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Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, the Government were given a very difficult problem by the previous government, with the increase in the number of students in higher education and the associated costs. The Dearing Committee's recommendations are the obvious way of resolving that problem. So, despite one's repugnance at the notion of paying tuition fees, there are arguments for it, as set out in the Dearing Report, with its suggestion of 25 per cent. of tuition costs to be paid in fees. To some extent one sees the Government's case. There is a financial problem to be solved. I am not sure that the remarks that we have just heard altogether meet the problem.
However, I am surprised that it has been found necessary by the Government both to abolish maintenance grants entirely and at the same time, and in addition, to levy a tuition fee of £1,000. It seems to me that the first step would be drastic enough.
I realise that the amendment concerns tuition fees, not maintenance grants, but I hope it is not inappropriate to address oneself to the overall package since it is not otherwise clear how one would discuss the matter in the Bill. Will the Minister confirm that the total abolition of maintenance grants was not a recommendation of the Dearing Committee? Paragraph 111 of the report says that,
I do not like the notion of tuition fees but I do not feel able to take quite the same moral high ground as previous speakers have done. I can contemplate the possibility of tuition fees. My objection is that there is a double whammy, as it were. Students are to be asked to pay tuition fees, but in addition maintenance grants are to be entirely abolished, which was not a recommendation of the Dearing Committee. To do both seems inappropriate. The package is not a fair one.
There may be a correction to be offered there. I should be interested to know from the Minister, first, the total annual saving to be achieved by the abolition of maintenance grants and, secondly, the total sum that will accrue from the imposition of the £1,000 tuition fee, taking into account that it will not be paid by those who pass--or perhaps I should say fail--the means test. My concern is the package, and I shall be interested to hear what the Minister says. It is my overall impression, however, that the package is an unfair one. For that reason, I am currently inclined to support the amendment.
Lord Glenamara: My Lords, I support these amendments. They do not entirely express my view on the matter but they are the best, and indeed the only, opportunity of voting against the imposition of tuition fees, which I intend to do this evening. The Government have no mandate for what is proposed either from the public--the electorate--or from the party. I hope that they will not tell me it was approved at the Labour Party conference, because it was not. It was swept under the carpet at the conference, with the connivance of one or two trade union leaders.
I believe that I am probably the only Member of your Lordships' House who went to college, many years ago, on a loan. When I came out of college, I had to repay that loan. I lived in poverty for a number of years. I was only rescued from poverty by going into the Army where I was fed and clothed at public expense. In the six years that I spent in the Army I made a tremendous vow to myself that, when I came out, one of my objects in life would be to ensure that every young person born in this country should have the opportunity to go through the whole education system to the top, if they had the ability to do so and wished to do so.
That is the bedrock of my political philosophy. It explains why, 30 years ago, the Labour Government--the government which we are now told did not do anything--abolished the 11-plus, the biggest cause of wastage of ability in this country at that time, and why my late colleague Anthony Crosland set up the polytechnics to extend the opportunities for higher education.
After the war we had the Robbins Report, following which we talked about the open highway from the primary school to the university. In recent years, as a university chancellor, I have seen about 4,000 students each year come up for their degrees. I began to believe that my dream was becoming a reality: that all our young people who wished to do so, and who had the ability to do so, were going right through to university. Then, in the closing years of this century, a Labour Government take leave of their senses, go off their rockers, and decide to impose a great road block, a great Berlin Wall, across this open road. Not only that but,
Secondly, I object because it will be a deterrent. There is some evidence--not much so far, but it will increase--of a deterrent, especially among poorer families who know that they will not receive a maintenance grant and that even the poorest students will have to borrow the money, £43 a week for a room, or £50 a week in private lodgings, and to pay for their food, clothing, train fares, and so on.
Thirdly, I object because the Government have chosen a grotesquely unfair way of implementing their proposals. Had they had the courage to impose a graduate tax, I would still have opposed it, and I would still think it wrong, but at least it would have been fair as between one ex-student and another. I tried to explain previously what will happen. Take, for example, two ex-students, graduates aged 30; one a lawyer earning £70,000 or £80,000 a year, the other a teacher earning £15,000 a year. The graduate lawyer makes no contribution at all to his tuition fees but the teacher has to pay £3,000 towards his fees, in addition to the other costs. That arises because of their parental income. The amount graduates will pay towards their tuition fees will depend not on their own income but on that of their parents, of the family home which they probably left years before.
How do the Government justify that? It is grotesquely unfair. How can Labour Peers and Members of Parliament support it? It is ridiculous. I cannot think of anything more unfair. It is all based on a completely mistaken, untenable premise that those who have a degree will benefit more from that degree than will anybody else. What about the teacher? Who benefits from the teacher's degree? What about the doctor? Is the doctor himself the only person who receives any benefit from his degree? Large numbers of graduates are now health workers--nurses, physiotherapists, midwives. Are they the only people to benefit from their degrees? Of course they are not; the whole community benefits. The whole matter is based on a wrong premise.
I have said all this before, and I apologise for repeating it. I shall vote against the measure, and I hope that my noble friends on this side of the House will do so as well. I have told my noble friend the Government Chief Whip that I shall vote against and he said that he understood. Let us defeat this measure, throw it out, finish with it and let the Government think again.
Lord Desai: My Lords, I oppose the amendment. I wish to examine a number of statements that have been made which are factually or logically erroneous. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, began with an example from the United States. Russell Baker is very amusing; I have read him. But the truth is that access to education in the United States is much wider and deeper and extends more to lower incomes than in this country. Access to
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord will give way. Is he aware that in the United States there is a system of national merit awards which means that in most universities scholarships extend to as much as 40 per cent. of the student population? In the university in which I teach--Harvard--it extends to 60 per cent. of the student population. There is no such mechanism known to me in the British higher education system.
Lord Desai: My Lords, I am not only aware of that system, but I was a beneficiary of it. I could not have come to this country because, although the fees were low, they were too high for me. I went to the United States for my graduate education and had a Ford Foundation Scholarship. I am aware of the system. Indeed, I would have been pleased had the noble Earl or his noble friend Lord Tope said, "Let us have full fees and scholarship awards". I would have supported such an amendment. If the amendment had said, "The Government are completely wrong. A charge of £1,000 is not enough; charge £4,000 and have 40 per cent. merit scholarships", I would have supported it. It would have not only a moral ground, but an economic ground.
I understand what is being said about the United States, but it is not fees alone--I mentioned capital markets and so forth--that deny access; it is a lack of other institutions. On another occasion we might debate that. But for the time being let us not point to the charging of fees as being a major factor.
Many people, including my noble friend Lord Glenamara, said that students are not the only people to benefit from education; that other people benefit also. That is right. But the students are not being asked to pay the full cost of tuition; they are being asked only to pay one-quarter of the cost of their education. Indeed, some part-time and mature students already pay. We do not have a system of universally free higher education and therefore the provisions in the Bill are not such a great move.
We are bringing 18 to 21 year-olds in line with some others. And I must declare an interest. I have put three young adults through 11 years of higher education. At £1,000 per year tuition fees--the fee now said to be payable--I received a subsidy of £11,000 which, when one thinks of it in terms of pre-taxed income, amounts to a subsidy of £16,000 or £17,000. What have I done to deserve that? People make the mistake of not counting a tax not paid because it is hidden. But that is a subsidy just as much as somebody claiming benefit. I am a bigger welfare scrounger, as are all parents of higher education children, than the poor people whose money we are disputing.
I agree with that. But it has become a pyramid. Those who receive subsidies are precisely those who are best able to pay. The reason the present system does not improve access for poorer people has nothing whatever to do with the charging of fees. Up until now when there have been no fees, access has been unequal. When we ask why that is so, we find that it is more to do with what happens when a child is 16 and the fact that the children of poorer families do not stay on at school beyond 16; it is the fact that they do not continue with their education beyond that age rather than the charging of tuition fees.
We must not perpetuate fallacies just to feel good at heart that we are supporting a good cause because there are people who believe that they should be subsidised. Of course they want subsidies; who would not? I would march for my subsidies. Everybody receives mortgage relief and that is a subsidy. We all love subsidies but that does not make it right.
Some people asked whether we should judge students by the income of their parents or by their future income. But I believe that the Government have struck a right balance in that regard. Obviously all payments of loans will be from future income. It is an income-contingent loan system and therefore, whether the student becomes a doctor or a lawyer, the amount of money he or she pays back will not be the full loan. It is not a mortgage scheme. It is an income-contingent loan scheme and therefore students pay back only as much as they are able to pay back until the time that they stop working. We went through this both at Second Reading and at Committee stages. Somebody who earns £17,000 will not pay back the full value of the loan because that is what an "income-contingent" loan means.
The Government have said that those whose parental income is not very high will not be asked to pay tuition fees. That leads to the dilemma that those students whose parents have a high income but who are reluctant to pay will have to find the money from somewhere else. But once again I say that our task is to remove fallacies and not perpetuate them. To those who say, "I shall end up with a great debt", we must say "No, you will not. The debts will be collected only as long as they are payable". That is the whole principle of an income-contingent loan.
The Government strive not to be purist--I am very tempted to be a purist, but let us not go into that--and to strike a balance. I ask Members of this House to see that the present system is not helpful to the poor; it is a subsidy to the well-off. The new system partially corrects it. But it admits the principle that those who benefit from education pay for at least part of that education.
Finally, inasmuch as one can combine acuity in this difficult matter, the Government have tried their best. I am not often known for supporting my Government. People are aware of that and nobody has persuaded me to do so. For the past 10 years I have studied this problem; my colleagues at the London School of Economics have analysed the problem and I am convinced that the only long-term solution for a widely accessible higher education system in this country is an income-contingent loan scheme. The Government have taken the first step. It is a bold step. They have been able to persuade the Inland Revenue to make collections on the debt. They need massive support because this is the first step in the change of the higher education system and I welcome it.
Lord Quirk: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity provided by the amendment to have this unexpectedly wide-ranging discussion of these basic issues. However, I do not rise to speak in favour of the amendment, much as I have been impressed and moved, as who could not be, by what the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, has said.
Two things have surprised me about the amendment. One is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, this is aimed at protecting, as it were, the 18 to 21 year-olds, irrespective of the fact that those in part-time education and those going through the Open University, from, one would expect, less well benefited family backgrounds, have for years been paying tuition fees. There is, therefore, no matter of principle here, except possibly the very fair principle of extending to all that which has been unfortunately restricted hitherto to those who were not able to manage full-time higher education but had to cope with part-time study.
The other thing that rather surprised me about the presentation of the amendment is that, although we have all had marvellously full and detailed letters from the student unions up and down the country, to which reference has been made, we have also had a lot of briefing papers from the committee of vice-chancellors, to which no allusion has been made, though in fact the vice-chancellors are backing the imposition of the £1,000 tuition fee--that is, are backing Dearing in this respect.
I have one question only to put to the Minister, and it is one I raised at Second Reading. Presumably, we are going to get to know the details of the application of the £1,000 fee, or rather the derogation from the £1,000 fee, only in regulations at some future stage. I wonder whether it would be possible to see draft regulations before the Bill comes back for Third Reading. I should like to reiterate the point that I then made about the importance of being able to use the remission of fee payment as a means of attracting students.
It has been said that there is no serious deterrent to entry into higher education by the imposition of tuition fees--and that may well be true--but the Government appear not to believe it, because they are in certain instances saying that there is no need to pay tuition fees. The one that has been mentioned is the PGCE, and
If it is true that more people will enter the PGCE if they do not have to pay the £1,000 fee, I should like to see that principle used in order to attract people into school teaching, which is the profession on which all the rest of our education and our educational future depends. I know the Minister will say that we do not have such a recruitment problem for initial teacher training, but we have. We are getting a very poor level of academically-qualified students coming into primary education. Let us attract people into initial teacher training by a flexible derogation from these fees.
Furthermore, the Minister may say that the PGCE is accepted because of the importance of recruitment into secondary education--and that is perfectly true and I welcome it. But attracting people into secondary education is particularly difficult for mathematics and modern languages, just to mention two. Since so many of the undergraduates reading for a BA in modern languages or a BSc. in mathematics go into teaching, why do we not use the fee issue as a lever in order to attract people into the teaching profession?
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