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Lord Henley: I am more than grateful for that commitment from the noble Lord to take what we publish and produce so seriously. I hope that he will find that the standard of the written English in the report of the Department for Education and Employment meets with his approval and the approval of other noble and, dare I say, learned Lords, although they are not learned in the law.

Perhaps I may say a little about what the report will contain in relation to our concerns this evening. We envisage that the report will contain details of the amount of annual subsidy paid in order to ensure favourable terms for students, the number of subsidised loans made annually and the total sums involved, the level of public payments in respect of the Government's share of the risk and, in total for private sector loans, the number of loans in deferment and default. We believe that from that information the overall impact in public expenditure terms will be clearly visible.

I add that the department is audited annually by the NAO. That would include spending on both public and private sector loans.

I see that the noble Lord, Lord Winston, wishes to intervene.

Lord Winston: Can the Minister say whether it is also the intention to monitor the faculty or academic discipline of the students in the monitoring process? It seems to me to be important to do that also.

Lord Henley: That is not something that we intend to do. That point relates to the amendment which we debated earlier. All I can say is that I shall give some consideration to what the noble Lord suggests, but it is not part of our plans at the moment. I do not believe that it would necessarily be relevant.

The department will also be able to examine the private lenders' operation of subsidised student loans to ensure that government subsidies are correctly applied. The NAO will also have a right of access to the private lenders' operation of subsidised private sector loans.

I believe, therefore, that the proposed new clauses are unnecessary. I hope that the assurance that I have given about the degree of information that we shall make available will be sufficient. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Lockwood: I am not sure whether the noble Lord meant by his final remarks that the department will monitor the number of applications for loans that are not granted. Will that be included in the monitoring? That would give an indication in relation to the anxiety that some of us have about the possibility of discrimination in the allocation of loans.

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9.15 p.m.

Lord Henley: I believe that that is similar to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I hope that what I said to the noble Lord--that we have no current plan so to do but that I would consider the point the noble Lord put to me--is sufficient for the noble Baroness. I shall take on board what she said and consider it, using legal jargon, without prejudice.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: Does the Minister agree that for the Government to be certain that discrimination on grounds of gender or race does not exist it is necessary for the information to be available in order to justify decisions taken? If there is discrimination against women or minority ethnic group applicants, it is necessary for the Government to have such information to ensure that the money is being spent in pursuit of the Government's objective: maximum choice for individual students.

Lord Henley: I note what the noble Baroness said. Again, I can only refer to what I said in response to earlier interventions. Obviously there is always the danger that the amount of information that one is asked to collect will impose overburdensome conditions on individual institutions. As I said, I am prepared to consider the issue but at this stage I am not prepared to respond in the manner in which the noble Baroness wishes me to respond. It is something that I shall consider.

Lord Winston: I am sorry to press the point. I wish to clarify what I see as a potential problem. I hope that he will agree with me that this situation might arise. Vocational courses such as medicine and law might be better funded in the private sector than, let us say, arts students. That is why I was anxious that there should be some recognition that the Government consider the funding of the various courses to ensure that we do not underfund arts students simply because they may not command such a big salary when they leave university.

I hope that the Minister will bear that issue in mind in his deliberations.

Lord Henley: In seeking yet further clarification, the noble Lord reminds me of my noble friend Lord Peyton who repeatedly sought clarification from me. I do not think that I can add anything further to what I said previously. I take note of what he said.

Lord Addington: Much of the debate has centred on Amendment No. 16. Virtually everyone is agreed that the information sought in the amendment might be useful. Perhaps I may ask the Minister one further question. Could there be a subsection to this great departmental report which includes the vast number of subjects? At least we would have access to that information if we do not call for an annual review. One would then have a vehicle for addressing most of the concerns expressed during this debate and throughout the day. Will the Minister put this suggestion to his department? It might put our minds at rest, at least for the time being.

Lord Henley: I am incapable of putting noble Lords' minds at rest on this issue. That is exactly what I thought

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that I had done. I said that I would consider the concerns expressed. However, I stressed that I would consider them without prejudice. What views I come to and what views colleagues in the department come to is another matter.

Lord Addington: At this late stage in the Committee, at least that is something to be going on with. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 17 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 18:


After Clause 4, insert the following new clause--

Commencement

(".--(1) This Act shall come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument appoint.
(2) No order may be made under subsection (1) less than six months after the final report of the Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education has been published.").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to put on record my strongly held view that the whole question which the Bill addresses should be put on hold because of the new circumstances which obtain. It should not be rushed into action or activated prematurely. We should give time for proper consideration and reflection to take place in the entirely new circumstances which have come to obtain since the initial preparation of the Bill.

I refer to the wise decision which has been widely approved to call in Sir Ron Dearing and ask him to report not on student funding but on the whole spectrum of higher education--to do another Robbins Report. The reticulation of one part of higher education to another is sensitive, difficult and important. It would be wise, in my view and that of all of us on these Benches, to pause rather than rush ahead. As the Old Testament writer of Ecclesiastes says in Chapter 3 verse 1:


    "for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven".
I propose that, whatever the merits or faults of the system for private sector student loans, the time to implement this is not now. The time is assuredly not ripe for it. I say that for two reasons. First, the terms of reference for Sir Ron Dearing's committee ask it to take account of context. That includes:


    "demand for higher education from suitably qualified applicants of all ages is growing as more people achieve qualifications at level 3 and more of those who already have higher level qualifications look to upgrade or update them".
The Bill makes no provision for older students, part-time students, postgraduate students or FE students. To pass the Bill now and pay subsidies before Dearing reports on matters like that which are bound to be his concern cannot but muddy the waters, discriminate where he has been tasked to be inclusive and disable all the calculations of numbers and resources which he will need to make.

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Secondly, it may well be that the "arrangements for student support" mentioned in the terms of reference will go well beyond the present framework and be far more radical than anything envisaged in the Bill. I look forward to something much more radical being considered. Dearing may espouse the idea of student support totally by loan. We must not rule that out. He may well prefer the Australian income-contingent loan system to anything currently on offer here. He may recommend a voucher system for all higher education. That would mean that the whole system now obtaining would have to be unpicked.

Surely it would be more rational, more economical, more prudent to pass the Bill, if we must, as a possible option, but delay its implementation until the Dearing committee has had time and unfettered freedom to think out the best way forward. It may well be a way which none of us has yet thought of. For those reasons I commend the masterly policy of the Roman general, Quintus Fabius Maximus, who, noble Lords opposite will recall, died in 203 BC. He was nicknamed "Cunctator", "the delayer". He defeated Hannibal by the simple process of avoiding any direct engagement with him; by not being there when Hannibal and his army appeared and wearing him out by prudent procrastination. Sir Ron Dearing may well bless us for doing likewise. I beg to move.


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