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Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that Durham city, where I hail from, was one of the first cities—in fact, I think it was the first—to introduce a congestion charge, which seems to be working extremely well?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, so I gather. My understanding is that the system has reduced traffic in Durham city centre by 90 per cent, which is far more than is intended for central London.

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware that the North East has many good universities. Is he also aware that many graduates travel to the hotspots in the South East and the South of England and do not remain behind to build up a broader base of industry in the North East? What can the Government do to assist?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the answer is that they should not travel to the South. The noble Baroness, Lady Maddock, is right: the universities in the North East can contribute a great deal and can be very attractive to undergraduates.

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My noble friend Lord Sainsbury of Turville has been very active, as Science Minister, in encouraging collaboration between industry and academia through the science and industry councils in the North East. For example, there is the University Innovation Centre for Nanotechnology, which was set up in the North East and designed specifically for that purpose. I hope that that and other similar ventures will go a considerable way to answering the problem identified by the noble Baroness, Lady Maddock.

Universities: Tuition Fees

3.23 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What criteria will be used to determine whether universities will be allowed to charge top-up fees.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education and Skills (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, before universities are given freedom to raise tuition fees, they must demonstrate that they will safeguard access. Universities will not be allowed to increase tuition fees until an access agreement has been agreed with the new access regulator, including targets that the universities will set for themselves. Universities will be able to vary fees downwards without conditions.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Yesterday, she said:

    "it would be completely wrong for the regulator to be considering the detail".—[Official Report, 22/1/03; col. 717.]

If that is the case, how on earth can the regulator possibly do the job?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I stand by exactly what I said yesterday. We do not expect the regulator to be involved in the detail of individual admissions—for example, as I said yesterday, by sitting in on interviews or doing anything of that nature.

Access agreements might include details of how the university was helping—through link schemes, for example—to target people in schools who might not otherwise aspire to go to university. There might also be details of a university's bursary schemes or summer schools and of the admissions process. Those are exactly the things that the regulator will look for.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, does my noble friend recall the Answer that she gave to my Starred Question on 24th July, 2001? She twice paid tribute to the access policies of Oxford University and, in response to other noble Lords, of other universities too. Is her view of the Oxford admission scheme the same now as it was then? Does she remain committed to the principle that world-class research-based universities are essential in our country? In that context, academic excellence is of paramount importance.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I remember the Answer intimately. I pay tribute to all universities,

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including Oxford, for their excellent work in broadening access. We hope and trust that the regulator will assist in that process, not least because it will provide an opportunity for an independent person working within the Higher Education Funding Council for England to point to the tremendous work that the universities do. The universities may find that of value, as they seek to demonstrate that they want the best students.

I hope that, as my noble friend and others consider the White Paper in more detail, they will see the emphasis that we put on world-class research and the way in which we strive to make sure that we have world-class research and to recognise the universities that are already at that level.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, can the Minister tell us why it is thought necessary to have a regulator for access, given that any self-respecting university already has an access policy and that such policies are monitored by the HEFCE? When KPMG examined the costs of the existing regulation of universities, they found that it was disproportionate to the benefits yielded. Is this not another case of over-regulation?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, as I have said and as is set out in the White Paper, the regulator will be based in HEFCE and will use its information and systems. There will not be another bureaucracy built around the regulator. The regulator will, of course, be independent, but we are keen to ensure that we work within a system that already exists.

The reasons should be evident to the noble Baroness. Many noble Lords will be aware that, as we move to a new situation, in which we allow differential fees in universities, there is great concern to ensure that the impact of those differential fees is not felt by students who come from the poorest backgrounds. The combination of allowing people to pay off their loan and pay their fees at the end of their course and ensuring that universities work hard to maintain or improve their record on access is necessary if the policy is to be successful, as, I know, the universities wish it to be.

Lord Ackner: My Lords, can the noble Baroness tell us the position with regard to fees in the major European universities? Do they have a method of financing comparable to top-up fees?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I cannot answer the noble and learned Lord's question at this stage. I shall write to him to give him the details.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, yesterday, the noble Baroness said:

    "We are in discussion with our colleagues in Scotland to ensure that we have an appropriate system".—[Official Report, 22/1/03; col. 713.]

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What does that mean? I have a second question. By definition, a regulator must regulate. What powers will the regulator have to regulate?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, we have discussed with our colleagues in Scotland the implications of increasing the threshold from 10,000 to 15,000. It will apply in Scotland, as Inland Revenue rules are applicable. We have ensured that that has been discussed, understood and recognised by our colleagues in Scotland.

As we move forward, our colleagues in Scotland will be interested to see the impact on universities in Scotland or on Scottish students coming to universities in England. As noble Lords would expect, that dialogue continues. I hope that that clarifies the position for the noble Baroness.

As is set out in the White Paper, the regulator will have the power to impose fines on universities that do not follow their access agreement or do not have an access agreement. The regulator will also have the power to require universities to reduce their fees to the standard rate.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, has not the time come for the Government to loosen, not increase, their regulatory authority over universities? Does the Minister agree that one way would be for the Government to decide how much they can afford to pay for each university student—including extra payments for those from disadvantaged backgrounds—then allow universities to compete for students in the marketplace?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Baroness will not be surprised to hear that in the course of the 18 months that the Government have deliberated on the matter, every possible avenue has been explored in determining how best to put together a system that does what we want. I will rehearse that we want a world-class university system properly funded, with contributions from those who benefit—including the Government on behalf of the nation. We believe that we have found the right balance.

Police (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL]

3.30 p.m.

Further considered on Report after Clause 17

Lord Glentoran moved Amendment No. 29A:

    After Clause 17, insert the following new clause—

(1) The Secretary of State may, at the request of a majority of the Policing Board, and acting on the recommendation of the Chief Constable, by order—
(a) suspend the provisions of section 46 of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 (c. 32) for a maximum period of six months; and

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(b) permit the Chief Constable to appoint to the Police Service of Northern Ireland persons from other constabularies within the United Kingdom as he deems appropriate.
(2) An order may not be made under this section unless a draft of that order has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, both Houses of Parliament."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a continuation of our previous debate. My party supports Patten and, at this stage, the 50:50 recruitment regulations. I am optimistic about them in one way because essentially they are only temporary in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000. But I disagree with the noble and learned Lord in his optimism about the way that recruitment is going.

I apologise for the late tabling of the amendment, which is the result of a political visit—as opposed to one of my normal weekend visits—to Northern Ireland at the beginning of this week. From my discussions with various people, there is clearly a recruitment problem within the Police Service of Northern Ireland. It is short of personnel in specific areas and there are gaps in knowledge, experience and numbers of people.

I confess that the amendment is not absolutely to my liking and could be improved but its purpose is to tease out some ideas for alleviating the recruitment problem. One could say that the root cause is 50:50 but I choose not to do so. I say that it is Sinn Fein/IRA. There are plenty of Roman Catholics and nationalists in Northern Ireland who are dying to join the police force—good, competent and honest people whom we and the Chief Constable, I am sure, would much like to have within the PSNI. However, intimidation is widespread. Although the Catholic Church and the SDLP have put their names to the PSNI and have joined, the others have not. While the others continue not to join and to intimidate, life is made extraordinarily difficult for the recruiters. The net result is that recruitment to the PSNI has been hijacked by Sinn Fein's threats, intimidation and refusal to play the game and join the team.

The amendment tackles the numbers head on, in terms of both clerical and uniformed personnel, so that the proportion of uniformed officers having to work in secretarial roles can be significantly reduced and the Chief Constable may be permitted to appoint persons from other constabularies within the UK as he deems appropriate.

I understand that a large number of men and women from Northern Ireland are serving in police forces elsewhere in the UK but cannot automatically be recruited and given places within the PSNI. Most would have to go through the training centre at Garnerville. If one has been on the beat for seven or 10 years and is experienced, one would not expect a return to basic training because of changing forces. That does not seem logical.

Anyone who has visited Garnerville will know that as a training centre for a brand-new, growing police force, it is awful. It is not dirty or rundown, but it is too small and inadequate. The accommodation for trainees is terrible—tiny rooms for two people in which at best one of them can sit and work but the other cannot. The

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facilities are not exciting or attractive and would not make me feel good if Garnerville were my first impression of PSNI training. It may be a side issue but Garnerville seriously shocked me.

We must find a means as soon as possible of loosening the grip that Sinn Fein intimidation has on PSNI recruitment. I suggest that the provision of the 2000 Act initially be suspended for only six months so that a door can be opened when the Chief Constable and his team have their backs to the wall, with not enough officers on the streets. Because the force is overworked and overstretched, morale suffers, absenteeism increases and one starts on a wheel that we have all encountered at some stage in our lives, in one form of business or another.

Despite the politics, which I understand clearly, the Government must find a way to alleviate the problem. I beg to move.

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