HC Deb 22 January 1985 vol 71 cc847-8
5. Mr. Merchant

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will review the present arrangements for compulsory membership of student unions.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Peter Brooke)

The arrangements are governed by the provisions of charters and statutes, or articles of government, under which membership of student unions is automatic. The provisions can be amended only at the initiative of the governing bodies of the institutions concerned, or by legislation. My right hon. Friend does not at present intend to introduce such legislation, but the matter is under active review.

Mr. Merchant

Apart from the strong ethical arguments in favour of voluntary membership of student unions, would there not be a considerable saving of public money from the change of student union membership to a voluntary nature, in that they would be founded on voluntary subscriptions by membership rather than by compulsory subscriptions by the taxpayer?

Mr. Brooke

I rest on my original answer about the integral part of a student union in its institution. The point about savings comes back to welfare, sports and social services provisions, and whether that should be a proper part of university and polytechnic activity.

Mr. Rhodes James

Will my hon. Friend reconsider that answer?

Mr. Brooke

I am clear that this is a matter of concern to my hon. Friends, and any matter of such concern is automatically a matter of concern to my right hon. Friend and myself.

Mr. Shearman

Is it not interesting that there is yet another attack on young people in this International Year of Youth? I am sure the Minister is aware that membership of the National Union of Students is not compulsory, so will he please tell his Back Benchers that? The National Union of Students of each separate college votes on whether or not it will affiliate to the NUS. Is the Minister aware that there have been ballots of all NUS members in Newcastle, Hatfield, Aston and Reading this year, and overwhelmingly the members said that they wanted to belong to the NUS?

Mr. Brooke

I hesitate to correct the hon. Gentleman, but the question that I have answered is not about the NUS.