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Lord Addington: Perhaps it would be convenient for the Committee to consider Amendment No. 19 with Amendment No. 18 since they are both about commencement. It might push things along and at least I could raise the points involved in Amendment No. 19.

Before we consider commencement, surely we should have consideration of the views of the people who will be eligible to become students and go into the system. That would be appropriate. Further, the case of the higher education institutions should be taken into account. It makes sense to discuss both amendments on the commencement of the scheme and the institutions of higher education now.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I support this and the allied amendment. Will the Minister explain how, in terms of the best possible use of public finance, the Government--particularly in the light of their own delay in bringing into effect the system proposed in the Bill--justify the higher level of subsidy that would be required in the light of what is potentially the comparatively short life of the new system? It cannot appeal to responsible and serious private sector finance institutions to embark at this juncture on the high degree of cost involved in setting up what is for them a totally new system so short a time in advance of the report of the Dearing committee.

It is quite clear from the exact wording that it would be open to the Secretary of State at that time to enact this legislation no more than six months after the final report of the committee of inquiry. It would leave an opportunity for the government of the day to consider the report without being fettered by a combination of commitment to high administrative start-up costs and

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penalty clauses which could act against the interests of the very harmony that the Government have created all round in setting up the committee of inquiry.

Lord Henley: I am more than happy to take on board Amendment No. 19, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, suggested. I hope that will slightly speed up the process. As the noble Lord knows, as does the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, I am a great grouper of amendments. The more I can group together, the happier I am.

I note the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, about Dearing. As I understand him, we are not here to discuss Dearing this evening; and Dearing may or may not recommend this or that in relation to student support and the funding of higher education. We should consider that at the time when he reports some time next year.

The noble Lord raised questions of military history. As Ministers we are asked to respond on a great many matters very often covering departments other than our own. However, on this one occasion I shall not follow him into wider debates on the history of the Punic Wars since on that subject my ignorance is fairly extensive.

If I understood the noble Lord correctly, he made a complaint that this Act does not address the question--and these might be questions that Dearing ought to address--of further education students, part-time students or whatever. I agree; it does not. But the important point the noble Lord must remember is that the 1990 Act does just that. By means of regulations under that Act, we could extend provisions for student loans to part-time students and further education students. However, I believe the noble Lord would accept that, were we to do so, it would have major implications for public expenditure. I simply make the point en passant.

The amendment as drafted, and for that matter the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, to which the noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred, would further unnecessarily delay the benefits of the Bill which would be provided both to the students themselves and to the taxpayer. That would not be justified.

As I believe I made clear at Second Reading and on other occasions--and points were made by my noble friend the Leader of the House in response to a request from the Leader of the Opposition--the Bill represents only a limited change to existing legislation. It would simply allow the Secretary of State to pay subsidies to private sector lenders. As the Bill is enabling legislation, a date for the coming into effect of its provisions is not required. They should come into effect immediately the Bill comes into force. Any further delay would not be fair.

The national committee of inquiry into higher education will need to take into account our intention to introduce the private financing of loans. I do not believe there is a case for delaying the Bill while the inquiry proceeds. The inquiry's conclusions will inevitably take some time to implement, particularly if legislation is

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required. I do not believe that it would be in the students' interests to delay implementation of the Bill until that time.

The inquiry has been asked to take into account in its deliberations our intention to introduce private finance into the loans scheme. It is a very small change to the existing scheme which first introduced those loans in 1990. We are merely changing from a singular lender to a plurality of lenders. Further, we have not signed any contracts yet. I expect that the inquiry will be a matter of concern to private lenders and that before any contracts are signed there will be detailed discussions with them. Whatever happens, we shall meet our obligations in full.

I turn to the points that have been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. I can give him the assurance that officials in my department have already met representatives of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, as have Ministers. They have met the NUS and the Student Loans Company to discuss the Bill's provisions. We stand ready to discuss our proposals with any interested party. As always, my door will stand open to anyone who wants to make submissions to me. More importantly, my honourable friend Mr. Forth, the Minister within the Department who has responsibility for higher education, will also be prepared to meet any relevant bodies. He will certainly consider carefully any representations that are made to him. I do not believe that there is a need for a statutory requirement so to do, nor that the Bill should be delayed until such statutory requirement is met. But I can give the assurance that there will be appropriate discussions as and when necessary.

I hope that that satisfies both the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and that they will feel able on this occasion to withdraw their amendments.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: I am grateful to the Minister for that very full reply. I hear what he says. I am not surprised, and I am not delighted. I feel rather like Pontius Pilate when asked why he had put the inscription at the top of the cross of our Saviour. He replied:

    "Quod scripsi, scripsi",

    "What I have written, I have written".
What I have said, I have said. In years to come I may look back at this volume of Hansard and will be able to say, like John of Gaunt, quietly to my grandchildren,

    "Methinks I was a prophet new inspired".

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 19 not moved.]

The Schedule [Consequential Amendments]:

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 20:

Page 3, line 14, at end insert--
("( ) In subsection (2)(a) after "attending" insert "full or part time".").

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The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 20 covers ground that was hinted at when we discussed mature students over the age of 50. In 1994/95, 28 per cent. of those who took on higher education were part-time students. Part-time students along with older students have suffered rather badly under the loan system. The Government have withdrawn many of their support schemes for the older student. The part-time student has always had a rather rough deal. The amendment is an attempt to bring those students into the main thrust of higher education, for the simple reason that almost inevitably they will become an increasing part of the higher education student base. This will be beneficial. Whatever may be said about the re-skilling of our population or taking advantage of educational benefits, surely part-time students are those at the very heart of it. They are the people who respond on a part-time basis to many of the educational needs which they and society have. I hope that the Minister will be able to give a favourable response to the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: I wish to support the amendment. As we have said from both sides of the Committee, part-time students are not currently eligible for student grants or student loans. Funding remains geared to full-time undergraduates even though the composition of the student body has altered so radically in recent years.

It is perfectly true, as the Minister has just reminded us, that under the 1990 Act loans could be extended to cover part-time students, mature students or any other type of students. The point is that it has not been so extended and there is no prospect of them being funded in this way in the foreseeable future. The reason is perfectly obvious. The cost would be inordinately high--the cost would be impossibly high--which is why, in my view, the entire issue of who should be funded and who should not and who should be eligible for loans and who should not should not be decided by this small and rather insignificant Bill but should be left to Sir Ron Dearing.

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