HL Deb 09 November 1960 vol 226 cc403-5

2.58 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that, at a recent meeting in Coventry addressed by General Norstad, Supreme Allied Commander, Europe, rowdy and unruly elements intervened for the purpose of sabotaging the meeting, the main disturbance coming from students of a local teachers' training college; furthermore, if it is possible for the Government to ensure that disciplinary action is taken against those responsible on this or any other similar occasion in the future.]


My Lords, it is true that a number of training college students attended the recent meeting in Coventry addressed by General Norstad at which disturbances took place. Such students as actually took part in the disturbances were by no means the only source of the trouble, but this does not excuse their gross discourtesy to a distinguished visitor to the city. I understand that the students' union of the college has publicly dissociated itself from the incident.

Responsibility for the discipline of students rests, as it clearly must, with college authorities, and my right honourable friend the Minister of Education believes that he would not normally be justified in intervening. At Coventry, the principal of the college has taken the action which she considers necessary, and my right honourable friend hopes that the incident will be regarded as closed.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for his full reply and for certain gratifying features of the reply, and while I fully appreciate the difficulty of specific action against anyone at all, I wonder whether the noble Lord would not agree that we face a situation in which individuals can enter the teaching profession and not only use their influence to do what they can to sabotage the Western Alliance but, more than that, by their behaviour indicate that they are declared enemies of their own country. In view of that, does it not call for the introduction of some system of scrutiny of those who enter the teaching profession, which profession plays such a vital part in the life of our country?


My Lords, that seems to me to raise a much wider question. It seems to me that, so far as this particular case is concerned, the short answer is that students are students the world over. Although it is very regrettable that on this particular occasion they did not temper their exuberance with good manners, nevertheless I hope my noble friend and your Lordships will agree that it would not be satisfactory or welcome if my right honourable friend were to restrain the political activities of these, or indeed, any other, students.


My Lords, may we not hope that in this sort of question, whoever is the individual concerned who has been heckled, we shall all adhere to the ordinary rules of State with regard to free speech, and, on the other hand, for order in public meetings? We have it all within the law and administration. Why do we need this long debate?


My Lords, can the noble Lord tell me whether it is not the case that the action taken by the Principal had the full support of the Director of Education and the Chairman of the Board of Governors?


My Lords, I should not like to express a definite opinion about that, but I think the point is that the Principal of the college is formally charged with responsibility for the discipline of the college, and it is only through courtesy that she informs the governing body of the action she has taken in particular cases.


My Lords, having been present at this meeting, and having witnessed the deplorable behaviour of these young people, which lasted some 90 minutes, may I ask the noble Lord whether, if disciplinary action as such is not considered desirable, those in charge of the teachers' training college will re-emphasise to those who took part in those interruptions the importance of allowing free speech, even if they disagree with what is said?


My Lords, the question of administering discipline is a matter for the Principal. She has done what she deemed to be necessary, and I hope we may conclude from that that everyone in the college appreciates the importance of freedom of speech as much as your Lordships do.