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Earl Russell: Before the noble Baroness sits down, perhaps I may ask her to be a little less certain that present figures indicate that loans do not deter students. I advise all my first year pupils to take the loan. But I find the idea that higher education is supported by grants is so deep in the culture that at least half of them believe that they will be able to get through without taking the loan. Until that assumption goes, we shall not know how much loans deter students. Can we all keep a decent uncertainty for a little longer?
Baroness Blackstone: Of course there are uncertainties when a completely new system of this kind is introduced. But it is slightly dangerous to base assertions on anecdotal evidence. I, too, have much anecdotal evidence that I could give, one way or the other. Like the noble Earl, I have taught students for many years in various colleges of the University of London, just as he has. But we have to consider the proper statistical evidence before us. On 15th December, this year's applications were 6 per cent. down. However, we had an increase of 6 per cent. more than was anticipated in the numbers entering in October 1997.
Not only are students coming to me and my colleagues, and no doubt to Members on the other Benches, but so, too, are the noble Baroness's own colleagues both in this and in the other place, exceedingly disquieted by the proposition that there should be such unfairness in the scheme.
The noble Baroness addressed many other issues in the course of responding to the amendment. My amendment refers to the proposal's unfairness to young people from low income families. An enormous amount of money is to be saved. Grants are simply to be taken away, and all those grants accrue to the Treasury. It is a Gordon Brown proposal. There has been much talk about what will happen to the income from tuition fees, but no guarantee has been given that the money, ring-fenced, will come back into the higher education system. We are talking about billions, not millions, of pounds.
The noble Baroness said that broadly the same level of support will be sustained for students. I am afraid not. A student who at present qualifies for a 50 per cent. grant, which he or she has no responsibility to repay
The noble Baroness talked about how much help is being afforded to students. Help is being afforded to students for £1,000 of their financial obligations. Four thousand pounds is being ignored completely. They have to borrow and repay £4,000; they may receive help with £1,000.
I wish to ask a straight question as to there being some guarantee. If money is saved from the abolition of grants, will that money accrue to higher education pound for pound? If it does not, I return to a point I made at another stage of the debate--namely, it turns out to be a tax, not a charge.
Finally, may I employ the example used by the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, and return to "John and Jane". The reason the system is unfair is that John, from a high income family, ends up, after a three-year course, with a debt of £9,000. Jane, from a low income family, ends up after a three-year course with a debt of £12,000. However they pay the money back, whether or not it is income contingent, the person from the low income family leaves university with a greater burden of debt. I cannot believe that anyone can support that proposal.
Everyone is looking expectant in relation to the amendment. The debate has been wide ranging, and there is much support for it around the Chamber. There is a lot of support for the amendment in another place, too; Members believe that there should be some fairness in the system. I wish in particular to read the noble Baroness's remarks. I would like answers to the straight questions that I have set out. Therefore, just as I will reflect on this amendment between now and the next stage of the Bill, I hope that the noble Baroness will, too. I hope that we shall use all our energies in this place to make sure that students from low income families are not left with an unfair burden of debt at the end of their time at university. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The order introduces two new sets of arrangements into licensing law. First, it provides for approval of people as prospective licensees. These are individuals who, in effect, go through the normal process of approval for holding a liquor licence. But instead of being granted a licence for particular premises they are approved as potential licensees should the existing licensee need to be replaced.
The second set of arrangements introduced by the order allows for a form of emergency procedure in order to replace licensees who leave at short notice. The order does that by providing for an interim licence which can come into effect at once. This interim licence is subject to early confirmation by the licensing justices and is dependent on police approval.
These new arrangements have been proposed because of inflexibility within existing licensing arrangements. Under the present law, if someone holding a licence leaves the licensed premises which he or she operates, the owner--whether an individual or a company--has to go through the rather cumbersome procedure of having the licence transferred formally to a new licensee. That process can take a number of weeks, or sometimes a matter of months. So, where a departing licensee does not give sufficient prior notice, a problem arises with the continued operation of the premises.
There is a current form of emergency arrangement--called a protection order--but the procedures for obtaining one of these orders are rather cumbersome. The applicant has to go to the magistrates' court, as opposed to the licensing justices, and, crucially, the applicant for a protection order must be the person who intends to take on the licence on a permanent basis. In other words, the law does not allow for a temporary substitute to step in while arrangements for a new licensee are made. The order before the House allows for temporary arrangements of this kind and allows, in certain circumstances, for clerks to licensing justices to approve interim licences, so cutting out another element of bureaucracy.
A public consultation exercise on the proposed legislation took place between July and September 1996. A proposal for a draft order was laid before Parliament on 3rd February 1997 and was duly considered by the respective committees of this House and in another place. Both committees reported in favour of the proposals, but the intervention of the general election prevented the measure's further progress.
Following the election, the Government decided to support the principle behind the measure, and a draft order was laid before Parliament on 17th November 1997. The draft order has been amended in accordance with recommendations by the committees of both Houses during the initial scrutiny period.
The Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee considered the amended draft order and recommended approval by the House in its 8th Report dated 26th November 1997. The draft order was approved in another place on 11th December 1997. I commend the order to the House. I beg to move.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the draft order is the culmination of a process begun in 1995 with the report, entitled A time for change..., by Alistair Wilson OBE, who was commissioned by the previous government to carry out a policy review of Northern Ireland's three major museums--the Ulster Museum, the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum and the Ulster American Folk Park.
The key recommendation of Mr. Wilson's report was that the three museums should be brought together under a single management framework. Public consultation on the report confirmed a broad consensus in favour of the concept of merger. In particular, the three museums themselves confirmed their support for the proposal, any reservations mainly relating to the details of implementation rather than the concept. The Government wholly accept the case for merger and are convinced that Northern Ireland will be best served by a single substantial museum institution working within a coherent framework rather than separate entities in competition with each other. The Government have decided, therefore, to proceed with the necessary legislation and have introduced amendments to reflect comments received during the consultation process.
The purpose of the order is essentially threefold: it will establish a single museum institution for Northern Ireland; it will repeal the Museums (Northern Ireland) Order 1981, which currently governs the two statutory bodies--the Ulster Museum and the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum; and it will make provision to enable the Ulster American Folk Park, an independent charitable museum, to transfer to the new institution by separate arrangements.
I will now turn to the detail of the order, focusing on what are the most significant provisions. One of the main issues which emerged from consultation on the legislation was the model for governance of the new institution. At present each of the two statutory museums is governed by a board of 15 trustees, consisting of six members appointed by district councils,
As to membership, the Government believe they are best placed to achieve a balance of membership which includes individuals with relevant interests and expertise and is in broad accord with the plurality of Northern Ireland. It has therefore been decided to adhere to the original proposal that there will be no rights of representation on the new board but that all members, including the chairman, will be appointed by the government following consultation with a range of persons and bodies, including the district councils and those which represent educational and heritage interests. While specific provision for consultation is included in the order, the appointments process will, of course, follow the guidelines laid down by the Commissioner for Public Appointments.
In response to comments received during consultation, the order specifies a minimum of 12 and a maximum of 15 members of the board and a term of appointment not exceeding five years. The provision enabling the chairman to be paid an annual honorarium has been retained but such provision for a vice-chairman has been removed. The honorarium has been set at £8,000, which is a modest figure taking account of the level of commitment required and the particularly challenging task of overseeing the reorganisation in the initial years. The detailed provisions are set out in Schedule 1.
This model of governance has worked well to date in other public bodies in Northern Ireland, having produced well balanced membership structures with a strong commitment to the development of the work of the bodies concerned. In reaching its decision on the governance issue, the Government have taken into account the concerns expressed by several district councils and some political parties that the influence of local government should not be diluted. This is a particular issue of broad significance in Northern Ireland. In response to these concerns, the Government have ensured that district councils will be consulted as part of the public appointments process.
The Government have also taken a further step in response to district councils' concerns by requiring, in Article 4(7), the board of the new institution to consult with district councils, education and library boards and other bodies on the exercise of its functions. This should allay any fears by the district councils that they will no longer be able to play an influencing role in the management and development of the new institution. The Government believe that this new body must form a relationship with district councils in order to be aware of the views of the community it serves and to encourage and support the district councils themselves with their local museum provision, which is much less developed than in the rest of the UK. The Government see this as complementary to, rather than duplicating,
I turn now to Article 5, which is probably the article that has caused most comment recently. Article 5 places more explicit controls than at present on the disposal of objects in the collections. These controls were introduced to meet the strongly expressed views of the three museums themselves. However, I am aware that reservations have been expressed about the powers accorded to the department to consent to the disposal of any object and to permit the overriding of any trusts or conditions prohibiting or restricting the disposal of any object, in that they bring into question the autonomy of the board. That is not the case.
I emphasise that these are enabling powers only and assure your Lordships that these provisions are intended to give the board greater flexibility and not to give the department an interventionist role. The powers would only ever be exercised at the behest of a proposal emanating from the board itself. I can assure noble Lords that it is envisaged that they would only be applied in exceptional and appropriate circumstances and for that reason we included a safeguarding provision requiring the department's approval.
None the less, I understand the concern of the museum professionals that this power of the board may make benefactors reluctant to donate artefacts to the new institution because they have no absolute assurance in the legislation that any condition attached to the donation will not be overturned in the future. I emphasise, however, that it would be the independent trustees who would have the authority to initiate the disposal of artefacts and the department in the public interest could override that decision in order to retain them.
While it is inherently difficult to anticipate the exceptional conditions in which the use of this power might be appropriate, it may none the less be helpful if I try to illustrate the circumstances in which the board of the museum might think it appropriate to consider the use of the power. In recent years there has been a welcome development of local authority museum provision across Northern Ireland, so that there are new opportunities to display artefacts in locations particularly relevant to their context. The new museum might wish to assign an artefact to one of the local museums to enhance its display and interpretation and its availability to the local community. This could be beneficial to the preservation and presentation of the heritage and would merit consideration by the department if the board were to propose it.
It may also be helpful if I illustrate the circumstances which could not be considered appropriate. The government would not expect the board to propose a disposal simply as a means of raising money. The overriding presumption would be in favour of the retention of artefacts and the museum would have to present a convincing case which satisfied the department that the action was in fact beneficial to the preservation and presentation of the heritage.
The concerns about these powers have been fully aired with representatives of the three museums, who have accepted the good intentions of the Government. It is their unanimous view and that of the Museums and Galleries Commission that this draft order must proceed and that the most appropriate way forward on the disposals issue is for the new board to draw up, in consultation with the commission, a disposals policy and code of practice that will conform with accepted guidelines. This code of practice would include provision about the use of moneys generated by the disposal of an object. I wish to stress that the Commission has confirmed that it is content with this approach. I can assure noble Lords that the Government's intentions are entirely positive and that exceptional disposals would have to be fully justified in accordance with a code of practice which was consistent with national standards. I can give a further categorical assurance that the Government will not permit the use of this power under Article 5(2)(e) until the code of practice has been drawn up and agreed. I hope that this will assure benefactors that their gifts are safe and that their wishes will be respected.
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