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Lord Gisborough: My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether these rules apply to combine harvesters, which very often travel many miles along a road with, perhaps, a 10-mile queue behind them? Are they subject to the same rules?
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it depends on their size and dimensions. If a load is wider than 4.3 metres and/or longer than 18.3 metres and/or weighs more than 41,000 kilograms in total, then it falls within the abnormal load categories which have to be notified. If the noble Lord has been following a small combine harvester, that information will not be of help to him; but if he has been following a very big one it should be of enormous assistance. However, one is frequently delayed by other road users. Quite often, for example, a man with a donkey may be travelling along a road. That is not an abnormal load and one just has to put up with it.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, before putting my questions, I should first declare an interest as I am president of the Heavy Transport Association. Is the Minister aware that, in trying to overcome the difficulties of long delays, operators are being hit with a double whammy of the working time directive that limits how long crews can afford to wait for a police escort and the minimum wage
Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it is not a double whammy at all. Working time directives are an essential part of public safety protection. It is foolish to think that a driver of a large vehicle ought to be allowed to drive without any limitation. Moreover, when one looks at the level of the minimum wage, it is clear that it is no more than a decent gesture to those who work for other people's profit. The private escorts are part of the scheme that I mentioned. Consultation documents have been put out and the Heavy Transport Association mentioned by the noble Earl--indeed, he was courteous enough to indicate to me other interests that he has--is one of the consultees which has responded.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, not all students at British schools in the European Union are British. Nevertheless those students who can demonstrate a residential connection with this country and meet the other eligibility criteria will be eligible for loans. If students have no recent history of residence in the United Kingdom, it is right that they should be excluded from the loans scheme. These residence conditions have remained broadly unchanged for many years.
Baroness Young: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. This is an extremely important issue for British students in British schools in the European Union who, as the noble Baroness knows, follow a British curriculum, take British exams and qualify for British universities. There is uncertainty as to whether or not they are eligible for the student loan scheme. This is a serious deterrent to some of them getting to a university at all. Will the noble Baroness look at this question and clarify the situation? We are not talking about students who are not British.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Baroness's Question because this is a matter that we should look at in terms of providing good, clear information to British students in British schools in the European Union. I certainly would not want any student who is eligible on other grounds--that is, with ability and the right qualifications--to decide not to go to university because he or she is unclear about the arrangements. However, I am sure that the noble Baroness will agree that it is important that we set down proper residence criteria. It would not be right for us to open up the student loan scheme to people, whether
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, will the noble Baroness clarify whether British students who are studying in international schools in European countries not in the Union, such as Switzerland, would be eligible for such loans if coming to UK universities?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, exactly the same provisions apply to them whether they are in an international school in Switzerland, in the United States or anywhere in the world. The student loans regulations relate to residence qualifications. As I have said, that criterion has been in place for many years. However, I am certainly willing to look at the guidance and information that we provide on this matter.
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that if students living in another European country are intelligent enough to go to a British university, they are surely intelligent enough to know whether they are entitled to a student loan?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, they ought to be but sometimes even I have difficulty in understanding complicated government circulars and regulations of this kind. I am sure that is true of many other Members of your Lordships' House.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, does not the Minister agree that it is deeply unfair that students from other European countries other than England, Wales and Northern Ireland receive preferential treatment in relation to the waiving of fees for university courses and yet our British subjects are subject to such unfairness?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, students from the European Union do not receive preferential treatment in relation to fees. The situation with respect to fees is exactly the same as regards the eligibility criteria for the student loan scheme. They are based on residence qualifications.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I really must come back on that. A student from France attending a Scottish university will have the fees waived whereas a student from England attending the same Scottish university will not.
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, we have been through this on many previous occasions. I think that the noble Baroness is well aware that an independent inquiry on this issue under the chairmanship of Sir George Quigley is under way. It will report to Parliament no later than April 2000.
Baroness Young: My Lords, I ask for clarification because there is a difference of interpretation as regards whether a student is "resident". Some authorities will not allow student loans even if the students concerned
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, the issue of the electoral roll is a complicated one. The reason the Government have never accepted that being on an electoral roll should make one automatically eligible for a student loan is that Commonwealth citizens can be on an electoral roll. That includes Commonwealth students who are not permanently resident in the UK. If we opened up that particular route, I think that there would be quite a lot of abuse.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, bearing in mind that one of the tenets of the European Union is the free movement of labour, and bearing in mind that the different rules and costs that apply to the education of workers' children--whether they are at school or university--will inhibit that free movement of labour, do the Government monitor the different funding and regulatory regimes that apply in the different countries of the European Union? Does my noble friend have any discussions with her counterparts in the European Union to see what common standards and financial regimes might be achieved?
Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, it is for each independent member of the European Union to have its own system for student support. That is how I believe it should remain. However, of course the Government are constantly in touch with what is happening in other countries, not just in the European Union but elsewhere around the world because we can sometimes learn from what other countries are doing in this difficult and complicated area. Only yesterday I had a meeting with the Dutch Minister of Education during which we discussed this issue, among others.