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Baroness Maddock moved Amendment No. 81:

Page 11, line 9, at beginning insert ("full time or part time").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment also stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Tope. Its purpose is to ensure that, in regard to financing, part-time students are treated equally with full-time students. I tabled the amendment partly because the Liberal Democrats believe strongly in the principle behind it, and partly because of a strong personal belief. As a mother who returned to part-time higher education, I was fortunate in being able to afford the fees and to continue my course. I make a plea to the Committee at this early stage. If we believe that the family and the nurture of children is important, this must represent important progress in helping mothers to carry out both tasks: to stay at home with their children as well as having the opportunity to further their careers and return to work in our present flexible labour markets.

I remind the Committee that the Government have expressed a belief in "lifetime learning", as have many of us. If they genuinely believe in lifetime learning, they have here a wonderful opportunity to put that principle into practice.

A third of all students at United Kingdom universities study part-time. It is expected that the growth in demand will continue as more flexible means of studying come about. The Government have committed funding for what they believe will be an additional million students in what they describe as lifetime learning by 2002. They admit that the numbers of part-time students will increase significantly.

At Second Reading, during discussion on the Dearing Report, the message came through strongly that many noble Lords were concerned about evidence of inequality of treatment in funding as between full-time and part-time students. The proposals that we are now discussing relate to a new funding scheme. It is obvious that this new scheme will be geared to the needs of full-time students, and mostly those in the 18 to 21 age group.

Part-time study attracts students who would not otherwise enter higher education. It attracts many who are not in that age group I mentioned. However, the new funding system will continue to discriminate unfairly against part-time students, not only in the categories I

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have mentioned, but particularly against the low paid. I ask the Committee to examine carefully the consequences of some clauses in the Bill for those who have been in work or who are in low paid jobs, and particularly for those with children. How will the legislation marry up with social security legislation? There is strong evidence that it will be very difficult for many people, particularly those with children, to have an adequate living.

I am aware that the Government have already made some concessions in making sure that part-time students have extra income. Extra government money will be available to help the poorest students on part-time courses with tuition fees. The Government have also examined methods of making sure that help will be available for people who lose their jobs while attending a part-time course. In addition, they have examined the possibility--indeed I believe it is likely to happen--of helping part-time students who are presently not eligible for access funds. The Government have said that they will look into the matter.

The final report of the Dearing Committee pointed out that the funding of students in part-time education was possibly not a priority, since many of those students' course fees were paid by employers. That conclusion was based on certain research. However, since the report's publication other research has come to light which reflects particularly on Open University students. Subsequent work in that area suggests that the true figure is only 50 per cent. of students with course fees paid, whereas the Dearing Report indicated a much higher figure.

In relation to Open University students--it is important to note that the Open University is the largest provider of part-time undergraduate study in the United Kingdom--the report indicates only 22 per cent. in work and receiving help with their fees. I ask the Government to reconsider this issue. I and my colleagues believe that the Government's proposals will have a greater impact on part-time numbers than was originally expected. We believe that many students contemplating the choice between part-time and full-time study will look less favourably on the part-time option. This will particularly affect women who wish to be at home looking after their children; they may be tempted to try to do a full-time course. I know from experience that trying to study when one has young children at home is extremely difficult. We should examine closely whether the Government have got their proposals right on this issue.

A fall in the number of part-time students has a knock-on effect on higher education institutions. There is already some indication that that is happening. In addition, it will be difficult to encourage people into lifetime learning if the only choice open to them is full-time courses.

The Dearing Committee was attracted to the principle of levering up support for part-time students but thought that at this time, taking account of the figures, it was not necessary. I hope that I have demonstrated that there are very good reasons why we should look at the figures again and reconsider the matter. A report shows that the cost to the Government of extending loans to part-time

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degree and sub-degree level students would be only an extra 0.5 per cent. of expenditure in this area each year in the short term and an extra 1.5 per cent. in the long term.

I hope that the Government will look closely at this matter. We all have a commitment to lifetime learning. Studies show that particular groups will be affected. We believe in equality of opportunity for all and there is no area in which this is more important than access to education and higher education. Dearing concluded that there was not a good argument for spending the money at this time; I believe that subsequent studies have proved that that is not the case. I believe above all that equality of opportunity, particularly for women in this country, is paramount. I beg to move.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: I rise at the earliest opportunity to raise what I believe to be an important procedural point. So far as I am aware, no draft regulations for these parts of the Bill have been placed in the Library. My noble friend Lady Blatch raised this point at Second Reading and said that it was the convention of this House--though it may not be an infallible one--that draft regulations are placed in the Library. I have in my hand the Ninth Report of the Select Committee on Delegated Powers and Deregulation. As I understand it, this debate is concerned with that report as well as with the Committee stage of the Bill. There may be issues to address later; I am aware that my noble friend Lady Blatch will propose an amendment on affirmative procedures.

In relation to Clause 16, the ninth report states, under the appropriate rubric "Henry VIII clauses":

    "everything of importance will be in the regulations".

Where are the regulations? In the following paragraph the report goes on to say:

    "We invite the House to consider whether the subject matter of the regulations under section 16 is so important that the bill should be amended to require affirmative procedure for the first regulations".

There I begin to touch on the amendment that my noble friend Lady Blatch will move at a later stage. I should like the Minister to give some explanation as to why we have a Bill so unsatisfactory in form that its whole content is in regulations, as is stated in the ninth report, but we do not have even draft regulations available in the Library, in accordance with what I understand to be the usual convention of the House.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Peston: The noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, will remember that we devoted some hours on Tuesday to rowing about regulations. Looking at other amendments, I have the suspicion that we could well spend the rest of today doing the same thing. The noble Lord's protest has already been made--I will not go so far as to say it has been made ad nauseam, but certainly at length. Secondly, I understand that my noble friend the Minister will intervene; I hope she will do so at an early stage. I believe that there is now a fair amount of documentation in the Library covering this matter.

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I have some sympathy with the amendment that I was under the impression we were debating. I hope that we shall not be constantly sidetracked, as we were on Tuesday, from discussing substantial matters because people wish to go through this continual ritual of complaining about regulations. I do not want to stop people making their protests. Quite the contrary; I have made them many times myself. However, the fact is that there is a substantial body of serious matter before us, including the specific amendment, and I for one should like to be able to take part in debating that and other amendments.

Baroness Blatch: I am sorry that the noble Lord finds this tiresome. Let me make him a firm promise that there will be many, many hours of debate on the Bill while we try to elicit some real information from what is a very skeletal Bill. I repeat, and will continue to repeat throughout the course of the passage of the Bill, that the Bill is skeletal. We are not having an indulgent debate about an educational issue but are here part of the process of making legislation. When making legislation, dots, commas and the meaning of particular words are very important indeed.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, referred to the amount of information in circulation. I have never known such a plethora of information as that which is coming out of the DfEE and have never known such a degree of confusion about such documentation.

There has always been a tradition of this House, certainly once Second Reading has passed, that when any documentation is produced from a department every Member who speaks in a debate receives copies of that documentation. I certainly followed that tradition to the letter when I was on the other side of the House. I suspect that there are Members here this afternoon who are not even aware of some of the documentation that is available. The Library has no procedure for informing Members that information is available. Some Members will therefore be speaking today in a vacuum. Because of that vacuum there will be a great deal of concern.

Another point with regard to regulations is that there is a great deal of concern about a number of Bills. One Bill which will receive Royal Assent next week will be repealed when this Bill has passed through Parliament. I have never known such a crazy way of legislating. There is also concern about the saving provisions. It is provided in the Bill that the whole of the 1962 Act will be repealed in its entirety. However, we are then told that there are some savings provisions, and there are some allusions to those. Many Members of this House do not know about that. It is an incredibly complex subject. Each time we have asked the questions we have received different answers.

My noble friend Lord Renfrew wishes to know precisely what this will mean for students who have already made their choice this year to go to university and for those who are holding back because they are fearful of what these provisions may mean and are waiting to know what they will have to borrow, what they will have to pay on the first day of term and whether they will have to pay it all in one go and find money up front. These questions are material and

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important for students and their families and also for others. I have been talking to colleagues in local government who do not have information about their role. They have lots of circulars that are being published, but they do not know precisely what will be in the regulations. My understanding is that the regulations are to be put before this Chamber in February. If so, then the information contained in those regulations must now be available in some form and would in fact be helpful to Members of this Committee as we discuss this Bill.

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