Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the sense of relief at the Government's funding of universities in bringing the unit of resource, the efficiency gains, down to 1 per cent as against the very severe decline in the unit of resource over the previous decade under the former administration? Is she further aware that there is now a real sense of concern about uncompetitive salaries within the higher education system? Can she assure us that in the comprehensive spending review due later this year, the problems of universities will be given very real attention?

Baroness Blackstone: Yes, my Lords, I am aware of the relief which greeted the arrival of the new Government and their changed position in relation to funding of universities. I was a head of a university

28 Mar 2000 : Column 637

institution who, along with other heads of such institutions, was in despair at the end of the former Government's time in office. I am aware of the points raised by my noble friend. As I have said, in the next comprehensive spending review we shall be looking at higher education funding, and many other areas, but I cannot anticipate the outcome.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the bulk of the funding provided for the higher education sector in the last comprehensive spending review was used to make good the backlog on capital expenditure on equipment rather than on salaries? Given the expansion in the numbers of students, as the noble Baroness pointed out, the unit of resource is going down. This problem is particularly acute in science and engineering departments. Is not the Minister worried, given the degree to which some of our industries--the pharmaceutical sector in particular--are dependent on taking on high quality graduates in those disciplines, that the uncompetitiveness of teaching salaries is running down those departments to the detriment of our industries?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am aware that quite a high proportion of the additional expenditure has been allocated to capital projects. However, I believe that that was what the universities wanted. Their infrastructure was in such an appalling state after the severe cuts that were made under the previous administration that it has been necessary to put this right. Of course I am also aware of the fact that salaries in higher education have not risen as much as they have in many other parts of the public sector. However, as I have already said, it is a matter for universities to decide how much of their extra funding they use for academic pay. I can only repeat once more what I have already said about the next spending round.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, on the very day that the Prime Minister has sought to wrap himself in the skirts of Britannia, can the Minister tell the House that she will end the discrimination against English students attending universities in the United Kingdom who need to pay fees, and against English universities where Scottish students attending English universities need to pay fees? If New Labour truly stands for a United Kingdom and for fairness, is it not high time that the Government responded to the expectations they raised at the time they were elected to office that funding would be made available for higher education?

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, as regards the issue of discrimination--I believe that was the term used by the noble Lord--I refute that this is a matter of discrimination. We have a devolved system. If Scottish institutions and the Scottish Executive choose to spend their money in a different way, that is a matter for them. I do not accept that English students are discriminated against. They may make decisions on a voluntary basis about where they attend university. They can decide whether to stay in England or move to Scotland.

28 Mar 2000 : Column 638

In response to the noble Lord's point on investment in higher education, the Government are doing exactly what they said they would do: over the four years from 1998-2002, we are investing an additional £1 billion. That represents an 11 per cent increase in real terms and a 22 per cent increase in cash terms. Furthermore, that sum represents a much greater investment than anything done by the previous government during their period in office.

Lord McCarthy: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the Government have been slow to realise the extent of the damage done to the public services by 14 years under the previous government, during which they squeezed pay in the public sector? This is already beginning to have an impact on this Government's only attempt to make various improvements in various parts of the public sector. For example, we almost had no schoolteachers so that we could not do what we wanted to do in education. We almost had no nurses so that we could not do what we wanted to do in the health service. Unless we do something about rates of pay in higher education, we shall not be able to fulfil our objectives in that area either.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I am afraid that I do not accept what my noble friend has said. We have made very substantial pay increases--far above inflation levels--to both teachers and nurses.

The Lord Privy Seal (Baroness Jay of Paddington): My Lords, while I am obviously in the hands of the House, because we have reached 17 minutes of Question Time, I believe that we should probably move on.

Abnormal Loads: Escorts

2.55 p.m.

Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have reached any conclusions on whether it is necessary to use highly trained police officers and their equipment when transporting abnormal loads.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, the public consultation on our proposals to transfer some of the responsibility for escorting abnormal loads from the police to private escorts has been completed. Some respondents have questioned the viability of the proposals and there are a large number of technical points which need to be addressed. Further discussion with the police service will be necessary, but we will announce our conclusions as soon as we can.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, perhaps I may say to my noble friend that nobody could accuse the Home Office of reaching an early conclusion on this matter. It was first mooted in 1994, an interim report was published in 1997 and final comments and views were

28 Mar 2000 : Column 639

requested in January 1999. In the meantime, of course, we see miles of traffic queuing at a standstill on our motorways because abnormal loads are being moved at peak periods. I ask my noble friend: please can we have some action on this matter?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I think that I had better accept that as a friendly question. I agree with my noble friend, it has taken an inordinately long time even to get close to reaching a conclusion. Furthermore, he is right to remind the House that this matter was the subject of discussions even, I believe, before 1994. Careful consideration was being given to the post-Sheehy proposals and close inspection was made of both the core and ancillary tasks of the police service. I take my noble friend's point to heart and I shall certainly go back to have more talks with officials to find ways to speed up progress in this area. However, I think that it is fair to say to the House that this is a complex issue with many subsidiary issues involved. Several agencies must be consulted so that the final proposals are absolutely right.

Lord Mason of Barnsley: My Lords, can my noble friend indicate to the House what proposals his officials have in mind? Is he aware that around 150,000 escorted movements take place each year? There does not seem to be any kind of national plan and the service differs from county to county. I believe that it is urgent that something is done about this. Is my noble friend further aware that there are only two simple requirements here? First, night travel should be imposed, with none taking place during the day. Secondly, if such night services are to be escorted by the police, let the contractors and not the police pay for it. That might give us an indication of how much the police are presently having to pay for such duties.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as I said in an earlier response, this is a complex area, although my noble friend is right to draw attention to the impact that such load movements have on our roads. I have been told that there are around 1.5 million movements of abnormal loads per year. I am also advised that, when calculations were last made, it was estimated that the cost of escorting abnormal loads lay somewhere in the region of £7 million per annum. The proposals have looked at the idea of introducing private escorts. However, this must be subject to further discussions, which is only right. However, I repeat that this area is complex and we need to take care because there is no easy answer to the problem. Simply to assert that we can transport abnormal loads on the motorway network during the hours of darkness falls short of solving the problem. Other issues must be taken into account, not least because most major repair works and changes to the motorway network, such as the re-alignment of routeways, take place at night. Noble Lords will appreciate that this is a complex issue, but I agree that conclusions must be reached soon.

28 Mar 2000 : Column 640

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page