Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Young: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Baroness. She has referred to me on two occasions. To make my position absolutely clear,

11 Dec 1997 : Column 323

the fact that today there are tremendous numbers of students in universities is due entirely to Conservative policies. I make no apology for that. I believe that it was quite right. As Chancellor of the University of Greenwich I am only too well aware of the proportion of students taking part-time degrees, the number of people from ethnic minorities taking degrees and the number of people taking degrees who are the first in their families ever to have considered university education. All of that has resulted from Conservative policies.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I did refer to the noble Baroness a second time but before I could go on to give details the noble Baroness interjected. Perhaps I may continue.

The Dearing Committee was set up because higher education was in crisis. Funding for students has reduced by 40 per cent. over the past 20 years. For 19 of those years those now in opposition were in government in this country. It was at a time when the Government assumed that spending on higher education would drop by 6.5 per cent. in real terms over the years 1998 to 2000. In the few months that they have been in office the present Government have put in something like £165 million. In 1993 a cap was put on higher education. Subsequently there has been a withdrawal of almost all public funding for capital expenditure. I find it difficult to believe that higher education has been passed to the present Government in a pretty good state. I challenge that. Certainly, that was not the evidence that the Dearing Committee heard. On the contrary, it was said that the 6.5 per cent. reduction could not be achieved. It was also said that higher education was in crisis. It is also a fact that, despite a number of the statements that have been made, the proportion of the gross national product of this country spent on higher education has not changed by a fraction of 1 per cent. in the past 20 years.

I support the Bill. The Bill may give rise to some difficult decisions. There is no doubt that we have reached the crossroads in higher education. I should like to refer to three particular aspects of the Bill. First, I refer to the general teaching council. My noble friend Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede has covered much of what I would have said. But it is also a matter of the professionalism of the teachers in this sector. It is absolutely essential that we go down this route. It may not be clear; perhaps not all of the t's have been crossed and the i's dotted. However, we must have this council to improve teaching and courses.

As a member of the Dearing Committee I found the subject of tuition fees difficult. I, too, believed that we had free higher education. We do not, and we have not had it for many years. The bulk of the money that is put into higher education is being spent on the less than 50 per cent. of students who are in full-time education. The Bill will change that.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness, but she is the only member of the Dearing Committee who will be speaking

11 Dec 1997 : Column 324

this evening. Is she happy with her Government's decision not to follow the Dearing Committee recommendation to charge 25 per cent. but keep the maintenance grant? I am sorry to burden the noble Baroness with this matter, but I am interested to know whether she is committed to the Government who have rejected her own committee's recommendation.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I am convinced that the Government are committed to higher education. At the end of the process, higher education will have a much better future than it had when the Dearing Committee was set up.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I am sorry to press the noble Baroness, who is a great friend. She has not answered my question. Does she agree with it?

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I agree with the introduction of tuition fees. I note also that the elimination of the maintenance grant was a decision taken by the previous government and not this government.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, I am sorry to keep interrupting, but the Dearing Committee recommended keeping half what remained of the maintenance grant. I do not believe that the noble Baroness heard my speech. I am worried about people earning £16,000 a year. The decision the Government have made hits them. The Dearing Committee pointed out the difficulties. I fear that the noble Baroness still has not answered me. I shall not stand up again, I promise.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: My Lords, I do not mind answering any questions that the noble Lord chooses to ask. The Dearing Report recommended tuition fees for all students. The Government's proposal will protect lower income students from working families, because the loan is income contingent. That was not proposed by the Dearing Committee in the way that the Government have put forward.

We have seen the introduction of a system whereby part-time higher education students in further education colleges--some higher education is delivered in some parts of this country through the further education system--have to pay their tuition fees while full-time higher education students do not. We have the Open University, introduced by a Labour government, which is rightly lauded and which is a great success. I declare that I am a member of the OU council. OU students have to pay tuition fees to obtain a degree. Many of them have to work and bring up a family at the same time as studying. The Bill will bring an end to many of those inconsistencies.

Top-up fees have generated a great deal of criticism. I hope that the Government have the courage to stick to their proposal in the Bill. I say that probably for different reasons from those raised by noble Lords who have spoken against them. The package that the

11 Dec 1997 : Column 325

Government have put forward includes a pledge to parents that, with the introduction of tuition fees, they will have nothing else to contribute.

While on the Dearing Committee I heard the Russell Group mentioned for the first time. It is doing first class work, but there is a degree of elitism in it. In a small society such as ours that needs social cohesion and a learning society, the introduction of top-up fees would create an elite structure within the HE system. Establishments in poor areas will be unable to find students who can afford top-up fees while other universities will continue to provide courses, charge whatever top-up fee they wish, and still attract students--many of them from abroad.

I may be challenged on this, but the student profile of some of the universities advocating top-up fees does not reflect society in general in Britain today. That may be a factor. If noble Lords on the Benches opposite are so committed to introducing top-up fees, why did not the previous government introduce them? Higher education has a wonderful ability to survive, despite all the cutbacks. The crisis in higher education is not new. The Dearing Committee was set up because the previous government, with all due respect, did not know what to do about the crisis. The financial crisis existed, so why not allow top-up fees? Many universities wanted to introduce them but they were prevented from doing so.

Several noble Lords spoke about the independence of universities. I agree that academic freedom is very important. However, to give individual universities complete freedom would not solve some of the existing crises. Between 58 and 70 per cent. of university expenditure is on staff and the estate. According to the National Audit Office, the average utilisation of the estates is 30 per cent.--25 per cent. if universities are really efficient--and the value is said to be £30 billion. That cannot be an effective use of taxpayers' resources. The issue is covered in the Dearing Report, and I suggest that it is another reason for saying yes to academic freedom but that taxpayers should have a centralised say in how resources are spent.

Finally, I turn to the day release provisions. It is an imaginative move, which I did not expect but welcome. It is essential and I can understand the CBI objecting to it. When one compares the record of employers in this country with those in Europe and note what has been spent on training employees, there is not much to grumble about. The financial implications point to a cost of between £60 million and £130 million a year. That would soon be won back and justified by having a more skilled and committed workforce who are able to contribute in the higher value work that we need in Britain today. That is an investment in business.

I, too, look forward to the Committee stage when no doubt changes will be made to the Bill. However, the central thrust of tuition fees, top-up fees and other proposals should be welcomed. When looking back in 10 years' time we will see that the Bill was a major step in protecting our universities for the future.

11 Dec 1997 : Column 326

9.16 p.m.

Lord Butterfield: My Lords, I rise rather surprised. This is the third education Bill debate I have entered into since I was raised to this wonderful Chamber in 1988. However, it is the first time that I have ever spoken on education before 1 a.m. If your Lordships think that this is a late debate, wait until we reach the Committee stage.

I claim an interest in the Bill because, if your Lordships were historians and went to the original amendment proposing a general teaching council you would find that I and the noble Lord, Lord Callaghan, among others, proposed it. The proposal in 1992 fell on stony ground. I shall be commenting on the requirements of the GTC because Lord Dainton, who died recently, had agreed to make certain points in this debate. As a result of my long association with Professor Tomlinson and with Roger Haslam, the GTC secretary, I was asked--I shall not say press ganged--to pick up the threads which the late Lord Dainton would have been weaving now before your Lordships.

When the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon mentioned the GTC and a college of teachers, when my noble friend Lord Walton said that he had to leave because tomorrow morning he is to attend the sad event of Lord Dainton's funeral, and when the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, mentioned Lord Dainton I felt I must tell your Lordships what Lord Dainton intended to propose. My comments come from him and I fully support what he wanted to put forward.

I wish to make it clear that most of the people to whom I have spoken are not so much in favour of the teachers being retained in a minority on the general teaching council. I have detected a strong feeling in the various meetings that I have gone to that if teachers are in the minority, they will feel, in a word, "smothered".

I shall now make the points which were to be made by Lord Dainton. He preceded me in the vice-chancellor's office at Nottingham. He always pleased me when he used to say, "Well, I don't know the solution to that problem. It needs a good dose of socialism". So I hope that I shall not draw too much fire from the Government Benches.

Lord Dainton would have wanted me to say that there should be a majority of registered teachers on the council and not a minority, as has been suggested; that all teachers in all schools, maintained and independent, should be included in the register--that in accordance with the views of all the organisations representing teachers and head teachers on the provisional GTC the council be empowered to include on the register of teachers all those teaching in nursery education; further education, and all trainers of teachers in higher education. All council members should be elected from constituencies for which they have responsibility; and initially, those teacher constituencies are mainly based on teacher and head teacher unions and professional associations, because that is the source of 90 per cent. of the council's teaching members. After the initial Nolan procedures, the appointment of the chair of the council should be made by the council itself. It is hoped that Government should fund the work of the general

11 Dec 1997 : Column 327

teaching council in proportion of the representation of the non-teacher members of the council. The teaching members of the council would be the voice of teachers to be considered by government, while the voice of the educational service would be the views of the full council.

I am very proud to have been given the responsibility to read those points into the record. I now wish to turn to the remarks made about the possibility of a Royal College of Teachers as a parallel development of teachers by teachers for teachers, funded by teachers. That suggestion comes from a 19th century organisation, the College of Preceptors.

If you were a young lady or gentleman going off to, say, India at the end of the Victorian era to teach, to help you get your job, you might want some statement about your standing and recognition as a teacher in the UK from the College of Preceptors. The noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, and I have been closely associated with the College of Preceptors and the noble Viscount has been helping their interest in establishing a college of teachers by calling meetings in the House of people who are interested. Indeed, the noble Viscount and I put to the House the suggestion of the establishment of a college of teachers.

The College of Preceptors has now established an interim council, which noble Lords should know is laying plans for a college of teachers as soon as is reasonably practicable. It is hoped that it will ensure that teachers have a route for expressing their academic concerns rather than employment or registration responsibilities which can be done through their trade unions or local authority associations.

I have told the College of Preceptors--and I know that the noble Viscount, Lord Caldecote, who cannot be here this evening because he has 'flu, agrees with me--that we are very proud and see ourselves as crusaders who will do our best to support education and teaching.

I should now like to say a few words on university finances. I shall begin with access problems at Oxbridge. I grew up in Stechford which is part of Birmingham and, I believe, composed of social classes 5, 6 and 7. My father was a petrol pump attendant. However, I was extremely lucky, the Lord smiled on me and I managed to obtain scholarships. I want your Lordships to know that I have been in college life at Cambridge, and am anxious to try to get more people to come from those social classes to Oxbridge.

We heard earlier from the former Provost of King's College, the noble Lord, Lord Annan, how he managed to get a very high proportion of his intake from non-public schools; that is to say, non-independent schools. However, we are meeting difficulties in that respect. When we go out and ask people to apply--and I am sure that, if she were here, the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, would nod in agreement--we find that there is enormous propaganda against people going to Oxbridge. I do not know how we shall get around that problem. We shall probably have to ask the Government for guidance on the best way forward--they have a

11 Dec 1997 : Column 328

wonderful organisation in association with their Minister without Portfolio--to find out how to get people to at least pay attention to such a possibility.

The last comment that I shall make before I sit down is to point out that there is of course a difference between Oxford and Cambridge and that there are charters in many of the colleges in Cambridge. That is one reason why there has been such a fuss and bother in Cambridge about the possibility of the hybridity of this Bill. I hope that that will be sorted out between the lawyers in the department and those in the university who understand such matters better than I do.

When I set out today to come here for the debate, I told my wife that I would be very late home. I did not expect to be speaking so early in the evening. She asked, "Why is it that when there is an education Bill hundreds of people put down their names to speak and you all go on for hours in defence of universities?" She is an American, went to Harvard and does not really understand our problems. However, I believe that I have now convinced her that so many of us want to enter into these debates because we feel compelled to defend the academic freedom that began with Socrates so long ago.

We must remember that the universities were the first ports of call for all those people who came over from Germany because of the terrible suppression under Hitler. People in the universities heard more about what was going on in other universities; for example, the awful sufferings of the Jews. Again, through our contact with people in Russian universities under the old regime, we were very conscious that certain great people in the university world just "disappeared". I believe that the 100,000 students who left the People's Republic of China and came here or went to America, carried many clear indications that, whenever they can, universities are wise to stand up for their academic freedom.

9.29 p.m.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, at this time of night and at this point in the debate much of what one wished to say about the generalities of the Bill has already been said by other speakers. I shall not, therefore, tempt the patience of your Lordships by repeating those points, except to say that I add my great welcome to the extended loan scheme which is proposed and which I addressed in another debate some time ago. I shall concentrate on Part II of the Bill and in particular on the question of top-up fees; and I shall address the possible impact of Clause 18 on veterinary education in the United Kingdom.

The clause is intended to prevent institutions charging top-up fees in excess of the £1,000 annual tuition fee proposed by the Government. Should this be applied to graduate entrants to veterinary courses in the country, at least in four of the six veterinary schools, it would make it totally uneconomic for those schools to recruit graduate students. That point was recognised by the principal of the University of Glasgow, Professor Graeme Davies, who mentioned this in respect to those individuals who were self-financing their studies in Glasgow and elsewhere.

11 Dec 1997 : Column 329

I shall explain the reasons for this. For many years there has been great pressure as regards entrance to veterinary schools in the United Kingdom. It is frequently said that it is more difficult to enter veterinary medicine than it is to enter medicine. The number of veterinary students who are funded by the funding councils--about 420 per annum--falls well short of the national need. The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons continues to register more graduates of veterinary schools from outside the United Kingdom than from United Kingdom veterinary schools. There is a pressing need to increase the output. To some extent the shortfall is made up by admitting students who are already science graduates and who have already benefited from state supported higher education.

In four of the six veterinary schools in the country such students are charged full cost fees, which vary between the schools, but in no case do they average less than £10,000 a year. This practice has been in existence for some seven years. I should declare an interest here as a former dean of the veterinary faculty in the University of Cambridge, now retired. Noble Lords may be interested to know that Cambridge does not practise this scheme of top-up fees because it would disadvantage some students who are unable to afford the top-up fees. The average charge of £10,000 per year should be compared with the cost of educating a veterinary student which, according to the English Higher Education Funding Council, is £11,700 per annum. I should emphasise that these are the self-funded students referred to by Professor Graeme Davies of Glasgow.

Overseas students, including contract students from countries such as Iceland and Norway pay similar fees, but they of course return to their native lands after the course, whereas the graduate students who pay the top-up fees remain in this country. There is no shortage of applicants or acceptances for the places--despite this being a costly second bite of the cherry, so to speak--such is the high demand for places in the veterinary schools.

These full costs are ploughed back into the provision of clinical facilities in the veterinary schools to enable students to master their clinical skills. It is here that veterinary education differs considerably from medical education and indeed dictates the necessity for such top-up fees. In the medical field, teaching hospitals are provided by the National Health Service and a subsidy of up to £40,000 per student per annum is provided through the Service Increment for Teaching Scheme (SIFT). The total amount of that was increased two years ago by £40 million, and last year by a further £40 million.

In veterinary education there is no SIFT. There is no National Health Service to provide the teaching hospitals. All the hospitals, the staff, equipment, nurses, medicines and bandages have to be supplied out of the funding provided by the funding councils and any income generated from clinical services. Should veterinary schools be denied that source of income, which is increasingly important as resources provided by the funding councils continue to fall, it will be quite uneconomical for veterinary schools to recruit such

11 Dec 1997 : Column 330

graduates. The corollary for that is that a number of people will be denied access to education leading to the veterinary profession, and the annual output of veterinarians in the United Kingdom would be reduced.

An alternative to such top-up fees would be to charge all students for certain clinical facilities, as, for example, in the subjects of French, architecture and engineering. However, one would not wish to go in that direction.

Finally, if the restriction on top-up fees is to be enacted, I hope that it will apply only to new entrants to the veterinary courses and not to those who have previously undertaken a science degree and who come in as graduates. They are about 10 per cent. of the student population. Those individuals have already benefited from state support for higher education and now wish to pursue a professional qualification through a self-funded mechanism.

9.37 p.m.

Lord Peston: My Lords, in general but not in every particular I give a warm welcome to the Bill. There are many things in it that we have wanted and for which we have been asking for a long time. Chief among those is the general teaching council. Those of us involved with education policy making have worked for decades for a general teaching council and have failed. My noble friend and her fellow Ministers are to be congratulated. If they are asked one day, "What did you do during the first Blair Government?" I hope that they will be able to say, "A great many things". But even if they could not say that, they will be able to claim, "We set up the general teaching council". Before we end these deliberations, I may answer that same question about myself.

When the House sits as a Committee, we shall examine the general teaching council in detail. But even if it has imperfections in its opening phase, we must assume that like all institutions the council will evolve. It would be wrong to damn it, let alone kill it, because it starts off with some deficiencies. It will in due course have to change. I am confident that it will get off to a good start and will develop in a satisfactory way. In particular it can and should be a body that lays a new professional foundation for teaching and will set the high standards for teachers for which we all aim.

One factor that troubles me about your Lordships' House is that among us we do not have--perhaps we have never had in my time--a teacher from a state school. Our deliberations on these matters might well have been improved had we had one or more such people.

I also welcome the training of head teachers. I still stand in awe of those who were my teachers and head teachers. Unlike some of my friends, I still find it impossible to think of them except as Mr. X or Mrs. Y. One or two of my old friends still refer to their teachers by their Christian names. To me that is inconceivable. I regard my teachers as great people and wish it to remain that way. What has to be said about head teachers is how much over our lifetimes their jobs have changed. The Bill is an attempt to help them cope with the incredibly complex world with which they now have

11 Dec 1997 : Column 331

to deal. Perhaps I may make my usual point on teachers: we all know full well that when our children succeed it is because they are clever, and when they fail it is because of their teachers. That is always worth remembering.

I am also very keen on the induction period for new teachers, but above all on the provision entitling all 16 and 17 year-olds to paid time off in order to study or train for appropriate qualifications. It is a major step forward, and one which I hope the House will support. We shall examine the proposals in more detail in Committee.

I, too, was concerned about the views of the CBI on young people. As my noble friend Lord Ponsonby said, it is vital that all employers play a full and honest part. Unlike many of my friends, I am less than impressed with the contribution that businessmen might make to policy-making in our country. But I am certain that we must not allow the business community to sabotage this initiative on grounds of cost. To paraphrase yet again my favourite economist, Adam Smith: businessmen are always concerned about cost, except when it comes to raising their own salaries. That is the positive side.

In preparing for today's debate I discovered to my horror that I wrote my first paper on student loans some 35 years ago. It expressed what was then very much a minority view. I note ruefully that many of my friends who opposed those ideas most strongly have since risen to senior positions in public life and are now, so far as I can see, enthusiastic supporters of the proposals in the Bill.

In relation to the matters upon which I shall criticise the Government, it took me a short while to appreciate that if we were looking at loans to replace maintenance grants, which was the original area in which we worked, then logic required us to look at tuition fees as well. So in this area I regard my credentials as not all that bad. I must add that, over the years, further consideration has led me and others to realise that many of our earlier thoughts on the question of grants and loans were rather simpliste.

On the question of contingent loans replacing maintenance grants, I have no difficulty. As I said, we advocated it for an enormous period of time and I am not ready to change my mind on that. I shall not bore the House, but the matter is a good deal more complicated than some people think.

However, my real worry relates to the subject of tuition fees. Let me begin with my noble friend the Minister. My difficulty is that she and I have been comrades in arms on all education matters for as long as I can remember, and it is with deep sadness that I have to say that on this occasion we differ. But more to the point, for the first time in all my years in this House I find myself in disagreement with every single one of my noble friends who have spoken. I believe that they are mistaken on the subject of tuition fees--or rather, their views differ from mine. The more I heard them speak, the more I thought that perhaps I was wrong. Then I thought some more and decided that they were wrong. However, there is time between now and

11 Dec 1997 : Column 332

the Committee stage of the Bill and I promise my noble friends that during the Recess I shall think about the matter yet again to see if I can find a valid case for what the Government propose.

It may be that those of us who wish to examine the issue of tuition fees in detail and analyse the problems are wasting our time. It is a fact that higher education is seriously under-financed. It is also true that the Treasury refuses to provide the extra funds needed. It is obvious that, to get anywhere at all, the Secretary of State was bounced into accepting tuition fees. In my judgment he has since then sought to bounce the rest of us. It looks as if for the present the Treasury is determining higher education policy and Ministers are merely the Treasury's handmaidens. When my noble friend replies, perhaps he can confirm whether that is so. If that is the case, I for one should be prepared to stop and not further waste your Lordships' time either now or subsequently by pointing out the principles involved and the consequences of the Government's proposed actions.

However, it is my judgment that we ought to examine the matter. In particular--and here I differ fundamentally with my noble friends--I believe that there is nothing necessary about the policy which the Government propose to adopt. There are no underlying forces in our society which make us introduce tuition fees. If we do so, we do it because we want to. We ourselves did not pay tuition fees--I certainly did not. We need a better explanation than any offered by my noble friends, and in particular by the Government, as to why, when we did not pay, our successors should do so. The argument that we were few and our successors are many has no logic to it and certainly no ethical foundation that I can think of.

Let me assume for the moment that the subject is worth debating. I start with the Dearing Report. I must warn my noble friend that I am not impressed with that report. It devotes much space to student finance and tuition fees but its treatment has at least two major deficiencies. It offers no serious analytical foundation for the discussion of the subject and little or no evidence on crucial matters. A serious analytical foundation would require at least two things. First, it would require some theory of what determines a person to try to enter higher education, what determines the choice of subject and what determines the specific institution or institutions he or she applies to. Secondly, it would require some theory of how higher education institutions determine what they do and whom they admit. I am again being very acerbic, but I listened to the pathetic remarks made by the various heads of Oxford and Cambridge colleges; their desperate attempts to recruit people from the state sector carry very little weight with me. Dearing did not even bother to go into such matters.

Viewing what happens as a form of market, albeit a rather complicated one, what can we say about demand and supply? We can ask the questions, but at the moment we have nothing like a set of answers. Dearing and those who have spoken today, including my noble friends, look at the average student and point out what he or she earns as a return on the investment in higher education. Like others long ago, that is exactly how I looked at the subject. I pointed out, as my noble friends have done, that the average beneficiary is middle

11 Dec 1997 : Column 333

class, that entry into the system has an upper income group bias, and that what is true in general is true of certain universities in particular. It is easy to move from that to the rather left wing proposition that therefore more of the costs should be borne by the individuals who gain.

That is exactly the line I took 25 years ago and more. Unfortunately, the fact that the average student gains and the average student comes from a higher economic class is not a satisfactory point. What matters--it is perfectly obvious--are the marginal students, and they are not those students. The marginal students come from poor backgrounds; they come from certain other minorities in our society. If we introduce a financing system which we justify by saying it hits the average, its devastating weakness will be that, though it may hit the average, it will also deter the marginal students. The marginal students are the students my noble friends said that they wanted to help and that is why they are mistaken in supporting this policy.

If I can be personal, particularly on the subject of higher education--others referred to it--I was the first member of my family to go for higher education. Most of my friends at the time were also the first members of their families to go on to higher education. If the word "fee" had been mentioned to us when we were 17 or 18 I am absolutely certain that we would not have gone to university. I have no doubt about that at all. Though we were clever boys then, if someone had outlined the whole argument about investment, rates of return and how we would gain, we still would not have gone. We lived in a milieu where education was free or one did not do it.

Many of our successors are like that today. I reject this policy on the grounds that my noble friends have offered me nothing that will make me believe that they will not be deterred in the way that I would have been. Let me say, cynically, that I may well have been better off not going to university. I may have made a lot of money and entered your Lordships' House via the businessman route, which is the lesson nowadays. So it would not necessarily have been a catastrophe; but it might have been.

The only other aspect that I want to dwell on--for some noble Lords it is late; I have sat here for hours so it does not feel that late for me--is the fact that there is a terrible administrative mess in all of this. Policies seem to have been made on the hoof and I am bound to say--looking towards the officials--that I do not believe the officials remotely understood what they were getting themselves into or, more to the point, letting my noble friends and my ministerial colleagues in for. It is a mess and the mess is not yet over. They will find further difficulties the further they go.

Most extraordinary of all is the idea that we are actually going to expect students from the European Community to fill in parental means forms; that someone will monitor them and we will then check the incomes. The whole idea is mad.

One reason why I favoured the student loan scheme was that I hoped that we could end the notion of parental contribution. I realise that there are problems with

11 Dec 1997 : Column 334

income distribution. But one would argue that students now are all adults; they are 18 or more and we should take a totally forward look at how we finance the whole thing. The relevant incomes are those of the students and not those of the parents. I have one other warning for my noble friend--I am sorry that she was led down this path. Sticking with this parental means test nonsense has thrown away the one great benefit of the contingent loan scheme.

I shall make one last point. We use the expression "tuition fees". I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tope; they are not tuition fees. That is a complete misnomer. The right reverend Prelate doubted what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Tope, as did my noble friend Lord Plant. I was Reader in public finance in the University of London for a while so I believe that I know what a tax is. This is a tax on entering higher education. It is a poll tax. It may have an income adjustment, but it is a straightforward poll tax. These charges are not related to either marginal or average costs; they are not related to the institution that will be paid them or the subject; they are certainly not a market equilibrating device. Therefore we ought not to be discussing it. We ought to be discussing whether we should put a tax on entry into higher education. If we want to impose such a tax, we should then say at what rate the tax should be levied. Finally, we should say what should be the criteria, if any, for exemption.

My grandchildren or great grandchildren will ask "What did Maurice Peston do during the first Blair Government?" I will say that I did not contribute very much at all, but I did stand up for rationality and I did stand up for looking at problems sensibly, from a Labour Party point of view.

9.55 p.m.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, as one who made a maiden speech only last week, I begin by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell, on her maiden speech. I found it extremely refreshing. It was good to hear someone emphasising the importance of education to enable us all to live fulfilled lives. I particularly enjoyed her words about the joy, pleasure and knowledge that we can get from books. I also enjoyed the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, not least because he was voicing opinions which my noble friend Lord Tope put forward earlier in the debate, opinions with which I entirely agreed, particularly on the right of adults at 18 to be considered adults and independent of their parents.

Uppermost in the minds of many noble Lords today have been the aspects of the Bill dealing primarily with higher education, particularly the autonomy of higher education institutions and the charging of tuition fees. Perhaps I may remind the House that the Bill is the Teaching and Higher Education Bill. My noble friend Lord Tope eloquently put the case for not charging tuition fees and the problems Liberal Democrats believe will ensue should we go forward on that basis.

Before I tackle some of the detail of the Bill, I wish to air one or two issues about the development of the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, touched on some of

11 Dec 1997 : Column 335

the points I wish to make. A generous interpretation of events leading up to the Bill might be that the Government are new, are anxious to raise standards in our schools and colleges and want to involve as many interests as possible in ensuring that we arrive at legislation that will be lasting, that will be good and that will achieve high standards for our young people--future generations. Indeed, in introducing the Bill the Minister told us that wide consultation had taken place and that the Government had listened. But given the anxieties expressed today, one could almost conclude that it had been rather hurriedly put together, with insufficient consultation with those affected by the passing of such legislation. Noble Lords will be able to draw their own conclusions as the debate ends tonight and as we continue to debate the Bill as it passes through the House.

There is undoubtedly a great deal of consensus surrounding the setting up of a general teaching council, the reintroduction of an induction period for newly trained teachers and having a qualification for head teachers that will recognise the special skills needed for head teachers to be successful. However, when we look more closely at the Bill, we see at times a lack of clarity of purpose. That has given rise to many of the anxieties that have been expressed today. Not only my colleagues but others outside the House are worried that our new Government are taking on too many mantles of the old government; not least, they want to stick to the same spending targets. But in this piece of legislation we see that they are also taking on the mantles of the previous government in giving a great deal of power to Ministers in centralising our system of education.

Liberal Democrats--there seems to be confusion among some noble Lords, but the noble Lord, Lord Tope, believes this, too--have proposed for a long time setting up a general teaching council. Many of the professional bodies which represent teachers are also in favour of it, but questions surround the issue. Many people believe that the Government's proposals fall short of the sort of body that teachers want and deserve. A general teaching council needs authority and autonomy if our teachers are to feel that the Government are prepared to trust them. We should see the Government putting their trust in teachers to try to regulate their own profession.

The various bodies representing teachers have raised with us many issues. They emphasise that they want accountability and independence. But there is one other area about which the professional bodies are concerned and that is the keeping of the register and the fact that they will not be directly involved in removing people from it. It would be helpful if the Government could comment on this. Many of the professional bodies believe that the general teaching council should not be merely a policeman to the profession but that it should be involved in all areas to do with teaching and education. There is a lack of clarity in the Bill as to how the council will be made up. That point has been raised tonight by many other speakers.

11 Dec 1997 : Column 336

The Professional Association of Teachers is particularly concerned that the body should be independent. It is concerned that if we are not careful we shall get yet another quango. I hope that in winding up the Minister will be able to answer some of the queries, before we reach Committee stage. I hope that the Government will allow amendments, as was said earlier by one noble Lord, to put flesh on to the bones of parts of the Bill.

I now turn to an area which interests me greatly. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, commented that there was no teacher in the House. I have not practised teaching in schools for some years now, but I trained as a teacher in the 1960s. I remember getting a certificate at the end of my probationary year which said that I was now a fully qualified teacher. However, I can also remember not entirely understanding exactly on what basis I had achieved the certificate at the end of my first year. I believe that the re-introduction of an induction period is an opportunity to deal with the problems that surround quality and quality assurance. It is an important part of ensuring that we have higher standards in our schools.

Although it is not written clearly in the Bill, in her opening comments the Minister told us that the induction period would be 12 months. Does that mean when we reach Committee stage that there will be an amendment to clarify that in Clause 13? It looks as though that clause can be changed.

There is also a lack of clarity surrounding the status of teachers doing their introductory year as regards membership on the list to be held by the general teaching council. Another problem concerns standards and qualifications for head teachers. Insisting on a qualification for new head teachers is something that we on these Benches have long believed to be essential.

I believe that it was the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, who asked what made a good head teacher. In my early teaching days, I was fortunate enough to do my probationary year, as it was called in those days, in a school which had an extremely good headmistress. That meant that the school was run in an orderly fashion. The head teacher had a presence--that is the only way that I can describe it--which affected all of us in that school. It meant that certain standards were expected and it made my job as a probationary teacher so much easier. Indeed, I think that it enabled me to make a reasonable start on my secondary school teaching career.

That experience contrasted sharply with the atmosphere in another school at which I taught. I shall never forget arriving at that school on the first morning for assembly. I had been abroad with my husband and was starting there at the beginning of term. I did not know what sort of school it was, and when I arrived at the hall I found the curtains hanging in shreds. When the headmistress walked into the hall, the children did not even stop talking. It was a stark contrast with the way in which the head had behaved at my first school. I knew from that moment that I would have to fight my corner in my classroom, because whatever the head did would not help me. Thank goodness I had had a better experience at my first school. If I had not, I am sure that I would have gone under. I hope that that anecdote will help to clarify what goes to make a good head teacher.

11 Dec 1997 : Column 337

We on these Benches have a couple of queries about the proposals with regard to head teachers. First, what plans do the Government have to extend the qualifications to head teachers already in post? I believe that others are also concerned about that point.

Secondly, I would like to ask about who will pay. That is not made clear. Noble Lords have already expressed concern that this point is of particular importance in primary schools where it is difficult to fund cover if the head wants to go off to gain the NPQH. We know that not many are coming forward from primary schools, yet there are many more primary heads than there are secondary heads.

The problem with speaking late in a long debate is that there is very little new to say. However, I hope that I am now about to introduce a new aspect and one about which I feel particularly strongly. I refer to what help we are to give to those who undertake higher education part-time. A couple of noble Lords have referred to this briefly. I suppose that I should have declared an interest earlier when referring to fees, in that one of my daughters already has a loan and another is likely to take out one. My interest here is that when my eldest daughter was born I took a part-time postgraduate qualification. Fortunately, the job that I had just given up and my husband's income enabled us to pay the fees for that course, but everyone is not in that position. However, we need to develop a flexible workforce where people can continually develop their skills and gain new qualifications and, dare I say it, we want to help single mothers to get back into work on earnings that are greater than their benefits. That is why we need to consider this area which I know that Dearing highlighted.

The problem for the Government is resources. The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals has told us that a recent London Economics Report, which was commissioned by the Open University, analysed the funding implications of giving half a million part-time students access to the same loans deal as full-timers. It concluded that to do so would cost the Government an extra 0.5 per cent. per annum in the short term and 1.5 per cent. per annum in the long term.

Another important area on which the noble Lord, Lord Desai, touched earlier was how the Government dealt with public spending and what headings they used. Dearing talked about this. Only yesterday the Select Committee on Education and Employment in another place reiterated the points that Dearing had made. Currently in the public accounts the Treasury classifies all lending to students as grants but takes no account of the fact that a large proportion will be repaid. If the Government do not look at that fairly soon it will become a problem. To fail to take this opportunity to deal with the matter is short-sighted. I hope that when the Minister replies he will give an indication of how the Government view this and where they are going.

This debate has shown that there are many areas that noble Lords want to pursue during the Committee stage and that tonight will not be the only late debate. I hope that the Government listen to what has been said and will give some indications before Committee stage,

11 Dec 1997 : Column 338

perhaps even tonight. I look forward--I think--to taking part in those debates. I have enjoyed a baptism of fire in my second speech in this House. I have had to make a winding-up speech on behalf of the Liberal Democrats on education having been housing spokesman in another place. However, I have felt very much at home here. The debates have been held late at night and it has been difficult to get something to eat. I thought this was a different place, but perhaps it is not. I look forward to carrying on with this Bill late into the night on another day.

10.12 p.m.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I am full of admiration for the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, for a brilliant performance in her second or third week as a Front Bench speaker for her party in this House. It is a great tribute to the way in which she has entered into the work of the House. We look forward to those nights, albeit they may be very late, when we work together. I also join with other noble Lords in warmly congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Rendell of Babergh, on her maiden speech. She enjoys exceptional talent and has kept us awake many a night gripped by the prolific writing in which she has engaged over the years. She has said that she intends to continue that for some time yet. Not only did I enjoy the speech of the noble Baroness but I believe that what she said was fundamental. I agree with her about the centrality and importance of reading not simply for enjoyment but as the cornerstone to all learning. I look forward very much to hearing more from the noble Baroness in future debates.

I pay a warm tribute to my noble friend Lord Pilkington who in the past few days has suffered a serious personal tragedy. He has returned today to take part in this debate because he too believes that it is important. I thank him very much indeed because I know that this has not been an easy time for him.

We are discussing the Bill in a vacuum. On almost every page the Secretary of State takes powers to regulate. We are left with some of the detail from Green Papers, White Papers, television and radio interviews, Answers to Questions in Parliament and what we read in the newspapers. My noble friend Lord Baker of Dorking thought that it would be helpful to have Notes on Clauses if they were available. I have a copy of the Notes on Clauses but I am afraid that they throw little light on the detail that will follow in secondary legislation. It is that information which is lacking in both the Bill and the Notes on Clauses.

The Bill is hardly enlightening. It poses many questions about what really matters, and the devil is in the detail. There are aspects of the Bill which, in principle, we support. However, the method and the details of implementation will be crucial as to whether our support can be sustained over time.

The financial memorandum does not deal adequately with all the costs of implementation--a point mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock. Therefore, as the Bill progresses through its stages, the costs and sources of the funds will be challenged.

11 Dec 1997 : Column 339

Clauses 1 to 11 deal with the general teaching council. We support the development of a greater professional status for teachers. We welcome the idea of a general teaching council. We shall, however, as I said, look carefully at the Government's proposals for its constitution and remit--neither of which are addressed in sufficient detail in the Bill--to assure ourselves that the new body will contribute to professional standards, professional education and teaching quality, and that it will not become a kind of pay rations body, a creature of the Secretary of State, or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, said, just a quango.

The noble Lords, Lord Tope and Lord Peston and my noble friend Lord Butterfield, for understandable reasons, chided me obliquely for having in the past opposed a general teaching council.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page