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Lord Avebury: My Lords, further to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord MacKenzie of Framwellgate, is the Minister satisfied that firm and effective measures are being taken by the police against the particular menace posed by women being trafficked into the sex industry in this country? In that connection, did he read the remarks made last week by Inspector Paul Holmes, following a raid on a number of brothels in London? Thirty-two women were arrested. We are in danger of encountering a situation which already exists in Germany, where criminal gangs bring into Europe women from the Balkans and the Far East. They have now occupied all the turf and have started to shoot at each other. Can the noble Lord give an assurance that vice squads will be attached to all police services in England and Wales and that apprehending the people responsible for these crimes will be made a key performance indicator for chief constables?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord has touched on an important issue here. The trafficking in human beings for profit is appalling. We would all condemn that. I am grateful for the hard work being undertaken by the police in this sphere. The National Criminal Intelligence Service is acutely aware of the problem and ACPO is addressing it closely. We need rigorous enforcement here. A great deal of work is being done, but even more needs to be done. The work being undertaken at ports to attempt to head off the problem as it arrives on our shores is also urgently needed. However, I believe that we are doing extremely well and our enforcement is becoming increasingly effective.

Quality Assurance Agency

3 p.m.

Baroness Perry of Southwark asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, external assessment has a place in higher education and the reports produced can be a useful source of evidence on which universities can draw in seeking to enhance teaching quality. The revised review method which the Quality Assurance Agency will be introducing from autumn 2001 follows extremely full consultation with the sector. It is designed to be far less bureaucratic than its predecessor, which, I am sure, will be welcomed.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply, but is she aware of the burden which is placed upon universities, even under the new

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procedures, with 168 rules which they have to follow; nine codes of practice, and we are promised more to come; 22 subject bench-marks for student teaching and 20 more still to come? Those are specific burdens which universities are carrying which have little to do with the overall quality of teaching. Will she also assure the House that the academic freedom and diversity of universities can be preserved, despite the fact that those rules apply equally and across the board to all universities even though their admissions and intake may be very different?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I start by giving the House an assurance that the academic freedom of universities and their diversity must be preserved. I should add also that the new system has not yet been introduced in England and it will not start until September. So it is early days to start condemning it and questioning whether or not it will reduce the burden. It is certainly the Government's intention that the burden should be reduced; that there should be far more self-assessment; that the amount of material which the individual subject department must produce for a review will be much smaller than in the past.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware of the mountain of paperwork which is currently required under the teaching quality assessment and its sibling in bureaucracy, the research assessment exercise, which obviously has the purpose of assessing the research output? Will she accept that all universities, I think, recognise the need for scrutiny of standards in teaching and in research? But is she aware that some university departments employ somebody effectively full-time to prepare the paperwork for those exercises? Will she tell the House how many universities employ staffs of administrators in order to prepare the paperwork to be devoured by those time-consuming exercises?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for accepting that external review, whether in the area of teaching or research, is highly desirable. Universities need to be accountable just as any other consumer of very substantial amounts of public money.

But I accept also that the burden, particularly for teaching quality assessment, has become rather bureaucratic. It is for those reasons that a new system is being introduced in the autumn. We need to wait to see how well that works.

As regards the research assessment exercise, it is well understood by everybody in the university system that we must be selective in how we fund research. We cannot give the same amount of money to every department, regardless of the quality or the extent of its research. For that reason, the RAE was introduced some years ago and it is accepted widely across the system that it is necessary.

But once again, changes are being introduced in the next round which should reduce the amount of preparation that departments have to do.

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Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, does the Minister have any estimate of the proportion by which costs will be reduced on QAAs under the new system compared with the existing system?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I cannot give a precise figure as to how far the cost will be reduced but I should expect it to be substantially reduced. For example, the number of individual subjects to be reviewed is being reduced by about one-third. The number of days which the people undertaking the review--and we must remember that it is largely peer review--will be reduced by about one-fifth. Those changes in themselves should make a substantial difference. But the real difference will be in that the amount of material that has to be produced specially for those exercises is being slashed. It will be extremely limited compared with what it has been in the past.

Lord Laming: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the deep concern felt by some university staff over the relative decline in their salary levels? Can the Minister say anything to encourage them?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I think that is rather a long way from the Question on the Order Paper. However, I am happy to inform the noble Lord that the Government have put in a substantial additional amount of funding for university pay, not just for academics but for all staff in universities. That should mean that universities are better able to reward their staff as they would like to.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, there appears to be no evidence to support any significant reduction in the overall burden for external scrutiny. Is the Minister aware that the Middlehurst evaluation of academic review trials in chemistry, law and history found absolutely no evidence to support what the noble Baroness is claiming to be the case?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, he could hardly have found any evidence as the new system does not come into play until September.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I said that they were trials which have already preceded the changes.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, such trials are hardly true evidence of a new system that is being introduced. I do not believe that what has been claimed in those trials has any validity.

Business: Private Notice Question

Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I rise to ask the noble Baroness the Leader of the House a question about the business today of which I have given notice.

Often at this time of the afternoon, we see the Government Chief Whip approach the Dispatch Box and announce that a Statement will be made. Today he has not done so. Yet, outside this House, the headlines

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and bulletins are dominated by an issue of national importance; namely, the story of the fund-raising dinner which took place at the Atlantic Bar and Grill on 7th February and the role of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in what has become known as the cash for wigs scandal.

But in this House, we are not allowed to debate it, question it or even receive a Statement. So will the noble Baroness confirm that she refused a Private Notice Question from me yesterday which would have given us the opportunity, early on, to discuss those matters? Will the noble Baroness confirm also that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor will reply to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, at Question Time tomorrow morning? Will she explain why she believes that a topical Question tomorrow is any substitute at all for the Government, in the shape of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, coming forward with a fully prepared Statement to deal with the most serious allegations being made about the noble and learned Lord? Will she give the noble and learned Lord the opportunity to explain himself here in this House rather than allowing those stories to run outside which now, inevitably, raise the whole question of the position and future of the role of the office of the Lord Chancellor, which I believe has served us so well?


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