HC Deb 14 June 1968 vol 766 cc587-601


As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

11.7 a.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Miss Alice Bacon)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

First of all, I should like to convey to the House the very sincere apologies of my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) for her unavoidable absence from this final stage of a Bill for which she has throughout been responsible.

The Bill, although short, is of great importance to the future growth and development of the non-university sector of higher education. I know that it has received the support of—and, indeed, has been welcomed by—both sides of the House, and I should like to pay a tribute to the assistance which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) and his hon. Friends have given to its passage.

As hon. and right hon. Members will recall, the Bill's main purpose is to improve arrangements by which the colleges of education, the further education colleges which provide full-time courses, and the special schools, are to be governed and conducted in future. The Bill provides that for the government of these institutions an instrument shall be made by order of the local education authorities providing for the constitution of a body of governors.

In this context on the initiative of the Government, the Bill has been amended in Committee in one important respect since it was introduced. In the case of the colleges of education the instrument will now require the approval of the Secretary of State. This change was made in response to strongly expressed feelings from both sides of the House on Second Reading, but I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, who introduced the relevant Amendment in Committee, would wish me to say that this does not imply the view that the local education authorities, whose representatives she consulted, intend to be other than liberal in their approach. We believe that they stand firmly behind the recommendations of the Weaver Report, to the formulation of which they made a large contribution.

The colleges are to be conducted in accordance with articles of government which are to be made by order of the local education authority to determine the respective functions of the local education authority, the governors, the principal and the academic board where there is one. These articles will require the approval of the Secretary of State. The special schools, too, are to have articles of government but these will not require that approval.

To sum up, the Bill has its origin in the determination of the Government to see that colleges of education and leading further education colleges are able to fulfil their important rôle as higher education institutions. The measures that the Bill incorporates had their origin, as hon. Members know, in the work of the study group which was asked by the Secretary of State to make recommendations which would enable the colleges of education—this applies equally to the polytechnics—to have a large measure of academic responsibility and to exercise it in an atmosphere of freedom unhindered by unnecessary restrictions.

The Government believe that the House will welcome the Bill for the contribution it will make to this liberalising process. In that belief I confidently commend it as meeting the wishes of hon. Members on Third Reading.

11.11 a.m.

Sir Edward Boyle (Birmingham, Handsworth)

I hope that the House will think we on this side did right in asking that there should be a short debate on the Third Reading of the Bill. I regard this as an important Measure. It is one for which many of us have been pressing, in particular ever since the debate on 25th March, 1965.

Then I tried to cover the whole range of higher education and to stress, as the present President of the Board of Trade always did, the importance of higher education outside the university, and in particular to draw attention to the importance of the government, both of colleges of education and of leading institutions of further education. I completely understand the reason why the hon. Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams) cannot be here today. I hope that I did not put the right hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon) to too much personal inconvenience by requesting her presence this morning.

This Bill is important for two reasons. As the right hon. Lady has reminded us, it takes a very big step in the direction of greater self-government in particular for colleges of education. I am very glad indeed that during the passage of the Bill we have secured an extremely important amendment for those colleges, namely that their instruments of government will now require approval by the Secretary of State. I think it was quite right that hon. Members on both sides of the Committee should speak strongly about this. I am glad that the Government felt able to meet the wishes of the Committee in this matter.

I echo what the right hon. Lady has said. Those of us who pressed for the amendment did not intend, as it were, to pass a vote of no confidence in local authorities. I repeat what I said in Committee. We should all be grateful for the spirit of give-and-take which the local authority associations have shown. We quite realise their responsibilities in this field. None the less, we should always remember that the colleges of education are not just teacher factories but are important institutions of higher education in their own right, taking in these days a very large number of students. They are a very important sector of the whole system of higher education.

In talking to university audiences I find that one of the questions which frequently comes up concerns the different treatment of different parts of our system of higher education. I think that in the university world as a whole there will be very great satisfaction that the Government have been able to make this important advance to self-government for the colleges and that they have made this important change in regard to the instrument of government.

I know that debate on the Third Reading of a Bill is narrow, but I hope that you, Mr. Speaker, will forgive me when I say that I hope we do not regard this Bill as in any sense the end of the story. I hope that it will start a period in which we in this House will take more notice than we have hitherto done both of colleges of education and of teacher education generally. I think the time is with us when we should consider a council for teacher education.

I have no doubt that much more thought is needed on the college curricula. I would not rule out, in accordance with what we have learned from such Reports as the Plowden Committee's Report, a limited amount of other forms of social training going on in the colleges. I emphasise most this morning that we should pay more attention than we have paid in the past to the whole subject of teacher education and the contribution that the colleges ought to be making to teacher training and higher education as a whole.

I should feel that it was wrong if we thought this morning only about colleges of education. There are the other major further education institutions which will be affected by the Bill. The polytechnics are in a special position. I am sure that the right hon. Lady will agree that the future of the polytechnics is one of the most important responsibilities which the Government have in education at present. Whether or not one agrees with the whole of it, the book by Mr. Eric Robinson was one of the most interesting and thought-provoking books on this subject that have appeared for a long time. I hope that in our concern for education in the polytechnics the House will not lose sight of the importance of the area technical colleges which have done and do a larger volume of advanced education work than many realise. There is a real danger of these colleges becoming devalued as a consequence of the development of polytechnics. I hope that their machinery of government and their continuing contribution on the borderline of higher and further education will be remembered. I hope that local authorities will treat these colleges with reasonable liberality.

The decision about the instruments and where we drew the line about which instruments should require approval by the Secretary of State was quite right. I think we drew it in the only possible place by treating colleges of education like polytechnics, but I hope that the local authorities will remember the major further education colleges as well and the contribution which they make to higher education and further education and the importance of treating them in a reasonably liberal manner.

Clause 2 deals with special schools. The changes made in this Clause and the procedure laid down is also of importance. I have strong feelings about the uniqueness of schools and of colleges. There must be important guidelines laid down in national policy. The State today provides so much more money, centrally and locally, for education than ever before, but we have to remember the uniqueness of institutions and the importance of individual schools and colleges. I hope that the message will go out from this House today that we have passed a Bill which in the best sense of the word is a liberal Measure. I hope that it will heighten interest taken by this House in the colleges and their great importance to our whole educational future.

11.18 a.m.

Mr. Christopher Price (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

I too welcome the Bill as an all-party Measure which I hope will give far greater stature to colleges of education and other institutions of further education than they have ever had before. We should remember, however, in this Third Reading debate that, as with all generally agreed Bills, what happens afterwards is probably rather more important than what is actually in the Bill and what the law will now say. The way in which the Department of Education interprets the Bill in its approval of instruments of government and articles of government will be crucial to the development, indeed far more crucial than the actual words in the Bill.

Clause 1(3) provides that the articles of government must be approved by the Secretary of State in relation to the various functions of the local education authority, the body of governors, the principal, and the academic board. After the passage of the Bill, the responsibilities of the Department, particularly in the case of articles of government, will be very serious indeed. Over the last few weeks the whole concept of what is a body of governors and an academic board has been completely thrown into a new light. The students at Hornsey College of Art and at Birmingham College of Art are, I think very successfully, questioning what the old concept of a governor's meeting is. Before I came to the House, I spent some time sitting on boards of governors of colleges of education and further education institutions. They were not very exciting or inspiring bodies to serve on.

A great responsibility now rests upon the Department to ensure that local education authorities interpret the articles of government in such a way as to give full weight to these new concepts that the students have thrown up. Students are not mentioned in the Bill, but they stand behind it, in that they are the one element in the colleges of education and colleges of further education to whose views virtually no weight has been given hitherto in running the institutions. In future, much more weight must be given to their views.

When announcing the policy for polytechnics recently, the Minister of State emphasised that she was being very careful in approving only so many and leaving other polytechnics until the correct instrument of government had been properly worked out. I very much hope that in all these institutions the Department will get right up to date and think of boards of governors and academic boards in the context in which they have been spoken of in the last few weeks and allow students on to them.

I know that this idea is complete anathema to most college principals and boards of governors, but I believe that the student movement, which has started, very interestingly, within the further education institutions we are talking about, is here to stay; it cannot be brushed off as a 1968 phenomena and with the comfortable feeling that we can return to the old régime next year. If the Secretary of State does not ensure that within these articles of government due weight is given to the proper rights of students to participate in both the academic and the administrative life of their colleges, we shall be back here next year, or the year after that, with another Bill to try to get the constitution of these colleges right. This is a serious problem.

To sum up, I should like the Department to regard its rôle in administering the Bill, in approving articles, in approving instruments, and, what is far more important, in the gentle pressure it can bring to bear on local education authorities after the articles and instruments have been approved, as a dynamic one and not a passive one, as a partner with local education authorities in ensuring that the colleges with which the Bill is concerned grow up into significant institutes of higher education.

I echo what the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) said about the book "The New Polytechnics", which has just been published by Mr. Eric Robinson. I do not mean by that that I would wish the Department to regard its rôle as being to raise these colleges up, as it were, in the exact image of the universities. In some ways that would be the most disastrous thing that could happen. I should like the Department to regard its rôle as a dynamic one, that of forging a completely new concept of higher education within these colleges, with far more part-time work and a moving away from the straitjacket of the three-year degree.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We cannot pursue Dr. Eric Robinson's book or the academic content of further education on this Motion.

Mr. Price

I will pass over this subject. I mention these matters simply because I believe that it is important to realise that, although we finish legislating here, from this point onwards the job of the Department begins—to make this legislation work. I very much hope that it makes it work along the lines I have outlined.

11.26 a.m.

Mr. W. R. van Straubenzee (Wokingham)

Like those who have preceded me, I intervene briefly to welcome the Bill. Again like those who have preceded me, I regret, though I entirely understand, the unavoidable absence of the hon. Lady the Member for Hitchin (Mrs. Shirley Williams). Needless to say, the House has been admirably helped, in the hon. Lady's absence, by the right hon. Lady the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon), but I regret the hon. Lady's absence for a personal reason, because, as those who have read the Report of our proceedings in Committee will know, I buzzed around her head like an angry wasp on that occasion simply because I had come from an all- night sitting immediately before and I had a certain procedural anger. I was, therefore, looking forward to purring at the hon. Lady this morning in my more natural good-natured self. I am sure that this sentiment will be conveyed to her.

In Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hands-worth (Sir E. Boyle) referred to the Bill as the coming of age of the colleges. Subsequently many hon. Members will have received an admirable small dossier —"The Government of Colleges of Education"—on the subject of the Bill from the A.T.C.D.E. and will have seen the foreword to it by the Chairman, Miss Skinner, who comments that although naturally the Association is very grateful for the tribute that these colleges have come of age, and although the Association is very glad to have the Bill, it must make it clear that 'coining of age' is not yet full manhood. That fits exactly with what had been said before.

The hon. Member for Birmingham. Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) referred to the question of how the Bill will be interpreted. I share many of the hon. Gentleman's views, with the reservation that I hope that neither we nor the Department, if the Bill is accorded its Third Reading, as I profoundly hope that it will be, will attempt to breathe too much down the necks of principals and governors, who will be working the new regulations as they will be set out and approved by the Department.

It is important to realise that in Committee the Minister of State went to very great trouble to lay down broadly what I assume was an authoritative statement of what kind of provisions the Department would expect the instruments approved by it to include. Although I know that the hon. Gentleman knows it well, for the sake of the record nevertheless I draw his attention to what the hon. Lady said, as reported at columns 12 and 13. She went into very considerable detail about student rights, student disciplinary problems, and channels of communication. All this repays careful reading at this precise moment of time.

It is not relevant to comment on general student problems today, but in the colleges of education, and elsewhere, I think, much of the problem has been, and still is, neither more nor less than one of communication. There are colleges—I have one in my constituency— which have been extremely successful even under their existing forms of government, let alone what might be done under their future forms of government, in having communication between governors, staff and students. This is a most important matter at the present day, and I do not apologise for taking a moment to draw attention to the definitive way in which the Minister of State went into the matter in Committee.

Whatever may happen, this will not be the final Bill about colleges of education, although we may well not see its successor in the present Parliament, purely for reasons of time. I am glad that what appears to be a procedural blocking Motion, though only a procedural device, has been used so that we might have our debate. This point should be made clear, because our procedures are not always understood outside the House. The Motion does not represent opposition to the Bill at all, but it gives an opportunity for the House to pause and pay tribute to the extensive and important work which is being done in a vital sector of education which is often overlooked by the general public.

11.31 a.m.

Mr. Frank Hooley (Sheffield, Heeley)

With characteristic subtlety and skill, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Handsworth (Sir E. Boyle) touched delicately on a great range of problems in higher education while remaining strictly in order. I have not the Parliamentary expertise to imitate that. My own welcome for the Bill stems from my belief that it is a modest though important step towards unifying rather than disintegrating our system of higher education. I made clear in debate some two years ago that I was rather alarmed at certain trends which I noted towards splitting up the system of higher education. I cannot pursue that line of argument now, but my welcome for the Bill is based on my belief that in a constitutional sense it will bring the colleges of education and our other important institutions of higher education more in line with the universities in an important aspect of government.

That is not to suggest—here I echo what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price)—that these bodies should become pale imitations, or any kind of imitation for that matter, of universities. But I believe that a growing degree of constitutional autonomy is important for these bodies, just as it has been extremely important for the growth and development of the universities themselves. To the extent that the Bill gives opportunity for developments which will constitute a unifying influence within the system of higher education, even though not putting all on the same level, I very much welcome it.

I should deplore any actions or policies which tended to divide our system of higher education with the appalling rigidity which divided our secondary education system. I welcome the Bill, therefore, not merely as a liberal Measure in itself but as, I hope, part of a trend towards the bringing together of our whole system of further and higher education in this country.

11.34 a.m.

Mr. David Lane (Cambridge)

I, too, welcome the Bill, and I intervene only because of one remark made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price). The hon. Gentleman said that due weight must be given to the views of students. We agree about that—governors must be alert and responsive to genuine grievances on the part of students. I hope, however, that governors will give due weight also to the views of the majority of students and of the public generally, who are seriously alarmed that the excesses of a small number of students in these and other colleges, and the undue prominence given to them by television and the Press, should be casting a shadow on the whole of higher education.

I hope that principals and governors, in tackling the difficult problem which faces them, will succeed in finding the right balance between the various considerations of which we are all conscious today. In this spirit, I wish them very well in their vital work ahead.

11.35 a.m.

Mr. John Ellis (Bristol, North-West)

I intervene briefly to discuss the question of articles of government. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) referred to cols. 12 and 13 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of our proceedings in Committee, when the Minister of State dealt with this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) said—though he then brushed over it rather quickly—that, whatever form of government was adopted, there should be consultation with staff and students. When he suggested even that students ought to be concerned on the governing bodies, he seemed a little amazed at his own temerity and moved off the point rather quickly. In this context, it is worth recalling that, when the question of what the Secretary of State would expect in articles of government was raised, my hon. Friend the Minister of State said: We do not wish to lay down in tight form what shape it should take. It may be that the students will be asked to serve on the governing body."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee G, 9th May, 1968; c. 13.] In my view, this is a step in the right direction. There is a great deal of interest in the country in what we see happening in the universities. I shall not speak at length about it, but, whatever may have happened, it must be obvious to all that serious causes have given rise to the "take-overs" and so on. It may well be that the channels of communication between governors, staff and students have not been all they ought to be.

I commend the Bill, and I think it right that people outside should know what has been said about the articles of government of the appropriate bodies which are to be set up. The Minister of State made an important statement to the effect that the Department by no means ruled out the possibility of students sitting on the governing bodies. I hope that a great deal more thought and guidance will come from the Department on this matter. The system has been ossified for too long. I hope that, after what has recently happened— —though I by no means commend all of it—there will be significant steps forward and a really new look at the relationship within the governing bodies and the institutes which they serve so that that we may go forward and deal with some of the genuine and legitimate complaints which have emerged.

11.38 a.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

This Bill is about further education, which is generally understood to exclude universities and polytechnics. It is important to say that because we on this side, and many hon. Members opposite, pressed during the earlier stages of the Bill for what we have called greater self-government for the colleges of education. It would be a pity if outside the House, where these matters are not always clearly understood, there were to be any confusion in people's minds suggesting that we on this side were in any way advocating what has come to be called student power, syndicalism or independence of that kind. What the Bill now does as it emerges amended from the Standing Committee is to confer a degree of independence upon institutions of further, as distinct from higher, education, independence for their boards of governors as against the local education authority. It is common ground between the two sides of the House that this is desirable.

In conferring this independence, we are saying that the Secretary of State shall have a supervisory function in the nomination of the governors of colleges of education, and he may wish to use that function for seeing that there is some degree of student participation, if I am driven to use one of the dreadful slogans to which we are not getting used; perhaps I should say, "student representation".

But that would be merely the way in which the power was exercised, and I am sure that the last thing any of us wants is to say anything this morning which might lead the public outside to think that we are giving any kind of respectability to the somewhat odd movements for student take-overs which are being seen in the universities. On that very fruitful subject, it would be out of order for me to say anything this morning.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. and learned Gentleman may not say anything about student take-overs at universities, but he may mention attempts by students at take-overs at the kind of colleges which come within the Bill.

Mr. Bell

That was my understanding. Indeed, although I suppose the hon. Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) was strictly within order in referring to the Hornsey College of Arts, because technically it comes within the Bill, it is nevertheless to be designated a polytechnic, so that references to it then would be out of order. The hon. Member was able to keep his comments in order, but they had only somewhat transitory relevance.

I shall confine myself to associating myself with what my right hon. Friend has said. We welcome the Bill, and we are glad that our criticisms have been met and that independence has the meaning which I have given to it and not the wider, more fascinating, but disorderly connotation which might be misunderstood outside.

11.43 a.m.

Miss Bacon

By leave of the House; I should like to thank all those who have spoken for the way in which they have approached this subject and for the welcome which they have given to the Bill. I took note of what was said by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hands-worth (Sir E. Boyle), and I was particularly interested in some of his suggestions, especially what he said about other forms of social training in colleges. This is very important, because in our schools today there is very little differentiation between teaching as we have known it and social education, and it is extremely important to consider giving other forms of social training in the colleges of education.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that we agree with what he said about other institutions, particularly the technical colleges and other forms of further education. I was grateful for his reminder of the importance of treating all colleges of further education, not only the polytechnics, in what he described as a reasonably liberal manner. My right hon. Friend has that in mind, as have the local education authorities.

I listened with interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Perry Barr (Mr. Christopher Price) and especially to what he had to say about the spirit in which the Bill should be administered. I fully share his view that what is in the relevant documents is not the final determinant of how people be- have, and I am sure that my Department will take to heart what he said on this subject, which echoed what was said in the last chapter of the Weaver Report.

I am sorry to have to tell the hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. van Straubenzee) that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State is not here so that he can apologise to her and purr, as he put it, at her because of his behaviour. He will understand what I mean when I say that in the last few weeks he might have been purring at me instead, and he might have done so this morning.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Mr. Hooley), the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mr. Lane), my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Ellis) and the hon. and learned Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) all referred to student participation in the government of colleges and to the necessity for students to have some place within the Bill. A few weeks ago, at Question Time, my right hon. Friend said that he felt that students had a part to play in the determination of what happened in colleges of further education—I must be careful not to refer to universities, but when winding up a debate it is always difficult not to be able to reply to comments which have slipped out before you, Mr. Speaker, have been able to call hon. Members to order.

Mr. Ronald Bell

If the right hon. Lady relates all her remarks to the Hornsey College of Art, she cannot go wrong.

Miss Bacon

As I say, my right hon. Friend has expressed the view that there should be a place for student participation. We know that there are legitimate grievances, and I should like to pay tribute to the responsible attitude of most students in our colleges of education and' further education institutions. However, like others, I should also like to differentiate between those students and those who are using grievances for wider issues. My right hon. Friend wants to meet the legitimate grievances.

It has been argued that it might have been better to mention students in the Bill, but my right hon. Friend thinks that students' views can be made known and discussed via the medium of staff-student consultative committees. A number of local authorities are already providing for student representation on governing bodies, and are very much aware of this problem.

We are dealing this morning with a variety of different institutions and we cannot lay down any procedure which would be applicable to all. My Department requires the articles to provide for students to have the right of a hearing when their expulsion is under consideration, something which has not been mentioned this morning. But we feel that it is preferable to leave to the college authorities the making of detailed arrangements for student representation on matters affecting the student bodies, and these arrangements may vary according to the circumstances of each college.

I can assure hon. Members that I have taken careful note of what has been said this morning. I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Perry Barr that the passing of the Bill is not the end, but the beginning, and that he can rely on my Department to see that the Bill is administered in the way which hon. Members would wish.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.