HL Deb 09 May 1988 vol 496 c826

2.51 p.m.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale asked Her Majesty's Government:

What plans are being made to ensure that the Privy Council Office and the Department of Education and Science will be able to deal promptly with submissions by the University Commissioners provided for under the Education Reform Bill.

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, it is in the Government's interests to ensure that the commissioners' submissions are dealt with promptly. The Bill provides for the commissioners' submissions to be approved by Her Majesty in Council. Her Majesty will be advised in the normal way by the Privy Council. This will involve consideration of the commissioners' submission by officials in both the Privy Council Office and the Department of Education and Science, neither of which foresees any difficulty in the extra work being handled by existing staff.

Lord Allen of Abbeydale

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply about this rather puzzling arrangement. Can the Minister say whether it is proposed to revive the Universities Committee of the Privy Council for which provision was made in the earlier legislation affecting the Oxford and Cambridge colleges? Can she elaborate a little on what the officials in the Department of Education and Science will be expected to do, accepting that the Bill provides no role for the DES in this context, and that some of the findings of the commissioners will involve amending Acts of Parliament without Parliament even being told?

Baroness Hooper

My Lords, I do not believe that there is any intention to revive the universities committee to which the noble Lord refers. It is expected that the commissioners will be chaired by a senior retired judge and will include a specialist lawyer with knowledge of university law. Their supporting staff will include a lawyer. Their draft modifications should therefore require a minimum of consideration by officials. They will need to examine the statutes of about 160 institutions over a period of three years, or just over one a week. That should not be too onerous a task for the Department of Education and Science, or indeed for the Privy Council Office to handle.