HL Deb 12 December 1991 vol 533 cc944-1009

House again in Committee.

Clauses 40 to 42 agreed to.

Clause 43 [Remuneration of employees]:

Baroness Seear moved Amendment No. 201:

Page 33, line 33, leave out ("September 1992") and insert ("April 1993").

The noble Baroness said The amendment proposes that the "proposed date of increase" should be deferred from September 1992 to April 1993, so as to give adequate time to make the adjustments and also —this is most important—to avoid retrospection. Once again, there is an element of retrospection in the matter which would he avoided if the date was deferred until April 1993. I beg to move.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

The amendment proposed would render the clause ineffective. If the Government's timetable goes to plan, the clause will have no effect from 1st April 1993. Its purpose is to guard against the possibility of present employers awarding their staff an irresponsible pay increase which would have undesirable and costly knock-on effects for the new corporations at little or zero cost to themselves. That purpose would be thwarted by the proposed amendment. The new corporations cannot reasonably be expected to foot the bill for end-loaded settlements negotiated by their predecessors in circumstances where any significant proportion of those costs would not fall on the local education authorities, either individually or collectively.

I must emphasise the fact that the Government are not interfering with any pay increases due from the normal settlement date of 1st September 1992. Therefore, they are not seeking to interfere in matters which are currently within the purview of the National Joint Council for Further Education. From 1st April 1993, when the new sector will be up and running, the Government intend that pay should be settled through negotiation between employer and employee. We do not intend to be a party to those negotiations. We believe that there should be maximum freedom for institutions to set pay in response to their needs and circumstances. Taxpayers' interests will be protected through the level of funding made available to the councils. In the light of that explanation, I hope that the noble Baroness will not press her amendment.

Baroness Seear

In the interests of speed, I shall withdraw the amendment on this occasion. However, I may return to the matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 202:

Page 34, line 6, leave out ("appearing to him to be") and insert ("who are").

The noble Baroness said: The purpose of this amendment is to give all trade unions a right to make representations to the Secretary of State. As such, it removes the discretion as to whether the Secretary of State considers a trade union to be an appropriate body. If unamended, the clause would allow the Secretary of State to select those from whom he wishes to the representations on the fundamental question of the remuneration of employees. It reserves considerable discretionary powers for the Secretary of State as to his choice of persons from whom representations are to be heard.

They ability to pick and mix from those who are to put forward views on the key issue of pay is unnecessarily restrictive. Identifying those bodies who represent relevant employees is a fairly straightforward task. Such bodies, often trade unions and professional associations representing the interests of their members, are in the best position to make a valid and usually constructive contribution to the determination of matters that relate to pay. They are in the best position because their constituent elements—that is, the employees—are out in the field doing the work. On that basis alone, they ought to be entitled as of right to make a contribution to the remuneration debate without having to pass the Secretary of State's test as to whether or not they are "appropriate". They are already appropriate persons and the Secretary of State should not need to make a decision on that point.

It seems to us that allowing representative organisations to put forward a case on behalf of their members is a positive step in opening up a constructive and well-informed debate. The right to take part in such a debate should be a right for the organisations and a duty imposed upon the Secretary of State. Reservation of such a discretion in the hands of the Secretary of State means that, potentially, the voice of those who are most affected by his decisions will not be heard. I beg to move.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

It is possible that I was not paying attention to what the noble Baroness said, but I am not sure whether she said that she was speaking to Amendments Nos. 202 and 203. However, I shall be replying in respect of both of them.

Baroness Blackstone

I apologise. I should have said so. I was speaking to both amendments.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

The amendments would remove the Secretary of State's power to exercise discretion as to who should be afforded the opportunity to make representation on the part of the employees concerned. That might result in administrative difficulties as, without the exercise of such discretion, representations concerning proposed pay increases might he received from anyone purporting to be a representative of the employees concerned, whether or not on reasonable grounds.

Pay settlements are traditionally and sensibly settled through negotiations between employers and their staff unions or associations. They bargain on behalf of the staff concerned. Management normally enters into appropriate union recognition agreements. The arrangement has, in practice, proved acceptable to all concerned. We expect the principles underlying those arrangements to continue in so far as representations to the Secretary of State may be appropriate under the clause. However, that is not to say that any individual employee or representative, or any small trade union or association, would automatically be denied the opportunity to make representations to the Secretary of State.

The clause rightly and properly confers upon the Secretary of State the power to make an appropriate decision in matters concerning such representation. His decision would, of course, have to be reasonable or it would be open to challenge in the courts. With that assurance, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Seear

It would be a little more reassuring if we had an indication as to the criteria by which the Secretary of State will decide who are "appropriate" persons. As the matter stands, they could be any bunch of people of whom he happened to approve. That, in any true sense, would not be representative; nor, I suggest, would it have very satisfactory consequences. I can quite see that there may be a case for ruling out certain people. However, it would be very much better if we were told that there were some limitations on the Secretary of State's total freedom of choice as to whom he will deal with.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

Perhaps there is a precedent for that but I do not have it to hand. If it helps the noble Baroness, I should be happy to try to find that and let her and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, know.

Baroness Seear

I am grateful for that. As the noble Lord is aware, we are deeply suspicious of the enhanced powers of the Secretary of State. If we could be reassured that this is not another excess of power for the Secretary of State, that would ease matters considerably.

Baroness Blackstone

In the light of the Minister's response, I am happy to wait to hear from him. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 203 not moved.]

Clause 43 agreed to.

Clauses 44 and 45 agreed to.

Clause 46 [Statutory conditions of employment]:

[Amendment No. 204 not moved.]

Clause 46 agreed to.

Clause 47 agreed to.

Clause 48 [Information with respect to institutions within the further education sector]:

[Amendment No. 205 not moved.]

Lord Peston moved Amendment No. 206:

Page 36, line 12, at end insert: ("( ) the educational achievements of their students prior to their enrolment at the institution,").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 206 is grouped with Amendments Nos. 207 and 208. However, I shall concentrate largely upon Amendment No. 206, and I believe that the noble Earl will deal with Amendments Nos. 207 and 208.

In moving this amendment I do not suggest that Clause 48 is unacceptable; quite the contrary. To provide such an enormous database will be a social scientist's and planner's heaven. It is somewhat bizarre that that will emanate from the present Government. They must know what they are doing. I look forward to that database being available. I am not sure that I shall last long enough to use it but I am sure that my successors will find it a source of extremely useful material.

For those of us who are interested in considering the performance of institutions, it lacks a baseline. To use the parlance which has been taken over from economics, one is not just interested in what an institution achieves but what it achieves relative to the material with which it has started. My normal rather tart view of these matters is to say that if one looks at the average polytechnic, its achievement is astonishing. If one looks at the whole of Oxford and Cambridge, its achievements are disastrous considering the quality of material with which it starts. One is staggered at the relatively poor performance of what they end up with. In other words, what we are discussing here is value added.

There is nothing in the data suggested which requires that particular piece of information to be published. The purpose of Amendment No. 206 is to provide the line according to which we can measure achievement. If one has students who have three superb A-levels and they end up with a lower second, that does not impress me, that is usually what happens to a large number of students at Oxford and Cambridge. If one has students who begin with four Ds at A-level and they end up with first-class honours degrees, which happens at many polytechnics and other universities, that seems to indicate that the teachers involved are rather good at their jobs.

That is the purpose of this amendment. It is not very good to say, "A lot of our students achieve a great deal." One must know what was the original raw material. That is the point of Amendment No. 206. It seems to me that the Government would wish to include that kind of information in the appropriate database because they would not wish any researcher to be misled by the available data so that he is unable to do a proper job. A similar remark applies to the other two amendments in this group but I shall leave those to the noble Earl. I beg to move.

Earl Russell

In supporting the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 207 and 208. Those make specific points about the statistics which we should like to see collected in order to measure performance. In the first instance the amendment refers to staff-student ratios. During the progress of the Bill we have heard a good deal of debate about how far a worsening staff-student ratio amounts to a worsening of quality. There are points involved in that; in some cases, room capacity. In others there is the point which a number of noble and learned Lords will have experienced when acting as judges in court; namely, that beyond a certain number of hours listening in a concentrated way, concentration may begin to waver. The Minister believes that we are exaggerating about that. It may be in his interests to try to collect statistics because, if he is right, he may be able to prove it.

The same point applies to funding per student, which is the next information which we ask to have collected. There has been much debate during the progress of this Bill about how far reducing unit costs is a threat to quality. For me that is arguably the most important single issue behind the Bill. Again, the Minister believes that we are making a fuss, in which case he might agree that it is important to collect statistics to see whether we can find some evidence to show which of us is right. However, I should say that when one is judging the quality of education, that cannot be done simply and solely in terms of the quality of the degree. The degree of understanding, insight, interest and the extent to which information is remembered a year later are all variables which do not always show in the quality of a degree. Nevertheless, any correlation between the quality of the degree and the funding per student would be worth having.

We ask also in Amendment No. 207 for a collection of evidence on the student-book ratio. Again, for many of us that is an absolutely vital issue. It relates fairly closely to the question of the staff-student ratio. If one is teaching and one sets students a list of books to read, if there are two or three of them then, with a little efficiency, they can share the books around. However, if one sets a large book for six people in one week, a great many of them will not get to read it at all. In that case, they simply cannot do what is required of them. Therefore, the student-book ratio is quite an important matter to take into account when deciding on the quality of an education available. In fact if I were, as I have recently been, advising my children on the choice of a place to go, that is a piece of information which I should be particularly eager to know.

Amendment No. 207 also asks for a record of the drop-out rate. When we are talking about efficiency—and we on this side of the Committee, on these Benches, believe in efficiency as we understand it, even if not as the Government understand it—how many students drop out must, to some extent, be a measure of how efficiently the job is being done. That should be recorded.

The question of how unit costs are measured is also raised. That is something about which a number of us are not entirely satisfied. At the end of the day, the correct way to measure unit costs is unit costs per graduate. That means that those who drop out do not count in the list of units.

That would also deal with the fact—which is distorted by the present method of gathering statistics —that if one takes student costs per annum, as we do at present, one entirely distorts the basis of comparison between this country and the Continent. In this context, by "this country" I mean England and not Britain since the Scottish system is different.

The amendment also demands collecting information on student support. If your Lordships have paid attention to some of the protests which have been going on recently, the refectory capacity and issues like that are of considerable importance in the points which have been raised.

The point of Amendment No. 208 is that it asks for collection not of raw data but of weighted data taking account of background. The correct way of collecting statistics must depend on what one wants to know. There is more than one thing we could want to know here. If we want to know simply how good it is at the end, then perhaps raw data might be the right thing to collect. But if we want to know how well the place is doing with what it gets, then the weighted data would be the correct data to collect.

It is just like the argument about the retail price index or the underlying measure of inflation. Which of those is the right one to use depends on what we want to know. So we should not leave out the weighted data, and therefore I am happy to support the amendments and look forward to the Minister's reply.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

The noble Earl has vividly made the point about why it would be quite inappropriate to try to collect this kind of performance data for further education. All the examples which he gave were highly appropriate to the higher education sphere. He talked about performance per graduate, the cost per graduate and the ratio of library books, for example. I remind the Committee that in further education colleges people are studying courses in hairdressing, plumbing, bricklaying and various aspects of trades for which there is no appropriate book provision. Practical skills are being taught as well as A-levels, GCSE repeats and so on.

The vast range of courses which are on offer would make the complexity of the kind of performance data which the noble Earl describes almost impossible to proscribe in regulations made by the councils, never mind on the face of legislation —on the face of the Bill.

I hope that the noble Earl will agree to withdraw the amendment because performance indicators of this kind would be highly destructive to the system that I am sure all of us in the Committee support.

8.45 p.m.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

I wish to draw attention to a tendency which I experience in the higher education sector and which I am sure must be present in the further education sector. It is the bureaucratisation of academic life. We seem to spend an increasing amount of time compiling all manner of statistics which are not always informative. I have some sympathy with the general points made by the noble Earl, but the task of compiling these statistics would be formidable. It would undoubtedly devolve ultimately upon academics and teachers as much as upon administrators.

I already have some difficulty with the clause which asks that statistics be kept and information published on the careers of students after they have completed a course or have left the institution. That places on the institution a considerable burden of compiling and maintaining records. Although I am fully in sympathy with the value of information, I ask myself who will compile it? The noble Earl's suggestion would be admirable if it did not have the pre-condition that further statistics be compiled, which is much less admirable.

I was a little confused by the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, about Oxford and Cambridge. He seemed to address himself to what I have always believed in the higher education sector, although we are still focusing on the further education sector at the moment. Since he had the kindness to refer to those institutions, I agree with him that it would be helpful if entry requirements were better understood. One problem which the universities of Oxford and Cambridge face is that they have insufficient applicants for places from pupils in the maintained sector. There is a widespread illusion that there is something special or difficult about entry into Oxford and Cambridge. I was therefore dismayed to find the noble Lord, Lord Peston. as I understood it, contributing to that myth and illusion.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

This has been an interesting short debate and I have listened carefully to opinions from all sides. The amendments seek to add to the types of information that the Secretary of State may by regulation require institutions in the further education sector to publish. They propose to include information about the education of students prior to enrolment, resourcing and certain performance indicators by which to gauge efficiency and effectiveness. The third amendment refers to the publication of information about the socio-economic make-up of the area in which the college is situated.

The Government are prepared to consider the principle raised in the first two of these amendments. Our objective is to require the publication of information which will be useful to young people, parents and employers. We are also concerned that colleges should be able to evaluate their own performance in relation to similar institutions. There is a great deal to be said for keeping that information as simple as possible, to allow the users to form their own judgments.

In the case of information about the education of students prior to enrolment, I understand that the purpose of the noble Baroness in proposing this amendment is to leave open the possibility that the Secretary of State might, at some future point, require the publication of information in a form which allows comparison between the qualifications achieved by students at the institution and their level of achievement when they entered—in other words, the "value added".

The intention behind the amendment is laudable. The difficulty lies in constructing a sensible basis for establishing the "value added", which can be readily understood. The students entering colleges have a great variety of backgrounds and educational achievements. It is by no means self-evident that one could construct sensible indicators of "value added" on the basis of previous educational qualifications alone. That has been pointed out. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State sees no prospect of requiring publication on a "value added" basis at present, because it has not been demonstrated how this could he done simply and in a way which helps those who have an interest in these matters. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will withdraw the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, on the understanding that the Government will give the matter further consideration.

Lord Peston

My noble friend Lady Blackstone was not involved.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

I apologise to the noble Baroness. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, moved the amendment on his own behalf. We shall move on. I turn now to the amendment proposing that certain information on college resources and the efficiency and effectiveness of college provision should be published. The Government already call upon colleges to produce some of the information proposed by the amendment for colleges' own management purposes. Although, except for funding per student, colleges are not required to publish the information, that said, I am sure that many colleges would want such information to be published to enable them to evaluate their own performance in relation to that of similar institutions.

I have, however, some serious reservations about the consequences of accepting this amendment as it stands. First, I am not convinced that all the information listed would be particularly useful either for internal management and inter-institutional comparisons, or as an aid to student or employer choice. Secondly, many sixth form colleges might find it both onerous, as my noble friend said, in resource terms, and difficult in systems terms to produce such a range of information in the early years of independence. Indeed, there are some FE colleges that might face similar problems. I therefore ask again that noble Lords withdraw the amendment on the understanding that the Government will give it further consideration.

On the third amendment in this group the noble Earl said that it was not raw data that was needed. I believe I have made the comment before that there is much to be said for raw data as opposed to cooked data. The Government see no need to make provision for data about the socio-economic area of colleges to be published. We are sure that young people, parents, employers and the institutions are quite capable of drawing sound conclusions from the information already provided for in this clause. They would, for example, have a pretty shrewd idea of the implications of institutions in the same area achieving different results.

The publication of socio-economic information, alongside the information covered by this clause, might be used to justify poor performance, which in turn—I attach importance to this—could create and result in low expectations. That is a real argument. In the light of the fact that I have agreed to reconsider the first two of the amendments we are discussing, I urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Earl Russell

Before the noble Lord, Lord Peston, decides what to do with his amendment, I wish to discuss one of the points the Minister made. I did not say absolutely that it is not raw data that are needed. I said the kind of data needed depends on what one wants to know. With the leave of the Committee, I also wish to respond briefly to the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, and to the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew. They are quite right. I think what I was proposing might be applicable in some parts of the further education sector, but working out which is a task above my abilities. During a very long week one is tempted to slip into talking of what one knows. I should have resisted that temptation but I did not. I am sorry.

Lord Peston

I thank the Minister for his reply. Although the case is widely believed to be to the contrary, I occasionally speak for myself and not merely under the instructions of the noble Baronesses on my left. The Minister's reply was both interesting and helpful. He made one point better than I did, which is that the institutions themselves would wish to be judged with a proper baseline rather than just on the data referred to here. I take the point about cost, but, equally, one would apply the question to all the data rather than to any particular part of it.

The great achievements of the FE colleges frequently consist of educational achievements with pupils who have failed in other institutions. Many of our children attended an FE college because their previous school did not work out for them, even though that school may have been satisfactory for other pupils. I understood the Minister to say that the Government took a view that FE colleges and sixth form colleges will succeed even though they may not have the best material. I was quite pleased to hear that the Minister will reconsider this matter.

I was partly pulling the leg of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, but only partly. In due course he will hear my views on Oxford and Cambridge. I was merely using those two universities as an example of the point I was making. I believe in that point very strongly. I was not under the impression that Oxford and Cambridge accepted students who had three grade D A-levels. I should be delighted to hear that the lecturers at those universities wish to devote their great teaching skills to teaching such students. We shall discuss that in due course.

Baroness Seear

Is the noble Lord confident that A-levels are the best way of detecting future able students?

Lord Peston

The noble Baroness knows that I appreciate what a poor indicator of ability A-levels are. Unfortunately, we live in a world where A-levels appear to be the beginning and the end of all higher education.

Baroness Seear

Given that A-levels are a poor indicator, they become a poor base for the noble Lord's subsequent calculations.

Lard Peston

Let us defer discussion on that matter —the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, advised this—until we reach that part of the Bill that is concerned with higher education. I do not go quite so far as the noble Baroness, but my point is that we need a baseline if we are to measure efficiency. I have spoken for too long. I thank the Minister for his most constructive reply. I shall look forward to hearing whether the Government have any more proposals in this field. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 207 and 208 not moved.]

Clause 48 agreed to.

Clause 49 [Publication of proposals]:

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 208A:

Page 36, line 43, leave out ("and").

The noble Baroness said: Clause 49 deals with what should happen when a council makes a proposal either to establish or to dissolve a further education college, and the conditions that will appertain. This amendment requires the funding councils to consult LEAs before proceeding with a proposal to open or close a college.

The proposals to open or close, or to expand or contract colleges will directly affect the demand for school sixth form places in an area. They should therefore not be allowed to proceed without prior consultation with the local education authority on the implications for school sixth form provision.

Changes in college patterns will impact more widely, for example, on LEAs' continuing responsibilities for adult and continuing education. Such considerations also need to be taken into account before the councils proceed with proposals to change college patterns in any area. We must remember that LEAs are the providers of the students for the further education colleges, and, as it were, of the sixth form colleges. Therefore they must be fully informed of plans, and they should be among the first people to be consulted on them. This seems to me an eminently reasonable amendment. I hope the Minister can accept it. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

The Government fully accept the need for local consultation on proposals to open or close local colleges. However, I do not think the amendment is necessary. As drafted, this clause places a duty on the further education funding councils to consult widely prior to making proposals to establish or dissolve further education corporations. They must publish a draft of any such proposals and they must consider any representations made about them.

Many institutions and organisations will have an interest in the effects of such proposals. These include higher education institutions, voluntary organisations and grant-maintained schools as well as local authorities. Therefore it surely must be right that a broad duty to consider local representations should he placed on the funding councils, with no special statutory prestige accorded to local education authorities. As I have said, the views of LEAs will he considered alongside the views of other local interests. It will be open to LEAs—as it is to other local interests—to make their views known.

The clause improves the statutory provision for local consultation on further education. I have referred to that before. At the moment there is no duty to inform or consult on proposals to open or close colleges in the further education sector. The councils and the Secretary of State will in future be in a position analogous to that of local education authorities in making proposals for the establishment or closure of schools. On those grounds I resist the amendment.

Baroness David

I thank the Minister for his reply. I believe the LEAs would have been happier if they were named among those to be consulted. I wish to consult local authority associations to find out whether they are satisfied with the Minister's reply. If they are not, I reserve the right to return with this matter at the next stage of the Bill. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 208B not moved.]

Clause 49 agreed to.

Clause 50 [Duty to provide for named individuals]:

Baroness Lockwood moved Amendment No. 209:

Page 37, line 16, after ("education") insert ("or training").

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 209 is purely a probing amendment to try to discover the purpose behind this clause. Clause 50 seems to be a rather strange clause in the context of the Bill. It provides a power for the funding council to direct individual institutions to provide for particular students. The power applies only to the 16 to 19 year-old age group, as does the duty of funding councils to secure the needs of those with learning difficulties. Therefore this clause could be intended to be used as a reserve power for the funding councils to insist that particular students with special educational needs are provided with appropriate education and training.

In Committee we have noted that the broad brush funding methodology that the funding councils will be likely to set up, taken together with various output measures of efficiency, would tend to make special need students unattractive to colleges. They will be less likely to attract special funding, as they do now under the local authority formula funding schemes. They tend to be difficult and expensive to teach and very often are not high achievers. As such they tend to

raise costs and depress the raw score examination results which are increasingly likely to be used as performance indicators.

If funding councils are to achieve their duty of securing the education and training of those with learning difficulties, some form of power or influence will be needed. However, the clause as drafted appears something of a blunt instrument and it is difficult to see how a national body could efficiently or effectively make specific directions with respect to all students who might need them.

There may be other reasons why the clause has been drafted as it has and I should be very glad if the Minister could throw some light on the purpose of the clause. I beg to move.

9 p.m.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

The clause deals with the funding councils' reserve power to require places to be provided for named individuals at particular institutions. The effect of the proposed amendment to subsection (2) (a) would be to place a requirement on the governing body of the institution concerned to provide education or training appropriate to the abilities and aptitudes of such individuals rather than, as now, education appropriate to their abilities and aptitudes.

The amendment is seriously flawed technically but I shall not make much of that in the light of the fact that the noble Baroness said that it was merely a probing amendment. However, I should warn her that if she intends to bring it back, it would need considerable redrafting.

The duty of the council is not intended to extend to the provision of a particular place on demand irrespective of cost. However, in some areas a college may be the sole supplier of a post-16 education or training. As a result there may be instances in which the council expects the college to meet the needs of a particular student. That may apply in the case of a young person with special educational needs.

Guidance from the Secretary of State will make clear that that power is for use in exceptional circumstances only. Admissions to courses will normally be a matter for colleges. Funding from the councils will not relate directly to individual students, and denominational colleges in particular may be reassured that the Secretary of State does not intend to interfere in their admissions policies other than in exceptional circumstances: for example, in the case of a young person with a special educational need for whom provision could not otherwise be made.

I do not believe that the amendment is necessary. Any full-time training which might be required for individuals involved in placements of that type would in practice be covered by the reference to full-time education appropriate to their abilities and aptitudes in the clause as it stands.

I hope that I have been able to throw some light on the clause and that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Lockwood

I thank the Minister for that reply. I take it from his response that the clause applies to young people other than those with special needs in exceptional circumstances. The word "training" in my amendment was introduced merely because it had been introduced in relation to those with special educational needs. I thank the Minister for his explanation. I still think that this is rather a blunt instrument for that particular purpose, but I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 50 agreed to.

Clause 51 agreed to.

Clause 52 [Duty to give information to the funding councils.]

Baroness Blackstone moved Amendment No. 210:

Page 37, line 42, at beginning insert ("(1) As specified in subsections (2) and (3) below").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 210 I should like to speak also to Amendments Nos. 210A, 211, 213 and, although it is not grouped with those amendments, with the Committee's permission I should also like to speak to Amendment No. 214 since it deals with a similar issue and to do so might save some time.

The Bill creates duties for a number of bodies to provide information to the funding councils. However, local authorities also have powers and duties under the Bill. If they are to be allowed to fulfil their statutory duties they will also need access to full information on the provision which has been made within their areas. The amendments to Clause 52 therefore create parallel duties and powers to make sure that that necessary information can be collected from the funding councils and their institutions by local education authorities. It is particularly important with respect to the duties and obligations to provide adult education under the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

Clause 52 lists the bodies required to give the further education funding councils such information as the councils may need for the purposes of the exercise of their functions under Part I of the Bill. The effect of the amendment is to require the bodies listed to provide similar information for local education authorities.

I do not believe that the amendment is necessary. The further education funding councils are new organisations. They will not have had time to build up close working relationships with the other bodies on which they will have to rely for information. The legislation we propose will ensure that they are able to obtain such information quickly. On the other hand, local education authorities already have well-established working networks and legislation will not be necessary.

The funding councils, local education authorities, governing bodies of institutions and other organisations involved in the provision of further education will all have differing responsibilities and differing requirements for information. They will clearly need to co-operate and to work very closely together.

Plainly we cannot legislate to ensure that productive relationships develop between all the potential partners.

The effect of Amendment No. 214 would be to impose a duty on the further education funding councils and other organisations involved in the provision of further education to provide local education authorities with such information as they might need for the exercise of their functions under this part of the Bill. Again, I do not feel that the amendment is entirely necessary. As I said, funding councils, local education authorities and other organisations involved in the provision of further education will have differing responsibilities. Even in this case—it is a similar amendment—it is not necessary to resort to legislation to ensure that co-operation takes place. In those circumstances I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Blackstone

I am grateful to the Minister for his reply, although I am a little surprised by it. I agree that we cannot legislate in order to create or produce productive relationships between different agencies involved in further education or any other public service. However, I should have thought that, as the local authorities are required to provide a considerable amount of information for the funding councils, that should be a two-way requirement. We should also be sure that the funding councils provide the local authorities with information of the kind that they are likely to need, particularly with respect to adult education. I am therefore a little surprised by the Minister's reply and his suggestion that that information is not necessary because the networks already exist as regards local authorities. They do not exist because the funding councils do not exist, so the argument is somewhat illogical.

However, I shall look again at what the Minister said and in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 210A and 211 not moved.]

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 212:

Page 38, line 8, at end insert: ("(e) a District Health Authority, and (f) in respect of its Social Services provision, a local authority").

The noble Baroness said: The amendment aims to include district health authorities' and local authority social services' provision for adults with learning difficulties in the FEFC considerations.

The Government's care in the community policy requires joint care planning for adults re-entering education. I am sure that the Committee will agree that education has a significant role to play in the process of resettling into the community adults with learning difficulties, including those previously in long-stay hospitals.

The amendment will reinforce for the further education funding councils the fact that some responsibilities in that regard now fall to them, as well as giving a necessary power to secure information. Many colleges already have long and successful experience with adults and young people with learning difficulties and they must be supported and encouraged to extend or to take up that role.

This is a straightforward but important amendment and I hope that the Government will be flexible and willing to accept it. I beg to move.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

As the noble Baroness said, the amendment extends the requirement that certain bodies should supply the councils with the information that they need to exercise their function to district health authorities and, in respect of their social services provision, to local authorities. We have restricted the bodies named in the clause to those without whose compliance the councils would not be able to exercise their functions. I hope that a number of bodies not named in the clause will provide the councils with information when required, but it is not practical to extend a legal requirement to all of them. District health authorities and local authorities fall into that category.

The noble Baroness said that she thought I would give the matter careful consideration. Naturally, as always, I shall read carefully what she has said, but I do not think that she has given compelling reasons for me to accept the amendment.

Baroness David

I am disappointed with that reply. The Government laid great emphasis on care in the community. People are coming out of long-stay hospitals and a great deal of help is needed. The provision would give a great deal of reassurance. I should like the Minister to say that he will look again at the matter. It is an important matter and, if he will look at it again, I shall not press the amendment. I feel strongly about it and hope that he will oblige me to that extent.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

I say again that I shall look at the issue carefully, but I cannot go beyond that. I do not wish to be disobliging, but I do not accept the case made by the noble Baroness. I understand that she is serious about the amendment and I shall consider it.

Baroness David

The Minister has said that he will look again at the matter. I am grateful for that and shall await the result of his consideration with some interest. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 213 not moved.]

Clause 52 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 214 and 215 not moved.]

Clause 53 [Directions]:

[Amendment No. 216 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Skelmersdale)

I have to advise the Committee in calling Amendment No. 217 that if that amendment is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 218.

[Amendment No. 217 not moved.]

9.15 p.m.

Lord Kilmarnock moved Amendment No. 218:

Page 38, line 15, at end insert: ("( ) Directions under subsection (2) above shall be given by statutory instrument, which shall be subject to affirmative resolution of both Houses of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: Clauses 7 and 53 in this part of the Bill are the analogues of Clauses 64 and 77 in Part II, which have attracted all the attention. The fact that the clauses concern further rather than higher education does not make them any the less important.

With Clause 53 we come to similar amendments to those that were debated under Clause 7. I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for not moving the amendments in his name which again would have invoked the relevant funding council—the Quality Assessment Committee—as the proper body to sound the alarm if it was thought that this clause would tend to operate to diminish the quality of education.

I have argued before (and do so again) that it would not be very effective to put the onus on councils appointed by the Secretary of State to engage on a collision course with him, and there was no indication as to how Parliament was to be informed. I therefore believe that my proposal offers a better safeguard, and I am glad to say that the noble Earl has come to the same conclusion.

On the previous occasion that we discussed the clause empowering the Secretary of State to impose the terms and conditions for funding, I was criticised by the noble Lord, Lord Renton (who I see is in his place) and indeed by the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, when he replied, on the grounds that the amendment would mean holding up necessary funding for the colleges. I endeavoured to allay that anxiety. I shall not go into that matter again at this moment; but in any case it does not apply in this case because we are not discussing overall funding but directions which the Secretary of State may give relating to: the provision of financial support by the council in respect of activities carried on by any particular institution or institutions". Whereas on Clause 7 there was some uncertainty about whether particular institutions could be affected, there is no doubt at all in this case. That is confirmed in the Notes on Clauses in their handsome blue folder which the Government presented to us. I have left them outside the Chamber but I consulted them before coming into the Committee.

This is therefore a more pernicious and intrusive clause than Clause 7. It would permit the Secretary of State to withhold or withdraw funding from any course of study put on by a particular institution that the Secretary of State does not like. Immediately it suggests Big Brother in a big way. It would not only necessarily bear on peace studies or whatever might happen to be unpopular with the Government at the time; it could bear on all kinds of other courses as well.

Moreover, it does not make sense in the area that we are discussing. We are talking about freely elective, post-compulsory education. We are not talking about the national curriculum but what is on offer after the national curriculum. As I said yesterday, young people are not stupid. They are the best judges of the courses which they should be following and the skills which they should be acquiring. The whole point of having devolved, free-standing colleges—I thought that that was what the Government were saying—is that the system should be demand-led and not second-guessed by a supposedly omniscient Secretary of State.

Therefore, at the very least if the Secretary of State wants to use the powers under this clause, he should come to Parliament and give his reasons. That is what my amendment seeks to provide. If, during the course of the Bill, the Committee cannot approve an amendment on those lines, and should the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, divide the Committee this evening, I should certainly be prepared to vote with her against a Motion that the clause shall stand part of the Bill. However, I very much hope that the Government will see some force in my comments and perhaps come some little way towards me. I beg to move.

Earl Russell

I support the amendment. It seems to me to have taken a practical route, if a rather less fundamental one than I was contemplating, to deal with the problem before us. The Minister must have realised by this time that the power to give special directions to a particular academic institution is one which gives rise to quite profound misgivings, in particular when one considers leaving it on the statute book without knowing into whose hands it might come in the future.

I see no reason why a concern for autonomy in higher education institutions should exempt one from being concerned for autonomy in further education institutions. The principle seems to me to include a substantial common area. I am prepared to listen to the Minister to hear whether he can make out a case for arguing that there is some special need arising from some peculiarity of the further education sector to have such a clause in the Bill. I shall keep an open mind with regard to that justification until such time as I hear it, which I hope will be in a few moments.

It is curious that in the economic field the case for centralised planning seems to be going out of fashion. Yet at the same moment it seems to be coming into fashion in the education field. I should have thought that the cases against it are similar in the two fields.

I have said that we have misgivings, and that we are prepared to listen. However, many of us are worried about what might be done with those powers. We wish to know to what use they will be put. The noble Lord's amendment directs the use of the affirmative resolution. That means that any use of those powers would be brought before us and we would have the opportunity to judge that use on its merits. If there were merits in the use of power I am sure that someone in the Chamber is capable of persuading us of the truth of the facts.

Lord Renton

The noble Earl and the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, pointed out quite properly that we shall find similar provisions relating to higher education in Clauses 64 and 77 whereby the Secretary of State is to be given power to give directions affecting specific places of learning—I use that broad expression—in relation to both further and higher education. I cannot see the need for that either in relation to higher or further education.

I believe that in the public interest it may be necessary for the Secretary of State to be allowed to give general directions to the funding councils. However, the idea that the Secretary of State should concern himself with particular institutions, of which there will be several thousand altogether, seems very strange. I would have hoped that Clause 53(2) might be reconsidered.

I turn now to the amendment. It is very unusual for directions to a quango, a funding body or any such body, given by a Minister of the Crown, to be subject to affirmative resolution in either House. With deep respect to the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, although I have great sympathy with him in his objections to the directing of particular institutions to directions of the funding council, I doubt whether his method of correcting the matter is the best one. I prefer to see the words, carried on by any particular institution or institutions omitted altogether from the clause.

Lord Flowers

I support the noble Lord's amendment although I would rather oppose the standing of the clause. If it comes to that situation, I shall do so.

There are certain aspects for which this clause is not wholly unreasonable. The Secretary of State may wish to lay down matters of a financial nature, or something of that kind. If the funding council is not able to deal with that matter, the amendment might conceivably have some force. But under this clause the Secretary of State can tell the councils how to teach Greek, or, even worse, politics. That is something up with which I shall not put! Therefore, I shall support any provision that does it down. I support the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, because his suggestion helps to put it down. I also give notice that if the noble Baroness cares to oppose the Question that the clause shall stand part of the Bill I shall support her.

Lord Belstead

Even though Members of the Committee from the Front Bench opposite have not spoken, perhaps it would be for the convenience of the Committee if I spoke in a little detail and only to the amendment. Clause 53 requires each further education funding council in carrying out its functions to comply with directions contained in an order made by the Secretary of State. Indeed, the focus of attention in particular of the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, was that the direction may be general or special. Special directions may relate to financial support provided by the council for activities at particular institutions.

The Secretary of State is ultimately responsible to Parliament for the Government's further education funding policy. Therefore, he feels that he requires a reserved power to issue directions to the councils if need be. We are talking about a great deal of money. Taking the higher and further education sectors together, the sum is more than £5 billion. Therefore, the clause is included in the Bill in order to provide the power of last resort for use in an emergency should relations with the funding councils break down. It is also provides a long-stop protection of the taxpayer's interests as regards considerable sums of public funding.

The further education sector is a great success story. The importance of the sector is the reason why the Government are bringing forward the Bill. Although I know that there is political difference about the issue in the House, we believe that under the Bill we shall do more good for the further education sector. At the same time, it is not discourteous or inaccurate of me to say that some of the colleges in the further education field are not long-standing and their track records do not compare with those of some of the historic universities. Furthermore, under the Bill we are introducing some entirely new institutions into the new further education sector.

Therefore, the Government believe that it is essential that Clause 53 should provide not only for general but also for institutions' specific directions. The noble Lord, Lord Flowers, said that that might be so, but he could not think why. Perhaps I may give an example. If relations between the Secretary of State and the funding councils should deteriorate and become poor, there could be a future need for a Secretary of State to protect the taxpayers' interests in respect of the funding going to a particular institution. In those circumstances, an institution's specific power would be needed. Let us suppose that on advice a Secretary of State believed that money was being poured into a particular institution which was no longer a going concern. However, if for reasons which were much to be deplored the funding councils did not see it that way, the Secretary of State might feel it necessary to resort to an institution's specific direction. Conversely, the same could be true—

Lord Dainton

I apologise for interrupting, but it has occurred to me to ask a question. How will the Secretary of State know, if not through the funding council, that there was a state of affairs of the kind that has been hinted at? In my experience it could never go by any other route. Perhaps the Minister will be kind enough to explain the matter so that we may give careful consideration to the example which he has put in front of the Committee.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Flowers

Before the noble Lord continues, perhaps I may ask this. If the Secretary of State is dissatisfied with the advice he receives from the funding council in a matter so important that he would wish to interfere with an individual institution, why does he not fire the council? That is perfectly within his rights.

Lord Belstead

Perhaps I may take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, first. I hesitate to cross swords with the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, who can forget more about higher and further education than I shall ever learn.

However, it is taking a simplistic view to suggest that it would not be possible for anybody, if they made it their business to do so, to learn about the affairs of a specific further education college. That is particularly so if the affairs of that college were clearly running into considerable trouble or, as indicated by the end of my example, if the college was clearly flourishing but for some reason the further education funding council—perhaps due to bad lines of communication between itself and the Secretary of State—was starving that body of funds. We may not agree but I give that as an example. It is not fanciful to say that it would be possible to find out about the affairs of a further education college in all kinds of obvious ways. Any public organisation can be checked up on.

Lord Dainton

Perhaps I can ask the Minister how, the case being that it was public knowledge, the funding council would not be aware of it. That seems to be a contradiction in terms.

Lord Belstead

I am not suggesting that it would not be known to the funding council. It would be deplorable, but I give it as an ultimate reserve situation that should the funding council take a view that on advice the Secretary of State thought was perverse, then there is an argument for wanting to institute specific powers.

Before I leave the point—and I feel that I have not carried both noble Lords on the Cross-Benches with me—perhaps I may refer to the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Flowers. The noble Lord said that whatever there might be in examples—I have given mine—nonetheless in his view this clause allows any Secretary of State to interfere in the teaching of specific subjects. I shall listen and have listened carefully to what has been said. I realise that the Committee holds strong views on the amendment.

Lord Flowers

Can the noble Lord at least confirm that if the Secretary of State was so dissatisfied with the funding council, he could fire it?

Lord Belstead

I believe that is so. I do not have my finger on the schedule; but nonetheless I stick to my point.

I now move to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock. There is a simple difficulty with Amendment No. 218. I may be wrong about it, but the advice I received is that if we went to the affirmative resolution procedure it would lead to a lengthy hybrid instrument procedure in Parliament. That is my advice. If it is right, then it makes for an impossible situation. It would mean that whenever a Secretary of State needed to come to Parliament with the affirmative resolution procedure the delay would not be merely considerable, it would be enormously lengthy. I simply lay that before the Committee. I am not trying to buy the Committee off by saying that; clause stand part is to follow. But I do not believe that affirmative resolution procedure is the road down which we should travel.

In discussion on the Secretary of State's direction-making powers in higher education in the Education Reform Act, which we will have to come to at a later date, the Committee will remember that the negative resolution procedure provided for in that Act was thought by Parliament to strike the right balance between the needs to allow for urgent action and necessary control over what is in essence a reserve power. Therefore I rest my case as regards the noble Lord's amendment which is before us. At the same time I say that the negative resolution procedure was thought to be right concerning the Education Reform Act.

Before I sit down perhaps I may say that advice has reached me that the Secretary of State could sack council members only for non-attendance or for being unable or unfit to discharge their functions. Thought would then have to be given as to whether the second leg of that consideration applied.

Baroness Seear

The noble Lord will remember that I was about to intervene, but I did not do so to allow him to continue. Then with unusual politeness I gave way to the noble Lord, Lord Flowers. Perhaps the noble Lord will now allow me to make my point. One cannot let pass the noble Lord's statement that the Secretary of State could find out what was going on in any organisation. I find that an extremely sinister remark. Can the noble Lord tell us how that is to be done? Does he go around asking people and hearing from them? He may hear from people whom he likes or others whom he does not like. The noble Lord shakes his head. If that is not the way in which he gets his information, then how is it done?

If the Secretary of State had gone to certain departments of the institution at which I worked for a long time and had asked about others, he would have received an extremely lurid account of what was going on. However, I would not say that that lurid account would necessarily be accurate. The collecting of information about which the noble Lord is so confident is an extremely dubious procedure. I would like to know how it is done and what the safeguards are for the people about whom the information is being collected.

Lord Belstead

Perhaps I may just answer the noble Baroness. For goodness sake, we have quality assessment written into the Bill. In addition to that the Secretary of State has an assessor for the council. There will be feedback from those sources. I do not believe it is sinister to say that a public body cannot impart a view to the general public, and even more so to the relevant Minister, as to how the body is doing. After all, there have to be audited accounts and things of that kind. What is much more important is the question of quality assessment and feedback through the council.

Baroness Blackstone

The Minister gave an example of why the Secretary of State might need this power. His illustration was that the funding council might pour money into an institution in an undesirable way. As the head of a higher education institution, the idea of the funding council pouring money into any institution seems a little far fetched. However, even if the eminent industrialists, businessmen and others that the Secretary of State is going to appoint were to take these steps (it is a little unlikely that they will do this) they would be unfit to hold office and therefore they could be sacked. In those circumstances the power is not needed.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

Does the noble Baroness agree that not all courses in higher education or in the sector we are examining at the moment, justify the public funds that are put behind them? Can the noble Baroness tell me whether all the courses in her institution and those of other noble Lords who have spoken with such force on this matter, are of a quality—even with all the quality assessment that we have at the moment —which justify the public funds that go into them? I shall be very interested to have that assurance.

Lord Peston

I would like to know whether the Minister agrees. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has put his finger on exactly what this issue is about. This is the danger which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, told us that we did not have to fear. If the Secretary of State is starting to play that game, then we are in a most dangerous state as far as concerns the future of further and higher education. I understood the Minister to say that precisely what the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, said could not possibly happen, and that that is not what the Secretary of State had in mind. If the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, is correct in what he is saying, we are on most dangerous ground and we could not let this matter go. I was hoping that the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, was the correct one. The Secretary of State must not be in a position to say, "I, the Secretary of State, specifically am not going to finance this course in this institution". The moment he does that, it will be the end of further and higher education in this country. That is what we are arguing about.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

The noble Lord seems to say that the cloak of academic freedom can hide the cloak of academic self-indulgence.

Lord Peston


Lord Pearson of Rannoch

This is what happens at the moment, and it will go on happening. The Secretary of State must have the final say in matters where all the other instruments of self-regulation have failed.

Baroness Seear

I have seen the kind of situation that we are talking about. Putting up with a certain amount of inefficiency, and even self-indulgence, is a small price to pay for keeping academic freedom.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

I am not sure if the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, put his finger on it or put his foot in it. But certainly he is developing a line which many of us on this side of the Chamber would find very difficult to follow. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will express comment, because I think that the view which the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has of academic freedom is not one which many of us here would share.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I should like to make one small point. I think that much of the agenda of this discussion was not an FE agenda; it was a higher education agenda and the very strong feelings have to do with amendments which are coming later. I wonder whether the situation in further education colleges is quite the same.

Certainly the argument about how the Secretary of State might know what the trouble was, does not apply in FE because in these colleges, as I envisage them, there will be local people sitting on the governing body. The TECs people will be there; and other people have been saying that they would like a statutory place for local authorities; and the Minister has told us that they may be there. They will certainly be working hand in glove with the college because of the planning they have to do. Their officials will be in and out all the time.

It will be very easy to know, in the case of an FE college, what is going on. It is a different agenda. I do not know whether that justifies the kind of role suggested by my noble friend Lord Pearson—and I know how he feels—but perhaps he did a not make a very good move when he said that because I do not particularly want the Secretary of State to be saying, "You will do that bit of further education and not that one". It is not the same agenda.

I would say to noble Lords that it is a very different world. I have moved about in both of them as I know some noble Lords have. It is very different, and the kind of academic freedom needed in an FE college is of a somewhat different quality. I think FE principals and the governing bodies would agree with that. Therefore I do not think that the arguments are quite the same about how the Secretary of State knows. However, I go along with the principle.

Earl Russell

The Minister has made one point which was new to me: the point about hybridity, on which I am very much afraid that the Minister may be right. Nevertheless, we are discussing issues which will help us at a later stage of the Bill, and I hope we may persist.

Essentially here, we are back on ground we covered in 1988. The Minister is relying on the accountability of the Secretary of State for public money. It must go on the record that I think all of us concede that without a moment's dispute. It was, after all, the noble Lord, Lord Peston, who tabled an amendment, and moved it earlier today, for compulsory auditing of accounts. We on these Benches did not rise to speak to the amendment, but that was only because we believed that it was not controversial. Had it for a moment been disputed, we would have supported it.

The Secretary of State is entitled to know that the money is spent for academic purposes. The question is not about the Secretary of State's right to accountability; it is about his competence. The noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, is doubtless right that in any profession—in mine, or in his, or in any other of which I can think—there is sometimes self-indulgence or incompetence. It is perfectly correct that, where possible, and as convenient, and by those who are able to do it, something should be done to control that situation.

The Secretary of State has a legitimate interest in that point. The question is, by what means the Secretary of State may pursue it. The Secretary of State, after all, is not an academic. Even if he were, no academic claims competence in every field of every other academic. If I were set to judge the competence of a mathematics department, I simply could not do it. So the Secretary of State has to rely on the judgment of those who are capable of reaching a competent judgment, just as in matters of law the Secretary of State has to rely on the advice of the Law Officers and the judges; just as in military matters it is a clear convention that operational decisions in the field are not made by the Secretary of State for Defence because, unquestionable though his authority is, he is not competent to do it.

I was somewhat perturbed by the Minister envisaging a situation in which the Secretary of State and the funding council disagreed and the Secretary of State would propose to enforce his judgment at the expense of the funding council's judgment. Were I to find such a disagreement between the Secretary of State and the funding council I would not a priori know who was right, but I would, I confess, have a slight predisposition to suppose that the funding council, because it knew slightly more about it, was slightly more likely to be right than the Secretary of State. It is this sublime assumption of the Secretary of State that what he thinks absolutely must be right and absolutely must be enforced which gives us such profound misgivings about allowing him these powers. Powers should be in the hands of those who are competent to exercise them. In this case I have not yet been convinced that the Secretary of State is such a person.

9.45 p.m.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

Perhaps I may defend myself on the matter of academic freedom. I said at Second Reading that I would be among those who would die to preserve academic freedom. I completely accept the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, that a certain amount of academic self-indulgence is worth paying as a price for academic freedom. But we are looking at a situation here where the mechanisms of ensuring academic quality, which is part of the price of academic freedom, have failed. I could give the Committee examples of which I am aware at the moment where the present mechanisms have badly failed. However, I am sure that noble vice-chancellors and others are aware of those as well. It is not perhaps appropriate to name some of the institutions, although I shall if necessary, that have been subject to considerable scrutiny by, shall we say, HMI, the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education, the Council for National Academic Awards, local inspectorates and so on where still that quality is sub-standard and is short-changing quite a large number of students. I can see a way in which the Secretary of State might become aware, possibly through a "Panorama" television programme—

Noble Lords


Lord Pearson of Rannoch

He might; and he might want to interfere. I do not think he can just fire the funding councils overnight. I should have thought that this reserve power, which will obviously be used only when all these other steps have failed, is not as unreasonable as some noble and academic Lords wish to pretend.

Lord Renton

Can my noble friend say whether the examples he has given refer to higher education or further education, or both?

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

I thank my noble friend for that intervention. My experience of this is in higher education, but I am aware of it in the school sector as well. I must confess that I have no specific examples in the sector that we are looking at at the moment. I speak more from general principle.

Lord Belstead

I should stress that the clause is in the Bill to provide a necessary power of last resort—hence the example I gave—for use should relations with the funding council break down, and for the purposes of providing a long-stop protection of the taxpayers' interest in very considerable sums of public money. In saying that, I should like to repeat what I said when I spoke previously. As regards the point made by the the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, that this power gives the Secretary of State the opportunity to intervene in what is taught in institutions, I should certainly be ready to take that point away and draw it to the attention of my right honourable friend. I cannot give a commitment on it but, as I said, I will take it away for further consideration.

Lord Kilmarnock

We have had an interesting and what I would describe as a two-layer debate. We considered the big question, the answer to which is that this clause has, virtually speaking, no friends in the Committee—other, perhaps, than the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. I shall not presume to say whether he has put his finger or his foot into the debate. Then there was the technical point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, on the question of hybridity which might introduce long delays into the system if the proposal were adopted. However, some of us may think that this was an advantage in this particular case.

I was glad to hear the noble Lord, Lord Renton, say that Clause 53(2) ought to be reconsidered, regardless of the technical issue. That was a valuable point. I believe that he said he was in sympathy with the thrust of the amendment, if not with its mechanics. The noble Lord, Lord Flowers, said that it might not be unreasonable for the Secretary of State to have some powers of a financial nature with which he could direct the councils and, possibly, the colleges. In fact, he already has that power under Clause 7, which provides that he can impose terms and conditions which, as I understand it, are directed at financial and managerial matters.

In his first reply, the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, prayed in aid the Secretary of State's duty in relation to this clause to protect the very large sum of public money—I believe he mentioned £5 billion. The noble Lord used various phrases. He referred to, and I believe that I am quoting him correctly, a "power of last resort", a "long- stop protection of the taxpayers' interest", and I believe he also mentioned a "reserve power". But none of those phrases is statutory language; it is the language of debate and the language which we read in Hansard. We do not read it on the face of the Bill. In fact, when I consulted the Clerks in regard to tabling an amendment for a reserve power, they told me that it was quite meaningless. Therefore, although we always respect and pay attention to what the Minister says, it only appears in Hansard and is not on the face of the Bill.

I was also surprised by one or two other aspects of the Minister's reply. For example, if one or two or a few colleges teach something that the Secretary of State does not like, that will hardly affect the overall budget of £5 billion which he seeks to protect. If any institution became so poor—I believe that the noble Lord used the word "poor"—and had deteriorated so far that it became desirable for it to cease operation but the council for some curious reason did not see it that way (I believe we have elucidated the fact that it cannot be sacked) we have to remember that the council is appointed by the Secretary of State and, supposedly, consists of good men and women whom he presumes will give him good advice. That seems to me to be quite an extraordinary reason for a clause of such draconian dimensions.

If the Secretary of State wishes to protect the taxpayer, that can surely be achieved by drafting a much more appropriate and limited clause. In fact, I believe that the Bill already provides for the winding up and establishment of institutions. If that is the Secretary of State's worry, he does not need this paraphernalia to protect himself on that count.

In his first reply the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said that he would give serious consideration to the amendment. I was glad to hear him say when he rose to his feet again that he would give serious consideration to the effect or impact of the clause on what is taught. I hope that he is telling me that before the next stage of the Bill he will bring forward a version of this clause or another clause in which it is specifically stated that what is taught does not come within the purlieus of this clause.

If the Minister does not do that, the Government will be in very serious trouble. This is a dry run for all kinds of things to come. I shall not divide the Committee at this hour. As I say, this has been a useful dry run. However, before I withdraw the amendment, I invite the noble Lord to confirm to me that the Government will take it away and will come back with something which may be more acceptable at a later stage.

Lord Belstead

With very great respect, I did not say that I would look again at this amendment because I believe it to be hybrid. However, I said that I would draw to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers.

Lord Kilmarnock

I am grateful to the noble Lord. I am glad to hear those words fall from the noble Lord's lips. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 53 agreed to.

Clause 54 [Intervention in the event of mismanagement of breach of duty]:

[Amendment No. 219 not moved.]

Clause 54 agreed to.

Clauses 55 to 57 agreed to.

Clause 58 [The Higher Education Funding Councils]:

Lord Dainton moved Amendment No. 220:

Page 41, line 18, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (4) (a) below").

The noble Lord said: With this amendment we move to higher education and as the hour is late I shall be as brief as possible. However, first, I must make the point that, given the new structure of the funding councils for both further and higher education, the working of the whole system, at whatever level, will be crucially dependent upon the quality of the membership of those councils.

That is the point which I address in Amendments Nos. 220 and 221. The whole purpose of the amendments is to ensure that in appointing council members, the Secretary of State should recognise that a substantial fraction of the membership of the council shall be actually engaged now in teaching, research or both and thus bring the necessary and contemporary knowledge to the deliberations of the council.

That the council cannot command the respect of the institutions with which it has dealings, nor function satisfactorily without having that kind of experience at its disposal, seems to me to be quite obvious and axiomatic, not least in the matter of quality assessment which has already been the subject of debate this evening. That experience is absolutely vital. Therefore my amendment ensures that current knowledge is available to the council and should cover all the subject areas so that there is no part which does not have the best information contemporarily available.

This is not a revolutionary proposal, but merely goes some way towards restoring what is in Section 131(3) of the Education Reform Act 1988 which provides explicitly that not less than two-fifths nor more than three-fifths of the members of the funding council should be: currently engaged in the provision of higher education".

Therefore the amendment is not only in line with the forebear and guiding star of that Act which was the Croham Report as it concerned higher education, but it is also consonant with the Government's White Paper issued earlier this year which I believe is called Higher Education: A New Framework. There it is stated absolutely categorically that a funding council will have a strong industrial and commercial element as well as members from higher education. It is cast in terms of the assumption that members will be drawn from higher education. That is axiomatic in the sense that I stated.

I therefore very much hope that the Minister will agree to this amendment which, it seems to me, may have arisen by an oversight since the matter is explicitly referred to in the White Paper as it was a part of the Act under which we now operate. If it is not agreed to, we shall need some explanation as to the reasons for the change from the provisions in the existing Act to the proposals in the Bill. I therefore beg to move Amendment No. 220 and commend Amendment No. 221 to the Committee.

10 p.m.

Lord Flowers

My noble friend Lord Dainton—the other half of the Tweedledum and Tweedledee team—has proposed our amendments in his usual clear and precise way. Rather than repeat what he said, I shall content myself with saying that I fully support him and accordingly commend the amendments to the Committee.

Perhaps I may be allowed to emphasise one point. No one quarrels with the idea that the funding councils should contain among their membership persons who have demonstrated their competence in industry, commerce, finance or the practice of an honourable profession.

Incidentally, perhaps "any profession" would be going a mite too far, but I shall not elaborate. Such people have been of inestimable value to the universities in recent years. I have every expectation that that will continue to be the case. I remind the Government that such persons and persons of very senior status already give their services freely to almost every university and polytechnic in the land. The funding councils may find that they have met their match in terms of this category of membership. No matter, the competition will be good for all concerned.

Nor is it disputed that the funding councils should contain persons with experience and demonstrated capacity in the provision of higher education. It would seem amazing were this not to be the case. But the Committee will not be surprised that I take exception to the omission of the phrase, we now seek to reinstate which is to be found in the Education Reform Act which was recently passed, as the noble Lord said, and which was clearly called for in the report of the noble Lord, Lord Croham, on which I understood all these proposals were to be based. The phrase allows persons, currently engaged in the provision of higher education to be appointed to the councils. These are the people who know what it is all about today. We have a long tradition of including current practitioners on committees and councils of this kind. It is perfectly understood how they must behave. They must declare their interest, just as we do in this Chamber, and refrain from taking part in decisions in which they have an interest. My sole point is to urge that a few such people should always be included. In certain fields I find it impossible to imagine how the councils could otherwise fulfil their responsibilities.

In medicine, for example, it is essential to have current experience of the complexities of funding arrangements and organisation and the effects of these upon the work of the medical schools. It is simply not enough to have a retired dean of medicine or professor of surgery. Things change too rapidly for that. One must have someone who is at present in the swim of things.

I would argue too, that it is essential to have persons who are currently teaching, and can reflect upon the effects of council policies on such matters as quality assessment and upon the teaching of the institutions to which the policies are directed. Retired persons get rapidly out of touch, as I know to my cost. I support my noble friend's amendments.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

From this side of the Chamber I support this amendment. This is not a matter of representatives of the kind we discussed earlier today—of various groups of varying degrees of relevance. We are dealing here with, at any rate some of the people, who are most centrally involved in the organisation and working of any single university and who are among those who are best qualified to know about the subjects under discussion. However, that point has already been effectively made by noble Lords opposite.

The point that concerns me—it has been touched on already—is the extent to which, in this respect, the present Bill so conspicuously falls short of the 1988 Act. As we have been reminded, under the 1988 Act there were to be 15 persons on the relevant council—the UFC, as it was then. Of those, between six and nine persons either had to have experience of or show capacity in the provision of higher education—that same clause, roughly speaking, stands in the present Bill—or, had to be currently engaged in the provision of higher education. That latter phrase does not stand in the present Bill, but is contained in an amendment under discussion.

In the present Bill there is a council of 12 to 15 persons. Under the Bill the Secretary of State is to have regard to "the desirability of including"—that is already a much weaker phrase—various categories, rather than being bound by the phrase "shall include". Under the present Bill those appointed to a council must have experience or capacity in the provision of higher education, and experience or capacity in, industrial, commercial or financial matters or the practice of any profession". As the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, has said, that is a most welcome addition as such experience has always been of great value in those fields. However, the omission of the phrase which forms the subject of one of the amendments under discussion is so conspicuous that it takes one's breath away. I wonder what those who are responsible for the detailed drafting of the Bill were thinking of when they omitted that phrase. It would be interesting to hear why that phrase was omitted from this Bill when it formed the basis of the Education Reform Act 1988.

Generally in the academic world I try—I hope I succeed sometimes—to explain and justify the thinking of the Government. In general I am most happy with the present Bill which represents a great advance in many areas. However, I cannot understand why the phrase I mentioned was omitted from the Bill when it already stands in the 1988 Act. I should be most interested to receive an explanation of that curious circumstance.

Earl Russell

In speaking to Part II of this Bill I must, as a serving university teacher, declare my interest. I wish to support the amendments moved by the noble Lords, Lord Dainton and Lord Flowers. I also wish to speak to my own amendment, Amendment No. 222, which is grouped with the other amendments. I am amused by the way the Committee keeps referring to the 1988 Act as the standard to hark back to, because after all we were not particularly happy with the Act at that time.

Conservative Secretaries of State for Education remind me rather of the American folk song which has a chorus which goes, verse after verse after verse: And I married another far worse than the other and I longed for the old one again". I shall be a little more ambitious. I shall go back to move the same point which I moved in 1988 and ask for an academic majority on the higher education funding council. I moved a parallel amendment to Part I. It was resisted on the ground that I spoke for the providers, who are a selfish interest, and we ought to be listening to the consumer. Our consumers are our students. Perhaps I may speak for a moment on behalf of the petitioners, the students of King's College. They are not particularly happy with what the Secretary of State is doing.

A genuinely consumer-led model is possible. The University of Bologna, which was one of Europe's great universities, was for a long time run on such a model and it worked. There is not the conflict of interest which this model presupposes. It is one of many cases of free market thinking suffering from an excessive debt to Marx. It is a false model. It is even more false in that the Secretary of State does not speak for the consumers. To say that power should be given to the consumers and on that ground to give it to the Secretary of State is an abuse of language.

We are dealing here with an argument about competence. I shall not dwell on that point because I have touched on it already. However, we should consider the question of the boot being put on the other foot. There are not many professions which would resist an input from people outside the profession. That can be refreshing because disciplines, like toenails, are capable of ingrowing. It is quite different, though, to be presented with a demand for a profession to be governed by an outside majority because it is in some way deemed to be incapable of running its own affairs. Is there any profession in the country with any sense of self respect which would see that restriction placed upon it and not jib at it?

Baroness Blackstone

I should like to support the amendment moved by the noble Lords, Lord Dainton and Lord Flowers, and also speak to Amendment No. 222A to which I have put my name. That amendment has almost the same effect as Amendment No. 221 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Dainton and Lord Flowers. I do not wish to delay the Committee by repeating what has already been said. I should like merely to support everything that has been said by the noble Lords in moving the amendment and by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew.

When the Minister replies no doubt he will say that of course there will be on the funding council academics who are currently engaged in the provision of higher education. If he says that, then presumably he can accept the amendment. There should be no difficulty.

Many people who work in higher education fear that, if the amendments are not accepted, at some future date a future Secretary of State who may be less reasonable than the present one would pack the council with people who have no experience of higher education or, if they have such experience it is outdated experience because it is many years since they have been serving academics. I support the amendments.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

I too should like very much to support the noble Lords, Lord Dainton and Lord Flowers, and the noble Earl. Those members of the present council who bring industrial and commercial experience to the work of that body and who are also users of the finished product—to use the noble Earl's phrase—have undoubtedly made a distinctive and valuable contribution. However, I believe that they would be the first to wish clear provision to be made in the Bill, as it was in the previous Act, to ensure the presence of a substantial proportion of academics or, to use the phrase of the amendment, Persons currently engaged in the provision of higher education". After all, no successful industry could function were it to be run by a board of the great and the good, however distinguished, where there was not a substantial body and indeed a majority of professionals in that particular discipline or industry, if we are to use the industrial approach. The Government have clearly recognised that in their present practice, and I hope that the Minister will work to restore that provision with particular regard to the need for current academic advice to be available.

Things move very fast in the education world, and universities have shown a refreshing ability to move with, and sometimes ahead of, the times. The funding councils should have the benefit of the up-to-date experience of a steady supply of academics who are conversant with new attitudes, new needs and new responses to the educational challenge.

10.15 p.m.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

I do not wish to delay the Committee any longer. I want only to offer my support for the amendment of the noble Lords, Lord Dainton and Lord Flowers. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept the amendment because, if he does, a great many of the anxieties about the working of the council which are expressed in later amendments might well be allayed.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

Perhaps I may put my foot in it again as probably the only person in the Committee this evening who, as a representative of commerce, has spent some eight years on academic bodies, in the Council for National Academic Awards and the polytechnic sector of higher education.

The amendment of the noble Lords, Lord Dainton and Lord Flowers, is grouped with Amendments Nos. 221, 222 and 222A, so I shall speak to them together.

I have no difficulty with the concept of those who are currently engaged in higher education being on those funding councils. I should have thought that that was extremely helpful. Perhaps the most useful person to have is the person who has just given up active duty because he has the time to give to those councils that they so urgently require. My noble friend Lord Beloff said this evening that businessmen—

Lord Dainton

Perhaps I may tell the noble Lord, Lord Pearson that at least in the University Grants Committee—and I have no reason to believe that the practice has been discontinued—a payment is made to the academics. They are supposed to give a proportion of their time, so, on the question of devoting their time to their own subject, they must make that sacrifice while members.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

Of course, not being an academic, I would not know what influence that has on academics' teaching duties.

I accept the point about people who are currently engaged in higher education being on those bodies. When it comes to whether there should be a majority of them with experience of working in higher education, I am not so sure. Perhaps I might dwell here for a moment on the difference between those who lead the world of work and the academic world. Presumably, those who wish to be academics do so because they wish to study their books, to write books and to have as many publications as possible, to do research, to carry out scholarly activities and so on, dare I say even to apply their energies to improving their units of resource. By that I do not mean by magnifying their cash flow. I refer to improving what are sometimes referred to as their students. If, on the other hand, we turn to those who lead the world of work, they are presumably trained and successful in management. We are talking here more about the management of the academic system under consideration than we are about academic pursuit in itself.

Personally, I am sure that it is right for the Secretary of State to have complete discretion in those appointments. I would settle for at least 25 per cent. of the membership of those councils to be comprised of people who have shown capacity in industry and finance. The Committee will notice that I am nervous of commerce in that regard. As a representative of commerce, it is fair for me to say that, but I am sure that the successful representatives of industry and finance would be preferable to those from commerce. Representatives of professional practitioners might be helpful—doctors, lawyers, engineers, chemists and physicists. Recently retired senior serving officers in our Armed Forces would be helpful to the councils' deliberations. There may be quite a few of them after the Options for Change programme is completed. They are often extremely wise men and women who would certainly have been helpful in a number of the debates in which I have been involved over the past 10 years.

Finally, I turn to the serious matter of the appointment of the chairmen of those bodies. I believe that it is very important that the chairmen of the funding councils should come from the categories that I mentioned. I believe that Sir Ron Dearing, for whom I have the highest regard and who has been absolutely excellent as chairman of the CNAA, has been successful as regards the funding council. He is to be the first chairman of the new funding council for England. I should have thought that when it comes to the appointment of a chairman that is an important distinction to make.

I am not academic-bashing. I am absolutely clear in my mind that a number of successful academics would be very helpful to some of us in, for instance, the City of London or industry, were they also to be chairmen or certainly have powerful voices on our boards. The cross-pollination and cross-fertilisation of ideas is most important in debate. In my view, the councils as well as many commercial and industrial boards would benefit from that kind of arrangement.

Earl Russell

The noble Lord is quite right about the cross-pollination of ideas. I thank him for a great many of his remarks. I wonder if that approach offers a way forward.

Lord Belstead

All these amendments aim to include on the higher education funding councils people who have experience of higher education. With regard to Amendments Nos. 220, 221 and 222A—the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, spoke to the last mentioned one—Clause 58 already requires the Secretary of State to have regard to the desirability of appointing members to the new councils who have experience in the provision of higher education or who are in positions carrying responsibility for such provision. I have no doubt that both Secretaries of State will want to ensure that there is a sensible mixture and balance of experience within the membership of the new councils. That must mean that not only a substantial number of members from higher education backgrounds will be included but also that many of the members are likely to be engaged in the provision of higher education at the time of their appointment.

However, I think it is right that the Secretary of State should be able to appoint members for their personal qualities. It would therefore be undesirable to inhibit the Secretary of State in any way from appointing a particularly well qualified individual with significantly higher education experience simply because he or she did not happen to be employed at an institution at the time.

Lord Tordoff

I wonder how the noble Lord defines "personal qualities". It seems to me to be a very wide phrase. It may, for instance, mean members of a certain political party or it may encompass the shape of their face or the colour of their hair. I wonder how that phrase is defined.

Lord Belstead

I believe that if the question were asked, "Shall we have this man or shall we have that man upon the committee" and the answer is, "Well, what are we looking for", to which came the reply, "We are looking for high quality in their particular fields", both of the people in that dialogue would know exactly what they were talking about.

Clause 58 also requires the Secretary of State to have regard to the desirability of appointing members to the new councils from both higher education and business backgrounds. My noble friend Lord Pearson spoke interestingly about that from his experience. There is no question about it; that is something that has become more the practice in recent years and I believe that it is right for councils to try to do that.

As I emphasised, members will be appointed for their personal qualities and not as representatives of particular interest groups. While in practice the two categories are unlikely to be mutually exclusive, it would be undesirable to inhibit the Secretary of State from appointing a particularly qualified person because that person fell on the wrong side of the distinction.

My noble friend Lord Renfrew asked why the wording of the clause referred to "having regard to the desirability". My answer is that the Bill in that respect is different from the 1988 Act. Even with the flexibility given by the phrase: shall have regard to the desirability the definition in the Act of the higher education members related solely to members currently engaged in higher education. In replying to the amendments this evening, I make no secret of the fact that we want the greater flexibility that is in the Bill.

What is my conclusion, having listened to the comments on the four amendments? First, with respect to the noble Baroness, I must resist Amendment No. 222A because it would restrict the members of the higher education funding council to those currently engaged in higher education. That would rule out, for instance, the advantage of being able to appoint the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, although we should have the solace of being able to appoint my noble friend, Lady Perry. Quite seriously, I believe that the amendment is over-restrictive.

I have listened carefully to what the noble Earl, Lord Russell, said on Amendment No. 222, which provides that the majority of members on the higher education council shall be from the sphere of higher education. Again, I resist the amendment. To move in this Bill to a specific majority would be a departure even from the Education Reform Act. The Committee will remember—my noble friend Lord Renfrew placed it on the record—that the numbers in the 1988 Act total 15 persons on the UFC and the PCFC, of whom between six and nine were to come from higher education. Although it is absolutely true that the possibility of a majority was written into the 1988 Education Reform Act, it was not a certainty.

Amendments Nos. 220 and 221 were moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, and spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers. I would be deaf if I did not say that noble Lords have a point. Without more ado, I shall consult on them with my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I cannot give a commitment. However, I should like to take the two amendments away with the intention of reporting to the Chamber at the next stage of the Bill. I believe that there is some cogency in the arguments put forward.

Lord Dainton

I warmly thank the Minister for those concluding remarks. Perhaps I may take a moment to explain what I meant by a substantial number. In referring to a substantial number I was being careful. I believe that the bedrock of the functioning of the funding council must be intimate knowledge of the institutions with which the councils are dealing if they are to have any credibility with those institutions. More importantly—it has been much stressed by the Government side—members of the council must show a skill in being accountable for the public money that is being entrusted to them. Therefore, one must have a range of membership which covers the major fields of activity of the institutions for which the councils are responsible.

It is not for me to spell it out now, but I leave this as a thought for the Minister to take away. We cannot possibly afford not to have a distinguished scientist or a distinguished engineer/technologist—he might come from manufacturing industry and serve both purposes—but we would also need someone who is au fait with what is going on at universities. Those two spheres have to be brought together. I know from my experience in recruiting industrial members to the University Grants Committee that often one is grateful to have the balancing of the industrial and academic in those more applied spheres. That goes without saying with regard to the social sciences, arts and humanities; and there are others that one could specify.

In a council of the size that is projected, I believe that it is perfectly feasible to meet the criterion to which I refer which sets a lower limit on the size. I should have endorsed what the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, said. There is a special problem with regard to medicine and dentistry. They interact with public services—with hospitals and so on. The matter will arise later in relation to quality assessment. All sides of the Chamber are deeply concerned with that aspect. Therefore, the question of the composition of the committee will once again come before us. I am most indebted to the Minister. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10.30 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 220A:

Page 41, line 27, after ("State") insert ("in consultation with those with a legitimate interest in higher education").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendment No. 220B. It offers to do for Wales what Amendment No. 220A does for England. My intention is, as always, to be helpful. In this case I hope to be helpful to the Government. The purpose of the amendment is to enable the Secretary of State to make the best possible appointments, to win credibility for the Secretary of State's decisions and to gain wider acceptance of the members chosen for the English and Welsh funding councils.

I am greatly concerned that the powers given to the Secretary of State in Clause 58(2), (3) and (4) regarding the appointment of members of the English higher education funding councils are insufficient. They do not specifically empower and encourage him to seek and profit from the best available advice. My amendment would permit the Secretary of State to profit by requiring him to consult with legitimate interests in higher education—such as practising academics, employers, administrators, staff, students and even learned Members of the Committee—before appointing members of the English higher education funding councils.

Membership of the funding council as detailed in Clause 58(4) is narrowly defined, as we heard earlier this evening. It may limit the flexibility of the Secretary of State, in particular if he lacks the widest possible spectrum of opinion to advise him. The Secretary of State shall choose only those who have either: shown capacity in, the provision of higher education", whatever that means, or have experience … in, industrial, commercial or financial matters". That almost amounts to an exclusion of students and staff, scientists, prelates, professors and so forth. It severely limits the Secretary of State's choice.

Clause 58(4) (a) and (b) puts something of a straitjacket on the Secretary of State. He is "cabin'd, cribb'd, confin'd" and he needs all the help that he can get. Surely the funding councils need to maximise the potential information available to them. I suggest only that the process of consultation would benefit the funding councils and would not cause any vast inconvenience to the Secretary of State. Certainly, it does not imply any kind of improper influence, control or veto.

The amendment, if properly implemented in the spirit in which it is proposed, would assist in maximising support for members chosen for the funding councils. Legitimate interests would feel part of the decision-making process if they were given a chance to give advice and to make recommendations. Funding council members, when appointed, would know that their appointment had been discussed and broadly accepted by those with whom they had to deal on a regular day-to-day basis—the employers, the staff, the students of the institutions committed to their care—and surely they would find such assurance fortifying. I beg to move.

Lord Addington

I support the amendments which are also tabled in my name. Amendment No. 220A is probably one of the most reasonable and moderate amendments that we have moved in a long time. It would insert the words: in consultation with those with a legitimate interest in higher education". I suggest that there is flexibility enough there to allow even the most cautious Secretary of State, or anyone else for that matter, not to feel threatened by it.

Lord Belstead

Like equivalent provisions in the 1988 Act, the clause provides that members of the higher education funding council shall be appointed by the appropriate Secretary of State. I have no doubt that each Secretary of State will wish to ensure a sensible balance of experience within the council's membership and will listen carefully to any advice which may be offered on appointments. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, said that Secretaries of State are "cabin'd, cribb'd, confin'd". That is perhaps going a little far. The present Secretary of State is a man who gets out and about.

However, it is true that senior Ministers, whatever the government, depend considerably on advice when making appointments. It is only right; they must. Therefore there is nothing between what the noble Lord, Lord Morris, is saying and what the Government believe; that is, that the Secretary of State needs to be advised when making appointments to the funding councils. But—and the noble Lord probably assumed that the word "but" would follow—appointments are intended to be made on the basis of personal qualities rather than as representatives of specific interest groups. There is therefore a danger of a Secretary of State making appointments statutorily in consultation with groups, if that is what the amendment intends. If the noble Lord intends more than that, then I feel bound to observe that the amendments would be almost impossible to operate, given the breadth and diversity of persons having a legitimate interest in higher education.

The noble Lord is both a wise and generous man, and I note that he said "if this was operated in the right spirit". However, when one is talking about legislation one must weigh every word one writes on the face of the Bill. This second limb of my argument, that it could become almost impossible to operate, is a serious point.

Given his overall responsibility for higher education funding policy, it must be clear that decisions on appointments to a higher education funding council will be made by the Secretary of State. The amendments would represent a departure from the tried and tested equivalent provisions of the Education Reform Act. We have just debated an amendment where I was adjured—not once but several times—not to depart from the Education Reform Act provision with regard to the composition of the funding councils. I must say here that if we accept Amendment No. 220 we will be departing from equivalent provisions of the Education Reform Act 1988. For those reasons, although the noble Lord moved the amendment most attractively, I fear I must resist it.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

I am disappointed. For one heady moment I thought I had pierced the stony bosom of the noble Lord the Minister, but it was not to be. I heard what the Minister said. Nothing that I heard causes me in any way to change my opinion one iota; clearly nothing that I said causes him to change his opinion one iota either. Reserving my rights to return to the matter at a later stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 220B to 222A not moved.]

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 223:

Page 41, line 39, at end insert: ("(c) persons who have experience of, or knowledge of the requirements of students with learning difficulties.").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 223 goes back over—

Lord Belstead

I do not have the right to interrupt the noble Lord, Lord Addington, but this amendment was spoken to with Amendment No. 15 on the first day. Perhaps the noble Lord will bear that in mind in speaking to it.

Lord Renton

With regard to the point raised by my noble friend, this amendment was mentioned on the first day in respect of funding councils for further education. Here we are dealing with funding councils for higher education and it may be thought the circumstances are slightly different. I must say that, having taken part in the discussion on the first day, it did not occur to me that we would be precluded from considering the matter in relation to funding councils for higher education.

Lord Belstead

I am extending the time that we are taking The considerations that my noble friend Lord Renton has mentioned occurred to me. The fact is that this amendment was grouped on the first day. It is a matter for the Committee. I simply ask the noble Lord, Lord Addington, to take that into account.

Lord Addington

I was going to take that into account anyway. I was not altogether sure that it was exactly the same amendment because my memory is not that good. The amendment covers many of the same issues. I was hoping to draw from the Government the same kind of consideration of the issues involved as we had concerning further education. One must take into account that in higher education there is bound to be a slightly different perspective on the problems and that there will probably be a smaller number of students involved.

Unfortunately, the higher education part of the Bill is to some extent selective. Those with learning difficulties will find greater barriers. It is almost certain that a smaller proportion of students will get through. With that in mind, I would like to draw from the Government the same kind of assurances that we received from them concerning further education. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

This matter is relevant to the question of higher education. Perhaps I might mention a personal experience. During my third year at Oxford, which was my final year for a degree in jurisprudence, I was tutored by T.H. Tylor of Balliol, who was blind. He had a First in law. He had tremendous difficulties. He was entirely dependent on his sister. She was older than him. She helped him with his academic studies and enabled him to get a First in law. One must not assume that even in higher education people with learning difficulties have needs which can possibly be ignored. In order to ensure that they are not ignored, I hope that my noble friend will agree that this amendment, or one very much like it, is written into the Bill.

I stress that there is no question of this being a representative appointment. It is simply that the person to be appointed shall be known to have, experience of, or knowledge of the requirements of students with learning difficulties".

In those circumstances I should have thought that this amendment is a very wise precaution.

Baroness Park of Monmouth

Perhaps I may briefly add to what has been said. I have known of two cases of severely deaf students who had very special problems. I have known of a blind student from Zimbabwe who did extremely well by gaining a First at Cambridge and following post-graduate work at Oxford. He needed special people to read to him. He really had special problems. Nevertheless, he was academically absolutely in need of that support.

Lord Belstead

I have very little doubt that no Secretary of State will want to ensure that there is other than a sensible mixture and balance of experience within the membership of the new councils. It seems likely that at least one of the members with a higher education background will have some experience or knowledge of the needs of students with learning difficulties.

Perhaps I may put the problem simply. If this amendment were accepted just like that, it would be difficult to stop there. Why not have similar provisions in respect of particular learning circumstances of students from the ethnic minorities with traditional qualifications for higher education entry, or mature students? There is a problem.

I do not believe that an amendment of this kind is the only means whereby the needs of a particular group of students will be taken into account. The Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council has already adopted targets for increasing participation for students with special educational needs. I imagine that for their part the Secretaries of State will want to consider whether their launch letters of guidance to the new councils should make it clear that promoting access for students should be one of their aims. Indeed my understanding is that that is very much in the minds of those in the Department of Education and Science.

Having said that, I should like in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, to repeat the undertaking which was given by my noble friend Lord Cavendish on a similar amendment to Clause 1 of the Bill. On the strict understanding that we are not talking about representatives, and with no commitment—I have to say that—I shall be happy to take this away and to look at it.

Lord Addington

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, for that commitment. I appreciate that it is a very generous one working within tight boundaries. Before I withdraw this amendment, I should also like to say that the area of special educational needs is very important. The example given by the noble Lord, Lord Renton, is one to which we might give one second's thought. He said that somebody had to help somebody else with their academic work. That other person presumably was severely curtailed. We are also talking about making everything available for all those taking part with all disabilities. A little bit of knowledge and assistance—for instance, in a Braille translator enactor —would have helped enormously. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 224:

Page 42, line 10, leave out ("the Secretary of State") and insert ("the Courts").

The noble Earl said: This amendment takes up the provision that disputes about the functions of the funding councils shall be settled by the Secretary of State. The amendment proposes to remove "the Secretary of State" and insert "the Courts". If the Secretary of State can settle any dispute about the functions of funding councils, this amounts to yet another further power to confer supplementary functions. The courts are a good deal more appropriate because the Secretary of State in any dispute about the functions of the council is at risk of being ex-parte.

The councils have been described—I think by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris—as the Secretary of State's creatures. This gives him a large amount of power. His will is not law. Somebody ought to be able to control it. I shall not, at the moment, go into the question of how far the courts can do so; but I hope that they can. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

The noble Earl is unduly suspicious on this occasion. Perhaps I may give an example which comes from the same clause. Suppose there was an uncertainty (to put it at its lowest) or a dispute (to put it at its highest) as to whether an institution's activities are wholly or mainly carried on in England, or wholly or mainly carried on in Wales, as referred to in the clause. In the unlikely event of this being the case, someone has to make a determination because of the need to ensure that resources go to the appropriate funding council for the purpose of funding the institution - and subsection (8) provides for this to be resolved by the Secretary of State. I should have thought that that was the right way of doing that, for instance, rather than going off to the courts with all the expense and the delay which that involves.

I shall certainly have a look at this again to see whether my answer has ranged wide enough. But on the exchange that we have had, that is the feeling I do have.

Earl Russell

I thank the Minister for that reply. The example he has chosen is indeed an innocuous one. I agree; I do not see the point in arguing that cases like that should necessarily be taken off to the courts. I am very grateful, on the other hand, for the Minister's undertaking to look at this again and see whether it might confer unwittingly further powers going a bit beyond that. With thanks for that assurance I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 58 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [The Further and Higher Education Funding Councils]:

[Amendments Nos. 225 to 228 not moved.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 229:

Page 65, line 8, at end insert ("and shall establish a committee for London").

The noble Earl said: As a teacher in the University of London I must declare an interest in this amendment. The amendment provides that the new funding council shall have a sub-committee for London. The Universities Funding Council is at present supposed to have a sub-committee for London. Some of my colleagues have recently expressed doubt about how often that funding council has met. I therefore put down a Question for Written Answer asking when it last met. The Answer of the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, appears in today's Official Report. She replies that it meets from time to time. That I found not exactly a forthcoming answer and for that reason I thought it was worth going ahead with this amendment.

There are quite special questions that arise in the organisation of education in London which need a certain amount of knowledge to address. I should like to think that the new higher education funding council would have briefing on it. In its annual report the University of London states that in the four years to 1990–91 it has faced a 10 per cent. decline in its income in real terms.

Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer, testifying before the Public Accounts Committee in January 1990, had quite a tough examination on why he had not drawn its attention to the particularly severe deficits of a number of London academic institutions. The noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, has called the attention of the House before to difficulties at Royal Holloway and Bedford New College. There have been troubles at University College, London, which have also been drawn to the attention of the Committee as have, yesterday, those at King's College, London. Yesterday, Queen Mary and Westfield College also had a march and petition. Goldsmith's College at present has an occupation because of the cancelling of a large number of courses and the dismissal of lecturers who should have been teaching them—dismissal, I understand, for reasons of financial stringency and not for dissatisfaction with their performance. London polytechnics have rather similar difficulties. I am sure that Members of the Committee have read about Middlesex Polytechnic. I have already mentioned the sit-in at Thames Polytechnic which was to do with the library budget. That is a high proportion of the vocal discontent at present going on in the country.

It raises the question: is there some special London factor that has not been taken into account? I believe there is. It is the question of London unit costs. In September 1988 the University of London, largely as a result of the work done by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, to whom I am grateful for discussion of this subject—I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment—calculated the extra costs of being in London at £10 million a year. The University of London argued for a level playing field. That is a fair request. I know that some adjustment has been made since but it has not been sufficient to make up the difference.

The hardships of which we hear in London seem to be more severe than a great deal of what I hear from my colleagues in the provinces; and that despite the fact that the university is one of considerable quality. Indeed, it has been argued that in my own subject it is capable of matching and even exceeding the quality of Oxford and Cambridge. While I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, will not agree, I hope that we may agree to differ on the matter.

The university also has a particular structure which appears from inside to be a source of great strength. But it takes an effort to understand it. Every now and then people from other places are capable of becoming irritated simply because it takes work to understand it. We are all human; we all become tired; and in those circumstances we can all become irritated with special difficulties.

In today's Evening Standard I see that the Secretary of State for the Environment is concerned with offering proposals to restore London pride. I was glad to read that. I believe that every country in the world has a university in its capital city. We have a particularly good one. If the Secretary of State for the Environment is concerned with London's pride, I hope that the Secretary of State for Education and Science will also be so concerned. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

There are times when the noble Earl comes very close to persuading me. But I am afraid that he has not succeeded in drawing me into an alliance with him on this amendment. I cannot support it.

Lord Peston

I am somewhat puzzled by the argument of the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I did favour the amendment, but I should remind the Committee that there are three universities of London and there will be nine or more in the next year; in other words, we shall have at least 12 universities of London before very long. I thought that the amendment was about trying to rationalise that situation which, speaking as a member of staff of one of the universities of London, seems to me to be quite absurd. I certainly did not think that it was about what is narrowly called London University. I thought that it was designed to ask whether we need a dozen or more universities of London.

If it were to mean the latter, I believe that, first, the council should establish a committee to try to solve what I think is the rather serious problem of excess supply of separate units, if I may put it that way. Secondly, I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that if a committee is set up it should meet on occasions There is no point in having a committee which does not meet.

There is also a very serious economics question about unit costs. If London is disproportionately expensive, then I would worry that we ought to reconsider whether we need quite the university that we have, let alone 12 of them. If my meaning could be attached to the amendment, I would feel happier supporting it than I do at present with just the noble Earl's meaning. I place that proposition before the Minister for him to consider.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

I thank the noble Lord for having set the record straight as regards the number of universities that there will be in London if the Bill is enacted. I do not support the amendment because I think that there are special regional cases around the country, and London is a region in its own right. Therefore, it does not have a stronger case for its own committee than any other region.

I challenge the noble Lord, Lord Peston, on one particular point. I strongly resist the idea that 12, 15 or 20 is too many universities. Indeed, most other major capital cities of the world have at least twice that number.

Lord Peston

I should like to ask the noble Baroness a question purely for my own enlightenment. Was she serious when she said that most capital cities have about 24 universities? I thought that I knew about the subject, but I was not aware of that fact.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

I invite the noble Lord to visit New York and Tokyo and to start doing his homework from there.

Earl Russell

I was perfectly aware of the existence of other universities in London. I believe that what I say is true of them also; namely, that they too have the same problems with unit costs. I was relying upon others with more knowledge to say so.

Lord Belstead

If I may say so, I believe that there is an almost unlimited range of special interests for which committees could be established. It would be wrong to prescribe them in legislation. But, in case that sounds utterly negative, perhaps I may make a more constructive remark and say that the Bill enables the councils to set up committees for any purpose. Therefore, the mechanism already exists in the Bill for the councils to be able to do exactly what the noble Earl recommends. Even if they do not read Hansard in order to digest the proceedings as the Bill passes through this place, I have no doubt that the noble Earl's words will impinge themselves upon the councils when they are appointed.

Earl Russell

I thank the Minister for that reply. I have two further questions for him to answer. First, can he draw the attention of the relevant authorities to the fact that this is one university which feels that it has been treated rather worse over the past few years than some other universities? Secondly, can he find out if the London sub-committee is going to meet? With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11 p.m.

[Amendment No. 230 not moved.]

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 230ZA:

Page 65, line 15, at end insert: ("(5) The Funding Council shall establish a Student Consultative Committee to monitor relevant information deemed suitable by the Council.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment brings us back to the subject of students and the idea that they should have some voice and influence over the process of their own education. That is particularly appropriate in higher education as there is a great tradition of student involvement. Indeed, the growth of the National Union of Students in many colleges and, indeed, the growth of many smaller groups representing individual universities, is a good example of how students take their own role seriously.

In this case, unlike the debates at the beginning of the day, we are merely talking about consulting students. There is no problem of representation; we are merely talking about consulting student bodies, which are numerous; for example, the British polytechnics sports association or the universities athletics union. When I was a student I had more to do with the athletics union than I did with the students' union. All those bodies should be consulted because they can provide, if nothing else, an area of expertise.

I suggest that this is a moderate and sensible amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

There is a great deal in the idea put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, but I am not so sure that I am enthusiastic about the amendment. The reason for that is that at various points throughout our discussions today we have considered how far it is appropriate for the councils to be left alone to govern their own affairs.

This is another case where an amendment seeks to impose yet another committee and a procedure upon the council which may not suit the council's methods of working or for which the council would find a better alternative. While in no way wishing to depart from much of what the noble Lord said—he has taken a great interest in the Bill and has put forward many useful ideas—on those grounds the Government would not support the setting up of yet another statutory committee.

Lord Addington

Although I like the sentiment, I should have preferred to have something written on the face of the Bill because, once again, we are talking about those people who are concerned with the sharp end of the process. However, I thank the noble Lord for his sentiment. I shall take away the amendment and consider what should be done with it. I reserve the right to return to this matter at a later stage, but in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Seear moved Amendment No. 230A:

Page 65, line 16, at end insert: (". The Council shall establish an adult education sub-committee to represent the interests of the long-term residential colleges, the WEA, the four London colleges and the other major institutions and organisations.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment asks for another special committee. I should not be moving it at this hour but the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk, who is unable to be here, asked me to move this amendment to which his name is attached.

It is well known that there is considerable anxiety throughout the country about what will happen in regard to adult education. This amendment is about a particular section of adult education—some aspects of this have been referred to in the past—and in particular, the long-term residential colleges; namely, Coleg Harlech, Co-operative Fircroft, Hillcroft, Northern, Plater, and Ruskin. In addition, there are the well known national organisations such as the WEA and the four London colleges. The needs of those colleges and their standing in the nation, because they are national colleges, put them in a rather different position. Their long tradition and recognised quality means that they are in a category by themselves and they justify a committee to see that their maintenance and development is adequately handled. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

Paragraph (8) of the schedule is designed to allow the councils to establish committees and sub-committees for any appropriate purpose, a point which the noble Baroness will forgive me for repeating. They may well want a committee on the education of adults, but I think that it would be wrong to decide for the councils, through legislation, which committees need to be set up now. I think that is something that councils themselves are best placed to judge.

While we are talking about the amendment, may I say a brief word about the colleges? The noble Baroness mentioned the six long-term residential colleges. They were reviewed earlier this year by the Department of Education and Science, and, in the light of that review, the Ministers at the department recognised the unique place that those colleges hold in providing residential education for adults who have missed out during their school years. They decided that it would be appropriate for the colleges to enter automatically the further education sector through the mechanism of Clause 28. This would enable their needs for capital funding, for example, to be considered alongside those of other colleges. Similar decisions were reached in respect of Coleg Harlech in Wales.

The Government firmly believe that the long-term residential colleges have an important role to play in the new sector. As I said on Second Reading, we shall be making clear in guidance to the funding councils that the distinctive characteristics of those institutions must be taken fully into account.

The noble Duke is not here this evening, the noble Baroness moved the amendment; but it is of interest that Plater College in Oxford, which I believe used to be called the Catholic Workers' college, is one of the long-term residential colleges which would transfer automatically to the new further education sector under Clause 28.

If I may give a further reassurance, Clause 6(3) of the Bill requires the councils to have regard to the desirability of maintaining what appears to them to be an appropriate balance in the support given by them as between institutions with a denominational character and other institutions. So the Bill honestly offers no threat to the traditional character of Plater College or other similar colleges.

I just wanted to add those words because it is important to show that the importance of the long-term colleges has very much been addressed in the Bill. Therefore, in resisting the amendment, as I am doing, I am not resisting the words and feelings of the noble Baroness about the importance of the long-term residential colleges.

Baroness Seear

I thank the noble Lord very much indeed for that reply; I am not surprised to have received it. I noticed that he talked exclusively about the long-term residential colleges. The amendment also mentions, the WEA, the four London colleges and the other major institutions and organisations", which are regarded as in a somewhat special category in the field of adult education.

However, even though the Minister is not prepared to accept the amendment, it is valuable that we have had this exchange and it will be in Hansard. It will give at any rate some reassurance to the colleges as to the support that they are likely to receive in the future. With that observation, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 231 to 238 not moved.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 239:

Page. 65, line 34, at end insert ("Any exercise of functions so delegated shall be reported to the next meeting of the Council.").

The noble Earl said: This amendment seeks to amend paragraph 10 of Schedule 1. That paragraph provides that "the council"—that is either of the funding councils— may authorise the chairman, the chief officer or any committee established … to exercise such of their functions as they may determine".

In fact, it authorises the delegation of functions. I do not argue with that. The amendment simply asks that any functions, so delegated shall be reported to the next meeting of the Council

I have no doubt that the Minister will tell me that this is an unnecessary amendment. I am quite prepared to admit that the horse has not been stolen. That is why I am trying to build a lock on the stable door. It seems to me that this is a sensible piece of procedure. If that gets spelt out early on, it is a sensible precaution. If one has to wait until it is shown to be necessary to take precautions, then one gets into an area where it is quite difficult to suggest it. The whole reason why I am moving the amendment is that as yet no reasons can be shown for it. That is the time to do it. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

I respect the noble Earl and I admire his zeal, but quite frankly our statute book is getting cluttered up with small instructions to various bodies that we appoint by statute. Can we not leave some good sense and discretion to them? I hope that my noble friend will resist this amendment.

Lord Tordoff

There have recently been instances outside the field of academia—for example, in the field of commerce and particularly of newspapers—where if the chairman had had to report his actions to the board as regards the movement of money from pension funds into other areas, it might have been useful. If such a provision had been on the statute book rather than just left to people's good graces, some people might have been a lot better off than they are today. I welcome the amendment.

Lord Renton

We are not dealing with business in this Bill: we are dealing with sedate matters of education.

Lord Tordoff

We are dealing with people in this Bill.

Lord Belstead

While it is perfectly true that anyone can err, I believe that the councils themselves should decide these matters. We should occasionally place our confidence in the people we are appointing. We hope to appoint high quality councils and they should decide how to fulfil this function without having to refer to the statute book.

Earl Russell

It had never been my intention to press this amendment. I heard the point that the noble Lord, Lord Renton, made. Had I intended to press the amendment, I would then have refrained from doing so. However, I think the point was worth raising. It is worth repeating, often out of season as well as in season, that these routine precautions ought to be observed. The Minister has stressed tonight that we seek accountability for public money. I do not wish to say anything to suggest that we on these Benches care any less about that than anyone else. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 240 not moved.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 241:

Page 65, line 36, leave out paragraph11.

The noble Earl said: This amendment seeks to delete the provision which allows the Secretary of State or his representative to attend meetings of the council. It was once my pleasure and my privilege to read a memorandum written by my ancestor, the fourth Earl of Bedford. The memorandum was written about 1628. It explained why he thought the King should not attend meetings of the Privy Council.

That memorandum precisely expresses the case that I want to make in favour of this amendment. He said that when the King attended meetings of the Privy Council, members of the Privy Council went to great trouble to find out what the King wanted, as he had, after all, the power to promote them. They went out of their way to offer the advice that the King wanted, whereas what the King really needed was to hear the advice he did not want. Indeed, if he is a good King, what he actually wants is to hear the advice he does not want. My ancestor thought that the King's attendance at the Privy Council meetings gravely reduced the quality of its deliberations. That is exactly my case for this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Peston

With great regret I must oppose this amendment which I regard as quite ridiculous. Anyone who has had any experience of government would not only believe in this amendment, but would support a stronger amendment to state that the Secretary of State must send an assessor to all these meetings. If the noble Earl believes that in this kind of matter there would not be officials present, that only indicates he has no experience whatever of how the machinery of government works, and ought to work. If the noble Earl presses his amendment, I shall certainly vote against it. It simply bears no relation to the reality of government.

Lord Belstead

That is fair. There are numerous precedents for these arrangements. Paragraph 11 is virtually identical to paragraph 12 of Schedule 8 to the Education Reform Act which relates to the universities', polytechnics' and colleges' funding councils. Those arrangements have worked well. I realise that it is an occupational hazard, and that when I say that it has worked well, perhaps the representatives will be hearing what people wish them to hear. However, in these modern times I do not believe that it works like that, particularly if the representative is always present at every meeting.

Lord Dainton

Perhaps I may reassure the noble Earl that in my own fairly long experience in this sphere I have known of assessors being present and there being no assessors. I have always found that assessors are willing to withdraw when it is necessary for them to do so to meet the condition which the noble Earl wishes to be satisfied. With skilful leadership there is never any problem in that regard.

Earl Russell

I hear the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, and am reassured. I hear the words of caution from the Minister and am reassured by them also. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Peston, on his promotion to the Government Front Bench! I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

11.15 p.m.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 59 agreed to.

Clause 60 [Transitional arrangements]:

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 242:

Page 43, line 34, at end insert: ("(5) and the Secretary of State shall ensure that sufficient transitional arrangements will be made to fund the extra capital expenditure required to bring polytechnics and their student unions and their support services up to the same level of funding as that of universities.").

The noble Lord said: The amendment deals with a very important part and one of the primary aims of the Bill—removing the binary divide. From the point of view of many students it is a key issue.

The academic reputation of the polytechnics is beyond question. They would not have this promotion had they not proved they were ready for it. However, unfortunately many polytechnics do not meet the same standards in terms of student facilities as universities. When choosing a university one first chooses the course and then compares facilities such as student accommodation, sports facilities, drama facilities and so on. In that area polytechnics invariably come off second best. That happens to be an accident of history. Unless the facilities of the colleges and polytechnics can be brought up to the same standard as those in universities they will be at a disadvantage in an area which forms an important part of student life.

In case someone should be tempted to say that people do not go to university to have a good time I suggest that if one tells someone that they can go to one university and have a good time or to another where they will have a bad time they will choose the one which is more pleasant. Indeed one of the attractions of higher education is that it is supposed to be fun.

At present students are being squeezed hard. No one would dispute that. Therefore, facilities such as student accommodation - which is much grizzled about by those students who have it and prayed for by those who do not because it is cheap - is one of the important factors when deciding on a university or polytechnic. There are also aspects such as the social benefits from meeting other people taking the course. One of the great plus points in favour of Oxford and Cambridge has always been that they are well provided for in terms of accommodation and the other factors which make student life pleasant.

If that very important aspect of the institutions can be raised to the standard in the majority of universities, one will really have removed the binary divide. There may be one or two polytechnics which already match those standards, but at present the universities hold an advantage. It is late, but this is a very important issue and I await the Minister's answer with interest. I beg to move.

Lord Peston

I wish very strongly to support the amendment. It is a tremendously important topic and it is sad that we are debating it at this late hour. It is one which has concerned me for a great many years since I began to undertake research on the economics of education and became involved with the CNAA in endeavouring to enhance the polytechnics in their early days. I do not see this as a party political matter. It is a problem which will have to be faced by any government.

I have always asked myself on what rational grounds I could argue that, because students go to a polytechnic rather than what is currently called a university, they ought to have poorer library facilities, to study in overcrowded conditions, to have inferior eating facilities, to have poorer playing fields and so on. I have never been able to think of any argument to convince myself, other than the obvious one: where will the money come from? We have simply let this matter drift on year in, year out by saying that there is no money, but eventually we must ask of the available funds what priorities we wish to establish. The noble Lord referred in the amendment to transitional arrangements, but I fear that transitional arrangements, even if we set about dealing with them, will take some time.

Those of us interested in higher education must face the fact that the criteria for the expenditure of funds must be at least partly to redress a serious imbalance. I am willing to be convinced by the Government if they could tell me why a polytechnic student should have inferior conditions. I have never had the imagination to produce the argument for myself.

When I saw that the amendment had been tabled, I hoped that many noble Lords would be present and that we could go into the matter in some detail. Obviously, no one wishes to do so at this time, but I hope that in replying the Minister will at least show some sympathy for and understanding of the principles here; namely, that the polytechnics, by which I mean the students, deserve a better deal, given the effort that is being put in by their teachers and others in that area. I therefore strongly support the amendment.

Lord Belstead

The amendment would place a duty upon the Secretary of State to provide a predetermined level of funding to the new universities. Both noble Lords who spoke to the amendment explained why they are anxious to see the amendment succeed. Mechanically, the amendment is misconceived. The Secretary of State has already determined his allocation of capital funds to the UFC and PCFC after careful consideration of the needs of each group of institutions. My right honourable friend's next grant, for 1993–94, will be to the new Higher Education Funding Council. As far as I know, there is no additional money in between.

The noble Lords, not least the noble Lord, Lord Peston, made a brief but strong case for the amendment. The Government have not been slow to meet capital needs of the polytechnics and colleges. Since 1989–90, grant to them has increased by over 50 per cent., greater than that for universities, recognising the relative lack of attention to this area of expenditure when polytechnics and colleges were under the control of local education authorities. I say that in no vindictive way, but, if you look at the figures, there is truth in that assertion.

It must be a matter for the Secretary of State to determine the appropriate level of capital funding for buildings and equipment for the UFC and the PCFC. Each funding council must be free to determine individual allocations according to the needs of individual institutions. For the reasons that I have given, I do not think that the amendment would work and, on hat ground alone, I must resist it.

Lord Peston

Before the noble Lord sits down, I was not merely trying to establish a mechanical procedure. I am sure that that is true of the noble Lord, Lord Addington, too. One is simply trying to air the principle. That is what concerns me. I regret to tell the noble Lord that I have not looked at the latest figures and I accept his word that there may have been some small shift of funding in the direction of the new universities. I am delighted to hear the Minister use that expression. I too shall try to use that term rather than refer to polytechnics. Even though I, as a university teacher, may complain endlessly about my lack of resources, I always know when I go into one of the new universities, that I am quite well off in many of the most important areas.

All that I seek to do—the noble Lord, Lord Addington, will then speak for himself—is to air the important principle of finance. I do not air it as a party political matter. I see it as at least as difficult for a different Government to solve as it is for this Government. I should simply like to establish the fact that the problem needs solving.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

Clearly, I must declare an interest here as I try to run one of those institutions—the former polytechnics, new universities or whatever one wishes to call them. It goes against my professional grain to count the teeth of any gift horse. I thank the noble Lord who proposed the amendment. I appreciate the spirit that lies behind it, but I must resist the idea that, inevitably and always, the facilities for students in polytechnics are inferior to those in universities.

Lord Addington

The noble Baroness will forgive me, but I did not say "always"; I said in the majority of cases. The amendment does not mention all of them - a blanket ban; it is intended to bring them all up to a general standard. I quite accept that the amendment is technically not correct, but the idea behind it is to bring polytechnics up to a recognised standard. There are certain new universities which have also been caught by this provision.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

I thank the noble Lord for that comment. I think that he demonstrates the complexity of this amendment. Not all the polytechnics and their facilities would therefore be in line to qualify for any such additional or transitional funding. Where I think that the gross difference between the present polytechnics and the existing universities can be found is in the facilities for research equipment. I do not believe that it would be in the interests of the higher education sector to plead for a sudden shift of research funds on the scale that would be needed in the direction of the polytechnics.

However, I repeat that in terms of student facilities, student residences, student union and indeed some of the teaching accommodation, I do not believe that there is by any means an uneven distribution of good and poor quality accommodation.

Earl Russell

The Minister will be in some difficulty if he resists the principle of this amendment. One would like to think that, if the former polytechnics are to have the title of university, they are to be given something of value. That means that they should be given all the powers, dignities and equipment and so forth that go with that title. If that were not done, there would be a risk of a new binary line being created, which I believe we would very much deplore. I hope that the Minister will indicate at least a little more sympathy towards the principle that is behind the amendment.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

I apologise for speaking twice, but I believe that I am right in saying that the current amount of research funding which the Universities Funding Council distributes is somewhere in the region of between £700 million and £800 million. If that were divided evenly, it would take £350 million or thereabouts out of the budget of the existing universities, which would be disastrous. None of us would wish to see that happen. I believe that that is the major area in which inequity currently exists. It can only be righted over a very long period of time when each and every one of us earns the right to have that kind of even distribution.

Earl Russell

But what happens when people do? If the Government want something, they must be prepared to pay for it. If they are not prepared to pay for it, it cannot be done properly. So I ask the Government to pay for it.

Lord Addington

I accept that the amendment is technically faulty and I shall therefore not take it any further. Before withdrawing the amendment, I should like to say that I shall almost certainly come back to this issue at a later stage. I should like the Government to remember that we are talking about student unions and support services. As I said before, unless those come up to scratch or produce something close to it across the board, I agree that there will be some type of variation. Unless the new universities roughly, as a group, are comparable with the older universities, we shall not have a true one-university system; we shall still have a great legacy left over from the binary divide. That is what this amendment is aimed at. It is an issue that we should address later on. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 60 agreed to.

Clause 61 [Administration of funds by councils]:

[Amendment No. 243 not moved.]

Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 244:

Page 44, line 9, at end insert: ("(e) The Council shall continue the practice of Special Factor Funding as hitherto used by the Universities Funding Council").

The noble Earl said: This amendment asks for the new higher education funding councils to continue the practice of special factor funding, as previously conducted by the Universities Funding Council. It is a matter which I understand is under review.

I must declare an interest in that this issue has a particular effect on the University of London, from which I come. It also has a particular effect on the Institute of Historical Research, of which I am a member of the board of management. More generally, the point of special factor funding is to protect the existence of institutions of national importance, whose importance may be greater to the academic world in the country as a whole, or even in some cases in the world as a whole, than it is to their own particular college.

To illustrate the principle, perhaps I may take one institution which does not enjoy special factor funding but may do so in future. The Department of Dutch in University College is the only department of Dutch in the country. There is a national interest in there being one department of Dutch somewhere. After all, at a recent meeting there has been a considerable need for interpreters capable of speaking Dutch. In fact it has been used hitherto largely for university museums in Oxford and Cambridge and for the senate institutes in the University of London.

The University of London at present receives £11.38 million in special factor funding. Were that funding to the University of London to cease, a good many institutions of genuine world class stature would be at risk of survival. Some institutions at present enjoy such funding; some do not.

The Institute of Commonwealth Studies at present does not enjoy such funding because of a chapter of accidents almost on the level of the situation described by the noble Lord, Lord Annan, last night in relation to the Property Services Agency. A report which would have ensured such funding simply failed to reach the Universities Funding Council before its deliberations were complete. The institution is in considerable doubt about its survival.

The Institute of Historical Research, with which I am most concerned, is in my opinion more important to the study of history in the country and the world than the remainder of the University of London put together. In saying that, I include King's College to which I am profoundly loyal; it is the body which pays my salary. It is a place where scholars from around the world meet, exchange ideas, read books and check footnotes. It costs very little indeed. Forty per cent. of its readers come from outside the University of London. A large proportion of its readers come from overseas. One of the most passionate defenders of the institution whom I heard recently was a visiting professor from the University of Moscow who, hearing that its survival was in doubt, expressed astonishment that anything so insane could be contemplated.

It does not cost much to keep the institute going. A sum of about £1 million is involved. The special factor funding is supposed to guarantee its level funding. That means that funding declines by 2 or 3 per cent. a year which demands adjustments but is not disastrous. Without the special factor funding it has no future.

The Institute of United States Studies is in a similar position. It has not had the funding. It is in difficulties. It has caused considerable anxiety to the Foreign Office and to our embassy in Washington. There is a diplomatic implication. There is a feeling in the United States that it contributes a good deal of money to help interest in British studies in the States and that there is no reciprocal generosity in this country towards studies of the United States.

It is an effect of the squeeze that everyone tries to cut back and retreat into their central core. Any specialised area is constantly threatened with extinction. That applies to many valuable institutions. Therefore long term planning and economy is not easy.

I fully admit that this is a piece of special pleading, but I believe it is a case worth pleading. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

I must admit to the noble Earl that in practice I believe that the new funding councils will have to include some allowances for special factors which cannot be dealt with through the operation of the main funding methodology. Indeed, my understanding is that the PCFC as well as the Universities Funding Council take account of London factors in their methodologies now. However, the way in which special factors are taken into account must be for councils to decide. It would be a mistake for the Government to impose specific solutions on the Bill before the council is even appointed. Although the noble Lord says that it was special pleading, to be fair to him the points are generalised and are of importance. However, I still do not believe that they should be put on to the face of the Bill.

Earl Russell

I thank the Minister deeply for that reply. He said everything I hoped for. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 245 not moved.]

Lord Henderson of Brompton moved Amendment No. 246:

Pap 44, line 20, at end insert: ("(c) make grants to students with learning difficulties in respect of any additional disability-related expenditure, other than travel costs, incurred or to be incurred by them because of attendance on the course.").

The noble Lord said: I am sorry to rise at this hour to make yet another plea to the Government to help those who are disabled in one way or another and who need special support in higher education. I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 247 and 249. The purpose of Amendment No. 246 is to make it possible for higher education funding councils to give financial assistance to individual students. Some of them need help with expenses incurred as a result of their learning difficulties.

Amendment No. 247 will give the councils a duty to make particular grants to institutions as opposed to individual students in order to help disabled people to attend their courses.

Amendment No. 249 will allow funding councils to fund directly any support services which are working within the higher education system.

The provision in Amendment No. 247 has been expressed as a duty by using the word "shall". I know that would be preferable from our point of view, but I should be happy to swap the word "shall" for the words "the council shall have power to". I can well understand the reasons why the Government prefer that, and if that is what they wish I shall be happy.

In speaking to the amendments, the examples that I shall gave are of people who are deaf or have been deafened. For the purpose of the debate I ask all the highly-intelligent Members of the Committee to imagine that they are deaf students or have recently been deafened. They will then see why the amendments are necessary.

I turn to Amendment No. 249. Most disabled students in higher education receive a disabled student's allowance. One might believe that is enough for them to be able to equip themselves to follow courses of higher education intelligently. However, the aids which they need are very expensive. For instance, they may need an interpreter or notetaker equipped with special electronic aids. Without such human and electronic aids to their studies they cannot begin to compete with people who are not so disabled. They may be extremely bright people but their disablement is an impairment. Everything should be done to give them equality with their peers who are not disabled.

However, the problem does not relate to the ordinary student who is deaf. One may say that because he receives a disabled person's allowance he is reasonably well catered for. Part-time and graduate students do not receive the disabled person's allowance. What are they to do without support? The support is high cost and prohibitive for the ordinary person. However, it should be made available from central government funds.

Few deaf people are able to choose the increasingly flexible part-time courses: because there is no disabled students' allowance. Nor can they afford to go on to post-graduate degree courses: again because there is no disabled students' allowance. All that goes against government policy. The Government are doing their best to promote those very courses, especially the part-time courses. It is clearly not right that bright and willing deaf people who are capable of benefiting from them, should be debarred from post-graduate courses because there is no disabled persons' allowance.

It is an important amendment. I shall not dilate upon it because the point has been made. However, I should add that the Government spokesman on the Front Bench was extremely kind and agreed to talk about the raft of amendments I am concerned to move, and I should like him also to consider these three amendments. It may save a great deal of time this evening when we all want to go home.

The second amendment relates to the disabled students' allowance. If that were paid to part-time and post-graduate students it would be helpful. But it would not be everything. What is often needed is help which is provided by adapted buildings. Certain higher education centres are well adapted; particularly Reading University and Sheffield Polytechnic. They make facilities available such as the induction loop system, which is necessary in lecture halls, and indeed such small items as flashing fire alarms—deaf students cannot hear bells—and flashing door bells to enable them to enter their student lodgings at night. They may not be expensive, but they are important items.

The problem is that the deaf learn about such well adapted centres as Reading University and Sheffield Polytechnic, and apply in large numbers to attend those institutions. That is unfair on the institutions. If they spend a lot of money on those items—more than most other institutions—they cannot spend it on other equipment which other competitive universities or polytechnics can provide. That is not fair. If two or three outstanding centres are chosen because of their help to, for example, deaf people, then they must be provided with sufficient funds. The alternative is to provide sufficient funds to all universities and polytechnics. It is an administrative matter which I need not go into in detail, but something must be done to help those people.

I can illustrate my third amendment using Sheffield Polytechnic as an example. It relates to providing funds for support services for disabled people. The hearing impaired support service at Sheffield employs interpreters, lip speakers and note-takers who will accompany deaf students at the polytechnic and university into their lectures. Without that support they cannot begin to compete or catch up.

I ask that the amendments be considered sympathetically by the Government. I do not expect them to reply with an immediate yes; but I hope that they will not reply with an immediate no. I ask them kindly to consider them in the package they have already agreed to consider. I beg to move.

Lord Renton

I should like to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, for the reasons he gave. I briefly wish to add this. In relation to Amendment No. 246 it cannot be said that the social security provisions will necessarily cover the disability-related expenditure at a university.

My second point concerns access. It may surprise some Members of the Committee to know that the question of access arises at all in relation to learning difficulties. It does. One of the most famous scientists in the world is a research Fellow at a Cambridge college who cannot walk. He has to live in a wheelchair; he finds speaking and writing very difficult. But he is a genius. If he had not been helped along somehow, he would have been unable to produce the remarkable work that he has done.

11.45 p.m.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

There is a great deal of substance to the noble Lord's amendments. I am glad that he mentioned the meeting that we are going to have. I am sure that these matters will arise. These amendments seek to enhance the ability of the higher education funding councils to provide funding in support of students with learning difficulties. However, I believe that they are unnecessary. I would like to go through them with as much economy of words as is possible.

Amendment No. 246 would allow the higher education funding councils to pay grants to students with disabilities relating to the additional costs that they may incur in attending a course. The Government recognise the need for such grants, and provide for them. We do not think it right to involve the funding councils in duplicating the existing system. The Committee will know that in general, and subject to certain conditions, students attending higher education courses are eligible for help with their living costs through mandatory awards and student loans.

The allowances relate, as is proposed by the amendment, to the additional costs arising from the disability which are incurred as a result of attending the course. Where any student does not qualify for a mandatory award, the local education authorities have discretion to offer discretionary awards. These can, if the authority sees fit, include the same range of allowances.

We are proud of that system of allowances which has been widely acknowledged as generous. They are almost exactly the same as the possibilities proposed by this amendment. Clearly the noble Lord, in promoting the amendment, agrees that we have got the range of allowances about right. As those allowances already exist, we do not believe that it makes sense to duplicate them. Local education authorities can already pay them. Giving the higher education funding councils a power to do the same thing in parallel makes no sense to us and it could lead to confusion as to which body is responsible for assisting students with disabilities.

The amendment would also result in the higher education funding councils dealing with individual students in respect of their grants. But that is not the role of the funding councils: they are to fund higher education provision, not students. The local education authorities are set up to deal with individual cases. It would be a diversion from the funding councils' main task to require them to set up administrative structures for this purpose as well.

Perhaps I may now turn to Amendment No. 247. That amendment would introduce a new duty into the arrangements for funding of higher education provision. It would require the higher education funding councils to make grants to the governing bodies of higher education institutions in respect of expenditure incurred or to be incurred by them for the purposes of allowing access to their provision for students with learning difficulties.

The Government's policy is to increase access to higher education, and that includes students with disabilities. But I have to say that we do not regard this amendment as appropriate. Clause 61 of the Bill gives the higher education funding councils wide powers in relation to the funding of higher education provision. That includes the power to fund the provision of specialist facilities for students with disabilities and projects to tackle the problems of physical accessibility that some of them face.

Thus the Bill already provides for funding to be allocated by the new higher education funding councils to improve the accessibility of higher education institutions for students with disabilities. That continues the discretion that is currently available to the existing funding councils. The Government therefore see no reason for the proposed new duty; such duty would not be consistent with the Minister's traditional relationship with the higher education funding bodies. The Government do not prescribe how funding should be allocated to individual institutions by these bodies.

We intend that Minister's' existing arm's length relationship with the existing funding councils will continue with the new higher education funding councils. Nevertheless, the Government take very seriously the anxieties expressed that disability should be no bar to education. Indeed, we share those anxieties. We shall consider carefully what should be said in the launch guidance to the funding councils about provision for students with learning difficulties. We intend to make clear the considerable importance which the Government attach to adequate provision being available for these students.

Finally, Amendment No. 249 in this group of amendments seeks to add to the powers of the higher education funding councils to make payment under regulations made by the Secretary of State under Section 133 of the Education Reform Act 1988. I appreciate that the promoters of the amendment are anxious to ensure that funding can be made available to bodies which provide support for students with learning difficulties. However, Clause 63 is concerned with payments by the funding councils only in respect of particular types of costs; payments to local education authorities and the governing bodies of designated institutions in the polytechnic and colleges funding council sector for premature retirement costs; compensation payments to former staff at teacher training colleges which have been closed; and increased pension payments to retired non-teaching staff.

The purpose of Clause 63, like Section 133 of the Education Reform Act 1988, is to compensate local education authorities and institutions for the compensation payments which still need to be paid to former and existing staff of polytechnics and colleges. None of these costs falls to be met by agencies which provide support to students with learning difficulties.

However, I am not just arguing that the amendment is in the wrong place. I must also say that the powers which the noble Lord seeks are already in the Bill. The general powers of the higher education funding council to fund higher education provision are in Clause 61 of the Bill. Subsection (61) (2) (d) specifically provides for the councils to fund for any person the provision of services related to the provision of education. This of course includes services provided for students with learning difficulties. Thus the Bill already makes adequate provision for bodies which provide support for these students to be funded

In summary, my answer to all three amendments is in essence the same. We believe that the funding powers that they seek are already adequately provided either in other legislation, in the case of student support, or elsewhere in the Bill. As I said to the noble Lord at the outset, I look forward to fruitful discussions with him and others who support these amendments. In the meantime, I hope that he will feel able to withdraw this amendment.

Earl Russell

Before the noble Lord, Lord Henderson of Brompton, decides what to do with this amendment perhaps I may say that I did not find the reply very sympathetic. I should like to ask the Minister to consider one possibility, which it seems to me could very easily be made available and could be of a great deal of use and that is the provision of a centrally compiled list of information about what facilities are open to people with disabilities in different universities.

A couple of memories, in particular, move me to suggest that. One is having the privilege and the pleasure of teaching a pupil with spina bifida. But I had to teach her on the third floor, which naturally caused her a certain amount of difficulty. We were teaching in a Nash villa in the middle of Regent's Park. If we had put in a lift, English Heritage would have had a fit - and it would have been quite right. It might have been a good idea for her—though I may say, not for us, since she was the life and soul of the department—to have steered her to a place where movement might have been rather easier.

I also remember a colleague who was teaching on the third floor of a listed building in Gordon Square. He was dying from motor neurone disease. He experienced acute difficulties. Again, because it was a listed building we were unable to put in a lift. There are other cases where universities could put in a lift. And here, in times of financial stringency, earmarked money could be very valuable indeed for the process. I hope the Minister will think a little more sympathetically about this.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

I gave reasons. If I did not sound sympathetic it may have been because I was trying not to detain the Committee. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for his suggestions which of course I shall look at.

On the matter of sympathy, my noble friend Lord Belstead and I have tried to look at all the amendments with as much sympathy as we can. The noble Earl may have missed what I said, but we have gone to some trouble to arrange a meeting at which we hope a good many of these problems can be talked over. It will not be lack of sympathy that impedes progress.

Lord Henderson of Brompton

I am extremely grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for his constructive suggestion. I would only differ from him in that my impression of the Minister's reply was that it was distinctly sympathetic.

It is a valuable suggestion that this information should be made available and that the money should be earmarked; otherwise the money will not come forth. I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Renton. He was right that, however good the social services provision, it will very often not be enough. That is one fault with the present system. I should like to have heard from the Minister about the flexible part-time courses and postgraduate courses for which no disabled student's allowance is available. It seems quite wrong that there should be no allowance for such courses.

Having said that, I welcome the talks to which the noble Lord has agreed. I am not at all sorry that my amendments were in the wrong place. I am not sure that all the powers we seek are already in the Bill. That is the kind of thing we can talk about. I am much obliged to the noble Lord for his reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 247 and 248 not moved.]

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn moved Amendment No.248ZA:

Page 44, line 30, leave out ("subject to that").

The noble Lord said: In view of the lateness of the hour I shall try to be concise. Ministers have shown great sympathy, the patience of Job and in some areas the wisdom of Nestor.

This small phrase "subject to that" may seem a trivial matter and Members of the Committee may ask themselves why we are wasting our time with just three words at this hour of the night. It may seem like a drafting amendment but I do not think it is. There is an important principle here. Perhaps we should regard it as a probing amendment to see whether that is so.

The words "subject to that" ought to be quite unnecessary, in which case they could clearly be deleted. They appear to constrain or compromise the important qualification set out in the last part of subsection (4) of the clause. Those words embody a general principle of great importance. The principle is that the funding council shall not interfere with money which a university obtains from some source other than the funding council—from an endowment perhaps, or from a benefactor or from whatever other source.

Now of course the council may fix terms and conditions for the manner in which a university may spend money derived from the council. That is accepted, and naturally therefore it will fix relevant terms and conditions for repayments, which is what the clause focuses on, in relation to money derived from the council. But the principle also stands in the Bill that the funding council does not meddle in financial matters beyond that. That is to say, the funding council does not meddle in financial matters other than those matters where the finance derives from the council.

The phrase "subject to that" appears to qualify that important principle. It appears to imply that the council is seeking repayment by the university of moneys owing, and it speaks of sums derived otherwise than from the council. There is something here that cannot be right. The principle should stand clear and untrammelled. I should be grateful for an assurance from my noble friend the Minister that the general principle is accepted and therefore for an explanation of the function of the words "subject to that". It may well be that those words are otiose and should therefore be deleted. I beg to move.

12 Midnight

Lord Belstead

Clause 61(4) is almost identical to Section 134(3) of the Education Reform Act 1988 which qualifies the powers of the UFC and the PCFC to attach conditions to grants made to institutions. The only significant difference is the addition of the words which this amendment seeks to remove; namely, "subject to that". Let me assure Members of the Committee that these words do not represent any change of policy. Their purpose is simply to achieve greater clarity in the effect of the subsection.

Subsection (3) enables a higher education council to make grants to institutions, subject to conditions. Like equivalent provision in the Education Reform Act, subsection (4) specifies that those conditions may enable a council to require repayment of grant in whole or in part, or payment of interest relating to such repayments by an institution which fails to comply with such conditions. I suggest that that is clearly sensible. If money is given for a particular purpose and is not used for it, it should be repaid.

Subsection (4) also specifies that, subject to those provisions for repayment in the case of noncompliance, a council may not attach conditions relating to the use made by an institution of funds derived from sources other than the council.

The purpose of exempting arrangements for repayment from the general rule—that conditions of grant shall not relate to institutions' other income—is simply to provide for circumstances in which an institution repays grant or interest upon it from funds not received from the council. It does no more than provide for necessary flexibility in such repayments. In view of that reassurance, I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

I thank my noble friend the Minister for that explanation. I think that I shall have to read it in Hansard because I do not entirely understand why the words "subject to that" are needed. I do not understand why it would not be simpler to delete the words. However, I certainly do not wish to divide the Committee at this hour of night. I see that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, wishes to intervene. I give way.

Lord Peston

I listened very carefully to the Minister's answer. I found it to be wholly convincing, except for exactly the point that the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, is making. In other words, it seems to me that the words "subject to that" do not add anything to the Bill. In fact, the Minister totally convinced me in the sense that he persuaded me to go in the opposite direction to the one which he wished us to follow. What he said made good sense. I understood what he was saying. We do not require the words, "subject to that". Perhaps he could, at least, reflect upon the matter.

Lord Renton

In my opinion such words are unnecessary in any statute at any time.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn

I thank both noble Lords for their interventions. As I said, I shall read my noble friend's response very carefully. Perhaps he will also be so kind as to read very carefully the arguments which have just been put forward. If necessary, we can return to the matter at a later stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 61 agreed to.

Clause 62 [Administration of funds: supplementary]:

The Lord Bishop of Guildford moved Amendment No. 248A:

Page 45, line 4, leave out paragraph (a).

The right reverend Prelate said: In moving this amendment I shall, with the leave of the Committee, speak also to Amendments Nos. 248D, 248E, 248F and 248G. We are grateful for the inclusion in Clause 62 of the reference to denominational institutions. There was no reference to them in the White Paper and, as I said on Second Reading, it is a great encouragement to us to see the reference in the Bill.

The group of amendments has three purposes; first, to strengthen the reference to the denominational institutions by the removal of some rather otiose and woolly phrases. Of course, they may serve some purpose, but the amendments strengthen the reference to denominational institutions. The second purpose is to include reference to those institutions which are administered by more than one denomination, because some colleges are run jointly. The third purpose is to include reference to those institutions which are run on trusts which relate not just to what will happen to the property if the institution is closed but also to the current use of the property. Those are the three simple objectives of the amendments. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept them. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

Amendments Nos. 248A and 248D add a requirement to have regard to the desirability of maintaining a significant number of institutions of a denominational character. They contain a serious practical flaw but even if that could be overcome, I do not think that we could go along with the principle of the amendments. The practical flaw in Amendment No. 248D is that, unlike Clause 62 as presently drafted, it does not specify who should judge whether a significant number of institutions is significant or whether a particular balance of support is appropriate. There can be no objective definition. The only bodies suitably placed to make such judgment would be the higher education funding councils.

In principle, the objection to the nature of the relationship between the councils and the institutions is that I do not believe that it would be appropriate to require the funding councils to fix particular numbers of institutions. Higher education institutions are independent bodies responsible for their own destinies. A higher education council's job is to fund provision and not to maintain institutions. The new higher education sector is bound to develop over time and it is right that it should be free to do so. Development may mean that the number of institutions within it will change.

The Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council has a Church and Associated College Advisory Committee which advises it on the particular interests of the church colleges which the council recognises form a distinctive part of the sector. I think we can expect the new funding councils also to establish a means of hearing that distinctive voice.

I understand that some colleges of higher education are nervous about their future under the new arrangements. But they do have a valued contribution to make, and it is not the Government's intention that this should be diminished. Indeed, if one looks at the 1991–92 enrolment figures published last month, they show continuing demand for places in the colleges of 14 per cent. over 1990–91, exceeding that of polytechnics at 12.9 per cent. The colleges will clearly need to participate in whatever funding methodology is developed by the new councils. But provided that they continue to do so successfully—and I see no reason why this should not be the case—their continuing contribution will be secure.

I turn now to Amendments Nos. 248E and 248F. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for drawing my attention to this unintended limitation in the definition of institutions of a denominational character. The Government do not wish to exclude ecumenical institutions from the definition.

If the right reverend Prelate feels able to withdraw Amendments Nos. 248E and 248F, I will undertake to introduce a government amendment at Report stage to meet the point made by the right reverend Prelate.

Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 248G. I fully understand the right reverend Prelate's anxiety that the Bill's definitions of institutions of a denominational character should be suitably comprehensive. In relation to Amendments Nos. 248E and 248F, I intended to give an undertaking that a government amendment will be introduced on Report to remedy a defect in those definitions. However, Amendment No. 248G seems to me, with great respect, to be an unnecessary addition.

Clause 62(4) defines institutions of a denominational character in terms of two tests. They can either be an institution where a majority of the governing body represents the interests of a particular religious denomination; or one where most or all of its property is held under trusts provided that, if it closes, that property or its sale proceeds shall benefit a particular religious denomination.

Accepting the need for an amendment to cover ecumenical institutions, which I have offered to the right reverend Prelate, the Department of Education and Science advises me that it is not aware of any institution recognised as being of a denominational character and likely to be part of the new higher education sector which would fail both of these tests.

The right reverend Prelate may of course be aware of such institutions. If he is, it would be helpful if he could draw them to my attention. I invite him to withdraw the amendment with my assurances that the department will consider further the need for an amendment. However, if there are no such institutions, the amendment would be unnecessary.

The Lord Bishop of Guildford

I am most grateful to the Minister for that reply and for the encouragement and assurances he has given. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Peston moved Amendment No. 248C:

Page 45, line 7, leave out ("distinctive").

The noble Lord said: I am in my usual difficulty in speaking to this amendment which stands in the names of my noble friend Lady David and the noble Earl, Lord Russell. It is late at night and I think it is a tremendously important amendment. Nonetheless, although I seem to get stronger as the night gets longer, I shall not delay the Committee long.

I understand the general meaning of Clause 62 and the part we have just discussed to do with the denominational aspects of institutions. This is a probing amendment, but my noble friends and I are having difficulty as to what Clause 62(3) (b) means. It mentions the desirability of maintaining: any distinctive characteristics of any institution".

If I may put my problem to the Minister, it is this. What does the word "distinctive" mean in this clause? To put it differently, why would the funding council not want to do this? It is the reverse of my usual stance. What is there in this that requires it to be on the face of the Bill? It seems to me obvious that the funding council, in determining its allocation of funds, would look at the distinctive characteristics of any institution. I would argue that that is precisely why we set up the funding councils.

I do not wish to appear too suspicious, but one of the glories of our higher education system, which will be enhanced in due course with the new universities, is its diverse character. Our institutions have distinctive characteristics. I do not merely quote the Open University or the special case of Birkbeck College or all the others. We can always tell when we are in one university or another because they have different qualities and atmospheres. They have different ways of doing things. I admit that I like the distinctive characteristics, but I take them so much for granted that my fear is that this is trying to say, "We shall mention 'distinctive' because we mean 'not distinctive'". In other words, why fuss about this in any way?

I put it to the noble Lord that it may well be that my noble friends and I and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, are a trifle too suspicious about what the Government may have in mind here.

In this case, to my understanding the subsection would not be necessary. It seems to me that if the funding council remotely did its job properly, it would take account of the characteristics of the institutions with which it deals. I ask the question bluntly: what am I supposed to learn from the use of the word "distinctive"? I can wait for an answer, if one is not available. I beg to move.

Lord Belstead

When the noble Lord asks exactly what is meant by the distinctive characteristics, I believe that the answer is this. The White Paper made it clear that a unitary framework for higher education was not intended to make all institutions the same. It emphasised the importance of safeguarding the best of the distinctive characteristics of individual institutions, such as the vocational emphasis of present polytechnics and colleges. It did not rule out the possibility of institutional characteristics changing over time.

This is an important issue and one to which, in reply to the debate on Second Reading, I made a brief reference. A noble Lord asked whether there was a danger of losing the distinctive characteristics of the polytechnics as they became universities. The answer is contained in the short paragraph that I have just delivered: namely, that the vocational emphasis of the present polytechnics and colleges is such that, if it exists in a polytechnic, the polytechnic itself would be loath to lose it. So would we all.

I do not wish to go further than that except to say that I hope the noble Lord will not wish to take the word "distinctive" out of the text.

12.15 a.m.

Lord Peston

I thank the Minister for that reply. I do not wish to prolong this discussion, but I think that there is more to the matter than he has said. I did not fear there would be some danger in removing the word "distinctive". It was only when I read the clause that the potential danger occurred to me. One starts to worry when someone fusses about something when that should not be necessary. It is at such times that I normally become suspicious.

I believe we are all agreed on the need to maintain diversity and distinctiveness. That is not the argument. We shall, however, consider this matter and read carefully what the Minister has said. If we are still unhappy with the matter, we shall return to it at a later stage. Having listened to the Minister's remarks, I do not think there is any difference between us on what we want to see in our higher education system. I am still not too happy with the wording of the provision. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 248D to 248G not moved.]

Clause 62 agreed to.

Clause 63 [Payments in respect of persons employed in provision of higher or further education]:

Lord Belstead moved Amendment No. 248GA:

Page 45, line 27, after ("area") insert: ("( ) the London Residuary Body; ( ) the London Pensions Fund Authority").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 249A to 249E. These technical amendments empower a higher education funding council to make payments to the London Residuary Body and the London Pensions Fund Authority in respect of compensation payments made by these bodies to former staff of the Inner London Education Authority. They also empower the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council to make payments to these bodies until it is dissolved, and regularise past payments to them by the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council.

The background to these amendments was explained in an answer to a Parliamentary Question in another place by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Education and Science on 6th December.

Clause 63 empowers a higher education funding council to continue to make the payments which are currently made by the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council under Section 133 of the Education Reform Act for local education authorities and governing bodies of designated institutions in respect of compensation payments made by them to former employees. The liabilities of the ILEA were transferred to the London Residuary Body when the ILEA was abolished, and due to an oversight Section 133 of the Education Reform Act did not cover payments to the London Residuary Body. That is why we are in the position we are and that is why we have tabled these amendments. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 249 not moved.]

Lord Belstead moved Amendments Nos. 249A to 249E:

Page 45, line 32, at end insert: ("( ) In subsection (2) (a) of that section (meaning of relevant expenditure) after "education authority" there is inserted "the London Residuary Body or the London Pensions Fund Authority".").

Page 45, line 37, at end insert: ("( ) In subsection (4) of that section (duty to give information) after paragraph (a) there is inserted— ( ) the London Residuary Body; ( ) the London Pensions Fund Authority".").

Page 45, line 38, leave out ("Subsection (1) of").

Page 45, line 39, after ("if") insert: ("( ) in subsection (1)").

Page 45, line 42, at end insert ("and ( ) in subsections (1) and (2) the references to a local education authority included the London Residuary Body and the London Pensions Fund Authority.").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 63, as amended, agreed to.

Lord Cavendish of Furness

I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, agreed to.

House resumed.