HC Deb 11 February 1981 vol 998 cc847-9
6. Mr. George Robertson

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement on further progress regarding his intention to close Hamilton college of education.

Mr. Alexander Fletcher

I very much hope that discussions will begin soon about arrangements for implementing our decisions.

Mr. Robertson

Does the Minister realise how disappointed hon. Members in all parts of the House will be with his wholly predictable answer? Does he also realise that if he continues with his intention to close Hamilton college of education in June of this year, proceeding willy-nilly with this newly declared intention—disrupting severely, as it will, the studies of many young people in the college, and the livelihood of many staff there—it will be nothing less than a disgraceful act of wanton educational vandalism?

Mr. Fletcher

I dispute the remarks made by the hon. Gentleman, but I agree with him on one important thing, and that is that the future of the students in mid-term and the future of the staff must be a prime consideration. With that in mind, I ask the hon. Gentleman to use his best offices to speak to the college authorities and encourage them to begin discussions. It is now almost mid-February, and it was on 6 August that my right hon. Friend announced his intention. In the interests of students and staff, surely the college should now begin to discuss their future.

Mr. John MacKay

I welcome my hon. Friend's appeal. Will he reinforce it and underline the great need for the college people, despite their unwillingness to accept the decision, to talk to the Government about the move, in the interests of the students? Will he start those talks, whether the other side wishes to have them or not? It is not only the students who want to know what will happen to them after June. In addition, students from other colleges in West Central Scotland who are in residence at Hamilton wish to know what their position will be after the closure of Hamilton college of education.

Mr. Fletcher

I agree with my hon. Friend that the people who are most concerned are the students. It is now high time that discussions began, to look after the interests of the students at the college and, as my hon. Friend has said, of the other students from other colleges and universities in Glasgow who use the residential accommodation at Hamilton.

Mr. Maxton

Is the Minister aware that his handling of the whole affair has been such that in the Hamilton area and in the Hamilton college of education nobody now trusts him, and that that is why people will not speak to him and will not discuss things with him?

Mr. Fletcher

There is no possible foundation for that remark. I can understand the disappointment of the authorities and others at Hamilton that their college has to be closed, but if anyone in this House should understand the reasons for that closure it is the hon. Member for Glasgow, Cathcart (Mr. Maxton.)

Mr. O'Neill

Will the Minister concede that the problems which have arisen since 5 August have been largely of his creation? There was the unhelpful statement which he made to the students prior to his Radio Clyde broadcast, when he said that it would be better if they had fewer teachers anyway. Will he concede that the betrayal of the teachers and the staff of the colleges has soured the atmosphere completely? If he is to close the colleges, will he undertake the responsibility for padlocking the gates himself, as the responsibility lies on his head and not on the officials of the colleges?

Mr. Fletcher

The hon. Gentleman's remarks are totally unhelpful to the students and staff at Hamilton. The hon. Gentleman has some responsibility, as an Opposition Front Bench spokesman, to try to use his influence in the best interests of the students and in encouraging them to look after their own interests by asking the college authorities to discuss these matters with Ministers.