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Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, far from what he said, the present arrangements for student finance are not working well? Real poverty is being experienced by many students at our universities and harm caused to their studies by having to combine full-time education with part-time work. Given the Government's anxiety to increase access to higher education for a large number of people who are less well off, has the Minister given consideration to whether Cubie-style arrangements should be adopted in England?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the Secretary of State for Education was able last week to announce a £68 million package of improvements in student provision, in particular for mature students and those from the most deprived backgrounds. It includes greater access to funds, better access to hardship funds and loans, childcare and school meals provision for mature students and an increase in the threshold of payments from £17,370 to £20,000. That indicates that the noble Baroness may well have been right: that our student provision was not adequate until now. However, we can claim that we have made significant improvements to that provision by the package we announced last week.

Lord Molyneaux of Killead: My Lords, whatever the status of Northern Ireland may prove to be before the

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end of the week, will the Minister ensure that the legitimate concerns and hardships of students from Northern Ireland will not in any circumstances be disregarded by Her Majesty's Government? The position was set out by the noble Lord, Lord Shore.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, in so far as it is within our power, I am sure we would wish to give the assurance the noble Lord seeks.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, if the Minister is right and the discrimination referred to in the Question is not determined in the final analysis by European Union rules, why do not the Government remove that discrimination? Do they approve of it?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I said that the provision made for students of this country in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland is determined because we think that that provision is right, not because of European rules. We have no desire to change it.

Earl Russell: My Lords, will the Minister remind the noble Lord, Lord Shore, and the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, that the original King Charles' head was not the property of Charles de Gaulle?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not reply to noble Lords' jokes, when I cannot match them.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, does the Minister remember my grandchildren?

Noble Lords: Yes!

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, does the noble Lord believe that it is fair and not discriminatory that my Italian grandchild can now have a free university education in Scotland whereas my grandchild in Kent will have to pay £4,000 despite the fact that her parents are taxpayers in the same United Kingdom?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am trying desperately to remember the Italian and Scottish towns to which the noble Lord referred. I think that it must be Ecclefechan but I cannot remember the Italian town.

No. The provision made for European students is in accordance with European Union rules. The provision made for students resident in England and Wales is in accordance with the decisions of this Government, and no one else.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, does the Minister accept that in certain policy areas devolved to the Scottish Parliament there will be differences in policy pursued by the Scottish Parliament from those of the Parliament at Westminster? It is a matter of diversity rather than discrimination. This House welcomed the concept of devolution. It should be encouraged as a strengthening rather than a weakening of the Union.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have sought to persuade noble Lords opposite of that point for some

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time. The fundamental point underlying this debate is that governments of England and Wales, and Scotland, have recognised that our responsibilities to students extend beyond the full-time young students to mature and part-time students. That is what the package covers.

Tax Changes: Effects

3.23 p.m.

The Earl of Northesk asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How much money the Treasury will save as a result of the abolition of the married couple's allowance and MIRAS; how much the reduction of 1p in the pound on income tax will cost the Treasury; and whether the Treasury will be a net loser or winner.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we are introducing measures to make work pay and improve support for families with children, including a new children's tax credit worth up to twice as much as the married couple's allowance. The estimates of the effects which provide the figures the noble Earl requires were published in the Economic and Fiscal Strategy Report and Financial Statement and Budget Report last year. When the children's tax credit is in place, the estimates show a net decrease in revenue from the measures mentioned by the noble Earl of £750 million.

The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply although it does not answer my specific questions. I am always chary of trading statistics with the noble Lord. However, does he question the integrity of figures from the House of Commons Library which demonstrate the Treasury to be a net winner to the tune of £700 million as a result of the measures mentioned in my Question? Can we infer that the Treasury's gain is the compensation to the taxpayer mentioned by the Prime Minister in his interview with Mr David Frost on 16th January?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the figure the noble Earl quotes from the House of Commons Library is, as I said, also available in the Economic and Fiscal Strategy Report and Financial Statement and Budget Report, so there is no concealment of any kind. It was only for the sake of brevity that I referred the noble Earl to the published figures. Yes, indeed, for 2000-01, before the full package is complete--none is in place yet--the figure shows a benefit to the Treasury of £700 million. However, when we take into account, as we must, the children's tax credit, the figure of £750 million in the other direction is correct.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, there are enormous demands on the public purse. There is a severe shortage of resources available for the health service and other public services. There are not sufficient resources

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available for the relief of farmers. Is it not perverse in the extreme to proceed with the cut of 1p in the tax rate? It seems to have little public support.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, no. The Chancellor announced last year the cut of 1p in the tax rate. It has, of course, to be enacted in the Finance Act for this year. It has wide public support and fits in with our general economic strategies. It fits in with the golden rule on taxation and borrowing. As I have shown from the figures on family support, it is progressive and beneficial to families.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the MIRAS system seems to have been phased out to the great benefit of the Treasury. However, the stamp duty on houses when they change hands has increased. That does not seem right. I hope my noble friend can assure me that there will be no further increases in stamp duty. As a quid pro quo for the abolition of MIRAS, perhaps it could be abolished.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend's remarks will be noted, as always. I am sure that the Chancellor will take them into account when he makes his decisions in advance of the Budget. As regards MIRAS, as my noble friend knows, the level of relief on mortgage interest has been declining for several years under both governments. It amounts now to only 10 per cent on loans up to £30,000. This is the last stage of a process which has continued for some time.

Lord Saatchi: My Lords, is it true that there exists in the Treasury a document which describes the Government's tax strategy as being to cut visible taxes on voters and raise invisible taxes elsewhere? Is it true that by manipulating a mass of complicated tax allowances, reliefs and exemptions, the net effect of all the Government's tax changes is equal to an increase of 4½p in the basic rate of income tax? Does the Minister agree that this gives a new meaning to the phrase "rip-off Britain"?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, there is no such document in the Treasury.

Local Government Act 1988: Section 28

3.28 p.m.

Lord Tope asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What is their reaction to the comments in the press of the Chief Inspector of Schools, Mr Chris Woodhead, on the Government's intention to repeal Section 28 of the Local Government Act 1988.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (Lord Whitty): My Lords, just in case it has escaped your Lordships' notice, there will be a full opportunity to debate the issue in detail during the

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Committee stage of the Local Government Bill on Monday. Chris Woodhead was speaking personally and he was technically correct in that Section 28 does not affect schools. This and the previous Government have repeatedly pointed out that that is the case and the message may be getting across to some schools.

Regrettably, however, there is ample testament from teachers, parents, pupils and social workers that Section 28 confuses and inhibits teachers and can prevent an effective response to serious problems. That is why we propose to proceed to repeal it.

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