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The Earl of Clanwilliam: My Lords, my noble Friend said that we are dealing with a historical event, that arrangements put in place at the time have been effective and British beef is safe. The only declaration of interest that I have to make is that I am too old to care. Did not the problem originate from intensive systems of farming which have been nurtured by the common agricultural policy? Is it not time to encourage more extensive methods of farming in the British community?

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The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Clanwilliam touches on extensive farming. A number of schemes and incentives are available to land managers and farmers of all types to take up more extensive methods of farming. The effort and prominence which the Government attach to the schemes are growing every year and I hope that the noble Earl will take comfort from that. Noble Lords and others outside the House of all ages are justified in taking the issue seriously, but at the same time whether one is a father, grandfather or whatever, the reassurances which the experts are able to give us are solid.

Lord Crawshaw: My Lords, we are very grateful that the incidence of this disease is definitely now on the wane. From my own experience I have figures to support that. If, in the end, some form of slaughter policy is decided upon, I wonder whether the Minister will agree that the right approach would be to look at the dairy herd in general, particularly the older cattle in the dairy herd, and see that somehow, when their useful life had finished, they were disposed of through the ministry and did not somehow get into the food chain. By doing that we could avoid mass slaughter, which could do the country's health a great deal more harm than BSE itself. On those grounds I very much support the restrained and responsible approach that the Minister and the ministry showed both yesterday on television and this afternoon. I congratulate them on that approach.

I hope also that we can avoid the sort of situation that we got into with eggs and salmonella a few years ago. Quite honestly, that did not help anybody, and put 4,000 small egg producers out of business.

Finally, will the Minister agree that in one sense we have time on our side? We now face the seven easiest months of the year in terms of feeding and managing the herds of cattle. We should make use of that time to best possible advantage.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, we will waste no time in establishing what needs to be established, acting on the recommendations and carrying out that which needs to be done. We will not waste time.

The policy on slaughter, which I partly explained to the noble Lord, Lord Moran, is that until the experts tell us there is a reason to extend our slaughter policy, it is hard to know or to speculate as to the exact detail of such a policy. We should be reluctant to do it unless it were justified. I reassure the noble Lord that the exact details of any such policy will be worked out very carefully indeed with all those who are expert in such matters.

Incineration is the approved method of disposal. From one end of the industry to the other there is a vested interest in ensuring very high compliance. That will continue to be the final disposal route of all contaminated matter. I will pass on the congratulations of the noble Lord to my right honourable friend the Minister on the way he has handled this matter.

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Education (Student Loans) Bill

5.13 p.m.

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed on Clause 1.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 1, line 15, at end insert--
("( ) This section is subject to section (Commencement) below.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 3, I will speak also, if I may, to Amendment No. 9, if only to cover the inevitable susurrus of the exiters.

I am sorry to have to revisit this issue, which we debated (albeit briefly) in Committee. At Committee stage I promised the noble Lord the Minister that I would read most carefully what he had said in his characteristically brisk and efficient fashion. I have done so; and I have to say that in the cold light of a Peak District Saturday morning and in the pristine print of the official record, his arguments seem to me slightly less convincing than when he performed them orally.

He began by saying:

    "we are not here to discuss Dearing this evening".--[Official Report, 12/3/96; col. 829.]
That was true, but utterly irrelevant, because no one had offered to discuss Dearing's recommendations since there are none to discuss. But it is relevant and important to acknowledge the imminent existence of the Dearing Committee and its terms of reference. We cannot ignore it; and we would be wise to plan in advance to make its work easier rather than harder. Why should we not?

The Minister went on to take up my point about the constituency to which the Bill would apply, and the difficulties faced by part-time, postgraduate and FE students. He agreed that the Bill does not address them, and added that,

    "the 1990 Act does just that".--[col. 829.]
He added:

    "we could extend provisions for student loans ... However ... it would have major implications for public expenditure".--[col. 829.]

Lord Henley: My Lords, I wonder if I might just assist the noble Lord. I think I misled the House briefly on the last occasion, and then corrected myself later on. We could not extend it to FE students by means of the 1990 Act. We could cover the other groups that the noble Lord mentioned.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for making that correction. He did in fact say both of those things, one a little later than the other.

We had taken on board the assurances he gave about those groups of students. Indeed, we had realised it; it had occurred to us. But it does not answer our questions as to why the Bill should not allow some or all of those students to take out private sector loans. How much

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would it cost? Would not postgraduates be a much better bet for banks than undergraduates? I hope the Minister may be able to elucidate this problem a little.

He then asserted confidently that the Dearing Committee will need,

    "to take into account ... our intention"--
(by that I take it that he means the Government's intention)--

    "to introduce private finance into the loans scheme".--[Official Report, 12/3/96; col. 830.]
Indeed, it will. But will it not also need to take into account the Opposition's implacable opposition to this Bill as it stands? Looking at the opinion polls, will the Dearing Committee not need to give at least as much weight to the Opposition's case as to the Government's?

I am quite unable to accept the Minister's statement:

    "I do not believe that it would be in the students' interests to delay implementation of the Bill".--[col. 830.]
By what right is he a better judge of the students' interests than they themselves are? They approve of the delay. They would prefer to see the Bill withdrawn. They would like the Government to scrap it. They have said so; and they have threatened to boycott any bank that goes along with it. Is the Minister really saying that they do not know what is best for them and that, "Daddy knows best what is good for you, my child. Just sit there and accept it quietly"? It is to give the Minister a final chance to think again about these matters that we bring this amendment back today. I hope he will take the opportunity. I beg to move.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Tope: My Lords, briefly, I support these amendments. The case was made very well by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, in speaking to an earlier amendment. It may well be that the Bill itself should not have come forward. But, as it happens, the announcement of the Dearing inquiry coincided with the Second Reading debate in this House.

I hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, just said, that now the Minister has had time to reflect he will recognise that it seems quite absurd to be setting up a far-reaching inquiry such as the Dearing inquiry, and at the same time extending a scheme which many on all sides of this House, and certainly very many in the student world, believe to be deeply flawed.

The very least we should do is allow Dearing to carry out his investigations and make his recommendations to us. Then we should be given time to consider those recommendations in so far as they apply to the financing of students. Only then should we consider whether or not it is appropriate to go ahead with the provisions of the Bill. We made clear earlier our view on whether or not it is ever likely to be appropriate to go ahead with the provisions of the Bill. But at the very least, we should await the outcome of the Dearing recommendations, and not extend the present scheme at the very time when Dearing is looking into just these matters.

Lord Henley: My Lords, the amendment offers nothing more than further delay to the benefits of the

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Bill to both students and taxpayers. It has nothing--dare I say it to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris?--to do with extensions to part-time students, postgraduates or whatever. I shall say a word or two about that towards the end of my remarks. Quite simply, the amendment prevents students and the taxpayer from receiving these benefits until at least 1998-99. That cannot be justified.

I made our position clear at Committee stage on a similar amendment. That was read in the cold light of a Peak District morning by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris. I take more interesting reading, I am afraid, to the cold light of the Peak District. But let us leave the matter there. As I said on that occasion, the Dearing inquiry into higher education will need to take account, as we made clear, of our intention to introduce private financing of loans. But I do not believe that there is any case for delaying the Bill while the inquiry proceeds. Our proposals were first put forward when the review of higher education was already under way and already under way within our department. To that extent the announcement of the committee of inquiry does not change our position.

The inquiry's conclusions will inevitably take some time to implement, particularly if legislation is required. I do not believe that it would be in students' interests--I add that, following the Bill, those students will have a choice between the private sector and the Student Loans Company--to delay the implementation until the end of the inquiry.

As noble Lords are aware, the Bill has a very limited effect. It will not alter the eligibility criteria or broaden the scope of the 1990 Act. But neither will it prevent the Dearing inquiry from looking at those issues. Indeed, the department looks afresh at relevant issues each year in considering whether to make changes to the Education (Student Loans) Regulations, changes that could bring in coverage of more people, delay repayments or whatever.

We have not yet signed any contracts. I expect that the inquiry will be a matter of interest to those with whom we shall negotiate--the private lenders. Before any contracts are signed there will be detailed discussions with them. Whatever happens, we shall meet our obligations in full.

During Committee stage in another place, we announced that the implementation of the twin-track was to be delayed until 1997. We did that because the banks and building societies were concerned that they would be unable to get schemes up and running by the next academic year. I believe that further delay could not possibly be justified.

The noble Lord spoke about extending the benefits of the student loans Act to part-timers, postgraduates or whatever. As he made clear, we could do that by means of the 1990 Act. He asked whether I could quantify the cost of extending those benefits of the 1990 Act, should we extend them, to this particular Bill, which in due course will, I hope, become the 1996 Act. I find it rather difficult, if not impossible, to quantify the cost. It would depend very much on the assumptions about which postgraduates took out loans, for how much and for how

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long. Obviously they would be significant. We already have various means of support for postgraduates, for example, career development loans and other assistance can be provided for others.

The basic point is that the powers are there in the 1990 Act to extend to those classes that I mentioned earlier. Obviously, should it be necessary we could do so, just as we could make alterations to the length of the repayment period or whatever. I hope that that explanation--I appreciate, not in the cold light of a Peak District morning--is sufficient for the noble Lord. I hope that on this occasion he will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

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