|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
One of the more contentious elements of the Goodlad report was the recommendation that this House should be better at reviewing its committees as they exist. In the past the House has sometimes tried to do this and, for obvious reasons, it is painful. There is great resistance to making any change to the existing architecture of committees. Why so? It is because people develop passion, commitment, and expertise. Everything that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, and everything that the noble Lord, Lord Roper, so eloquently said in his argumentation of the value that the EU Committee has brought to this House, is true. However, unfortunately that is not the point. The point is that unless the House can continue to increase its resources to allow new topics to be studied, there will always be a starvation
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1166
If, the House considers that it can have only one net addition, the Liaison Committee would then have the invidious task of deciding that we did not do more pre-legislative scrutiny, that we did not start post-legislative scrutiny, and that we did not have a process whereby we selected a couple of topics of cross-cutting domestic policy to look at each year. That would be regrettable. I regret that the Science and Technology Committee and the EU Committee are to be reduced, but that is necessary in circumstances where we do not have limitless resources. They can both make their case in a year's time as to why they should be increased.
However, the thrust of the report essentially is that we would be a better House if we accept these recommendations. It would involve substantially more of the expertise in the House which currently has no voice in our affairs because some noble Lords do not have a seat on a committee of the House and are longing to have that opportunity. For those reasons, I strongly support the Liaison Committee's recommendations.
Lord Broers: My Lords, I speak as a past chairman and present member of the Select Committee for Science and Technology. I cannot accept the argument of the noble Lord. The Science and Technology Select Committee provides fundamental information across the board in our country, particularly as an economic entity, that is relevant to all legislation. It is therefore incredibly important.
The most effective way to rebuild our economy is to restore our industrial leadership in the manufacturing of innovative products. This will only happen if we regain competitiveness in research and development. This is the business of the Science and Technology Select Committee. We inquire into whether our educational system is producing the graduates needed by industry for its R&D activities, whether the Government are using their procurement effectively to stimulate innovation, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has said, and we inquire into the state of specific industries such as nuclear power.
At present, the lack of R&D spend is the Achilles' heel of our economy. To reach the level of spending in Germany we would have to spend £10 billion more than we are spending at the moment, and to rival the USA we would have to spend £13 billion more. The Government are doing well in some of their initiatives, such as the catapults, but this is really only seed money. We need to keep our eye upon our academic and industrial performance in both the private and public sectors, and this is what the Select Committee does.
The committee needs two sub-committees in order to cover the two broad fields of science and technology: the engineering and physical, and the biological and medical. For example, the committee needs different talents to inquire into genomic medicine and renewable
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1167
Lord Roper: My Lords, I speak as the chairman of the European Union Committee, and I regret that I will be critical of the report presented by the Lord Chairman of Committees. I have not tabled an amendment, but in my view, and that of many of my colleagues on the committee and in the sub-committees, the report of the Liaison Committee is the unsatisfactory outcome of an unsatisfactory process as far as the European Union Committee is concerned.
First, the process. Earlier this year I learnt that the Liaison Committee was, entirely appropriately, reviewing the House's committee structure in the light of the Goodlad report. I wrote to ask to appear before the committee, and that request was granted. However, I was surprised to be told, in the letter inviting me to appear, that before the Liaison Committee had heard the arguments from my committee for its continuance of the committee in its present structure, the Liaison Committee was already minded to cut the number of European Union sub-committees by two or by one. I have sent to Members the detailed argument that I then put forward, which also appears in appendix 2 to the report that we are considering.
The last time the Liaison Committee conducted a general review of Lords committee activity was in 2010. On that occasion, unlike this time, it asked for information from the various committees before it made any decision. In 2010, the Liaison Committee concluded that the European Union Committee was performing a relevant and useful function, and it recommended no change. In fact, it recommended that certain other committees should be considered first if reductions needed to be made. I am unclear about what has changed in the mean time, except that on this occasion the Liaison Committee seemed to have made up its mind, or to have gone a long way towards doing so, before it took any evidence.
So far as concerns the outcome, in the end the Liaison Committee recommended the reduction of only one European Union sub-committee, which is why I did not table an amendment to today's Motion. Some of my colleagues on the committee-and noble Lords may well hear from them-may feel that I am being excessively reasonable, but I am conscious of the wider financial context in which these decisions had to be made. However, even a cut of one sub-committee will have an impact on our work. The European Union will continue to propose new laws that will affect UK citizens and companies, and consultation documents and White Papers will continue to come forward.
We have to deal with something like 1,000 documents a year from the European Union. This reduction will simply reduce the ability of the House of Lords to scrutinise the proposals effectively. In particular, it will reduce its ability to conduct an in-depth examination
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1168
The House sees the reports that we publish; it does not see the 500 letters a year that we send to Ministers raising problems that arise from the documents that we consider. However, that is the method by which we ensure that we have an explanation from the Government and a justification of their position. Ministers have told me that they consider that what we do is the most effective scrutiny of any part of their department's work. The House risks weakening our work in an area where our reputation is currently, and justifiably, exceptionally strong. That is why I regret the Liaison Committee's decision, and I fear that in due course the House, too, will come to regret it.
I conclude with a note about the suggestion to increase the maximum membership of sub-committees from 12 to 14. In the full Select Committee's view, sub-committees of 14 risk being too large. An excessive number of members could make it difficult to work effectively as a team. Therefore, we would rather co-opt an additional two members to a sub-committee for a particular inquiry, thereby involving a wider group of Members of the House to take part in different aspects of our work. We feel that otherwise the current size of 12 members per sub-committee is probably right.
Lord Jopling: We have just heard from the Cross Benches; I think it is our turn. I very much support what the noble Lord, Lord Roper, has just said. I was first elected at the other end of this building almost 48 years ago. One strand that has run through the entire time in which I have served in both Houses has been my enthusiasm for the Select Committee system, which all those years ago I believed, very strongly, was the way in which Parliament could better exert its influence over the Executive. I was a member of two of Dick Crossman's Select Committees-the first ones to be set up-back in the 1960s. In the early 1980s, following the 1979 election, I, with my late lamented friend Norman St John-Stevas, later Lord St John of Fawsley, who sadly is no longer with us, set up the departmental committees. I conducted all the negotiations over them with the Opposition at the time. Since coming to your Lordships' House, I have been a member of, I think, three European Union committees. I have been chairman of two of them and I continue to serve on Sub-Committee C.
As the noble Lord, Lord Roper, has just said, the work of the European Union Select Committee is widely admired throughout Europe, and I believe that it provides the best scrutiny of European legislation anywhere in the Community. I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said about these
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1169
Instead of reducing the number of committees, we should be thinking of expanding them. I have spoken before in the House about my failure to understand why we do not have a foreign affairs committee. There are whole rafts of foreign affairs issues, of which the Commonwealth is only one, with which Sub-Committee C, covering foreign affairs, defence and development, cannot begin to deal. I profoundly disagreed with the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Filkin-for whom, from previous associations, I have the greatest possible respect-when he spoke about committees being, in his phrase, "squeezed out". Rather than squeezing out these committees-particularly the European Union Committee-we ought to see what we can do to strengthen them. I very much support those who hope that when the Leader of the House responds to the debate he will agree to take the matter back and think again.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, on, if nothing else, the basis that to give way once might be thought a virtue but to give way seven times seems more like a form of masochism peculiar to the practices of this place. Therefore, I shall support the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, for a variety of reasons but I shall be brief.
For a number of years, the Lords Science and Technology Committee fulfilled a role in the absence of a similar committee in the other place. The other place now has such a committee, but a House that can stand down a committee of that type in a contemporary world is quite capable of standing it down again. A far more important point here is that in the other place I know of only one Member who has a recent and strong scientific background. He is able and good, and he will make a significant mark in that place. However, in this place-and without sparing the blushes of my colleagues-we have people such as the noble Lords, Lord Oxburgh, Lord Broers, Lord Krebs and Lord May, and that is before we stretch to the marvellous range of medics who have a scientific background and can speak with relevance to what goes on in those committees. I think that the one Member of the other place whom I mentioned would not wish to be weighed in the balances against that collection of talent.
The role of these specialists, and the place which this committee gives them, is important in two fundamental ways. The first is that cross-examination
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1170
I turn to the issue of impact. Today there has been a government announcement of £66 million for research on dementia. Our report on science and ageing set that hare running when we pointed out the sums that were spent in this area as compared with other illnesses. The impact on society of weakness in this area is huge. I am therefore glad that the Government are following it through. We also managed to persuade the Wellcome Trust and the MRC to put up £30 million about four years ago.
Lastly, after the recent follow-up report that the committee issued on flu pandemics, I had a letter from several consultants thanking us for paying such attention to the subject and making their task more manageable. I think that we would do a great disservice to this House, and to the importance of science and technology, if we did not accept this amendment.
Lord Winston: My Lords, I will be brief. I would like to take up a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, in a previous debate. It seems absolutely ridiculous to change the nature of these expert Select Committees at this time, when the whole question of the reform of the House of Lords will start to be discussed in the next few months. I beg the House to consider that issue, because the Science and Technology Committee is a highly respected committee. I could cite a list of sub-committees that have all made an international impact, from our treatment of antibiotic resistance, to the change in aircraft passenger environment, to the use of science in education in schools-where, for example, extensive, major changes have been made as a result of the House of Lords report. I am really surprised at the noble Lord, Lord Filkin. After all, he spent some time in the Home Office, which has to deal with a range of scientific issues, from animal research, to security and surveillance, to electronic monitoring, to weapons. We have to recognise-
Lord Filkin: I would not wish to confuse my good friend, the noble Lord, Lord Winston. I totally respect the importance of science and technology: it could not be more important. The thrust of the Liaison Committee's report, which I was supporting, was the need for
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1171
Lord May of Oxford: My Lords, in the light of what the noble Lord has just said, I have every sympathy with the problem that the Liaison Committee is seeking to address. The past few years have, after all, seen an extraordinary increase in the number of people joining us in this House, adding roughly one-third to the number of just a few years ago. It is of course proper to wish to handle things in such a way that more people can be engaged, and that is very difficult at a time when the resources cannot expand to accommodate it. I am not going to go over again the ground that has been covered, and there will be yet further examples of how extraordinary the Science and Technology Committee has been-but it is not alone in that. However, one of the distinctive and hugely useful features of the House of Lords is the expertise and first-hand knowledge that it possesses. The best of briefing is no substitute for that. We have expertise in law, engineering, science, medicine, economics, social science, the arts, business and much else, and we want to embrace it all.
I have sat on both ends of the Select Committee table-I was also interrogated by them in my five-year stint as Chief Scientific Adviser to the John Major and Tony Blair Governments. The committees were very different entities-they were not just the one Science and Technology Committee. The House of Commons is often excellent, but it rarely matches the expert, knowledgeable, thoughtful approach that is brought forward in this House. In my experience of the other place, particularly with regard to issues of genetic modification, opinion is too often substituted for knowledge and beliefs for thoughtful analysis.
It is against that background that I offer what I hope might be a solution-or at least the elements of a solution-to the conundrum before us, of whether we embrace more people in ways that play to their strength. Let us not forget that, until relatively recently, the Science and Technology Committee typically ran two sub-committees, one of which it has lost. The committee has always co-opted other people. I have looked at the past six years and, typically, a little more than one in five of those serving on the Science and Technology Committee or its sub-committees were co-opted from outside. It therefore has a way of going about enlarging its ambit. The result of losing one of those sub-committees is the loss of some of those opportunities. If we lose the second one, we will have lost-apart from the ability to do the work-roughly half of a sub-committee's worth of co-opted people.
I am coming to my suggestion. Having come off the Science and Technology Committee, my interests in the last three or four years have shifted; I have become involved with the Bank of England and others in systemic risk in financial systems. It is quite substantial. I am not aware of anybody in the House who has this precise kind of competence, which has not conventionally been something of major focus in the Bank. Therefore, I asked the Economic Affairs Committees whether I could be a co-opted member if and when there were things of this kind. I was told that those committees
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1172
The other proposal in this Liaison Committee report is to use four ad hoc committees. Personally, I think the idea of one or two ad hoc committees is extremely good, for the reasons that we have already heard. I also understand that we have resources for one more fully funded Select Committee. I suggest that we do not go for four ad hoc committees, rather one or two at a time, and keep what is one of the demonstrable jewels in this place, which is the full strength of its input to science and technology in the broadest sense, and with an emphasis on the technology as well as the science.
Lord Bowness: My Lords, I wish to endorse the words of the noble Lord, Lord Roper, the chairman of the European Union Select Committee, and to agree with my noble friend Lord Jopling. I confirm that the views they have expressed are those widely held by the members of the main committee and its sub-committees. Having said that, I do not intend to indulge in special pleading for any particular part of the European Union Select Committee, and I am sure that if the recommendation is approved today, it will find a way so far as is possible to continue its work at the level and standards that have been achieved under its successive chairmen.
However, I have two observations to make. First, we are being asked to reduce the number of sub-committees against the background of the express desire of the Minister for Europe that parliamentary scrutiny of European legislation should be improved. That is a matter for Parliament and not for Government, but it is an objective which presumably we all share, whatever our views of the European Union. Are noble Lords in the House today quite certain that that exhortation to do more can be achieved with fewer resources, and has there been-as we frequently ask the European Commission-an appropriate impact assessment? Secondly, it was the Government that chose to increase the number of Members of your Lordships' House, and quite reasonably the House now has to find ways of ensuring that as many of our number as possible are able to play a part in the committee work of the House.
As I read it, the Leader's Group recommended an expansion of committee work with additional resources and not at the expense of existing committees. I would submit that it is not really possible to expand the House by the numbers it has and, despite the House Committee's desire to hold or reduce costs over the current planning period, to improve scrutiny and increase
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1173
I wish that we could have had a comprehensive debate about the working practices report, especially those parts concerned with resources, rather than the piecemeal approach of a recommendation here and a recommendation there. I hope that it is not too late for that to happen.
Viscount Hanworth: My Lords, the Liaison Committee has proposed to curtail the work of the Science and Technology Committee by effectively halving the time and resources that are devoted to it. I should like to declare in the strongest possible manner that to do so would be a misguided action. I would go so far as to say that in the perception of many people, it would be an act of vandalism. It appears from the report of the Liaison Committee that it sees the role of Select Committees primarily as that of contributing to the House's scrutiny of the Government's legislative and executive activities. It proposes to curtail the work of the Science and Technology Committee in order to make way for two new committees which might serve the purpose of engaging Members of the House more fully in committee work. Be that as it may, the fact is that the Science and Technology Committee plays a much larger role than has been attributed to it by the Liaison Committee.
Ever since they have been published on the web, and no doubt for much longer than that, the reports of the committee have disseminated scientific information and judicious opinion on scientific matters to a very wide readership. I have read the submission of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, to the Liaison Committee and it is my opinion, at least in that context, that he has been far too modest in proclaiming the importance of the Science and Technology Committee. However, today he has left us in no doubt at all about its importance. I am sure that the reports produced by the committee have contributed greatly to the reputation of the House of Lords as a forum for serious and informed debate. If the committee's activities are curtailed, the House will suffer a commensurate loss of reputation. I do not think that I can express the matter more clearly than that.
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, I think it might be useful to hear from these Benches and from another side of the argument. One of the essences of science is the requirement to look at all the different arguments. The Liaison Committee has had to look at a number of difficult problems, and as a member of that committee, it is important for me to bring them to your Lordships' attention.
The first point is that we do not have sufficient resources, financially or otherwise, to service all the areas that Members quite properly wish to address.
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1174
The second point is that we have substantially increased the number of Members of your Lordships' House. Those Members are bringing with them considerable expertise. In some areas they may even be bringing more up-to-date expertise than that of those who have been here for some time, so they should not be undervalued. In that context, we need to find a way to move forward. It is absolutely right that we should dwell on our reputation from the past, but it is equally important to continue to develop and to move forward, otherwise we will simply become stuck.
One crucial area of development is that of information and communications technology. We have a Communications Committee; it is neither a Select Committee nor a sessional committee, but in effect a kind of ad hoc committee on communications. It is quite clear that over the past year or two, that committee's understanding of its remit has developed. It now looks not just at questions of the content of communication and broadcast, but at the technology of broadband and digital communication. Whenever, as a member of the committee, I asked whether there had been some kind of formal communication between it and the Science and Technology Committee about this, I was told that there had not. That was a failing on the part of both committees. If the Science and Technology Committee was not consulting with the Communications Committee, and if that committee was not making requests to consult with the Science and Technology Committee, both of them were failing to look to the future. I have to say that science and technology is also social science and social technology, and we have had only a very modest amount of research in those areas by the Science and Technology Committee. There was a recent rather good report on behaviour change, but the overall amount has been very modest.
It is not enough for us simply to say, "We want to keep what we have and we want more", because we do not have the resources and we do have new people with their thoughts and ideas. It is therefore not enough simply to say, when it comes to the European Committee, "We have got seven sub-committees, but we want eight, with one on foreign affairs". We do not have the money for that.
So, what do we do? The proposal is to continue with the Communications Committee, and a specific proposal that I myself put to the Liaison Committee was that we should ask it to consult with the Science and Technology Committee over the coming year so that areas of overlap can be accommodated in the work of the Communications Committee, and indeed that its name should be changed to exemplify the fact that there is a science and technology component to its work. It is not a matter of shutting down but of opening up and of further understanding. Here is an area of science and technology that is extremely relevant. When you go out on the streets, you can see that young people are more aware in their daily lives of the
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1175
There is absolutely no reason why some of the ad hoc committees, which will be relatively short term, should not pick up on issues of science, technology and medicine. Nothing should restrict them just because they are ad hoc committees. Indeed, in pre- and post-legislative scrutiny, there is no reason why some things that they pick up should be in these areas.
I appeal to noble Lords to understand the dilemma of a Liaison Committee, acting on behalf of the House and with modest resources, that has to deal with a substantial increase in the number of Members, an ever increasing amount of material that we could reasonably, legitimately, profitably-and in a way that enhances the reputation of the House-consider, but that also has to address the reality of the boundaries and limits imposed on us. I trust that however we choose to vote, the conversation will continue so that we continue to do the best we can for the House while addressing all the pressures that are on the Liaison Committee and the other committees that have to take responsibility.
Lord Grenfell: I am most grateful to noble Lords. I begin by declaring an interest, in particular with reference to recommendation 46 about the reduction in the European Union sub-committee structure by one sub-committee. In 2003, when I had the honour of being chairman of the European Union Committee, I argued very strongly for an extra committee and we obtained one. It was not done lightly. It was done because the volume of draft legislation coming from the European Union was enormous and we did not feel that we were able to cover, in particular, draft directives and other documents in the area of social affairs and education. We therefore asked for the extra committee and we got it.
It seems strange that we are arguing for a reduction in the capacity of the European Union committee structure at a time when national parliaments are being asked-in fact, pressed-by the European Union to take a much more significant role and to be a much more substantial part of the structure of the European Union. This is, therefore, not a good time for us to think about reducing our capacity to meet that very considerable challenge. The noble Lord, Lord Roper, in his excellent letter, in appendix 2 of the report and in his very good statement this afternoon, set out the scale of the burden now borne by the European Union Committee. I am rather disappointed that an amendment on that subject has not been tabled to the Motion.
The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said again and again that it was a fact that there were not sufficient resources. One might ask why there are not sufficient resources. That seems to me the nub of the question: what are the causes of the financial constraint? One of them-there are several-and maybe one of the biggest, is the unnecessary inflation of the membership of the House. That is to a very large extent a direct cause of the financial problem.
When we consider the additional cost of a new unit of committee activity-who on earth invented that frightful description of our work?-we are told that
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1176
Could we not try to be realistic about this and see it in the proper context of resources? If we had a smaller House, we would have more resources. It stands to reason that if we reduce the number of Members of the House, we will reduce the amount that the Exchequer has to put out to pay to keep them here. Why do we always say that there are no resources yet do not address the question of why? The size of the House is a major contributor to that unfortunate situation.
The House has a worldwide reputation of being one of the most cost-effective second Chambers in the world. Within that, it has a reputation of being probably the best scrutiny Chamber in the world. From my own experience, I can certainly tell noble Lords that in the European Union we have consistently been considered-run close by the French Senate-the most effective Chamber scrutinising draft European legislation. Do we want to lose that capacity? No, we do not, so let us look at ways of keeping it. I beg noble Lords to strongly consider why we are short of resources, to address that issue and not to undermine the huge reputation of the House.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I shall speak briefly. I have read the report of the Liaison Committee with great care. I think that it was carefully argued. I fully appreciate why, in times of financial constraint, it made the proposals that it did. However, we as a country depend on increasing our income and overcoming our deficit. There can be no question, in my opinion, that the development of science, education and technology will play a vital role in helping us to recover from the deficit state in which we find ourselves. Unfortunately, we are slow to take account of, develop and extend the results of scientific discovery-a problem that we have faced over many years.
We live now in an era of evidence-based and translational medicine-meaning the ability to convert the results of basic science into developments in patient care and new methods of treatment of disease. It is crucial that the results of research in basic science, engineering and technology should do the same. Happily, the Government have put more money into scientific research. The Technology Strategy Board is making a major impact, and so, too, are a huge number of other important developments-but they need development and they need support.
I have been in the House for 23 years. For 15 of those years, I served as a member of your Lordships' Committee on Science and Technology. I chaired an inquiry some years ago into research in the National Health Service. That was a privilege. The report of that sub-committee inquiry led to the Culyer report and then the Cooksey report, and ultimately to the introduction of the NHS research programme-and now the highly effective National Institute for Health Research.
I worked on a small inquiry of the sub-committee which, curiously, in a limited field, dealt with the medicinal uses of cannabis and led eventually to the development of a standardised product of cannabis leaf that is now being sold across the world-used for absorption through the mucus membrane of the mouth-and that brings in money from across the world because of its effect in the treatment of multiple sclerosis. I could quote a lot of other inquiries that have been crucial: not least, for instance, the committee I chaired into complementary and alternative medicine, to try to bring a rational basis to the study of this particular area, in which a large amount of money is spent by very many people in this country. That report was taken on board by the National Institutes of Health in the United States as the basis for a programme of research on which it embarked, and into which it put money, to try to get an evidence base for that field of complementary medicine. I could quote many other examples-and many other examples have been quoted today.
The reason I support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Krebs is that the reports of the Science and Technology Committee in this House have not only had a major influence on government policy across the entire scientific field but have won the respect of Britain's scientific community. Above all, they have won the respect of the international scientific community. As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, said, the report on science and society was widely commended in the United States media. I could quote a huge number of other reports from the committee that have had a similar effect.
It is absolutely crucial that the committee should continue to function in its present capacity. My noble friend Lord Krebs said, in his carefully argued and detailed letter in annexe 3 to the third report from the Liaison Committee, proposed,
He proposed a number of methods for co-opting members to each of the sub-committees and made it clear that he could continue with the two sub-committees of the science committee with co-opted members, increasing the involvement of other Members of the House.
It would be a sad day if that committee, which has fulfilled such a vital role in Britain's science community, and which has received such outstanding credit from across the world, were to lose one of its sub-committees at a time when Britain needs much more development in science, engineering and technology. For that reason, I strongly support my noble friend Lord Krebs.
It is welcome that the European committees have been cut from eight-seven plus one-to one and six sub-committees. However, that still leaves 84 Members of your Lordships' House on the sub-committees, a further 14 on the main committee, with the result that the time of 98 of your Lordships is taken by the European Select Committee. I have mentioned this before. There is a long series of Questions from the noble Lords, Lord Tebbit and Lord Vinson, answered by the Government, which show that the European Committee has virtually no influence on the legislation that comes to us from Brussels. As your Lordships know, that is quite a substantial proportion of our general legislation and easily the majority of-
Lord Sewel: There is the vexatious question of the reform of the common fisheries policy. Has the noble Lord looked at the Green Paper that the Fisheries Commissioner has published? Is he aware that it borrows-I dare not use the word "plagiarises"-significantly from the report of the committee of this House?
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I understand that the decision of the European Commission to review the common fisheries policy is due more to the series on television by Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall than to your Lordships' Select Committee. And anyway, we await reform of the common fisheries policy, as we have for the past 30 years.
I do not want to turn this into a debate on the pluses and minuses of the European Union, but I want to explain to your Lordships why seven European committees is still far too many. I referred to the series of Questions from the noble Lords, Lord Tebbit and Lord Vinson, the answers to which show that the Select Committee has had virtually no influence on legislation coming to us from Brussels. That is not surprising. Your Lordships may be aware of the process of European legislation, which is proposed in secret by the Commission, negotiated in secret in COREPER and passed in secret in the Council. There is nothing that your Lordships' House or the other place can do when it has gone through that process.
Lord Hannay of Chiswick: I hesitate to interrupt the noble Lord when he is in full flight on one of his well chosen paths, but I wonder how on earth he thinks that a government reply to another Member of this House can demonstrate that the influence of the committee and its sub-committees is nil. Of course, the noble Lord wants that to be the answer; of course, he wants there to be a reduction in the sub-committees and the committee to ensure that we do not scrutinise the European Union properly, because he wants to strengthen the argument to leave the European Union. However, it would be quite nice if we could address the subject before the House, which is the matter of the Liaison Committee's report, and could above all face the fact that the European Committee deals with
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1179
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I was about to explain to your Lordships why that core function is pointless compared to the work that the other Select Committees do in this House-and we have heard of powerful examples from the Science and Technology Committee. All the other committees are taken very seriously in this country and worldwide, whereas the debates of the European Committee in your Lordships' House are ill attended and do nothing to inform public opinion about how the European Union works-and its membership, as I have said again and again, is solidly Europhile. We have just had two interventions to prove that.
The noble Lord, Lord Roper, has told us that the committee scrutinises very effectively European legislation. It writes to Ministers. But your Lordships will be aware of the scrutiny reserve, an agreement whereby successive Governments have given an assurance, although it is not a legal assurance, to both Houses of Parliament that if a piece of legislation is under scrutiny the Government of the day will not sign up to it in Brussels unless that committee agrees. Written Answers from the Government show that that has been overridden hundreds of times in the past 10 years-I think it is 343 times in the past five years.
I mention all this only to show that we put all this effort into the European Union committees and get very little out of them. I am sorry to offend noble and Europhile Lords, and I hope that the House does not think that I am banging on again about Europe. But hearing the comments about the eminent scientists in this Room who have spoken only for the Science and Technology Committee, and looking at the other committees, which are full of expertise and widely respected in the country and internationally, I fear that we have the balance wrong. Two or three European committees, including the main one, would be quite enough. We should redirect those energies into committees that will serve the House and the country well.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I hear the debate that we have had this evening but I have to say that I support the recommendations from the Liaison Committee, which closely follow the proposals from the report of the Leader's Group. I warmly welcome the recommendation that two new cross-cutting and ad hoc committees should be set up, although my preference would have been for an appointment of two and a half years to enable the committees themselves to deliberate on the subjects of the report and to enable the committees to follow up the conclusions of the report, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, suggested.
I also welcome the proposals on pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny, which I believe to be extremely important. If there is to be new draft legislation on adoption, as suggested by the Prime Minister, I would be grateful for an assurance from the Chairman of Committees that it will not be introduced until the post-legislative scrutiny has been concluded.
The decisions regarding the European Committee and the Science and Technology Committee were not easy. In fact, they were extremely difficult. There were hard choices, and it is never a good time to bring about change. Of course, many noble Lords are concerned that, by reducing the number of European sub-committees from seven to six, we are diminishing the importance that this House rightly gives to proper scrutiny of EU documents and proposals, and diminishes our standing as a House of expertise. However, like the noble Lord, Lord Bowness, I am confident that the excellent and much needed scrutiny will continue with six sub-committees and a slightly larger membership, if the committees wish to enlarge.
The noble Lord is, of course, correct, as is my noble friend Lord Grenfell, in saying that it is the Government who are responsible for extending the membership of this House, while it is we in this House who have to deal with the financial consequences, which means reorganising the committees of this House. The work of the committee is held in the highest regard by parliaments and decision-makers in Europe and the wider world, and I know that this will continue to be the case. I disagree fundamentally with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. I am completely aware of the process of policy-making in the European Union, and I know just how influential the reports are both inside and outside the institutions. Likewise, the work of the Science and Technology Committee-
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I would not care to comment on that at the moment, but I am grateful for the invitation from the noble Lord. I was going to say how much the House as a whole rightly regards the work of the Science and Technology Committee. Clearly, the breadth of knowledge inside that committee, along with the understanding and the influence of the reports, is phenomenal, and I am sure that that will continue. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, resources are scarce. Throughout our deliberations in the committee, I have argued for additional resources to be made available for an additional committee, and I will continue to make that argument in the coming year, so that when we have deliberations at this time next year, I may well be able to argue in favour of more work for the Science and Technology Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, made a very good speech here and in Committee, and I have supported him in his arguments throughout. However, I support the report from the committee that is before us today, and I urge the whole House to adopt it. Should there be a vote, I wish to make it clear that the people on my Benches will have a free vote.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I know that I am going to disappoint noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. It is not my purpose, but I think it is the result of the report published by the Liaison Committee that I support. As the House knows, the report proposes
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1181
The whole point of this report is that it provides more opportunities for a broader range of Members to take part in the committee work of this House, and for those committees to be timely and to engage us in debate. The committees are meant to inform the House on subjects that we consider important. That is not to take away anything that the Science and Technology Committee does and has done. After all, this report is a package of recommendations. If it is agreed to, new resources will be made available to the Committee Office.
The report is also clear that some trimming of existing committees is required if we are to set up the new committees as proposed, and we have limited the trimming to a single sub-committee of the European Union Committee. The reason was asked by my noble friend Lord Jopling and indeed by the noble Lords, Lord Roper, Lord Grenfell, and others. They asked why we pick on the EU Committee, and the answer is, not because we do not value its work but because it absorbs by far the largest proportion of the House's Select Committee resources-eight committees in total-and so it is the obvious place to look when trying to release resources. This is also why, to answer the noble Lord, Lord Roper, the Liaison Committee was already minded to propose the change before hearing from the noble Lord. It was in no sense any disrespect to him as chairman or indeed to the quality of the work that he has done.
The second place was the Science and Technology Committee and its sub-committees. We felt that, in the future, the resources should be that of a single Select Committee. The reason why we suggest that is that it would put it on the same resource footing as the Constitution Committee, the Communications Committee and the Economic Affairs Committee, which itself appoints a sub-committee.
Of course, this House has a notable reputation in science and technology, but there are other fields of experience and interest in this House, and I suggest we should make use for them. However, I stress that there is no reason why Back-Benchers cannot propose technical and scientific subjects to the Liaison Committee as subjects for ad hoc committees. There is also no reason why, in future Sessions, we should not re-examine this decision. I am in favour of trying out pre-legislative and post-legislative scrutiny, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, and others. It may be that in a couple of Sessions' time we find that it is not a good use of the House's resources and that we should look again at the situation in the Science and Technology Committee.
Lord Krebs: Yes. I thank the noble Lord for his comments so far, but I would appreciate it if he would address the question that I put on what mechanism was used in the report to assess the value for money from different options. It is all very well to say that we need to create resources for new activities, but how was that evaluation carried out? I request some transparency on that.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, we started off from a slightly different position. We wanted to do more different things, such as pre-leg, post-leg and two new stand-alone ad hoc committees, and they had to be paid for by some trimming elsewhere. We took the view that there could be a reduction in the EU sub-committees, and I am afraid that the Science and Technology Committee was next in line. We suggested this in the report that we published right at the beginning of this Session nearly two years ago, when we said:
"So far as the Science and Technology Committee is concerned, we note that the Committee has recently worked through two units of activity ... Given that the House of Commons committee on this subject is now permanently established, we consider these two units of activity should be regarded as an absolute maximum; and in the event of further demands for committee work arising which require redeployment of committee resources we would in the first instance look towards retrenchment of the Science and Technology Committee".
Lord Haskel: Will the noble Lord respond to the point made by several scientists when speaking about the Science and Technology Committee: that it also serves the public and that the Liaison Committee has looked at it purely from the point of view of serving the convenience of the House? Will he respond to the point that we are also here to serve the public, as well as serving our own interests?
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, there is going to be a new committee on post-legislative scrutiny of adoption and family services; more pre-legislative scrutiny; and two new committees, one on SMEs and exports and the other on public services and demography. All of these are designed to serve the interests of the public using much more of the expertise that exists around the House. This decision was not taken easily or capriciously; its implications were well understood. As I have said, in the longer term there is no reason why we should not revisit it.
Lord Methuen: On what basis is the Committee Office funded and why, with this huge influx of new Members, could more resources not be given to it to enable these additional committees and the existing ones to be adequately funded?
Lord Strathclyde: The reason is that we are trying to work within our existing budgets. Throughout the public sector there are limits on increasing expenditure. The House of Commons is facing a substantial decrease in expenditure and it would look a bit odd if the House of Lords alone decided to spend even more public money.
Lord May of Oxford: Does the noble Lord believe that his second attempt to answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, answered it? I did not understand it. Given that he asserted that there was going to be a cost-benefit analysis, I did not hear anything like that in his reply.
Lord Strathclyde: It is very difficult to provide a cost-benefit analysis until we have seen the work and the success of the new committees that have been proposed. We are proposing four new committees-they do not exist at the moment-which will be paid for in part by a small reduction-I still say that it is a small reduction-in the amount of money available to the Science and Technology Committee. The best time for a cost-benefit analysis will be at the end of the first or second Session when we have seen how these new committees have worked out.
The Chairman of Committees: I will be brief because I know that certain Members of the House want to get on to the next business with rather a great deal of impatience. I shall not take long. I will not be able to name everyone in the impressive list of noble Lords who have spoken, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, and the massed ranks of fellow scientists that he has managed to assemble today.
In what I thought was a very impressive speech, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, was right to say how difficult it was to review the committee structure because no one wanted change. Everyone wants to keep exactly the same thing going on-people are always resistant to change-but at the same time they want new committees. That is what we are trying to do. As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, and the noble Lord the Leader of the House said-
Lord Winston: I wonder if the noble Lord might be prepared to withdraw that remark about the "massed ranks". It seems contemptuous of the serious point that we as scientists are trying to put to the House of Lords.
The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I certainly was not trying to be contemptuous of the noble Lord, Lord Winston-rather the opposite; I was impressed by the number of scientists who had spoken. I am sorry that the noble Lord misunderstood me, or maybe I did not express myself well.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, said, it is a question of resources. We cannot continue to spend more and more money. In this report we have
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1184
On the point about the European Union Committee, we will still have six sub-committees and a main committee so there will be seven committees in action in that area. They will still be better resourced than most, if not all, such sub-committees in other EU national parliaments.
We were grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, for coming to see us and explaining things. We had intended to be helpful in telling him roughly what we thought, and we had intended that he would therefore know what to expect and what to argue. We also did not want committees to plan work beyond the end of the Session that they would then have to alter. Indeed, the noble Lord persuaded us not to reduce the size of the EU Committee to five but to keep it at six. I had thought that it was the European Union Committee's desire that the membership of the sub-committees should go up from 12 to 14; that is the impression that we on the committee were given. If that is not the case, though, it is only-
Lord Roper: My Lords, there was some sort of misunderstanding. When I came before the Liaison Committee, I suggested the increase in size as an alternative way to involve more Peers, rather than reducing the number of committees.
The Chairman of Committees: I would say only that membership can be up to 14. There is no need for the European Union Committee to appoint 14 on each of its sub-committees; it can continue at 12, as it wants to at the moment.
Noble Lords have made a number of other points but I do not think I can add much more. On the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, about the Science and Technology Committee, there is nothing to stop that committee conducting follow-up inquiries in future. Paragraph 47 of the report makes clear that the committee should retain the power to appoint a sub-committee and to co-opt additional Members for particular inquiries. Both those points are already made in the report.
Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve: Will the noble Lord confirm that the Government remain committed to policies and structures in the House; and that the
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1185
Lord Krebs: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Chairman of the Liaison Committee for his summing up, and the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. A number of telling points have been made during today's debate. I am a little disappointed that in the replies from the noble Lord the Leader of the House and the Chairman of the Liaison Committee those points were not all fully addressed. However, I take heart from the noble Lord the Leader reiterating the point that he made in a letter that he sent to the Cross-Bench Convenor, and perhaps to others, that the reduction that he envisages in the support for the Science and Technology Committee is a small one, which is very different from my understanding when I read the report that essentially support for the committee was going to be halved. I see a glimmer of hope there and I hope that in further discussion I can understand how small "small" is. I assume that "small" is smaller than what I see as large. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, your Lordships will remember that last Wednesday I indicated that agreement had been reached between the United Kingdom Government and the Scottish Government on a number of changes to the Scotland Bill and supporting non-legislative measures. Following this agreement the Scottish Government tabled a legislative consent Motion recommending the Scottish Parliament support the Bill. The amendments in this group are part of the changes to the Scotland Bill as a consequence of the agreement that has been reached between the Government and the Scottish Government to ensure that the Bill continues to retain the support of the Scottish Parliament, previously affirmed in an overwhelming vote of support in March 2011.
These amendments will remove Clause 7, Clause 12 and the associated Schedule 2, Clause 13 and Clause 26 of the Bill. With regard to Clause 7, the Government's intention in pursuing the limited reference procedure contained in that clause was to prevent unnecessary delays to Bills in the Scottish Parliament, where the majority of provisions are considered to be within the legislative competence of that Parliament. The Scottish Government had raised concerns that this clause could have potential for introducing unintended consequences and delay in enacting legislation in the Scottish Parliament.
Likewise, during Committee consideration, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd of Duncansby, raised concerns about whether the provision was necessary, as he believed that the existing arrangements appeared
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1188
Amendment 14 removes Clause 26 from the Bill. This would have allowed UK Ministers to implement international obligations on a UK basis, where it would be more convenient to take action on such a basis. The Scottish Government believe that this clause could undermine the clarity about which Parliament and which Ministers have responsibility for a particular matter. Both Governments acknowledge the importance of ensuring that all of the United Kingdom's international obligations are fully implemented across the UK on a timely basis.
The UK Government are willing to remove this clause, on the understanding of course that Scottish Ministers will ensure that any international obligations that fall within their responsibility are implemented on time. In turn, we have made clear to Scottish Ministers that the Government would be prepared to use their existing powers of direction under Section 58(2) of the Scotland Act 1998, should we have concerns about the implementation of international obligations within the remit of Scottish Ministers.
Clause 12 and associated Schedule 2 relate to insolvency. It would have returned legislative competence back to the United Kingdom Parliament in relation to all aspects of the winding up of business associations. The United Kingdom Government continue to believe that, where appropriate, Scottish procedures for insolvency should be in step with the rest of the United Kingdom. Our discussions with the Scottish Government have provided us with assurances that these concerns can be addressed without amending the devolution settlement in this respect. We therefore seek to remove this clause on the understanding that the Scottish Government will consider the modernisation measures for the devolved areas of winding up in Scotland introduced into the reserved insolvency procedures in 2009 and 2010; and have provided assurances that future changes made by the UK Parliament or Ministers in this area will be considered timeously by the Scottish Government in their area of competence.
Finally, Amendment 7 seeks to remove Clause 13, dealing with the regulation of health professionals, from the Bill. While the Scottish Parliament has had power to introduce for Scotland separate legislation in respect of regulating a number of health profession-that is, those not listed by reference to specific statutes in Schedule 5 of the Scotland Act-it has chosen not to do so. Rather, it has approved the use of the existing, reserved machinery, in the form of orders made under Section 60 of the Health Act 1999, to regulate new groups of healthcare professionals.
During our discussions with the Scottish Government they raised some concerns about this clause. The Scottish Government have provided us with clear assurances that they will work closely with the Government to ensure that consistent regulatory regimes apply to all health professions. Given these
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1189
The Government have received assurances on all these matters that the same effect that was sought by provisions in the Bill can be secured by non-legislative means. On that basis we have agreed to seek to take out the provisions from the Bill. I beg to move the amendments.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, I wonder if this would be a good opportunity for the Minister in his reply to inform the House what will now happen in relation to the legislative consent Motion. It would be helpful if he could briefly give us a timetable about when it will be considered by the Scottish Parliament and the procedures thereafter. If there are any problems, how will this House be informed? Does he envisage that the legislative consent Motion will be passed through the Scottish Parliament without any difficulty; and are there any further procedures that may be necessary within this Parliament following the passage of the legislative consent Motion?
Lord Boyd of Duncansby: My Lords, before I address the amendments that the noble and learned Lord has spoken to, I should place on record the fact that the handling of this Bill has been nothing short of scandalous. To start three hours late, almost on the dinner hour, is quite unforgiveable. Yet again, those of us who are participating in this Bill are under pressure to sit longer and at unusual times to accommodate the Government's business. At a time when we are trying in this House to demonstrate the evident utility of remaining part of the United Kingdom, of Scotland playing a meaningful role in Parliament, and of this Parliament playing a meaningful role in the affairs of Scotland, it smacks of contempt for the position of Scotland. I do not for one moment suggest that the noble and learned Lord has any part in this. I know that he is frustrated by the progress that has been made, but frankly those who are responsible for this should be ashamed of themselves.
As for the amendments that the noble and learned Lord has spoken to, we are pleased that agreement has been reached between the Government and Scottish Ministers. This allows for the passing of the legislative consent Motion. We recognise, of course, that compromises have been made on both sides, though those made by the Scottish Ministers from the demands that they set have clearly been much more substantial. It will be interesting to read how Scottish Ministers deal with the Scotland Bill Committee and Report when they come to deal with the legislative consent Motion. This group of amendments implements much, though not all, of the agreement. Inevitably, there are issues that we support, such as the removal of the clause on the partial suspension of Bills of the Scottish
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1190
On insolvency, we stated our belief in Committee that the clause did not appear to be in keeping with the spirit of the original Calman recommendations, in that it went beyond the reservation of the power for the Insolvency Service to lay down the rules to be applied by insolvency practitioners on both sides of the border and reserved the whole body of law on corporate insolvency. As far as we can see, neither the original proposals in the Scotland Bill nor the state of affairs following the removal of this clause really address the issues identified by Calman. Given that, it might be helpful if the noble and learned Lord outlined what next steps might be taken with regard to insolvency.
On health professionals, we are actually genuinely sorry that this part of the Bill is being removed. Clause 13 implemented the recommendation of the Calman commission. The recommendation was made not lightly but on the evidence proffered, while the royal colleges and others have expressed concern that the fragmentation of the regulation of healthcare professionals should be rational and appropriate. Nevertheless, we understand the Government's reasoning for leaving this provision out in order to secure the agreement of the Scottish Parliament to the passing of the consent Motion. Particularly importantly, the Scottish Government have given assurances that they will work closely with the Government to ensure that consistent regulatory regimes apply to health professionals throughout the United Kingdom. We will look to them to hold to this commitment, as I am sure will the health professions, royal colleges and others.
On international obligations, we were neutral on the inclusion of the original clause. We were not wholly convinced that it was necessary, although we accepted that it was a potentially useful measure, and for that reason we did not seek to oppose it being part of the Bill. We think that the Government have won important assurances from the Scottish Ministers that they will work with the Government to ensure that the United Kingdom continues at all times to implement international obligations. We note, too, that if there is a failure to implement such obligations, the Government may use their existing powers under Section 58(2) of the Scotland Act to direct Scottish Ministers appropriately. Accordingly, we support the amendments moved by the Government.
Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, before the noble and learned Lord sits down, perhaps I could associate myself with his earlier remarks. I regret that I have not taken part in the proceedings on this Bill until now. I was not sure whether or not I should declare an interest as someone who spends most of the year in Scotland. Now that I have worked it out that I do not, I feel free to join in.
My specific question follows what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, said. Our Companion requires that there should be 14 days between Committee and
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1191
No one has told the Scottish people that this Bill is going to result in them paying more tax in future, and no one has asked them. All we are being told is that the manifestos said that the Calman commission results were going to be taken seriously, but no one knew at the time of the election that this was going to be the outcome. I am sure that the Minister is not personally responsible but I ask him to explain to us how and why this decision was taken, in view of the enormous importance of these matters to the Scottish people.
Lord Wallace of Tankerness: My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I heard the stringent comments of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd of Duncansby, echoed by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. I am sure that they will be noted. Having had experience of the House of Commons, the Scottish Parliament and your Lordships' House, if there is a thread that links these three experiences it is that the usual channels have currents and depths that I have rarely, if ever, been able to fathom.
Lord Sewel: Of course we do not hold the Minister at all responsible for what happens in the usual channels, but it seems rather perverse that we have discussed this Bill late at night and on Thursdays, under pressure of time. I accepted that because of the nature of the parliamentary timetable, but then we were told that we are having an extra week's recess. Those extra days would have enabled this Bill to be given the due and proper consideration that it deserves, and I hope that the Minister and my noble and learned friend on the Front Bench will pass on those comments to the usual channels.
With regard to the further point made by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, about the number of days between Committee and Report, it was agreed between the usual channels, and as a result of a delay for further sessions in Committee to take place after the end of the consultation on the referendum, there was a need to reduce. As I indicated, that was agreed. In response to his further point, all parties-or at least all non-Scottish National parties that fought elections in Scotland: the Labour Party, the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats-had these proposals in their manifestos and I do not think it is fair to say that they had not been aired at all prior to the general election, nor indeed since.
I welcome the general support that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd of Duncansby, has given to these moves, in the spirit of seeking agreement. He asked about insolvency. Specifically, there will be engagement with the Scottish Government to ensure
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1192
More generally, the Accountant in Bankruptcy is an executive agency of the Scottish Government that holds policy responsibility for devolved insolvency matters in Scotland, and the Insolvency Service is aware of the need to stay in close contact with counterparts in the Accountant in Bankruptcy's office, as indeed already happens, to help ensure that as far as possible developments in insolvency law in devolved areas do not create unnecessary difficulties for users of the legislation. So there are the specific provisions of the 2009-10 changes, which we have had assurances will be implemented, and there is a means by which we can maintain contact and dialogue in the longer term.
With regard to health professionals, like the noble and learned Lord, I was a member of the Calman commission and certainly took this matter seriously. He will appreciate that we have agreed to seek removal of this clause on the receipt of assurances that the Scottish Government will work with us to ensure consistency in the regulation of health professionals. I sometimes wonder if we had had some representations from the Scottish Government when we sat on the Calman commission whether we might have been able to reflect those in the report, but that was not the case.
The noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, asked about the procedure from here on in. In his letter to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Parliamentary Business and Government Strategy, Mr Bruce Crawford, having gone through the terms of the agreement, indicated:
"I can therefore confirm that the Scottish Government is now prepared to recommend to the Scottish Parliament that it consents to the Bill, amended in line with your proposals, and supported by the undertakings in your letter".
Of course, it will be a matter for the Scottish Parliament. It is my understanding that the Scotland Bill Committee of that Parliament will meet to discuss the amendments on Wednesday. We expect that the legislative consent Motion will be debated after the Easter Recess but before Third Reading in your Lordships' House. Given the engagement that there has been, I very much look forward to the Scottish Parliament approving the Motion to support the Bill. I hope that answers the noble Lord's inquiry.
The Earl of Caithness: Before my noble friend sits down, could he comment on his final point? If the legislative consent Motion is agreed by the Scottish Parliament before Third Reading and we pass an amendment at Third Reading, what is the situation then?
In section 29 of the 1998 Act (legislative competence) after subsection (2)(d) insert-
"(da) it would result in residents in England, Wales or Northern Ireland being treated differently to citizens from other EU member states.""
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I add my voice to those who are complaining about the way in which this Bill has been handled. In his reply, it would be helpful if the Minister could indicate where he proposes to get to this evening. It is suggested we can get to Clause 25-that is 15 groups of amendments and we normally finish at 10 o'clock. Although I mean to be brief, I do not think that that will be achievable. It is extraordinary that a Bill of this importance is being treated in this way. When I complain to the usual channels, they blame each other. Something has gone very wrong with the business managers in this House and they need to get their act together.
The great argument for devolution, which I opposed, was that Westminster was not able to deal with Scottish legislation. I have been around Westminster since 1983 and I have never seen a piece of legislation affecting Scotland handled as badly as this piece of legislation has.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Has the noble Lord heard the suggestion from the Government's usual channels that if we do not make progress today and Wednesday we should consider sitting on Thursday to deal with it? Is that not an astonishing suggestion?
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: It is an interesting suggestion and if I thought it was correct I might defer consideration of my amendment until then as I would be able to get a majority quite easily, even if I just voted for it myself.
The noble Lords, Lord Hannay, Lord Sutherland and Lord Foulkes, have added their names to Amendment 1A. This is an historic occasion and there will be few occasions in this House when these four names together appear on one amendment. It emphasises the nature of this amendment and the nature of the injustice it seeks to deal with.
The amendment simply says that residents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland should be treated in exactly the same way by the Scottish Parliament as other members of other European states. One would assume this matter was completely uncontroversial. The amendment is grouped with Amendment 59, which provides for the Scottish universities to be consulted and for a delaying implementation provision in order to deal with any administrative difficulties that might arise.
I was acutely conscious of this issue when I ran at the beginning of this year for rector at the University of St Andrews, I regret to say unsuccessfully. I was beaten by a better candidate who had more time to commit to a great university. I attended the University of St Andrews with Alex Salmond. He ran the SNP and I ran the Tories. We had 1,300 members; he had three. It has changed round since those days. One of the characteristics of the University of St Andrews was that lots of students came from the rest of the United Kingdom and that is still the case today. What outraged me was discovering that students sitting side
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1194
That is an utterly divisive and wrong policy. It has been exacerbated by the increase in fees and by the fact that Scottish universities have four-year degrees. This amendment seeks to create the circumstances which would exist in Scotland if it were independent. If we had an independent Scotland, it would not be allowed under European law to discriminate in this way against those people who live in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
I know that some people-not everyone, including me-have received directly a brief from the universities in Scotland which have expressed concern about this amendment. My noble friend Lord Vallance has made representations to me that if it were passed it would mean that there would be administrative chaos for the student intake arriving in September, which is why the amendment allows for some delay while this matter is sorted out.
The Scottish Government have been saying that if English and Welsh and Irish students-and that means people who are resident in England, Wales and Ireland; they might well be Scottish students whose families have moved to other parts of the United Kingdom-could go to universities in Scotland for free, there would be a flood across the border. This is the most disingenuous and dishonest argument. Ireland has no fees. People can go from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland and they deal with it by having a quota for the number of students that they will accept. If it is suggested that quotas would be wrong, there is already a quota in operation. There is a quota set by the Scottish Government on the number of students who come from Scotland and from other European Union countries. To suggest that they could not have people resident in the rest of the United Kingdom coming on the same terms as those from Germany and elsewhere is, to say the least, misleading.
My noble friend Lord Sassoon and I have disagreed about the tax provisions in this Bill which say that if one Government make a change to the tax base the other Government have to compensate them for it. So why does this not apply to higher education in this case? There is an issue about funding. Just over 5,000 students are affected by this and the cost is of the order of £24 million. The block grant is of the order of £28 billion. My noble friend Lord Baker was telling me that the Scottish Government got a big increase in their funding as a result of the marvellous work he is doing with technical teaching in universities. When he went to Scotland, he found that it had been spent on something else.
The Barnett formula, which we will discuss again later this evening, provides for funding which is broadly getting on for 20 per cent more per head than is spent in England. It is an outrage to tell students living in Wales and Northern Ireland and England, who are contributing to that extra funding that they cannot go for free.
Lord Baker of Dorking: My noble friend is right about the incident that affected me because in the previous Budget the Chancellor gave £150 million to university technical colleges to develop the ones my educational trust is promoting. These train technicians and engineers. We have 19 in England and are looking at 22. But I discovered under the Barnett Formula that, out of the £150 million, £25 million was allocated to Scotland. I was rather glad about that because I have industrialists wanting to support UTCs in Aberdeen and in Glasgow. When I went up and met Mr Russell, who is the Education Minister in the SNP Government, he told me that that money had been spent on other things. I have no idea what it was spent on; it certainly was not spent on what it had been allocated for.
This is another case where Scottish students and indeed the Scottish economy are losing out as a result of this particular arrangement under the Barnett formula. The money has been snaffled to do something else with and it is a great loss to Scotland.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: I am most grateful to my noble friend. I am not arguing that the Barnett funds should not be transferred from one budget to another but I am arguing for free tuition being available, in the same way that it is available for German and French students, for students from the rest of the United Kingdom. I do not think that is unreasonable. If the issue of funding will cause difficulty between the Governments, they have got lots of negotiations on and they should sort it out. If we believe in the United Kingdom-and I do with a passion-I can think of nothing worse than creating a situation where young people are burdened with substantial debt because they went to a Scottish university and they see everyone else in Europe going for free.
It could be argued that that arises from the Scottish Government's policy of having free tuition fees. I do not argue against their ability to do that but they have to operate it in a fair and balanced way. This amendment would enable fair treatment for all students throughout the United Kingdom. It may not be perfectly worded. I would be very happy if my noble and learned friend said that he could not accept this amendment but that he would bring forward one of his own at a later stage of the Bill which would remedy the problem. I do not want to detain the House as I am anxious that if we divide, everyone will have disappeared. I beg to move.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, I was pleased to put my name to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. It is not something anyone on this side does lightly. However, as I have said before, even a Tory is not always wrong and on this occasion he is absolutely right-spot on. It is an issue of fairness. I shall be very brief.
It is an issue of fairness when students from Lithuania and Poland can go to Scottish universities for free, but students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland have to pay full fees. As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, there is double jeopardy. The parents of the students from Poland and Lithuania do not contribute to the costs of Scottish universities, but the parents of the English, Welsh and Northern Irish students pay UK taxes. They have to pay full fees and the taxes that subsidise Scottish universities.
I know that there are concerns about funding. These have been expressed by the chancellor of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the noble Lord, Lord Vallance, and in a letter to me from the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Kelvin, the chancellor of the University of the West of Scotland. However, that is not a matter for us; it is a matter for the Scottish Executive. As the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, they get billions of pounds from the block grant. It is a matter of priorities. Scotland has free care for the elderly, free prescriptions for everyone, including the very rich, and a whole range of other things that are provided. Surely this is something to which they can give consideration. Without pre-empting what the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, will say, he has looked at the funding in much more detail and can make suggestions. If the Scottish Executive need help, I am sure he would be very willing to provide it-at no cost, I presume.
Finally, I say to my colleagues on the Labour Benches that we now have no Whip on this matter. Therefore, we have the opportunity to vote as we wish. I hope we will make the right decision in voting on this and support the amendment. I have spoken to Labour MSPs who have supported what the SNP Administration are doing. They said that they did not want to do it and regretted having to do it but had no option because of how it was put to them in terms of funding. We have an option: we can support the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and we can support fairness. I urge noble Lords so to do.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, the position before us requires a brief summary of how we got to where we are. I see a number of Members in the House who did not sit through all the longueurs of the Committee stage. To them I say, "Welcome to the Michael and George show. It's amazing". That said, why are we where we are? How did we get here and what is it? If you live in Dublin or Dundee, you pay no fees. If you live in Belfast or Berwick-I do my shopping in Berwick-you will pay fees at a Scottish university. We could go on with examples.
We all accept that these are unfortunate consequences of administrative procedures. We might also accept that they are unintended consequences of administrative procedures. However, I ask noble Lords to note that they are divisive consequences of administrative procedures, of which the only beneficiaries are those who would turn that divisiveness into the final division of separation. This suits their hand of cards.
The current situation over fees was not sought by the Scottish universities. I wish to stress that. There were some who hinted that the Scots were desperate to charge the Sassenachs et cetera large fees. This was not sought by the Scottish universities. Like the members of the Labour Party in the Scottish Parliament, this was imposed on them.
My reckoning is that this year approximately £28 million to £30 million will be withheld from the Scottish universities grant. That money has to be found by the universities if they are to continue functioning. It will be withheld on the assumption that they can charge students from RUK, as they call it-the rest of the United Kingdom-fees that will fill
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1197
By negotiation and ingenuity, the Scottish universities have avoided having an inadequate level for rest-of-UK students imposed on them. This was a risk for them. They have the power to vary their fees, charging up to £9,000 a year. Clearly, several of them will do this. I say to them, "Well done". At that stage, I would have done the same but why did we get to that stage? The horse has already bolted through the stable door with the first £30 million: the Scottish Government have withdrawn this funding. As realistic chief executives, they did not have much choice other than to enter into a negotiation with which I suspect none of them is particularly happy.
The universities have also done well in devising bursary arrangements, for which I pay tribute to them. I know about the situation in the University of Edinburgh, my former university, in detail. It has done well and has the best bursary scheme anywhere in the UK for students in need. Some of the universities down here could take a look at that; it might help with some of their problems of recruitment.
Scottish universities also have a legitimate fear that, if this amendment were to be passed in its current form, without the following amendment, it would cause chaos if it were imposed for 2012-13. There may have been a hint of that earlier but this amendment does not imply imposing these new procedures for next year. Of course there would be chaos. However, we can deal with that-I will come back to it in a moment. I would not support an amendment that caused such chaos to the intake of students preparing for entry in 2012. That is common ground between all those who have put their names to the amendment. These are short-term consequences and we can deal with them. I completely understand that the short-term consequence would be to cause chaos now but we can deal with it by setting the date back.
However, there are longer-term consequences and implications. This is what I can only call another example of "devo drift" by practice, rather than by legislation. It inserts a further series of divisions, in this case between the young people of the rest of the UK and those of Scotland. This "devo drift" will not, I hope, be subject to another negotiated deal with the Government in Scotland. Are there any pegs that should be put in place? For example, if the next step gave Scotland a capacity in relation to research councils, which is a reserved business at the moment, it would be absolutely horrendous for Scottish universities. I see nothing in current attitudes to suggest that it might not be the next stage along the way. The Scottish universities would then have to decide whether negotiation was a wise practice.
That is all very easy to criticise but how do we proceed? In its briefing note, of which I was eventually given a copy by indirect means, Universities Scotland suggests that everything had been done to raise the
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1198
More importantly, I suggest that there is a way forward, and we need a bit of time for that. There should be a call for a UK-wide discussion, with all regions-all the rest of the UK-and Westminster, with the relevant Secretaries of State sitting down together and setting a quarter of places for RUK students in Scotland, an equivalent quota for EU students in Scotland, and a quota for Scottish students who go to universities in the rest of the UK. Within that, there may be room for financial manoeuvre because the Scottish students who take places in English universities displace England-based students for whom the Government here would have to make some provision, albeit that they would be charged fees.
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: My Lords, I am prepared to take expert opinion on that. That does not rule out the possibility of the Administrations from Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland sitting down with the Westminster Government and working out a quota system for within the UK. It is a broader question how the European Union behaves itself on this matter, and there may be alternative views.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: Is it not the position that in practice because the Scottish Government set a budget for the number of Scottish and EU students that they will fund-that is how they operate-all the noble Lord is saying is that there should be a budget for the English, Welsh and Northern Ireland-based students who attend?
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: Certainly the Scottish universities funding council sets an overall budget which will pay for students who, as it turns out now, are resident both in Scotland and in the rest of the European Union. I accept the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth.
The force of what I have to say is that there needs to be discussion-I suspect it has been rather absent-between the funding councils and those who instruct them to see whether there is a way of removing this anomaly that none of us likes. How did we get here? By a slow process of change that has not had good consequences.
Lord Steel of Aikwood: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood, for spelling out how we got into what I can only call an unholy mess. Before we turn to the amendments, let me say that I fully support what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Boyd, said at the start of this debate. In fact, I marvelled at his moderation. It is appalling that we are attempting-I hope we are not attempting-to deal with this on Report in the time that has been allotted at present. We have not only got the debate in the dinner hour, but we also have a Statement coming up which will take another 40 minutes out of the time. It is intolerable. It is the kind of thing that, as my noble friend Lord Forsyth hinted, we used to object to in the Commons. Scottish business of very serious import is being debated here-this is only one of many issues we are supposed to be discussing in the next few hours-and it should not be dealt with in this rushed way. I hope we will be told, when the Whip-or whoever deals with this on the Front Bench-proposes the break for the dinner hour, what is going to happen, and when we are going to sit to give this proper consideration.
I find myself in some difficulty because when I read Amendment 1A, in conjunction with the letter I received from the vice-chancellor of Heriot-Watt University, I sympathised with the universities possibly finding themselves being bereft of revenue they were expecting. That is why I warmly support Amendment 59, which the noble Lord has just spoken to, and to which four distinguished Members of this House have put their names.
By giving at least a year to all the authorities-the funding councils, the two Governments-they should be able to sort this out. The anomaly is intolerable, and we cannot allow this simply to drift on. Here is our legislative chance to put it right, and we should do that by accepting Amendment 59.
Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke: My Lords, I will speak briefly. It is no secret that I am most unhappy with the fact that we are continuing with this Bill when it has been so comprehensively overtaken by events. There is a sense that "We've started so we'll finish". Partly because it has had the gestation period of an elephant, we seem to be debating it at a time when the whole constitutional discussion in Scotland has moved on.
I regret to say that it seems that the business managers of the House share my view of the Bill. I can think of no other reason for the way that it has been treated, and indeed the way that those noble Members who have taken an intense interest in it have been treated, in the course of its process. When I first went to the other place I complained that Scottish legislation was usually done after everyone else had gone home to bed. It seems as though that procedure is now being copied in this House.
However, we can redeem the situation by getting one issue up and live in the debate. There are no two ways about it: what has happened with tuition fees for students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland is so unfair as to shame all of us Scots who have benefited from a Scottish education. Perhaps it needs those of us who have a clear and distinct Scottish accent to say so.
I have not been lobbied by vice-chancellors. That could be because I was a Scottish Education Minister, and maybe they are feart. However, even if I had been I would still take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, that it is important to seize an opportunity now to resolve this matter. There is a sound educational argument for ensuring that we continue to have the maximum number possible of English, Welsh and Northern Irish students in our universities. One of the secrets of a good Scottish education is the nature of the diversity of the experience. That is being denied.
I will make one other point briefly, because I am conscious of the time. Rich English students can continue to come to Scottish universities, either because their parents can afford to pay the fees or because they own an island or a hunting estate or a lovely Georgian house in Edinburgh and so can easily establish residency. Someone who, like me, is a bus driver's daughter, frankly has no chance whatever.
I will make an appeal to the noble and learned Lord, whom I do not blame for one minute for the difficulties that have been encountered in passing this Bill-if ever there was a Minister who ended up with the short straw, it is the noble and learned Lord. I appeal to him to take this back, having listened to the representations made tonight and in other places, and seek a resolution to this manifest unfairness that-I repeat-shames Scotland.
Lord Vallance of Tummel: My Lords, I declare an interest as the chairman of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, which as a higher education institution would be directly affected by the amendment if it were agreed. I will not take up much of your Lordships' time, but I feel that I should draw attention to the chaotic practical consequences that the amendment would have on the Scottish universities and other higher education institutions, which have been levying modest fixed fees on students resident elsewhere in the UK, without controversy, since 2001, in part to manage the flow of students into Scotland.
The decision made here in London to introduce market-based, variable fees up to £9,000 per annum in English, Welsh and Northern Irish universities, changed the game radically. It demanded a response if there were not to be a veritable tsunami of applications from students south of the border for far less expensive places at Scottish universities, with clear consequences for potential students resident in Scotland, and for funding by the Scottish Government. That Government's decision, on which I pass no judgment one way or the other, was to withdraw funding for students resident elsewhere in the UK, and to allow the Scottish universities to apply the same market-based, variable-fee regime for such students as they would have enjoyed, if that is the right word, had they stayed at home.
Some, including Universities Scotland-the representative body for all the higher education institutions-would say that that was entirely reasonable in a UK context. However, it is also anomalous, particularly as regards the rest of the European Union. However, anomalies of one kind or another are almost inevitable in areas where competence has been devolved to Scotland. Various practical problems stemming from the legitimate pursuit of widely different policies
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1201
The substantive issue is how best to deal with such anomalies. The amendment, although on the face of it eminently reasonable in seeking to give European Union benchmarks pride of place, would not only unnecessarily and indefinitely constrain the scope for manoeuvre here in the United Kingdom but would create a major and immediate practical problem for Scottish Universities, for the simple reason that the new fee regime has already been implemented, as we have already learnt.
Lord Vallance of Tummel: I am coming to that. For the next academic year and for the years beyond, places have already been offered to and readily accepted by students who are resident south of the border. Bursary and scholarship arrangements have been substantially modified to help them. Indeed, the financial basis and plans of Scottish universities for the years ahead are dependent on those arrangements, which, as of today, are quite legitimate under the provisions of the Scotland Act 1998. I appreciate the willingness of my noble friend Lord Forsyth to delay implementation, but the question is for how long. A year is simply not long enough.
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: If the Scottish Government had their way and Scotland became independent, they would have to do this anyway. Given that we are going to have a referendum on independence, does the noble Lord not accept that the uncertainty arises from the Scottish Government's own policy?
Lord Vallance of Tummel: I share entirely my noble friend Lord Forsyth's willingness and desire to keep the United Kingdom united. We should not discuss here the circumstances of a hypothesis in which we are no longer a United Kingdom.
To alter the provisions of the 1998 Act now would outlaw arrangements already in place and would throw into considerable disarray the Scottish universities' administrative and financial arrangements not just for the next academic year but for succeeding years as well. I cannot imagine that this is an outcome that your Lordships would wish to endorse.
Rather than constraining ourselves through legislation that prays in aid European Union regulation, and in so doing simply shifts the locus of the problem within the UK, we should surely retain as much scope as we can to sort out United Kingdom issues in a UK context and to find practical measures between good neighbours for dealing with the problems thrown up by the inevitable anomalies that flow from devolution-as the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, said.
Lord Morgan: I intervene very briefly, not as a member of the Labour Party but as a former vice-chancellor. The present situation is deeply harmful to the very concept of a university. Universities are founded on the ethic of equality, whereby all students should be treated the same. We have legislation to deal with some of the more harmful aspects of discrimination-with regard to racial matters, for example-but the current situation is a fundamental breach of that principle. The situation is harmful in two respects. There is a divisive principle at work, whereby students doing the same work in the same institution are not treated the same.
Lord Morgan: That was not my experience as vice-chancellor, and I reject that argument. The situation is divisive and is more extreme than in Wales. I regret what has happened there, but at least Welsh-origin students have to pay something. In a sense, they all suffer because there is top-slicing of the grant for higher education. In that sense, the situation in Scotland is more extreme than in Wales.
The other concern is that the Scottish situation works against one of the fundamental principles of universities, which is that they should not be politically instrumental or be the agents of political discrimination. That is precisely what is happening and it is not only at total variance with the spirit of universities in this country-including the great universities of Scotland that are the famous cradles of the democratic intellect-but hostile to the spirit and ethic of universities everywhere. It will get worse. University policy and finance is deeply fluid. The situation is not static. The unfairness will grow. There will be a growing gulf in claims on students of Scottish origin and those from elsewhere in the UK. For the sake of universities and for the sake of Scottish universities-the great institutions-we should not found our university higher education policy on these extremely bad and unfair principles.
Lord Wilson of Tillyorn: My Lords, I will speak briefly. I declare an interest as a chancellor of one of the Scottish universities. I seem to be one of the very few people who has not received a briefing from Universities UK, Universities Scotland or anyone else.
There is no doubt that Scottish universities benefit enormously from having students from outwith Scotland. Whether they are from the rest of the UK, Europe or the rest of the world, they are very beneficial. There is also no doubt that it is uncomfortable to have students from, say, Northern Ireland, sitting next to students from the Republic of Ireland who pay different fees. It is not a happy situation. However, the reality is that the financing of universities in Scotland is a matter devolved to the Scottish Government. I cannot believe, even though I hope for the day when the situation is evened out, that it is right or practical for your Lordships' House to legislate to change the financial structure of Scottish universities. I hope that the situation will be
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1203
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: We are not legislating to alter in any way the devolved responsibilities of the Scottish Parliament. All that we are doing is requiring it to treat people from the United Kingdom in the same way as those from Europe. The amendment does not refer to tuition fees or universities; it simply states that you cannot discriminate against students within the United Kingdom but must treat them in the same way as you treat all other EU students. The amendment does not in any way unravel the devolution settlement.
Lord Selkirk of Douglas: My Lords, I wish to ask a question in the context of the amendment. I seem to remember that when the Scotland Act was passed, discrimination issues were reserved to the United Kingdom Parliament. That was certainly the case as far as the Equal Opportunities Commission was concerned and, in a sense, this is an extension of the commission's argument. My question is as follows: why cannot provision for English students to be treated on the same basis as other European students be earmarked in the block grant? Most of us who follow history are aware that when a large number of Scots descended on Scotland after the Act of Union, discrimination was not unknown. That would have been condemned by Scottish parliamentarians at the time, and it is extremely difficult to justify an element of discrimination against students from elsewhere in the United Kingdom. I hope that the Government can come up with a solution.
There are two principles at stake. One is whether discrimination is wrong and the other is whether this should be treated solely as a devolution issue. It comes down to whether the principle of outlawing discrimination is one that comes under the United Kingdom Parliament and should be enforced throughout the United Kingdom, or whether it should be treated primarily as a devolution issue. It is very hard to justify the existence of discrimination against those who come from elsewhere in the United Kingdom. If discrimination is tolerated in one case, it will be tolerated in another case. As a Parliament, we should do everything within our power to prevent this anomaly continuing.
Lord Sewel: My Lords, perhaps because of my previous interest in Scottish higher education, I have been somewhat targeted by universities in Scotland. I must say, from the start, that I find myself in the difficult position of being in opposition to the noble Lord, Lord Wilson of Tillyorn, who was my chancellor. I was targeted for making what have been called "unhelpful comments" in Committee. I quite like making unhelpful comments in Committee. Of all the representations that I have received, not one adequately addressed the EU anomaly. They were silent on that. They were, of course, concerned, institution by institution, with the need to protect their income but that is ultimately a matter for the Scottish Government, not for
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1204
The other thing that I have found offensive-I use the word carefully, but I do use it-is the argument that if there is not this discrimination, Scottish universities will be swamped by English students. That has something akin to the ring of ethnic cleansing about it. I say that as someone who has, fortunately, had the great privilege of being educated in an English, a Welsh and a Scottish university. As my noble friend Lord Morgan said, anything that turns away from that great value just does not understand the nature of higher education as a universal good.
Let us come down to the grubbiness of it. When I was a Scottish Office Minister I was in charge of the first comprehensive spending review. As we developed the argument, I asked the simple question: what would happen if Scottish universities were funded out of the block grant on the basis of Scottish students? My officials turned to me and said: "Minister, we would at least have to close one Scottish medical school. The best card we have up our sleeve to defend the Barnett formula is that we educate English students out of the Scottish block". Just think what the implications for higher education would be if that became the reality: much more than the problem of solving English students being properly financed to attend Scottish universities.
That is in the past. Issues like this can usually be reduced to very simple propositions. The simple proposition here is that what is intended is deeply and grossly unfair and nothing that I have read or heard persuades me otherwise.
Lord Stephen: None of this is simple. The Scottish Parliament came forward with some very practical and pragmatic solutions to try its very best to tackle this problem. Back in 2000, when we first looked at the problem, the big issue was how we treated Scots attending universities outside Scotland, because they, too, are prejudiced-in terms of some of the quite extreme language which has been used at times in this debate. For them, there is a system that is different from that for students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland when they choose to study at a university outside Scotland. I referred to the legal advice that we received that day when I said in the Scottish Parliament:
"We wished to treat all Scots the same, but a significant problem was drawn to our attention. Members have asked for the legal advice and I will try to be helpful on that point ... Article 12 of the Treaty on European Union prohibits discrimination on the ground of nationality against nationals of other EU states. The imposition of fees on students who are students of other member states as a condition of access would amount to discrimination if the fees were not imposed on nationals of the host member state ... We had to consider whether we, in Scotland, as part of the UK member state, could provide that Scots-who for this purpose would be regarded as UK nationals-did not pay tuition fees in the rest of the UK. Given the risks of challenge by other EU nationals and based on the best advice available, we produced the proposals that are before us today".
In other words, if we had funded Scottish students to attend universities in England, Wales or Northern Ireland without payment of tuition fees, to put them on a level playing field with other students in Scotland, the Scottish Government could have been held liable
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1205
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: Did the noble Lord think of looking at what happens in Ireland? Ireland has free tuition fees; students cross the border from Northern Ireland to attend Irish universities and are treated in exactly the same way. What is the difficulty with replicating exactly that with Scotland?
Lord Stephen: I can only repeat that we were given very clear legal advice that that would not be possible. As I understand it, that was the best legal advice of the UK Civil Service. If that advice has changed, I am sure that Ministers in both London and Scotland would be interested to receive it.
Baroness Brinton: Perhaps I may assist my noble friend by reminding the Chamber that the EU advice is about a member state. Under the definition of a member state, Eire, Ireland, is one state; Northern Ireland is different. That is why the rules are different.
Lord Stephen: Based on the legal advice we were given, we had to come forward with a pragmatic solution. That was to increase the fees to students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland but not above what students were paying to attend their own universities. It was to maintain the principle of equality among those students, if you like to look upon it that way. That is a very different situation from that which has been described this evening.
It all started in 2000 and was introduced in 2001. When fees went up due to the decision of the then Government in 2006, we had to introduce a different system. My colleague at the time, the noble Lord, Lord McConnell, and I were First Minister and Deputy First Minister respectively. There was pretty much cross-party consensus that that was the right thing to do. English, Welsh and Northern Ireland students pay their fees personally, normally through the Student Loans Company or through local authority funding arrangements. However, an important point that has not been mentioned this evening is that payment for
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1206
Lord Sutherland of Houndwood: The noble Lord assures us that there was interparty discussion within Scotland about these things. Was there any intergovernmental discussion and, if not, why not? I fear that that is what is lacking at the moment.
Lord Stephen: I agree with the noble Lord. The answer is that there was not enough intergovernmental discussion because the UK Government were entirely hostile to the notion that tuition fees should be removed for Scottish students. Their hostility was made known to us on more than one occasion. They were unhappy with what was proposed in Scotland.
Scottish students had their fees paid by the Student Awards Agency for Scotland and then, separately, the £5,000 payment from the funding council was given for their tuition. In other words, until now, English, Welsh and Northern Ireland students were part of the cap as well as Scottish students. It is important to make that point.
We introduced that pragmatic solution to a potentially major problem, which could have scuppered the proposal to get rid of tuition fees in Scotland. I have to say that many of my colleagues in the Labour Party, my friends whom I worked with in coalition, subsequently said that it was one of their proudest boasts, their proudest achievements through the Scottish Parliament to get rid of tuition fees in Scotland. It was certainly one of mine. As I said, back in 2000, we were disappointed with the legal advice that we were given at the time and wished that it were different. If it can be changed, let us change it.
The bigger question, in my view, is the one mooted by more than one noble Lord this evening: if Scotland were to be independent, how would the Scottish Government tackle the legal situation? It would be difficult to understand how they could legally respond to the challenges I have described. Free tuition would then have to be offered to all EU students, including those from Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the rest of Europe. We have not heard a response from the SNP on that issue.
The situation now is that English, Welsh and Northern Ireland students are being moved outside the cap. That is another important point. The funding from students will now be sufficient to remove the need for a contribution from the funding council. Why is that? Self-evidently, because fees in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been allowed to increase so much. There will now be the £9,000 per year limit, so English, Welsh and Northern Ireland students will be in the same position as international students, who have always been discriminated against-if that is the language we wish to use. They will be put in the same position as international students, but with a cap of £9,000 per year.
In my view, the preferred solution would be to remove tuition fees across the whole of the UK. That would work equally well in tackling the problem-
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1207
Lord Sewel: The noble Lord has given us a detailed exposition of the funding difficulties. Perhaps he could carry that a little further in terms of what he thinks the effect on the Barnett formula would be if the Scottish Funding Council funded only Scottish-domiciled students.
Lord Stephen: As I understand it, there would be no effect on the Barnett formula, so the £85 million per year currently spent on the English, Welsh and Northern Ireland students to attend universities in Scotland would become available to the Scottish Government as those funding arrangements changed. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, looks incredulous at that, but that is my understanding.
To finish, different policies for different parts of the UK so that different people, including students, can be treated differently sounds to me pretty much what decentralising power, devolution, is all about. It is surely the responsibility of those elected to the Scottish Parliament to introduce new ideas and new policies. What we found deeply uncomfortable was the notion that you could discriminate within a member state but not between member states. That seems nonsense, but I know of no other way to tackle it based on the legal advice and the pragmatic solution that we have chosen. Let us be honest, this is hardly a burning issue of major importance in the reaction of students and families across the UK, because we still have ready access through our pragmatic solutions for English, Welsh and Northern Ireland students to universities in Scotland and we continue to have Scots attending universities outside Scotland.
Lord Flight: Does the noble Lord agree that among those English students who are at Scottish universities and who are having to borrow money and build up their loans, there is quite a degree of resentment that their Scottish friends do not have that burden? To argue that this has no impact is candidly wrong.
Lord Stephen: I would argue very strongly that the difference is based on the different policy approaches that the UK Government and the Scottish Government have introduced to the funding of students and tuition fees. I repeat: I do not see that an English, Welsh or Northern Ireland student studying in Scotland is in a different position from that same student studying in their home country. To that extent, they are treated broadly equally.
Lord O'Neill of Clackmannan: There seems to be a new Scottish excuse running around. It seems to affect Rangers Football Club, the Scottish Football Association and the noble Lord, Lord Stephen: "That was the legal advice we got and it seemed all right at the time". We as Scots have enjoyed a degree of financial support
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1208
It must be recognised that we are talking here about something that is fundamental to the unity of the United Kingdom. There is access to institutions of higher education on the basis that it is available to all-although financially no longer free, which is an argument for another day. However, three sections of the United Kingdom are being discriminated against, yet the taxpayers within those parts of the United Kingdom are contributing to these institutions.
We have been told this evening of a tsunami of English students coming to Scottish universities-the word "tsunami" sometimes slips far too easily off the tongue; sometimes you forget that it has a "t" at the beginning-but that is probably unlikely. However, we might have a slightly different social composition of the youngsters who would be coming up to Scotland. This is because of the fact that they have to pay fees and that they have to pay what are almost the equivalent of London rental prices for student accommodation in a city such as Edinburgh, where there is tremendous pressure. In addition, as has been suggested, some parents are able to achieve Scottish domiciliary status by a bit of shrewd property investment, which, by the end of the four years their kids have been at the university, will more than repay them for the outlays that they made four years previously.
There is a degree of naivety here. We know that Scottish universities will have to face financial problems. Some of us might have known more about this had we been sent briefing notes, but, perhaps because of some of the speeches that we made in Committee, we were regarded as lost causes and it was decided that we were therefore not to benefit from them. We know that there are financial costs, but these are problems that, were there to be Scottish independence, which I do not want, would have to be confronted the first moment that the union jack came down and whatever it would be for Scotland-whether the lion rampant or the saltire-went up. Of course, this is why the silence from Salmond is so deafening, because he knows that this is the kind of issue that will have to be dealt with. What is more, our great Scottish institutions, which would suffer financially, are suffering already because of the manner in which the funding arrangements have been arrived at. We know that they are not getting the resources that they require.
If this were just a question of finance, resource and discrimination, we could have debates about that, but there is an irony here. Not every youngster who is Scottish and pursuing a degree-level course gets free education. If a youngster attends a further education college and is doing a level 5 or 6 technical qualification, which is to all intents and purposes equivalent to a
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1209
I make that point because there is an inconsistency here-inconsistencies have been identified in a number of categories this evening. We may simply accept the argument that this is an example of gross discrimination, which is basically unfair and which is unsettling for the United Kingdom, and that it would be in everyone's interests to look towards a renegotiation of the settlement. We are not arguing that universities be bankrupted overnight. We are not suggesting that they be swamped with students coming northward-students who, from what we can gather, would be coming not in buses but in their own sports cars and the like. All we are saying is that we have an opportunity this evening to confront an issue that threatens the unity of this kingdom. It requires us to look afresh and to use far more ingenuity rather than bureaucratic complaints or concerns about legal advice that may or may not have been appropriate at the time. We now have to recognise that within a different political context we need to have a degree of agility that involves negotiation and understanding on both sides. This amendment this evening would go no small way towards trying to achieve that.
Lord Empey: My Lords, in many respects it is a pity that the legislation to which this amendment applies this evening is not a UK-wide piece of legislation, because that, quite frankly, is the only way that we will fix this. We are suffering from the fact that we forwent some time ago a unitary state with a central Government. I have to declare that I was responsible for, among other things, further and higher education for three and a half years until 18 months ago and was therefore very much aware of these issues. The Scottish Government and Parliament, in their wisdom, decided to have free tuition fees. In Northern Ireland, we had the same rate as applied in England. However, the new Assembly has decided to depart from that parity arrangement and now students coming to Northern Ireland from England and other parts of the United Kingdom will pay the higher fee. I regret that; had I remained in post it would not have been my intention to have kept that arrangement, but nevertheless that is where it is. I understand that there are similar arrangements in Wales, whereby the Welsh, too, have frozen their fee or have a lower fee than would be applicable in England.
For me, the issue concerning devolution is this. We already see anomalies. Prescription charges are one, higher education is another and of course there are others, and there will be more. However, what sticks in the craw in this case is the fact that somebody from Bratislava can come in but somebody from Scunthorpe cannot-or at least they cannot get the same treatment. I have no difficulty with devolved regions being entitled to pursue their own policies when Whitehall and this Parliament give them the authority to spend their
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1210
In Northern Ireland I implemented the MaSN-maximum annual student number-cap as a way of controlling higher education expenditure. We set a limit on the number of students that our budget would allow us to support, and that MaSN cap would be altered from to time if we were able to find more money. We did that on several occasions to raise the number of students whom we could accommodate.
This Bill is not the vehicle to resolve this problem but it does perhaps provide us with an opportunity to send a signal. When he replies, I should like the Minister to say whether he is going to consult his ministerial colleagues in government to establish whether they will be able to deal with this discrimination in the United Kingdom. It is very hard to cope with the fact that somebody from Dublin goes to a university within the United Kingdom and is treated in one way but somebody from Belfast going to the same university is treated differently. That is the issue for me.
I fully support the right of a devolved Administration in Edinburgh to choose its higher education policy. I did it, so I cannot deny the opportunity to others. However, the question is how we deal with this conundrum. The noble Lord, Lord Stephen, mentioned the legal advice that he was given, and I understand the rationale behind that. We had difficulties with students coming across the border for further education. We had to ensure that they did not pay higher fees than our indigenous students, so we experienced almost a reversal of this situation. It is perfectly proper for devolved regions to choose their policies in areas such as the payment of prescription fees-if that is how they spend their money, that is fine-but the question for me is whether it is right and proper to treat an EU citizen from England differently from an EU citizen from Scotland. That is the basic question, but it will not be entirely resolved by this amendment because it is a UK-wide issue.
Foreign students are a totally different ball game. They are cultivated because they can pay their fees, and all universities run after them to get the money and keep their coffers topped up, but the fact is that foreign students are not UK taxpayers. That is the big difference. They make no contribution whatever to the building up or long-term maintenance of our institutions, whereas UK taxpayers will continue to do so. Therefore, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Vallance, that I understand the difference of opinion that he has with the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, and he is probably right in many respects because there is a difference, but people accept
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1211
Lord McFall of Alcluith: My Lords, as a predecessor of the noble Lord, Lord Empey, as Minister for Education in Northern Ireland, I was very aware of the number of Northern Ireland students who went to Scotland for their education and, indeed, stayed in Scotland or in the UK generally as a result. I was left with the lasting impression that education is a UK-wide initiative. In a globalised world where the transfer of wealth and economic power is going from west to east, we have to keep the integrity of the UK education system, but I fear that we are losing it with the current situation in Scotland.
The noble Lord, Lord Vallance, and Scottish universities have made the point about the stability of the system. In particular, cross-border student flow is given at 24,000 students from England applying to Scottish universities, which could cause chaos for 2013. That is a legitimate argument, but the main issue here is the actions of the Scottish Funding Council, which in a letter in December last year said that £27.8 million was going to be taken off Scottish universities. In the next four years, the sum will be more than £100 million. That is not a capricious act on the part of the Scottish Funding Council; it is because the Scottish Government have stated that that is the case. That will decrease the teaching grants as well as the quality of student experience at Scottish universities.
We are facing a crisis at the present time and it is appropriate for us to debate this. If we were only debating Amendment 1A, then I would not be supporting the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, and others. However, we have Amendment 59, which is giving us a year's grace. Frankly, the Scottish Government are having their cake and eating it. This amendment should be saying to them: "You cannot have your cake and eat it. If you want to provide quality education, then you have to be honest about it". A dishonest conversation has taken place in Scotland and there is a narrow, introspective approach to education where there should be an inclusive, global approach. If we are making a plea for anything tonight, it is to be honest in our debate and ensure that we will look at the UK as a whole and keep the integrity of the UK education system, so that we have a more prosperous country with increased skills which can accept and face up to the challenges of globalisation in the years ahead. We should not run backwards, as, sadly, I think is happening in Scotland at the moment.
Lord Browne of Ladyton: My Lords, in opening my contribution to this debate, I am tempted to repeat what other Members have said and express my frustration and disappointment that, once again in dealing with this Bill, we have been deprived of a substantial amount of the time that was planned for debating it. In the interest of time, however, I do not intend to go into that in too much detail, other than to say that the frustration that all noble Lords feel about this, and
26 Mar 2012 : Column 1212
We understood that this was because time was limited and we would lose the Bill if we did not do certain things before certain dates. Managing that against the challenge of trying to find time for the Government to make their position clear about the way forward on a referendum for Scotland, and allowing that to feed into our deliberations, caused me to go along with some of that inconvenience. Now we discover that it was all unnecessary because we can add a week to our Recess. Much of this could have been done on the other side of the Recess. I say that with deep regret. I excuse, once again, the noble and learned Lord from any responsibility for this because I suspect that it came as much of a surprise to him as it did to the rest of us that we could have an extra week's Recess and that this week was not precious and necessary for the conclusion of the Government's business. The reason for that is that the decision about the Recess dates is entirely within the gift of the Government and was not, and cannot be, discussed in the usual channels. I deeply regret that we are in this position because it appears it was all unnecessary.
I turn to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth. We had the advantage of debating at length a similar amendment on the second day in Committee. I intend, by reference to that debate, to shorten my remarks. I support devolution. I even support the asymmetric devolution we have in the United Kingdom; I am not a federalist in that sense. Devolution is an incomplete process and it is for the people of the regions of England to decide when they are ready for it. There is quite significant devolution across these islands, including substantial devolution to those who run this great city of London. Of course, one of the consequences of devolution is that there will be different policies and different consequences as a result of those policies across the United Kingdom. If that makes people feel uncomfortable, they should not support devolution. However, those of us who support it are prepared to live with that.
When we debated this last time we established that, with the possible exception of rights of audience for the legal profession, there is only one example of the practice of discrimination as a consequence of separate policies, and that is the issue which is concentrating our minds today. The practice of discrimination appears to apply only to the funding of higher education student fees. It is for that reason that this is such a significant issue and why it has attracted the interest of the House. The need for a resolution to it appears to have captured the imagination of noble Lords. In Committee we had the benefit of a contribution by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, which he has augmented today. Also, the Minister set out in detail the history of how differential fees came about and how long they have been in existence.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|