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Lord Borrie: It will not surprise the Minister to hear that I wish to support the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn. I was for some years chairman of my Inn scholarship committee and a member of the Inns of Court general trust funds committee. I saw many indications of tremendous financial hardship. I appreciated the dedication of the students, the urgent and earnest desire to qualify to be a barrister. But I realise that for all those who were so dedicated there must be many who were deterred and there must be many among those who received what financial help we were able to give who fell by the wayside because, most definitely, of the unwillingness of the local authorities to provide discretionary grants. This is an extremely serious problem if we want to achieve the objective of getting students from all walks of life to undertake vocational training.

9 p.m.

Lord Henley: With some diffidence, following two such eminent lawyers, I should obviously declare my interest in law even if I have never practised. When I first saw this amendment I, and those who advised me in these matters, experienced some degree of confusion about the amendment and I suspect the amendment is drafted in a manner which is not entirely satisfactory. That is my first point.

I think the noble Lord, Lord Williams, would accept there are problems of definition--for example, what on earth does a vocational qualification mean--and those matters would have to be addressed. His elucidation of what he was aiming at was useful and I am not sure whether it is a matter for this Bill, as I explained to the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, when I dealt with his amendment. The best thing I could say at this moment totally without prejudice would be that I am prepared to look at these concerns, but I do not think they are necessarily concerns of this Bill. They might be matters that could be addressed in some other way, but they might be matters that could have significant cost to the taxpayer by means of extending student loans on to other classes which are not currently covered.

Having said that, I would look totally without prejudice at the ideas behind what the noble Lord, Lord Williams, is putting forward, and I hope that he will feel able to withdraw his amendment. I am not hopeful that any solution can be produced in regard to this Bill. It might be a matter for regulation, as I explained to those speaking for the medical professions, so it also might be a matter where the concerns about expenditure again precluded making any changes of the sort that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, wanted. Having said that, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: That is a most generous and helpful response for which I am personally most grateful. Speeches get shorter and responses more accommodating as time passes. I beg leave to withdraw.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 16:

After Clause 3, insert the following new clause--


(". Within six months of each anniversary of the granting of the first private sector student loan, the Secretary of State shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a report on the grant of private sector student loans by sex, age, ethnic origin, disability, institution, course of study and parental income of applicants and showing whether loans were granted or refused and the reasons given and comparing the same with similar information for public sector student loans.").

The noble Lord said: Amendments Nos. 16 and 17 are grouped together and I shall speak to them together. Amendment No. 16 is basically an instrument of monitoring:

    "the Secretary of State shall lay before both Houses of Parliament a report on the grant of private sector student loans [on groupings of] sex, age, ethnic origin, disability, institution, course of study",
etc. Basically that sort of monitoring is very important when we come to look at how well the system is dealing with many of the problems we have just raised in debates on amendments within this Committee stage. On virtually all the matters that are being addressed to him, the Minister has said that the commercial realities we are dealing with either are being confronted here, or are within the scope of the Bill. Whatever is happening should be monitored. If we have this sort of information we will know who is right should this Bill ever come into effect. Surely that is something that should at least be taken on board in some way by the Government.

The second amendment says there should be an annual review of how the scheme works. I would suggest that, taken as a package, these two amendments provide the necessary instruments for any government to look at how the scheme is working and also provide the necessary information to find out if it is going wrong and where it is going wrong. I beg to move.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: These amendments are a weakened form of the amendments championed so splendidly by the knight on the noble charger, the noble Lord, Lord Peyton of Yeovil, and the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth. It asks for no more than a report with an analysis of the year's work in the matter of the private sector loans. It would, as the noble, Lord Addington, said, be useful if nothing else in that it would solve the question of the ideological debate which divides the two sides of this Chamber, because this report would enable us all to quantify the situation and find out whether there is any evidence of discrimination on any of the grounds that we have been discussing tonight. A winner would emerge, and if for no other reason that would be a very good reason for backing these two amendments. It is vital in any case that proper monitoring and auditing takes place because the amendments that we have put forward are evidence of the misuse, mistakes, malfeasances and distortions which could take place in a Bill so widely drawn as this one. It will make the operation public and so go some way to satisfy the real worries of many on both, nay, on all sides of the Chamber.

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The usual cliches come to mind and are nonetheless true for being common: the price of liberty is eternal vigilance and justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. The review suggested here would be even better, in my view, than the annual report of the Department for Education and Employment. This amendment would permit an illumination of both Houses of Parliament in the words of my countryman, Dylan Thomas, when he wrote,

    "Light breaks where no sun shines".
I am happy to support these amendments.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: In speaking in support of these amendments I would like to add to the points already made the importance of the information being sought and required from the very beginning. It is often the case that when information is required about a project or scheme, or the way in which a particular law works, it is said at a later stage that it is very difficult to acquire the necessary information because the information that is available is not set out in the required form. By agreeing the amendments it would be possible for the Government to ensure, at no additional cost, through changing the compilation of information that the information was readily to hand.

Secondly, should the Bill become an Act, the information would be invaluable to those who were in a position to decide what to do about the recommendations of the committee of inquiry following its report in 1997. The information would be extremely useful in those circumstances.

Lord Henley: I appreciate that the amendments are, as the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, put it, a weakened form of the amendments of my noble friend Lord Peyton. The noble Lord will have noted the assurances that I tried to give my noble friend before he, sadly, felt it necessary to test the opinion of the Committee. I can assure the noble Lord that they are commitments that I shall continue to consider. Even so, I feel that the amendments would result in further overregulation and would hamper the effectiveness of the private sector.

Having said that, I appreciate and share the anxiety of Members of the Committee to ensure that the new student loans scheme will operate efficiently and effectively and will offer value for money to the taxpayer. It is a concern which, dare I say, all of us in this Chamber share. I also share their anxiety that, to ensure that that happens, the operation of the scheme is subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

As I made clear earlier in response to my noble friend, we shall monitor closely the performance of the new scheme. Once the scheme is up and running the department's spending on private sector loans will be included in the appropriation accounts and the department's annual report. I appreciate that the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, and my noble friend Lord Peyton of Yeovil are not the greatest fans of my department's annual report. I can assure them that it makes very good reading. I shall ensure that a copy is

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sent post-haste to the noble Lord whensoever the next one is due. If he would like a copy of last year's report I shall ensure that he receives one.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I cannot but say that I shall keep it closely by my bedside, treasure it and read it with great care.

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