Oral Answers to Questions — University Visitor Jurisdiction

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3 April 2001.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 12:00, 3 April 2001

If she will make a statement on her role in respect of the jurisdiction of visitor in respect of certain universities. [155215]

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I act, on the Queen's behalf, as visitor of 17 universities and colleges. I receive petitions mainly from students and former students with complaints or grievances who have exhausted the institutions' complaint or appeal procedures.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

The right hon. Lady says that she has responsibility for inspection, regulation and dispute settlement in respect of no fewer than 17 universities, which thankfully is five more than come under the aegis of the accident-prone Lord Chancellor. How many has she visited, how many have sought her agreement to changes in their constitutions and how many disputes has she been asked to settle? In respect of that last question, where conciliation is required, may I offer a helping hand?

Photo of Margaret Beckett Margaret Beckett Chair, Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee, Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Privy Council Office)

I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman off hand how many of the institutions I have visited. I doubt whether it is all that many. I cannot tell him from memory how many have sought changes to their constitutions, as there are frequent changes, but I can certainly write to him about that.

Last year, we dealt with 21 disputes. So far this year, there have been about a dozen.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his offer of mediation. I strongly support alternative dispute resolution methods. We are authorising cases under the pilot mediation scheme and are hopeful that some students will take that course rather than going straight to the formality of the present procedures.