HC Deb 05 July 1968 vol 767 cc1869-72
Mr. Rossi (by Private Notice)

asked the Secretary of State of Education and Science whether he will make a statement with regard to the closure of the Hornsey College of Art.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Shirley Williams)

As I told the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) on 28th June, the conduct of colleges of art maintained by a local education authority is a matter for which the governing body is responsible to the authority.

I understand, however, that the representatives of the staff and students met the governing body last night and that a further meeting is to be held shortly.

Mr. Rossi

I am grateful for that reply. Would the Minister join me in congratulating all concerned on the remarkable restraint which they have exercised over many difficult weeks? It is welcome that the students have now withdrawn their demand for payment of money which the governors had no power to make. As a result, it appears that, with further restraint, common sense and good will prevailing, matters may well return to normal within a matter of days.

Mr. Speaker

Order. Supplementary questions should be brief.

Mrs. Williams

I think that both sides have shown a good deal of patience in a difficult situation. I hope that the staff and students will recognise that a good many of their demands would be more suitably addressed to the National Advisory Council on Art Education, which has just decided to consider the views of representative bodies which wish to make points to it about the structure of art education. I trust that the local issues can be settled between the two sides amicably.

Mrs. Joyce Butler

I welcome the happier atmosphere prevailing this morning, but it my hon. Friend aware that some of us are very gravely concerned about the presence of uniformed guards and dogs with the clear purpose of intimidating staff and students, a number of whom are my constituents, who wish to enter the college to carry on their normal work? Would not she agree that this kind of action is to be deplored and that the money which would have to be used to pay the guards might have been better used in financing the commission?

Mrs. Williams

As my hon. Friend knows, it is a little difficult for me to comment on the decisions of the local authority, but I understand that the security guards were instructed that force was not to be used. I trust that it will not be necessary for them to be present in the college for much longer.

Sir E. Boyle

Is the hon. Lady aware that we on this side of the House would entirely endorse her distinction between the local issues on which I greatly hope, as she does, that there will be a return to legality before the college is due to be closed, and the wider national issues affecting art education? Would she agree that there is widespread feeling going beyond Hornsey that the time is due for a fairly urgent review of art education? We hope that rapid progress can be made by the Advisory Council.

Mrs. Williams

There has been a consistent muddle over what are national and local issues in this matter. Matters like the future of the Diploma of Art and Design and the distinction between vocational and fine art courses are for the National Advisory Council, which will be studying the matter urgently and will report to my right hon. Friend.

Mr. McNamara

Can my hon. Friend say what steps her Department is taking in this matter? Instead of its being left simply to the National Advisory Council, and instead of having all this coming and going among local authorities, which created a very nasty atmosphere, is it not about time that her Department took a more positive line?

Mrs. Williams

My hon. Friend would be wrong to assume that, because the Department's name has not been brought into the negotiations as widely as one might have expected, it has been doing nothing. We are in very close touch with the National Advisory Council. My hon. Friend may know that I have agreed to meet a delegation of art students, organised by the National Union of Students, to discuss their grievances.

Mr. Roebuck

Is my hon. Friend aware that last night I received an agitated telephone call from one of my constituents whose daughter is at this college about the use of guard dogs there? Although I recognise that my hon. Friend has not great power in this matter, will she look into it and, if possible, give the local authorities advice about the use of guard dogs and uniformed people who are not police officers at the college?

Mrs. Williams

We have been in touch with the local authority. We have no power over the decisions which the local authorities make concerning the day-today running of their colleges. While we deplore the use of force wherever it can be avoided, this is a matter which lies directly and wholly within the responsibility of the Hornsey local authority.

Mr. Christopher Price

Is my hon. Friend aware that it is very difficult now to disentangle local issues from national issues in this problem and that every aspect of uncertainty at art colleges, including Hornsey, has become a national problem in which she should take a much greater part than she has done? Is it not true that she has power, in the last resort, to take over any functions of the local authorities? If local authorities continue to call in organisations employing uniformed personnel, will she use that power?

Mrs. Williams

Perhaps we should bring this matter into perspective by recognising the responsibilities that rest with local authorities in maintaining order in their institutions. It is not as easy to maintain order as has been suggested, and local authorities have a certain responsibility to the ratepayers and to the governing body. Having said that, I think that we have gone as far as possible in indicating many channels by which art students and staffs can make their grievances known and have them discussed. I hope that in the next week or so discussions at national level will begin.

Sir Knox Cunningham

Whatever may be the cause of student unrest, especially abroad, does not the hon. Lady agree that in this instance the authorities have shown restraint, common sense and courtesy and that there now looks to be the prospect of a happy solution?

Mrs. Williams

In answer to the last part of that supplementary question, I trust that that will be so.

Mr. Arthur Lewis

I, too, have some constituents at this college who have objected strongly to the use of guard dogs and privately hired firms. Could not my hon. Friend advise all councils— certainly in the London area—that when these things happen the Metropolitan Police will, on payment, take over responsibilities for keeping order? They do so at Wembley Stadium and other places where there is a likelihood of trouble, and it is must better that the Metropolitan Police should be paid for it, and for them to do the controlling.

Mrs. Williams

I understand that the police did not feel in a position to act in this case because there was not a clear case of trespass. It was for the local authority to decide which body it wished to pay for the purpose. I repeat that this decision rests entirely with the local authority; it does not rest with us. I hope that the local authority will pay attention to the questions and answers on the subject today.

Several Hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker

Order. We have a lot of work ahead.

Back to
Forward to