HC Deb 20 February 1963 vol 672 cc429-31
19. Mr. Hannan

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is aware that for 40 years, he and his predecessors have not performed their statutory duty of laying before Parliament the annual reports which are made to him by the universities in accordance with Section 30 of the Universities (Scotland) Act, 1889; why he has not done so; and whether he will do so in future.

Lady Tweedsmuir

The statutory duty of the Secretary of State is to lay before Parliament the reports made to him by the universities, and this duty my right hon. Friend and his predecessors have performed. It now appears that the reports have included statistics of attendance by reference to faculties rather than to classes, as mentioned in the Act. My right hon. Friend proposes to draw the universities' attention to this.

Mr. Hannan

Is the hon. Lady aware that in a recent letter to me the Lord President of the Council, among other things, in a characteristic understatement, in fact admitted that this is an odd situation, that the consultation with the Scottish Universities Committee in 1920 and 1921 was ultra vires, confessed to a blunder of his predecessor and apologised for it? As he says that he has no jurisdiction to enforce the Act, are we to take it from the hon. Lady's reply that the present Secretary of State also admits the error and that Section 30 of this Act will now be complied with?

Lady Tweedsmuir

I said in my original reply that the Secretary of State is not in default, because his responsibility is to lay this before Parliament. As for the universities, I understand that they will be able to provide these figures for the academic year 1961–62 in the next Report, which will be laid before Parliament under Section 30 of the 1889 Act in November.

Dr. A. Thompson

Is not the Minister aware that on 12th July, 1960, when I raised the matter the Secretary of State said that there was no reason to examine the working of Section 30? In view of what the Lord President of the Council said in his letter and the hon. Lady's reply, will she not concede that the answer was both misleading and inaccurate, and will she undertake to consult the Vice-Chancellors, the General Councils and the Scottish Association of University Teachers to examine the whole operation of this Act of Parliament?

Lady Tweedsmuir

I cannot accept the remarks made about my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. The 1889 Act is rather cumbrous and, as I understand it, the Robbins Committee is considering, among other things, the relations between the universities and Parliament. I think that we should await that Report to see whether anything further can be done.

Mr. Wolrige-Gordon

Is the Robbins Committee considering this situation fully, and when is its report to be expected?

Lady Tweedsmuir

It is one of the subjects which is being considered by the Robbins Committee and it is expected that the Committee's Report will be received in the summer.

Mr. Ross

Whose obligation is it to see that a statutory duty, which has been laid down, is carried out? Whose responsibility is it, if it is not that of the Secretary of State for Scotland?

Lady Tweedsmuir

In this case the Lord President of the Council came into it, and it was his responsibility, which is why he replied to the letter. The Secretary of State has carried out his responsibility fully to lay a Report before Parliament.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

We must move on. Mr. Small.

Mr. Hannan

On a point of order. In view of what I think is an unsatisfactory answer, I beg to give notice that I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.