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The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Richard): My Lords, I am sorry to rise and interrupt the noble Lord, but I do so on advice and instructions. I am told that it is not in order for the noble Lord to speak to the amendment when he has not moved it.
Lord Harris of Greenwich: My Lords, the noble Lord the Leader of the House and I are in agreement. My noble friend Lord Tope is speaking to the Motion moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. He has referred briefly to an amendment which appears on the Order Paper, but it is perfectly reasonable to speak on the Motion, which is what he is doing.
As I was saying, this morning I received a letter from the Minister which I am sure that she will not mind if I read to your Lordships because it is pertinent to the whole House, and not just to me. The noble Baroness wrote:
I believe that it was a common view throughout the House that Committee stage was deeply unsatisfactory for quite a number of reasons, not least the skeletal nature of the whole of the Bill. With regard to Part II, I believe that all noble Lords found it difficult to frame an amendment that would allow any principled debate on tuition fees and, when we finally reached that stage, it was a little after midnight. I recognise that in themselves none of those is a reason for re-commitment, but to compound all that, whatever the causes, there was considerable confusion and great difficulty in getting clear answers from the Government about the legal basis on which they were intending to proceed on the question of student payment of tuition fees.
My purpose in suggesting re-commitment was to allow more time to debate and to clarify those important points. My reason was not particularly to delay the implementation of the Bill, although the thought that it might have had the effect of delaying the implementation of tuition fees this summer was something of a temptation. However, the Minister has now made it clear that that would not happen, even if we re-committed the Bill.
We wanted more time. The Government have now given us an additional day for Report stage so, in practice, Report stage will be virtually the same length as Committee stage. That meets one of my requirements in tabling my amendment. I wanted to have a full and proper debate. We are assured that we shall now have that debate as "first business"--in other words, when the House is full, we hope, when there is much interest, and when noble Lords can be present to press their points.
Those are major concessions by the Government and they substantially meet my procedural concerns, if not my political concerns. I am strengthened in that view by a letter which my honourable friend in another place, Mr. Don Foster, has received from Douglas Trainer, the national president of the National Union of Students. I should like to read that letter also to your Lordships because it is important that the House knows the view of the NUS on this matter. Douglas Trainer stated:
As I said earlier, I recognise--I understand that the NUS is not so familiar with this--that we cannot relax our procedures, but we do have a very generous offer from the Minister. However, I remain unhappy about the skeletal nature of the Bill. That unhappiness will become clear during further stages. My party remains totally and fundamentally opposed to the imposition of student payment of tuition fees, and we shall pursue that opposition to the fullest degree at the appropriate stages.
I am grateful to many noble Lords from all sides of the House who have offered me support on re-commitment because they share the concerns that I have expressed previously and, I hope, today. However, we have had significant concessions from the Government which go a long way to meeting my procedural concerns. I am concerned that any further delay with this Bill would not have any effect on the imposition of tuition fees, but could have a serious effect on other government legislation, some of which, it is true to say, my party supports, at least in principle. In all those circumstances, it would be churlish of me, at this stage, to press ahead with re-commitment and that is why I have decided not to move the amendment.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, can he tell the House why his great concern about Clauses 16 to 18 does not extend to Clauses 21 and 22 which do exactly the same for Scotland? Is the noble Lord completely ignoring the situation in Scotland?
Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, since my name is on the Order Paper below that of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, I am advised that it is permissible, in debating the Motion that the Report be now received, to follow the noble Lord and to express some of the anxieties about the very nature of this Bill which emerged clearly in Committee and which made that Committee one of the least productive that I have known in your Lordships' House.
What deeply troubles me about the Bill, and I know that it troubles quite a number of your Lordships, is its very nature. It is an all-purpose enabling Bill which seems to allow the Government to do almost anything in the field of higher education without further reference to Parliament, and to do so by means of financial controls which appear sweeping and unrestricted--unbridled. The Bill hardly outlines any policies whatever. It could be described as a monumental and sustained King Henry VIII clause. I wish that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, was still in his place and active on the battlefield to challenge it. Many of us here remember the battle to amend Section 68 of the 1992 Act which, if left unamended, would have seriously infringed the academic independence of universities. As the noble Earl, Lord Russell, argued in Committee in moving that Clause 18 do not stand part, that clause is a threat to academic independence.
It is not my purpose at this point either to argue against government policies--which, as I indicated in Committee, are not disclosed in the Bill and have to be gleaned from other sources--or to speak about individual clauses at Report stage. Instead, I should like to make two points of a more general nature to accompany the Motion that this Report be now received. First, I remind your Lordships that in Committee there was also on the Order Paper consideration of the 9th Report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. That committee said:
The House has not yet fully addressed this important point, although attention was drawn to it in Committee by my noble friend Lady Blatch who has tabled Amendment No. 54 at Report stage. I believe that the House should encourage the Government to frame more clearly just what they are trying to achieve rather than approve legislation that would allow them simply by regulation to achieve anything that they wanted without reference to anyone now or in the future. That task was not adequately undertaken in Committee; nor was a single Division called.
My second and final point is an important example of the vague yet sweeping powers that the Bill may confer. The example relates to the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. As a former master and continuing professorial fellow of one Cambridge college I declare an interest and apologise for any apparent parochialism. These colleges are self-governing institutions established by charters and governed by statutes, all approved by the Privy Council, of up to seven centuries' standing. Financially they are separate entities. My own college, Jesus, has been in existence for more than 500 years.
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