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Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, do the Government consider that France has any particular responsibility for the affairs of Algeria bearing in mind their long history together and the times--I remember them in Paris--when the cries were, "Algerie francaise"?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, apportioning blame in the way that my noble friend

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urges me to do is not helpful to the situation in Algeria. The UK continues to deplore and condemn the appalling violence that we have seen in Algeria. As the EU president, we registered the European Union's sympathy and concern with the fate of the people of Algeria; and we shall continue to do so throughout our presidency through the dialogue which I have described.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the troika mission found out more about diplomatic sensibilities than co-ordinated action to help resolve one of Africa's most bloody civil conflicts? As a constructive step to combat the violence which is clearly causing human misery on an appalling scale in Algeria, has the Foreign Secretary offered the Government of Algeria the assistance of the directory of counter terrorist expertise set up by the G7 to enable expert help to be made available immediately to countries which need it?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the mission achieved much of what it set out to achieve--to express the concern of the European Union and its member states at the situation in Algeria, and to continue the political dialogue between the European Union and Algeria about the position in that unhappy country at present. The objective was not to undertake any investigation but to establish the framework for future dialogue to which the British Government and the EU are committed. We also wanted to maintain the impetus of the dialogue. The British Government have therefore invited the Algerian Foreign Minister, Mr. Attaf, to visit the UK during our presidency. I am happy to say that Mr. Attaf has accepted that invitation in principle.

We have spoken to the Algerian Government about the claims they make about terrorism abroad. We have asked them to give us their advice on how we may better help over these issues. We look forward to their response.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, referred to one French slogan. Does the Minister recall another, pronounced at the same time, "Le fascisme ne passera pas?" Is it not time that the European Communities and Britain encouraged the Algerian Government to hold free elections and then to implement the results?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Algerian Government have made some progress on this issue. We continue to press them to hold the free elections to which the noble Lord refers. We are also trying to encourage the Algerians in their democratic approach through a number of other means. Notably, a delegation of women members from the Algerian parliament is to come to this country next month. We have also urged the Algerians to grant better access to journalists so that there may be more freedom and transparency in the reporting of what is really happening in Algeria at the moment.

The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, as far back as 1993, the Algerian Government invited the UN Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Arbitrary and Summary Executions to Algeria, but because of conflicting schedules he was

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unable to attend? This is a matter that Algeria is perfectly willing to discuss but within the framework of the regular meetings it has with the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Earl is right to remind us of that point. The Algerian Government were not prepared to receive special rapporteurs before the annual commission on human rights, which will take place in Geneva in March and April. We shall continue to urge Algeria to adopt a much more open and transparent approach; and we will maintain our encouragement of allowing a visit by UN special rapporteurs which can only be to the advantage of the government. As the mission pointed out during the talks, openness and transparency are crucial if public suspicions are to be lifted.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, can the Minister give the House any information as to whether the European Union is willing to use its economic relationship with Algeria as a source of sanctions if the situation worsens? Algeria, after all, has a very important economic relationship with the European Union.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: No, my Lords, I have no further information on that point. I suggest that if the noble Lord wishes to examine the issue further he should either write to me or raise it in the form of a Question after we have the benefit of hearing what happened at the GAC today.


Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m. my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean will, with the leave of the House, repeat in the form of a Statement an Answer to a Private Notice Question in another place on the Government's relations with Iraq.

Teaching and Higher Education Bill [H.L.]

3.3 p.m.

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

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

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


[Amendment No. 129 not moved.]

Clause 23 [Right of young persons to time off for study or training]:

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 130:

Page 19, line 8, leave out from ("education") to end of line 11.

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The noble Lord said: Before speaking to this amendment, also standing in the name of my noble friend Lady Maddock, perhaps I may refer briefly to the serious concerns raised in Committee on Thursday evening regarding the legal basis on which the Government are acting. Over the weekend, my noble friend Lord Russell and myself have taken legal advice. That advice assures us that the information that we were given by the Government--I am sure in good faith--was not accurate.

I do not intend to pursue this matter further today--it is not appropriate in relation to this amendment, and I know only too well the maxim in politics: if you are in a hole, stop digging. I do not wish to cause the Government to dig any further today. I intend, instead, to write to the Minister within the next 24 hours, setting out the basis of the legal advice that we have received and give her an opportunity to consider it and no doubt to seek her own legal advice and respond to it. However, because of the importance of the issues raised, I intend today to table a Motion to recommit Part II of the Bill, and we shall consider the matter further in the light of the Minister's response. I apologise that this matter is not strictly connected with the amendment that I rise to move.

In moving Amendment No. 130, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 131. This amendment removes the limitation imposed by the Bill which means that only "low achievers" can benefit from the legislation. It has always been the Liberal Democrats' view that all young workers should benefit from such laws, and that is the intention of this amendment. It does not always follow that those who leave school at 16 have a low standard of achievement. Some are offered good opportunities by employers known to them or their school and decide that it is in their interest to take up such opportunities as a means of further training. Now that further and higher education are being made more expensive at the point of use--I refer, for instance, to tuition fees--more young people may well wish to earn and bank money between the ages of 16 and 18 in preparation for degree courses. They should not be excluded from the right to time off for study and training during that time.

I hope that the Government will feel able to support these amendments. I suspect, on past precedent, that I have had the only victory that I am going to have at this stage of the Bill, and that they may not--in which case, I hope that, in replying, the Minister will say a little more about what the Government have in mind as the "standard of achievement" (I quote the phrase used in the Bill) which the Secretary of State intends to set as a hurdle in the regulations. Perhaps she will give the Committee a better idea as to the type of youngster at whom this part of the Bill is aimed. I beg to move.

Earl Russell: Since I was one of the first who set the hare running, which my noble friend Lord Tope has just taken a little further, and since the matter is of considerable interest to many noble Lords, perhaps I owe the Committee some further explanation. I thank the Minister for the courtesy that she has already shown in this matter.

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I think it is now agreed that the authority to impose tuition fees on students is a matter of private law. It is to be done by the universities under their own authority and no authority is being conferred by statute to enable them to do so.

Section 1(5) of the Education Act 1962, which was cited by the Minister in her Written Answer to me on 21st January, creates an authority to deal with what has previously been a reimbursement of the fee and deals with the problems created by the Government's concession of last August on the gap year. It does not create any authority to levy money from the student.

That means that we have been considering Part II of the Bill under what is at least a misunderstanding. Following the Government's memorandum to the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee stating that this power was to be imposed under existing legislation, we have been looking for some statutory authority behind this. Now that we know that there is none, rather different questions arise from those addressed in the amendments that we put before the Committee. For example, Clause 18(2), which allows the Government to stop the levying of any fee, now becomes a Henry VIII clause, though it was not so brought to the attention of the Delegated Powers and Deregulation Committee in the department's memorandum. Moreover, it now authorises the Secretary of State, by regulation, to deprive the universities at a moment's notice of a major part of their income. That may be of concern to many noble Lords.

It will also be of some concern to discover whether universities have the right not to levy the tuition fee. If they have that right, we shall face the prospect at the end of the year, with unfilled places, of July sales, clearance sales and--God forbid!--closing down sales.

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