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Mr. Clarke: If I may say so, Lord Butler has not been in the university world for very long, and his knowledge of it is perhaps not as great as that of some others. I have talked to many universities about these policies, and I know that some would like to have a higher fee cap than the £3,000 that we propose. But I also know that those same universities say—in my view, they will continue to say it—that this is a step towards meeting the funding need that has been identified, and they will welcome it. I say to Lord Butler, to Mr. Richard Sykes and to everybody else concerned that this is the position.

Mrs. Joan Humble (Blackpool, North and Fleetwood) (Lab): In his proposed introduction of variable fees, my right hon. Friend seems to be assuming that most undergraduates will be studying either single honours or combined honours degree courses. However, there is a real concern among the new universities, which offer modular degree courses, that they will be unable to offer variable fees should they wish to do so, because students are encouraged to choose modules across different departments in the first semester, and other modules across other departments in the second and third semesters. How can universities price variable fees in that context, and how can students possibly make choices?

Mr. Clarke: If there were a fixed fee of, for the sake of argument, £2,500, as has been suggested, the universities that my hon. Friend mentions would be unable to make any dispensation whatsoever to deal with the prices of the different modules in operation. I know of the concerns that she describes, which is why I have made today's statement on increasing the grant. The implication is that a much higher proportion of fee income generated, particularly by the new universities of which she speaks, will be able to be used for increasing academic standards in those areas. However, if she talks to many of the vice-chancellors, as I have done, they will

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tell her that they want the power to look at different fee levels for sandwich courses, four-year courses, foundation degrees, science degrees and so on. Without that power, which would be removed if there were no variable fees, their ability to drive their universities forward to meet the economic needs of their localities and the social needs of their students would be very severely inhibited.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will be very aware that variable fees is the main concern of a majority of Labour Back Benchers. I welcome the concessions that he has made in today's package. For example, he says that there will be an independent review, working with OFFA, at the end of three years. Does he agree that if things do not work out, a great deal of harm will have been done to higher education, and can he tell the House today what he really means by this independent review?

Mr. Clarke: I have suggested the independent review in response to the arguments advanced by a number of people. It is fair to say that we need to see and understand how the policy works. I have suggested that we should do that for a period of three years, after which a report should be made to the House so that hon. Members can discuss the arrangements. That is the right way to go. I do not believe that variable fees will damage this country's university system, for the reasons that I have set out. However, we need to have an informed and independent consideration of the issues involved so that we can make our judgment.

Mr. Iain Luke (Dundee, East) (Lab): My right hon. Friend will understand that there is much concern north of the border about the possible introduction of variable top-up fees in England and Wales. The major worry of university principals in my city has to do with the impact on universities, both north and south of the border, that are less well endowed financially. They will be less able to attract quality research staff and, as a consequence, their research programmes will suffer. What guarantees can my right hon. Friend give that the playing field will remain level in respect of access to research resources, given the huge imbalance that exists between universities?

Mr. Clarke: First, I can guarantee that cross-border discussions will continue to address that problem. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland has discussed the proposals with the Scottish Executive to determine how to move forward in those circumstances. I can confirm that research will remain a national responsibility, but I cannot state that there is no difference between the two systems. The meaning of devolution was that different systems would be created. That is what has happened, and those different systems have different implications. However, the Government and the Scottish Executive are obliged to work together as closely as they can to deal with the different implications in a positive and constructive way. I can make a commitment to ensuring that the Government do just that.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): Order. I appreciate that a number of hon. Members have not

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been able to catch my eye on this important statement. However, we must move on as there is other important business to protect. I remind the House that this issue can be revisited when we consider the Bill on Second Reading.


Higher Education

Mr. Secretary Clarke presented a Bill to make provision about research in the arts and humanities and about complaints by students against institutions providing higher education; to make provision about fees payable by students in higher education; to provide for the appointment of a Director of Fair Access to Higher Education; to make provision about grants and loans to students in higher or further education; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Monday 12 January, and to be printed. Explanatory notes to be printed [Bill 35].

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Orders of the Day

Horserace Betting and Olympic Lottery Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): I advise the House that Mr. Speaker has not selected for debate the amendment tabled by members of the Scottish Nationalist party.

2.32 pm

The Minister for Sport and Tourism (Mr. Richard Caborn): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Bill covers two distinct subject areas, both of which are of considerable interest to the House, and I shall deal with each in turn. First, it deals with the Government's remaining involvement in the financing and administration of horse racing. Part 1 of the Bill covers the sale and dissolution of the Horserace Totalisator Board, normally known as the Tote. It provides for the vesting of the Tote's assets in a successor company wholly owned by the Crown, and the subsequent sale of that company. The Bill will enable the Government to deliver our manifesto commitment to sell the Tote to a racing trust, and to do so in a way that is fair to racing and to the taxpayer.

The Tote was established as a corporate body in 1928, with an exclusive statutory right to conduct—or to authorise others to conduct—pool betting on British horse racing. It was set up to provide an alternative to fixed-odds betting, and to provide a source of income to the sport of racing.

The Tote's profits, over and above what is required for reinvestment, remain within racing. The Tote is a long-standing symbol of British horse racing, but it is no longer necessary for it to remain a public body. Its present status is not appropriate for an organisation with commercial ambitions that are likely to conflict with the accountability and constraints required of bodies in the public sector.

In March 1999, a review of the Tote's status recommended that the whole of its business should be sold in a single entity. The Government agreed with that recommendation, and we announced in March 2000 our intention to sell the Tote to a racing trust—a consortium representing British horse racing interests. The Bill will enable that to be achieved.

The Government's intention is to sell the Tote to a racing trust. If that is not possible, we will explore other sales options. However, I know that the will of both Houses of Parliament is that we fulfil our manifesto commitment.

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston) (Lab): My right hon. Friend follows these matters very closely, and will be aware that considerable work has been done to prepare a shadow racing trust. There is no doubt that that body exists and will make a bid, but I am a little unsettled by his reference to the possibility that the Tote could be sold elsewhere if a sale to the racing trust cannot be achieved. That possibility is not mentioned in the Bill. For the avoidance of doubt, will my right hon. Friend

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confirm that it is the Government's clear intention to sell the Tote to the racing trust, and that there is no reason at the moment why that should not happen?

Mr. Caborn: I can give my right hon. Friend that confirmation, and I have said already that there is a considerable amount of good will. The shadow racing trust has been up and running for a considerable time, and it has already proved itself. I see no reason why the sale of the Tote to the racing trust should not go ahead, but it would be wrong if the Government did not make provision for other eventualities. In the event of the Tote's sale to the trust not being completed, we would have to come back to the House with new legislative proposals to secure the Tote's transfer away from public ownership. The measure is precautionary, but my right hon. Friend is right that the Government want to sell the Tote to a trust not dissimilar to the one that has been in existence for some considerable time already.

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