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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, statistically the noble Lord may be right. I am not well versed in the number of fatal accidents on the road annually, but about 400 fatal accidents each year arise from work activities. Research by the Health and Safety Executive indicates that in about 200 of those cases, there was likely to be cause for joint investigation that might lead to a prosecution for charges of corporate manslaughter being brought. People will be reassured by the fact that the legislation will be in place and that it may contribute to improving people's health and safety in future. I take the noble Lord's point. We in this country have a good record of dealing with road fatalities and ensuring that their number has been slowly reducing.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the legislation is likely further to increase the claims culture that has grown in this country, having spread from the United States; that it will place considerable increased costs on corporate enterprises and money into the legal system; and that sufferers will benefit little?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it is interesting that the noble Lord makes that point. The Confederation of British Industry and the Institute of Directors are broadly in support of the measures being brought forward. As I said, the number of cases will be significant—200 a year. However, I cannot see that dealing with those cases in the way in which we may propose in legislation will lead to an explosion of the claims culture. On the contrary, it will be of great benefit in dealing with health and safety issues and making companies and corporations feel greater responsibility for those whom they employ and the public, who may be adversely affected by an accident at work.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, bearing in mind that we are talking about the criminal law and not civil claims, can my noble friend tell us what representations the Government have received from the Health and Safety Commission on the matter, and over how many years?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Health and Safety Executive and the Health and Safety Commission fully support the notion of corporate manslaughter and have supported the Government in bringing forward proposals.

Lord Borrie: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the great advantages of strengthening the law in this field would be to ensure that the so-called "controlling minds" of the company will have a strong

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incentive to introduce compliance schemes whereby all employees clearly understand—better than they may do now—the safety needs of the community?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Yes, my Lords, that is the argument in a nutshell. Many companies support that view, because they, too, want higher levels of responsibility.

Higher Education Applications

3.23 p.m.

Baroness Blatch asked Her Majesty's Government:

    For what purpose personal information about parents is to be included in application forms for higher education.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, application forms for higher education are a matter for universities. Application for full-time undergraduate study is usually made through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, although some universities accept direct applications. It is a matter for UCAS, which is an independent body, what information is collected through the application form.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, the Government must stop dancing on a pin on the subject. Does the Minister accept that the pursuit of academic excellence, by accepting the most able students, irrespective of creed, colour, background or postcode, is being compromised by the Government on the altar of social engineering?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I could not disagree more with the noble Baroness. The Government agree that applications should be judged on merit. There is no question of social engineering. The Government are in favour of people's entry to higher education on merit.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, is the Minister not aware that moneys are now being allocated on a means-tested basis, which is based on a postcode address? Surely that is unfair and certainly does no justice to the poorer student.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. Universities recognise the limitations of the postcode address as an indicator. Universities—and UCAS—are therefore discussing a better strategy than that of postcodes. But I reiterate the point: the Government are in favour of access to university education on merit. Our contention is straightforward: large numbers of potentially meritorious students are at present insufficiently considered for higher education.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is something of a contradiction at the heart of their White Paper? On the

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one hand, they congratulate themselves on making students independent of parents—charging the student, rather than the parent, on a post-graduation basis; on the other, they are making access dependent on parental income. Is that not a contradiction? How do they reconcile it?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we are not making access dependent on parental income. As the noble Baroness said, in the White Paper we state that we are concerned to extend opportunity. She is right to say that the new financial arrangements remove the obligation from parents and place it on students in incurred debt over a period. But student opportunities are based on clear applications on merit. The Government need information on parental background to discover whether strategies are being pursued sufficiently to tap into applications on merit forthcoming from those sections of the community that are at present significantly under-represented in higher education.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that because we are not attracting all of the most able pupils into higher education under the present system, some new initiatives are needed that will lead to greater excellence and achievement on the part of the academic community, which is the objective of the Government's policy?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. Let me emphasise a point that I know is well known to the House: it is three times more likely that a student from a middle-class background will enter higher education than a student from a working-class background. No one denies that applications should be on the basis of merit. The problem, which we all recognise, is that students with merit from working-class backgrounds are not at present applying in sufficient numbers. We are urging higher education to respond to that obvious need, for the sake of both the students and wider society.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, under the Scotland Act 1998, human rights are reserved to Westminster. How do the Government view the human rights of a young Scots person who finds that his parents and his school—neither of which he chose—block his application to a place at, say, Edinburgh University? I ask that because it was reported in yesterday's press that Edinburgh University is abandoning five centuries of Scots tradition and planning to use entrance requirements other than academic excellence. Will the Minister comment on how the Government view the human rights of such young people?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I find it difficult to understand that as being an issue of human rights, given the long commitment of British universities—all British universities—and government policy to the principle that applications should be judged on merit. The noble Baroness is confusing that principle with the

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position in which the actual achievements of students at 18—for mature students, perhaps somewhat later—should be the sole criteria for entry into higher education, when we all recognise that universities also seek to examine and understand potential. A-levels are an extremely successful guide to higher education potential. However, they are not the only guide.

Earl Russell: My Lords, is the Minister aware that when he speaks of full-time students, it is impossible effectively to be a full-time student without parental support over and above the student loan stretching well into four figures? Is he further aware that that is a bigger obstacle to selection on merit than any capable of being created by all the universities in the country? If he believes as strongly as he says he does in selection on merit, will he put his money where his mouth is?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government are certainly putting their money where their mouth is by significantly increasing the allocation to higher education in this country over the next three years. I understand what the noble Earl says about deterrents to young people entering higher education. Students have always required some degree of support outside the maintenance grant ever since the mid to late 1970s. I agree with him that debt is an important consideration for students. But the noble Earl will recognise that we have introduced a system that guarantees that the student repays over time when able to do so through salary rather then parents being demanded to pay up-front fees.


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