that is obtained from the ratepayers. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to put some specific proposals before us.
Mr. Barry Jones (Flint, East)
I do not want to take a great deal of time, but I am somewhat disappointed, although impressed, by the case made by the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell). Perhaps it might help if we noted what student unions in their entirety set out to do for their members. The first thing I would emphasise is that they have a social goal and try to provide for their members in recreational and catering matters. Second, they have cultural and sporting activities. Both these things, of course, are very much grant-aided from subscriptions. Third, in an increasingly important way, student unions represent their members internally, vis-à-vis the lecturing staff and the principal, and also externally.Taking into account these three points, one could say that student unions make a tremendous contribution in the colleges of education, technical colleges and universities. I am aware, from my own experience and from observations, that many students live in lodgings far from the centres of the colleges and universities. Indeed, these campuses are often far flung in themselves, and the student union is in effect the only place where there can be a reasonable focus. So any measures ill-conceived and hastily taken which could seriously affect the unions could have a bad effect all along the line on the educational scene. Much has been said about the Southampton case, which I think was wrong. It is of course notorious and I suppose that all hon. Members have condemned what happened. But I know that the National Union of Students has tried to persuade, and is still considering how it can persuade, such universities in such situations to consider the feelings not only of the House but of the whole student population and of public opinion generally. I urge some caution here. It might be a good idea to legislate differently and not to take a crude solution to what is a very small, even minute, if ultimately proven, abuse of a generally accepted system. General pressure rather than legislation and crude approaches could be more effective. If we follow through the arguments, we see that they might lead to a situation which we did not like. We could see the break-up of college and university communities and of the communal life of our higher education, with increasing divisions among the students themselves which would undermine progress in higher education. There are also dangers in ill-conceived action leading to much more militant student action which hon. Members would not want, in some spheres anyway. This could be nurtured by resentment, so I offer a word of caution. Hon. Members should take great care when trying to remedy what is not necessarily a huge problem. Fourth, if hon. Members had their way, there would be an increasing lack of communication in the colleges of education, universities and technical colleges. When I visited colleges and universities in the course of my job, I was amazed at the enormous amount of co-operation between individual student unions and the administration. The president of a student union would meet his principal or senior lecturing staff more or less every day to sort out problems. In these situations, student unions bring upon themselves enormous credit. Hon. Members might consider this co-operation and usefulness before bringing forward propositions like this.
Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)
The hon. Member is making a very moderate speech, much of which I agree with, but would he not concede that it is because many of us applaud this splendid approach that we are so concerned that there should be a minority who abuse public funds? Does he not think that there should be some control?
I think that everyone would take that point, but in seeking to remedy such a situation, one may create a far worse one. I was directing my remarks to the international scene, where students are increasingly more important in public opinion, in making observations and in taking action in certain political situations. One of the glories of the system in this country, where student unions have a reasonable and decent status in the educational scene is that we have reasonably responsible unions. Therefore, great care should be taken in remedying such a situation as occurred at Southampton.Finally, I would point to the tremendous contribution of the National Union of Students for well over a generation to our educational scene. I do not wish to gild the lily, but its leadership of students generally and of student unions in particular has been most praiseworthy. It has been sane, responsible and forward-looking. The N.U.S. and the student unions have thrown up a remarkable number of leaders and administrators—Mr. Jack Straw, perhaps, certainly Mr. Trevor Fisk, who is a very able administrator and responsible leader in higher educational system, Mr. Geoffrey Martin, Mr. Gwynn Morgan, who is of considerable fame now in political life, and Mr. Fred Jarvis, who is now Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Teachers. The list is long, but in every case we see the point proven that the student unions throw up tremendous leaders and men of great capabilities. Any action by hon. Members opposite which led to the fragmentation of organised student life could result in society and the community losing such able men. Dare I point out to the stout men among hon. Members opposite that they themselves should remember their youth and that student unions have every right to try in their own way to take a radical approach to the problems which they see facing society? I am glad to see the Under-Secretary, the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee), in his place. He holds an honoured position in the student community. I was rather surprised, therefore, to read in The Times of 16th September of certain propositions which the hon. Gentleman put to student leaders. I cannot believe that he would wish to go along with some of the solutions which have been proposed by certain hon. Gentlemen opposite. I have too high a regard of him to think that. One of the joys of being elected to this House is the prospect one has of observing how policies are formulated, presented and executed. I look forward to seeing how the problem which was outlined so ably by the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South is squared with what I believe to be essential, and that is the need to keep student unions together, unified and responsible.
Mr. J. Bruce-Gardyne (South Angus)
The hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Barry Jones) appealed to us to recall our youth, which is always a dangerously appealing call. Some of us like to think that that time is not too far distant.Although the hon. Gentleman made an attractive and strongly-argued case for student unions and the National Union of Students, I suggest that that is not in itself the matter which we are discuss- ing. We are concerned to decide whether these bodies should be financed out of taxpayers and ratepayers funds. The case he made for the valuable role which student unions perform suggests that if they are so valuable for the student body as a whole, perhaps it would not be unreasonable for the student body to be asked to finance these valuable activities. That is the crux of the argument. In his extremely cogent remarks, my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) mentioned the circumstances of this debate. We thank my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House for making this debate possible by placing this Motion on the Paper. I hope that the Under-Secretary will explain, for the benefit of those who are not well-versed in the procedures of this House, how it came about that the Order against which my hon. and learned Friend prayed as soon as it was tabled in June was then incorporated, during the Recess, into a consolidation Measure, which invalidated that Prayer before it could be debated. Put simply, unless the Leader of the House had placed this Motion before the House today, our Prayer would have fallen without discussion. I accept that the Order to which the Prayer related was, as my hon. and learned Friend explained, intended to be limited in duration and was designed purely to put right the situation which existed following the 1970 Act. But my hon. Friends and I are concerned precisely with the situation that was created by that Act. We had taken the precaution to ensure that there would be an opportunity to discuss this matter, and it is mystifying that the Department should have taken action, perhaps inadvertently, to render such discussion impossible. I hope that the Under-Secretary will clear up this procedural point. I listened with great interest to the arguments of my hon. and learned Friend, who has followed these matters closely for a long time. He was a distinguished member of the Select Committee in 1969, to whose recommendations he referred. Many of us share his anxieties about some of the curious activities in which some student unions—admittedly, as the hon. Member for Flint, East rightly pointed out, this relates to a small minority of them—have become involved in recent months. I wish to look briefly at some of the wider aspects of the issue. My concern is twofold. First, I am not at all clear that the sums currently allocated out of ratepayer and taxpayer expenditure to cover the cost of compulsory student union fees are wisely so allocated. I hope that when the Under-Secretary replies to the debate he will not take the line he took in a letter to me in the spring, in which I was told that the Government were completely neutral in this matter and that the regulation merely said that if membership of a student union was compulsory, the membership fees were a charge to the local education authority in the case of students who were in receipt of L.E.A. grants. Frankly, that is indulging in semantics. If, for the sake of argument, it was announced that membership fees to the House of Commons Motor Club were to be a tax-deductible expense, or better still totally recoverable—but that membership of the H.O.C. Motor Club was compulsory—it would not be long before we had a Resolution making membership of the club compulsory. The one must surely follow from the other, and I do not think that my hon. Friend can creditably adopt a posture of neutrality in this matter. Another anxiety is the fact that in many universities student unions are affiliated to the N.U.S. The hon. Member for Flint, East gave a reasonable and attractive panegyric of the N.U.S. I am not sure that we would all share his view about the qualities of all the leadership of the N.U.S. in recent years, but that is not the point. The point is that, in cricumstances where, because of the way in which legislation is framed, membership of student unions is made compulsory, and those student unions are affiliated to the N.U.S., membership of the N.U.S. becomes obligatory. The extent of this obligatory enforcement was clearly demonstrated in the case of the group of students at Bradford University, to which my hon. and learned Friend referred. I understand that they informed the university authorities that they wished to opt out of membership of the student union and that they were informed that membership of the union was an essential precondition for the completion of a first degree course. In other words, they could not complete the course unless they belonged to the student union. In the circumstances, nothing could be more obligatory than that. We must bear in mind in the background to this question that it is expected that, over the next three years, the total cost to the ratepayer and taxpayer of the student population will rise to about £360 million. Put crudely, this is a tribute exacted from the vast majority of the population who do not have the benefit of university education for the advantage of the minority who do, a minority who, having received this tribute, will then be in a better position than the majority, presumably, to command higher earning power after leaving university. There seems to be a fair amount of uncertainty about the precise element in that total constituted by contributions to fees. I agree that, in absolute terms, it is not very great. My hon. and learned Friend gave a figure of £3 million and explained how he had arrived at that. The figure which I have heard is a good deal higher than that, in the region of £8 million. This may be too high. I do not know. I gather that the Department has always argued that it could not say exactly, or, indeed, at all, how much of the total sum this figure was, it being a matter for the local education authorities. None the less, I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will be able to shed some light on the matter when he answers the debate. Whether the total be £3 million, £8 million or something in between, it must at all events be a serious question whether this is really the best way in which the money could be spent on behalf of the ratepayers and taxpayers. In my view, it could be much more usefully spent in, for instance, primary education. The argument is advanced—it was advanced by the hon. Member for Flint, East—that if membership of student unions became voluntary, or, still more, if the right of a student in receipt of local authority grant to have his union membership fee paid for him were taken away, the unions themselves would be seriously disrupted in their activities, with the consequences which the hon. Gentleman outlined. One must look at that argument rather carefully. I accept that in some universities there are what can genuinely be described as essential facilities provided by the student union—restaurant facilities and so on. In my view, these facilities ought to be provided by the universities themselves, as they are in so many cases, and students should not depend on the student union for provision of these essentials. Then, over and above those, there are facilities which, though desirable, are not essential. Many of these, I understand, are good profit-making operations, so I can see no good reason why they should not continue, whether the membership fees are paid or not. As for the rest, if they are sufficiently attractive, it is not unreasonable to suggest that they be financed by the students themselves. Leaving aside for the moment the question of the desirability or otherwise of these fees being paid by the local education authorities, I turn to the other aspect of the matter which, if anything, concerns me even more, namely, the way in which, through the application of Regulations such as those we are now discussing, an effective closed shop is established in the universities, and. I submit, a closed shop of a particularly pernicious sort, since, quite apart from the situation of those students who for one reason or another object to enforced membership of student unions or, through that, to enforced membership of the N.U.S., there is the position of those students—admittedly, a small minority—who have to finance themselves at university. These people are obliged, out of their own resources or their parents' resources, to pay the fee for membership of the student union in universities at which membership is made compulsory as a result of the application of our legislation. That situation seems to me to be indefensible. I put it to my hon. Friend that it cannot be defended, above all, by a Government who have themselves put the Industrial Relations Act on the Statute Book. Not even in any closed-shop factory do we have a state of affairs in which three-quarters, or nine-tenths, of the employees have their union mem- bership fees paid by the taxpayer or the ratepayer while the remainder have to find the fee out of their own pockets, and are obliged to do so. It is an utterly indefensible state of affairs. Like other hon. Members, I have received several weighty memoranda from the National Union of Students, including a copy of the memorandum which it sent to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in August last, and another rather curious document called, "Student Unions—An Attack?", which was published earlier in the year. Both these documents seem to me at least to suggest that, whatever the authors may have gathered at university, it was not a comprehensive knowledge of English grammar. These documents advance arguments similar to those advanced by the hon. Member for Flint, East. But they do not convince me that any of the objections which have been advanced to a system of voluntary union membership or to the ending of the present system of fees being paid by the local education authority are in any sense valid. I hope that, as a result of the inquiry in which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is now engaged, it will be decided at the end of the day that payment of student union membership fees by local education authorities should be terminated. If my hon. Friend is not prepared to go as far as that, he really must, I submit, bring to an end the present closed-shop situation. I commend to him one suggestion which is put forward even in this document, "Student Unions—An Attack?". The authors, from the National Union of Students, say:
That, and with it complete liberty to opt out for those who have an obligation to finance their own university education, would, I suggest to my hon. Friend, be at least a pis-aller, if he is not prepared to go further; but I hope that he will go substantially further, for the present system must be changed in the interests of equity."We could also consider a proposal to allow students to opt out by instructing their L.E.A. not to pay their union fee. Very few students would be likely to resort to this, but it would meet the objections to compulsory membership."
Mr. Mark Hughes (Durham)
With the changing of the age of majority, the relationship between students and the university authorities is bound to be materially affected and difficult questions arise. We have heard it said that, at the age of 18, to ask students to have care of money is to put temptation in their way. Yet, at that age, we put temptation in their way in that we ask them to vote.People go to universities to get a degree. Less than 15 years ago non-attendance at the altar of the college chapel was a sufficient reason to be denied the right to take the examination to obtain a degree. There are still colleges which take no part in the teaching of a student but have the right to prevent his having access to the final examination papers for reasons totally unconnected with his academic activities. There are many universities where the recording of attendance at lectures by lecturers whose lectures are not worth attending is a necessary condition for taking the examinations before a student can obtain a degree. We should be concerned with that whole area, including membership of the organised student body, the union, which is not a union in any sense like many of the industrial unions. The student union at Durham, Newcastle, or other civic universities is not the same as the N.U.S. Each performs different functions at local, university and national level. Membership of a college at the University of Durham is very different from membership of a college at Oxford or Cambridge. The whole area of relationships between the degree-giving authority, the financing group—the ratepayer and the taxpayer—the teachers and the students should be thoroughly reviewed. The change in the law, the change in the numbers, the change in the methods of financing, have left certain areas of university control with something like the irresponsibility of the harlot. The university authorities are too often called upon to act irresponsibly because they are still geared, with their statutes and all the rest, to the father who foots the student's bill being responsible for his discipline and wellbeing, with the university occasionally acting in loco parentis. That is no longer the position. The local education authorities and the State, the ratepayer and the taxpayer, are footing the bill, and neither the universities nor the colleges have yet achieved a mechanism to relate full adult rights for students as adult citizens with their position as being in statu pupillari. In these relationships the crucial role will have to be played by student unions. To say that, because a number of them act in a foolish manner, access to finance should be removed from the body as a whole, seems to me not to move in the direction which we all require. We should give greater strength to the elbows of the moderates in the student movements. I suggest that Sussex University students got the union they deserved. If they stayed away and permitted the kind of constitution they had, they got what they deserved, and it is in their hands to correct it. Durham University's quorum is 500, and it is relatively difficult to pack a meeting which has 500 as a quorum. It is entirely possible for student unions to get the relationship approximately right. The use of senior treasurers and so on with real powers is becoming increasingly common rather than having a figurehead as senior treasurer. Voluntary membership of such unions assumes that the facilities provided are available on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. Many of the facilities provided by student unions in civic universities are not available from any other source. There is no duplication, and if students do not buy their coffee in a students' refectory run by the student unions, they cannot get it. It may be that the solution is for the U.G.C. to finance coffee bars. I am not certain that that will necessarily achieve greater public accountability than we have now. I find from the Report of the recent Select Committee that there are areas in the financing authorities which leave great gaps in accountability, that there is concern, and that where there is a monopolistic supply of services to give students the right to opt out may not be realistic. The hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) was right to suggest that it might be necessary to alter the forms of services and facilities before student union membership could be made voluntary. The idea that the £360 million is extracted for a minority élite, and that membership of a union is something like membership of the House of Commons motor club, is totally fraudulent and one with which the House should waste no time.
Mr. Angus Maude (Stratford-on-Avon)
I shall not detain the House for very long, because I wish to confine myself to only one point.I should not like it to be thought, because my name appears on the Motion, that I would go anything like as far as my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne). I see the theoretical thread of the argument about the closed shop, about compulsory membership, and about the connection between public financing and union subscriptions, but I should take a lot of convincing, without a great deal more argument, that it would be right substantially to change that at present. I confine myself to the issue of the Select Committee's 1969 recommendation about the setting up of a registrar or other form of public body to approve the constitutions, accounts and conduct of student unions and similar bodies. It seemed to me that the speeches of the hon. Members for Flint. East (Mr. Barry Jones) and Durham (Mr. Mark Hughes) contained nothing which could be taken as opposing that. I come to some of the things my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus said. If the hon. Member for Flint, East meant what my hon. Friend thought when he talked about the possibility of breaking up student unions, or even more divisive action, with hasty and ill-considered measures, I can understand what my hon. Friend said. But everything the hon. Gentleman said about the admirable work which most student unions do, and about the essential nature of most of the functions they perform, makes it all the more essential that those functions should not be prejudiced by the deflection of money to purposes for which the subscriptions were not intended. Everything the two hon. Members opposite said about the nature of, and need for, student unions makes it all the more important that they should be properly controlled in essence, by which I do not mean, nor does anyone else on this side of the House, that there should be any attempt by Government or any body to try to put the democratic control of the union into any kind of stranglehold. We are trying to see that democracy works properly and that certain elementary safeguards are imposed. When the hon. Member for Flint, East talks of hasty and ill-considered action, I cannot think that action taken on the recommendation of a Select Committee in 1969 could be considered hasty or ill-considered if we came to a decision about it now. It is a sad reflection on Governments of both parties that no action has been taken on it yet. It cannot be suggested. for example, that the Registrar of Friendly Societies has exercised a baleful influence on the friendly society movement or has caused division amongst the ranks of those who have benefited from friendly societies. I should add that I have had two children at universities and another is going on to one. Those who have been there have been interested in this question but they and their friends and every other moderate student I have talked to have said that it is impossible for them, the moderate majority, to cope with the kind of thing which often goes on. I agree with the hon. Member for Durham that university students get the unions they deserve—they do. The moderate majority is prepared once or twice a year perhaps to go to a meeting and elect moderate and often completely non-political student union officers in the hope that they will run the thing properly for them for the rest of the year. But the ordinary student, who has gone to university partly to work hard to get a degree and partly—let us face it—possibly to enjoy himself, cannot make a full-time job of student union politics and go to the requisitioned special meetings once a week, which is what the militant minority continually manages to achieve in order to get its minority views adopted. The number of moderate and non-political presidents of student unions who have resigned their posts before the end of their year of office because of the pressure of minority groups, who have sought to mandate them on issues without the agreement of the majority of the students, has become alarmingly great. With regard to the use of student money and the way in which student business is conducted, it is a necessity, when dealing with large sums of public money, as well as in the interests of the students and their unions, that there should be at least a registrar who will agree a model constitution, the question of quorums for meetings and the proper uses to which subscription money can be put. I do not believe that anyone can say that there is any sinister motive behind this or that it can hamper the proper development of student unions or the functions they perform. It is high time that we did this. The situation has grown up gradually over the years into very big business and very big money. It was reasonable at first that there should not be a registrar or any proper form of control, but we have let things go too far. The dangers have become abundantly obvious and it is more than time we acted. I hope that my lion Friend will give an answer on this.
Mr. R. C. Mitchell (Southampton, Itchen)
I find myself in almost entire agreement with the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Mr. Maude). I do not think that there is any basic conflict between him and my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mr. Barry Jones). But I think the danger in other speeches from hon. Members opposite lies in the fact that some of them would like to take a very large sledgehammer in order to crack a small nut. To try to carry this to the argument that membership of student unions should be completely voluntary raises all the difficulties that my hon. Friends the Member for Flint, East and Durham (Mr. Mark Hughes) put.Many of the functions of the student unions are not provided elsewhere. I suspect that, if we took the view that the U.G.C. should finance certain facilities, if there were no alternative facilities, quite a large amount of the money mentioned as being contributions would be spent on building coffee bars and the rest, which are now provided by the student unions. There would be little saving of the taxpayer's money there. We have to stop the lunatic fringe element, and as one of the Members for Southampton I unreservedly condemn the action of the University of Southampton Students Union in its political discrimination and the way in which it has distributed funds. I believe that political organisations inside universities should not get any funds from the student unions at all. They should by all means have the free use of accommodation for their meetings but it is quite wrong that the Conservative Society or the Labour Society or any other political society should obtain money. At the University of Southampton, I was Chairman of the Labour Society. We got no grant from the students union. If we wanted to raise money for our functions, we went out and did it ourselves—and it did us a lot of good to do so. If we wanted to get speakers down, we had to raise the money ourselves rather than ask the students union. I back wholeheartedly the request of the hon. Member for Stratford-on-Avon to take account of the recommendation of the Select Committee, of which I was a member, for some form of registrar to look at student union constitutions. If we could get a properly balanced constitution, then many of these abuses—and they are only in a minority of cases—could be stopped. If one made membership voluntary, so that only those participated who wanted to do so, one might well find an even greater danger of a lunatic fringe taking control of a student union because they would be sufficiently politically dedicated to be prepared to pay £10 subscription or whatever it might be. I would not reject entirely the argument if it were thought useful for a student to contract out in the sense that he might write to his local authority and say, "In my case I do not think you need pay the fee". I see no objection to that and I do not think that the National Union of Students has any strong objection to it or to any individual financing the fee himself. It would not be a disaster. I plead with the Government not to abolish completely the £15 or whatever fee it is that the local authority pays and not to make membership entirely voluntary. If they do, they will destroy the whole concept of what student unions have done. A university without a student union—I am talking about the main work of a union—would be very much the poorer.
Mr. Norman Fowler (Nottingham, South)
I do not think that there is any dispute on this side of the House about the fact that student unions carry out valuable functions. I agree with a great deal of what the hon. Member for Southampton, lichen (Mr. R. C. Mitchell) has said about that. Clearly, student unions are a valuable part of university and college life. I would not disagree either with what has been said about British students. One only has to compare student methods here with some of the student methods overseas to recognise that British student politics and British student political leaders are moderate and responsible, and I think that we are fortunate in that.But it is not enough to say that because some changes may be proposed and some changes may be under discussion which may cause controversy in student circles, therefore we should let well alone. That is not a sufficient reply to the case, because the logic would be that we in this House would not be discussing or acting upon any of the things we do discuss and act upon. I do not believe that one is opposing either students or student unions by questioning the methods by which the student unions are financed or the element of compulsion in the membership. That was the point which my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) was making. To me, the present system is questionable on two grounds. First, it seems to me wrong in principle that students should be compelled to join a student union. In many cases they may want to but this is surely a matter for free will, a matter which is essentially up to the individual. Although it is true that most students are financed by the local authorities, a minority are self-financing in that they are financed by their parents. It seems objectionable in principle that these students should be forced to join student unions. At this stage in the student's career his options should be left open, and I cannot see any good reason why there should be a real compulsion in these cases. I would favour what has already been proposed from this side of the House, making membership of the student unions voluntary. If the facilities are wanted— and the facilities provided are, I recognise, recreationally, socially and culturally good, making a tremendous contribution—they will continue to be provided on a voluntary basis. This only reinforces the case for making membership voluntary. It is only another way of saying that these facilities will be used by the many because they are so good, but it still allows the few who do not want to use them the option of doing just that. The other aspect which is important, mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus, is that the bulk of the money comes from public sources, from the rates. That means that it is reasonable for the public to have and to show a close interest in how this money is spent. I find myself in agreement with all that has been said about public accountability in this respect. From the public's point of view it is reasonable for the public to say, "Very well, these facilities are good, they are, in many cases, excellent. But if that is so, the students will want to take advantage of them voluntarily and as a matter of choice." Surely it is up to the students, the public may say, to take the decision to join the student unions of their own accord and pay their own money for the advantages of so doing. I cannot see why the public should automatically pay.
Mr. R. C. Mitchell
Is there not a danger here that the student who comes from a better-off family, who has some money, will be able to pay and enjoy the facilities while the chap dependent on his grant may find himself in difficulty?
That is a difficult point for me to answer in a comprehensive way. There could be difficulties of this kind, but I should have thought that in the vast majority of cases that would not be the case. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus said, there is a choice of financial priorities in education as in any other area, and it seems to me not too difficult to think of alternative ways in which this money, be it £3 million or £8 million, could be spent in education.My hon. Friend mentioned the question of primary schools. Many of us would support what he said. If I could bring a constituency point into this, as the Minister is here, I would mention the need to bring together and unite in one building the comprehensive schools formed in this country. I would draw attention to those like the one in my constituency, which have buildings more than a mile apart. I do not think it would be particularly difficult for any of us to think of other ways of spending this money on education. I am not convinced that this is the best possible way of spending it. The situation is unsatisfactory although not disgraceful. From the point of view of both students and the public the Government should take action to correct it.
Mr. Edward Short (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central)
I congratulate hon. Gentlemen opposite who had the foresight to table this Motion today. I congratulate them on putting it down at all, because there is much apprehension in colleges and universities throughout the country. The Government have been considering this for some time, but I do not expect the Minister to be able to say very much today. He threw out three proposals at Bradford on 15th September and we might expect to hear the trend of his thinking on those proposals today. I know that he has promised to consult all the bodies concerned including the students, and he will recollect that in reply to the hon. Member for Chigwell (Mr. Biggs-Davison) his right hon. Friend promised us on 5th August that, if possible, she would proceed in agreement with all the bodies concerned in this matter.There were two inquiries in 1970, one conducted by the Committee of Chancellors and Principals, in the universities, the other by the D.E.S. in the public sector of higher education. It seems to me that the pressure is based on a few highly publicised but untypical incidents—out of 700 student unions. The hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) quoted a number of cases and I felt that he was scraping the bottom of the barrel. He quoted £100 being contributed to the dustmen's strike from the union at Essex. This kind of thing is surely a small price to pay for democracy in our student body. Democracy does silly things. No doubt the Services Committee has considered some of the quite outrageous things done to the Palace of Westminster during the Recess. I regard these as highly silly things, but they have been done in accordance with our democratic machinery. I believe it wasted not £100, as with the dustmen's strike—although it surprises me that the dustmen have not gone on strike bearing in mind the mess they have to clear up here—but a great many hundreds of thousands of pounds on quite unnecessary changes. It is important that this element of our young people should have the opportunity to train themselves in democracy. Like any other kind of training, training in democracy involves trial and error. The hon. and learned Member spoke of students subscribing to provide milk for primary schools—
Mr. Ronald Bell
I was not criticising students who subscribed to provide milk for the primary schools, whether or not I agree with them. The point I made was that they had voted public money to that purpose, that money having been contributed by the public for other purposes.
I will come to the question of compulsory membership shortly. I was also attracted to the students who provided a contribution to U.C.S. If these are the best examples the hon. and learned Gentleman can invoke, what an inadequate basis they are for the remedy he proposes! The right hon. Lady in that parliamentary reply to which I referred said:
I agree with her. There are two categories of objection. There are, first of all, those who challenge the two bases of student union organisation, compulsory membership and State financing. There are those who accept those bases but want greater external control of student union activities, financing and structure. My hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East (Mr. Barry Jones) spoke of the three functions of a student union, and they are worth mentioning. The union promotes almost all social activities in colleges and universities, some of the recreational and catering facilities. Secondly, it sponsors, through its grants, a wide range of cultural and supporting activities without, in the majority of cases, any kind of discrimination. Thirdly, it represents students externally as well as internally in the universities or colleges. All these functions are essential. Social, catering and recreational facilities are particularly important nowadays when two-thirds of students in provincial universities live in lodgings. For some years I have closely watched the lodging situation in Newcastle. I know that the Under Secretary has met a number of people from Newcastle and knows the problems. The old areas where students found their lodgings are being demolished and students must now go further afield to find their lodgings. It is now common for students at provincial universities to live in lodgings 10, 15 or 20 miles away and to travel in by bus daily. If the union were not there to provide social facilities, life would be pretty miserable for such students. These functions are particularly important because they make student bodies into communities. I hope that it is common ground that we want to retain the community concept in universities. I do not think that the provision of these facilities and the compulsory contributing to them by all students is any more unwarranted compulsion than a local authority providing services such as libraries, parks and museums, which people are free to use or not but for which all must pay, or indeed of all students having to pay as part of their fees for the university library which they may use or they may not, as they wish. Another question raised by a number of hon. Members opposite is whether these facilities should not be provided by the universities and colleges themselves. I ask hon. Members who have suggested this how they would pay for them. If the university provided recreational, catering and sporting facilities, how would they be financed? They would be financed by an addition to the fee or, alternatively, by a bigger grant from the U.G.C. If they were financed from the fee, all students would have to pay. If they were financed from the U.G.C., all taxpayers would have to pay the cost. Is it seriously suggested that any university court of senate, or whatever it is—it varies from one to the other—would run the social and recreational facilities for the large student body of 5,000 or 6,000 students in the modern provincial university? In the end, every university would have to hand it back to the students and we should be back again at square one. Much has been said—this question was first raised by the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South—about the Southampton case, which is, perhaps, the most highly publicised of all. In April, 1971, the N.U.S., at its annual conference, deplored this. I deplored it from this Box and said that I thought that it should be reversed immediately. In the event, it has been reversed. I should have thought that this is a much better way of doing it than by legislation. Student unions have a representative function also. I got the Clerk to the Privy Council to write a letter on 5th June, 1970, in which I insisted that universities should ensure that student members on university governing bodies were properly representative of the student body as a whole. I think all would agree with that. It is difficult to see how it could be achieved unless the union had 100 per cent. membership. It is highly desirable that the corporate view of students should be put. I do not think that the Secretary of State or the Under-Secretary could function without having the corporate view of all students made available to them on many occasions. I know that students are consulted frequently in the Department of Education and Science."…the misuse is comparatively small…"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 5th August, 1971; Vol. 822 c. 1820.]
The right hon. Gentleman has just advanced a curious proposition. He has said that it would not be possible for a corporate view to be advanced unless membership of the union remained compulsory. The right hon. Gentleman must know that in the case of the majority of universities, as the Select Committee discovered two years ago, the elections to the S.R.C.s, and so on, are participated in by a derisory proportion of the total student body. Does the right hon. Gentleman seriously suggest that the fact that membership is compulsory in this way ensures that these people are empowered to speak with full authority for the entire union?
The hon. Gentleman wishes to make the participation even more derisory by having heard only the voices of those who can afford to pay the subscription; because many people would not be able to afford to pay the subscription if membership were voluntary. With voluntary membership the student community would be destroyed. As my hon. Friend the Member for Flint, East said, we should end up with very much more militant bodies.Hon. Members will know what has happened in universities in France, Germany and Italy. I do not think that anybody here would wish that to happen in Britain. I believe that the major cause of the troubles on the Continent has been the impaired communication between student bodies and the authorities. In Britain we have been remarkably fortunate. We may not think that we have on occasion, especially those who have been surrounded by howling bodies of students. However, over the past few years we have been remarkably fortunate. I believe that a major cause of this has been the fact that there has been a student body which was able to speak to the authorities, to hold a continual dialogue with the authorities, and to speak for all students. The Select Committee proposed a registrar of unions, for two reasons. The Select Committee said, first, that with compulsory membership there must be some mechanism to protect the interests of individual members. It said, second, that as public expenditure is involved safeguards must exist to ensure that student unions are properly run. I want to ask the Under Secretary, if he cares to enter this field, about the legal basis for a registrar of student unions. As I understand it, the student union is part of the mechanism in the university. The university is an autonomous body established by Royal Charter. The Royal Charter can be amended only by another Royal Charter. An amendment can be made only on a petition of the people who possess the Charter. Therefore, I think that the legal side of this would be difficult. However, that is not the point I want to make. I believe that the constitutions of the unions give protection to the individual. A point which has not been mentioned today is that the constitutions must be approved by the governing body of the university or college and they can be amended only with the approval of the governing body of the university or college. This is a considerable safeguard. If there are defects in the constitutions of the unions, the universities themselves must bear the blame. In every case the individual has the right of appeal to the general body of the union or to the courts. So there are real protections for individuals in student unions. As to the accounts, I have checked on this today and I find that almost all, but not quite all, are audited by professional firms of accountants. The National Union of Students has strongly recommended all student unions that this should be done. I agree at once that this is not public accountability, but it ensures that any defects in accounting are brought to light. It has been agreed by hon. Members opposite that on the whole the accounting is done satisfactorily. The N.U.S. is prepared, as I think that the Under-Secretary knows, to discuss with the Department or with the vice-chancellors and principals alternative methods of finance provided that they do not affect the character or operation of the unions. What the National Union is not prepared to discuss is a method of finance which would amount in effect to external political control of the unions. Short of that, there is a preparedness to enter into discussions with the Department about alternative methods of finance. I implore the Government not to start legislating in this extremely sensitive field without agreement between the students, the colleges and universities, and the Department. I believe that there is much common ground among them. I appeal to the Government not to be pushed into hasty changes by a small number of isolated cases which we all deplore and condemn.
Mr. John E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
I would start by saying that I am in agreement with the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) that the student union is absolutely vital in its rôle in strengthening the community of the university. It is very difficult these days for large bodies of students scattered in their residences to have a sense of community, and in so far as the student union contributes to that sense of community I welcome it.Let me in passing welcome these consolidated Regulations—consolidated. I suspect, so that they could come into force on 1st September and be available and intelligible to the students; and perhaps that is more important than whether we should be discussing them by means of a Prayer or by this Motion today. I welcome the other changes which have been made, particularly with regard to the lifting of the parental threshold, and some of the other improvements in the parental scales. Turning to this question of the student unions, I should like to acknowledge the copy of the National Union of Students' memorandum to the Secretary of State—the copy circulated to us. I thought it a very fair and objective statement, although I do not necessarily agree with everything in it. I do agree, however, that it is highly desirable to lessen the gross disparity, in many cases, between university and non-university student facilities. It is, I think, a little worrying—not that it is a measure of the disparity—that we should have a difference of £11 on one side and £3 on the other. I hope that that point would be looked at very carefully. I entirely accept the students' view that they have very important functions in respect of catering. I think the students are far better at deciding what forms of modern and inexpensive and easily accessible catering there should be than probably any more senior body, and, indeed, on student housing, I think they know better what they want than some remote and elderly committees. Quite clearly, too, they must sponsor the sporting activities of the university or college as the case may be. It is in their third capacity, of acting as a representative body, that I share some of the anxieties, but not such extreme anxieties, which my hon. Friends have mentioned. There are only a few cases, admittedly, but I do think that sometimes the actions of the students union may not seem to the local community to be representative of the whole body of students, and I think this is a pity. We have had described to us the way in which a small militant group can get to work and operate a constitution which lacks sufficient safeguards. Likewise, where there may not be effective accounting arrangements, such as—as the righ hon. Gentleman says—in the vast majority of cases there are, we can get unfortunate incidents which have an effect wholly out of relation either to their number or their real significance. It was news to me that the college of which I am still a member made this grant in respect of Upper Clyde Shipbuilders. Unless it was a down payment for a new college barge, I do not think it should have come out of the union fees fund. What I hope is that there was a quite separate voluntary fund, from which it was decided that such a gift should be made.
I think my hon. Friend should, perhaps, explain this a little more carefully. He does not mean the fund taken out of the union's subscriptions. He means a fund raised by voluntary subscription.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, for I would not want the House to misunderstand me. What I meant was that where the students want money for a substantial charitable contribution, whether or not it is of some political significance, it should come not from the body of their subscriptions but from whatever means they choose voluntarily to get up a fund.This has happened all through the ages. I can remember a college in need of funds having a day for the college blind. It is true that the appeal was far less closely connected with any disability than some of the donors expected, but the money was raised voluntarily, and this is the essence of the point.
Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
On this point, why should a student union have such different provisions from other organisations and not make a contribution for charitable purposes in the same way as other organisations make contributions from their subscriptions for charitable purposes, as, for instance, on an occasion when there is some accident and some people cannot make a living for a number of weeks? Would the hon. Member preclude students from making out of their subscriptions a reasonable contribution to such people? Why should they not?
I think that if the hon. Member had been here all the time he would have realised that we are discussing the use of the subscriptions which are specifically made by local authorities for union dues. It is on that rather narrow front that we are talking. I think that in general principle my answer would perhaps be this, that if they do make any gifts or donations from the union fees fund it should mean either that they deny themselves something else which the fees were intended to provide or else that the fees are, perhaps, rather more generous than, strictly speaking, they need be for the purposes intended.
Mr. Edward Short
Is the hon. Member aware that individual directors with perhaps only a small shareholding in a company do not hesitate to suggest that the company should make large donations to the Conservative Party and without consulting their shareholders?
I do not think that that has any relevance. Those donations come out of profits which the enterprise has made, not out of taxpayers' money, and if the shareholders do not like it they can complain.
Mr. Edward Short
The shareholders cannot complain. The money belongs to the shareholders but they have no say in the matter at all.
I do not want to engage in a private debate with the right hon. Gentleman. I am delighted if firms give subscriptions to political parties, whether the Conservative Party or not, in the hope that political parties will have more resources with which to increase research and the quality of British politics. However, may I go back—
Mr. John Mendelson
Yes, the hon. Member had better hurry on to something else.
What I was wondering was whether it would be possible so to conceive of this third function of the student union, which is the representative one, as to distinguish the activities of the student union in all fields of administration—the non-political and non-ideological, the social and catering, amenity and residential sides of their work—from debating and political activities, in the same way as the annual conference of the National Union of Students, until a few years ago limited its agenda to educational subjects. For those of us who are specially interested in education those conferences were perhaps more interesting than discussions of a wide general political range.The non-political, non-ideological and non-debating functions of student unions might be separated, and membership of student unions with those functions might be compulsory, whereas the political activities of student unions in the sense of a debating force, might have a voluntary membership. There would be a degree of difficulty in demarcation and in deciding whether a subject should be on the agenda of one body or the other, but this is a possibility which is worth looking at. The reason why some students do not want to join a union is that they are deterred by particular opinions, often those of a minority in the total body of students, with which they do not wish to be associated. Such a separation might be useful, and I hope that the Under-Secretary in his further researches will consider it.
Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
I listened carefully to the so-called debate on education at the Conservative Party annual conference, and that is why I intervene in this debate. I know the ideological inspiration of the point of view put forward by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. John E. B. Hill). I listened to the television recording of the conference debate from beginning to end, and there has probably never been a more disgusting performance than the anti-education bias of Conservative representatives in showing their distrust of students and this student generation. They did not use the tones of moderation of the Under-Secretary of State, who normally made a point of working very closely with the N.U.S. when he was in opposition, and I have no reason to think that he has not continued to do so now that he is in office. I make no charge of inconsistency, but he does not represent his party. He would not have been able to get up and say a word of praise of the student movement at that conference without being blown away by a gale of opposition, resentment and bias.It is no good the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane) shaking his head. He as little represented the opinion of the students of Cambridge on the Greek colonels' régime than the Under-Secretary would have represented his party had he admitted to a certain amount of respect for the student generation.
Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for mentioning the Greek case. I, together with hon. Members from both sides of the House, happen to be a member of the Atlantic Committee for Democracy in Greece.
Yes indeed, and the hon. Gentleman's hypocrisy is made even more glaring when one reads the speech to which he treated this House on that occasion. He had a duty to speak for the academic community of Cambridge when this matter was debated here, but he completely failed to represent their profound convictions and deeply held views. I was in Cambridge on two occasions. I lectured at one college and spoke to a body of students. I talked to large numbers of members of the Faculty and to many students, and the hon. Gentleman completely misrepresented the profoundly held convictions of the Faculty and the student body on this matter.We are not discussing here a narrow matter but one of considerable constitutional importance. Many speakers who showed both distrust and ignorance of academic and student life at the Conservative Party annual conference continually demanded of the Secretary of State—who was sitting on the platform and rightly ignored them in her reply—that she should introduce an industrial code of conduct for university unions. Time and again these references were made, the implication being that the Government had just done this against the trade union movement so they must now do it against the student unions as well. It is against this background that this debate must take place. The National Union of Students in this country has built up a democratic organisation which to my certain knowledge—and I speak as a former Treasurer of the International Union of Students and a representative of the N.U.S. on that body—is more democratic than any other student organisation. One reason why our N.U.S. has been able to maintain that high tradition is that it has been free from interference by the State, and the Under-Secretary knows that very well. In many other countries, to my regret and the regret of the N.U.S., student bodies have been continually dictated to and interfered with by State authorities. In the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia and other countries that call themselves progressive, functionaries have been appointed to the student bodies, thereby making any independent life of these organisations completely impossible. In the United States, the Central Intelligence Agency, on the instruction of the American Government, sent a number of under-cover agents into American student organisations, thereby making any independent student movement in the United States impossible, and discrediting on the campuses for a long time to come any student organisation. We have been, and are today, free from that kind of interference, and I warn the hon. Gentleman that if he were to yield to the invitations pressed upon him at the Conservative Party Conference he would be doing a grave disservice to the student community and to our academic life. My second point concerns the internal arrangements of these organisations and the hypocritical speech to which we have been treated by the hon. Member for Norfolk, South. The hon. Gentleman hurried away from my right hon. Friend's question because he had no answer. Of course he wants shareholders not to be consulted when the people who represent and run big firms make financial contributions to the Conservative Party.
Mr. John E. B. Hill
The argument is unworthy of the hon. Gentleman. Any subscriptions for political or other purposes have to be disclosed by companies. In making his great attack, will he bear in mind that he was not here during the early part of the debate, and what some of my hon. Friends have been asking is that the Under-Secretary should consider the recommendations of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Education.
I am strictly confining myself to the hon. Gentleman's speech, which I heard. I have made no reference to anyone else's speech. I have referred to what the hon. Gentleman said within my hearing, and he continued the biased approach to student bodies that was rehearsed at the Conservative conference.
Sir Frederic Bennett (Torquay)
It is not just a matter of the contributions being declared to shareholders. The shareholders, since the amendment of the Companies Act by the Labour Government, have a perfect right to take objection to these subscriptions when they are made if they wish to do so. Can the hon. Gentleman suggest a similar manner in which ratepayers and taxpayers can object to the use made of their money?
In my part of the country often the first time a small shareholder hears about these contributions is long after they have been made. That is a fact of life, and I know the hon. Gentleman has always been able to agree with me on facts, although we may have strong differences of opinion on policy.It would be possible to have a different arrangement for the financing of student unions, but it has been found convenient to do it in this practical way. There are certain facilities for which the student bodies should be responsible and, therefore, it has been held that a part of the money which would be contributed towards the general conduct of business should reach them in this particular way. Not only is it useful for students in student unions to have decent canteens, dances, "hops ", and what have you, but the underlying doctrine is—and has been for many years—that it is also very useful and desirable for them to take part in the great philosophical discussions throughout the country. It is wrong for any hon. Member to suggest that somehow their activities concerning the political or philosophical matters or deeply-held convictions about current events are in some way separated and different from other activities. They are an integral part of the general activities of the student unions. It would be a sorry day if the House of Commons were to say, "We make a distinction between the general functions and duties in this respect." Let us remember that students represent the next generation. They represent the people who have to start to do the thinking for the future. It would be a most backward, reactionary step—and I never thought that I would hear it in this House—to suggest that these functions are somehow extraneous to their other functions and duties. This was indeed a dangerous element to smuggle into a debate at the Conservative Party annual conference. Some of the representatives at that conference seemed to me to display a general bias against long-haired students. One had only to listen to those debates on radio or watch them on television to hear the tremendous applause that went up when a delegate referred to the general attitude of students One would think that they were the enemy when, in fact, many of the delegates have sons and daughters who are students. People carefully played upon this bias and tried to confuse it with certain isolated activities which were rightly reported in the newspapers. When a Member of this House or any other member of the public has been properly invited to address a university audience and is then treated with bad conduct by another body of students who do not wish him to be heard, of course there will be general condemnation of such conduct. Of course, those of us who care about academic freedom and the freedom of discussion will immediately condemn such action and will urge action against those responsible by the university authorities and by vice-chancellors, as I myself have done in the past and will do again if such misconduct occurs. This is one matter on which there is common ground. But what some of the representatives at the Conservative Party conference did was to try to confuse this by seeking to create a general atmosphere of bias and resentment against students who hold progressive opinions. The Under-Secretary of State well knows, as does his Secretary of State, that for every student who engages in such misconduct there are 100 students who would never take part in any such demonstration against a speaker who holds a different view—but those students may well hold progressive opinions about political matters like the Colonels' regime in Greece or the war in Vietnam. We must stand firm against the confusion on these two matters. After all, it was the students, first in the United States on the campuses and then in this country, who were the first to demonstrate against the war in Vietnam. They knew that the United States' aims in Vietnam could be implemented only by the physical destruction of hundreds and thousands of Vietnamese. They did not have to wait for the horrors of My Lai. In saying these things, they were ahead of events, ahead of my own Government and ahead of the Opposition Front Bench, as it then was. I wish to express my profound respect for their farsightedness. They acted properly, as did the student demonstrators in the French revolution. There will not be many hon. Members who hold the views of Lord Eldon—and it was Lord Eldon's views which were urged against students at the Conservative Party annual conference. I would ask the Government—many of whom when in opposition did not have a bad record in keeping contact with the student movement and who earned the respect of a good many of us in listening to the reasoned case of the National Union of Students—not to open the door to the introduction of a code of industrial conduct which would be the perhaps not-so-thin end of the wedge for State interference in the life of the university unions. I ask them to stand firm against any attempt by their own back benchers to move in that dangerous direction. It is much better that free university associations, free university unions and independent student associations should have some among their members who err at times and of whose acts we disapprove than that the whole of the student body should be put in a straitjacket. I urge the Minister to reject any such suggestion as was urged upon him at his own Conservative Party conference.
Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)
I hope the next time the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. Mendelson) wishes to intervene in an education debate, he will have the courtesy to sit through the earlier part of the debate so that he knows what other speakers were trying to deal with. We are not discussing the Conservative Party conference. We are discussing a Motion on a narrower subject.I should like to correct what he said about the Garden House Hotel affair at Cambridge. When I condemned violence at the Garden House Hotel, I am certain that I was expressing the views of the vast majority of my constituents and a considerable section of academic opinion in Cambridge among both senior and junior members. I was heavily involved at the time and I hope that my recollection of this affair will carry some weight even with the hon. Member for Penistone. To get back to the main subject of the debate, the Government are committed to further expenditure on higher education. I strongly support this, and we all await with interest the unfolding of Government policy during the year ahead. I believe that the majority of the public support this aim, but on both sides of the House we are aware of public concern about certain aspects of higher education today and we must do all we can to allay it. One of the causes of concern we are debating this afternoon, and I shall return to it in a moment. To digress to another cause of disquiet, I refer to the important principle of freedom of speech in the universities—perhaps the one thing to which I responded in the remarks by the hon. Member for Penistone. A number of right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House have had monstrous experiences in trying to address meetings at universities. I repeat today what I said at a student conference in Cambridge at the weekend. The universities, above all, have traditionally been places of free speech and tolerance, and it is vital that they should so continue, with a fair hearing being given to people who want to speak and who are invited to speak on any subject, and from whatever political point of view, provided they keep within the law. Every occasion on which a speaker is shouted down at a university is a self-inflicted wound on the reputation of students and universities and tends to prejudice public support for the expansion of higher education which we want to see. Returning to our main subject today, large sums of public money are involved in the running of student unions and there is a need for further public reassurance. I am glad that this debate has drawn attention to the problem, but it is also important that we should keep it in perspective. I should like, in passing, to appeal to Press and television which I believe have been responsible for a great deal of distortion of affairs, and the public understanding of affairs, in our universities in the last few years. There have been deplorable cases of abuse and of political discrimination. I do not believe there is much difference between the two sides of the House on this matter. Examples have been given of financial contributions to causes which may well be ultra vires the student unions. One moral is that we would all like to see moderate students taking a greater and more active part in the deliberations and decisions of student unions. But, as was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-upon-Avon (Mr. Maude), we know the difficulties experienced by moderate students who are at the university for other purposes and cannot always spare time to take part in these activities. Fortunately, those cases have been few, and, against those few cases, one has to set the social, recreational and general amenities which student unions provide month by month. The main stream of the student union activities is wholly admirable and serves non-controversial purposes. They are activities which add greatly to the quality of university life. On the whole, they are well administered, and they offer considerable scope for responsibility and involvement to a fair number of students. A few months ago, I was at Newcastle University. I was greatly impressed by what the union was doing there in the main stream of its work. Only last weekend, I met the daughter of a friend of mine who has gone up as a freshman—or "freshwoman"—to the University of East Anglia. She is living in rooms three or four miles away from the centre, and already she has appreciated the value of the everyday facilities which she gets from her student union. I shall not go into further detail today. We have had a fairly lengthy discussion. I make just two points of constructive suggestion. The first is that there is need for some kind of more searching independent scrutiny not necessarily by a Registrar of Student Unions, as the Select Committee proposed, but something over and above what we have today. Secondly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. John E. B. Hill) suggested, it would be helpful to analyse carefully the different functions at present performed by student unions, and possibly to differentiate in our future approach between the main stream of these activities and the peripheral ones. I do not argue for the continuation of the status quo. However, in making proposals for changes, I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will not take a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Let us introduce further safeguards which are shown to be necessary, but let us not undermine or hamper the valuable work at present done by student unions in so many of our universities and other institutions.
Sir Frederic Bennett (Torquay)
Until the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson) intervened in the debate, it had not been my intention to say even a few words, for the very reason about which the hon. Gentleman was given a reproof. I, too, was not present during the earlier part of the debate. The reason for my absence was that I was imparting to some very Conservative students the view that I am about to advance. This is no new interest of mine, since I have exchanged with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary a controversial and sometimes acrimonious correspondence recently on the same subject.I wish to pursue the point raised by the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) and supported by the hon. Member for Penistone about subscriptions, because, although it is a comparatively small matter, it is important to get the facts on the record. Following amending legislation introduced by the previous Administration, subscriptions to any source, charitable or otherwise, which are not directly connected with the business carried on by the subscriber have to be shown and subjected in due course to criticism by shareholders. It is true that, by then, the subscription will have been made. However, directors do not like being challenged on such matters at shareholders' meetings, and in fact the possibility of such a challenge has an undoubted deterrent effect. I know of no similar occasion when the unfortunate rate payers or tax payers are in a position to object, even a year later. Their only opportunity is through their Members of Parliament in a debate in this House, which is not quite the same. The hon. Member for Penistone also referred to the Brighton conference. I do not know in what capacity he was there. However, I was there through the whole conference, and it would be a grave distortion for anyone to suggest that the whole education debate was used by a lot of elderly reactionaries to give hell to the students. Roughly 80 per cent. of the time was taken up by experienced educationists of all generations trying to obtain better conditions for the under-privileged to get improved education facilities. The other topic which has been mentioned was a small part of the proceedings. Some people thought that it was too small a part. When objections were raised to the present system of student grants, most of the speakers were members of the younger generation, students themselves. It was they who objected to what was going on. It is quite untrue to suggest that the objections came from elderly reactionaries.
Mr. John Mendelson
I have no wish to prolong this debate unnecessarily, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that I listened to the conference debate from beginning to end.
Sir F. Bennett
Then clearly the hon. Gentleman was in a more privileged part of the hall than I was entitled to occupy. That shows some hope for the future course of the hon. Gentleman's political allegiance.I feel very strongly and perhaps even more fundamentally than others of my hon. Friends who have spoken that we need to draw a distinction between not interfering with the functions of student unions and not subsidising political activities. It has been a long-standing convention in this country that the State does not subsidise the political activities of any element of our population. From the point of view of objective logic, I have never been able to see why the very small proportion of our young people who are fortunate enough to go to universities should enjoy a facility which no other section of the community enjoys. I have argued with the Minister and I am arguing now that there is no reason why one very small section of the community, whether it be right, left or anything else, should enjoy a subsidy from the State to carry out its political activities. I do not want to see any interference with student unions. I simply say that a division should be drawn between the normal activities of a student union and its political activities. If it wants to engage in political activities, its members should find their own money, just as anyone else has to. The principle should be applied especially to subventions and contributions made to various causes, be they anti-Communist or pro-Communist causes. These are matters which arouse a great deal of unease among the public. It is difficult to understand why tax payers or rate payers, even indirectly, should have to subsidise political activities of which they personally do not approve.
Mr. R. C. Mitchell
I quite agree with the hon. Gentleman, but how does he square that with the vast sums which were spent on Common Market propaganda during the summer?
Sir F. Bennett
I do not dodge the issue, but I should be extending the debate unduly if I were to deal with that episode. I could express views on the expenditure of that money which the hon. Gentleman might not find unsatisfactory, but tonight is not the occasion.In my few remarks, I have tried to indicate where the difference lies. The public is not worried so much about student unions as such. What worries the public is why, at a time of high taxation and high rates, the political activities of a very small section of our community should be subsidised by the State.
The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. William van Straubenzee)
I am sure that the whole House feels indebted to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) and others of our hon. Friends who placed the Motion on the Order Paper. This has been a valuable occasion. I shall do my best to pick up all the points which have been made and to deal with them as fully as possible.It has probably come as a surprise that the debate has taken place at this hour. We are accustomed to taking a prayer late at night. I expect that it is even better for us in the middle of the day, after an agreeable lunch. I am glad 12 right hon. and hon. Members have been able to contribute to the discussion. I hope that the House will agree that two threads have come out of the debate. The first is that all right hon. and hon. Members, whatever view they have gone on to express, have at some point in their speeches said that they believe that student unions are "a good thing", because a centre of activity and expression inside a college or university is valuable and in this direction they perform many valuable functions. All right hon. and hon. Members, whether critical or not, have sought to make it clear that they were not taking part in a student-bashing operation. The second thread is that, with two exceptions only—the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central (Mr. Edward Short) and the hon. Member for Penistone (Mr. John Mendelson)—all hon. Members considered that some change was necessary. The House will understand my difficulty when I ask it to reflect on the range of change which has been pressed upon me today; but, with two exceptions, I think that I have the agreement of the House that the present state of affairs is not good enough and that some change is necessary. I must, in all honesty and friendliness, tell the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central that I did not find persuasive his analogy with the facilities provided by a local authority; for example, that a local park is provided for people whether they enjoy that local park or not. After all, the people who provide that local park do so on annual estimates which they control. There is a strict control of expenditure on local parks in every local authority. Here we are talking about something very different indeed. The hon. Member for Penistone, splendidly conservative, refused to have any thought of any change at all. I am glad to have his confirmation. I think that we did too quick a conversion job on him at the Conservative Party Conference.
Mr. John Mendelson
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the way to maintain revolutionary ideas in this country is to defend the good things which we already have, as Cromwell had to do?
Mr. van Straubenzee
Yes, I am in favour of defending the good things. Clearly the majority of hon. Members want to defend the good things. But it is to be over-conservative to defend everything and to turn one's face against any kind of change.As I have to deal with a technical point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus (Mr. Bruce-Gardyne) I must explain how this matter arises. The House knows that nearly every full-time student living in England or Wales who is taking a first degree course, or a course comparable with a first degree course at a university or other establishment of higher education, is entitled to an award from his local authority; that the award is paid at rates and is subject to conditions which are set out in regulations, and that, with the exception of a few provisions with which we need not concern ourselves, these are not matters over which the local education authority has any jurisdiction. A student's award is calculated by taking into account, on the one hand, his requirements and, on the other hand, his resources. His requirements include the payment of various fees and subscriptions, and include the subscription to a student union or similar body. It therefore follows that in every case covered by the relevant provision of the regulations the union subscription is paid as part of the student's award unless his resources, including his parents' contribution, are substantial. The current provision relating to student union subscriptions is in Schedule 1 on page 8 of the Regulations. I should explain to my hon. Friend the Member for South Angus that, for reasons into which I shall go, the Government decided to table certain Amendments to the Regulations by a Statutory Instrument against which, as lie reminded us, he subsequently prayed. I thought I inferred from his speech—I hope I was not unduly suspicious—that he had a slight feeling that, finding we were being prayed against, we had ducked below the surface and come up with another Statutory Instrument to do him down. If that is what he has in mind, I can reassure him absolutely on that point. The answer was given by my hon. Friend the Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill). Earlier this year the Government agreed certain major changes—I hope and think that they are beneficial—in the rates of student grants. There were certain major changes, for example, in parental contributions, and so on. I need not go into those. It was obviously convenient to have them in one document as soon as possible for the start of the year. That is the only reason for them being consolidated. I assure my hon. Friend that the idea of doing him in the eye did not enter into the discussions which led to consolidation. I am anxious to remove that thought. The wording in Statutory Instrument No. 884, against which my hon. Friend prayed, is the same as that in the consolidated document, but it differs from that in the Awards Regulations of 1970 made by the previous Government, and was first introduced by us in May, 1971. I should explain why the amended wording was introduced. The amended wording had a limited purpose. That was made clear by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science on 1st March in answer to a Question by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston-upon-Thames (Mr. Boyd-Carpenter). It was to provide a solution to a technical problem which had arisen about the payment of student union fees at the Kingston-upon-Thames Polytechnic, and was intended to stand for a limited time only. The first point I want to make quite clear, because there is some misunderstanding about it, is that the mere fact that these words have been translated from a single Statutory Instrument No. 884 into a consolidated Statutory Instrument No. 1297 does not mean that my right hon. Friend has in any way changed her mind on the limited nature of the Amendments which have been made. It might be that hon. Members wonder why we did not introduce changes of substance last May. In 1960 we saw the publication of the Report of the Anderson Committee on Grants to Students, and the Government of the day acted in 1962. The Report, and the Regulations made after it, stated that payment of fees and other dues to be made on behalf of award holders attending the courses about which I am talking should include
Those words stood until 1970 when the last Government altered them. I had better give the quotation to make the point that follows. The quotation from the 1970 Regulations to which I am referring is:"subscriptions to students' unions, amalgamated clubs, and junior common rooms, membership of which is obligatory."
I understand, and I think that I recall this being said at the time, that the intention of the previous Administration was to avoid imposing on local education authorities a duty to pay more than one subscription in respect of any one student. Perhaps it is to the credit of the student bodies that, reading these Regulations carefully, as they did, some of them had thought up the idea of making compulsory the membership of a hall of residence, union or something of that kind, but think it was the intention of the House that in those cases only one student union subscription should be paid. As I have said, 1971 saw us in difficulties at Kingston-upon-Thames Polytechnic. The essence of the problem was that although the membership of the polytechnic student union was thought to be automatic by virtue of the inclusion of the union fee in the sessional fee charged by the polytechnic, neither the articles of government nor the student union constitution approved under it provided for obligatory membership of the union. It followed that the powers of the Kingston local education authority to pay the subscription was defective, and that that was equally true of the powers of other local education authorities with award holders who were studying at that polytechnic. It was understandable that that was a matter of grave concern, not only to the Kingston local education authority itself, but to the governors of the polytechnic and the students; and I think that it was a tribute to them all, and also to the National Union of Students, that it was possible to resolve the difficulty. I was told by the hon. Member for Penistone that I would be swept away in a gale if I ever, in public, made an appreciative reference to the N.U.S. I think that I am probably one of the stout Members to whom reference was made by the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Barry Jones). I think that possibly my size is such that the gale will need to be of considerable strength."… the subscription to any one association (being a students' union, an amalgamated club or a junior common room) membership of which is obligatory by reason of any provision of the instrument regulating the conduct of the establishment."
Mr. John Mendelson
The hon. Gentleman normally quotes me correctly. I did not say anything about making appreciative remarks in public. I spoke about such remarks being made in the atmosphere of that anti-education debate at the hon. Gentleman's party's annual conference.
Mr. van Straubenzee
I think that the same words could have been used at the Conference. I must check my recollection, but I think it is true to say that the only time when references were made to the problem that we are discussing was when they were made by students, who themselves are in the thick of the problem, and they were certainly not made by elderly reactionaries, as was alleged.So far, so good, but it was understandable that a number of people, including the members of the Kingston local education authority, had reservations, because they put it to us that they would have welcomed some provision in the Regulations prescribing how the amount of subscription paid as part of an award should be determined, or possibly what its level should be. I want to draw the attention of the House—and by doing so bring it to the notice of the student bodies—the fact that had the Government been intent on doing real harm to the student body, or to student unions, that occasion would have been the point of time at which to have done it. I have concentrated upon Kingston local education authority, and upon Kingston Polytechnic, but it is probably true—though I must be careful not to assert this without checking the constitution of every polytechnic—that many others were similarly affected. It is on record that what my right hon. Friend did was to legitimise for a limited period a situation which hitherto everybody had thought existed. Had my right hon. Friend been filled with the kind of intentions suggested by the hon. Member for Penistone, that would surely have been the right time for her to have dealt with the matter in another way. That she did not is proof of the general attitude of the Government. I think that the House should have considerable sympathy with local education authorities which make suggestions of this kind, and certainly my right hon. Friend and I have kept them very much in the forefront of our minds in the consideration that we have been giving to this matter. The amending Regulations were the result of full consultations with local authority associations, with the Committee of Vice-Chancellors, and with the N.U.S., and I think that they fulfilled their immediate objectives. It is understandable, and perfectly proper, that hon. Members on both sides should have made it abundantly clear that they want to keep this matter in perspective, but there is, nevertheless, concern about the way in which some student unions conduct their affairs. I respond most firmly to the appeal made by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane), and others, that the matter should be kept in perspective, but there is widespread criticism of the procedures and policies adopted by some student unions. There is considerable resentment at the strictly political donations made by some unions out of money received on a "most favoured nation" basis, by which I mean that for all practical purposes the money is provided compulsorily to the student union. Concern has rightly been expressed here—and if it is not expressed here where should it be expressed?—at the unfair discrimination which sometimes occurs between different groups and societies within a college or university. I repeat that it is necessary to keep this matter in perspective, but nobody does the student cause any good by trying to pretend that these things do not exist. I appreciate that such matters as this get a considerable amount of publicity. May I therefore say that to the best of my understanding and knowledge the number of cases of abuse of union funds, and certainly the number irregularities of procedure, is relatively small, especially when one takes into account the number of institutions of higher education in the country as a whole. It may not be very large, but I suggest to the House that there is a principle involved here. It is what restraint should be observed, or, indeed, what restraint should be imposed, when democratically elected student bodies have at their disposal considerable sums of money which come from the pockets of ratepayers and taxpayers, and come in a way which, so far as I know, with possibly one exception, does not apply to any other head of expenditure in a university or college? Obviously, the first consideration is that the student unions must act within the limits of their constitutions. Generally speaking, the right hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Central, was right when he said that the constitution of the union and any amendments to it had to be approved by the college or university authorities, but it seems to me that in too many cases there is a tendency on the part of those authorities to consider their responsibilities discharged once the constitution has been approved. It would be very encouraging if they felt a continuing responsibility, if not a formal then at least a moral responsibility, for seeing that the principles of the constitution were not breached. An idea of that kind would be among those to be considered in any change which we might wish to see. Obviously, the general body of students, too, has a very big share of responsibility. I am not always sympathetic with students who complain about the result of a particular vote on this or that—at least, not in a properly corporate union—but who go to meetings only infrequently. If a student does not take part and does not attend, he ought not to complain. Finally, I think that all members of the academic community, the governing body, the staff and the students, have a corporate and common interest in fostering a vigorous and responsible student organisation. Reference has been made to the very impressive and quietly written memorandum on this matter—membership and financing of student unions—issued by the National Union of Students. If my memory does not serve me wrongly, I have a feeling that the right hon. Gentleman drew extensively from it to set out, very fairly, the reasons why student unions exist. I accept entirely the social and some of the recreational facilities within the university or college which it is the purpose of the student union to provide. I accept that it is the focus for activity by the student body as a whole and that it has certain other important, sometimes representational, functions. As I have said, I think that the whole House will accept that a properly organised student union is an integral part of the academic community and has an essential part to play. This was certainly reflected in what has come to be known as the concordat between the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and the local authorities, issued jointly with the N.U.S. in 1968. It is absolutely understandable, however—and there are people in the student body who do not always give this sufficient importance—that the organisation and financing of student unions should be of particular concern to the local education authorities. After all, a large part of the costs of students' fees and maintenance, including the cost of union subscriptions, falls on them. I sometimes detect a resentment that the L.E.A.s should be concerned in this matter, but it is a resentment which I frankly reject. Outside the universities themselves it is the L.E.A.s who mainly provide and maintain the institutions of higher education. In the university sector they have been concerned for some time because union subscriptions have undoubtedly been increasing sharply, and the L.E.A.s find themselves committed to a growing expenditure over which, as I have explained, they have no effective control. In the university sector, therefore, they are faced with an automatic income presented to the unions at a pre-determined level. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South referred to provision for students in the non-university sector. He was absolutely right, but as we succeed—as we certainly shall—in improving the provision for students at, say, the polytechnics, so, frankly, will the pressure for an increase in the student union fees increase. Therefore, we are dealing not with a diminishing factor, but with a factor which, if anything, is likely to increase. I absolutely understand that the L.E.A.s, with their growing commitments in many sectors, including the rapidly growing sector of higher education, should be anxious and watchful about this head of expenditure.
Mr. John Mendelson
The hon. Gentleman has just used a formulation which might be interpreted rather dangerously. He said that he could understand the resentment of some members of local authorities who have to pay these contributions without an automatic control over what happened afterwards. Surely they cannot expect any automatic control. A local education authority is constituted to support students for their educational activities, for instance, for their study of philosophy. A local authority cannot expect because it has paid the grant to have any automatic control over what is done in the learned institutions concerned. That must be left to the governing body of the institution.
Mr. van Straubenzee
The hon. Gentleman has slightly misunderstood what I said. I hope that he will take it at its face value when I say that I should not want to see, and I do not think that any hon. Member speaking in the debate would want to see, detailed supervision over academic matters in either the university or the non-university sector. But the point which the hon. Gentleman has to meet and which he has not met—and that is rare for him—is that this is the one heading of expenditure—I can think of possibly one other—in which, in both the university sector and the non-university sector, expenditure is imposed on the award-paying L.E.A. without its going through some form of further scrutiny.In the non-university sector, the polytechnics, for example, the annual estimates will rightly be approved by the maintaining L.E.A.s. As things stand, if the governors certify that a sum is the right sum for the union subscription, that ends the argument. The hon. Gentleman must realise that what he is seeking to perpetuate is a position of privilege which is not accorded to any other head of expenditure, and it is that to which we have to direct our attention. There is no student bashing in saying that. It is merely searching for one way or another of bringing to this problem some such financial disciplines as are applied to every other head of expenditure, whether in the university or the non university sector. Mention has been made of Questions answered from time to time by my right hon. Friend when she has clearly indicated that we have been studying these matters closely. I thought that my hon. and learned Friend was a shade critical of the time the study has taken. I do not apologise for the amount of time. First, and I have not heard this reflected in the debate so far, the matter is complex in three aspects. The student unions themselves exhibit in miniature that enormous variety of structure which is such a remarkable characteristic of our system of higher education as a whole. One of the things which has come out of the inquiry which the Committee of Vice-Chancellors, the local authorities and ourselves in partnership have instituted is that there is an infinite variety of provision through a wide range of college and universities. Secondly, a considerable number of bodies have an important interest in the future of student unions and we have to try to frame proposals which, so far as possible, will meet their differing requirements. Thirdly, we thought it right closely to examine all the different proposals which have poured in upon us. I think that in a short time I have read every one from whatever source and whatever part of the political spectrum. I do not know whether hon. Members have noticed—perhaps they have not had time—that on Monday of this week, in a Written Answer to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall), who, as the House knows, has taken a considerable interest in this matter, my right hon. Friend said that she would shortly be sending a memorandum outlining some proposals to the interested parties, and the interested parties will of course include our partners in this matter, the local authorities, who have a leading part to play and a leading commitment, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and the National Union of Students. I must ask the indulgence of the House if I do not outline the particular proposals in the memorandum. I cannot do that, because it will be in the form of a consultative document on which, before reaching decisions, it is essential to obtain the views of the bodies concerned. The right hon. Gentleman was absolutely right to say that the National Union of Students, for example, has made clear its willingness to discuss these matters. I am sure that I can also rely upon the other bodies concerned to examine the proposals constructively. But as they will also be matters of public concern, my right hon. Friend is proposing, as she said on Monday, to make them public at the same time, so that public points of view and the views of hon. Members can also be brought to bear. There is a large number of different possibilities. There is, for example, that which has been pressed upon me, of total voluntary membership. It is only fair to those of my hon. Friends who have put this point to make it clear that as I understand them what they are arguing for is that the student himself should control the same sum which was previously sent forward for him compulsorily, and that he would make the decision as to whether or not he spent it on a subscription or whatever—I see one of my hon. Friends showing disagreement. Clearly this is a subdivision of that concept; and there is eminent respectability for the concept of a registrar. Not only did it emerge from a Select Committee on which I myself served but the concept of a registrar was first introduced by students, at the time for a different purpose, to form a body to which they could appeal over the university and college authorities. I realise that the Committee clothed the idea, but it is worth recalling that it came from the student side.
Sir F. Bennett
Would my hon. Friend at least accept that a substantial body of opinion does not want to interfere with the structure of the present student unions but only wants control to go to the point at which the funds, whatever they are, to whatever student body they go, are not used to subsidise political activity?
Mr. van Straubenzee
I am obliged: I did not do justice to this very important third possibility. Indeed, I venture to float a fourth, which, as I understood the debate, would seek to divide those expenditures which are common to all students and might well vary radically from university to university and which are at the disposal of all, from the strictly political activities of the union. Or it might be that that principle could be extended towards the position of the student not merely in political matters but in some of the cultural and other activities which are a worthwhile part of the corporate life of the university.
Mr. John Mendelson
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves this proposal of a registrar, which I believe would seriously interfere with the necessary independence of the university, he should not now try to use the proposal from a few students for what many at the time regarded as misguided reasons, because they wanted to interfere with university independence by means of an appeal to the State or somewhere else, and clothe that proposal, hairbrained as it was, with the introduction of the registrar concept for different purposes. Both would be equally wrong and an equal interference with university independence.
Mr. van Straubenzee
The respectability of the student union registrar concept comes not from those who originally introduced it but from the imprimatur given to it with the full authority of a Select Committee presided over with great skill by a distinguished Member of the hon. Member's own party and including Members of widely differing viewpoints in both parties. Inde