HC Deb 01 February 1994 vol 236 cc734-5
8. Mr. Riddick

To ask the Secretary of State for Education what representations he has received concerning the proposed changes to student unions.

Mr. Boswell

My right hon. Friend has received about 1,300 representations since the Education Bill was introduced.

Mr. Riddick

Will my hon. Friend confirm that thousands of students wish to have the freedom to decide for themselves whether to belong to a student union? Does not this contrast with the complacency and—dare I say it? —the arrogance of some vice-chancellors, some peers and several Opposition Members, who think that the principle of voluntary membership is not important? Will my hon. Friend improve the Education Bill by making it spell out the voluntary principle more clearly so that we may abolish the student union closed shop once and for all?

Mr. Boswell

The House may have noticed, in relation to an answer that I gave a moment ago, that the number of representations on this matter is running marginally ahead of the number of those concerning student support. One of the interesting representations is that of my hon. Friend. I can confirm that we are determined, through our Bill, to secure the principles of choice, democracy and accountability and to ensure that these are universally observed in the activities of student unions. That we shall do.

Mrs. Anne Campbell

Has the Minister considered the representations from organisations such as Student Community Action in my constituency of Cambridge, which does an enormous amount of good work in the community? Does not he think that, in their educational experience, students derive enormous advantage from helping such charities? Or does he care?

Mr. Boswell

As one of the Members of Parliament who have been active in student affairs in the past, I can confirm that our intention is not to frustrate student services or the proper carrying out of student activities. What I regret is the way in which a number of people, whether by accident or by intention, have caricatured our proposals, suggesting that they may, in some way, curtail those activities. We are providing a mechanism for the proper control of public funds. It will be open to institutions to fund activities.

Dr. Spink

Is my hon. Friend aware that my constituents who are taxpayers do not want to see their money spent by student unions on politically motivated campaigns? Does he agree that Labour Members are unelectable as a Government while they think that taxpayers' money should so be so used?

Mr. Boswell

Yes; my hon. Friend holes in one.