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Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, does not the Minister agree that the factor most likely to drive these negotiations forward would be if the European Union revitalised the negotiations for the accession of Turkey? That would then give a high motivation to all parties involved in the negotiations, including the Turks themselves, to come to a solution on Cyprus. Given the signature yesterday by Turkey and other countries to the Nabucco pipeline agreement, and the accession of the new presidency, which is a good deal friendlier than the previous one to Turkey's point, is this not the

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moment to get this moving? I leave with the noble Baroness the thought that it is always unwise in Cyprus negotiations to try to impose artificial deadlines; it is best to soldier on.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I think that I am someone who will be prepared to soldier on with this matter. I certainly very much support his point about the importance of Turkey's accession and the opportunity that that presents to move forward the talks in Cyprus. Of course, that contributes to Turkey's security, stability and prosperity, as it does to ours in the European Union. The process is now establishing a clear path towards European standards in Turkey across a range of domestic issues, from human rights to agriculture, business practice and border security. The prospect of EU membership, together with the Turkish Government's determination to give their citizens the quality of life that they deserve and demand, is bringing real change. The noble Lord makes a very important point.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, what the noble Baroness says is very helpful. I know that she appreciates that this has been a very long saga. The United Nations alone has been there for 45 years and, of course, the British were deeply involved before that. I gather that the latest meeting between the two community heads-the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots-was last week, on 9 July, on security issues. Can she bring us up to date on what of substance was agreed at that meeting?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, I can give the noble Lord the honest answer that I know that security issues were discussed, but I am not absolutely clear whether anything substantial was agreed. I will write to the noble Lord with that information.

Lord Grenfell: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the lesson to be learnt from Cyprus's membership of the European Union is that one should not agree to the accession of countries where territorial disputes are still unresolved? Does she agree that it is very important in future enlargement that that rule is respected? I think in particular of the troublesome case of Croatia and Slovenia, but hope that they will be able to solve this problem bilaterally, rather than have the process of the agreement to the opening and closing of chapters held hostage to the views of one side rather than the other.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. The Croatian and Slovenian difficulty illustrates the importance of those benchmarks and of those opening and closing of chapters that have been put in place. The problem that we had with the accession of Bulgaria and Romania was that we were not as rigorous as we should probably have been. I assure my noble friend that that rigorous approach will take place with Croatia, as it will with Iceland in the near future.

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Higher Education: Universities


3 pm

Asked by Baroness Sharp of Guildford

The Minister of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Ministry of Defence (Lord Drayson): My Lords, there has been an unprecedented increase in applications to higher education, with a 45,000 increase this year from UK and EU-domiciled applicants to English universities. The Government are exploring all the options to ensure that as many students as are able and have the appropriate qualifications can benefit from a university education.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. As he said, there has been an unprecedented increase in applications this year and, as a result, many universities will not be offering many places in clearing after the A-level results come out. Is he aware that this is likely to leave as many as 30,000 qualified students without a university place? Why has the department so far refused to lift the cap on places when the cost of maintaining students at university is very much the same maintaining them unemployed, and many of these students will otherwise be unemployed?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right in her analysis. We have seen a significant increase in the number of applicants to university, and therefore clearing will be much more competitive this summer. As I said in my Answer, we are looking at what more we can do. Discussions are taking place at the moment. A number of proposals are being looked at, but we do not have anything specific or concrete that I am able to announce today.

Lord Baker of Dorking: My Lords, first, why is the Secretary of State, the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, not answering this Question since the news he is conveying to the House is the worst news for universities for over 30 years? If the noble Lord was in the Commons, he would be at the Dispatch Box, but not in this House. Could someone tell the Secretary of State that he has a duty to answer to our House?

Does the Minister recognise that all universities recognise that between 30,000 and 40,000 youngsters will not be going to university this year, which will be a generation of stunted opportunity? That is an appalling indictment of the way the Government have conducted the public finances of our country.

Lord Drayson: My Goodness! My Lords, I will, of course, pass on to my noble friend the noble Lord's comments, but I feel that that is a frankly ridiculous assessment of the situation. The number of students going to university this summer, despite the significant

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increase in applicants, will be another record and reflects this Government's continued investment in university education and university places.

Baroness Walmsley:My Lords, does the Minister agree that the A-level results of students from lower socio-economic groups may well be a little more marginal than those from other groups because of the disadvantage that they have had to overcome? Since the Government's target for university applications from lower socio-economic groups is near to being reached, why are they making it much more difficult for those young people because they are the ones who will have to go through clearing and there will not be many places available?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, I am afraid I do not agree with the noble Baroness's premise. Why should those students be more likely to be going through clearing? If we look at the figures, we can see that our agenda of widening participation has worked. Figures for state schools are up from 81 per cent in 1997-98 to 87.4 per cent last year. We recognise that, in part because of the global economic downturn, a more significant number of young and older people are applying to university this year. We are looking at what more we can do, but we have dramatically improved participation and access to universities over the past 11 years.

Lord Crisp: My Lords, does the Minister think that there will be particular problems for people of mature years or who have dropped out and want to come back to a more appropriate course? If he does, will the assessment that his department is making take account of the needs of these groups?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, we are looking very carefully because we are seeing a shift in the demographic, as the noble Lord said. We are seeing a greater proportion of people from older age groups considering applying to university. One of the other trends that we are seeing, which we regard as a welcome change, is an increased interest in studying stem subjects-it increased by 6.8 per cent last year-and we expect that trend to continue. In this environment, where we have a greater proportion of young and more middle-aged, if you like, people looking to go to university, we are also seeing what we can do to direct and encourage more of them to study the stem subjects that this country needs.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, will the Minister assure the House that the Government have a long-term policy? Does he not agree that this Question is directly related to the first Question this afternoon in that if people are not going to get to university, that will have an effect on unemployment? Will he assure us that the Government are looking at the long term in this regard?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, I assure the right reverend Prelate that we are looking to this in the long term. This is a long-term policy, which we have followed through the years of really quite significant economic growth. We recognise the additional pressures that are being placed on the higher educational system, in part because of demographic change but in part because of the economic downturn. We are keen to learn lessons

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from the past and the experience of the 1990s, when higher education numbers were allowed to expand without sufficient resources being given to them by the previous Conservative Government. That meant that there was a significant drop in the quality of the student experience and backlogs in capital investment-two mistakes which we do not intend to repeat.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, has there been a similar increase in access to university among young people who have been in care and have been looked-after children? Is the Minister aware of the Frank Buttle Trust's kitemark for universities, which demonstrates that a university offers support for young people who have been in care and that they can benefit from it to be successful? Is he also aware of the invaluable support that the trust has provided to care leavers at university to make their careers successful there?

Lord Drayson: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for raising those important issues. I do not have specific figures on the number of applications from people who have been in care, and I will write to him with those numbers.

Lord De Mauley: My Lords-

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we have hit 30 minutes.

Parliamentary Standards Bill

Bill Main Page

Committee (1st Day)

3.07 pm

Amendment 1

Moved by Lord Strathclyde

1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause-

"Bill of Rights

Nothing in this Act shall be construed by any court in the United Kingdom as affecting Article IX of the Bill of Rights 1689."

Lord Strathclyde: I trust that your Lordships will bear with me as I try to fill the giant gap left in our counsels by the death of my late friend Lord Kingsland, one of whose last characteristically incisive speeches in this House was his clinical dissection of this sorry Bill at Second Reading.

My late friend played a constructive and effective part in negotiations that changed this Bill from being a highly dangerous measure to one that still gives profound grounds for disquiet but has been improved by the major changes that the Government have already made. I thank the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster for being prepared to listen in this process, but I must also say bluntly that so far she has listened with only half an ear, as is demonstrated by the amendments in her name that we will discuss later this afternoon. They do not go far enough and, if she cannot go further, I shall ask your Lordships to make further changes to the Bill. Indeed, I hope that the Committee will insist on some of those changes if matters cannot be resolved before next Tuesday.

We have heard much from the noble Baroness about the public's concern about parliamentary expenses, which is right and well understood by all. However, it does not mean that Parliament should abrogate all its

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responsibilities. There is no major quarrel about those parts of the Bill that deal with the management of expenses, although, if recent events have shown anything, it is that nothing is more powerful than transparency. Indeed, we have tabled no amendments to Clauses 1 to 4.

However, this Bill went and still goes very much further. We are making laws, creating new criminal offences and dealing with a Bill obviously made up in a hurry and now being amended in a hurry, too. We have agreed to use our endeavours to let the other place have the Bill that they have asked for before the Summer Recess, but we will not be frightened by anonymous spin into letting a bad Bill become bad law. The old adage applies: legislate in haste, repent at leisure. That is one inescapable reason why a sunset clause to some clauses in this Bill is essential to enable the new Parliament that we so desperately need to decide on a long-term regime and to prevent error and, still worse, injustice from being embedded into our political system. The sunset clause tabled by the noble Baroness is simply inadequate and she needs to go much further on it. We will deal with that when we come to it.

This amendment goes to the heart of the deep constitutional anxieties raised by the Bill. It addresses one of the most important issues debated at length in another place and here at Second Reading: the relationship between Parliament, the Executive and the courts. That had, I thought, been settled in 1689 and 1701, so it has been utterly astonishing to find the basic freedoms of Parliament being casually thrown into doubt. No one who has read the comments on this Bill-in-the-making by the Clerk of the Parliaments, by the Clerk in another place and in the distinguished report of your Lordships' Constitution Committee can have any doubt that an amendment such as this is needed. Rarely have I read such coruscating comments in any documents laid before the House. No one who listened to the powerful speeches in your Lordships' House at Second Reading, including those of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and my noble friends Lord Goodlad and Lord Higgins, could have any doubt that a firm and explicit defence is needed.

Article IX of the Bill of Rights sets out clearly that the debates and proceedings of Parliament are not matters for courts to question. That is not an archaic and irrelevant principle. Nor are parliamentary proceedings matters for executive appointees to dictate, as was suggested in the original Bill. The ability of MPs to raise their constituents' concerns and represent their views depends on this protection. The possibility that this Bill shakes that protection shows just how little thought the Government have given to the content of this Bill as opposed to the content of the press releases surrounding it. The Government have conceded that this Bill raises these concerns. They have been shedding clauses as scrutiny of the Bill has proved beyond even their ability to deny that they have breached privilege.

The amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Jenkin identify further areas where the same arguments apply and have been made. We all know what some in the Government will have told the noble

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Baroness to say as she takes up her folder with a tag marked "Resist". But I ask the noble Baroness to reply today as the Leader of the House and a good parliamentarian and to answer the question why on earth she would not accept this fundamental amendment.

At Second Reading, the noble Baroness tried the other old Minister's line of, "It isn't necessary". She told us that the Government,

If that is the case, there can be no reason in principle to reject this amendment, for it states explicitly what she claims is the case.

We need a firm affirmation in the Bill and a clear sign to the courts that this Bill is not and must not be amended to become any invitation to anyone to detract from the hard-won freedom of Parliament in Article IX. I hope that the Government will feel able to accept this amendment, which would lay to rest the concerns expressed in such powerful terms by noble Lords who are much more experienced in legal matters than I am. Above all, as a parliamentarian who has learnt to be just a little distrustful of placing Parliament's rights and our ancient freedoms in the hands of this particular Executive, I believe that we would be wise to make it clear that we hold the principle of Parliament's sovereignty as firmly in the 21st century as did our forebears in the historic convention of 1689.

Lord Barnett: I have listened carefully to what the noble Lord has just said. Can he tell us whether he meant that, unless the Government accept this very important new clause, which I strongly support, he will press it to a vote?

Lord Strathclyde: Yes, I can make it quite clear. We will certainly press this to a vote. I find it extraordinary that anybody would wish to vote against it. I beg to move.

3.15 pm

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): My Lords, I realise that this is an unusual procedure, but with the leave of the Committee it might be helpful if I make a few comments before we debate the first group of amendments. As I said at Second Reading, Parliament and politics face a huge task in seeking to dispel public anger with our politics and politicians and to replace it with public trust and confidence instead. That is what this Bill is all about. Its fundamental purpose is to replace the self-regulation of expenses, allowances and financial interests with a system of independent, transparent and robust regulation.

The Government have listened carefully with probably one and a half ears to what people both in this House and the other place have said about the Bill. In the other place, amendments were made to provide that the Bill will not set aside parliamentary privilege and not include a statutory requirement for there to continue to be a code of conduct incorporating the Nolan principles. Following the debates in the other place and in the light of what I heard in this House, a number of government amendments have been tabled. I am grateful to noble Lords for their trenchant comments made at Second Reading.

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Further to my letter of 13 July, which has been laid in the Vote Office, I hope that the amendments will go a long way towards reassuring your Lordships. We have tabled amendments, first, to remove the offence on paid advocacy from the Bill; secondly, to provide that the commissioner will refer his or her findings directly to the House of Commons Committee on Standards and Privileges; and, thirdly, to provide that the commissioner will not be required to refer findings to the Committee on Standards and Privileges if the transgression is minor and the Member in question has already agreed to take appropriate remedial action. We have introduced greater safeguards into the procedures that the commissioner will be required to have. They include an opportunity for the Member to be heard in person and an opportunity, where appropriate, to call witnesses.

I could go on, but I come instead to the sunset clause. We have tabled an amendment to require that the parts of the Bill that relate to offences be continued by order every two years. We believe that that approach is about balance. However, I hear what the noble Lord says and I am minded to return to the sunset clause, which I would call a review clause, later in the debates. Also, as noble Lords will recall, I gave a commitment that the Bill should be subject to formal post-legislative scrutiny within the next two years.

In order to respect the strength of feeling in this House on the issues of principle that have been raised, I am happy to accept Amendment 1 on the Marshalled List in the name of the noble Lords opposite. I am also happy to accept the principle of Amendment 2, with some exceptions. I undertake to return to this at the Report stage. Your Lordships will recall that I gave an undertaking that this legislation would not apply to the House of Lords and, of course, the commitment still stands.

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