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Earl Russell: My Lords, in speaking to the Motion, That this report be now received, I must repeat the declaration of interest which I made on Second Reading. I speak as a serving university teacher. I have the greatest confidence in the political judgment of my noble friend Lord Tope, but the questions I have to ask are inevitably somewhat different from the ones he has to ask.
He has to make a political judgment, but if the Bill is as badly drafted and as badly thought out as I believe that it is, I will have to help clear up the mess when my noble friend and the Minister may well have moved on to other briefs. For that reason, among others, I am sorry that we are not going to get the chance, in a proper Committee stage, to investigate exactly what the legal situation is.
That regret will be shared widely in university circles. The House will believe that I have not spoken on the Bill without taking a considerable amount of academic advice. In that advice, I have found that the doubt about the legal foundation for tuition fees is spread far outside the confines of the House.
In expressing my agreement with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, that procedure is a matter for the House, and not for the Government, I shall ask the Minister whether, in writing her letter to my noble friend, she took the advice of the Table before sending it. It is a material point, and the House is entitled to an answer.
It is clear that whenever we have a framework Bill before us, it leads to an ill-regulated Committee stage. That is an old rule, and it has been repeated. On the point about the timetable, I shall ask the Minister whether we are, after all, too late. I imagine that the Minister has seen the Times Higher Education Supplement for last Friday. She may have noticed the view of Mr. Dennis Farrington, deputy secretary of the University of Stirling, and author of The Law of Higher Education, that students could mount successful legal challenges against universities which fail to state in their offers to applicants for admission the exact details of any tuition fee to be paid. I have been making offers since before the Second Reading of the Bill. Was the Bill already too late when it was introduced?
Baroness Young: My Lords, I have just two points to make on this important Motion. First, I am sure that I am not alone in having received a letter from the noble Lord, Lord Tope, setting out his reasons for the amendment which he has put down today. I did not find his remarks a satisfactory answer to that. I echo what my noble friend Lady Blatch said. There is a way in which Members of your Lordships' House behave to one another. If one is not going to press an amendment, it would at least be a courtesy to write to say that one is not going to press it, rather than to leave everyone to come here uninformed. Furthermore, many have had to do homework over the weekend for something which is now clearly not going to take place. I am sorry that the noble Lord should have behaved in that way, because I agree with his object in tabling the amendment.
That takes me to my second point. I hope that the Minister will consider carefully her reply as to whether or not she can make a promise about relaxing arrangements on Report. I am bound to say that if, when I was Leader of the House, I had made such a statement, the House would have been very surprised indeed. The criticisms from the then Opposition would have been considerable. I am someone who believes profoundly in the self-regulation of this House. It is a matter for the House to decide, and it works very well indeed. Once we start having points of order, let alone Ministers deciding on the conduct of the House in changing the arrangements, we shall all suffer. Perhaps I may offer a little political advice and say that the Government will probably suffer more than the Opposition because two can play that game once it is started. However, it is a
I am particularly sorry that the Bill is not to be recommitted. I hope that the Minister listened carefully to what was said by my noble friend Lord Renfrew. It is difficult to overestimate the anxiety in universities. It exists not only among students, although the situation is difficult for them. They are young and inexperienced and face considerable financial problems. However, the situation is just as serious for those who teach and take part in universities. The House has not been treated well in respect of this Bill and it does not augur well for the future of higher education.
Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, I wish to express support for the sentiments of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. In Committee he, more than anyone else, questioned the legality of the powers that the Government were seeking to take in Clauses 16 to 18, and he did so very effectively. The Committee stage was nearly a month ago--23rd January--and since then there has been no clarification of the Government's intentions. Various amendments have been tabled which do not add any light to those intentions. The amendments are fairly minor. Not only are we, as part of the legislative authority of our country, in the dark, but the universities are in the dark. There is considerable anxiety and confusion as to what the Government intend and what will be the effect of their intentions. I would have hoped that at some stage Ministers would have made that clear.
If the Liberal Democrats have done some kind of deal with the Government not to have a recommittal, that is a matter for them. However, the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said that part of the deal was that the crucial Clauses 16 to 18 should be taken at "prime time"; namely, when many Peers are in the House. It may not be possible to reach those clauses at prime time on Thursday. That depends upon the progress of the House today--and there are pressures on the House today. Can we have an undertaking that Clauses 16 to 18 will not taken at some late hour on Thursday, but that the House will be adjourned then so that we can take them at prime time on whichever day the Government select?
Lord Glenamara: My Lords, I wish to say only two or three sentences. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, has withdraw the Motion. I could not see much point in it. Furthermore, I have been in Parliament for 47 years and this is probably the worst Bill I have seen during those years not only in the way it is drawn up but in what it proposes.
The Bill will impose considerable financial burdens on large numbers of people at the beginning of their working lives. Those numbers will grow year by year. There will be debts of £12,000 a year on young people--teachers, nurses, midwives and so forth--so the Bill is wrong from that point of view. During the weekend, I discovered that large numbers of MPs and, I fear, some Members of your Lordships' House, believe that the Bill will introduce a graduate tax. It does no such thing. The amount which young people will have
I also oppose the Bill because of the way in which it is drawn up. It gives no details of its proposals; it is a purely skeletal Bill. It imposes financial burdens without explaining how that will be done and without giving any details. It is a ridiculously unfair Bill. I hope that the noble Baroness will listen carefully to my suggestion that the Government take it away, withdraw it, think it over again and bring another Bill back in the next Session. But, my Lords, please do not proceed with this Bill. The Government will lose it in the House of Commons if they do.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Glenamara, said that this is the worst Bill he has experienced in 47 years in Parliament. I wish to associate myself with the words spoken by my noble friend Lady Blatch. She is never one to be discourteous; but in speaking of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, she chose her words with lethal effect: extraordinary, but not surprising. Furthermore, I endorse the words spoken by my noble friends Lady Young and Lord Renfrew. Both were lethal in their effects.
I wish to ask the Minister one question, but I am not sure whether it has already been asked. Precisely when and precisely how did the Government communicate the so-called "concessions" to the noble Lord, Lord Tope? Was it so late in the day that they had no opportunity of informing other parties in opposition in this House?
I am afraid that I was not here for much of the Committee stage, but I gather that I did not miss very much. There are two aspects of legislation which I find objectionable. The first is regulatory powers taken freely and liberally--I am sorry, I did not mean to use that word--taken freely by Ministers on the quite unfounded assumption that they will be trusted to use them with wisdom and care. When my party sat on the other side of the House, I objected constantly to Bills containing regulatory powers which I thought were totally unjustified and unsuitable to present to Parliament.
Secondly, when Ministers offer concessions--I must admit that we know of this concession only through the medium of the noble Lord, Lord Tope--one needs to examine them very carefully. When they contain the word "flexibility" and when we are assured that Ministers will be flexible, my goodness, I become exceedingly suspicious! "Flexibility" is a word used by Ministers almost as a claim to the possession of virtue. "Flexibility" usually means not that Minsters will bow to the will of the House or listen to opinions, but that they will twist and turn in their efforts to get their own way.
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