HC Deb 09 April 1970 vol 799 cc731-2
15. Sir G. Nabarro

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he will introduce legislation to enable university authorities to recruit and maintain with support from public funds their own police and security forces in the interests of law and order, and as insurance against further destruction of public property.

Mr. Fowler

No. It is for the universities to make appropriate arrangements to protect their property, but I would not regard the setting up of their own police forces as appropriate.

Sir G. Nabarro

What steps does the Secretary of State propose to take to protect public property in the event of riotous or insubordinate behaviour, like that of students at Warwick or at Oxford who took possession of public property, badly damaged it, and cocked a snook at the police? Is the right hon. Gentleman disclaiming Ministerial responsibility?

Mr. Fowler

The hon. Gentleman's question is based upon a misapprehension. University property is not public property; it belongs to the university. I have no power to intervene in the affairs of individual universities. I do not re- gard the growth of private police forces in this country as desirable.

Mr. Heffer

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a great deal of hysterical nonsense coming from hon. Gentlemen opposite concerning this matter? I visited the Liverpool University Senate building following the sit-in. I found that there was very little damage and that, in the main, the students acted responsibly? Therefore, is it not an absolute scandal that the Liverpool City Council—Conservative-controlled—should suggest that grants should be removed from students who become involved in sit-ins or actions of that kind?

Mr. Fowler

I do not want to appear to condone the activities of some minority groups in universities. In my view, there is no excuse for breaking and entering or for flouting the law of the land. On the other hand, it is a great mistake to exaggerate what has happened, because the publicity resulting from exaggeration arguably incites larger groups to follow similar courses of action.

Mr. Doughty

Will the hon. Gentleman consult the Law Officers of the Crown to consider legislation so that the police can deal with this malicious trespass? If a new offence of malicious trespass were created, when students misbehaved in this way the police would be able to restore law and order. Does the Minister also realise that the people of this country are thoroughly fed up with paying rates and taxes when money is mis-spent by students in this way?

Mr. Fowler

On the last part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's question, I, too, regard the matter as serious, and I have said so on many occasions. There is at the moment more popular hostility to higher education than I can remember. Much of this stems from the activities of small minorities. On the other hand, I still think that it is a profound mistake to exaggerate the matter.

The first part of the hon. and learned Gentleman's question is a matter for the Home Secretary, who, I am sure, will take note of what has been said.