HL Deb 12 March 1990 vol 516 cc1310-23

3.2 p.m.

The Earl of Caithness

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill. In doing so I know that the House will wish to take note with very great regret of the sad news of the death on Saturday of Lord Stewart of Fulham. Not only was he a former Secretary of State for Education and Science but he was also a good friend to the House. We shall miss him particularly in our debates on this Bill. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Caithness.)

Lord Peston

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his kind remarks about Lord Stewart of Fulham. I am sure that all Members of the House will wish to be associated with them. Lord Stewart was a major figure in government. On the subject of education, which is our concern today, I believe that he took part in every debate on every education Bill that came before the House during his period here. He was a kindly man. We shall miss his good sense, his constructive and intelligent contributions and his ready wit. We shall certainly miss him this afternoon.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, from these Benches I should like to say, first, that I know that my noble friend Lord Jenkins of Hillhead deeply regrets that he is unable to be here at the start of the Committee stage. He would like to have spoken in appreciation of his former very much respected colleague. I should also like to say that we shall miss him very much, and that this afternoon particularly we shall miss his wise contribution to education. He was a true professional in the field of education and understood the enormous importance of this question. We greatly regret that he will not be here for our debates.

Viscount Eccles

My Lords, I knew Lord Stewart for very many years. We sat on opposite sides of another place and of your Lordships' House. I admired his judgment and his honesty. I shall miss him.

Lord Greenhill of Harrow

My Lords, on behalf of the Cross Benches may I associate myself with those who have paid tribute to Lord Stewart? As a former member of the Foreign Office I pay a special tribute to him. When he came to the Foreign Office he was little known to anybody. In a short time he earned affection and respect. I travelled abroad with him many times. I never heard the British case more cogently presented to our opposite numbers abroad.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Clause 1 [Loans for students]:

Baroness Young moved Amendment No. 1: Page 1, line 5, after ("may") insert ("subject to the provisions of subsection (5A) below").

The noble Baroness said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Rippon of Hexham I move Amendment No. 1 and speak at the same time to Amendments Nos. 26, 27 and 28, which are linked to it. My noble friend greatly regrets that he is unable to be here at the start of our deliberations this afternoon.

As the Bill is presently drafted, there are three aspects to the setting up of the scheme. First, there is the running of the scheme itself. This is to be covered by the arrangements made by the Secretary of State under Clause 1(1). As matters stand, the arrangements will be made without parliamentary scrutiny.

Secondly, any amendments to the range of courses to be covered by the scheme, which would need to be made by an order to Schedule 1, would be subject to the negative resolution procedure. Indeed no order need be made if the Secretary of State is satisfied with the list of courses which are stated. Thirdly, the financial terms of loans, including their amount, the period of repayment, the rate of interest and the arrangements for deferment and cancellation, are all to be made by regulations under Schedule 2. These too are also to be subject to the negative resolution procedure. The effect of the four amendments is to leave the structure in place for the development of the scheme in subsequent years but to introduce a requirement that any orders, regulations or arrangements made with respect to the first year of operation of the Act should receive approval under the affirmative resolution procedure in both Houses of Parliament.

At Second Reading I referred to the considerable concern in the universities and in all parts of the House at what might generally be called the constitutional aspects of the scheme. It was quite clear at Second Reading and from re-reading the report of the debate in preparation for the discussion this afternoon that a great many noble Lords were concerned about the inadequacy of the information on the face of the Bill. To a large extent this was put right when my noble friend Lord Caithness circulated detailed information to everyone taking part. Nevertheless noble Lords wanted further information and in particular the opportunity to debate at a later stage what might be in the regulations. Indeed they were concerned—and my noble friend Lord Rippon will put this point himself—that the Government were legislating in general terms, leaving the particulars to be made by regulation, not written on the face of the Bill and not debatable. My noble friend raised this point when he introduced a short debate only a few weeks ago. He specifically referred to the Education (Student Loans) Bill as being one that concerned him on these constitutional points.

Those points were raised in another place and raised quite particularly by the honourable Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, Mr. Beith. I read the report of what he said and I also read in detail the reply given on that occasion by my honourable friend Mr. Jackson. I fully appreciate that the present legislation is based upon the 1962 Act, which introduced student grants, and that the form of the legislation is similar. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Caithness explained that point in considerable detail in his speech on Second Reading. However, it would be fair to say that on this particular occasion there is a difference.

The 1962 Act introduced a grant scheme and one which, not surprisingly, was extremely welcome to the universities and to the students. After all, who does not welcome a government saying that they will give more money to some particular cause? Although I was not in this Chamber on that occasion, nor indeed, I regret to say, did I follow in detail the legislation passing through this place, I can well understand that at that time the negative resolution procedure would have been acceptable and people would not have had the concerns which they have today.

We are today introducing a loans scheme. It is something which I entirely accept. I also accept the principles of the Bill. It is quite unrealistic to believe that we can achieve an expansion in the number of students which we all want to see without a loans scheme. Indeed, on re-reading the Second Reading debate I felt that most noble Lords who spoke accepted the need for some change in the present arrangements and recognised that no government of the future would be able to meet the very high costs which would follow if our present very generous arrangements were to be maintained.

In putting these amendments before the Committee it does not mean that I am in any sense against the principle of the Bill. However, they are amendments which would give an assurance, especially to those in universities who have been concerned about the legislation, and would also, I hope, answer points raised from all sides of this Chamber on Second Reading.

I very much hope that, when my noble friend winds up the debate, he will feel able to accept the amendments or, if he cannot accept them exactly as drafted—and I know only too well, having been in his position, that this is quite often the case—perhaps he will take them away and undertake to bring back other amendments which meet the points raised.

The amendments will not alter the principle of the Bill, which is one that I fully support. Moreover, they will not in any way prevent the implementation of the Bill. However, they will allow, for one year only, a debate to take place both here and in another place on an affirmative resolution on the regulations. Afterwards the matter would be dealt with by negative resolution. I very much hope that the amendments will be seen as meeting what I believe to be the justifiable concern which has been expressed by many people. I beg to move.

3.15 p.m.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

Having put my name to these amendments I rise to express my support for them. However, if the noble Earl would like to intervene and say that he accepts them in principle, I shall sit down at once. I am sorry to see that he remains seated. The noble Baroness spoke to these amendments in persuasive terms. They are quite limited: they are limited to the initial scheme, and the regulations setting it up are to be subject to affirmative resolution. However, all subsequent modifications are still to be subject to negative resolution.

The difference, as noble Lords know and as was pointed out on Second Reading, is that Parliament has a greater control over regulations when they are subject to affirmative resolution. That is more so in the other place than here because Members of this Chamber are at present largely subject to a self-denying ordinance which inhibits them from voting against a body of affirmative resolutions. That is not an absolute rule; it is a convention and it has in the past given way to convenience, notably on the Rhodesian sanctions order.

The amendments are in fact of fundamental constitutional moment because they concern the age-long tension about who has control of legislation: it is the Executive or is it Parliament? That question was resolved after a century and more of bitter conflict and the revolution of 1688. That was, in a famous phrase, the cause for which Hampden died in the field and Sidney on the scaffold"— the cause of parliamentary control of legislation. That decision remained unquestioned for nearly two centuries. Then, after the 1914–18 war and even before that, a great deal of legislation was vouchsafed into the hands of the Executive because Parliament found it convenient to do so. But there crept in one anomaly which is present in this Bill too, in Clause 1(4). This is known as a Henry VIII clause because it reflects to some extent a power that Henry VIII secured from Parliament; namely a power himself, as the Executive, to amend Acts of Parliament.

The issue came into prominence again in the 1920s. The locus classicus as regards subordinate delegated legislation was the Donoughmore/Scott Report of 1932. It disapproved quite clearly in other than exceptional circumstances of the Henry VIII clause and sounded a note of warning generally about delegated legislation. It differentiated between normal delegated legislation and extraordinary delegated legislation, which it enumerated under four heads, two of which are relevant to our deliberations. One was the Henry VIII clause, to which I have referred, and another concerned situations where a very wide discretion to legislate was given to the Minister. That is surely present in the Bill which is now before the Committee. On Second Reading it was described as a "blank cheque" and a "pig in a poke". The noble Earl, Lord Russell, compared it to a company at the time of the South Sea Bubble which is supposed to have solicited money for a scheme to be declared later.

Therefore there can be no question that this is extraordinary delegated legislation and, being so, does it not follow inevitably that it should be subject to the closest parliamentary control—namely, the affirmative legislation procedure? The difference is a practical as well as a constitutional one. In the affirmative resolution procedure, the Minister lays the instrument before the House and explains and justifies it to the House. In the negative procedure he lays the instrument, which is then subject to be prayed against. The advantage of the former, affirmative, procedure is that the Minister explains what he is about and what is responsible for the instrument.

On Second Reading this point was referred to by a number of noble Lords, every one of whom—except for one—was in favour of the affirmative resolution procedure. The sole exception was the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, who made the perfectly valid point that the negative resolution occupies less parliamentary time because it will come before Parliament only if it is specifically prayed against. However, the noble Baroness met that point. It is only the initial scheme which is subject to affirmative resolution and it is hardly conceivable that no noble Lord and no Member of the other place would fail to wish to discuss it. Therefore that point is met.

Of the two points which were made in the other place, one has been dealt with by the noble Baroness—namely, that this follows the 1962 Education Act. I only add that that is not a true analogy. The 1962 Act made grants mandatory, whereas they had previously been at the discretion of the local authorities. However, the local authorities had been operating such a scheme for many years and it was only the modifications and alterations which were therefore the subject of negative procedure. Here it is the initial scheme that the noble Baroness seeks to have subject to affirmative resolutions. All the subsequent alterations and modifications are exactly as they were in the 1962 Act—namely, subject to the negative resolution procedure.

The other argument put forward was that a proposal such as that of the noble Baroness might delay the institution of the scheme. But again that is not so. As soon as the Government have made up their mind, they can lay the scheme before Parliament and justify it. There is one type of affirmative resolution procedure whereby the regulations can come into effect at once but are defeasible unless approved by Parliament. Therefore all three arguments fail entirely, and I support the amendment of the noble Baroness.

Lord Airedale

I understand that we are to discuss my Amendments Nos. 29 and 30 together with this amendment. Perhaps therefore it is timely for me to speak now to my amendments. They simply take the whole scheme, the order, out of the negative procedure and put it into the affirmative procedure.

On 20th January we received an order about mushroom growing. It was an important matter which came under the affirmative procedure. We had an interesting debate initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, and it was an interesting occasion. That was an affirmative order. However, one wonders how it comes about that with a highly controversial scheme of this kind, exciting tremendous interest outside as well as inside Parliament, the Government can contrive to try to slip it through on the negative procedure. They hope no doubt that it will not be discussed at all in Parliament. They rely only upon agitation from private Members trying to secure that the matter is discussed in Parliament.

I can well understand the Minister desiring that course. If I were in his shoes, anticipating flak from all sides of the House in the course of defending such a scheme, I should be poring over Erskine May into the small hours, trying to find reasons for putting it under the negative procedure. I wonder about this. When the people outside Parliament who are keenly interested in this matter find out for themselves that as it stands the scheme will not be discussed in Parliament at all and that that is the Government's wish and intention, I believe that they will feel that it injures the reputation of Parliament itself.

Lord Boyd-Carpenter

I have one specific point which I should be grateful if the noble Earl on the Front Bench would deal with when he comes to reply. It is my understanding of the scheme that it is proposed to withdraw the social security benefits to which students are at present entitled: unemployment, income support and housing benefit. That was clearly stated both by my noble friend on Second Reading and in paragraph 11 of the leaflet which he was good enough to circulate.

There is no reference at all to these benefits in the Bill. It is presumably therefore intended that the regulation-making power shall be exercised in order to withdraw the benefits. As the Committee know, I have had some by now rather remote experience of social security administration. Perhaps as a result of that it has always seemed to me that to withdraw existing social security benefits is a serious and important matter. Indeed, when I was in the department concerned I was always advised that, as it was rather crudely put, there were great dangers in taking a bone out of a dog's mouth.

I therefore wish to ask my noble friend whether the regulations, the treatment of which we are now discussing, include exercising a power to withdraw these substantial social security benefits. If they do, can the noble Earl tell me of any precedent for withdrawing not marginal social security arrangements but substantial social security benefits by the negative resolution procedure? It may well be the case that that is so. I do not instantly recall a precedent, but it would be helpful if when he replies my noble friend would deal with that matter. Perhaps he could say whether I am right in assuming that it is intended to abolish these social security rights by the regulations; and whether there are any precedents for major social security changes being made using only the negative procedure.

Lord Flowers

I wish to support this group of amendments and I shall briefly say why. There has been almost no opportunity for the universities—and I speak as a vice-chancellor—to discuss the details of the Government's proposed loans scheme. That discussion depends quite a lot upon the details. The Government did not release the details until just before Second Reading, and there has been very little time to discuss them since. Contrary to what was said on Second Reading, other schemes are possible which seem to meet the Government's requirements. I hope to speak to one of those schemes at the proper time on a later clause. However, if these amendments are carried, they would ensure that any scheme had to be discussed by Parliament. That seems to me to be highly desirable. I therefore support the amendments.

3.30 p.m.

Earl Russell

I believe I can enlighten the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, at least a little on the subject of the social security regulations as I received a letter about them from the Clerk's Office earlier this morning. The statutory instrument has been tabled and it is at present before the joint committee. I am told that it will come to this House shortly after Easter. But having so far only heard the contents of the letter read quickly by my wife over the telephone, I cannot say whether it involves the affirmative or the negative procedure. That point is worth some attention. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord said about taking a bone out of the dog's mouth. We might also reflect that there is a social security Bill before Parliament at present in which these changes could perfectly properly have been embodied.

More generally, I wish to support the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Airedale and also the much milder amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, I felt a certain disappointment at seeing the noble Earl on the Government Front Bench remain seated. I felt also a certain surprise. He has here a mild amendment which he could easily accept. He has also a rather stronger amendment which, if I were in his position, I might fear to have accepted. That point is perhaps worth a certain amount of thought on the Government Front Bench.

The difference between the affirmative and the negative procedure is of less importance in this House than it is in another place. In this House, as yet, we are still able to put down a Prayer and to debate a negative instrument. However, in another place there are many more Prayers to debate negative instruments than can be heard. The power of prayer in another place is being very much diminished. Therefore, frequently things are tabled under the negative procedure and are prayed against but are not debated at all. As we have here a Bill in which a quite exceptional proportion of the detail is to be embodied in the regulations, it would be a misfortune, to put it no higher, if another place were to be denied the opportunity to give it scrutiny. It might even give the impression that the Government had something to hide.

I also wish to draw attention to Clause 1(4) which is the clause which gives the Minister power to alter the primary legislation by altering the contents of Schedule 1. This is the so-called Henry VIII clause. Some Henry VIII clauses are worse than others. I try to be a reasonable man, and I believe this is not a particularly heinous clause. In fact I have, at least privately, been given assurances on the way it is likely to be used. I am prepared to be reassured about that. On the other hand, I wish to ask the noble Earl whether he will give some thought to the recommendation of the Donoughmore Committee, to which I have heard the noble Lord, Lord Rippon of Hexham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, draw attention in times past. The committee recommended that where such a clause is used, in effect giving the Minister power to change the law, there should be an explanatory memorandum, like the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum. That explanatory memorandum should be put at the front of the Bill to explain why such a procedure was thought to be necessary in that particular case.

It would be perfectly possible for the Government to put such an assurance on the front of this Bill—there is room for a little more on the paper—stating only things which they have already said. That would, in terms of the precedents which this House is likely to leave behind it for use in future Parliaments, give a much more reassuring impression. We have to take into account the fact that we are setting precedents. What we do now may look perfectly all right in the context of the business that we know we are discussing and the intentions we know in some cases are behind it. However, a precedent outlives its context. Therefore if we leave a clause like that in the Bill without an explanation we shall be giving wider currency to the idea that the Secretary of State, by himself and without parliamentary consent, may make law. I would regard that as unfortunate. I wish therefore to ask the noble Earl whether he can give a certain amount of thought to accepting the Donoughmore proposal that such a memorandum should be put in the front of the Bill. I do not believe that would cost him anything, and we might find it distinctly helpful.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

I do not know what experience the noble Earl has of another place because the whole of his speech argued the case for powers for another place to use. Those who have experience of another place over the years can tell the noble Earl that providing Parliament is alert, the difference between an affirmative and a negative resolution is infinitesimal. There is no difference at all between them. It depends upon the alertness of Parliament itself as to whether or not the negative power would be used. In order to avoid silly waste of parliamentary time, the negative procedure has many advantages. If the issue at stake is flippant and not of major importance, another place would not use its powers to obtain time to use the negative resolution procedure, which is the alternative. However, if the significance of what would be done is of the importance that the noble Earl has in mind, those in another place will see to it that their parliamentary time is allocated for the negative procedure. The fear that an affirmative resolution has a greater power of being discussed than the negative procedure depends 100 per cent. upon the decision and the alertness of Parliament itself.

Lord Molloy

I hope that when the noble Earl replies to the points that have been made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, his reply will, right from the beginning of this Committee stage, have a serious effect on how this entire wretched Bill is to be conducted. The speeches that we have heard from the Members of the Committee that I have mentioned are the quintessence of the anxieties that are felt in Parliament and outside. Therefore the reply of the noble Earl must show whether it is the intention of the Government to commit themselves to normal parliamentary procedure or to find other methods of pushing this Bill through.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I, too, was disappointed that my noble friend did not rise when he was invited to do so by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. On Second Reading I mentioned that I thought that a selective use of the affirmative resolution procedure would be helpful. I said that because it was quite clear from the debate on Second Reading and from the discussion outside the House that there was still a lot that people wanted to discuss concerning the details involved in the setting up of the arrangements. However, that did not alter my view that to make everything always subject to affirmative resolution, as I believe the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, suggest, is quite unnecessary.

As I said on Second Reading, it seems to me that this Bill can only be a framework because changes will constantly have to be made as the scheme develops and figures will probably be altered year by year for many years ahead. I should have thought that that should not be done by affirmative resolution. It would take too much time. Therefore it seems an excellent idea that in the first year the affirmative resolution procedure should be adopted as my noble friend Lady Young has suggested.

I hope that my noble friend will pay attention to that suggestion. I have no idea what his point of view is, but I was disappointed that he did not respond promptly to the suggestion of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon.

Lord Glenamara

I shall not detain the Committee for more than two or three minutes. I am absolutely opposed to the principle embodied in the Bill. As a parliamentarian of about 40 years' standing, the Bill offends me. It is an affront to Parliament. At a time when democracy is breaking out all over Europe, in South Africa and central America, the Government have introduced this Bill into Parliament.

When I left Newcastle this morning I was seen off at the station by the president of the students union of Newcastle University. That is a very large university, one of the largest in the country. I do not believe that the Government realise the opposition to the Bill throughout the whole of the academic world and in families throughout the country. It will affect the budgets of students and of families all over the country. In addition, the Government are to withdraw other benefits this year. As I pointed out previously, on 1st April this year every student will be required to pay an average £70 for the community charge. It is a shocking affair.

This Henry VIII provision, which says that the Secretary of State may by order amend Schedule 1 to the Act, is alarming. It is worth while for the Members of the Committee to refresh their memories about the Schedule which gives the Secretary of State the power to prescribe the maximum amount of the loan, to make provisions as to the time and manner in which the payment of loans may be made and to make provision about deferment and cancellation. Worst of all is the question of interest. The Government persist in saying that the loans are interest free. Schedule 2 says: Loans shall bear interest at such rates as may from time to time be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State". He has to have regard to the retail prices index, but he can change that without coming to Parliament. He can change the provision regarding interest without coming to this Chamber.

Why do the Government oppose the amendments? I have been a government business manager and a Chief Whip in the other House and I know a little about scheduling government business. All the amendments mean is a few more hours for debate in the whole parliamentary year. That is all that is at stake here. This provision, which adopts the negative rather than the positive resolution procedure, is one of the main reasons for objections to the Bill. Why does not the noble Earl stand up and accept the amendments now? It would not cost the Government anything except three or four hours in a parliamentary year.

I know also that any government put their main legislative programme in their first two years in office. Therefore the next two years, or the time from now until the next general election, will be very thin in terms of legislation. There will not be any shortage of parliamentary time. Why does the noble Earl object? Why does he not stand up now and accept the amendments? It is beyond my comprehension.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

3.45 p.m.

Lord Peston

I rise to speak on the amendment with some trepidation. I am not a constitutional expert. I have not had the privilege of serving in the other place and I have been in this Chamber for only three years. However, I am learning as I go along. I assume that for the moment the noble Earl has not accepted the amendment because, like me, he was waiting to hear the speeches and hoping to learn something.

I believed, and having listened to the speeches I still believe, that the amendments would make a difference. I shall proceed on that assumption unless the noble Earl can convince me that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, is right in arguing that the amendments mean nothing. I believe that they make the difference which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, emphasised; namely that they impose a positive obligation on the Secretary of State to justify what he does. They do not prevent the Secretary of State from getting his own way. I do not believe that, on the whole, Secretaries of State ought not to get their own way but I believe that they ought to make their case.

The trouble arises because of the nature of the Bill. If the loan scheme had been specified on the face of the Bill we could have debated the loan scheme, we could have amended it and we could have left some aspects to be dealt with later by regulations. The objection—and the cause of the frustration and the puzzlement outside the Houses of Parliament among those in the academic world—is that this peculiar Bill prevents us from debating what we ought to debate.

My first point, therefore, is that we should not have the problem in the first place. We should have had a Bill which included a student loan scheme of some sort, if that is what the Government want. There is still time for the Government to take the Bill away and come back to us with a Bill which reforms student maintenance and which we and the other place can examine and debate properly. My first plea is not that the amendment should be accepted—that is well down my list—but for a proper Bill that corresponds to the subject that concerns us.

If we had had an appropriate Bill the Government themselves could have taken the opportunity to introduce some amendments. The Committee will notice that the Marshalled List contains no government amendments. I find that objectionable.

I regard the Secretary of State as an honourable man. He felt it appropriate to call a meeting of Peers last week to tell us more about his thinking on the matter. I welcomed that meeting. However, that material should instead have been brought forward for debate on the Floor of the Chamber. We have the bizarre state of affairs in which just before Second Reading, when it was apparent that many Peers were concerned at knowing very little about the Bill, we suddenly received a series of documents which told us about the Bill. Mine arrived about an hour before the debate. Last week we heard that there was more that the Secretary of State wanted to tell us, so he called a meeting. We went dutifully. We are grateful for that, but I believe that the Houses of Parliament are the places for such statements to be made and debated.

I do not believe that it is too late to make amends. It is not too late for the noble Earl, who on this occasion speaks on behalf of the Secretary of State, to say that he will tell us within this Chamber precisely what the Bill is about.

I shall support the noble Baroness if she divides the Committee and we do not have the good fortune of hearing the noble Earl tell us that he accepts the amendment. I hope that she will forgive me for saying that, although, as I said in my Second Reading speech, I believe strongly that we need to look again at systems of student maintenance, that does not mean that I care for the government loan scheme currently being introduced. There is an enormous gulf between those of us who believe that we have to look at systems of student maintenance as a preparation for a very considerable expansion of higher education which this country needs and those who support the loan scheme. This loan scheme is not what is required. Something quite different is needed. In supporting that approach, I am not for one moment supporting the loan scheme.

Perhaps I may make two or three other remarks. I should like the amendment to be accepted; even better, I should like the whole scheme to be abandoned or postponed and started again. Following the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Boyd-Carpenter, on the social security aspects, I am concerned that, even if one way or another we have the opportunity to talk about it—I am not clear whether we shall have such an opportunity—we shall not do so in the context of an education maintenance or loan scheme system. It will be dealt with as a matter of social security. I do not deny that it is partly a matter of social security—that is true in the Government's mind as well as in ours—but it is clearly meant to be placed in the context of student support generally. Yet again, therefore, I am unhappy that a matter as important for students as this will not be dealt with as a student or education matter. It will be dealt with rather differently. Our principles and methods here are therefore wrong.

Perhaps I may make one other remark in response to the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I particularly object to private assurances. I am not in the least interested in private assurances. I regard the Secretary of State as an honourable man. I regard the noble Earl as an honourable man. I regard the noble Baroness as an honourable woman. But that is not the way that legislation is meant to proceed in a parliamentary democracy. Someone else might well sit on those Benches one day who is a good deal less honourable and a good deal more ruthless than they are. I should prefer that legislation protected us rather than private assurances.

In summary, my main view is that we deserve a proper Bill to debate. My second view is that this subsection, which I believe is significant, helps us a little. I shall certainly advise my noble friends to support the noble Baroness.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

Perhaps I may briefly tell my noble friend what his refusal to accept the amendments would do for me. It would persuade me of one of two things: either that the Government have made up their mind what they want to do, know how they will do it and will not tell Parliament; or. alternatively, that the Government do not know how they will achieve the purpose that they have in mind. In those circumstances I am bound to say that I should find it difficult to support my noble friend in rejecting what seem to me to be modest amendments.

The Earl of Caithness

We have before us two sets of amendments. One set, in the name of my noble friend Lady Young, has, as I have heard, an impressive array of support from all sides of the Chamber. I have to say that, if I were on the Back Benches, I should have supported my noble friend and, because I am on the Front Bench, my support is in no way diminished. We accept the principles that my noble friend Lady Young has put before the Committee. I have listened with care to the debate.

That is why I did not rise to the bait of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. I wished to hear what all noble Lords had to say.

Perhaps I may make it plain that we now intend that, when the loan scheme is introduced, the secondary legislation required to establish it should not be subject to the negative resolution, as the Bill at present provides, but to the affirmative procedure. Thereafter, when further secondary legislation is needed to revise or develop the scheme, the negative procedure would apply. That is what the amendments propose and that is the approach that we are happy to follow. Perhaps I may tell my noble friend, as she led me into this, that I hope that she will withdraw the amendment. Subject to being checked by parliamentary counsel, I can assure the Committee that the amendment, either in the same or slightly revised form, will be back before noble Lords at a later stage.

It follows that I do not accept the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, as they would require affirmative resolution for every adjustment to the scheme over the years. The support for the amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady Young indicates that the mood of the Committee is that that would be excessively cumbersome. For instance, for an annual uprating of a loan, it would be exactly the same procedure as has been followed under the 1962 Act with good effect and without complaint.

Perhaps I may now deal with a couple of important points, the first of which was raised by my noble friend Lord Boyd-Carpenter who said that students would lose their social security benefits. As usual, my noble friend is right. However, on this occasion he is not entirely right because disabled students will not lose the benefits to which they are entitled. The benefits will be withdrawn as the loan scheme comes into operation. The loans will be brought into effect and there will then be the access funds about which I shall say more in due course. As I understand it, the amendments to social security for non-disabled students will not be dealt with under the Bill but under social security legislation.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, is the first member of the Opposition whom I have heard demanding government amendments. That was an interesting point. The meeting last week that he mentioned was one that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and I thought would be advantageous to noble Lords who spoke on Second Reading. The meeting sought to concentrate on the alternatives. The scheme which the noble Lord wishes me to explain in detail will be covered in far more detail at this stage of the Bill. I hope that by the end of the debate noble Lords will be convinced that the scheme is ready to be up and running and will be successful.

I take the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I shall study with particular care the point that he asked me to consider, but the changes to Schedule 1 will be subject to parliamentary scrutiny as they are in a schedule.

Perhaps I may recap. We accept the principles behind the amendment of my noble friend Lady Young. An amendment will be forthcoming at a later stage to put into effect exactly what I said. However, I regret to say that I cannot accept the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale.

Baroness Young

I should like to start by thanking my noble friend Lord Caithness for accepting the principle of the amendments. I am happy to withdraw the amendment on his word that he will bring back, as I thought he almost certainly would want to do, correctly drafted amendments. We shall look forward to seeing the amendments at a later stage.

I am also grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, who set out the constitutional point clearly. It is extremely helpful to have that on the record. I am grateful too for the support that the amendments have received from all parts of the Committee. I have never served in another place. I defer to my noble friend Lord Harmar-Nicholls who believes that there is not much difference between a negative and an affirmative resolution. I am told, however, by those who are at present in another place that there is a difference. I also believe that to be the case.

It is easy to say that anyone who is alert may raise matters on a negative resolution. That is true. We can all do things if we are present and alert and have a bit of luck. However, it is an assurance to know that that end can be achieved by affirmative resolution. I believe that I speak for all noble Lords and those outside the House when I say that we are grateful to my noble friend. I shall not at this stage attempt to say anything further. The debate has somewhat widened from my original remarks. It is important that my noble friend has accepted the principle. I am grateful to him and look forward to seeing the amendments redrafted at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blatch

I think that this would be an appropriate moment in which to hear a Statement which is being held in another place. I therefore beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.