HC Deb 24 July 1973 vol 860 cc1394-5
18. Mr. Norman Lamont

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what plans she has for the reform of student unions.

Mrs. Thatcher

Responsibility for approving changes in student union constitutions rests, generally speaking, with the authorities of universities and colleges. Proposals to change the present system of financing the unions have been under discussion between my Department and the various interests concerned, but no agreement has been reached. I propose to consider the matter further in the light of the Government's decision to finance 90 per cent. of the cost of mandatory student awards.

Mr. Lamont

Does my right hon. Friend remember the case in which Mr. Justice Brightman recently ruled that student unions were educational trusts and could disburse their funds only for educational purposes? Is it not also the case that the Secretary of State has responsibility for educational trusts stemming from the 1944 Act? What action does my right hon. Friend propose to take to exercise those responsibilities and to prevent the abuse of student union funds, which I believe was one of the reasons for her previous proposals?

Mrs. Thatcher

The charitable jurisdiction of the Department is in process of being transferred, but from my recollection the case to which my hon. Friend refers was a specific one. It would not mean that all unions were themselves charitable trusts. Therefore, the rule in that case would not apply to them all.

Mr. Moyle

While we are on the subject of students and mandatory awards, may I ask whether the right hon. Lady knows that the regulations she is laying before the House this afternoon for improving student awards do not include provision for the £20 increase for married women about which she made such great play in her announcement on 15th May? Is not this either massive cynicism towards married women students or massive incompetence?

Mr. Speaker

Order. This Question is about student unions.

Mr. John Mendelson

Will the right hon. Lady bear in mind that a large body of opinion both inside and outside the universities is completely opposed to any action which would stifle freedom of expression for student unions and which would stifle the growing interest among students in public affairs and their bearing witness to the moral involvement they feel, which they also want to show by contributing their funds? Will she retuse to listen to the reactionary voices behind her?

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not think that many of the hon. Gentleman's questions arise from the original Question. Other people, who feel equally strongly about moral involvement, think that there should perhaps be, for the better freedom of expression, rules which monitor student unions as regards their regulations with regard to elections and taking decisions, to make certain that they are properly and democratically taken. The objective may well be the same as the hon. Gentleman's, but there are different arguments about the way in which those objectives should he achieved.