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Standing Order 62
Line 7, leave out "Broadcasting Committee";
Line 9, leave out "Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee" and insert "Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee";
After Standing Order 70
Insert the following new Standing Order:
Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments. 70A. There shall be a Select Committee consisting of seven Lords, which shall join with a Committee of the House of Commons as the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, to consider:
(1) Every instrument which is laid before each House of Parliament and upon which proceedings may be or might have been taken in either House of Parliament, in pursuance of an Act of Parliament; being
(i) a statutory instrument, or a draft of a statutory instrument;
(ii) a scheme, or an amendment of a scheme, or a draft thereof, requiring approval by statutory instrument;
(iii) any other instrument (whether or not in draft), where the proceedings in pursuance of an Act of Parliament are proceedings by way of an affirmative resolution; or
(iv) an Order subject to special parliamentary procedure;
but excluding any Order in Council or draft Order in Council made or proposed to be made under paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 to the Northern Ireland Act 1974 and any draft order proposed to be made under section 1 of the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994; and
(2) Every general statutory instrument not within the foregoing classes, and not required to be laid before or to be subject to proceedings in the Commons only; but not including Measures under the Church of England Assembly (Powers) Act 1919 and instruments made under such Measures;
with a view to determining whether the special attention of the House should be drawn to it on any of the following grounds--
(a) that it imposes a charge on the public revenues or contains provisions requiring payments to be made to the Exchequer or any government department or to any local or public authority in consideration of any licence or consent or of any services to be rendered, or prescribes the amount of any such charge or payments;
(b) that it is made in pursuance of any enactment containing specific provisions excluding it from challenge in the courts, either at all times or after the expiration of a specific period;
(c) that it purports to have retrospective effect where the parent statute confers no express authority so to provide;
(d) that there appears to have been unjustifiable delay in the publication or in the laying of it before Parliament;
(e) that there appears to have been unjustifiable delay in sending a notification under the proviso to subsection (1) of section 4 of the Statutory Instruments Act 1946, where an Instrument has come into operation before it has been laid before Parliament;
(f) that there appears to be a doubt whether it is intra vires or that it appears to make some unusual or unexpected use of the powers conferred by the statute under which it is made;
(g) that for any special reasons its form or purport call for elucidation;
(h) that its drafting appears to be defective;
or on any other ground which does not impinge on its merits or on the policy behind it, and to report their decision with the reasons thereof in any particular case.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

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On Question, Motion agreed to.

Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I beg to move the second Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That for the purposes of Standing Order (Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments) the following powers be granted to the Committee:

The quorum of the Committee shall be two;

The Committee shall have power to agree with any Committee appointed by the Commons in the appointment of a Chairman;

The Committee shall have power to appoint one or more Sub-Committees to join with any Sub-Committee or Sub-Committees appointed by the Commons; and the power to refer to such Sub-Committee or Sub-Committees any of the matters referred to the Committee;

The Committee shall, before reporting that the special attention of the House be drawn to any instrument, afford to any government department concerned therewith an opportunity of furnishing orally or in writing to them, or any Sub-Committee of the Committee, such explanations as the department think fit;

The Committee shall have leave to report from time to time.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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Supreme Court (Offices) Bill

Read a third time, and passed.

Consolidated Fund Bill

On Question, Bill read a second time: Committee negatived. Then, Standing Order 44 having been dispensed with (pursuant to Resolution of 15th December), Bill read a third time, and passed.

Scottish Agricultural College Order Confirmation Bill

Read a third time, and passed.

Education (Student Loans) Bill

3.5 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Baroness Blackstone): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.--(Baroness Blackstone.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Transfer of public sector student loans to the private sector]:

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 20, at end insert--
("(3A) The amounts that may be paid by the Secretary of State under subsection (3) shall not exceed one quarter of the amount of the original loans assigned under subsection (1).").

The noble Lord said: I shall not delay the Committee for too long with this amendment. I do not propose to repeat a Second Reading speech, though many of the points I made there are particularly pertinent to this amendment.

It is a simple amendment, but an important one to which reference was made at Second Reading and I make no apology for returning to it now, as I said I would. The Bill as it stands allows the Secretary of State to pay any subsidy he likes in respect of the sale of a loan portfolio. My amendment seeks to limit the subsidy to one quarter of the loan.

I suspect that my amendment will be familiar to the Minister because it is similar to an amendment moved by Mr. Stephen Byers, when he was in Opposition, during the passage of the 1995 Education (Student Loans) Bill. I believe he sought similarly to limit the amount of subsidy to one quarter. In moving that amendment in 1995 in Standing Committee B he said,

    "The Bill does not restrict the amount of subsidy that could be made available to private sector institutions. We should not give private sector bodies a blank cheque. The Bill should contain some restriction to limit the amount of taxpayers' money that will be given

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    to private sector institutions as an incentive--some might say bribe--to become part of the scheme".--[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee B, 19/12/95; col. 93.]

I understand that the circumstances of this Bill are different from those of the 1995 Bill, but in my view the principle remains exactly the same. We should not allow a blank cheque. At our Second Reading debate on 2nd December the Minister said,

    "we cannot reveal anything about the extent of the subsidy. After all, a commercial transaction is taking place and it would be quite wrong to reveal what the subsidy might be until those negotiations have been completed and the winner of the bidding process has been announced".--[Official Report, 2/12/97; col. 1277.]

I understand and accept that, and I am not seeking to press the Minister to say what the subsidy will be. We are seeking to put a limit on the amount of that subsidy so that it cannot be a blank cheque. If the scheme is running as successfully as we hope and are led to believe, then putting a limit of 25 per cent. on the amount of subsidy cannot be a problem. A subsidy of more than 25 per cent. will be a matter of real concern to Members of the Committee. That is something that we should know about.

That is the purpose of my simple amendment. It is not to restrict the hands of the Government or the Secretary of State in their negotiations; indeed, it could be said that it should strengthen their hands because bidders would know that there was a limit beyond which the Secretary of State was not permitted to go.

I hope, but with no great expectation, that the Minister will feel able to agree to the amendment. I look forward to hearing her comments and response. I stress that I am not expecting her to announce the extent of the subsidy, but merely to accept that it cannot be a blank cheque. There must be a limit on it; and that limit should be 25 per cent., as was proposed by her own party when in Opposition. I beg to move.

Lord Davies of Oldham: The mover of the amendment has already reflected the problem with regard to his case. He referred to a similar amendment having been moved in 1995 at the time of the Education (Student Loans) Bill's progress through the other place. The difference is quite clear. What was then being presented was a proposal with regard to the book on student loans against the background that privatising the loans would bring resources to the Government for higher education. The difference today is that we are working against a very tight schedule. What the Dearing Committee identified, and what vice-chancellors identified long before the Dearing Committee reported, was the parlous state of resources in higher education. Indeed, in the past six to eight weeks we have had a number of debates on higher education in which these matters have been brought sharply to the attention of the House.

The Government now need to make progress very rapidly. In fact, the noble Lord helpfully pointed out that the Teaching and Higher Education Bill, which is currently before the House, contains provisions to repeal the Education (Student Loans) Bill in its entirety by the end of this Session. That is how tight the timetable is. Against that background, the Government's hands

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should not be tied in negotiating with the private interests involved. We are well aware of the fact that the extent of private interests is not overwhelming. The previous government's attempts and the proposals in their Bill foundered because there were no takers for the stated course. The position is now transformed as a result of the Government's longer term proposals with regard to student finance. The Government are now involved in negotiations which will release significant sums of money to higher education immediately. There is no other easy way in which resources can be released within the timescale education needs.

I therefore suggest that the Government should be given freedom to negotiate their position without constraint. What the Government want to do is to strike a bargain that is of most benefit to public finances and higher education. The resuscitation of an amendment, which was moved in the other place by a member of my party in different circumstances, ought not now to be included as a conditioning factor with regard to the process.

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