HC Deb 29 October 1956 vol 558 cc1210-3

The Secretary of State shall require the governing bodies of the Royal Technical College, Glasgow, the central institutions and the teachers' training colleges in Scotland to lay down regulations for the constitution and functions of a students' representative council ensuring that each council—

  1. (1) is elected annually by a secret ballot of the matriculated students ;
  2. (2) promotes the interests of the students ;
  3. (3) represents the students of the college in relations with the students of other colleges and of the universities ; and
  4. (4) acts on the recognised means of communication between the students and the college authorities on academic and other matters affecting the students.—[Dr. Dickson Mabon.]

Brought up, and read the First time

Dr. Dickson Mabon

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

I referred to this matter at length on Second Reading. The intention is simply to formalise the existing students' representative councils which are unofficial in character and in other cases to recognise the constitution of councils in the various institutions. I am prepared to elaborate any point of doubt which the Minister may have, and I do not necessarily think that the wording of the proposed new Clause is the best. I should be quite willing to co-operate if the Minister suggested that the matter should be taken up at some other stage in the progress of the Bill.

Like a patient who has been given an overdose of drugs from time to time, I have become habituated to the overdoses of sympathy that I have received from the Minister on various occasions, but here is an occasion where, quite apart from what I am sure is his genuine sympathy with the case, the Joint Under-Secretary can make a concession without imposing any serious obligation on the Treasury, any great strain on the Department or any distortion of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman would be doing a very great justice to himself if he were responsible for the acceptance of the Clause. I am certain that this provision must come, if not this year then in the next decade, and it would not be a very great advance in foresight for the hon. Gentleman to accept it at this juncture.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

As one former member of a students' representative council to another, I must tell the hon. Member that I understand the object of the Clause. When he spoke on Second Reading, the hon. Member gave only one example of the trouble that seems to be in his mind. He said that one S.R.C. was abolished by a principal of a college because it questioned his authority and opinion in a matter concerning the government of the college. We have no knowledge of that. We had never heard of it until the hon. Member mentioned it, not even from the students. My experience of these councils is that if there is anything worrying the members they soon tell us. Therefore, I feel it difficult to believe that there is a great demand for this proposal, even though the hon. Member may feel passionately about it.

I advise the hon. Member to withdraw his Motion because, as his right hon. Friends know, this is not a matter to which we could agree without consulting the universities, institutions and students' representative councils. If the hon. Member would like us to inquire of these bodies to ascertain whether there is any demand, I will gladly undertake to do so, but it would be quite improper to accept the Clause—

Dr. Dickson Mabon

The answer is that 21 students' representative councils have unanimously made this request, and they have had the support of the four university S.R.C.s, which alone are statutorily recognised in Scotland. The student bodies are unanimous, and have been so on three occasions to my knowledge. Universities are not concerned with consultation. That is a matter for the college authorities some of which have responded very satisfactorily to the councils in that they are willing to consider the actual regulations. There is no need for consultation. The Clause can be passed without difficulty being encountered from the colleges, because its implementation would be carried out by amending articles in various charters, which could be done by the various college boards themselves sending them to the Department for final approval within the terms of the Clause.

We obviously could not contact the students' councils between now and the Report stage of this Bill, but I do assure the Joint Under-Secretary of State that what I have been saying has been only in an endeavour to co-operate with him. If this was agreed, all the colleges could amend their charters, and I am certain that he will recognise that these are but the minimum terms for any free students' councils in any country. He is himself an old S.R.C. man and knows as well as I do that what I have said is the true position.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

I am trying to co-operate with the hon. Member and I will say here and now that I hope that he will convey to the S.R.C.s the fact that I shall be glad to meet them in order to discuss this matter.

Miss Herbison

I apologise for intervening again, but what the Joint Under-Secretary has said is not good enough. What we are asked to do is to withdraw this Clause in order that there might be consultation ; but if this Bill had been brought in earlier in this Session or if, for reasons best known to the Government that could not have been done, it had been kept until next Session, then we could have had adequate time. There would have been adequate time between the Committee and Report stages for these consultations.

After all, we ask for nothing out rageous, and it seems to me that the Secretary of State would have difficulty in giving my hon. Friends any reason at all why anybody should have any objection to the modest demands which are in this Clause. So far, the Joint Under-Secretary has not given a single reason. He has said that my hon. Friend gave only one reason during the Second Reading of the Bill; but that is one reason more than we have had in reply from the Joint Under-Secretary in opposing this new Clause. When we tried to probe the reason why this change was not being made in the 1946 Act, we were simply not told.

Can the Joint Under-Secretary point out anything in paragraphs (1), (2), (3), or (4) that might be likely to cause disagreement on the part of anybody? The Government has put us in the position of having no time at all between this stage and the Report stage of the Bill in which we might have consultations, and the Joint Under-Secretary has given no reason for his attitude tonight.

Dr. Dickson Mabon

In view of the Joint Under-Secretary's willingness to meet the representatives of the students' councils on this matter, I beg—

Mr. Ross

If my hon. Friend will allow me, and anticipating what he was going to say, may I ask him what benefit that will be?

The Deputy-Chairman

I would remind the hon. Gentleman that the Clause cannot be withdrawn if there is a speech on it.

Mr. Ross

I am merely trying to help my hon. Friend before he does anything that is irrevocable. Tomorrow is the day for the Report stage and Third Reading and, after that, the Bill will be law. When will there be a further chance of legislation on this matter?

Dr. Dickson Mabon

There are wiser heads than mine, apparently, and I shall accept my hon. Friend's advice and not withdraw the Clause.

Question, That the Clause be read a Second time, put and negatived.