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Lord Whitty: We hope that we do not have to enforce this provision but I think it would be impossible to enforce this regulation if you could not take the aggregate fees of the colleges and the universities together. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, referred to the fact that we are looking at mechanisms for dealing with the colleges in Oxford and Cambridge. We may well need to look further at the wording. However, as I understand it, it is the intention of the noble Baroness to separate entirely consideration of the fees charged by the colleges and by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. I cannot accept that intention in any sense.

Therefore, I regret that I have to oppose the amendment and ask the noble Baroness to withdraw it. As regards the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, subject to the

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fact that we may need to clarify it, his amendment, as it stands, would not be helpful in clarifying the arrangements.

11.15 p.m.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: I give up on trying to repeat the argument. It is not a question of trying to separate the college fees from university fees. They are separate. We shall have to return to this matter at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 112:

Page 14, line 29, at end insert--
("( ) The terms and conditions subject to which grants are made by the Secretary of State to either of the Councils, or under which the Councils make grants to the governing bodies of relevant institutions, may not be framed by reference to particular courses of study or programmes of research (including the contents of such courses or programmes and the manner in which they are taught, supervised or assessed) or to the criteria for the selection and appointment of academic staff or for the academic conditions under which students are admitted.").

The noble Earl said: Perhaps I may say a very brief word, first, on the previous amendment. I did not speak to it. I hoped that there might be more clarification achieved. As I understand it what the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, is invoking is the principle of subsidiarity. In that context I wonder whether that might help the Government to understand what she is saying. One hopes that negotiation may be achieved. But that cannot be done until people know what is being negotiated.

As regards Amendment No. 112, I must declare an interest. This Bill attempts to reverse what is known as the Beloff amendment in relation to Section 68(1) of the 1992 Act. My name was second on that amendment. I must admit that one gets a certain attachment to those very few bits that one has put into the legislative process.

The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, is not here tonight to defend his offspring, partly because he said that he was not really prepared to stay up past 11 o'clock at night to do it and partly, as anyone who looks at the Second Reading speech of the noble Lord will appreciate, he is beginning to lose faith finally in the possibility of a continuing, workable relationship between the universities and the state. He believes that the battle is already lost. I am very near reaching that conclusion, but I have not quite done so yet.

I should explain the context in which that amendment was brought in in 1992. There was a clause in that Bill--thank God, not in the 1992 Act!--authorising the government in some circumstances to reduce the length of university degrees from three years to two. It appeared to a number of people that that was a real encroachment on the sphere of academic judgment; that it was making a judgment of a type that the then government were not competent to make.

I can remember at the time comparing it to the then Prime Minister making a grant, say, for the restoration of Lord's and claiming to alter the lbw law as part of the terms and conditions of the grant. I will not speculate

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on what the equivalent would be for the present Prime Minister. It appeared to underline the point that in any activity there has to be a sphere of independent judgment, which the government do not control or else that activity is not worth having. That must include any terms and conditions framed with reference to the content of particular clauses or the selection of individual staff and students. Selection by merit is a principle which is very dear to universities and, we believe, not contested by the Government.

This is not the first attempt to reverse the Beloff amendment. One was made by a very remote back door in the Disability Discrimination Bill 1995. That was beaten off largely by the kindness and understanding of my noble kinsman Lord Henley, who took a great deal of care and trouble over it. One hopes that one might be as lucky this time because if we are not, frankly, I do not see the point of carrying on.

When Ministers fly they do not instruct the pilot on the speed and angle at which he should fly his plane. They recognise that if they are to get to their destinations safely they must let the pilot exercise his own judgment in the area of his own expertise.

Every academic is supposed to be an expert within a particular area. What is the point of having people to do a job in which they are expert if the Government then make decisions over their heads? If government does not recognise that there is an area of academic freedom within which it is not competent to make judgments then the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, is right and the relationship between universities and the state is at an end. I believe that that would be a very tragic loss.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Amendment No.113 is grouped with Amendment No.112. With the leave of the Committee, I should like to take them separately. I shall speak very briefly to my amendment later. As to Amendment No.112, I very much agree with the noble Earl, Lord Russell. Many of us will clearly recall that during the debates on the 1992 Act this matter was very strongly contested. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, is not in his place at the moment, but earlier he spoke about the ritual whereby when in government one made one kind of speech and another kind of speech when in opposition. The noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, made a remark, with which I agree. He said that he tried to make the same kind of speech. I was among those who were quick to criticise my own government in the debate on the 1992 legislation. I would be falling down in my responsibilities as an academic and a citizen of this country, despite the lateness of the hour, if I did not express my full support for this amendment.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: I too strongly support the noble Earl. I believe that this is the fundamental anxiety about the clause. While I support the point about the constitutional problems facing colleges and universities, the serious and long term point of the present discussion is academic freedom and the importance of preserving it.

Baroness Blatch: If this kind of amendment were accepted by the Government it would allay a good many

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fears. All of the earlier amendments to Clause 18 went so far but this one goes one step further and establishes the confidence that the university sector desires in the changes that will come about.

I was present when my noble friend Lord Renfrew vigorously fought his corner. I appreciate that both Ministers have worked very hard on the Bill. He will recall that while I and my colleagues gave the usual DfE answers throughout the Bill, nevertheless we took away the arguments deployed in the Chamber and used our best offices, if we were convinced of those arguments, to line up with the noble Lord, Lord Howie of Troon, the noble Baroness and my noble friend Lord Renfrew. That was how changes were made to the Bill. It was entirely consistent that my noble friend Lord Renfrew worked vigorously in private, and publicly in the Chamber, to make all noble Lords aware of his case. I am not sure who is to answer the debate, but if the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, is not able to accept the amendment I hope that she will go away, discuss the matters with officials in the department and convince colleagues that this is a powerful argument. The amendment will go a long way to establishing confidence in the university sector which I believe is somewhat shaken at the moment.

Baroness Blackstone: Of course I fully understand the motives behind Amendment No. 112, and I sympathise with its aims. I think that I can claim better than most--certainly better than many people who have occupied my position in government previously--that university autonomy is a sensitive issue for vice chancellors. I understand and share their concerns about academic freedom. However, I assure the Committee that the Government are committed to upholding the principle of academic freedom.

Clause 18 is not an attack on academic freedom. Universities will retain all their essential freedoms to decide which courses of study to provide and which programmes of research to undertake. They will have complete control when deciding which students to admit, which staff to appoint, and what to teach students--and so they should. Methods of teaching, supervision, and assessment will also remain the preserves of universities and colleges themselves. We are far from seeking to reverse the provisions of the Further and Higher Education Act l992, which protect universities from government interference in those matters. Those provisions will stand.

I am aware that subsection (8) has given cause for concern among those who see it as undoing all the safeguards that the universities won in the l992 Act, but I should not want that to happen. All it does is to ensure that there could be no legal conflict between those provisions and the power sought to place conditions on grant to control top-up fees. For instance, if the criteria at a particular university for admitting students included a requirement that they should pay fees charged by the university, subsection (8) adds no powers that are not already in the previous subsections. It does not give the

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Secretary of State the power to intervene, for example, in research programmes, or the selection of academic staff.

How, for instance, could a condition controlling top-up fees for students be framed by reference to the appointment of academic staff or to the nature of research undertaken? It is for that reason that reluctantly I cannot support Amendment No. 112. Most of the amendment is unnecessary, however much I sympathise with the underlying principles. However, I understand the fear that a future Secretary of State might seek to apply conditions controlling top-up fees to some particular courses but not others. We are currently looking again, with the CVCP, at the clause to see whether an appropriate amendment could be drafted to ensure that, so far as possible, conditions on grant to control top-up fees could not be framed by reference to courses in particular subjects. We shall of course come back if we can do that. With that assurance, I hope that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, will withdraw his amendment.

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