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Lord Geraint: My Lords, perhaps I may congratulate the Minister on the way in which he has conducted the Bill through the House. There is no doubt in my mind that the noble Earl knows his subject inside out. I should like to thank him for being a very good listener and for being very sympathetic to our views.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of considering the 1976 Act (when I was a Member of the other place) as well as the Act that was passed in the 1980s. Many mistakes were made in the 1970s and 1980s, but here we are in the 1990s. Although I voted differently in the 1970s and 1980s, I have always held the view that an agricultural tenancy is a matter between two people, the landlord and the tenant, and that if we have good legislation which looks after the interests of both parties, people in the countryside will survive.

Let us hope that the passage of the Bill through another place will ensure that more land is available on the market in September for tenant farmers. I make a special plea to the landlords of this country to try to let more land to young farmers who want an opportunity to start on the farming ladder.

The Earl of Kinnoull: My Lords, I should like to add my congratulations to those that have been paid to my noble friend Lord Howe on his lucidity and command of the Bill. It is a very complicated Bill and he has shown great clarity and courtesy in handling it as well as giving us all a real sense that he has listened to our comments. One of the most encouraging aspects of the passage of the Bill through the House is that we have improved it.

My noble friend the Minister has been up against some doughty agriculturalists, including my noble friend Lord Stanley and the two noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench, the noble Lords, Lord Gallacher and Lord Carter. As my noble friend said, both have been courteous but are very much in command of their subjects.

I should like to add my congratulations to the industry. It has taken something like four years to get this agreement among the industry. The committee must have shown great wisdom and patience in meeting the arguments of all the conflicting interests. I hope that that will prove a great benefit to agriculture.

Twenty years ago, the Northfield Committee, on which the noble Lord, Lord Carter, served, stated the urgent need to free farming. This is the first time that we have done that. As I have said, it has taken 20 years to achieve and needs great support. As a result of this legislation, the somewhat dubious partnerships and the one to two-year agricultural leases which were outside the scope of the Agricultural Holdings Act will now be gone.

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The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors still has a very important role to play. My noble friend has shown that he has great confidence in its ability. I know that the committee that was set up some months ago is working hard. I am sure that it will rise to the responsibility and give the industry proper advice.

I am delighted about the relief that was announced last Friday. I am somewhat surprised at the noble Lord, Lord Carter, suggesting that agricultural land might become a tax haven. I had thought that that is what he suggested on Second Reading. I am slightly sad that the provision will not apply to all tenanted land. Finally, I wish the Bill success and a fair wind in another place.

Earl Howe: My Lords, perhaps I may reply briefly. I am most grateful for your Lordships' kind words about the Bill and my part in its passage through this House. As I said earlier, dealing with the Bill has been more of a pleasure than a duty for me. The Bill is both wanted and needed by the agricultural industry and I very much hope that it will receive a speedy passage in another place.

I have noted the strong welcome that has been given by several noble Lords to the announcement about inheritance tax. I am delighted that we have been able to make that change now because it will enhance the effect of the Bill and, I hope, render it even more successful. The noble Lord, Lord Carter, suggested that agricultural land might be in danger of becoming a tax haven. However, the intention is that the landowner will need to have owned the land for seven years before the relief that has been proposed by my right honourable friend would apply, so I believe that the noble Lord's fear is unfounded.

This is an important and useful Bill. I am grateful to noble Lords for the spirit in which they have debated it and helped us to improve it in certain ways. I invite the House to pass the Bill.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

Education: Student Support

5 p.m.

Lord Addington rose to move, That this House resolves that, before the commencement of the Education (Mandatory Awards) Regulations 1994 and the Education (Mandatory Awards) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 1994, there shall be restored to students the same right to receive housing benefit and income support during the long vacation as the rest of the adult population.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the Motion draws attention to a group of people—adult students in full-time education—who are denied the basic right of a safety net to guarantee a minimum standard of living. That is a long-winded way of saying that students have been denied the safety net of the social security system since the 1990 student loan regulations were introduced. That is a piece of legislation about which the House could probably stand up and say, "We told you so". Everything that we predicted when we debated the subject in 1989 has come to pass.

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Students have become increasingly worse off. They carry a heavy debt burden, and not just because of the student loan scheme. Even that, as we have all heard recently, is not working well. Students have been effectively left with a lower guaranteed standard of living than one could expect if one were receiving the basic income support and housing benefit package when unemployed. The majority of students will have a lower income than that regarded as the lowest capable of sustaining life in this country.

The history of the matter is interesting. With the indulgence of the House, I shall relate briefly what happened. Since coming to power, the Government have introduced a series of measures which, inch by inch, have effectively removed students from the social security system. For instance, students were unable to sign on and receive benefits during their first Christmas and Easter vacations. Then they could not claim housing benefit if they happened to be in university-provided accommodation. The present scheme then came into effect in 1990. When the scheme came into effect, there was a hardship allowance. That was withdrawn the following year.

I was in the Chamber when that happened. I remember being told that one of the reasons for the withdrawal of the allowance was that students were being encouraged to apply for it. In other words, they were being encouraged to take out a loan which was supposed to act as a backstop to enable them to have money during the long vacation.

The average student therefore can now expect an income of £61.35 a week throughout the year. The Department of Social Security calculates that a person on social security benefit paying rent at an average cost around the country would receive £71.15 per week throughout the year. There is therefore a shortfall of nearly £10 for people who have to buy textbooks. That person is receiving potentially £10 per week less than the basic income level. We then stick other expenses on top of that.

The Government's answer to the problem is that people can find jobs. Students can earn money in addition to the grant. We have heard from many distinguished academics in the House, including my noble friend Lord Russell, that we are encouraging most students to take on a full-time educational course. That means that they are not doing anything else. So how many hours a week is it acceptable for them to work during term? How many hours does that mean working behind a bar when one is lucky to get home by midnight having been on one's feet for several hours? How many hours will be acceptable when doing a course? Many educational establishments actively discourage their students from working.

The main issue we are debating relates to the long vacation. "Vacation" is probably no longer a good name for it, as it describes a period when there is potentially no income. The student can work. A student has 14 weeks in which to find a job. How many of those weeks will be spent searching for a job? It is conceivable that 14 weeks will be spent searching for a job. Once a job is found, what will the rates of pay be? We are talking

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about low paid casual work; for example, working in the local factory or stacking shelves. Many menial, low-paid jobs no longer exist in the production sector. I am talking perhaps about the packing industry, although I have probably offended members of your Lordships' industrial committee by using that expression. That type of work no longer exists because it is cheaper to do it by automation. We all know that large areas of the country have structural unemployment because unskilled employment no longer exists in many sectors.

We then turn to the service sector. Once again students may obtain part-time work at perhaps less than £3 per hour. If one works for 20 hours a week at less than £3 an hour, that provides £60 a week upon which to live. Students may be worse of then than they are during the term. So what is the case for not bringing them back into the system? I cannot see it. Students who will earn a good income during the greater part of the vacation will not sign on as an alternative. We are not talking about vast amounts of money.

Students now have to sign 12-month tenancies for their accommodation. That has occurred since I was a student. That means that students cannot even live at home during vacation and thus not have to pay for their accommodation. They have to maintain their term-time accommodation even if they are not there. They are legally obliged to ensure that the rent is paid. All those factors combine to result in students suffering financial hardship.

The ancient universities recently carried out a survey. They include Oxford and Cambridge and the four ancient universities in Scotland, in order of age—St. Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh. The survey found that about 15 per cent. of all students had considered leaving university due to financial hardship. The figures are hard to come by because when a student leaves a university he usually just leaves. Students are ashamed that they have not managed to complete the course. Financial considerations may play a part in this. If a student has financial problems he may have been doing a job and his academic work may have been affected. Many students in the surveys that I have seen have said that having to work has affected their academic performance. Students will not say that that is why they have left. That is why the figures are so difficult to collect. However, all the anecdotal and circumstantial evidence suggests that financial hardship is having a real effect.

The Motion asks merely that we restore to students the basic safety net. Students form a large group of adults who are undertaking a period of study which, it is hoped, will benefit the whole of our society because those people will be better qualified. It will undoubtedly benefit students themselves also. We are not suggesting a major change such as housing benefit during term time, although that too would be welcome. In the past, before the regulations were introduced, that acted as a regional balance. In expensive housing areas housing benefit rose and so that provided a form of levelling out. We do not call for that in the Motion. We ask merely that students should not find themselves without an income. It is not the most radical suggestion that the Chamber has ever heard.

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If we are to allow students to carry on falling into debt, we shall cause more of them to fail unnecessarily. We shall thus waste our investment both in time and money. That is the nub of the argument. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House resolves that, before the commencement of the Education (Mandatory Awards) Regulations 1994 and the Education (Mandatory Awards) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 1994, there shall be restored to students the same right to receive housing benefit and income support during the long vacation as the rest of the adult population.—(Lord Addington.)

5.10 p.m.

Lord Skidelsky: My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with the position advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. There is no doubt that for some time the real value of the student grant has been falling and therefore the financial position of students, in so far as they rely on that grant, has deteriorated. However, the background is that during the past 15 or 16 years there has been an enormous expansion in the number of students in full-time higher education. Expansion has occurred for longer than that but it has accelerated during that period. The fall in the real value of the grant is a direct consequence of that mass expansion.

The number of students in full-time higher education has doubled during the past 15 years and is now about 930,000. That is one-third of those in the 18 to 21 age group and includes a large increase in the number of women students. The expansion has been widely welcomed; in fact, it has been demanded. Everyone is extremely happy that an increasing proportion of people in that age group should be going on to higher education. It is good for the economy and for their own personal life chances.

However, it has inevitably strained the education budget, on which there are increasing demands. The demand for expansion is not confined to the higher sector of education. There have been worrying signs that literacy and numeracy levels have declined in primary schools. There is a big demand for extra expenditure in that area. Some would say that that is the main priority in the education budget and governments must decide how to distribute limited resources between the different claims. That is true in all areas but in education it has posed increasingly difficult problems.

It is not obvious that in a climate of scarce resources one should give a high priority to increasing financial support for university students who, in most cases, will be able to live at home and to borrow money via student loans and the banks. They will also have the opportunity to take vacation jobs if they need them. The problem is one of success rather than failure, and of special hardships created by the success.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, said that he is not asking for a large sum of money. I have worked out that if one-third of full-time higher education students receive these average benefit pay-outs as a result of the new entitlements that he suggests the cost for the long vacation will be about £443 million. That is a large sum of money. I plucked the figure of one-third out of the air. It may be much less than that but it is the possible

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magnitude of the amounts that we are considering. However, one thing is clear and all experience teaches it; that if one creates an entitlement the population claiming the entitlement will grow. Therefore, whatever the initial calculations, the amounts required to meet the entitlement will expand. We must bear that in mind.

Before supporting the proposals we must, first, establish the dimension of the problem and, secondly, decide how it might be met. The noble Lord failed to supply any quantitative data. He made general remarks, which were well taken—


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