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Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I should just say that I have it on clear legal advice that, de facto, this amendment would repeal existing legislation which requires students to pay fees.

Lord Tope: My Lords, the issue is clear. This amendment is drafted in words which are much clearer than anything that can be found in the Bill. I am sure that your Lordships are in no doubt as to the purpose and effect of the amendment. I repeat that it is an important issue of principle on which I wish to test the opinion of the House.

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6.27 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 40) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 37; Not-Contents, 106.

Division No. 3


Addington, L.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Butterfield, L.
Carlisle, E.
Dholakia, L.
Ezra, L.
Falkland, V.
Geraint, L.
Hamwee, B.
Holderness, L.
Hooson, L.
Hylton-Foster, B.
Jacobs, L.
Jeger, B.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Linklater of Butterstone, B.
Lyell, L.
McNair, L.
McNally, L.
Maddock, B.
Meston, L.
Methuen, L.
Newby, L.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Redesdale, L.
Rochester, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Russell, E. [Teller.]
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Thurso, V.
Tope, L. [Teller.]
Tordoff, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Weatherill, L.
Williams of Crosby, B.


Acton, L.
Amos, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L.
Barnett, L.
Bath and Wells, Bp.
Berkeley, L.
Blackstone, B.
Borrie, L.
Brooke of Alverthorpe, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Burlison, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Carter, L. [Teller.]
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Darcy de Knayth, B.
David, B.
Davies of Coity, L.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Desai, L.
Diamond, L.
Donoughue, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Elis-Thomas, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Flowers, L.
Gallacher, L.
Gilbert, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Grantchester, L.
Gregson, L.
Grenfell, L.
Halsbury, E.
Hardie, L.
Hardy of Wath, L.
Haskel, L.
Hayman, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Howell, L.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Islwyn, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L.
Judd, L.
Kennedy of The Shaws, B.
Kennet, L.
Kilbracken, L.
Kirkhill, L.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Longford, E.
Lovell-Davis, L.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]
Mallalieu, B.
Mason of Barnsley, L.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Mishcon, L.
Molloy, L.
Monkswell, L.
Montague of Oxford, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Nelson, E.
Nicol, B.
Paul, L.
Peston, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Plant of Highfield, L.
Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Randall of St. Budeaux, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Richard, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Sewel, L.
Shepherd, L.
Shore of Stepney, L.
Simon, V.
Simon of Highbury, L.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Southwell, Bp.
Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Thomas of Macclesfield, L.
Thurlow, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Varley, L.
Walker of Doncaster, L.
Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Wedderburn of Charlton, L.
Whaddon, L.
Whitty, L.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L.
Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

10 Mar 1998 : Column 163

6.35 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 41:

Page 14, line 3, leave out ("charged in respect of") and insert ("payable in connection with").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 42:

Page 14, line 7, after ("terms,") insert--
("( ) the Secretary of State has first commissioned an independent view and published the findings,").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 43 tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Renfrew, and Amendment No. 44 which is tabled in my name. The Government have declared their intention not to raise fees for tuition paid for by students above £1,000 in real terms. If that is the case, then my amendment is inoffensive; but it would go a very long way to regain the trust of students which is somewhat dented by the debate so far on the Bill.

Such a review committee would offer independent advice and would consider the interests of both institutions and students in the context of any proposals by a future government to increase fees. So long as the increases were in line with inflation, there would be very little for such a committee to do. However, if this or any future government broke with the declared intention not to raise the proportion of fees, such an independent review would be most important. The Dearing Committee recommended such an independent review body. The Education Select Committee not only supported that recommendation but also stated that any Secretary of State contemplating an increase in the fees would be expected to defend such proposals to the committee.

The Secretary of State for Education said that he had an open mind and that he was open to persuasion on this point. However, the Government have quietly dropped the independent review recommendation from their response to Dearing, so what have they to lose? If, as they claim, they will not increase the fees beyond the rate of inflation, why are they so worried about an independent review?

As the Bill stands, the Government have built in to the proposals in Clause 18 a mechanism to punish financially any university or college which charges additional fees. Should this Chancellor of the Exchequer or indeed any future Chancellor of the Exchequer freeze

10 Mar 1998 : Column 164

or cut higher education expenditure to the point where staff cuts and course programmes suffer, the only outlet for increasing income would be by the Government increasing the proportion of fees paid by students. My amendment would at least offer some assurance that, should that eventuality come about, an independent review body could consider the case put by the Government to defend such proposals.

If the Government were to reject all three amendments, students would have every reason to remain very suspicious of the Government's intentions; indeed, they must be aware of what happened in Australia to Australian students. We are led to believe that higher education will be more generously funded in the future and that there is no intention whatever of increasing the level of tuition fees paid by students. Therefore, accepting Amendment No. 42 or my noble friend's Amendment No. 43, would hold no threat for the Government and, as I have already said, would go a very long way to reassure students who are much disquieted by the proposals in the Bill.

I shall couple with the students who are disquieted about the Bill's proposals the fact that many of the Minister's colleagues, both those sitting behind her in this place and many more in another place, are also disquieted by the Bill. As I have said, the promise of an independent review body would go a long way to reassure students that the Government will live by their intention not to raise fees. But, should the Government, or any government in the future, change their mind, at least an independent review body would take into account the interests of the students, of the institutions and indeed the case that the government put. I beg to move.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, argued at Report stage--in relation to the wording of Amendment No. 42 that is now before us--that the Government have added a safeguard that the increase should be,

    "no greater than is required to maintain the value of such grants in real terms".

But, following the successful amendment of my noble friend Lady Blatch at Report, which now forms subsection (6) of Clause 16 of the Bill, the matter goes beyond grants for tuition fees and now encompasses maintenance grants too. For that reason I have added reference to,

    "maintenance grants and student loans",

in the wording of Amendment No. 43. For, make no mistake about it, there is little public confidence in the Government in these matters. As my noble friend has said, there is little confidence among students who saw the Government's attempted simultaneous imposition of tuition fees and abolition of maintenance grants--the so-called "double whammy"--as a step too far. Every safeguard is needed.

I add how disconcerted I was to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, not only say on "Any Questions?" last Friday--I did hear her--that the Government would overturn in the Commons the

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amendment of my noble friend Lady Blatch (which is as unsurprising as it is unwelcome) but also assert that on the amendment (and I believe I quote verbatim),

    "unelected hereditary peers defeated the Government".

I am interested in the phrase "unelected hereditary peers". I am not sure whether the noble Baroness feels that she has some popular mandate to stand at the Dispatch Box in person. I am well aware that the present Government in their manifesto pledged to end the sitting and voting rights of hereditary peers. But for the Minister responsible for the Bill to speak in that way of the result of a Division in your Lordships' House seems to me to border upon contempt of the House. Let me also say that until the Government put an end to the voting rights of hereditary peers they will have to put up with them. Moreover, noble Lords on the Benches opposite were happy enough when in opposition to use such votes to defeat the then government--for instance, on higher education Bills--when it suited them.

Do the Government assume that when the House is reformed--if it is--by the termination of the rights of hereditary peers, they will automatically win every vote, irrespective of the merits of the case? That is indeed what a number of commentators suspect; namely, that the Prime Minister's appointed quango will become the Prime Minister's poodle. But until that time we shall all, hereditary and life peers, try to do our duty. One of those duties is to point out the defects, and where possible to rectify them, in this rather unsatisfactory piece of legislation that is before us now, and therefore to introduce firm safeguards such as the present amendment.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, I have not spoken in earlier stages on this Bill. I have just returned to the country from a trip abroad and I have missed most of the Report stage. However, I came back in time to vote in the Division to which my noble friend has referred, which was instigated--it must be said--by a life peer. I was one of the many life peers who voted on that amendment. Therefore I, too, resent the suggestion that somehow this was an act of the hereditary peerage. That is a misleading piece of information which emerges almost every time there is a Division in this House now, however many of us who are life peers have chosen to vote.

However, I rise to speak at this stage because I listened to the debate on 2nd March with interest. I heard the Minister say that she would separate the fact from the fiction. She then made many assertions about what the current state of play was and what the situation might be in the future. The reality is that we do not know what will happen. The reality is that when any government introduce major reforms of this kind we do not know exactly how they will work out.

Certainly there is no confidence among the students of this country that everything will be quite as satisfactory as the noble Baroness asserts. I can say that because as president of Cardiff University I have received two big bundles of letters from the students of

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that university within the past 48 hours in which large numbers of them express their acute anxieties about the situation. That is not surprising as these changes have been introduced quite hurriedly. There has been a speedy response to Dearing. The other day my noble friend suggested that there had been an over-speedy response to Dearing. Students have had to react during the course of their studies. Many of them are already committed. They are not fully aware of what is going on.

It therefore seems to me that we are dealing with an amendment which has considerable merit, even from the Government's point of view, because in the future the Government must be anxious that the measures they have introduced will have the support of and will gain the confidence of the universities and the student bodies. I hope that the Minister will not dismiss this as just another Opposition amendment. I hope she will see that it has real potential and strength--if these proposals are as good as she believes them to be--to reinforce the confidence that is required if universities are to recruit students as we all hope that they will. I hope that she will listen sympathetically to what has been said.

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