HC Deb 17 February 1966 vol 724 cc1629-43

Which Amendment was: In page 5, line 34, at the end, to insert: (3) It shall be the duty of the Senatus Academicus to prescribe the extent and procedure of their disciplinary powers, a copy of which shall be laid before the Secretary of State for. Scotland.

Question again proposed, That those words be; there inserted in the Bill.

8.24 p.m.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrew, West)

As I was saying before I was interrupted, I feel that one should prefer the Amendment put forward in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Mary-hill (Mr. Hannan) because it brings in the Secretary of State, and one of our tasks at the moment is to restore public confidence in the immediate issue which forms the background of the discussions.

It is unfortunate that my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern) is not present, because some of the things that I have to say this evening are intended to clear up some of the inaccuracies in his speech. My hon. Friend said that no one had criticised the procedure that had taken place on the Glasgow issue. The fact is that there has been continuous criticism by the people involved, by outside bodies, by some university bodies, and by the agents of the people represented, at almost all stages of the procedure.

The basic point is that the principles of national justice tended not to be followed. For example, they were not aware of the charges made at the time of the first hearing. There was the difficulty of obtaining extracts of the evidence on which they could lodge their appeals. Indeed they still have not got this fully so that the agents of the men involved can challenge the procedure. The rehearing was stated to be de novo when it was not, because to a great extent it was based on the initial inquiry, at which, from the evidence, it appears that they were told there was no need to answer questions if they did not wish to, and finally the evidence of the main witness throughout has been seen to be unreliable.

Secondly, my hon. Friend referred to the boys involved as being guilty. This is a matter which is disputed. Thirdly my hon. Friend referred them being guilty of grave misdemeanours. This has never been the situation. The boys about whom we are talking, particularly the three in my constituency, if guilty of anything, are guilty of the sin of partial omission, not the sin of commission. Fourthly, we were told that in our anxiety to get justice done we were forgetting the victim of the case.

I found that a most extraordinary proposition. We do not show sympathy for the victim in a murder case by hanging the wrong person. The curious factor here is that the person who appears most guilty has been punished least, while those who appear to be the most innocent, have been punished most.

The victim involved has tended to exculpate most of the boys still involved on most points and therefore if there was any sin, it was a sin of partial omission, and if injustice had not taken place, it would only be an accident that it has not and this is what we still have to clarify.

The court of inquiry, having said that there was no need to answer questions, nevertheless eventually levelled charges against the boys precisely because they had not posed the question sharply enough to their colleagues.

It is a pity, therefore, that this whole question was reopened in this way. Nevertheless, I do not think that this helps to excuse the violence of language which has been used on the other side in this case, and my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) knows my feelings on this one. This also has not helped us to clarify the situation.

I would have preferred at that point the natural moves taking place within the university to clear up the situation. It could have been allowed to continue in a more tranquil atmosphere instead of creating a naturally defensive attitude which has in itself sharpened the situation and made things more difficult. It pushed people into an over-defensive position, which we can understand, but it created a more difficult situation.

I also regret the relatively grudging way in which the reprimand was finally removed from the boy Marr. I am having discussions in connection with the three outstanding cases with which I am concerned, and I would prefer to leave the position as it is in respect of those cases.

The purpose of the Amendment is to try to find a solution for the future, and to protect not only the students but the universities. It was undoubtedly their over-anxiety to protect their good name that tended to cause the matter to boomerang. It is that attitude of over-anxiety with which we must sympathise and understand. I hope that the universities will decide to have a full public inquiry in Glasgow in order to clear the air. The General Council is the obvious body to carry out this inquiry, for the sake not only of the people involved but of the university. If an inquiry is not carried out the parents may be forced to take other action, for example, in the court of session, which I would regret.

8.30 p.m.

Good may still come out of this. It is clear that relationships between the Senate and the S.R.C. were not of the best, but I understand that an informal meeting is taking place tonight between the students and senior members of the staff to discuss the position and to see what recommendations and ideas come forward to create the right atmosphere in which confidence can be restored. We all hope that these discussions will succeed.

Because of the public aspect of the matter I would prefer the Amendment of my hon. Friend the Member for Mary-hill, because it would bring these questions before the Secretary of State, but either Amendment would help the situation. There is one practical point of legal procedure. It might be advisable—not that I believe that it will frequently be necessary—to establish a common court of appeal for Scottish universities. It could consist of four members of the Bench—Scottish judges who are themselves members of the general councils of the four Scottish universities. It would rarely, if ever, be needed, but its existence as a safeguard would help to restore the necessary confidence.

It has been said that those of us who have been worried about the present situation have been careless about the reputation of Glasgow University. The hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor) said that he was a Glasgow graduate and was proud of it. I, too, am a Glasgow graduate and am proud of it; but this is not the important thing. The real question is whether the university will be proud of us as a result of the decisions we take and attitude that we adopt to this kind of question. The university is great enough to bear criticism. I hope that it will be great enough to institute a public inquiry, with the help of the General Council, to ensure that justice has been done, and, if it is seen not to have been done, to rectify the situation openly and publicly.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

I wish to comment in a few sentences on the Glasgow students' affair, to the extent that it is related to the Amendment. First, however, I want to refer to the powerful and very worthwhile saying speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan). Even at this stage I can in no sense regret the strength of language that I used in this Chamber on 25th January. On that occasion, it was really as a last resort that I brought the matter to a head.

I had known about this matter since July, in a rather blurred form. It never occurred to me but that the appeal committee would clear the matter up. I had been reluctant to discuss the question in public, for the reasons put forward by my hon. Friend, namely, that I did not want to make a public issue of this kind about the university unless it really was necessary.

Here, I return to the letter that I wrote to the Secretary of State in early January. He is present, and he will remember that in early January, after the announcement of the appeal committee was made, I wrote to him a letter in the most moderate terms asking for information. I realise that he could not give all the information that I asked for, but I cannot believe that, in the nicest way, he could not have asked the university to provide this information. The university was given every opportunity to come forward with a full answer before the time was reached when too much harm had been done.

I have a suspicion that this case is not unique. Since early January I have had a fairly wide correspondence. Some of it goes back as far as the 1940s. One letter, asking that old wounds be not reopened, which is now in the hands of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Shettleston (Sir M. Galpern), whose absence tonight we regret, tells of a man, now 75, whose only daughter was sent down from Glasgow University in the most drastic way. I know not the rights and wrongs of this particular case, but it is clear that, even at that time, there was a great absence of pastoral care and that this young lady—who subsequently emigrated because of the circumstances of the case—was treated in a cold, cold manner by some of those who are still on the scene.

Glasgow University must realise that justice knows no halfway house. Justice, by its very nature, must be complete. If it is not complete, it is not justice. Of the five students who remain, some may or may not be guilty. I do not intend on the Amendment to go into my own personal views. They are of little consequence here, because some of the students themselves, I gather, are deciding to go to the high court and the case will soon be sub judice. However, as one party told me, they would much rather have an inquiry. I certainly do not fancy the idea of a university spending a year or two in the Court of Session. I would personally be much happier about an inquiry.

One understands, too, that the university has already spent something of a fortune from public funds in obtaining legal advice. Therefore, for these reasons, would it not be much better to have some kind of inquiry? The situation at the moment is that one student has got off. I wonder whether it is a coincidence that this was the student who had access to high-powered legal advice. He had senior counsel, junior counsel and, in the person of the Rev. Andrew Herron, a most conscientious and able solicitor. For the others, the stigma remains. If some of them had had the same legal advice, might not they, too, have been exonerated?

One may ask, what is all the fuss? I can only put it in the words of the wife of one of the students. She turned round towards her four-and-a-half-month-old baby girl and said, "Is she to grow up being told that her daddy was banned from Glasgow University?" This may be an extreme way of putting it, but this, in human terms, is the situation. This is why, tonight, I am asking for some kind of inquiry. I believe that it should not be a Governmental inquiry, but it is sensible to ask the Government—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I do not think that any question of an inquiry arises on the Amendment.

Mr. Dalyell

In case I give a false impression, I would say that, if there is to be an inquiry, I hope that the Government will invite, perhaps, the University Grants Commission to conduct it.

Appreciating your Ruling on this issue, Mr. Deputy Speaker, perhaps I should say no more except that, fortunately or unfortunately, this is no longer a purely Glasgow matter. Perhaps the importance of the Amendment is that this situation has now become something of an issue not only in our Scottish universities but throughout Britain. To build for the future, along the lines of the Amendment, it is necessary, in my view, to create the foundations by clearing up the past.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

I do not wish to follow the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell) into a discussion of the Glasgow case. I wish to discuss the Amendment in general. There are several questions which I hope the Under-Secretary will answer.

The hon. Lady said in Committee that the Privy Council was at present considering the whole question of the powers of universities over students in disciplinary matters. This would appear to go some way towards answering the point the hon. Member for West Lothian was making, although it does not deal with the case he had in mind. However, it is a step to be welcomed.

There are differences between Amendment No. 60 and the Amendment to Clause 8. I was glad that the Undersecretary said when we discussed this on Monday that she does not regard her proposal as a fixed or rigid Amendment; that it is not the end of the question, that discussions are going on, and that if any improvement can be considered the Government are willing to consider the matter in another place.

Having said that, I come to the differences between the Amendments. The Amendment to Clause 8 suggest that a copy of the agreed procedure should be laid before the Secretary of State for Scotland. This is an important point, because while it does not in any way suggest that the Secretary of State should alter or have any say in what that procedure should be, it would bring home to the universities the fact that the relationship between students and universities has changed from what it was some years ago. Most students attending universities are there at the taxpayers' expense.

Therefore, the Government have the right to be concerned in some way with what procedures may be used to send down a student who is there at public expense—to bring to an end a £600 investment in a student's future which has, say, another year to run. That is why I welcome the suggestion in the Amendment to Clause 8 that these procedures should not simply be confined within the universities, but that they should be laid before the Secretary of State.

The other point of difference between the two Amendments is that the Under-Secretary's Amendment specifically refers to …alleged breaches of discipline within the University… I would like clarification of those words because there have been cases—and there may be cases in the future—where a university has decided to expel or rusticate a student not for a breach of discipline within the university, but for a criminal act outside which has already been punished in the normal way in the criminal courts—that is, if it was an offence of a type which the university thought brought discredit and adverse publicity to the university. Amendment No. 60 therefore seems too narrowly drawn, because it includes the phrase "within the university".

I am inclined to agree with the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Edward M. Taylor), who referred, when we last considered this matter, to the phrase "…where the…breach…might be punishable by expulsion or rustication ".

I see no harm in the whole procedure for discipline, even if it does not involve expulsion or rustication, being drawn up and known by all concerned. I am referring to even minor breaches of discipline, even if it would mean, say, a lecturer or director of studies having minor disciplinary powers, because that would not seriously affect a student's career. I do not see why this should not also be included in the recommended procedures which should be made known not only to the university, students and staff, but also to the Secretary of State.

8.45 p.m.

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

The House may recall that on Monday my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Pentlands (Mr. Wylie) indicated that we would support Amendment No. 60, standing in the name of the hon. Lady the Under-Secre-tary of State. In this debate there is, as it were, a choice of Amendment, but we think that her Amendment strikes just about the right balance in the disciplinary matter which concerns us.

I do not believe that this Bill is a suitable vehicle for a detailed code of procedure in alleged breaches of discipline, but where there is need to improve the disciplinary procedure within the university I think that the House has made it abundantly clear that the need must be met. I believe that Amendment No. 60 is the right way to meet it.

I recognise at once that the hon. Member for Renfrew, West (Mr. Buchan) has had a deep and sincere constituency interest in the Glasgow University affair, but I agree with the hon. Lady's view that we might now leave that unhappy incident. Perhaps, in doing so, it would be the wish of hon. Members, in view of all that has been said, to record our respect for that great university, and for its Principal, who is a man of the highest standing in the academic and national life of Scotland.

The hon. Lady told us on Monday that she proposes to have further discussions with the four ancient universities, and that if it is found right to amend or extend the terms of the Amendment, that will be done by further amendment in another place, with opportunity for further debate, if necessary. During the course of that review the Under-Secretary might look again at the wording towards the end of the Amendment referring to the case in which the alleged breach …is one which might be punishable by expulsion or rustication". That is rather indefinite. An alleged breach will be one that clearly is or is not punishable by expulsion or rustication, or will be at least one which clearly is or is not capable of punishment by expulsion or rustication. I would be better pleased if the Amendment were more definite on this point.

Subject to that relatively small point about the nature of the wording towards the end of Amendment No. 60, and subject also to the assurance the hon. Lady has given of further consideration, I hope that the House will support the Amendment standing in her name.

The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland (Mrs. Judith Hart)

Perhaps I may deal first, with one or two detailed points. We will certainly like to have the chance to look a little further at the precise words of our Amendment. As I explained on Monday, we had only had two or three days from start to finish to consider it. We shall certainly look at the two points, raised in the one case by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) and in the other by the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur). I think that the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles is quite right in what he says about the words "within the university", It may be that, in the end, we will find this the correct thing to say, but the point is worth looking at.

On the point about the words "which might be punishable", I would say to the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire that we certainly intend to look at them again, but these were words which, in particular, we looked at very closely with the draftsmen, who were very clear at that point that they were the best words to use. However, when we have completed our consideration of these words, I shall, if I may, have a discussion with my hon. Friends and with all those who have been concerned with this matter and let them know our advisers' final view on the drafting.

Turning to one or two of the more general points which have been raised, as I have said throughout discussion on this Bill both in Committee and on Monday evening in the House, I do not propose myself to make any comment on the particular affair at Glasgow University, because I do not think it right that my right hon. Friend or I should make such comments. This matter has caused a great deal of distress to a great many people in Glasgow, not least to those who are concerned with trying to arrive at justice and to the people who have been, as it were, the plaintiffs in the case. It has caused a great deal of distress and I fear that it is clear from what has been said that it is likely to continue to do so.

But it is a matter for the court, for the senate, and for the General Council of Glasgow University. There can be no question whatsoever of my right hon. Friend or the Privy Council holding any kind of inquiry into this affair at Glasgow University. It is a matter for the university to find its own answer to the problems which face it.

I come to discuss the Amendment on the more general points which have been made. They come down to this, as between the Government Amendment and the Amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Mary-hill (Mr. Hannan), the points between us lie in particular on whether there should be a duty or a power. There has been some discussion of whether my right hon. Friend should be, or indeed could be, brought into the picture at any point. Because of something that has been said, there is the question whether there ought to be an ordinance or a resolution.

It was quite clear to us when we were framing our Amendment that we had a range of choice as between imposing a duty or giving a power to a university to frame its procedures and between doing this by orders or by resolution. I wish to sketch in the arguments for and against to indicate to the House why we came to the view, as we did, that it should be a power and that it should be provided by Resolution procedure because in their turn these dictate whether or not the Secretary of State, either himself or in his capacity as a member of the Privy Council, is involved. They also dictate the answers to one or two of the other questions.

I am quite clear—I think most of us are—that in view of the very generous assurances given to us by the four universities which we are considering in this Bill—it is a point to remember that we are considering only four of the Scottish universities in the Bill and we are grateful for their generous assurance—that they intend to review their own procedures. I have not the slightest grain of doubt that, having said that, they will do it. Of course they will. There can be no doubt about this. It would be a gratuitous insult to impose a duty rather than to give them a power in view of the assurances they have given.

Therefore, it becomes a power rather than a duty. That is what is in my Amendment as against the words "It shall be the duty" in the Amendment by my hon. Friend. I hope that my explanation of why my right hon. Friend came to the view that a power was all that was needed in this case will be acceptable to my hon. Friend the Member for Maryhill. It is because of the very generous assurances we have been given by each of the four universities, including Glasgow.

I come now to the question of the choice between ordinance and resolution. If the ordinance procedure were adopted, as with every ordinance an ordinance in this case would have to come before the Privy Council, of which my right hon. Friend is a member, so to that extent he would see it. A resolution could not come before my right hon. Friend, because there is no need for a university to bring its resolutions to the attention of the Privy Council.

However, the strong argument at the end of the day against the ordinance procedure was that an ordinance would necessarily be framed in the most general terms. I think that I have quoted, either in the House or in Standing Committee, the letter written by my right hon. Friend the Secreary of State for Education and Science to the National Union of Students on certain matters, including the question of discipline. In that letter my right hon. Friend referred, in particular, to the provision which is being made in the interests of students in the draft Charters in some of the institutions of higher education at the moment. My right hon. Friend said that the Privy Council was putting to the sponsors of the Charters "the desirability of making" a provision whereby a procedure will be laid down for a right on the part of a student suspended or expelled to be formally heard by the Senate or by a body appointed by the Senate before the decision becomes final. This indicates the kind of generality with which, and only with which, the Privy Council could be concerned. The Privy Council could not be concerned with an ordinance spelling out in very great detail the kind of procedures that a university may wish to lay down.

What most of us are concerned about is that, to satisfy natural justice, most of the universities will wish to go in some detail into the way in which they work out their disciplinary procedures. Therefore, one is faced with the choice between detail, which is what seems to be desired by most hon. Members, and the generality which would be seen by my right hon. Friend as a member of the Privy Council.

Faced with this choice, it was right to have opted for the resolution procedure and the possibility it gives of greater detail. An additional advantage that it offers is that an ordinance, once approved by the Privy Council and once having received Her Majesty's approval, cannot easily be amended. On this kind of matter it will be, I would suppose, of considerable importance that, in the light of experience, a university should be able to change a few words here and there to improve the procedure it has worked out. One would wish to give the university the freedom to do so. I think that this can be given only by the resolution procedure.

This and the other reasons I have given are good reasons. This is why we have chosen to table an Amendment which gives a power rather than imposes a duty and which relates to the resolution procedure rather than to the ordinance procedure. I must make it quite plain that, unless it were to be the ordinance procedure, there could be no question of anything being laid before my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

There is one further general point which was raised by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles. He was concerned about the all-embracing nature of my hon. Friend's Amendment, which he preferred, compared with the Government's more restrictive one which attempts to distinguish between cases involving expulsion or rustication and less serious offences.

The hon. Gentleman was anxious that all breaches of discipline should be covered. I must tell the hon. Gentleman that I do not agree with him; nor, I think, would most of those who regard it as of some importance that the kind of relationship should exist between university staffs and their students that most of us want to see. If whatever procedure is to be devised were to be extended to all offences, one would totally inhibit any possibility that the most minor offence could be dealt with by the principal or a professor simply calling a student into his room to discuss something with him. One could not lay down in a procedure that, for such-and-such an offence, a student shall go and have a chat with the head of his department. This being so, one must distinguish—

Mr. David Steel

I said that I saw no reason why a statement that minor breaches of discipline could be dealt with at the discretion of heads of departments should not be included. But I do not think that it is a major point.

Mr. Hart

I think that the point will be covered by the kind of resolution which the universities adopt.

9.0 p.m.

I do not think that we expected that, during our discussions on the Bill, we should have to give our minds to such weighty and difficult considerations as have been brought in by what recently happened in Glasgow. I put it to the House that, by adopting Government Amendment No. 60, we shall be laying the groundwork for the future and ensuring that there need never be in future anxiety of the sort which has centred on recent events. This will be for the greater good of all students and all the universities. I think that the universities themselves are the first to recognise this and they welcome an Amendment of this kind.

Mr. William Hannan (Glasgow, Maryhill)

The House will recognise that our Amendment No. 58 and the Government Amendment No. 60 are almost identical in their terms, with the important exception to which the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) drew attention, that is, the three words which he suggested might be excluded. With that proposition I agree. I had intended to make the same suggestion, so that the Amendment would read in its concluding words: where the alleged breach is one punishable by expulsion or rustication". Nevertheless, when one looks again at that proposition, we seem to be back to the same position as gave rise to trouble. The words where the alleged breach is one punishable by expulsion suggest that we shall be doing the very thing which my hon. Friend said in Committee we ought not to do, that is, approaching the problem by defining the circumstances or charges in respect of which universities could exercise discipline or approaching it by defining the procedures by which universities could exercise discipline.

I agree with my hon. Friend in the latter part, that we should try to define the procedures by which the universities should exercise discipline, but, if we exclude those three words, there is a slight danger that we shall be asking the senate to list a certain number of offences which would merit expulsion or rustication, as compared with others which would not. Proof is the big thing. I do not consider that the universities have any right to exercise their discipline until the normal processes of the courts have been gone through. This is the kernel of the problem. I do not envy my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State or, for that matter, the universities in tackling it. But, if justice is to be seen to be done, this is the essence of the question to which attention must be directed.

I have said that I regard both Amendments as similar and, recognising this, I am quite willing, in the light of what my hon. Friend has said, to give way to her in my judgment on this matter because of the additional information which she will have. Therefore, I shall wish to withdraw the Amendment which I put down for the reasons I adduced on Monday. I am aware of the rather circumscribed timetable and I shall not go over the arguments again. My hon. Friend has made it clear that she does not propose to depart from the processes in the Bill. The Secretary of State is not to take power unto himself in respect of this matter but is to give the power to the university courts, as was the case in the past.

This theme has run throughout our discussions of the Bill and there is a keen difference of view that will not be resolved by pressing my Amendment. I take the view that the Bill is wrong in this respect and that my right hon. Friend should have taken some powers. On the contrary, he is giving some up. My hon. Friend said that there would be advantage in having further discussion on the subject with the universities. I assume that such discussion will take place. But what I have been saying was borne out by her sentence during our discussion on Monday. She said: We know that the principals are content with the form this proposal takes… Of course they will be. The real question is whether they will exercise this power. We may have an assurance from my hon. Friend, but the principals have had other powers in the past that they have not exercised.

My hon. Friend went on: If, following that, it seems desirable to amend or extend the provision we are making in the Bill we should have the opportunity to put down any necessary Amendments in another place…I make clear that it is right only to give a power to the universities rather than to impose on them a duty because of our knowledge of their intentions."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th February, 1966; Vol. 724, c. 1045.] The universities already have power to do certain things, including a power with regard to St. Andrews dating as far back as 1924. But nothing has been done and the matter is now being put right in the Bill. The question is, therefore, whether the universities will exercise their powers. As my right hon. Friend said, dealing with another aspect in Committee, it is a matter of good faith.

I shall not press the Amendment to a Division. I have taken the opportunity to reiterate some doubts that I have, but in view of the strong argument—and I commend my hon. Friend for her reply—I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.