HC Deb 06 February 1969 vol 777 cc565-7
18. Mr. Dudley Smith

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if, in view of the continued unrest and disturbance in a number of universities, he will seek powers to control the staff and students at the universities, so as to enable work programmes to be carried on without interruption.

Mr. Edward Short

No, Sir. I should consider it inappropriate to control the universities centrally as the hon. Gentleman is suggesting.

Mr. Smith

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that most people are sick and tired of the over-publicised antics of students at some universities? If universities are unable to exercise their own authority, surely someone should do it for them?

Mr. Short

I expressed my views on this matter in the debate last week. Discipline in our universities must be left to the vice-chancellors. They must work out their own salvation. However, they are in no doubt about the feelings of right hon. and hon. Members at the present time.

Mr. Henig

Does my right hon. Friend agree that a good deal of the overpublicising is the fault of the media of mass communication which insist on concentrating on those few universities where there is this trouble? Does he agree that in the vast majority of universities this kind of thing is not occurring?

Mr. Short

I agree about that. I said the other day that throughout most universities in the country a great deal of productive, worth-while discussion is going on as a result of the agreement between the vice-chancellors and the students last year, especially in my hon. Friend's university. I should like to see it continue. The trouble is being caused by a tiny minority of people who are not interested in redressing grievances or putting things right at all.

Mr. Lane

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the strong and almost unanimous expression of view in this House on Wednesday last week will be of great help in reinforcing the position of university authorities?

Mr. Heffer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as in the industrial sphere, there always has to be some Hash point which creates the problem and allows those who perhaps are way ahead of the others to take advantage of the situation? Does he agree that the best answer is to investigate thoroughly the problems of the students to eliminate their difficulties than to talk in terms of extra powers and action of that kind?

Mr. Short

I think that this is being tried everywhere in the country. The director and governors of the L.S.E. have been willing to talk about grievances almost non-stop, and meetings are constantly held in the universities. As I have said, in most cases they are leading to great improvements in conditions and constitutions of universities, colleges and so on. But the fact remains that there is a tiny group of people who are not interested in putting grievances right.

Sir E. Boyle

Is it not a fact that virtually the whole House last week agreed that universities and their vice-chancellors have a duty and a responsibility to preserve law and order in an ordered academic community? Would it not be best for the House today just to reaffirm that expression of opinion?

Mr. Short

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. I was answering the point whether I should control the universities centrally. It would help me and the vice-chancellors a great deal if the right hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend would come out firmly on this side.

Mr. Speaker

Mr. Arnold Shaw, Question No. 19.

Sir E. Boyle

Mr. Speaker, this is an important matter. May I ask what the right hon. Gentleman means—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I called the next Question. Mr. Arnold Shaw.