HC Deb 07 January 2003 vol 397 c22
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Will the President of the Council make a statement on the exercise of his responsibilities as Visitor in respect of universities? [89173]

The President of the Council (Mr. Robin Cook)

As President of the Council, I exercise the role of Visitor in respect of 17 universities and colleges. In that capacity, I determine petitions from students and, occasionally, from staff who have exhausted all internal complaints and appeals procedures. I received 35 such petitions last year. None required a visit to the university concerned.

Mr. Bercow

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. Without casting any aspersions on his academic credentials as a product of Aberdeen grammar school and Edinburgh university, does he agree that his role as Visitor in respect of a number of universities is, following Bagehot, a dignified rather than an efficient part of our constitution? Dare I say that it might be a suitable subject for consideration for reform by the Modernisation Committee?

Mr. Cook

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for not calling into question my academic qualifications for the post, but I can assure him—I think this will bring him some relief—that we have reached agreement with the universities on the appointment of an independent adjudicator for students. It is our intention and that of the universities that the adjudicator will be up and running for the next university session. From then on, those cases referred to me and to the other Visitors will be referred to that independent adjudicator. That simple solution will ensure that we have a proper mechanism, but one that we have negotiated in agreement with the universities themselves.