HL Deb 18 October 1972 vol 335 cc1818-21

2.52 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 satisfied that security arrangements are adequate for the protection of Her Majesty The Queen when she attends public functions.


My Lords, I am sure your Lordships will join me in deploring the behaviour of a minority of students during Her Majesty's recent visit to Stirling University. Having studied the reports, my right honourable friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Scotland are satisfied that Her Majesty was not in danger. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary is in consultation with the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to see whether any lessons should be learned from this incident.


My Lords, while thanking my noble friend for that partially reassuring Answer, may I ask whether he is aware that there is very deep concern among all sections of the community that Her Majesty should on this occasion have been exposed to the drunken obscenities of a small group of students? Is he further aware that I find it difficult to understand how the least of our countrymen could be so offensive to a woman guest, leave alone the Queen, in these circumstances?

Will my noble friend answer these questions? What consultations had taken place with the University before the Royal visit was arranged to make sure that it was welcome? Had the University authorities consulted with the Students' Union to find out whether the Students' Union—that is, the great majority of students—wanted the Royal visit? If they did not want it, why was not the Palace advised that it would not be welcome? Alternatively, if it was wanted by the great majority of the students, why were not the decent feelings of the great majority of students strong enough to assert themselves to restrain the contemptuous behaviour of this small minority?


My Lords, I must say that I wish that the good manners to which my noble friend has referred, and which certainly prevail in this House, had been more in evidence on that occasion. I entirely share his views about it and I should think that they are the views of almost everybody in the British Isles. As for my noble friend's specific supplementary questions, the University authorities were consulted at every stage about the visit and its desirability, and they certainly welcomed it, as I think did the people of Stirling. The University authorities were in early touch with the President of the Students' Association Council who, it is true, said that there was a certain amount of opposition among the students to the visit. This information was communicated at once to the Palace and it was under constant consideration by the University authorities, by the Stirling and Clackmannan police force and by the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, as well as by the Palace.

The University authorities, I am informed, did their best, and were very largely successful, in ensuring that a wide degree of support was manifested for the Queen's visit; and that support was in fact in evidence throughout the greater part of her visit. The rowdies were at the back and they may have been making the noise, but those who warmly welcomed Her Majesty were at the front, and I think it is plain that it was only a very small, if extremely disagreeable, minority who were indulging in this unruly behaviour on that occasion. Nevertheless, it is right to say that the Queen was subjected to some very disagreeable behaviour. I have, however, been in touch with the Palace to-day, and I am glad to say that Her Majesty has said she was not unduly concerned by what happened to her. She dealt with the situation bravely and in her usual sound and splendid fashion.


My Lords, may I heartily endorse everything that has been said about the discourtesy to Her Majesty the Queen? We all regret it. But I do think it is important—




I would ask whether we do not agree that the basis of this incident was the objection of some students to a great deal of what they thought unnecessary expenditure and falsification of the environment of the University. May I also ask the Minister whether he does not think it a disservice to the Queen that whenever she agrees to appear on a public occasion there is this kind of expenditure? Would he not agree that it would be better if she could see a university or a housing scheme, or whatever it is, in its normal condition, rather than having a great deal of fuss and money expended in falsifying the environment before Her Majesty arrives?


My Lords, it has been said that certain expenditure was the pretext for this demonstration. To be truthful, having seen the reports, I believe that the rumours were grossly exaggerated. Whether or not this was the true pretext or whether it was that certain people just wished to make trouble, I should not like to say. I believe that it is a matter for the University authorities, who are at the present moment looking into the matter. As for expenditure and general arrangements for Her Majesty's visit, I do not think it is for Her Majesty's Government to enter into this directly, but I should inform the House that there was no particular false activity going on on that day. For instance, when Her Majesty went into the library there were students working there in their normal way, and other people in the University were taking part in their ordinary activi- ties right through the time that she was there, not demonstrating either for or against, but getting on with their work.


My Lords, is the noble Viscount aware that those of us who know the excellent work—and, incidentally, the good manners—of the bulk of the students of the universities of Britain regret that the National Union of Students, of which I happened to be a founder member over fifty years ago, has not been more forthcoming in its protest against the behaviour of a handful of louts in Stirling. In view of what the noble Baroness has said about expenditure, there are intelligent and proper ways of protesting about any expenditure of which a university union disapproves.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Maybray-King. First of all, it is indeed encouraging that there have poured in to Her Majesty the Queen not only apologies but letters of support, including a petition from 930 members of the University of Stirling, as well as support from the National Union of Students. Until rowdyism broke out, it was thought that the protests would take an entirely peaceful form, and it was on the basis of that that all the advice went forward, although indeed everybody was prepared for what subsequently occurred, and rightly prepared and dealt with it very well.


My Lords, since it is quite obvious that the over-whelming majority of people deplore this yahoo behaviour, and this is clearly the view of the majority of the people of Stirling and the students at Stirling University, would it not be better now if we just noted this rather unpleasant incident and forgot it? And would not Her Majesty prefer to forget it?


My Lords, I believe that we should prefer to treat it in that way, and I am very sure that Her Majesty would, too.