Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend not only on moving the amendment at this stage of the proceedings on the Bill but also on the splendid debate that we had at an earlier stage on the issue of academic salaries. I do not propose to repeat any of the arguments now.

On the face of it, the amendment looks like a well-designed fly for the Government; it should attract their attention. The Minister is looking puzzled. "Fly" as in fishing. It seeks to establish a review body which would
 
8 Jun 2004 : Column 168
 
achieve nothing, so it should have enormous appeal to the Government. It is very clever of my noble friend to have redrafted it in that way.

I am torn because the noble Lord, Lord Morgan, described academic salaries as a national scandal. I do not think it is a national scandal at all; I do not think the nation knows anything about it. I freely admit that it was a great shock to me to discover what academic salaries were. I found out only by virtue of the role I am carrying out in your Lordships' House in respect of the Bill. I fully acknowledge that some of the shame should be borne by me as well as by the Government because this happened on our watch when we were in government as much as it has happened under this Government.

But the notion that this serious problem—which goes to the central structure of the edifice of higher education in Britain—can be resolved by publicity and the setting up of a review body that will draw attention to the plight of academic salaries is, I fear, a mistake.

If one looks at the salaries of the vice-chancellors one notices that they have not been subject to the same constraint as some of those who work under them—there has been a movement in direction among the vice chancellors if not among the humble lecturers—but I do not believe for one moment that anyone responsible for running any of these institutions would not like to resolve the problem of academic pay tomorrow if they could. The way they would do that would be through resources and funding. While I do not wish to widen the scope of the consideration of the amendment, I do not believe that the Bill addresses the problem of under funding or will provide the resources to do so.

I have a high regard for my noble friend Lord Renfrew and I would like to support him, but I fear that to set up a body of this kind for the sake of creating publicity—a body which will, as the noble Lord, Lord Corbett, pointed out, interfere in what are essentially private institutions subject to public support—would be a mistake. I cannot support my noble friend's amendment but I very much support his urgent plea. I endorse his view that unless we address the question of academic pay we will see crumble our centres of excellence and our institutions of higher education.

Baroness Blackstone: My Lords, I never expected to find myself agreeing with almost every word that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said. He is absolutely right—it is not a good idea to set up institutions that are not very likely to produce results. I entirely agree with him—and therefore disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat—that an academic salaries review body is hardly likely to lead to a huge amount of publicity in favour of the cause of increasing academic salaries. This is not an issue on which it is easy to engage the great British public. For all the wonderful work that academics do, they are not like nurses; they do not feature in the public imagination. So I do not believe that we should set up a body of this kind for that reason.

I also disagree with my noble friend Lord Morgan and the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, that there is not enough money under the Bill to make some
 
8 Jun 2004 : Column 169
 
difference to academic pay. It is not inevitable that all the money will go on facilities and other items related to better quality in terms of scientific laboratories, libraries and so on, although I hope there will be an improvement in them as well.

The Government, vice chancellors and those who manage universities must take a responsible view in looking at the extent to which academic salaries have fallen—and, in that sense, I am very sympathetic towards what lies behind the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew—but I ultimately agree with my noble friend Lord Corbett. Universities and further education colleges—and we must never forget the colleges because a great deal of HE goes on in them—are independent institutions. I believe that it would be better—this is probably also the position of Universities UK, the body that represents universities—to leave decisions about academic salaries with the universities so that they have the discretion they need, rather than set up a salaries review body which is far more appropriate for those public services that are entirely run by the Government or their agencies, such as the NHS.

The noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, mentioned that when the Betts review was being debated in this House, my response was that I thought it more appropriate for that task to be left to the universities. I said that as a Minister and I now say it again as someone who is about to become a vice-chancellor. I think that that will lead to better outcomes and I agree, therefore, with the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I begin by saying to the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, that I was pleased that he was able to disentangle this issue from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. I understand and appreciate all noble Lords' concern. The theme that has run through this debate has been everyone's concern about academic salaries. In our previous discussions, we have talked about the way in which they have lagged behind other salaries and pay awards. I do not think I need add anything more—we have acknowledged it. My noble friend Lady Blackstone acknowledged it as a Minister; my right honourable friend Alan Johnson has acknowledged it as a Minister; and it has been acknowledged in public many times by the department.

At the risk of saying exactly what the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, predicted I would say, we do not believe that it is the Government's job to regulate salaries in the further and higher education sector or, indeed, to dictate to institutions at what level they should set salaries.

The amendment would impose a duty on the Secretary of State to prepare an implementation plan for the review body's recommendations. But the Secretary of State does not have any powers to control academic salaries, and the amendment does not confer any on him.
 
8 Jun 2004 : Column 170
 

Higher and further education institutions are independent, autonomous bodies. We want to make sure that they are managing their own resources as they see fit. Institutions, as employers, are responsible for determining the level of pay for their staff through negotiation with staff and the relevant unions. I agree wholeheartedly with everything that was said by my noble friends Lord Corbett and Lady Blackstone.

My noble friend Lord Morgan asked which Bill such a proposal would belong in, if not this one. I do not think it is a question of a Bill. Noble Lords have raised very interesting issues. We have discussed the importance of the Betts report in this House and have talked about Universities UK and the joint negotiations taking place.

In terms of monitoring, measures are in place to extend the data that are now available on staffing matters in higher education through the Higher Education Statistics Agency. That will give institutions a better picture of the situation. From 2003–04 it will look at all academic staff and, for the first time, non-academic staff, and then at all categories of staff from 2004–05. That may generate a little more publicity, although I agree with my noble friend that academic pay does not capture the imagination in the way that the pay of nurses and others does—more's the pity, as I am sure your Lordships will believe, but that is the reality. It is important that we are very mindful of this and recognise the importance of academic pay in providing for world-class institutions and ensuring, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said, that they do not crumble.

I believe that the Bill represents a way of supporting, with further funding, institutions in order to make the right kind of choices between investment of different kinds, including investment in their workforce, who are so critical. I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, is supportive of this. I look forward to his plans for further investment. Clearly I will have to get my fishing analogies right, which may be difficult. None the less, this is a very important subject.

We do not believe that this amendment is the right way to go. I accept that the issues are very dear to your Lordships and that it is right and proper for this House to continue to debate them. But we do not believe that the amendment would be effective in terms of doing anything appropriate for institutions. We think it is right for institutions to make the decisions; we think the new joint arrangements on negotiations should be given the opportunity to work effectively. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page