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Lord Campbell of Alloway: Yes, my Lords, good heavens! I have been involved with this Bill at certain times and I wish to say a few words about it. It is an important Bill and an interesting Bill because we did not really discuss it on party lines. That is interesting. However, the greater importance of the Bill is that it has established temporarily a form of procedure which we never had before; that is, how we are to deal with codes of practice in this House. This is of general application. The importance of the Bill is that across party lines an agreement was reached that we had to do something. We have done something and now someone has to devise an accepted way of dealing with such matters on all future Bills.
Lord Ackner: My Lords, I wish to pay tribute to the painstaking care with which the noble Baroness has approached this complex Bill, and for the understanding which she showed to the difficult problem raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, about the evidence of children on which there is a not totally consistent judicial view. I also wish to add my congratulations in regard to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate
Lord Renton: My Lords, I should like to endorse the tributes paid to my noble friend Lady Blatch and, indeed, to the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, and the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers. It is interesting that the Bill in a sense is a lawyers' paradise but the three leading Front Bench spokesmen are not lawyers, although hearing the discussion one would never have realised that. This is about the twelfth Bill in the past 50 years dealing with the procedures of our criminal courts and of those who have to work in them. All those Bills have really been experimental and necessarily so. I am using hindsight when I say that because it was not generally acknowledged at the time. I think it realistic to say that this Bill is, to some extent, experimental too.
These Bills have to be judged, I think, by a number of criteria. I shall quickly mention them and say to what extent this Bill meets them. Does it enhance the public interest? Yes, this Bill does, and it clarifies the rather delicate question of the public interest immunity certificates. It does that well. Does it make it more likely that guilty people will be convicted? Yes, it does. Does it make it more likely that innocent people will be acquitted? Yes. Will it reduce the length of court proceedings? That is very doubtful. Will it reduce their cost? We have to wait and see.
Before addressing the Bill itself it may be helpful to the House if I say a few words about a Statement that was made in another place this afternoon by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. It is not strictly speaking relevant to the Bill itself, but it may put into context some of the comments that I imagine we may hear from noble Lords this afternoon which may not relate directly to the contents of the Bill.
This afternoon my right honourable friend spoke about the Robbins Committee, which set out a vision for expanding higher education in the United Kingdom. Since then, as we all know, higher education has been transformed beyond the expectations even of Robbins. It no longer caters only for a privileged elite but provides opportunities for a significant proportion of our young people. In Robbins' day just one young person in 17 went on to higher education; now the number is approaching one in three. The number of newly qualified graduates gaining first degrees in Britain each year has doubled since 1979. Over one-third of those are science, maths and engineering graduates. Our graduation rate is now one of the highest in Europe, second only to Denmark in the European Union, and
Impressive though those achievements are, future success requires universities and colleges to continue to develop while preserving their best traditions. After such fast growth it is time to take stock and consider the future of higher education. The Robbins Report provided a landmark for higher education policy which has stood the test of time well, but it is time to take a fresh and comprehensive look at the challenges facing higher education in the United Kingdom as we approach the 21st century.
Therefore, with the agreement of the Prime Minister, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment and the appropriate territorial Ministers, we intend to appoint a committee of inquiry into higher education. We are delighted that Sir Ron Dearing has agreed to chair it.
We propose to invite the committee to make recommendations on how the shape, structure, size and funding of higher education should develop to meet the needs of the United Kingdom over the next 20 years. We shall supply the committee with the preparatory work that has already been undertaken in the education departments as part of the Secretary of State's review. We shall consult widely on the committee's precise terms of reference and composition. In due course my right honourable friend will make a further announcement on the committee's remit and membership in the light of those consultations. We hope that the committee of inquiry will be able to start work some time after Easter and will be able to report by the summer of 1997.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, perhaps I may intervene before my noble friend moves on to the Bill. I understand that he quoted from a Statement made in another place. Can he explain why that Statement was not repeated in this House in view of its obvious importance? It appears that this House was excluded.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I did not quote the Statement but paraphrased it. In the usual way, we offered the Statement to the opposition parties. As I understand it, it is a matter for them as to whether a Statement is repeated in this House. I followed the normal convention, and as they did not wish the Statement to be repeated I did not insist on it, because I thought that there would be a suitable opportunity to give some idea of what was in the Statement when we debated the Bill.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, I am sure that the House is obliged to my noble friend for referring to the Statement. However, I was a little disturbed to hear him indicate that because the Opposition did not ask for the Statement to be repeated in this House it was not to be repeated here. There are parties other than the
Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, perhaps I may try to help the House and, in the light of his last remark, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter. It has been the convention for as long as I can remember--although that may not be as long as the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter--that a Statement which is made in the other place is offered to the opposition party. It is in the Opposition's gift as to whether the Statement is taken in this House.
We decided not to take the Statement in this House today because we knew that there was to be the Third Reading of a major Bill and that some 20 Peers were to speak in this Second Reading debate. There was not only this Statement on education but also another Statement. With due regard to the fact that there would be the opportunity to touch upon the contents of the Statement in this debate, as the Minister has done, we thought that on balance we did not wish to ask for the Statement to be repeated. I see nothing wrong with that. You make a judgment and a choice. Noble Lords can rest assured that if we had decided to take the Statement there would have been grumbles about this debate starting perhaps an hour later. You cannot win them all.
Lord Boyd-Carpenter: My Lords, with great respect, this is an important Statement. I am very disturbed to know that this House, including all the remaining parties other than the Opposition, is to be denied the opportunity to have Statements made in another place repeated here simply because the Opposition, for reasons good or bad--and I make no comment on the reasons that we have been given--do not want it.
I wish to register a protest. I also ask my noble friend the Minister to make sure that the leadership and appropriate committees of this House are informed that some of us want this House to be treated properly when Statements are important enough to be made in another place.
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