HC Deb 04 March 1986 vol 93 cc134-5
3. Mr. Peter Bruinvels

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will introduce legislation making membership of the National Union of Students optional for students.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. George Walden)

The Government have not closed their mind to the possibility of legislating on this and other student union matters, but have no present plans for doing so.

Mr. Bruinvels

Will my hon. Friend accept that many students, including those belonging to Leicester university Conservatives, deeply regret being forced to become automatic members of the NUS? Will he reconsider his answer, so that students can be given the opportunity to opt into the NUS rather than being forced to become members of a union which is devoid of the political views that they espouse?

Mr. Walden

I sympathise with my hon. Friend's frustration, but I understand that it is open to individual student unions to decide, on a democratic basis, whether to disaffiliate from the NUS.

Mr. Skinner

Is the Minister aware that he has a little local difficulty with the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Bruinvels), but that Labour Members agree that it sounds a sensible idea? If it goes ahead, will the Minister consider the possibility of a ballot, because the Government are always rabbiting on about ballots? The Government thought that it would be a good idea to have political fund ballots for all the trade unions. The result has been to leave the Government with egg all over their face, because some unions pay money to the Labour party now when they did not do so before.

Mr. Walden

I am slightly confused by this train of thought. The Government are not against ballots in any circumstances, but I repeat that we sympathise with the view of those who question automatic membership of the student union.

Mr. Stokes

Why is it necessary to have a National Union of Students at all? Why could it not be abolished? Does my hon. Friend recollect that many of us who were at university before the war got on very well without a union at all?

Mr. Walden

I suppose that theoretically the NUS could vote itself out of existence as well.

Mr. Janner

Does the Minister appreciate that while the NUS and, I am sure, all of us here deplore a violent response to expressions of view, however much we may despise them, it would be better for the Government to spend time discussing with the NUS the cuts that they are making in the standard of life for students, or they will disappear along with the union?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That supplementary was a little wide of the question.

Mr. Walden

The House has made known its views on the linkage of that supplementary question.

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