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Lord Marlesford: My Lords, when the Minister gave me a Written Answer two weeks ago, did he draw any conclusions when he told me that the total cost per year to European taxpayers of a Member of the European Parliament works out at £1,059,000; that the cost to the British taxpayer of a Member of the House of Commons is £425,000; and that the total cost to the British taxpayer of a Member of the House of Lords is £96,000? Does he agree that a reasonable conclusion is that the House of Lords offers such fantastic value for money that it is best to leave it alone?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for drawing attention to an excellent publication of the House of Lords which gives in graphic form the figures to which he refers. I can confirm that I took them from that House of Lords publication and reported them directly to the noble Lord. As to the value of the contributions of Members of the European Parliament, Members of the House of Commons and Members of this House, I think that it would be entirely at variance with comity between the Houses of Parliament if I were to make an observation.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I am delighted to hear how seriously the Minister is taking this subject. I believe that he answered the question that I am going to ask, but I am not sure so I should like to have it on the record. We have our own Wicks Committee on Standards in Public Life which has put forward excellent recommendations. Does the Minister accept, or has he already said, that there is a case for such a committee to report on the European Parliament? Will he undertake to propose to our partners the establishment of such a committee and press for it with enthusiasm?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am not sure that I quite said that, but certainly I agree with the thrust behind the noble Baroness's question. The trouble is that the statutes of the European Parliament are enshrined in paragraph 5 of Article 190 of the treaty and were introduced by the Treaty of Nice. It will require major changes which we are certainly urging to ensure that there is greater transparency and accountability. Perhaps it would be useful to add that the salaries of Members of the European Parliament are paid at the national rate by member states and therefore are not paid out of our contribution to the European Parliament.

Lord Newby: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the biggest single waste of money in connection with the European Parliament relates to the fact that it is based on two sites, and that travel to Strasbourg costs the best part of 100 million unnecessary pounds a year? Will the Government, who have a major say in this as

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it is a matter for treaty provision, give greater priority to persuading our French partners that this is a complete waste of money and should be stopped?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we have given it priority. We have said what the noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked us to say. It is daft.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, I declare an interest as an elected Member of the European Parliament. Does the noble Lord agree that there is consensus among the British Members of the European Parliament that the way in which the allowance and salary structure of MEPs is put together is an embarrassment to us? We merely want to see a fair day's wage for a fair day's work. Does the noble Lord further agree that in the most general terms the overall package of terms and conditions of a Member of the European Parliament is not dissimilar from that of a Member of the other place?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I certainly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, that the British Members of the European Parliament voted for a change in the statutes. That comprises the Conservatives, the Socialists and—I cannot remember their formal title in European jargon—I think also the Liberal Democrat Members of the European Parliament. I pay tribute to all those British Members of the European Parliament who took that step to control what is undoubtedly a system which is out of control.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, as the Member of the European Parliament who represents me costs, apparently, £1 million a year, is my noble friend able to tell me who he or she is? I remember going to the polling station and not being able to vote for a candidate, only for a party.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I have no idea where my noble friend Lord Corbett lives.

Overseas Student Visas

2.53 p.m.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How the imposition of a £250 fee for the renewal of student visas fits into their strategy for overseas students.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, we fully recognise the contribution overseas students make to the United Kingdom and wish to encourage them to study here, but do not accept that the general taxpayer should fund the service. The benefits are, after all, reciprocal. Fees are set at levels which recover the costs of the service, £155 for the postal service and £250 for the same day premium service.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that very Home Office Answer. Does he

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nevertheless accept that it entirely contradicts the Prime Minister's efforts to encourage international students to study in Britain, and the efforts that Charles Clarke and others have made to increase the attraction of UK higher education to people outside the European Union? Does the noble Lord also accept that moving from a nil charge to £250 in one go for students on very limited budgets is remarkable and that to do so without the consultation that was promised in the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 seems to be an example of very unjoined-up government?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not accept that it runs contrary to the Prime Minister's initiative. Since that initiative was launched increasing numbers of overseas students have come to the United Kingdom. In the year 2001–02, there were some 190,000 international students in further and higher education—55,000 more than in 1996–97. We are a brand leader. There are examples of comparable fees in our major competitor nations for the receipt of overseas students. We feel that we now have a very good service. It costs but it is a cost based on a quite proper calculation of the real costs in terms of delivering that service.

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is a great deal of difference between the length of time that international students are permitted to be in the UK on their initial visa? Would it not help to mitigate the hostility that has been created by this announcement if there was more uniformity? For example, some students are given the full period of their studentship plus a few months on their initial visa whereas others are given as little as six months. If the full time was always available, there would be less work for the Home Office and students would still come to the UK in the numbers that they have been.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an interesting and important point. The length that the visa lasts is very much related to the length of course the student is undertaking. But of course these are matters that the Government will continue to keep under review. When we look again at charges, that is something that we shall no doubt reconsider.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, do the Government think that they have explained this sharp rise adequately in the public domain to mitigate precisely the kind of hostility and lack of comprehension to which the recent supplementary question drew attention?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, obviously we are sensitive to the issues the right reverend Prelate raises, but during the passage of the 1999 legislation we made it plain that we would charge for this service. The origin of charging for such services goes back to legislation which has been on the statute book since

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1983 and 1988. I hope that in future years, with the regular consultation that we are promising, people will better understand the basis of the fees.

Lord Howe of Aberavon: My Lords, I declare an interest as a trustee of the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust and of the Cambridge Overseas Trust which, together with a number of similar trusts and the government Chevening scholarships, very substantially finance the attendance of thousands of students at Cambridge University among many others. Can the noble Lord possibly justify the introduction of these fees without the promised consultation? The fee of £250 for personal attendance is seven times the £36 fee heretofore paid for attendance as a student. Does the noble Lord appreciate that these changes will make it profoundly difficult to continue attracting quality students to this country and will increase hostility to this country?

When I was in China a few weeks ago the international director of studies at one of the universities there said that until recently Chinese students had been angry with their own government for refusing to let them leave the country. They are now becoming increasingly hostile to western governments for their unfriendly response in this respect. It surely is not compatible with the Prime Minister's initiative specifically undertaken to make student access simpler and more user friendly for this kind of change to be made at this notice without proper consultation. Is it not a classic example of unjoined-up government of which the Government should be frankly ashamed?

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