HC Deb 17 November 1987 vol 122 cc1019-35 10.33 pm
Mr. Derek Fatchett (Leeds, Central)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Education (Governing Bodies of Institutions of Further Education) Regulations 1987 (S.I., 1987, No. 1160), dated 2nd July 1987, a copy of which was laid before this House on 20th July, be annulled. This order takes back more than 20 years of students' rights to participate in governing bodies. In many respects, it would have been much more appropriate for my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) to lead in this debate, because I am sure that all hon. Members will recall that in the days when he was president of the National Union of Students he was instrumental in pushing forward students' rights and the ability to participate in governing bodies.

At a stroke, with these regulations, the Government will revoke those rights and push students back to a position that pre-dates the mid-1960s. The regulations come from the Education Act 1986 and arise from a problem that the Government feel they have in dealing with under-age governors. As I understand the Government's position, the rationale is that they feel that it is necessary by law to exclude governors under the age of 18 from participating in discussion and voting on certain decisions. The Government argue that people under the age of 18 cannot enter into contracts. Therefore, it follows from the Government's logic—as I understand it—that governing bodies containing youngsters under the age of 18 cannot enter into a contract. Can the Minister tell us why that is the case?

It seems that there are procedures whereby it may be possible for youngsters to continue to participate, and even to vote, without the need for these regulations. If the Government say that the contract is made severally by each individual governor, that is understandable. But if the Government say that the contract is made collectively, is it possible to have a vote whereby the first decision is confirmed by the governors and then the governors collectively become responsible so that youngsters under the age of 18 can participate? The Government need to answer that point.

The Government also need to deal with the much greater powers in the regulations to exclude all student governors, regardless of whether they are under or over the age of 18. One of the more distressing aspects is that the Government have not even bothered to consult the National Union of Students about how the regulations should work. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) feels that that is a normal process. Of course, we know that, with his politics, he would not consult anybody ; he would simply take decisions.

Can the Minister tell us why the Government have not consulted the National Union of Students? I suspect that they have not even bothered to consult polytechnic directors, principals of further education colleges or directors of education authorities. But those individuals and bodies will have the responsibility for implementing the regulations. Why has there been no consultation?

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

The lack of consultation is a continuation of what happened when Parliament was in recess and schools were on holiday. There was no consultation with all the people who should be concerned with legislation on education. The Government are casual about consultation with students, but these are elected people on the campus. If they are not consulted they will find ways of making their presence felt. There is a democratic process for consultation. Those who are against that process are asking for demonstrations and so on by adopting that attitude.

Mr. Fatchett

My hon. Friend is right. If people are not given an opportunity to participate they will seek other ways of influencing decisions. My hon. Friend is also right in his assertion that it is typical of the Government that they do not bother to consult. We have seen that with the general education proposals. Sadly, we see it with these regulations.

The Government are dealing not simply with student governors under the age of 18; they have extended the regulations to cover student governors over the age of 18. It is worthwhile reading regulation 4, under which the Government restrict student governors to such an extent that it is almost impossible to envisage that they can play anything but a second-class role in governing bodies. The first condition that the Government impose is that any student governor, regardless of age, must leave the meeting when it is discussing staffing if another member of the governing body so proposes. That immediately limits the ability of students to participate.

The Government go further. Even if no one proposes that he leave, the student governor must not participate in or vote on any discussion. So, even if no one proposes that the student governor should leave the meeting, he will not be entitled to vote on or to participate in any discussion. Just in case they have left a loophole in the process, the regulations say that if no college regulations exist either way, it should be taken that the student governor should withdraw. If a person is not caught by condition one and somehow survives condition two, condition three will catch him.

But the Government, true to their nature, are not happy with conditions one, two and three. They have introduced a fourth condition, just in case there is a loophole. Regulation 4(4) concludes by saying that a college can add further restrictions, whatever their nature, if it so wishes.

The Government have given no justification for such restrictions on student governors. We look forward to hearing from the Minister. I have looked to see whether any press releases have come from Elizabeth house to tell us what justification there is for such regulations, but so far there has been none. Student governors are simply to be excluded.

The Government say that student governors can participate, like any other governor, as long as the decisions do not concern staff and finance. I have spent a lot of time trying to see what decisions of any merit or substance will not have staffing or financial implications. I am prepared to give way to any Conservative Member who can come forward with an example that would fall outside those categories. I do not see any volunteers, but I see many Conservative Members thinking hard for an example. But, of course, they are the supporters of the legislation. All that they want to do is effectively exclude student governors from all participation in governing bodies. In reality, one can hardly think of a decision of merit or substance that will not fall within staffing or finance.

Why the change? We wait to hear the Minister. There is no justification in argument so far, and there is no justification in practice either. Many institutions in Britain allow students to participate in those decisions. I do not believe that a queue of polytechnic directors or further education principals has been knocking on the door of the Department of Education and Science to say that they want to get rid of their student governors. Perhaps the Minister will tell us of those who have made that point. I suspect that they may knock on the door of Elizabeth house for other reasons, but not necessarily to get rid of student governors.

If we want a practical example we can look at Leeds polytechnic, in my constituency. That is a good polytechnic where the practice of student governors has continued for a number of years without difficulty or complaint. The director supports the practice. The students union is desperately worried about why it is to excluded from the process of government. Why change arrangements that have worked for many years?

The result of the regulations is that we shall simply turn students into second-class citizens. They will be asked to keep quiet. The educational and political argument for student governors and participation has always been based on three premises. First, it is good in educational terms that students should have the right to participate in the decisions that affect their institutions. Secondly, it is good that it provides practice in responsibility and citizenship. What sort of practice and responsibility will people gain from provisions that say that they cannot participate in the vast majority of important decisions? Thirdly—this is an argument that ran for a long time in the 1960s and 1970s and is still relevant—the process of student participation provides good management and good practice for the institution. That is the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery). Without that involvement students will not feel that it is their institution and that they have the right to influence it.

The Government have turned against good practice and principles that have been established and have run for many years. They have done so without justification, but with the clear result that students will be turned into second-class citizens. We see no reason or justification for that, and that is why we shall be voting against the regulations tonight. The Labour party, above all other political parties, believes in democracy and participation and in allowing our young people the full rights of citizenship.

10.44 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Robert Jackson)

Of the regulations before us tonight, regulations 1 and 2 are routine. Regulation 3 is an extension of the principle of open government, requiring agendas, minutes and other papers—[Interruption.] It is clear from the speech made by the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) that he has not understood the regulations, so he should listen carefully as I lead him through them.

Regulation 3 requires agendas, minutes and other papers considered by governing bodies to be available at the institution for inspection by anyone who wishes to see them. The only papers excluded from that requirement are those that name individual students or teachers, or are otherwise confidential. Similar arrangements relating to the papers of school governing bodies have been in force since 1981. We are now extending them to further education institutions. The system has worked well with schools. Governing bodies rely for their vitality on the support and interest of the communities that they serve, and I am sure that the House will support the principle that their proceedings should be open to those communities. I want to stress that element of the regulations.

Regulation 4 is the one on which the hon. Member for Leeds, Central has concentrated his fire. It contains provisions restricting the participation of student governors in the discussion of certain topics connected with finance and staffing. Let me emphasise, as the hon. Gentleman has clearly misunderstood the regulations, that student governors will have full rights of participation in the discussion of any other matter. We have confined the restrictions to instances in which they are reasonable and necessary, as I propose to show. The Government have no wish to diminish the role that student governors can play in the great bulk of the business with which governing bodies have to deal.

Regulation 4(2) prevents governors under the age of 18 from voting — I emphasise the word "voting" — on proposals concerning the expenditure of money by the governing body, or on proposals under which the governing body or any members of it would enter into any contract, or would incur any debt or liabilities. The hon. Member for Leeds, Central has asked why we are doing that. As a matter of law, minors cannot normally enter into binding contracts. We believe, therefore, that their votes should not count when matters of expenditure, contract, debt or liability are at issue. However, there is nothing in the regulations to prevent student governors under the age of 18 from participating in discussion of such matters. I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. And, of course, student governors over the age of 18 will have full rights. That seems eminently reasonable to me.

Regulation 4(3) is the one that has incurred the hon. Gentleman's particular ire. It restricts the participation of all student governors in meetings of the governing body at which the item under discussion—the hon. Member for Leeds, Central should listen carefully, as this is a crucial point which he has misunderstood — relates to the appointment, remuneration, conditions of service, promotion, suspension, dismissal or retirement of an individual member or prospective member of staff. If the instrument of government permits any one member of the governing body to require the withdrawal of a student governor from the discussion of those topics, and if such a request is made, he must withdraw.

If the governors have that right but none exercise it, the student may stay to hear the discussion, but may not speak or vote. In the absence of such a provision, which it is open to the institution to make, the student must withdraw from any discussion of those topics.

We recognise, just as the hon. Member for Leeds, Central does, the value of student participation in governing bodies. Like him, we believe that it is of benefit both to the institution, by directly involving the students, and to the students themselves, for whom it is good training. But there is an overriding principle— that of confidentiality, and, it might almost be said, of natural justice. Staff responsible for the teaching, assessment and examination of students would be put in an invidious position if those same students were able to speak, and even to vote, on matters concerning the conditions of service, promotion, suspension or dismissal of those individual members of staff.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

The previous regulations allowed students to participate in financial matters and in debates on all subjects. Can the Minister give us one example of a college that has been drawn to his attention where there has been a major problem? When we debated the Education (No. 2) Act 1986, from which the regulations come, nobody showed us any examples of problems that existed.

Mr. Jackson

It is important to clarify the position and to establish it firmly in the instruments of government. Those points were made and they were accepted in the debates that took place here and in another place when the policy that underlies these regulations was debated in 1986. Several noble Lords and the former hon. Member for Cambridgeshire, North-East, Mr. Freud spoke from their experience of the higher education world and testified to the normality of the sort of restriction envisaged in the regulations. Therefore, I cannot accept the view of the hon. Member for Leeds, Central that the regulations will put back the clock. They will merely consolidate the existing position.

Mr. Fatchett


Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. The Minister has the Floor.

Mr. Jackson

The principle of the withdrawal of institutional governors during the discussion of staffing matters is not new, nor is it confined to students. The instruments of government of most polytechnics and colleges already provide in some way for the withdrawal of student governors in such circumstances, and they also commonly require staff governors to withdraw from governing body discussions about the appointment, promotion, suspension, dismissal or retirement of a member of staff—

Mr. Fatchett


Mr. Jackson

The hon. Gentleman should listen to my point.

As I have said, they often require staff governors to withdraw when there is a discussion relating to a member of staff in a post that is senior or equal to that of a staff governor. There is nothing new there. The restriction on the participation of staff governors is not regarded as contentious. Nobody complains about that. There are no claims that they are not able to take a proper role in governing bodies because of that restriction, and I believe that the same is true of the restriction on the participation of student governors.

Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)


Mr. Jackson

I emphasise that the regulations do not prevent student governors from playing a full part in discussions about staffing levels in general.

Mr. Fatchett


Mr. Jackson

The hon. Gentleman should listen to what I am saying rather than seek to interrupt me. At no stage has the hon. Gentleman understood the central purpose of the regulations. The basic point is that students will be able to participate in discussions of a general character about staffing matters, closures and reorganisations of departments. The restriction applies only to personal matters involving individual named members of staff such as I have described. The hon. Member for Leeds, Central was confusing those points out of either malice — I had better not accuse him of that — or a simple misunderstanding. It is absurd for the hon. Gentleman to seek to say that this limited restriction makes students second-class citizens. He does no service to the cause of student governors to make that point.

Mr. Fatchett

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Jackson

The hon. Gentleman has had his chance to make his speech. Let me make mine.

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central alleged that there was inadequate consultation before the regulations were made. He made much of that, but he will not let me deal with it. The regulations were shown in draft to the local authority associations, which had no observations on them. We did not consult more widely because the regulations had been debated during the passage of the Education (No. 2) Act 1986. We believed them to be based on accepted principles. I refer the hon. Gentleman to the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Mr. Patten) who was the Minister of State, Department of Education and Science when the matter was going through the House.

The regulations apply only to maintained further education institutions. They form part of the present scheme of governance of those institutions as required by the Education (No. 2) Act 1968.

The forthcoming legislation to reform education will reconstitute the polytechnics and colleges. The governing bodies will have a central role. They will have much more responsibility. The institutions will have to make new articles of government which will require the approval of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. We will be looking carefully to see whether it would be appropriate to apply to the new sector of higher education provisions similar to those in the regulations now before the House. We shall be consulting widely about that at the appropriate time. We shall take careful account of the points made in tonight's debate when we draw up those regulations.

I believe that the regulations are well founded and I ask the House to reject the prayer for their annulment.

10.54 pm
Mr. Paddy Ashdown (Yeovil)

The House will note and recall that the Minister refused to give way on a number of perfectly legitimate questions on which we sought clarification, and to which the Minister might have provided an answer in the middle of his speech. However, knowing the way in which Front-Bench Members of this Government behave, I have no confidence that, if I were to ask a question now, it would be answered at the end of the debate.

I shall ask the questions that I was hoping to ask but it will not pass the notice of the House that the Minister once again refused to give way to several legitimate interventions. That characterises the attitude that he has taken over the regulations whenever he has been questioned about them, whether by the National Union of Students or any other body. It is indicative of the arrogance and lack of consultation that has characterised the way in which the Government have pushed through their so-called consultation paper. —[Interruption.] No doubt those Conservative Members who are sniggering are among those who would regard this as a matter of not very great importance. [Interruption.] Madam Deputy Speaker, we have a limited amount of time and the more that Conservative Members interrupt me — [Interruption]—Conservative Members are causing me to spend longer making my speech than I otherwise might. If I were to be given a modicum of silence, I might be able to get through my speech and they might have the chance to make their speeches.

The hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) said that he wished that his hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw) had been making the speech. I rather wish that my predecessor, Clement Freud, had been making this speech because he moved for the representation of student governors.

The issue of consultation is important. It strikes at the heart of the representation of student governors on governing bodies. As the Minister suggested, it may be that some governing bodies follow a practice similar to that which he is proposing in this legislation. However, there is a great deal of difference between a governing body taking decisions which it thinks are appropriate to its institution and the Minister enshrining the legislation in such a way that it could be changed only by Parliament. He knows that there is a great deal of difference there, and it is typical of the centralisation that the Government have sought to impose that he will not leave such decisions to governing bodies, but will prescribe and dictate what will happen from the centre. Moreover he does so without any consultation with those affected.

The question that I was going to ask the Minister, and which perhaps the Minister who replies will be kind enough to answer, is: how many requests—I should like a precise figure — has he received from directors of polytechnics or governing bodies to have the legislation that he is proposing put into practice? If there were a case for student governors not having access to information about, for example, staff appointments, one would assume that the directors of polytechnics would be the first to make it. I believe that there has probably been none, but, if there have been any, I shall be interested to hear of them. How many requests for such legislation have the Government received? It is on the answer to that question that many of us will be able to judge the Government's attitude to this matter.

I am not opposed to parts of the legislation. For example, the part that requires documents to be placed in the public domain is probably to be welcomed. In so far as that contributes to some kind of open government, it is welcome to us. However, I differ with the Minister on his remarks about any matter which is of a confidential nature. That is not exactly what the regulations state. They refer to any matter which,. … the governing body are satisfied should be dealt with on a confidential basis. That is very different, given the fact that the majority of those on governing bodies are, in effect, to be the Secretary of State's nominees. That definition is far too broad and open to abuse in a way that will perhaps diminish further the rights of student governors.

As the Minister said, the main question is whether student governors should from time to time and for one reason or another be excluded. I do not question the idea that one might wish to exclude student governors under 18 from voting on decisions which have financial implica-tions. The suggestions on that point of the hon. Member for Leeds, Central were interesting though complex, and, while I am not sure I could go along with his proposals, they are worth considering.

The Minister said that student governors could be excluded in relation to the conditions of service, promotion, suspension, dismissal or retirement of a named member, but that is not what the instrument says. It refers simply to "a member", not "an individual member" or "a named member".

When one thinks of the Government's education proposals that will soon be placed before the House, one must conclude that scarcely one of them relating to higher or further education will not involve, in general, matters relating to the engagement, retirement, dismissal or conditions of service of employees. If that is a general catch-all provision, we are right to oppose it. If, on the other hand, the Minister is amending that—in view of his remarks tonight — and is saying that these conditions, when enacted, can require a student governor to withdraw only in the case of a named individual member of staff, we would regard that as a matter of a profoundly different nature. The Minister's comments on that when he replies to the debate will determine the attitude of many of us.

The present wording of the proposals represents a catch-all provision which will cause student governors to be removed and their legitimate opinions to be isolated and not heard on all matters of importance that are likely to be considered by governing bodies in the forthcoming discussions on the Education Bill—a measure which will change fundamentally further and higher education in this country.

It will be noted outside the House that the Government are now seeking to act to remove the only representatives on governing bodies who are elected, remembering that all the others are appointed — and appointed by the Secretary of State. The only representatives on governing bodies who are accountable to and have the mandate of an electorate are those whose powers the Government now seek to diminish. Once again the Government are acting against the individual's exercise of democracy.

Mr. Michael Latham (Rutland and Melton)

Is the hon. Gentleman seriously saying that a student in his last term should take part in deciding whether a member of staff should be sacked?

Mr. Ashdown

That is the type of decision that can be taken by the governing body concerned. If that body, as a majority, decides that a student should not be present, so be it, and that is the position now. I see no reason for legislation on that, I see no reason why such a decision should not be taken by the governing body and I see no reason why a student governor, under those or any other circumstances, should be prevented from giving his views on the basis of one, perhaps capricious, objection. I see no fairness, justice or reason in such a step.

As usual, whenever there is a chance to diminish individual rights, the Government take it ; whenever there is a chance to go backwards and be regressive, the Government take it ; and whenever there is a chance to diminish the capacity for consultation and partnership, the Government take it. The Government claim that this is all being done in the name of freedom. In fact, this is a mean and petty-minded measure which will damage student participation, cause students sometimes to take their grievances out of governing bodies and take them elsewhere into the campus, with damaging consequences, and do neither education nor the Government any good.

11.4 pm

Mr. Peter Griffiths (Portsmouth, North)

The regulations are something of a curate's egg. There are parts that I commend, parts that I do not particularly commend but recognise that the Government have little choice but to accept as being forced upon them by the legal position, and parts that I dislike intensely. I am much in favour of the regulations that ensure that, so far as is reasonable, there shall be a full flow of information about what is happening within educational institutions to those inside and outside educational institutions who, for legitimate reasons, may need to know.

I am concerned also, as other hon. Members have been, about the way in which the regulations deal with governors. We are creating not two but three classes of governors. There will be those who are appointed to a governing body with full powers, those over the age of 18, who are elected as student governors but will be restricted and forced to withdraw when certain matters are discussed, and those who, because they are under 18, will he prevented from voting on key financial issues. The Minister may have cast his eye over the correspondence that I had with his predecessors at the time of the last education legislation dealing with the issue.

In the case of polytechnics, the problem regarding the age of student governors is not too serious. Students enrol at the age of 18, so all student governors will fall into the second category. However, in colleges of further education and technical colleges, many students are under the age of 18. If they are to participate at all, they will fall into the third category — that is, the group who will have the least right to express their views in the governing body. I fear that the result of that will be that many potential student governors will say, "I shall not take part. If I am not to be a real governor, I do not want to be some kind of token." We have had too much tokenism, and we do not want it in that regard. It will also mean that it will be difficult for student bodies in colleges of further education, in which the bulk of students are below the age of 18, to be properly represented.

We must also remember—this point has not yet been made—that student governors over the age of 18 might well be extremely responsible, mature students. They may he older than other members of a governing body. For example, I find it difficult to understand why a man with a career who goes back later in life to serve as a governor at the same time as being a polytechnic student, should be restricted as though, in some way, he is immature or likely to be irresponsible with the information that he obtains.

I presume that the regulations will be adopted, but the Minister should take on board the fact that it is not only the National Union of Students that is unhappy. The strongest representations have been made to me by the chairman of governors of a college of technology in the midlands. He made these points and asked that they be drawn to the attention of the House. It is not only students who are complaining but those who want to see their college communities represented on governing bodies. If we suggest to students that, in some way, they are to be second or third-class governors, they will not consider themselves to be part of the college community in the fullest sense. That is the tragedy of the regulations.

11.8 pm

Mr. Martin Flannery (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

The hon. Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) made a thoughtful contribution, and I hope that the Minister will examine it.

The hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) deplored the fact that the Minister would not give way to any hon. Member. The answer is obvious. The Minister is unsure of himself. He just does not know the regulations, and nor do many Conservative Members. The Minister has not read them. For instance, he missed one of the most fundamental points and referred to three other points.

Regulation 4(1) provides that under certain conditions restrictions can be prescribed. Paragraph (3) gives the conditions under which a student can be removed. Regulation 4(4) states: The instrument of government for a relevant institution may contain provisions specifying restrictions on the participation of student governors in the proceedings of the governing body of the institution additional to those imposed by paragraphs (2) and (3) above. There is a catch-all regulation that has been noticed by the National Union of Students, which, like every other organisation, has its lawyers who have gone through the regulations. The NUS, having given all the points that are relevant to what is happening to the students and having pointed out that democracy was being stifled, put it neatly when it said: NUS is obviously worried that if students are excluded from the legitimate decision-making structure of the college, they may choose other, less constructive, mechanisms of ensuring their voice is heard. That is what it is being invited to do, because democracy functions at that level. The NUS said about regulation 4(4): Furthermore, the regulations contain an additional clause for governing bodies to introduce additional restrictions on student representation as they see fit. That is a catch-all regulation that will totally undermine student representation. Having set out in the regulations those reasons, some silly and some specious, one says to oneself, "Why in heaven's name do they do this?" The hon. Member for Yeovil touched on that when he said, "Why do things that take us way, way back and replace procedures that have been tested previously and have been proved to be workable?" Such conduct only enrages those honourable people who are elected students. Many of the governors are not elected. It is wrong to take such draconian measures and then say at the end in the most insulting manner, "If we have not got you out, there are additional catch-all provisions under which you will he got out." The Government ought to look at such a draconian measure because it is not on.

11.12 pm
Mr. James Pawsey (Rugby and Kenilworth)

I thought that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) overstated his case. I listened to what he said and I assumed that he was quoting from an NUS document when he said that there was a possibility of students adopting a less constructive method of participation. I hope that that will not be the case, because students will be in a stronger position than has been implied in the debate. I thought that the hon. Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett) over-egged the pudding when he said that we were returning students to the mid-1950s. In the mid-1950s, the powers of students were minimal and I do not think that we are going down anything like that road.

We are invited this evening to pray against the statutory instrument, but if we do we will vote against the publication of minutes and papers as set out in regulation (3) — the agenda, the draft minutes, any report, documents and other papers considered at such meetings. It is to be regretted that we are being invited to vote against those entirely worthwhile provisions. If we vote down the prayer, it will be a vote against openness. While glasnost might be popular in the Soviet Union, it does not seem to be popular on the Opposition Benches.

Regulation 4(3) excited the attention of the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), he raised the matter of the names of individuals. Paragraph 4(3) states: the subject of discussion is the appointment, remuneration, conditions of service, promotion, suspension, dismissal or retirement of a member or prospective member of the staff". That seems to get down to the individual and that answers the point raised by the hon. Member for Yeovil. If he requires further clarification, my hon. Friend the Minister may say a word or two about that when he replies.

I believe that we have returned to the individual and specific case. Paragraph 4(3) restricts the participation of the student governor only when we are referring to specifics. Members of staff have a right to confidentiality when discussing their particular and specific pay and conditions, just as much as anyone else.

Student governors will still be able to play a major part in a wide range of other matters. For example, they will be able to participate in discussions on staffing levels and the reorganisation of departments. I stress that point to the hon. Member for Leeds, Central. Students will have a major part to play in the running of their institutions. That is why I believe that the hon. Member for Hillsborough was wrong to say that it is necessary for students to look for other methods of participation.

Paragraph 4(2) is fair since, whether or not those under 18 are students, they are unable to enter into legal and binding agreements that are enforceable at law. Once we accept that, it is unreasonable that students should vote and commit governors on financial matters. Again, if the hon. Member for Leeds, Central feels that students should be allowed to speak and vote on financial matters as they affect governing bodies even though they are minors in law, why does he not go the whole hog and say that minors should be able to enter into legal and binding agreements enforceable at law? Clearly no one would argue for that and I have perhaps taken that case beyond its logical conclusion.

The regulations are fair and I hope that the House will reject the Opposition prayer tonight.

11.17 pm
Ms. Hilary Armstrong (Durham, North-West)

The logic of the regulations defies comprehension. The regulations are petty, and most of all they demonstrate a lamentable lack of knowledge on the Government's part of the good practice in institutions of further and higher education. They also show that the Government have no sensitivity and very little understanding of the process of education. To state that mature students and people who have been working and living within an institution should take part in all the decisions does not necessarily mean that they should have the majority. However, they should take part in the decisions and accept a level of responsibility; that is the essence of any educational and democratic process. Obviously the Minister is frightened of that.

When the Minister suggests that the position with regard to staff governors is similar to that described in the regulations, that shows that he has not understood the regulations with respect to staff governors. They are not allowed to vote when they have a personal interest. In other words, they cannot vote when they may be promoted because of the advancement or demotion of another member of staff. Students are not in that position, and will not be in that position. Therefore, the only rationale that the Minister offered the House is bogus. He has demonstrated his lack of understanding of what has enabled those of us who have worked in higher and further education to develop good practice and take responsibility for the decisions in which students are involved.

I ask the Minister to give us some rationale and to reconsider the matter. He has an opportunity to demonstrate that he understands these matters, and that he has some sympathy for the process. I hope that he changes his mind.

11.19 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish)

The Government and the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey) chided us for not welcoming regulation 3, which led to this call for far more openness. One of our reasons for not doing so is that the provisions already exist in local government legislation. However, we are pleased that the provisions are included in these regulations, but that is about all that we can say for them.

I welcome the fact that the Minister said that he would be consulting widely with higher education institutions about students' representatives on governing bodies. It is odd that he is prepared to do that, yet he was not prepared to consult widely about regulations relating to the larger number of students in further education colleges.

The Government have double-crossed students and the House. In the Education (No.2) Act 1986 the Government said that they wanted to remove student governors under the age of 18 from these bodies. Strong representations were made by students and hon. Members that that change was unnecessary. With the pressure of time in the House, the Government agreed to the concession to keep student governors under the age of 18 years on FE institutions. The Government's original intention of removing student governors under that age from these bodies will be implemented by the introduction of these mean regulations.

In 1986 the Government could not and still cannot give any examples of how, over the past 20 years, the participation of student governors in these matters has led to any problems. No one can give an example of litigation against a college because of a problem about who took a decision within the governing body and whether it involved someone under the age of 18. I challenge the Minister to give us an example from the past 20 years. If he can, at least we will feel that he has a shred of evidence on his side: so far I cannot find any.

I am worried that students may lose the opportunity to vote on financial matters. Further, I am concerned that the regulations appear to be misleading about staff. The Minister said that he was referring to individual staff, but that is not what the regulations say. I hope that he will clarify that point when he winds up the debate.

I suspect that the regulations are not clear, because of a major problem. With regard to a particular contraction within a college or department, how do we know whether the individual is concerned as an individual or as the head of the department? It is extremely difficult to decide whether the regulations refer to the individual or the post that he occupies.

The danger of these regulations is that student governors will feel that they are only on these bodies to choose the colour of the paint. Presumably, if the Conservative party had its way they would be able to choose any colour as long as it was blue.

The regulations demonstrate the Government's fundamental attitude towards democracy — there is an election every four or five years and, as a result, the Government can exercise autocratic power. We argue that if one genuinely believes in democracy one must encourage people at all levels to participate. It is essential to have consensus about the running of colleges for students, staff and the local community. That consensus will be achieved by encouraging all concerned to participate as equals in the debate and argument on policy, not to offer one individual the chance to veto whether a student can even remain at a meeting, which seems to be weighting the balance of power within a governing body against students.

Some of my hon. Friends have suggested that conflict may return to the student communities at colleges. Let us consider the record. In the period when students were not represented on governing bodies, there was far more conflict and student views were expressed as a result of sit-ins and other activities. As student representation on governing bodies was steadily increased such activities declined. Now, if one visits colleges, more often than not, principals make the point that the student representatives are vital to the government of colleges because they represent an extremely good way of passing on information and arriving at consensus with, and obtaining consent from, students.

That good practice should not be ruined by the Government's doctrinaire attitude that one cannot trust students. I hope that the House will approve the prayer and that the Government will return with new regulations that will enable studens to continue to play a major, active role in the government of FE institutions.

11.25 pm
Mr. Jackson

This has been a lively and interesting debate. I believe that there has been an underlying current of agreement between all sides.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) has repeated the exaggerations and misrepresentations of his hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, Central (Mr. Fatchett), whose remarks were designed to obscure the extent of agreement. When the hon. Member for Leeds, Central was speaking, I thought that we were faced with a genuine muddle rooted in intellectual confusion. However, from the speech of the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish, it is clear that that muddle is deliberate and that it is rooted in the politics of opposition for opposition's sake.

My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North (Mr. Griffiths) made a thoughtful and significant contribution to the debate. I must tell him that under-18s will be able to participate fully in the governing of further education colleges. The only restriction upon them is that they may not vote in those limited instances where a matter of contract, debt or liability is involved. My hon. Friend was concerned that they should be able to participate, and I repeat that nothing in the regulations will touch their right to do so.

My hon. Friend the Member for Portsmouth, North also said — it was taken up by the hon. Member for Durham, North-West Ms. Armstrong) — that the student governors may be mature students, and, indeed, older than the staff. The point at issue is not the age of students, but their status in relation to members of staff. I believe that that represents perfectly reasonable grounds on which to proceed.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Flannery) complained about paragraph 4(4) which specifies that instruments of government may contain further restrictions beyond those that are envisaged or have been discussed. Opposition Members cannot say that this matter should be left to the institutions and their instruments of government and, at the same time, complain when provisions are made in legislation to enable them to do precisely that.

Mr. Ashdown

It is forcing them.

Mr. Jackson

On the speech of the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown), I must make a point of clarification. I used the word "individual" to make absolutely clear, by way of a gloss the meaning of the regulation which uses the singular article "a", as in "a member". My intention was simply to make clear—the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish made the same point and it is what the Opposition want to obscure and represents their muddle, exaggeration and misunderstanding — that the restriction we are talking about is a limited one designed to protect the individual rights of members of staff. Indeed, the hon. Member for Yeovil spoke about individual rights.

Mr. Ashdown

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Jackson

I must press on, as this is a timed debate.

The hon. Member for Denton and Reddish asked how many requests we had had from institutions. This is a matter of public knowledge and we had a debate about it in relation to the Education (No. 2) Act 1986.

Let me remind hon. Members of the provision in the Act which states that the participation of any student of such an institution who is a member of the governing body may be excluded in certain circumstances. That was well known at the time, and the Opposition accepted that amendment to the Act without debate or division.

It has been said that I have not spoken to students about this matter. I assure the hon. Member for Yeovil (Mr. Ashdown) that I have had extensive discussions with students in many institutions about it. The hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten that, in 1986, Mr. Clement Freud, whose absence the hon. Gentleman said he regretted—he may regret it more now—said: When I was rector of Dundee university, students sat on the court of the university. They did not have a vote and, rightly, were not involved when we discussed staff misdemeanours or salaries." — [Official Report, 10 June 1986; Vol. 99, c. 204.] So Mr. Freud was right, and the hon. Member for Yeovil is wrong. He should have studied the background to the debate before making his speech tonight.

It being half-past Eleven o'clock, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER put the Question, pursuant to Standing Order No. 15 (Prayers against statutory instruments, &c. (negative procedure) ).

The House divided: Ayes 147, Noes 200.

Division No. 73] [11.30 pm
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Fisher, Mark
Allen, Graham Flannery, Martin
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Flynn, Paul
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Foster, Derek
Ashdown, Paddy Foulkes, George
Ashton, Joe Fyfe, Mrs Maria
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Galloway, George
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) George, Bruce
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Godman, Dr Norman A.
Battle, John Golding, Mrs Llin
Beckett, Margaret Gordon, Ms Mildred
Beith, A. J. Gould, Bryan
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Bermingham, Gerald Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Boyes, Roland Hardy, Peter
Bradley, Keith Henderson, Douglas
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Hinchliffe, David
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Holland, Stuart
Buchan, Norman Home Robertson, John
Buckley, George Howarth, George (Knowsley N)
Caborn, Richard Howells, Geraint
Callaghan, Jim Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Canavan, Dennis Hughes, Simon (Southwark)
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Illsley, Eric
Clay, Bob Ingram, Adam
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Janner, Greville
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Corbett, Robin Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Cousins, Jim Kennedy, Charles
Cox, Tom Kirkwood, Archy
Crowther, Stan Livsey, Richard
Cryer, Bob Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Cummings, J. Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Cunliffe, Lawrence McAllion, John
Cunningham, Dr John McAvoy, Tom
Darling, Alastair McCartney, Ian
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Macdonald, Calum
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'I) McFall, John
Dewar, Donald McKay, Allen (Penistone)
Dixon, Don McKelvey, William
Dobson, Frank McLeish, Henry
Doran, Frank Madden, Max
Duffy, A. E. P. Mahon, Mrs Alice
Dunnachie, James Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Eastham, Ken Martin, Michael (Springburn)
Evans, John (St Helens N) Martlew, Eric
Fatchett, Derek Maxton, John
Faulds, Andrew Meale, Alan
Fearn, Ronald Michael, Alun
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Millan, Rt Hon Bruce
Morgan, Rhodri Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Morley, Elliott Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Mowlam, Mrs Marjorie Soley, Clive
Mullin, Chris Spearing, Nigel
Murphy, Paul Steel, Rt Hon David
Nellist, Dave Straw, Jack
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
O'Brien, William Vaz, Keith
Patchett, Terry Wall, Pat
Pendry, Tom Wallace, James
Pike, Peter Walley, Ms Joan
Primarolo, Ms Dawn Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Quin, Ms Joyce Wilson, Brian
Redmond, Martin Winnick, David
Roberts, Allan (Bootle) Wise, Mrs Audrey
Robertson, George Wray, James
Robinson, Geoffrey Young, David (Bolton SE)
Rooker, Jeff
Rowlands, Ted Tellers for the Ayes:
Ruddock, Ms Joan Mr. Frank Haynes and
Sedgemore, Brian Mr. Frank Cook.
Skinner, Dennis
Aitken, Jonathan Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Alexander, Richard Dover, Den
Allason, Rupert Dunn, Bob
Amess, David Dykes, Hugh
Amos, Alan Eggar, Tim
Arbuthnot, James Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Evennett, David
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Fallon, Michael
Ashby, David Farr, Sir John
Atkins, Robert Favell, Tony
Atkinson, David Fenner, Dame Peggy
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Forman, Nigel
Baldry, Tony Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Batiste, Spencer Forth, Eric
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Fox, Sir Marcus
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Franks, Cecil
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Freeman, Roger
Boswell, Tim French, Douglas
Bottomley, Peter Garel-Jones, Tristan
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Gill, Christopher
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Goodhart, Sir Philip
Bowis, John Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bright, Graham Gorst, John
Brooke, Hon Peter Gow, Ian
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Greenway, John (Rydale)
Buck, Sir Antony Gregory, Conal
Budgen, Nicholas Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Burns, Simon Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Burt, Alistair Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Butcher, John Hampson, Dr Keith
Butler, Chris Hanley, Jeremy
Butterfill, John Hannam, John
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'Il Gr')
Carrington, Matthew Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Carttiss, Michael Harris, David
Cash, William Haselhurst, Alan
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hayes, Jerry
Chapman, Sydney Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Chope, Christopher Hayward, Robert
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Heathcoat-Amory, David
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Hind, Kenneth
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Holt, Richard
Cope, John Hordern, Sir Peter
Cran, James Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Curry, David Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Irvine, Michael
Day, Stephen Jack, Michael
Devlin, Tim Jackson, Robert
Dickens, Geoffrey Janman, Timothy
Dorrell, Stephen Jessel, Toby
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Jopling, Rt Hon Michael Nicholson, Miss E. (Devon W)
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Page, Richard
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Paice, James
Kirkhope, Timothy Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Knapman, Roger Patnick, Irvine
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Pawsey, James
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Porter, David (Waveney)
Knowles, Michael Portillo, Michael
Lang, Ian Powell, William (Corby)
Latham, Michael Price, Sir David
Lawrence, Ivan Raffan, Keith
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Rathbone, Tim
Lightbown, David Redwood, John
Lilley, Peter Renton, Tim
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Rhodes James, Robert
Lord, Michael Riddick, Graham
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Macfarlane, Neil Roe, Mrs Marion
MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire) Rossi, Sir Hugh
Maclean, David Sackville, Hon Tom
McLoughlin, Patrick Sayeed, Jonathan
McNair-Wilson, M. (Newbury) Shaw, David (Dover)
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Malins, Humfrey Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Mans. Keith Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Marlow, Tony Shersby, Michael
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Sims, Roger
Maude, Hon Francis Skeet, Sir Trevor
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Speed, Keith
Miller, Hal Spicer, Jim (Dorset W)
Mills, Iain Stanbrook, Ivor
Miscampbell, Norman Stewart, Andrew (Sherwood)
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Mitchell, David (Hants NW) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Monro, Sir Hector Thurnham, Peter
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Waddington, Rt Hon David
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Widdecombe, Miss Ann
Morrison, Hon P (Chester) Wiggin, Jerry
Moss, Malcolm
Needham, Richard Tellers for the
Nelson, Anthony Mr. Tony Durant and
Neubert, Michael Mr. Richard Ryder

Question accordingly negatived.

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