HC Deb 05 April 1951 vol 486 cc347-8
1. Mr. James Johnson

asked the Minister of Education if he is aware of the ban upon religious and political societies within the London polytechnics; and whether he will make a statement about them.

2. Mr. Eric Fletcher

asked the Minister of Education if he will take steps to remove the existing ban which prohibits the forming of societies for political or religious purposes in London polytechnics.

The Minister of Education (Mr. Tomlinson)

The schemes regulating these polytechnics forbid the use of the premises for political, denominational or sectarian purposes. Political debates in any general debating society are, however, allowed. I cannot make fresh schemes unless the existing Trusts have failed. In the present case there is no evidence of such failure, and I have not received any request from the governing bodies to amend the schemes.

Mr. Johnson

Does not my right hon. Friend think that this nineteenth century ban upon free speech is a rather shabby advertisement for our Western liberal way of life? How does he think the status of technical education can be raised among students when they are denied amenities for the formation of and discussion in societies, as in the universities?

Mr. Tomlinson

I have no objection whatever to religious or political societies, and I have encouraged them in some cases, but the fact remains that under the present schemes of the Trusts such societies cannot be organised. But that does not mean that the Trusts have failed in carrying out their duties.

Mr. Fletcher

Do I gather from my right hon. Friend's reply that he is against the continuation of this ban, and, since the polytechnics are very largely provided or supported by public funds, will he not initiate action with the governing bodies so that this completely out of date ban can be ended?

Mr. Tomlinson

My duty is to see that a new Trust is made provided one has failed. Although they do not allow these things, I cannot, in the circumstances, come to the conclusion that the Trusts have failed. If the governing bodies themselves initiated action, I should be quite willing to consider them.

Commander Noble

The right hon. Gentleman said he has had no representations from the governing bodies. Has he himself had representations from the students?

Mr. Tomlinson

Yes, I have.

Sir Richard Acland

Would not the Trusts fail if they were not supported by public funds, and could not we move, when the Department's Estimates come up, to reduce the amount of the Estimates by the amount of the funds?

Mr. Tomlinson

No, they fail in their purposes only if they do not carry out the purpose for which they were formed.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Is this restriction on free discussion effected by moving the adjournment of the debate?

Mr. Tomlinson

It is not a question of the restriction of discussion but of the formation of societies.

Mr. Janner

Would my right hon. Friend indicate to the trustees his feeling and the feeling of the House as a whole, so that they may make application in the appropriate place for a revision of the Trusts?

Mr. Tomlinson

No. I think the people concerned will see the questions and answers in this House, and form their own conclusions.