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Lord Henley: If that was a welcome for the amendment, I take it in the spirit in which it was given and thank the noble Lord.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 23:

Page 3, line 30, leave out ("2(1)") and insert ("2--
(a) in sub-paragraph (1)").

The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 24. With these two amendments, as with the previous one, I wrote to the noble Lords, Lord Morris and Lord Tope, to explain the purpose behind the amendments.

Currently, higher education institutions play an important part in certifying their students' eligibility for loans from the Student Loans Company. In return the SLC pays a fee for each certificate of eligibility. Our intention is that that should continue.

HEIs will also play a role in providing information on their students' eligibility for private sector loans. Our intention is that they should receive payment for whatever work they do. A number of concerns were expressed during debate in another place over the eligibility work HEIs have to do. One concern was that there was no specific provision for payments for eligibility work on private loan applications. These amendments would remove that concern.

Paragraph 3 of the schedule to the Bill would amend Schedule 2 to the 1990 Act. In doing so, it would provide that regulations requiring work on eligibility by HEIs apply to private loans as well as public ones. This amendment would provide that payments can be made to HEIs in relation to work on all loans. Concern has been expressed about the likely volume of HEI work on private loan eligibility and about the level of the payments for that work. I hope that I can reassure the Committee on those points as well.

This Bill, as we know, is about providing a better service for the student consumers. One improvement will be in the availability of a rapid and efficient over-the-counter service through the private lenders' branch networks. To deliver that, the private lenders will probably want to take responsibility for eligibility checking. The invitation to tender documents encourage the private lenders to do so. While the arrangements will be a matter for them, we envisage that in the large majority of cases they will deal directly with the students and no separate work will be required of the HEIs. In a small number of more complex cases they may need to involve the HEIs. But the intention is that

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it would be for the HEIs and the private lenders to negotiate the terms of that arrangement, including the level of fee which the private lender would have to pay.

However, it is possible that in some cases HEIs may be required by regulation to certify eligibility, and in those cases payment would be provided for in the relevant regulations. It is clear from that that the likely approach on eligibility checking for private loans will lead to a reduced burden on HEIs. The amendment addresses a reasonable concern put to us. I hope the Committee will support it on that basis and in the light of assurances I have given on the workloads involved. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 3, line 32, at end insert (", and
(b) after that sub-paragraph insert--
"(1A) Regulations under sub-paragraph (1) above may include provision for the making of payments to governing bodies in respect of the taking by them of steps prescribed by the regulations."").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 25:

Page 3, leave out lines 34 to 37.

The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 26. I do not know whether the Minister has ever found himself in the position of discussing a Bill, a regulation, or an order with officials in his department and heard them say, "I hear what you say, Minister. I understand what you want. I know how you feel. If this is really as necessary as you say it is, then of course we must find a way, but it is going to be very, very difficult".

In the amendment I wanted only to secure full repayment to HEIs, and to ensure that there shall be an independent assessor, to which I shall come later. Following pressure from the CVCP on behalf of universities, the Government have now produced an amendment to secure provision to make payments to universities for the cost of administering both the public and private sector loans. We all welcome that as a step forward.

Currently, universities may be paid for the administration of the present student loan scheme. However, the 1990 Act is permissive so there is no duty to meet these costs. The Government's amendment is also permissive and there will be no duty on private financial institutions to cover the universities' costs in full. The universities are only partially recompensed for the expense of administering the current system. My amendment will ensure that the universities' costs will be fully covered for administering any loans, public or private.

Universities have been subsidising the Student Loans Company for quite some time. There is no reason why they should also have to subsidise the private-sector financial institutions, in particular in the

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light of the universities' current financial difficulties since the previous Budget. We would welcome a copper-bottomed assurance on that. I beg to move.

Lord Henley: Having moved my previous amendments, I am not sure that I can take the noble Lord much further. As the amendments that I put forward demonstrated, it is our intention that the HEIs should be paid for the work that they do in certifying eligibility for student loans. We do not expect that the Bill will create any additional work for the HEIs. Indeed, we expect their workload to decrease. However, we wish to ensure that they are paid for the certification work that they do on both public and private-sector loans. That is what our amendment achieved.

I was somewhat confused by the noble Lord's amendment when I first read it and I am further confused having listened to him. I am sure that at this late hour he has no intention of pressing it to a Division and I should like to look at what he said about it.

12 Mar 1996 : Column 838

Perhaps we can have further discussions at an earlier hour at a later stage of the Bill. It would be wrong for me to respond in any other way.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: It is helpful that the Minister has agreed to look at the detail of the amendment. Will he also look at whether, for example, the Department for Education and Employment considers it necessary to have additional staff in the light of the proposed dual system? Is the same kind of consideration given to the HEIs?

Lord Henley: I can assure the noble Baroness that I will consider the points that she has put to me.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: I am happy to agree to the Minister's suggestion that we should take the matter up at another time and perhaps in more salubrious circumstances. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 26 and 27 not moved.]

The Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

        House adjourned at two minutes before ten o'clock.

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