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Baroness Park of Monmouth: I very strongly support the amendment. We are all very much aware of the special problems of medical students because of the final year. The average level of debt is over £5,000 for finalists now; and that will go up and up. I cannot help feeling that it is extremely important that they--and, I may add, law students--should have some special consideration of this kind.

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In Standing Committee B on 9th January the Minister made the amazing statement:


    "I am not aware of a shortage of good quality students of medicine".
Why then are we being reproached by South Africa for poaching much-needed doctors? Why are so many of our young registrars from the European Union? This is a very important amendment, not only now but because we have to think about the supply of medical students for the future.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: I support the amendment. As mentioned at Second Reading, the length of the final year for veterinary, dental and medical students is such that it amounts to a whole year--at least of 46 weeks. Unlike so many other courses, in my own profession there is now a cumulative requirement of 35 weeks during a course of five years, or six years as it is in Cambridge, which is notionally a complete academic year but has to be taken out of vacation periods. The implication is that these students cannot earn the kind of money that other students earn by doing jobs in vacation periods. In the result, no financial sum is built up over the years to buffer the total cost of university education in vacation times.

I join the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, in pleading for special consideration to be given to these particular students. I believe that it is realistic to take into account the fact that the final year is a fully subscribed year of teaching (at least 46 weeks) but that previous vacation earnings do not permit a budget to offset the debt that may have accumulated over the five or six years of the course.

Lord Butterfield: I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Walton. There is no doubt that the last year of a medical course can be a difficult one. The same is true for vets. I hope that the Minister will give consideration to this request.

Lord Henley: The noble Lord, Lord Walton, said that this amendment was related directly to medical, dental and veterinary students. I accept that. I imagine that it could apply also in a number of cases to architectural students. In reply to my noble friend Lady Park of Monmouth, as an ex-law student I am not sure that this applies necessarily to them. However, all of us have much less sympathy for lawyers than for doctors.

The Bill is very small and deals with a relatively short point. It is about enhancing the student loan system. It is not about who should get loans or how much they should get. In any case, the matter of rates of loan, with which this amendment is concerned, is dealt with in the Student Loans Regulations, which are reviewed annually, and not this Bill.

Obviously, we are aware of the concerns. They have been put to us on a number of occasions by a number of different bodies. I can assure the Committee that only recently my honourable friend Mr. Forth met representatives of the BMA to discuss their concerns about medical students in regard to this particular issue. The same applies to dental, veterinary and--dare I say?--architectural students. We very much note those

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concerns and welcome their ability to put them to Sir Ron Dearing. I believe that this is a matter which it is appropriate for the Dearing Committee to look into. If we felt that there were an immediate case--no doubt other representations would be put to us for increasing the support available to these students--we would consider it at the appropriate time when we reviewed the Student Loans Regulations. I am not persuaded that at the moment the existing arrangements for students who have to study for the additional weeks are inadequate, but obviously we will note the concerns and consider them in due course.

I hope that with the assurance that we will keep the matter under review, the noble Lord, Lord Walton, will feel able not to press his amendment on this occasion.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: We on these Benches entirely agree that architectural, medical, dental and veterinary students form an easily recognisable special case in matters of this kind. We wholly support the amendment. I regret that my noble friend Lord Winston is unable to be present tonight. He has been delayed at another very necessary academic meeting, if not in an operating theatre. I know that he was most anxious to be here and that he would echo everything that has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Walton.

I am glad to hear that the Minister's right honourable friend met some of the representatives. I was worried when at the Committee stage of this Bill on 9th January Mr. Forth said that he was unaware of a shortage of good students of medicine, or of dental or veterinary studies, or that the present arrangement was a disincentive. I hope that all Members of this Chamber will find that tone slightly disagreeable.

Lord Walton of Detchant: In the light of the support that this amendment has received from all parts of the Committee, these concerns are real and are growing. It is unfortunate that one may have to wait for the outcome of the Dearing Committee before there can be a proper resolution of this matter. Nevertheless, I am much reassured by the statement of the Minister that he will draw these concerns to the attention of his colleagues and his right honourable friend, and that if they are satisfied--as I believe many of us are--that this is a matter of considerable seriousness, the regulations can, it is hoped, be amended. In the light of that assurance, and in the hope that he will urge upon his right honourable friend our increasingly serious concerns, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Clause 1 agreed to.

Baroness Lockwood moved Amendment No. 10:


After Clause 1, insert the following new clause--

Discrimination on grounds of race, sex or disability

(". No subsidy may be paid by the Secretary of State under section 1(1A) of the Education (Student Loans) Act 1990 unless the Secretary of State is satisfied that the person by whom the private sector student loan will be made has ensured that the assessment criteria to be used in assessing applications by eligible students do not discriminate on grounds of race, sex or disability, directly or indirectly.").

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The noble Baroness said: The purpose of Amendment No. 10 is to put on the face of the Bill a clause to prevent discrimination on the grounds of sex, race or disability. There is on the statute book already anti-discrimination legislation that covers those three areas. No doubt the Minister would say, as his colleagues in another place said when the Bill was before that House, that it was unnecessary to have on the face of the Bill such a clause because anti-discrimination legislation was already in place. He may even say that it is all the more unnecessary now that the Government have put a reference to discrimination in the terms of the contract. Nevertheless, we feel that it is important to have this written into the statute. It is particularly important to bear in mind the wording of the amendment. It refers to both direct and indirect discrimination. I do not expect finance companies to go in for blatant discrimination in any one of these three areas. They should already be familiar with some of the provisions. Nevertheless, indirect discrimination is much more subtle, and I believe that we should flag it up in relation to this Bill.

My noble friend Lord Morris of Castle Morris in an earlier amendment spoke about lenders selecting their students, not students selecting their lenders. He said that lenders would determine those students to whom they could provide loans. We have to guard against such discrimination, particularly in relation to a financial Bill. I remind the Committee that in the context of sex discrimination, on average, women's pay is still 20 per cent. below that of men. There are already examples of racial discrimination in the education field. As to disability, the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 is a much newer piece of legislation.

There are all kinds of implications in relation to the education of disabled people. For example, many of the disabled students already need additional funding and they are provided with that funding by the Government. But even then they go to other sources for additional funding to assist them with learning aids. Furthermore, they may have to take longer in carrying out their period of study, whether for a degree or a diploma, than an able-bodied person. In relation to their accommodation, they often need extra care and help to live an independent life. It is important that all these factors should be taken into account. The amendment recognises that and makes it clear from the outset that there shall be no discrimination on these grounds.

All three groups to which the amendment refers and about which I have spoken have a more uncertain future at the end of their period of study. In that sense they may appear to be the "less ripe cherries for picking", which is the phrase that has been used in connection with the Bill. I hope that the Minister will be sympathetic to the amendment.


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