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Baroness Lockwood: As one who has always supported the idea of bringing part-time students into the whole area of student support, I should like to support this amendment. In doing so I wish to make just two points. The first concerns discrimination, which we have discussed at length over various amendments. The fact that we exclude part-time students from student loans could constitute discrimination under the Sex Discrimination Act. I am rather surprised that we have not had any test cases under the Act. I flag that up as a warning to the Government that other government legislation has been challenged in the courts and this Bill is certainly open to challenge.

Secondly, I should have thought that the amendment is in line with the Government's policy of supporting the extension of part-time study as part-time students are much less expensive than full-time students. The Minister said in response to the previous debate that to include part-time students under the student loans scheme operated by the Student Loans Company could involve the Government in considerable expenditure. But that point will not apply to the same extent under

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the private loans scheme. Nevertheless, one has to balance that with the savings that could be made if more people applied to become part-time students rather than full-time students as part-time students are responsible for all of their expenditure. In support of the Government's policy I hope that the Minister will look favourably on this amendment.

Lord Winston: This problem is particularly important in the field of medicine and biological and nursing sciences. In my own unit we mix all three of those disciplines. We have scientists working side by side with medics in training and with nurses. It is quite common for us to see applications for part-time students to go for M.Sc. courses or courses of that kind. Those students have great hardship in trying to apply for those courses; particularly, a nurse who wants to better herself but who is paid a limited salary or is perhaps working on an attachment in a unit. There is a great need to help these part-time students. The amendment would seem to promulgate the Government's aims and would be a helpful way of keeping people in some employment while they better themselves and improve their qualifications. I strongly support the amendment.

Lord Henley: I start by repeating what I said earlier and what the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, stressed, and I thank him for it. The 1990 Act, as amended by the Bill, as drafted, does not exclude part-time students from the loan scheme. Through regulations in the Act we can extend the scheme to part-time students and a number of others that I have mentioned.

I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Addington, who stressed that the composition of the student body has changed quite dramatically over the years. First, we have seen a dramatic growth in higher education and, secondly, a growth in the number of part-time students. It is that growth and change to higher education that is one of the main reasons why we instituted Dearing and why we received support from the party opposite, if not from the party of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for the committee of inquiry under Sir Ron.

I was somewhat surprised by the opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris. He said, if I understood him correctly, that he supported the amendment. He quite rightly stressed that the costs would be inordinately high. I have no doubt that he checked that with his shadow Treasury colleagues in another place. I am sure that they would be very careful about any assurance that he gave about public expenditure.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: Not at all. I have not consulted my colleagues at all. I simply believed what the Minister himself told me.

Lord Henley: I am absolutely fascinated that on a fundamental matter of this sort there is a not a degree of collective agreement in the party opposite. The noble Lord has accepted that the cost would be inordinately high. Depending on definitions, the cost could be something like £600 million. It is for that reason, and for the reason that the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle

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Morris, gave, that we believe these matters should be left to the Dearing committee of inquiry. That is a matter that can be addressed. It is not a matter for this Bill, but one that can be addressed, should there be a major problem, by the 1990 Act.

I end by saying that I noted what the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, had to say. Having served in a number of departments which have been on the receiving end of judgments in various courts, I note with trepidation what she had to say about government legislation being challenged on occasions in those courts. If we feel that our case is right we shall continue to resist such challenges as far as is possible within the law. I am sure that we have a perfectly good case. As regards this Bill, I do not believe that there is a case for extending eligibility to part-time students. It is definitely a matter that should be left to Sir Ron Dearing's committee of inquiry.

Lord Addington: I thank Members of the Committee on the Labour Benches who have given rather unexpected support on this matter. It was more than welcome. I expected the Minister's reply. The fact that the scheme may cost money does not mean that it is not necessary. The Dearing report seems to hang very heavily over every sentence that has been uttered in this debate. It has been suggested on more than one occasion--

Lord Henley: For the sake of the record and before the noble Lord seeks to withdraw his amendment, which I expect he is about to do, perhaps I may put matters straight on one thing. I referred both to FE students and part-time students. The 1990 Act allows the possibility of extending the provision to part-time students. It does not give us the power to extend it to FE students.

Lord Addington: I had remembered that and was about to say that it was a pity that further education could not be brought within the scope of the scheme. But that matter is for another day. As I said before, the Dearing report appears to hang heavily over what we are doing here. Although all this may very well be changed soon, it is right that the subject should be aired. I withdraw the amendment for at least this stage of the Bill.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 21 not moved.]

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 3, line 22, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 26.

The noble Lord said: I now come to the Government's amendments. This is a small technical amendment. We judge it necessary to implement fully our policy to limit the number of loans that may be taken out by a student in one year. Student loans are offered under generous terms. Obviously, it is necessary to limit the amount of public money spent on them. We believe the fairest and simplest way to do so is to restrict students to one per year. Regulations under the Education (Student Loans) Act 1990 do so for loans

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taken out with the Student Loans Company. We intend that the position should be the same when private loans are available.

The Bill therefore contains in paragraph 3(2)(b) of the schedule a power to limit public loans where an applicant already has a private one. In turn, our contracts with the private lenders would have limited private loans where a public one already existed.

We have reflected further on this since the issue was raised in another place. Our objective in making private loans available is to extend choice and competition. Inevitably, this means that students may well make frequent moves between lenders year by year.

In those circumstances, it is important that our policy of one subsidised loan per year is fully and easily implemented. We have therefore decided to simplify the arrangements. This amendment will delete the regulation-making power in paragraph 3(2)(b) of the schedule. Instead, the general regulation-making power in Section 1(2)(b) of the 1990 Act will be used to limit the number of loans, whether public or private. It is sensible that the number of loans be limited in this way. It is fair to students. It is fair to the taxpayer. The amendment makes our objective more secure. I hope the Committee will support me in this amendment. I beg to move.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: I was interested in this amendment, not least because it took me some time to understand what was going on. I think that I now understand and my understanding accords, as far as I can see, with what the Minister has just said. It is a small, technical amendment. It puts me in mind of that other phrase which is well known to lawyers, de minimis non curat lex--the law does not concern itself with trifles; except in this case it does.

As the Minister said, Amendment No. 22 covers the question of student eligibility. Government policy is that students should have only one subsidised loan, public or private, per year. I concede that now because it is necessary to control spending for fairness and to increase administrative simplicity. In fact, we on these Benches are not quite as inflexible as noble Lords opposite occasionally feel moved to believe.

I confess that we began consideration of this Bill by being rather sceptical and asking, "Why shouldn't students have as many loans as they want?" We think that we are less sceptical now than we were a few weeks ago. I note that the Government too have since reflected on the complex situation which could arise with students switching from one loan provider to another year by year. I am not sure that they would because I do not really see that there is still very much to chose between the one and the other, but people do flirt and change their relationships, especially earlier in life.

The Minister went on to say that the amendment will delete the specific regulation-making powers in the schedule and that the policy would then be implemented for public and private loans through the existing general regulation-making power in Section 1(2)(b) of the 1990

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Act. As I understand it, that simply means that the Government are not making a new regulation now when the powers that it would confer are already available.

If I am right in that analysis, it is a tidy little amendment which makes no difference to anybody very much except to the parliamentary draftsman, but it is important that we should satisfy the parliamentary draftsman's rage for tidiness. I think that I can speak on behalf of every student--part-time, full-time, undergraduate, postgraduate--when I say that they will be remarkably unimpressed.

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