§ 3.9 p.m.
§ The Paymaster General (Lord Belstead)
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Belstead.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES in the Chair.]
§ Clause 64 [Grants to councils]:
§ [Amendment No. 250 not moved.]
§ Baroness Young moved Amendment No. 251:
§ Page 45, line 43, at beginning insert ("Subject to subsection (2) below").
§ The noble Baroness said: At the same time I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 253, 255A, 256, 292, 294 and 298. The other amendments in the group relate to two clauses, Clauses 64 and 77, and appear in the names of other Members of the Committee. This is an important group of amendments. On Second Reading, as I am sure my noble friend the Minister will recall, what is generally described as academic freedom was raised by almost every Member who took part in the debate. Anxiety about the two clauses was expressed from all parts of the Chamber.
§ I said at the time that I was puzzled that the Government had amended the Education Reform Act 1022 1988 in respect of freedom of the universities. I was puzzled, because I recall clearly the extensive debates during that Bill's passage. The wording of Section 134(7) of the eventual Act was the result of a government amendment. The question arises: why change what was agreed by everyone?
§ The purpose of the amendments is to put the position back to what it was under the Education Reform Act 1988. It is, after all, only a short time since the passing of the Act, and a short time in which to make the type of important changes which the Bill brings about.
§ Amendment No. 251 is a paving amendment for Amendment No. 253 which is the substantive amendment. The effect would be to re-enact Section 134(7) of the Education Reform Act. The wording is almost identical. Perhaps I may explain the anxiety felt, I believe, by all universities and polytechnics, although I know that other Members of the Committee with far more detailed knowledge will explain how the Bill, if not amended, will affect higher education.
§ Clause 64(1) gives the Secretary of State power to attach terms and conditions to the grants which he makes available to the funding councils. To that extent, it re-enacts Section 134(6) of the Education Reform Act. There is no dispute about that. I believe that everyone who has taken part in the debates accepts the need for the Secretary of State to have longstop powers. However, Clause 64(2)(a) goes much beyond that position. It provides that the terms and conditions may impose requirements not just on each institution, but on each institution falling within a class or description specified, with which it must comply.
The wording of Amendment No. 253 is almost identical to the wording of Section 137(7) of the Education Reform Act. I hope therefore that my noble friend will feel able to accept it. In case there should he any doubt about my interpretation of the matter, the Notes on Clauses confirm the point. They state:
Subsection (2) provides that such conditions may impose requirements to be complied with by all institutions or by institutions falling into specified classes or descriptions".
That extends the Secretary of State's powers considerably beyond those contained in the Education Reform Act 1988.
§ I turn now to Clause 77. The general point is similar. The amendments relating to the clause are designed to put back the position to what we believed it to have been under the Education Reform Act 1988. The object of Amendment No. 292 is to delete Clause 77(2). That subsection does not appear in the Scottish further and higher education Bill. We are bound to ask why, if it is not required in Scotland, it should be required in England and Wales. The subsection gives the Secretary of State power to intervene, in detail, in individual institutions. That is of concern to those in universities and polytechnics. It does not suggest a power of last resort. Why does the Secretary of State now feel that he needs those further powers?
§ In case there should be doubt in anyone's mind, perhaps I may make it clear that no one questions the need for powers of last resort. I have been a Minister, 1023 and I know that no government, of any political complexion, will give enormous sums of money to higher education without there being some long stop powers. That is accepted. It was accepted in the 1988 Act. It is accepted in the two parts of the Bill which merely re-enact that position.
The real anxiety—this is what I hope my noble friend will understand—is that, as drafted, the Bill goes considerably beyond that position. It goes beyond the Education Reform Act 1988. As several Members said on Second Reading, it goes against the proposals set out in the Croham Report. It would appear also to go against what my right honourable friend Mr. Kenneth Baker, the then Secretary of State, said in Committee on the Education Reform Bill in another place. He said:
The directions are, as Croham said, essentially a measure of last resort to enable the holder of my office to safeguard the taxpayers' interests if the councils or an institution are going completely off the rails. I do not expect them to do so, so I do not expect to have to direct them in that fashion. I would be the first to admit that to do so would represent a failure in the relationship between the councils and the departments".
That seems to go against what my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor said on Second Reading of that Bill. He said:
Given the importance of higher education, the Secretary of State needs long-stop powers to direct the funding councils to take particular actions in the nation's interests. The Bill"—
that is, the Education Reform Bill—
now provides for any such direction to be subject to parlimamentary[...] negative resolution procedure, in other[...] direct parliamentary control".—[Official Report[...] 1364.]
§ Finally,[...] Bill to be enacted as it stands, it would considerably weaken the authority of the funding councils. I said that I regarded the amendments as important. I know that other Members of the Committee will illustrate in detail what will be the effect of the Bill if it is not amended. I hope, of course, that my noble friend the Minister will feel able to accept the amendments. If that is not possible, I hope that he will bring forward amendments of his own at the next stage of the Bill. I must emphasise the strength of feeling that lies behind the amendments and the great importance attached to them by the universities and polytechnics. I find it difficult to believe that the Government do not agree with the principle I am enunciating, which will be made clearer as the debate proceeds. I do not want my noble friend to be under any illusions as to the strength of feeling and the importance attached to the amendments. I beg to move.
§ 3.15 p.m.
§ Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn
It is only three years since the Chamber debated this issue—the freedom or power of the Secretary of State to intervene directly in the affairs of a specific educational institution. It is a longstanding principle of our educational system that universities enjoy academic freedom. That freedom is properly constrained. They are accountable to the funding council, and through the funding council—and only through that body—to the Secretary of State, and so to Parliament. That is the basis on which our higher educational system works.
1024 To the discomfort of many of us, the Government have introduced clauses which entirely subvert that principle. Clause 77(2) states directions made by the Secretary of State may,relate to the provision of financial support … in respect of activities carried on by any particular institution or institutions".That means that, for the first time, the Secretary of State would have the ability to intervene in the affairs of an institution. He may, for example, decide he does not like a particular course and that he is not willing to fund it. The principle of academic independence was—as we have just heard—after much discussion, embodied in Section 134(7) of the 1988 Act which states:The conditions subject to which grants are made by the Secretary of State to either of the Funding Councils shall not relate to the making of grants or other payments by the Council to any specified institution".Therefore the proposed provision directly controverts what was inserted in the 1988 Act. Amendments Nos. 251 and 253 restore the wording of the original legislation.
The present Bill has the admirable primary objective of enlarging the higher education funding sector. In this respect it was widely welcomed on Second Reading. However, these provisions are distinctly illiberal: indeed they are authoritarian—it is not just a matter of one or two such provisions—and go far beyond anything required to fulfil the primary objective.
On a previous occasion we debated an amendment to Clause 58 which removes the obligation for active university teachers to be members of the higher education funding councils. Later today I shall introduce an amendment to Clause 71. As it stands that clause would allow the Department of Education and Science, through the Privy Council, to alter unilaterally, by fiat, the Royal Charter or the Act of Parliament governing each university, or the statutes which follow upon them.
Clauses 64 and 77 allow the Secretary of State altogether unlimited powers of intervention. I would not insist that these cumulative powers are introduced by Ministers with malice aforethought. However, many people would gain that impression. As a government supporter, I am saddened that the public impression given by what in its primary intention is so admirable a Bill is frankly repressive.
Amendment No. 291B has two useful functions. It excludes directions bearing on funds which do not come from the Government. That is a necessary provision. Another principle we debated earlier is that funds which do not derive from the funding councils should not be subject to constraints by the funding councils. The same would also apply to the Secretary of State. Amendment No. 291B also restricts the directions to the provision of funds as indicated in Clause 77(1).
Amendment No. 292A excludes the offending subsection whereby directions may relate to activities carried out by any particular institution or institutions. Amendments Nos. 294 and 298 follow from that. By these clauses the Government may have sought only to reassert the powers they thought they 1025 had under the 1988 Act. I know the Government have had difficulties in one case in applying those powers. If that is the case, the Government have introduced so great a degree of overkill as could, in other hands, be used to devastate the independence of the universities.
§ Lord Dainton
I shall be brief as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, made a powerful and cogent advocacy on behalf of Amendments Nos. 251, 253, 292 and 294. On Second Reading I commented that Clause 64(2) was both a clear breach of the arm's length principle which has served this country so well in so many ways, and also represented a complete reversal of Section 134(7) of the existing Education Reform Act. Many other Members of the Chamber took exception to the power which Clause 64(2) would give the Secretary of State to impose any condition in respect of any activity mentioned in that clause carried out in every or any institution via a funding council when the latter makes a grant. There are no restrictions whatsoever on the Secretary of State's power as the Bill now stands. As we have heard, he would have the power to prescribe criteria for the admission of students, what subjects should be taught or not taught, who would be thought fit or unfit to teach or conduct research in a particular subject, how candidates should be examined and other matters.
I am sure some Members of the Committee would say that such interference could never happen here and that such censorship and intervention and such extreme dirigisme is unthinkable in our pluralistic and democratic society. However, I am not so sure. I have lived too long and can remember the malevolent absurdity of Bertrand Russell being pronounced unfit to lecture on philosophy in one of the colleges of the city of New York. Many of us must be aware of the prohibitions against teaching evolutionary theory in higher institutions in some of the states of the United States of America.
The threat implicit in this clause could also have a debilitating effect on the universities. It would lead to over-caution in academic policy, to a stultifying conformity and to playing safe rather than that exciting innovation which is the epitome of self-confident, autonomous institutions. Moreover, it can be safely predicted that some able academics who are independently minded and aware of this element in the Bill will go where they can teach what, how and whom their professional consciences allow. UK universities will be further impoverished.
In his reply to the Second Reading debate the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, expressed the Government's acceptance of the need,to safeguard the essential nature of higher education".— [Official Report, 21/11/91; col. 1122.]He said the Government did not wish to attack academic freedom. Those were most welcome words. The Minister referred to the words of the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor, who gave an assurance during the Report stage of the Education Reform Act—that Act passed through this Chamber just three and a half years ago—that the Government would not interfere with particular universities "except in extreme circumstances".
1026 However, the fact remains that the Education Reform Act did not give any powers to the Secretary of State to intervene in the affairs of any university. Section 134(7) of that Act is quite specific. It states:The conditions subject to which grants are made by the Secretary of State to either of the Funding Councils shall not relate to the making of grants or other payments by the Council to any specified institution".It is of course true that the original form of the Education Reform Act would have given the Secretary of State that power, but in the event wiser counsel prevailed during the debates and the Bill was amended. I plead with the Government once again to listen to reason and common sense.
I have, of course—I expect this is the case with many Members of the Committee—wondered why the Government seek this power. The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, referred to,necessary accountability associated with the public funding of higher education".Mr. Howarth, the Minister responsible for higher education, is reported as wishing to attain,the indispensable objective of protecting taxpayers money".However, the Government already have all the safeguards they need through the accounting officer system. That system now extends to the institutional as well as to the council level, that is to say the chief executive of the funding council is an accounting officer, as is each individual vice-chancellor. Therefore they are subject to Treasury rules. The council itself can discipline universities[...] The former University Grants Committee[...] by only two sentences provided in a[...] of 1919 which appeared to give it no[...] However, that measure never inhibited me from applying any necessary financial discipline to a particular university. The Committee will not expect me to name the university here.
I cannot imagine why the Government buy such dogs and then want to bark themselves. I plead once again that the principle underlying the amendments be accepted by the Government and that Clause 64(4) be altered as suggested in the amendment and Clause 77 be omitted.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
I wish to support the suggestion made by my noble friend Lady Young that, in the light of the debate in your Lordships' Committee, the Government should reconsider the matter and return to it at a later stage of the Bill with their own amendment. I say with the greatest respect to Members of the Committee that this is not a question which can be dealt with by tinkering with amendments; it is fundamental. That applies to Clause 64, Clause 77 (which, as my noble friend Lady Young said, raises a similar point), and it applies to Clause 53 which is concerned with further education. Should the situation arise at Report stage the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, will move that Clause 53 do not stand part of the Bill. The fact that it was agreed to on Thursday night raises a matter of considerable concern.
Fortunately, my noble friend Lord Renton sees the important point. The matter was dealt with 1027 tangentially in Amendment No. 218. In connection with that amendment my noble friend Lord Renton said:we shall find similar provisions relating to higher education in Clauses 54 and 77 whereby the Secretary of State is to be given power to give directions affecting specific places of learning … in relation to both further and higher education. I cannot see the need for that either in relation to higher or further education".—[Official Report, 12/12/91; col. 960.]I turn to the Government's terror of misconception. At col. 962, in his reasoning, my noble friend Lord Belstead said:Therefore, the Government believe that it is essential that Clause 53 should provide not only for general but also for institutions' specific directions.The issue will not go away. It is a matter of fundamental disagreement on which I should have supported the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, if there had been a Division on Clause 53. I have put down my own Motion that Clause 77 do not stand part of the Bill, which I shall move in due course. This is a matter of fundamental importance which has to be dealt with as such and should not be subject to tinkering. It is a matter of principle.
Having made that point I accept two points without qualification. First, the concept of academic freedom is cherished not only by the universities but also by polytechnics. I also accept that a central government which propose to dispense some £5 billion a year in support of anything, and in particular education, would wish to retain some reserve power in case of possible misappropriation. My noble friend Lady Young made the point and I very much doubt whether any Member of the Committee would dispute the fairness of that proposition.
However, as my noble friend Lord Limerick and the noble Lord, Lord Broadbridge, said at Second Reading, Clauses 64 and 77 go far beyond what is necessary That point has just been made in relation to the effect of the overkill of the 1988 Act. In a moment I shall deal with the crucial misconception in the mind of the Government as to the effect of the 1988 Act. The noble Lord has just dealt with one of the amendments which saved a form of interference, and in due course I shall deal with another section to show that the Government's position under the 1988 Act is wholly dissimilar from that now proposed under the new regime. It is not a question of whether or not that is intentional; the point is that the result is overkill and strikes at academic freedom.
The link between Clauses 64 and 77 was explained by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers. He said at Second Reading:When I first read Clause 64, especially subsection (2), I was unclear as to the precise intention. Did he"—the Secretary of Statewish to impose specific requirements on individual institutions? When I read Clause 77 there was no longer any doubt. Under subsection (2) he can instruct the funding councils as to how much money they should give to particular institutions for particular activities. That is monstrous. It totally undermines the general convention whereby the Government do not interfere in the affairs of individual institutions".—[Official Report, 21/11/91; cols. 1072–1073.]I weary the Committee with a verbatim quotation because who could have put it better? Who could have put it more objectively? And who could have put it 1028 more objectively and with greater persuasive force? That is the principle at stake, but the Government do not appear to understand that.
I must not take up the Committee's time, but the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said at Second Reading that Clause 77 is a dangerous provision and that it should not be amended but should be scrapped. The noble Earl, Lord Longford, (col. 1081 refers) found it quite astonishing:a scandalous piece of work. Perhaps it is a Civil Service idea of a joke".It was also criticised by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and my noble friend Lord Beloff on grounds of ministerial interference.
As I understand it the purpose of Clauses 64 and 77 is to define the Secretary of State's condition and decision-making powers in relation to the new councils, as was explained by my noble friend Lord Belstead. My noble friend said that he was doing no more than retaining the careful balance of responsibility between the Secretary of State, the funding councils and the institutions which this Chamber debated extensively during the passage of the 1988 Act and that Clause 77, as drafted, does not exceed in scope Parliament's intention in voting through the direction-making power in the 1988 Act which provided in terms for directions to be institution-specific. That is so important that I shall give the Hansard references for the speech of my noble friend: cols 1024 and 1123.
With respect to my noble friend, that is wrong advice to your Lordships because on any objective analysis the contention that Clause 77 merely restates the law as accepted by Parliament during the passage of the 1988 Act cannot be accepted. Section 219 of the Act of 1988 deals with those powers of the Secretary of State as well as the section to which the noble Lord just referred. That is the obverse of the coin. Section 219 dealt with those decision-making powers in three categories. The first category was to determine disputes and questions. That arose under Section 67(1) of the 1944 Act which is still extant. It is the principal Act. The second category was to prevent unreasonable exercise of functions. That was under Section 68 of the principal Act. The third category related to the exercise of powers in default where there had been a failure to discharge a statutory duty. That was under Sections 69(1) and 69(2) of the principal Act.
As my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor truly said—reference has been made to this point—the Government would not interfere in relations between universities and funding councils except in extreme circumstances. That truly reflected the position as it was under the 1988 Act. However, those circumstances fell within the limit of those three categories as defined under the principal Act. One has only to compare the drafting of Clause 218 and the obverse of the coin clause with the clauses in this Bill to conclude that the powers of direction sought by the Secretary of State under these conglomerate powers—Clauses 64, 53 and 77—are far more extensive. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to call them an overkill.
1029 In effect, if the Bill is passed in this form, the Secretary of State will have been afforded by a House of Parliament absolute discretion and absolute decision-making power to direct as he wills. A direction such as that should never appear in any statute passed by either House of Parliament under any Government. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will take the matter back in the light of the debate in Committee.
§ Lord Jenkins of Hillhead
I intervene only briefly and on this occasion not primarily in my capacity as a party leader but as Chancellor of the University of Oxford.
The provisions in Clauses 64 and 77 have aroused the deepest anxiety in the university. It was the unanimous decision of the hebdomadal council that the vice-chancellor should write to heads of houses and ask them to approach their Member of Parliament on the issue, as in the case of some heads of house to write individually to their Member of Parliament is still quite a heavy burden. That was about the strongest step that the university could take.
There is also great mystery as to why the Government wish to go back on the position that was arrived at after great difficulty in relation to the 1988 Act. The 1980s were in some ways a rather abrasive decade for relations between the Government and the universities and there has been some hope that the 1990s might be a happier decade, with a greater feeling of confidence from both sides on the issue. However, I can assure the Government that if they try to get the Bill through with Clauses 64 and 77 unamended, it will be the worst possible foundation for a happier decade of relations in the 1990s.
§ 3.45 p.m.
§ Lord Beloff
I rise to speak briefly for two or three reasons. The first is to express my hope that if the Minister rises to defend the clauses as they now stand, he will not argue that there is a financial necessity for them. There is no evidence for that and there is a good deal of evidence against it. Perhaps I may remind the Committee that when the University Grants Committee, to which the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, referred, was set up in 1919, it was responsible to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The Chancellor of the Exchequer must surely have been somewhat concerned about expenditure from the public purse yet, to the best of my knowledge, he never claimed or exercised any power of intervention in what the University Grants Committee did with the funds entrusted to it. It therefore seems to me that we must look at the matter in the light of the transfer of the funding system to the Department of Education and Science, which appears, and has for some time appeared, to take a different view. It was in my view one of the greatest blows ever struck against our education system when that transfer was made.
The noble Lord, Lord Dainton, will remember a conference at Toronto some 30 years ago when he told an assembly of education Ministers and academics from a number of countries that Britain had the ideal 1030 system. That system enabled public support to go to higher education without the intervention that often went with it in many other countries. As a much junior academic to the noble Lord, I then ventured to say that, once the funding was in the hands of a government department, one could not rely on the piper not calling the tune; but even I never thought that the tune would be as harsh as that in the present proposals.
My second reason for rising is that, as some of your Lordships will no doubt remember, I took some part in the debates on what became the 1988 Act both in your Lordships' House and in discussions with the responsible Ministers. I then received in private the assurances which had been quoted in public that the clause would be amended—it was amended into the form in which it now stands in the 1988 Act—in such a way as to preclude direct intervention in the affairs of a particular institution.
The noble Lord must therefore not merely defend the clauses. He must also defend the Government against the charge of breaching an undertaking, because, I remind him, it was that undertaking which enabled the Bill to be passed. If we had held it up any longer, the summer recess would have come and the 1988 Act would not be on the statute book. It was a bargain: you give us this clause—the clause that now stands in the Act—and we shall then see that the Bill reaches the statute book.
My third reason is a curious and, if I may say so, a personal one, shared I think probably only by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, who is the Chancellor of the University of Buckingham with which I used to be connected. If the Bill is passed unamended, the University of Buckingham will be the only independent institution of higher education in the United Kingdom not subject to directions as to whom it employs, whom it teaches, what it teaches and how it examines. I had great ambitions for the University of Buckingham, as no doubt did my noble and learned friend, but we never hoped, and we do not hope now, that it would stand in a unique position as the only independent university in the country.
§ Lord McCarthy
I should like to focus on a narrow but important point that so far has not been fully developed; namely, the event from which this problem arises. I understand that it arises largely from a decision given in a case before Mr. Justice Simon Brown in July 1991, when it was found that the words of Section 134 of the 1988 Act did not cover what the Government had done. It therefore behoves us to consider what the Government did, as presumably that is what the Government want to have the power to do. They want to change the words in the Bill because the judge decided that the words in the 1988 Act do not cover what the Government wish to do.
Members of the Committee may know the relevant circumstance. It arose because the Government wished to introduce a system of appraisal into academic life in British universities, colleges of further education and polytechnics. As a result, they withheld 1 3 million of the national pay agreement and stipulated in a very precise way what the colleges had 1031 to do in order to receive that money. In effect the colleges had to make sworn statements that the heads of the colleges would apply the discriminatory appraisal system and not pay the money across the board. They received commitments from individual lecturers. In effect, there was a ballot of individual lecturers to see whether they would apply the appraisal system to themselves and to their subordinates. Sworn statements were received to the effect that they were operating the scheme introduced last year and that they would accept further intervention of a similar kind next year. That is what the Government did. But the judge said that that did not come within the provisions of the Act. That is why the Government have come back and want to change the words.
Many Previous speakers have envisaged very well how that principle could be extended to any aspect of a course, any teaching method, any part of a rubric or syllabus which the Government do not like. The lecturers and the god-forsaken professors would have to vote not to teach it and if only 50 per cent. of them said that they would do so, only 50 per cent. of the money would he received.
Both the defences put before the judge by the Secretary of State were struck. That is the Government's problem. It is quite remarkable that on behalf of the Secretary of State it was said that it was all right to impose conditions because it was done before he handed out the money. Precedent conditions were all right but subsequent conditions were quite wrong. The learned judge said that that was sophistical and not true and that he could not accept it; in effect it came to the same thing. It was said for the Secretary of State that it was only indirectly intended to affect particular institutions and not to affect them directly. The judge replied that that was sophistical, not reasonable and not plausible. Therefore, the Government have come back to Parliament; they have to have a form of words.
I ask the Minister whether it is still the Government's intention to practise in that way. Will they do it, for example, in respect of further pay awards? Is that the intention, even though the judge said that it would not work? Is that why there are these new words? Is it the Government's intention to have further ballots on other aspects of academic life? Is that what all this is about? If the Minister can say that that is not what it is all about, I do not understand why he wants the Bill to be different from the 1988 Act.
§ Lord Flowers
I must shortly leave the Chamber so perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to make a brief speech now. I shall return at about 7 o'clock and I shall greatly miss what happens in the meantime. I particularly thank the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, for effectively making my argument very much better than I could have done. I wholly agree with what he said and hope that the Government will pay due attention to it.
The only other point that I wish to make is in support of the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, to the effect that each university has an accounting officer. He is known as the vice-chancellor.
1032 Each university, on the terms under which it presently operates from the Universities Funding Council—the funding councils generally in future—has a financial memorandum which sets out precisely how the university is to be accountable for the government funds that it has been given. As the accounting officer, the vice-chancellor is personally responsible for ensuring that those funds are spent correctly, in the manner laid down in the financial memorandum.
The chief executive of the funding council, as accounting officer for the funding council, in turn is accountable to the department, thence to the Treasury and thence to Parliament. There is a precisely defined chain which exists already, essentially under the 1988 Act, for accounting from the university to Parliament through Government. All the powers that the Government need for dealing with a recalcitrant university (if there should be one) can be found in that chain. I do not believe that any other powers are necessary. I support the amendments which are now being discussed and especially support the idea that Clauses 64 and 77 should be dropped altogether.
§ Lord Belstead
I wonder whether it would be helpful for me to intervene at this point. This is a Committee of the Whole House and Members of the Committee—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, who has taken an interest in all stages of the Bill—will not be prevented from continuing the debate until it is finished.
Before considering ways in which the clause might be dealt with, perhaps I may just say a few words at this stage about the reason for Clause 64. Members of the Committee have put forward different views as to how this clause might be dealt with. They range from those who do not wish to have the clause at all to those who feel that it ought to be amended. Incidentally, the amendments moved by my noble friend Baroness Young include those which hang upon Amendment No. 286, tabled in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, dealing with Clause 77.
On Clause 64, perhaps I may emphasise, as I did at Second Reading, that the Government regard this clause as doing no more than securing the intended effect of existing provisions governing the relation-ship—
§ Lord Belstead
It was intended by the Government. I shall go on to explain why we feel that. I repeat that the Government regard the clause as doing no more than securing the intended effect (intended by the Government) of existing provisions governing the relationship between my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and the Universities Funding Council and the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Council.
The wording in Clause 64 certainly is different from that in Sections 134(6) and 134(7) of the Education Reform Act because of doubts cast on whether those provisions had the effect that we intended, following a judgment in a case brought by the Association of 1033 College and Polytechnic Teachers against the Secretary of State, to which the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy referred in his intervention.
As a matter of principle, the Secretary of State, who is answerable to Parliament for the Government's funding policies, needs to have effective means of implementing those policies through the flow of public funds to the funding councils and institutions. It is that which underlies his powers to attach conditions of grant to the funding councils established by the Education Reform Act and continued in this Bill.
In furtherance of those policies, the Secretary of State might earmark part of the funds made available to the councils for particular purposes. For example, in the past my right honourable friend has earmarked a small portion of his grant to the Polytechnics and Colleges Funding Councils to service what is known as a restructuring fund. That kind of condition is quite a normal part of the relationship between a government Minister and the body to which he is making available public funds. That is why Clause 64(1) is the same as Section 134(6) of the Education Reform Act. That is why, as I understand it, my noble friend Lady Young, and indeed other Members of the Committee have not quarrelled in any way with Clause 64(1).
As I ventured to say at Second Reading, Section 134(7) of the Education Reform Act was included specifically to fetter the Secretary of State's power by precluding him from attaching conditions in relation to the funding of individual institutions; from setting as a condition that university X or polytechnic Y should receive a particular amount of funding. Setting conditions in relation to named institutions is most certainly not a feature of the Secretary of State's normal higher education policy although he does need, in relation to Clause 77, a last resort power.
However, what is firmly part of the Secretary of State's legitimate policy in higher education is, for example, an interest in securing satisfactory pay and conditions settlements, a matter referred to by the noble Lord, Lord McCarthy. Speaking from this side of the Chamber, I believe it right that the Secretary of State should have such an interest, given the level of public funding made available to higher education.
The way in which my right honourable friend has sought to exercise influence in this field has been through holding back grant to the funding councils until a satisfactory settlement has been reached. That has operated for three years in relation to the polytechnics and colleges and the universities. The gains in terms of flexibility and efficiency in the final settlement have been considerable. It is an approach known as setting conditions precedent.
So far the Secretary of State has released all the withheld funds to the councils each year for distribution to institutions because satisfactory settlements have been reached at the national level. But it cannot be ruled out that national negotiations break down and local settlements need to be made. In those circumstances my right honourable friend needs to be able to say to the funding councils that they may release funds to those institutions which reach 1034 satisfactory settlements but not to those which do not. Another example of the use of a conditions precedent might be for the Secretary of State to say to the funding councils that they should not release a particular portion of funding to institutions which do not over time receive a satisfactory report from the unit which the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and the Committee of Directors of Polytechnics will be establishing to look at institutions' internal quality control systems.
The crucial point about such conditions is that while they may impact differently on different institutions the Secretary of State certainly does not know which ones in advance. That is the difference between those conditions and a condition which would specify a particular level of funding for a named institution.
It is in order to enable a condition to be made which exercises influence but is not designed to affect a particular institution that Clause 64(2) (a) has been introduced. To delete that clause and return to the wording of the present Act would introduce the very considerable doubts of the Secretary of State's power to exercise influence. That is why I cannot accept Amendments Nos. 251, 253, 254, 255 and 256, which have that effect.
I have been referring to what I call management issues which, as the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, made clear when we debated Clause 7, are legitimately within the scope of the Secretary of State's higher education policies. However, as my noble friend Lady Young said, the basic issue is academic freedom. I know that what most concerns noble Lords is the prospect that the powers in Clause 64 could be used in support of policies which would be unacceptable; for example, setting conditions under subsection (2) (a) that institutions could not offer a particular course or programme of research or that a specific subject must either he taught or assessed in a particular way. I emphasise that that is not the Secretary of State's intention. It would not be his intention to use the powers under the clause in such ways. Nonetheless, before any Member of Committee says it, I recognise that it is what is on the face of the Bill that matters. I recognise the very real anxieties expressed by the Committee over the past hour.
I have therefore discussed the matter with the Secretary of State. As a result I can respond to my noble friend Lady Young's wish that I should bring forward an amendment at the next stage of the Bill. Having listened to the Committee—and the messages have been loud and clear—I can give an undertaking that I am ready to bring forward an amendment at Report stage in your Lordships' Chamber which will put beyond doubt on the face of the Bill that the condition-making power may not be used to set conditions for the purposes that I have described.
I repeat that it would not be possible under Clause 64 to set conditions that higher education institutions could not offer a particular course or programme of research. Nor would it be possible to interfere with the way in which a specific subject is taught or assessed.
That leaves the matter of Clause 77. Perhaps I may say a brief word about the background. There are two 1035 features of the discussion which took place in 1988 on the Education Reform Act to which I wish to refer in this context. First, the statutory framework established by the Education Reform Act 1988 represented a diminution of the powers which the Secretary of State had vis-à-vis the funding of individual universities. The Secretary of State's funding powers were theoretically unlimited before 1988 because the University Grants Committee was an advisory body. Therefore, allocations of funds to individual universities were for the Secretary of State who would have been technically within his rights to overturn the UGC's advice and substitute his own judgement. That is often forgotten.
The second issue was whether the Secretary of State should have an institution-specific power of direction in the new framework. There have been several quotations in the past hour. Perhaps I may add my own. When these matters were debated three years ago, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor explained why Section 134(8) of the 1988 Act was intended to encompass a power of institution-specific direction I remind the Committee of the words of my noble and learned friend during the Second Reading of the Education Reform Bill when he said that amendments moved on Report in another place had made it plain that the Government would not interfere between the Universities Funding Council and particular universities except in extreme circumstances. In other words, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor made it clear that Section 134(8) was intended to he a long-stop power.
There are other instances of that intended feature of Section 134(8) being made clear both by my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State at that time, Mr. Kenneth Baker, in another place. 11 is not possible to distinguish between institutions, as Amendment No. 286 seeks to do. That potential power must extend to all those who receive public funds from the higher education funding council. The Government accepted that in order to demonstrate the long-stop nature of the power it should be made subject to annulment by either House of Parliament. However, we have now been given advice that Section 134(8) is defective. Set within the carefully constructed provisions in that section as a whole, and in particular alongside Section 134(7), we are advised that clearer words are needed for the Secretary of State to make an institution-specific direction even as a matter of last resort or as a long-stop power. Clause 77(2) is intended merely to put that power beyond doubt. Removing subsection (2), as Amendment No. 292 seeks to do, would in practice rule out any institute-specific directions.
Perhaps I may repeat that this is a necessary power of last resort. It is to be used if relations with the funding council break down and in order to provide a long-stop protection for the taxpayers' interest in considerable sums of public funding.
My noble friend Lady Young fairly quoted words which were spoken by my right honourable friend Mr. Kenneth Baker, then Secretary of State. I suggest to my noble friend that the position now is no different from that described by Mr. Baker when he was 1036 Secretary of State. He referred to the council going off the rails, or to the danger of the council going off the rails, in taking particular decisions. But he also referred to institutions going off the rails. It is those circumstances which Clause 77 is designed to meet. Mr. Baker also made clear that he did not expect to have to use the power; nor does the present Secretary of State. However he, like Mr. Baker before him, considers it necessary to have a power of direction that can be institute specific as well as being general. If the Secretary of State did not have that power his ultimate responsibility in the other place for the Government's higher education funding policy would be at risk should there arise what I might call a nightmare scenario in which either the institution concerned or the funding council appeared to go completely off the rails in taking particular decisions.
Perhaps I may also repeat that I recognise the fears voiced by Members of the Committee in relation to this power. They are similar to those voiced about the condition-making power in Clause 64. The fears are that under Clause 77 a Secretary of State could issue a direction that institutions could not offer a particular course or programme of research, or that a particular subject must be taught and assessed in a particular way; in other words, that the provision strikes at academic freedom. The Government understand those fears. As with the condition-making power under Clause 64, I undertake to bring forward an amendment on Report which I believe will put those fears to rest. It will make clear that a direction under Clause 77 cannot prohibit an institution in higher education offering a particular course or programme of research and cannot direct that a particular subject is taught or assessed in a particular way
§ 4.15 p.m.
§ Baroness Blackstone
I am grateful to the Minister for intervening and giving the Committee an explanation of the reasons for inserting these new and different clauses into the Bill. They are clauses which do not exist in the Education Reform Act. I am also extremely grateful to the Minister for promising to come forward on Report with amendments to Clauses 64 and 77. He said that the amendments will make clear that it will not be possible to intervene in issues such as the nature of particular courses and, I hope, in the nature of assessment, the type of students to be recruited and the type of staff to be appointed. We have a long list of areas in which the Government must guarantee not to interfere in order to satisfy the considerable anxieties that exist throughout the higher education system in respect of the new proposals.
I shall first respond to what has been said about Clause 64. I had intended to follow up what was asked by my noble friend Lord McCarthy about the purpose of the clause. I, too, had assumed that it was concerned with intervention on pay. It is perfectly reasonable that a Secretary of State who is responsible for the spending of substantial sums of public money should be able to satisfy himself or herself about 1037 general matters concerned with pay and conditions. However, I remain unconvinced that the clause is necessary as regards specific institutions.
The noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said that the Secretary of State might need powers to intervene should national negotiations break down and individual settlements be needed. He said that the Secretary of State would also need to exert influence on those matters. I am somewhat surprised by that statement. It appears to me that under existing legislation it is perfectly possible for a Secretary of State to exert considerable influence on just such matters. Indeed, the present Secretary of State and his two predecessors have exerted just such influence in introducing proposals for a proportion of the salary bill to be retained for discretionary purposes and, indeed, in imposing them. Does the Minister believe that it is right to give such powers to the Secretary of State in respect of higher education? I believe that for the Secretary of State to make such individual interventions rather than to have influence on general aspects of pay and conditions, as he already has, is totally incompatible with the status of higher education institutions as independent organisations responsible for managing their own affairs.
I turn to Clause 77. The Minister has made something of the fact that Section 134(8) of the Education Reform Act 1988 is defective, even as a matter of last resort. He went on to illustrate what is meant by the phrase, "problems of such magnitude that powers of last resort must be introduced". He referred to institutions going right off the rails. I suppose that it is possible that institutions in higher education might occasionally do so, although I hope and expect that that would be incredibly rare. However, I do not find credible the suggestion that the funding council might go off the rails at the same time. That is what appears to me to be so extraordinary. Given that the chief executive of the funding councils is the accounting officer and has the powers and the duty to intervene, if that happens it appears that the status quo is working perfectly well.
In the light of what I have said, Members on this side of the Committee have not been entirely convinced that the new powers for the Secretary of State are required. However, I am grateful to the Minister for indicating that on Report we shall see some amendments, which we shall wish to examine most carefully, relating to the preservation of academic freedom. We all regard that aspect to be immensely precious and it must be protected with the utmost care.
§ Lord Simon of Glaisdale
The Minister has made a concession. I hope that I am not ungracious in saying that it is a great pity that he has not today brought forward his own amendment. He was asked to do so on Second Reading by his noble friend Lady Young and several other Members of the Committee. It would have been far more convenient if we could have seen that amendment today. However, having reverted to the untrammelled path of the 1988 Act as presented, he said instead that the Government had not been able to devise an amendment but they would 1038 consider any put forward from the body of the Committee during the Committee stage. Obviously that was an impossible demand.
It will rest with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, to say whether or not she is content to wait until Report stage. I merely draw attention to two points. The first point was made by my noble friends Lord Dainton and Lord Flowers, that the power of last resort is unnecessary in view of the responsibilities of the accounting officer. I take leave to say that such Treasury experience as I had bears that out. No doubt that point will be considered.
The other point is this. The noble Lord the Minister skated lightly over the degree of Parliamentary control involved. He rightly said that under the 1988 Act it is the negative resolution procedure; but that was based on an implicit bargain. It was pressed in another place in Committee that the power should be the affirmative resolution procedure. In view of the concession made by the Secretary of State at the time, that demand was dropped. However, the Government having reopened the whole matter, it falls for reconsideration as to what should be the degree of parliamentary control.
The criteria were clearly set out in the report of the Joint Select Committee on Delegated Legislation of 1972–73. According to no less than two of the criteria propounded, this should be done by affirmative resolution, as is demanded in Amendments Nos. 192 and 198. That, again, will fall for consideration at Report stage, when the Committee discovers—if the noble Baroness permits it—what the Government propose in the way of limiting these virtually unchannelled powers.
§ Lord Kilmarnock
As Amendment No. 293 is in my name and grouped with Amendment No. 251, perhaps I may be allowed to say a word. I shall not detain the Committee for long.
When we debated similar clauses in Part I of the Bill the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, gave an undertaking that Clause 7—the equivalent clause in that part of the Bill—would not impact on named institutions. He again repeated that assurance this afternoon and undertook to bring forward an amendment at the next stage of the Bill. I am not clear whether that will take the form roughly of what was proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew—that the word "each" should be removed, as I said it should be—but we shall wait to see.
Now that the noble Lord has given the undertaking my specific question is: does it apply also to Part I? We are all aware that Clauses 7 and 53 in Part I of the Bill are the analogues of Clauses 64 and 77 in this part of the Bill. They are not only similar, they are in fact identical. Therefore, it will be interesting to know from the noble Lord whether he proposes to bring forward amendments of a similar or identical nature to Part I, to which I also attach importance.
My second point is that, as everybody recognises, Clauses 64 and 77 hang together. In the debate on Clause 53—the equivalent in Part I of Clause 77—the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said that he would draw the attention of the Secretary of State to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Flowers, on an amendment of mine that, as drafted, the clause 1039 enables the Secretary of State to intervene in the teaching of specific subjects. The noble Lord drew the point to the attention of the Secretary of State and seems to have offered us something which may be of some comfort. However, what I do not find of comfort are the words, "reserve power", which continue to fall from the noble Lord's lips. That phrase is not statutory language; it does not appear on the face of the Bill and in statutory terms means nothing. A power is a power is a power.
If Clause 64 were properly drafted to give the Secretary of State certain powers in relation to financial and managerial but not educational matters—the sorts of power to which the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, referred and which the Secretary of State might legitimately require—I cannot see why Clause 77 is required at all. I understand that the Secretary of State was upheld in the referral to the court to which reference has been made. He seems to be taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I do not believe that the Committee will be satisfied with anything less than the removal of Clause 77.
I urge the Committee to amend Clause 64 so that it gives the Secretary of State the powers he legitimately requires and no more, and that Clause 77 be dropped from the Bill.
§ Lord Renton
Every speech that we have heard this afternoon, except that of my noble friend Lord Belstead. besides saying other things established the view that we should not have any interference with the affairs, syllabus or workings of any specific academic institution.
My noble friend Lord Belstead acknowledges that argument but says that the power is needed as a last resort. To leave it unqualified in the Bill, even after he has fulfilled his undertakings to reconsider the wording of the two clauses, would be dangerous. We must not have a reserve power which might be used in an unreserved way.
I took the liberty of tabling two amendments, one to Clause 54 and the other to Clause 77. Each was inspired by the memorandum attached to the letter from the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford to the head of the college to which I belong. If we wish to eliminate the power to interfere with academic freedom in specific institutions, these two amendments will achieve that object in the simplest possible drafting way and without going into any elaborate detail. Amendment No. 255A amends Clause 64. I was heartened when my noble friend Lord Belstead, in saying that he cannot accept the group of amendments tabled by my noble friend Lady Young, did not mention that amendment. I therefore hope that he is keeping an open mind about it.
I should like to say a brief word about Clause 77. I appreciate the argument that it may be possible to do without that clause altogether if we merely wish to leave the matter open. But having thought about it and heard what was said by my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway, and others, I feel that a difficulty would arise if we did not have something that modified subsection (2) and confined it to general 1040 power. I say that partly because it must be made to dovetail with Clause 64. Therefore I think we must keep Clause 77 in one form or another.
I had hoped that we could avoid a Division today—it may be misinterpreted—in the light of the undertakings given by my noble friend Lord Belstead. I hope that in considering the matter he will realise that he has not impressed the Committee by saying that a special power is needed as a last resort. We should avoid that.
§ 4.30 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
This debate has generated an extraordinary amount of interest. The last time I found as much difficulty in contributing to one of your Lordships' debates was on Lord Chelwood's amendment to the poll tax Bill.
I am grateful to the Minister for the care and courtesy of his reply and for the promise of a forthcoming amendment on Report. It is a gift horse. But it is the duty of this Committee to look a gift horse in the mouth. I understand that the noble Lord offers us an assurance that the powers will not be used on academic matters, nor will they be used to cover the intellectual content of a course. I am grateful for that assurance. Those fears were not rugatory and I believe that the noble Lord has dispelled them. The problem is that there is a grey area where one must consider what the boundary is of an "academic matter". In particular, the daily life of an academic matter is where the academic and the financial meet. It is there that I would particularly like to probe the effects of the clause.
For example, take a decision by an academic department that it cannot expand the number of its students beyond a certain figure on the books it has available. Is the decision on how many books will be needed for how many people an academic decision and protected by the noble Lord's forthcoming amendment or not? Is the decision how many undergraduates we can properly teach in one group without diminishing the quality of our teaching an academic decision and protected by the amendment or not? I could multiply those questions, but I shall not.
The phrase "off the rails" is, to borrow the term of the noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, not a statutory phrase. What is off the rails is in part a subjective question. It would help the Committee a little more if we could have clarification of what is meant by "off the rails". Most of the ways of going off the rails that I can foresee are already covered by other powers. I think in particular of the laws against fraud and those dealing with bankruptcy. If academic matters are not covered and those two are already covered, then I do not see what is covered.
I should also be grateful for an answer to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, about the improbability of the funding council and the institution going off the rails together. I wonder whether the Secretary of State is not, in the good old 17th century phrase, keeping a dog and barking himself.
§ Lord Milverton
I have listened with interest to the many strong arguments for the amendment which are therefore not sympathetic to the Government. My noble friend Lord Renton said that no voices had been raised with sympathy for the Government. I am afraid that he is wrong because I have sympathy and I should like to have explained to me even better why there is this academic fear from the universities. I have listened to and read material and I honestly do not believe that Her Majesty's Government are trying to interfere with academic freedom. Therefore, until someone is able to convince me about that, my sympathies are with the Government. I hope that the Committee will allow the Minister to take this matter away and bring forward the amendment which he proposes.
§ Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone
I rise to discuss what the Committee ought to do because sooner or later we shall have to make up our minds on the practical point. I know that the peacemakers are blessed and, if I did not, I see two right reverend figures on the Bishops' Bench who would quickly remind me of that fact. I am bound to say that my experience of political life is such that the peacemakers usually have rather a rough ride.
I listened to the speech of my noble friend Lady Young with great pleasure. I wish to say to her and to my other noble friends who have taken part in the debate something along the lines of the remarks of my noble and learned friend on the Cross Benches, Lord Simon of Glaisdale. We must make up our minds at what stage this interesting series of questions—it is not one question—should be brought to a head.
I come to the conclusion, after listening carefully to everything that has been said in the debate, that it would be better to bring the matter to a head at Report stage than in our present state, which may not be as clear as it will at the later stage. If we do not postpone a decision to that stage, we may perhaps be in a worse position than we are now to come to a final conclusion.
I share the view of my noble friend Lord Milverton. I believe that there is no basic difference between the Government and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals as to the necessity, at almost any cost, of preserving academic freedom in the country. I acknowledge that the noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Hillhead, was perfectly correct in pointing with regret to a certain amount of suspicion which exists between those two admirable bodies. I only wish that that suspicion could be dispelled and I hope that it will be. I do not believe that there is any fundamental difference between them.
Therefore, between now and Report stage, in the light of what my noble friend Lord Belstead has said, we may well suggest that those two eminent bodies should get in touch with one another to discuss frankly their real positions. I am not sure that either is quite clear about the position occupied by the other.
The only other point I wish to make which is designed to reinforce this hesitant conclusion is this. My noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale may have been on to rather an important point. The powers—whatever they be—in the latter group of amendments which have been under discussion are 1042 subject to parliamentary control but only by way of negative resolution. I am not always as persuaded as are some people in the House that there is much difference between the two because it is the business of both Houses to invoke parliamentary control, even in matters of negative resolution.
I make a point to the Committee which is worth consideration. We have too many and too elaborate provisions, in my judgment, which is one of the difficulties of the working of our constitution at present. The purpose of putting down elaborate provisions in Acts of Parliament is not to reduce the accountability of Ministers to Parliament but to shift the responsibility of Ministers from Parliament to the courts. That is why we put provisions, as the cant phrase is, on the face of the Bill.
My view is that there are areas of policy in which Ministers ought primarily to be accountable to Parliament and not to the courts. I say to three or four respected and beloved noble and learned friends on the Cross Benches that there are areas of public policy in which Parliament is a better judge of what ought to be allowed and what ought to be prohibited than our professional judges, most of whom at present have never had experience of either House of Parliament or of political questions.
Therefore, I suggest as a practical proposition, first, that the question which the Committee has to decide, subject to whatever my noble friend Lady Young proposes, is whether we bring matters to a head now or give the parties a chance to come together. Secondly, in the last resort, do we want to make it a matter of judicial control or are we anxious that it should be subject to political control through the Houses of Parliament? I venture to believe that that is rather similar to the point put by my noble and learned friend Lord Simon of Glaisdale: I put it in the context of what we have now to decide.
§ Lord Annan
I wonder whether the noble Lord can help on one point. It was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. She put it extremely well when she said that we shall need to know in more detail what it is that the Secretary of State is alarmed about. I do not know whether the noble Lord read on Friday the recent edition of the periodical called the Higher. It contained an interview with the Secretary of State. When the Secretary of State was asked why he was so worried and why Clause 77 was needed, he said "What would happen if a department of architecture in a university decided that it wanted seven years for its degree? We must have reserve powers to stop that kind of thing". Is that the kind of interference which we have to expect when the noble Lord brings back his amendment?
Perhaps we may take another point. The noble Lord, Lord Beloff, has often spoken about the great success of the University of Buckingham which grants a degree in two years. But in each of those two years the university has four terms: so it is a case of eight terms as against the normal nine in other universities. In addition, in that university each academic is able to have a term off for research. Let us suppose that in the very difficult situation in which the Secretary of State finds himself of trying to expand the number of 1043 students in higher education, he is advised that one solution would be to compel universities to institute a new structure of that kind into their degrees. Is that the kind of thing in which the Secretary of State could direct the universities under the present draft?
I ask these questions because in the past, as my noble friend Lord Dainton, said, such matters were always dealt with by hints, nods and nudges by the Secretary of State to the chairman of the University Grants Committee or the chairman of the vice-chancellors committee. When Mrs. Thatcher became Secretary of State for Education she thought it monstrous that there should be quotas for women in medical schools. Some people, quite rightly, thinking of days long gone by, said that there would have been no women in medical schools at all unless quotas had been instituted. On the other hand, the time for that had gone. Although there was considerable opposition to abolishing quotas, nevertheless, as a result of conversations through the normal channels, the vice-chancellors committee invited those universities which had medical schools and were operating quotas to change their practice. That is the way things were done.
There is a suspicion of government within universities which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, wishes to dispel. It is the suspicion that government no longer believe that quangos—whether the University Grants Committee, the governors of the BBC, the IBA or the trustees of museums and galleries—do their job. There is a suspicion in the air that government no longer believe that these bodies, as they once did, decide what is right for the nation as a whole. It may well be that some of those bodies became too used to defending their own bailiwick rather than considering the question, "Has not the time come for a change?" I believe that the noble Lord will need to convince the Committee and say precisely what he is hoping that any power he requires for intervention is intended to do.
We are, all, I am sure, aware of one reserve power in the Government's hands in broadcasting. The Home Secretary has the power to prohibit the transmission of any programme. He does not of course exercise that power. However, a maladroit Home Secretary can, by giving nods, nudges and hints, create a furore as happened some years ago over a programme which the BBC wanted to transmit. It may be that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, will tell the House at Report stage that that is the kind of power he wants. But he will need to convince us that it is on very specific points in respect of which he can see that power being used and, equally, that it will not be used on other points.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ Lord Peston
It may help the noble Lord and Members of the Committee if I speak briefly as to where the Opposition stand on this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Milverton, is not here at the moment, but I would like to deal with his intervention first. I believe that one could make the matter very clear on the basis of what he said. He said that he trusted the good intentions of this Government and, I presume, 1044 specifically the Secretary of State. I too do not wish to argue about the good intentions of the Government. I take it that we write legislation not on the assumption that our governments always have good intentions. The whole point about the fear of academic freedom is that alternative governments may have less good intentions.
I hope that noble Lords opposite are not seeing this matter in terms of whether one is for or against the Government. That would ruin the nature of the debate which has happily been rather non-political. I hate to say that I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Renton, and with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hailsham, but I believe that this is not an occasion for the Committee to divide. I did not believe that originally but now I feel that it is premature to take a decision. The reason is that I am not clear that it is easy to produce proper amendments. Therefore, the alternative of simply rejecting all these matters remains with us. If Members of the Committee will forgive the cliché, I want to wait and see.
However, I have a specific question for the noble Lord the Minister. It was not clear from what he said whether the amendments that he wishes us to consider have already been drafted and that therefore in his view the problem is solved. That would really interest me because I do not believe that I could draft such amendments. Alternatively, is the Minister saying that at some time between now and January his department will come up with a solution to the problem? We need to know the answer. It will not change my mind about not wishing to vote on the matter now. I simply want to know what is the Minister's position. Can he assure us that we shall see the amendments in good time?
Perhaps I may draw to the Minister's attention a fact which I am sure has not escaped his notice; namely, that it is Christmas next week and that we return not long afterwards. This is a deadly serious subject. I want time to look at whatever the Government are proposing. I ask the Minister specifically and repeat the two questions: has he the amendments in his pocket now, in which case can we see them now? Alternatively, is the Minister saying that his department is still trying to produce such amendments? If the latter, can he guarantee that we shall see them in time to scrutinise them properly? I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Young, will rise to her feet fairly soon. I believe that we can reach the end of this matter in the very near future.
§ Lord Beloff
I should like to put the point that I was going to put to my noble friend, because it is part of the peace-making process which has been commended to us. I understood my noble friend the Minister to suggest that his amended Clause 77 would be by the addition of exclusions—excluding the content of courses, the methods of examination and so on.
I should like to point out to my noble friend that that might prove to be a very difficult task, for the reason given by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. For instance, one would certainly need to exclude the power to dictate the choice of students or the categories of students to be chosen. It would need to deal with the appointment of staff. If one looks at the 1045 interference by governments in less happy countries—some state legislatures in the United States come to mind—there is a whole range of matters upon which financial power has been used to impose provisions that all of us would agree are hostile to academic freedom. I ask my noble friend whether it would be possible to have a clause which did not need exclusions but which was itself so precise that no possible doubt could arise.
§ Lord Hatch of Lusby
Before the Minister replies, perhaps I may ask one specific question following on from what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff. I am pleased he has recognised that this is an issue seen on all sides of the Committee as a question of academic freedom. I hope he knows that that is seen even more deeply within the academic world. Here, as at Second Reading, I can associate my own university—the University of East Anglia—through the Vice-Chancellor with the opposition given to these two clauses by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals.
When the noble Lord saw the opposition from all sides of the Committee he produced a list of the changes that he would try to include within the new amendment that he intends to bring forward. It dealt with courses, resources, and so on. As has just been pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, the list did not refer to interference with staff. The noble Lord, Lord Dainton, recalled that Bertrand Russell was prevented from teaching in a university in this country. I can speak from personal experience. My university work was stopped in another continent by state interference with the university.
When the noble Lord gives the Committee some indication of what he proposes to do, can he say that he recognises that in addition to excluding any state interference in courses and resources he should also include the exclusion of any state interference in the appointment or conduct of staff and students?
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
Having heard what Members of the Committee have said, I shall not oppose the Question that Clause 77 shall stand part of the Bill. I should like to thank my noble friend the Minister for his very important concession in this regard because although technically it will stand part today, it will not stand part in any statute which receives Royal Assent.
As Members of the Committee have said, there are some very serious difficulties and matters of principle involved with which it would not be possible to deal today until we have seen the draft of the amendment. However, whatever comes forward in place of Clause 77 I expressly reserve the right to move an amendment to remove it at a subsequent stage.
§ Lord Belstead
I should like to thank my noble friend Lord Campbell of Alloway for what he said about his intention concerning the Clause stand part debate. I apologise to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, for not coming to the Chamber with an amendment actually in my pocket, or at least on the Marshalled List. The Department of 1046 Education and Science has looked at the drafting possibilities but it is not necessarily easy to put into legal language exactly what I undertook to do. However, my undertaking remains firm. As I said, it is my intention, and my undertaking to the Committee, to come forward with an amendment of the kind that I proposed.
Perhaps I may make one brief point. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon of Glaisdale, referred to the desirability of the affirmative resolution procedure. The noble and learned Lord might consider, on reflection, whether an institution's specific direction—if subject to an affirmative resolution procedure—would have to go through all the hoops of the hybrid instrument procedure.
The noble Lord, Lord Kilmarnock, asked whether the undertaking that I gave applied to Part 1 of the Bill. We laboured long and earnestly the other evening on that particular matter. In fact, we had a very long debate indeed. I ended that debate by giving an undertaking that I would discuss the matter with my right honourable friend so far as Part 1 is concerned. That remains my position.
The noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, both pressed me to say more about what I meant about going off the rails. I think I am right in saying that it is a fact that, sadly, three higher education institutions in recent years, all with accounting officers, have got into serious financial difficulties. Therefore, what I am endeavouring to say—indeed, I said it the other evening—is that what can happen buttresses the need for the case which I have sought to make today.
My noble friend Lord Renton referred to the drafting of the Bill. At the end of a very long debate I do not want to cross swords with my noble friend on his interpretation of the use of the word "each", but rather to give him an undertaking that we are certainly prepared to look again at the wording of that part of the Bill.
That brings me back to the crucial point. As the noble Lord, Lord Annan, said, it depends on what is in the amendment. All I can do today is to say that on Second Reading I voiced my intention to listen carefully to what was said by the Committee. So far I believe I have fulfilled those intentions in the sense that I have given the Committee an absolute undertaking that I shall bring forward an amendment to deal with matters which I believe strike at the heart of academic freedom. I have repeated that twice and it is on record. Therefore, if the Committee will at least trust me to do that, I hope that my noble friend Lady Young will take the advice given by my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, and other Members of the Committee including my noble friend Lord Renton, and see fit to withdraw the amendment so that we may return to this matter after Christmas.
§ Baroness Blackstone
Before the Minister sits down I should like to ask one question. He did not answer my noble friend Lord Peston on when we shall actually get these amendments. Since the Report stage of this Bill is within two or three days of our return after Christmas, may I ask whether it will be possible 1047 to have the amendments before Christmas so that we can take them away and examine them with proper time?
There is one other point I should like to make in response to what the Minister said about the higher education institutions that have got into financial difficulties. There are, of course, very few and it is a rare occurrence. However, am I right in saying that in all cases those problems have been resolved under existing legislation without the need for the Secretary of State to intervene with these new powers?
§ Lord Campbell of Alloway
Before my noble friend replies, may we have a little longer to consider this matter? Christmas will be here pretty soon. We are dealing with a matter of fundamental principle and anxiety to all sides of the Committee. How on earth are we to give our minds to it immediately after Christmas? There are so many other matters to attend to. Can the Leader of the House perhaps postpone the date for a week to let us regain our breath?
§ Lord Belstead
The question of the dates for Report stage are a matter for the usual channels. I can only assure the Committee and the noble Baroness that I shall certainly try to produce the amendments as quickly as possible. What I cannot do is give an undertaking that they will be produced before Christmas. We shall certainly do our best and there are ways of sending things through the post direct to Members of the Committee who are interested in the matter. However, with the best will in the world that is as far as I can go this afternoon.
§ 5 p.m.
§ Baroness Young
I thank all Members of the Committee who have taken part in this long and important debate. In particular I thank my noble friend Lord Belstead, who started by saying that he now understood the strength of feeling in all parts of the Committee. If anything has made that clear, it is the debate that we have had this afternoon. He responced, as always, with great courtesy and care. I should like to place on record my thanks to him for his undertaking to bring forward amendments to Clauses 64 and 77. I know how much work he has put into this and I am grateful to him.
I am sure that he will study Hansard carefully as an enormous number of detailed points were raised by among others the noble Earl, Lord Russell, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, my noble friend Lord Beloff and the noble Lord, Lord Peston on matters of definition and on what any kind of amendment to secure academic freedom would mean. I am sure that my noble friend will consider all these matters. I do not regard them as matters for debate at this stage across the Floor of the Chamber. I echo what has been said—it would be helpful to have the amendments as soon as possible. I know only too well the difficulties that arise but we shall lose a week because of Christmas and a best part of another week with the New Year. We return shortly after that. These are matters of great importance. Therefore I underline 1048 what my noble friend has undertaken to do which is to send the amendments to all those who are particularly interested. That would be very helpful indeed.
When I moved the amendment I did not say that it was not my intention to press it this afternoon because I felt it was right to listen to what the Committee had to say. However, in view of all that has been said, I shall not press it. That would be quite wrong. We all need time to reflect on the debate. Above all, we need time to consider the amendments that my noble friend has undertaken to bring forward. We shall study them with care, and then we can, if necessary, return to this matter at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Baroness Cox moved Amendment No. 251A:
§ Page 45, line 43, at beginning insert ("Subject to section 66 (1B) below").
§ The noble Baroness said: I regret to disappoint the Committee but this amendment was grouped with the first group of amendments. The first amendment in that group, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, was not moved and therefore my noble friend Lord Pearson and I would like to speak briefly to this amendment and to Amendment No. 268ZA which was grouped with it. We believe that they address the specific procedures with regard to possible mechanisms for quality control and therefore we do not wish this opportunity to pass by. We could not speak to them during the long debate that we have just had because they were not grouped with the amendments under consideration.
§ Amendment No. 251A is a paving amendment for Amendment No. 268ZA. The amendments attempt to suggest one or two constructive ways in which procedures for an academic quality assurance control might be built into the Bill. In speaking to the amendments we wish briefly to address the concept of academic freedom with regard to accountability and the procedures for quality assurance.
§ I begin by emphasising that, like every other Member of the Committee, I believe passionately in the principle of academic freedom. That is why I have challenged instances where I have seen it being violated in this country and why I have worked in a small way with colleagues in totalitarian regimes, such as Poland during the dark years of martial law, suffering from systems which tried to crush freedom of all kinds.
§ Perhaps I may give some examples of where all is not well and where situations have gone off the rails in this country with regard to the track record of academic freedom and academic quality assurance. These are not unproblematic in our own country. I suggest three kinds of violation which we might wish to take into account if we are thinking of building in the safeguards that are implied in our amendment. The concerns relate to violations of freedom to pursue knowledge and truth, freedom of legitimate access to academic institutions and freedom to speak on campus.
§ My position in regard to academic freedom in education is premised on the belief that education, especially higher education, must enshrine the 1049 principle of freedom to pursue knowledge and truth, wherever that pursuit may lead. In a previous incarnation, when I was head of the department of sociology at the Polytechnic of North London, I consistently challenged colleagues who required students to accept a specific, predetermined, Marxist version of "the truth" and who used tactics of intimidation against students who refused to write politically acceptable papers or to accept Marxist interpretations of their research. These concerns were fully documented in a book written by myself and two colleagues, John Marks and Keith Jacka, called The Rape of Reason. They have never been refuted. I shall always be grateful to Bernard Levin who devoted a trilogy of articles in The Times, one of which summed up in his own inimitable style the essence of our situation at that college, with the heading "In all its brutality, the making of an intellectual concentration camp". I suggest that that may be one example of a situation that has "gone off the rails", to quote the phrase that has been used.
§ When that book was published my co-authors and I received numerous letters of support from academic staff in other institutions, who were so frightened that they begged not to be identified but who described similar situations. Where were the guardians of academic freedom and quality then? How did the academic community condone such violations of the rights of students to freedom to pursue knowledge and truth, even if it was not the ideologically or politically popular truth? I know that I am speaking about the 1970s, but the issues are timeless and the dangers to academic freedom are still with us. Much more recently Professor David Marsland documented systematic bias in university and polytechnic sociology courses throughout the country in his book Seeds of Bankruptcy, with a comprehensive analysis which has not been refuted. I have a final example. I recently received a letter from a lecturer in English in one of the colleges of London University. He was dismayed by great pressures being applied for Shakespeare to be taught in terms of neo-Marxist political analysis; for example, "The Tempest" was to be taught in terms of political power. In the United States many academies are suffering from restriction of academic activities to those which are "politically correct"—the so-called "PC" phenomenon. This concept is just beginning to appear as a small cloud on the British horizon—at present no larger than a man's hand—but may prove to be a test of British academies' willingness to protect genuine academic freedom.
§ My colleagues and I were originally goaded into writing our book by grave dismay at seeing the effects on students of the violations of academic freedom incurred by violent occupations of the colleges. Those occupations epitomise my second concern: denial of access by students to the education and other facilities to which they were entitled and for which they, or others, had paid. Many were mature students who had given up careers in order to study and were desperate in their frustration at this violation of their freedom to study. It was disingenuous of student leaders to claim 1050 unanimity of support for their occupations. In my experience, those "unanimous" decisions were often taken at student meetings attended by a fraction of students, while others were working hard or had to leave the college for family or work commitments. I know that there are now students feeling the same kind of frustration about recent occupations, when they have been denied access to their studies. But they are intimidated or too busy with responsibilities in the world outside the academy to be able to challenge the student leadership.
§ My third concern with regard to accountability, quality of educational provision and academic freedom is censorship. I believe that academic freedom is essential for a free society. The academy must be a market place for the free discussion of ideas. There is legal protection against unacceptable situations such as incitement to racial hatred. Apart from that, there must be freedom for the expression of any viewpoints; if ideas are uncongenial to some, their fallacies should be exposed in free discussion; they should not be censored off the campus. But recent years have seen too many instances where speakers have been refused permission to speak on the campuses of our universities and polytechnics. I am not talking about speakers who might infringe the law; I am talking about democratically elected government Ministers and courageous individuals like Mr. Ray Honeyford. The situation is totally unacceptable. I believe that such censorship on the academies of our campuses is pernicious. It is a basic violation of academic freedom and could be likened, in an embryonic form, to the kind of repression experienced in Nazi Germany or under communism. Yet it has happened recently in this country. I believe that it is a matter for grave concern.
§ I have spoken about these unpleasant realities because they are not fictitious. They demonstrate the vulnerability of academies to pressures from those who exploit the principle of academic freedom and turn it into a travesty of itself. The colleagues who taught Marxism, to the detriment of any other welatanschauung, claimed academic freedom to do so. I do not begrudge them the right to teach Marxism; indeed, I do so myself as a social scientist. However, I challenge the use of intimidation to require students to accept only a Marxist position. Students who occupy academies claim a democratic mandate; but many students suffer a serious interruption of their right to study. Those who imposed censorship claim a twisted form of academic freedom in the argument that they wish to avoid "offensive" speeches. They set themselves up as judge and jury, with no appeal or redress.
§ I am deeply concerned about the problems of protecting academic freedom. I know that the issues are complex. But, during subsequent debates at later stages of the Bill I hope to hear advice from those who are more experienced in these matters about ways in which academies may reassure the public about their methods of protecting this fundamental principle.
§ But because there is public concern, I suggest that the intentions of the Bill in its endeavours to build in mechanisms for accountability and quality assurance 1051 and ultimate safeguards against abuse of taxpayers' money are legitimate and worthy of very serious consideration as the Bill passes through its various stages.
§ I must express support for my noble friend Lord Pearson who always succeeds in stimulating Members of the Committee with his forthright views. I suspect that he engenders such animated opposition because there is a good deal of uncomfortable truth in what he says. From my own experience, I can vouch for the fact that there certainly were considerable opportunities for, if I may use a colloquial phrase, "ripping off" the system. As head of a department, I remember academic colleagues with salaries which, if not princely, at least compared favourably with other professiols, who had the burdensome load of two hours student contact a week and who did not spend the rest of their time on research, administration or other academic activities. When I made mild inquiries about their right to this way of earning a living, I was reminded of the key words "academic freedom" and "tenure".
§ I know that circumstances have changed. I doubt if I would find identical situations today. There is much less surplus in the system now; indeed, in many places it may be pared to the bone, at least by British standards. But the point is simply this: the academic community did not call those colleagues to account; external factors and tightening budgets did. Therefore, my concern—and it remains with me—is that I can see no reason why academics should not be prepared to be accountable to the Government and to the society that finances them in very clearly laid out measures of quality control.
§ I do not believe that the wording of the amendments tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Pearson is ideal. However, I hope that the spirit behind them will not be laughed out of court. I am of course aware that there is an intention in the Bill to establish a quality assurance committee. But I am worried about potential resistance by the academic community in the name of academic freedom being of such a kind that it may prevent any such committee from doing an effective job.
§ I know many dedicated academics pursuing academic excellence. I have unbounded respect for them. But I have raised these dreary examples of less-than-excellent situations—situations which I believe have gone off the rails and about which there was some discussion in the earlier debate but which I did not wish to prolong—to explain the rationale for these amendments. They seek to enshrine the principle of accountability at the level of the academies themselves, in ways similar to those which the Government have already enacted, to their great credit, in ether parts of the education system.
§ I know from my experience of working with the CNAA, and as a governor of a polytechnic, that many academies are operating increasingly stringent quality assurance procedures. I welcome that. I do not envisage any problems of principle or practice if information about the mechanisms and results of these procedures were to be made, and be required to be made, available to the funding council; and, in 1052 appropriate form, to the public who support, use and, after all, finance our academies. Such an approach to accountability would be democratic, it would not violate the fundamental principles of academic freedom to which we are all deeply committed and might satisfy any government of the day that the nation's money was being well invested in the precious resource of our national academies. I beg to move.
§ 5.15 p.m.
§ Earl Russell
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for raising these matters. The concerns of which she spoke are indeed timeless. They certainly go back as far as Socrates and, I suspect, if our records permitted us to say so, a great deal further. The noble Baroness is complaining about a form of original sin. I believe that it is as old as humanity. It is at all times objectionable.
What the noble Baroness said about freedom of speech is quite right. The last time the issue came directly my way was at a meeting in an institution to which I belonged. It was to be addressed by Mr. Enoch Powell. We received a report that there was a risk of disruption. I immediately cancelled every commitment I had—they were numerous—and went along to attend the meeting as an ordinary member of the audience. When it is necessary, I shall do so again.
I agree with the tribute that the noble Baroness paid to her noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch. I do not agree with everything she said about exactly what sort of solution is required. But the general principles are agreed. I hope that we can work together to defend them.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Russell, for that encouragement. I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 251A and 268ZA which are tabled in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Cox. The amendment is designed to be helpful to academic quality and to academic freedom. Those who oppose Clauses 53, 64 and 77 do so more because they fear interference from the Secretary of State in academic matters than because they fear the proper scrutiny of the use of public funds. Therefore, the amendment deals exclusively with academic quality and, if accepted, would go some way to assuring the Secretary of State that quality control was working and was seen to be working in all our higher education institutions.
The amendment really follows on from what I said on Second Reading when I doubted whether the polytechnics were ready for the degree of academic freedom envisaged by the Bill. I doubted that because the CNAA took much on trust when it granted accreditation. I am afraid that there are current examples, to which I shall return, where that trust clearly has not been justified.
It must also be true to say that the universities have much less obvious quality assurance mechanisms than the polytechnics. On Second Reading I suggested to my noble friend that if the Government got into trouble on these clauses, he might achieve much the same safeguards for academic quality by requiring on the face of the Bill our higher education institutions to continue with perhaps two of the CNAA's excellent 1053 quality assurance mechanisms: first, that institutions should be required to publish detailed profiles of the courses that they offer, together with their reading lists; and, secondly, that they should publish the names of the external examiners for each of their courses and the reports of those external examiners.
The amendment does not go so far as those specific proposals. It certainly cannot be said to interfere with academic freedom. It does not attempt to prescribe what should be in the course profiles. It would merely display the course content for scrutiny by students and the wider public. Such glasnost would make the proposed academic audit unit's job much easier than if it had to deal with the universities' present reticence in that regard.
I fear that noble and academic Lords, particularly those who work in the university sector, may object to such open quality assurance. But I do not see how they can do so justifiably. After all, huge sums of public money are being spent on these courses. It seems perfectly reasonable for the public, and more particularly the students intending to take the courses, to be told what is on offer.
Members of the Committee who work in higher education, and others, may feel that that type of quality assurance can be left to the institutions themselves; in other words, to our old friend self-regulation. My experience tells me that they would be wrong.
My noble friend Lady Cox has explained a number of areas of concern where academic freedom has not led to academic quality, as we in this place understand that concept. I have said that I will give other examples, although for obvious reasons I should prefer not to give the names of the institutions involved. My examples tend to be from the subject areas of the humanities, social science and teacher training which is where the worst abuses seem to occur. The examples also tend to come from the polytechnic sector because that is my area of experience and because in the CNAA the polytechnics have a mechanism which does much to bring that type of problem into the open and so to limit those abuses of public funds and academic freedom.
Indeed, in the first of my examples, I shall not give the name of the institution because I have promised the student who has told me about the teacher training course in question that I shall not do so until he or she has finished the course in July. I respect that, because I know that the hobgoblins who inhabit the secret garden of teacher training in this country can he vindictive against those who challenge some of their cancerous traditions. Be that as it may, students on the teacher training course in question have to put up with a lot in order to be politically correct, and thus be awarded their degree. On their first day they are obliged to join one of the three teaching unions and they are taught that competitive sports breed inequality and are insulting to those who do not win.
The students are forbidden to use terms such as "first" or "second" during games or other lessons, because those terms are elitist. Instead, words such as "cabbage" or "cauliflower" are to replace the elitist 1054 concepts of winners and runners-up. From the start of the course "correct language" is forced upon the students. Students who use terms such as "caveman", instead of the correct "cave person", are marked down and told that they will fail their exams if they persist in using such outrageously sexist language.
My informant was marked down last month for using the term "his" when talking about an imaginary teacher in a presentation. The course is aimed at child-centred learning; children should not have to show their writing to their teachers unless they wish to; children do not need handwriting lessons; and good grammar and spelling are not to be encouraged. When the students come to geography or history, they are told that facts are worthless, and that what matters are "historical concepts" and their relationship to social issues. When they come to mathematics they are taught that children must not be forced to learn anything: outdated multiplication tables have no place in the modern classroom.
As to classroom discipline, the future teacher is taught that any criticism or punishment is counterproductive. Bad behaviour must be ignored because there is almost certain to be a social explanation for it. That course is running now in a respectable institution. It has been validated by the CNAA. It has been accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education; it has been inspected by Her Majesty's Inspectorate, and its products are licensed to teach by the Department of Education and Science. That is the type of course that the amendment is designed to display for public comment.
My second example refers to another polytechnic. This time it is a whole institution where the quality control mechanisms have clearly broken down, especially in the area of so-called independent studies. The polytechnic in question has just assured the CNAA that it has,initiated major changes to the management and oversight of quality throughout the polytechnic".The CNAA is to review those changes next February, when all the institutions' quality assurance arrangements, together with their external examiner systems, will be reviewed. That is a case where an entire institution has slipped through the net of the CNAA's accreditation process and our other quality assurance mechanisms. Again, the amendment would help the proposed new academic audit unit to discover that type of problem in a more timely fashion in future. I am sure that there will be other such examples with which to deal.
My third and final example relates to a whole subject discipline. where the present quality control mechanisms do not appear to be working. Apart from teacher training, upon which I have tried the patience of this place often in the past, I should tell the Committee that cultural studies, often allied to media studies, have always been, and are still, far too narrow in their scope. Cultural studies were recently described in the polytechnic which gave birth to that subject as,A Marxist critique of British history".When I visited a well-known polytechnic to decide whether it should receive accreditation from the CNAA, I queried with some members of the academic board whether their system for screening their external 1055 examiners was working satisfactorily. Had it, for instance, I asked, rejected any external examiners proposed by a course team? "Yes", I was told, "there had been an example, but the screening had not worked for other reasons". When I probed further, one of the professors present, who represented a respectable hard discipline—chemistry, I think—confessed openly that they had tried to change an external examiner for their cultural studies course because they wanted someone who was not a Marxist. They had not been able to find any examiners in cultural studies who were not Marxist and so gave up the struggle. I was of course unhappy that that institution should have been accredited. I suggested that they might have found a philosopher, or someone else; but as the lone non-academic voice in the process, I was, I am afraid, easily overridden.
I hope that those three examples add to what my noble friend Lady Cox said, and show why we believe the amendment on the face of the Bill, or something similar, would be helpful to academic quality in higher education. Many Members of this place rightly insist that academic freedom should be defended at all costs. I join them wholeheartedly. But academic freedom can be hollow indeed and may even be used dangerously unless it discharges its sacred duty to academic quality. That is why the amendment should be accepted by all sides of the Committee.
§ Lord Peston
I believe in freedom of speech. I have believed in it since my mother first told me to shut up and added, "If you do not shut up, I shall smack you". I must say, however, that my belief in the freedom of speech is tested to the limit by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. But those things are meant to be tested to the limit.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, eventually reached the amendment which is on the Marshalled List, after making a long speech upon which I wish to make a few remarks. This is a sensible amendment. I see no connection between it and academic freedom. I assume that we are entitled to interpret it as coming under Clause 64, as amended by the Minister when he comes forward with some amendments. But, subject to that, it is sensible that such documents should be drawn up and published. Institutions publish annual reports. It would be admirable if they were to publish annual reports about what they think they are doing by way of education, including the quality of the education, It all sounds fine to me. My only caveat is that in those reports the photographs should at least be true to life and should not consist merely of the one student who was wearing a suit or a dress. Photographs of the building should not be taken on the only day of the year upon which it is not raining. What I mean is that it should be an honest annual report.
I hope that the Minister will respond sympathetically to the amendments, although I guess that he will say, "Why put it on the face of the Bill? I am sure that we can rely upon the funding councils". The spirit of the amendment makes good sense and I see no problems with academic freedom in relation to it.
Let me say on the whole freedom question that I do not believe that freedom is a complex matter. Either 1056 one believes in freedom of speech and freedom of publication, including the freedom of speech of those whose views one finds hateful, or one does not. Those people who try to suppress views that they do not like are mistaken. They are mistaken on other grounds too. I am an optimist. I believe that correct views will out, and I want noble Lords to talk the nonsense that they do. I argue that point with my students when they try to prevent people from speaking on campus. I find such attempts wholly deplorable. I want nonsense to be expressed, so it may be exposed. I believe one should take that position as regards freedom of speech.
I say slightly cynically that I wish Members of the Committee would apply views of that kind to, for example, their friends in the Tory press. They might point out that it is a good rule to give more than one view on a topic. However, I only say that slightly cynically as I know they take the same view themselves.
I believe that the examples given by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord are idiosyncratic. They do not apply to the overwhelming majority of cases. It is easy to find cases which may be exaggerated. I would have no difficulty in finding a moderate Left wing economist who would pronounce that every economics course in the country was biased in favour of the market mechanism. He would declare such courses were Right wing and unacceptable. I would argue that such criticism was unacceptable as the speaker did not understand the nature of freedom. I believe the noble Baroness could take a slightly more judicious view of these matters.
I believe the student referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, was, to say the least, having the noble Lord on slightly. I could almost certainly find another student on the same course who would give the noble Lord a view at the other extreme. The noble Lord should not be taken in in that way. I am not saying for one moment that there are not courses that are not satisfactory, but the concept of freedom includes the ability to get things wrong. One must face that fact. The concept of freedom includes the ability to make a mess of a course. I might be persuaded occasionally that I have got things wrong, and I am not the only academic who can be persuaded in that way. I did not wish to have a debate on academic freedom at this point. However, I wished to respond to those who have spoken. I wish to support the previous speakers in persuading the Minister that, in my judgment, what they are proposing is neither incompatible with the Bill nor devastating to all the causes of good education we believe in.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lord Renton
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, has mentioned nearly everything I intended to say so I can make my speech short. I feel bound to say that, although I greatly enjoyed, as I always do, the vigorous and lively speeches of my noble friends Lady Cox and Lord Pearson of Rannoch, the first line of the amendment simply will not do in the light of the discussion that took place in the first hour and a half of the debate this afternoon. If there is to be annual 1057 reporting of the kind envisaged, it should be made to the funding council and not to the Secretary of State. I wonder whether my noble friends have considered that under Clause 66(1) (a) as it stands, a great deal of what they have in mind can already be achieved. It is just a question of how it is done.
§ Lord Desai
Like my noble friend Lord Peston, I too cannot envisage much of a connection between what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, said and the wording of the amendment. I entirely agree with the wording of the amendment. We would be proud to publish reports on the quality of education we provide in universities.
I have written on the subject of Marxism. I might even be called a Marxist economist, at least every other day of the week. I have never considered that the country is terrorised by too much Marxism. Indeed, as has been pointed out, it is hard to find more than about two such people to conduct any examinations in Marxist economics. However, what matters above all is the principle of peer group review. If we are to judge course content, quality of teaching and the selection of examiners, those matters should be judged by the peers of the academics involved. That is an important principle.
If the Secretary of State, the DES or anyone else started to dictate who the examiners should be, whether they be High Keynesians, anarchists, Marxists, or whatever, or if we were told what courses we could or could not teach, that would be the end of academic freedom. Academics have already felt not overt but subtle pressures when we have been told that certain courses are not viable in the marketplace and therefore they should not be taught. I accept that that is not an overt attack on academic freedom but we feel that increasingly economic pressures are being placed on universities—that has been the case for the past 15 years—which make it difficult to teach the kind of courses we have been teaching. I recognise that we are spending public money and that we must be accountable. I ask that the principle of peer group review should be preserved in the context of preserving academic freedom. If we lose that principle, I do not know what will happen.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
I hope that my noble friend Lady Cox will tell the Committee whether she feels this amendment and her comments in support of it conflict with the arguments that were deployed in the previous debate in Committee. She and I listened carefully to every word of that debate as it concerned a delicate matter and we must be realistic about it. I hope my noble friend will be able to say whether she feels this amendment conflicts in any way with the view that was expressed by all but one of the speakers in that debate.
§ Lord Belstead
This is an interesting debate, but we must begin to look at the clock. My noble friends have introduced an amendment with which—the noble Lord, Lord Peston, mentioned this—it is not possible to disagree, irrespective of on which side of the Chamber one sits. The amendment proposes that each 1058 institution should publish its arrangements for monitoring and reporting on the quality of its education and should publish an annual report on that for the appropriate funding council.
I cannot disagree with the general thrust of the amendment. However, I wish to make a point that is similar to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Peston. We need to look at the quality assurance provisions in the Bill, both as regards assessment and audit. Those provisions concern the means of achieving scrutiny on the part of external bodies in the public interest. I have no doubt that that aim would be helped by the publication of annual and other reports by institutions. They already publish annual reports. In the interests of not including every provision that we would like to include in the Bill, I believe we must regard this amendment with a quizzical eye. My noble friend Lord Renton referred to Clause 66(1) (a) which provides for assessment facilities. I believe that that goes a long way to satisfying the requirements of my noble friend Lady Cox.
I listened with interest to the example given by my noble friend Lord Pearson of Rannoch. I have no doubt that that example was genuine but—as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said—it was possibly of an idiosyncratic nature. At any rate I trust that such an example would not be found elsewhere. However, I move closer to my noble friend Lord Pearson in saying that it was precisely because there was concern over the kind of example my noble friend gave that the Government decided to introduce the national curriculum and assessment systems in schools, to require in the Citizen's Charter the publication of exam results, and to encourage the production of prospectuses by schools. If a teacher training course arises such as my noble friend described, those who undertake such a course will not last long in the schools of our country where the serious matters of life are taken seriously.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
Before my noble friend sits down I should mention that the word "idiosyncratic" has been used by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and—I regret—by my noble friend the Minister. I admit that being in this position is sometimes akin to standing on the shores of Loch Ness and being convinced one has seen the monster. Nevertheless I assure the Committee that, particularly as regards teacher training in this country, the course I have referred to is not as idiosyncratic as should be the case.
§ Lord Peston
I did not want to intervene, but I must insist on this point. As an academic I have had similar experiences. At my college I have taught graduate students who have had other undergraduate experience and who have said, "Thank goodness we are not being brainwashed any more". I have turned on them in great anger and said, "No, you have had a good economics education by economists I disagree with, but 1 think it has done you some good. Now you are being taught by me as well". I object strongly to the fact that some people whose political views are different from mine cannot distinguish between disagreement and legitimate expression of opinion. I 1059 do not know the case in question, but I say of that particular student that I should be careful about giving such ad hoc examples. That is all I wish to say.
§ Baroness Cox
I am grateful to all Members of the Committee who have contributed to the debate on these amendments. I am grateful for the support in principle of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Lord, Lord Peston.
In response to the exchange about the typicality or otherwise of the examples which my noble friend Lord Pearson and I gave, perhaps I may say that in this Chamber we have the benefit of representatives from the very best of academe. It falls to lesser mortals such as myself who have worked in some of the less salubrious areas or who have friends who work in areas where some of those more dubious situations occur and who have had the courage to challenge them, often at great personal cost, to feel it incumbent upon us to raise the issues, which we believe are of deep professional and academic importance and which raise matters of academic freedom.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, said that censorship on the academy is a serious matter. That has happened. It has happened far too often in this country to be compatible with the principles of a free society. I very much welcomed the reassurances of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, on the stand which he took when confronted with such a situation. I wish that all our academies and academics had taken that stand. In that case there would have been no academic censorship and the situation would be very much healthier.
I thank my noble friend Lord Renton for his wise advice, from which I always benefit, and I accept it. When I moved the amendment I said that we were not sure that the wording was right and that we were not committed to that wording but wished merely to air the spirit of the amendment.
I should like to assure my noble friend Lady Carnegy, who asked me whether the amendment would be incompatible with the thrust of what was agreed during the debate on the previous amendment, that we see no incompatibility. We are trying to ensure that systematic procedures for quality assurance are generated by the institutions themselves and that the mechanisms and results of those quality assurance procedures will be made available to the funding councils and also to the public, who have a legitimate interest in the matter. Therefore, it is a bottom up rather thin a top down approach. Nevertheless, it relates to the key area of the interface between academic freedom, accountability and academic quality. I1 was in that spirit that we proposed the amendment.
I am grateful for the support in principle from Members of the Committee who have spoken and for the wise advice 1 have received. I can assure my noble friend the Minister that we have no intention of pressing the amendment at this stage, but we may wish to return to the matter with a refined version at the next stage following consultation. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendment No. 252 not moved.]1060
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Skelmersdale)
If Amendment No. 253 is agreed to I cannot call Amendments Nos. 254, 255 and 266.
§ [Amendments Nos. 253 to 256 not moved.]
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Earl Russell moved Amendment No. 257:
§ Page 46, line 8, at beginning insert, ("Subject to section 66(2A) below").
§ The noble Earl said: In moving Amendment No.257 I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 272, which I understand is consequential upon it.
§ Lord Belstead
Amendment No. 257 was grouped with Amendment No. 250. Although no one can fetter the noble Earl in what he wishes to do I ask him to recognise that that is the case.
§ Earl Russell
I should be grateful for some clarification. I saw the provisional groupings on Sunday. Amendment No. 272 stood on its own. That seemed acceptable. I was teaching all morning but when I arrived here today I saw that that arrangement had been altered. I sent a note to the Minister to ask whether I could speak to the amendments together. I heard of no objection and took it that it was acceptable. However, if it is not, I shall move Amendment No. 272 in its place on the Marshalled List.
§ Lord Belstead
I apologise if I misled the noble Earl when he passed me his note. I should have thought that the amendment should be moved in its place on the Marshalled List. In a sense the group has been dealt with, but I leave it to the noble Earl to do what he thinks best.
§ Lord Renton
Both of the noble Earl's amendments happen to be simple paving amendments which do not get us anywhere.
§ Earl Russell
Has the noble Lord, Lord Renton, any advice for me? If he has I shall take it. I shall move the amendment, as I gave notice to the Minister that I would. I agree with the Minister that we have to watch the clock, but for me this is the single most important amendment to the Bill. Therefore, I hope that the Committee will forgive me if I take a little time over it.
§ Lord Peston
Perhaps I may interrupt the noble Earl so that I know what is happening. Is he speaking to Amendment No. 257 and Amendment No. 272?
§ Earl Russell
Yes, that is correct. In relation to the amendment I speak also on behalf of your Lordships' petitioners, the students of King's College, who prayed that in any expansion of higher education the quality of degrees be maintained.
When I look at Clause 66, which relates to the quality assessment committee, I am reminded of the 17th century cloth industry. That was a highly cyclical industry which suffered extreme booms and slumps. During slumps unemployment would rise rapidly. The Privy Council, fearing riots, would forbid employers to lay off labour. The employers, whose market had disappeared, would therefore look anxiously for other 1061 methods of cutting costs. The method on which they tended to fasten was reducing quality. They sold the cloth by the yard. The method they regularly used was what was known as "tentering", which involved hanging the cloth from tenterhooks and stretching it so that the amount of cloth which was sold for a yard was a great deal less. The Government, having created the situation which placed the employers under such pressure, then used to submit them to show trials in the Star Chamber.
The Committee will understand why the quality assessment committee, as presently constituted, reminds me of that story for the committee is an umpire which can give only one side out. There are such umpires. I shall not abuse parliamentary privilege by naming them. It would be a mistake to establish one in the Bill.
The central point of the amendment is that it gives the quality assessment committee power to give either side out. Where it observes a decline in quality it is to be given the power by this amendment to decide whether that is or is not the result of a mismatch between the amount of money the Secretary of State has provided and the objectives which he has set for it.
There is a good deal of division of opinion in the academic community about the quality assessment committee. The view is expressed strongly that defining quality is not proper to the Secretary of State. I sympathise profoundly with that view. However, I am not afraid of scrutiny. It appears to me that the threat to university quality comes in the first instance not from direct intervention in the principle of autonomy but from doing the same thing by the rather more effective route of reducing the level of funding and therefore forcing people to take for themselves decisions which they would resist to the death if they were imposed upon them by the Secretary of State. We are regularly—indeed daily—in that position ourselves.
I said last Tuesday in Committee that many of my academic colleagues perceive the gravest threat to quality as being the Secretary of State. I saw in The Times Higher Educational Supplement on Friday that the Secretary of State had chosen to take notice of that. I am glad that he has noticed. I had the impression that I was creating a general surprise in the Chamber when I said that. That perplexed me. I could think of a great many reactions that might have been appropriate—scepticism, dissent and even outrage—but not surprise. That is what we have all been saying for years. If it has not got through, there will have been a real breakdown in communication.
There used to be two among my academic friends who dissented from that view. One of them has changed his mind as a result of this term's unfunded expansion. He is now looking for a non-academic job. So now there is one. People should not have been that surprised. That is the view held by most of the colleagues to whom I talk daily. I ask the Minister in that context—I have given him notice of this question—what is the duty of an academic who believes that he has a choice between voting for the closure of his institution and reducing the quality of the degree that 1062 he has to offer? Many of my friends believe that they face such a choice. Clearly, the Government do not wish us to take either of those options, but, if we believe that there is no other left, we must take one of them. We are entitled to ask which of them the Secretary of State finds less offensive.
In 1985 during university finals, a letter appeared in the Independent from an academic unknown to me, saying in effect, "This year's graduates will have received an education of approximately the quality that we were used to before 1979. They are probably the last year of which that will be true". That seemed to me at the time to be just about right, and it still does. Since 1985, with the squeeze on funding, there has been a steady but at first slow decline in the quality of the degree and this term, with unfunded expansion, there appears to have been a positively precipitous decline. Indeed it seems to be very near the point of no return. All that appears to me and to every colleague with whom I have discussed the matter to be the result of the pressure on unit costs.
I should explain what I mean when I talk about quality. In the first place, I talk of the union of teaching and research. The Secretary of State is mistaken if he thinks that undergraduates do not want that. Those who are concerned with academic freedom are mistaken if they think that it is not essential to quality. As recently as last Friday I was listening to a first-year undergraduate explaining to me with great courtesy why he thought that my book had thrown out the baby with the bath-water. I think that he learnt something out of that process and I am certain that I did. That is part of what I mean when I talk about quality.
When I talk about quality I also mean that teaching must involve a meeting of minds. That means that it must take place in a group small enough for a meeting of minds to be possible. Perhaps I may give an example of why that is so important. I was once listening to an essay on the causes of inflation in the 16th century which, although it sounded a little pompous, appeared to have got on top of the subject. But, listening to it further, I got the smell of reading the brief. The person concerned talked about the circulating medium at great length. I asked him what the circulating medium was and received the reply of disarming frankness, "I haven't the first idea. It's all Greek to me". If I had simply had that essay in front of me on paper, I should have had to give it some kind of second-class mark. It was only by the individual contact and the power of conversation that I was able to find out that that was not the case.
The pressure to reduce unit costs means the pressure to increase teaching groups and to make that kind of encounter more difficult. It means a reduction in the amount of work done. According to a survey published in the Independent two weeks ago, 25 per cent. of undergraduates are now doing jobs during full term. Almost every university in the country is now discussing how far it can, without loss of quality, reduce the number of essays that it requires from students. There is at least the possibility that that may threaten the quality. There is the certainty that it will do so in a case about which I was told last weekend 1063 involving a university department which is considering the possibility of making attendance at all its undergraduate teaching voluntary. Does that shed any light on why I have some doubt whether the money spent on battery higher education is worth the expenditure?
We have talked many times about books. People do not realise the scale of the problem. It is not simply a matter of occasional inconvenience. It is sometimes a matter of sheer basic inability to do the work. I was recently told about another university which has established the rule that people taking out books, which may be up to 400 pages long, may have them only from 9 a.m. to 2.30 p.m. on one day. That is not a quality way of reading a book. Education must involve a critical reading of conflicting written accounts and you must draw the line at the point at which that disappears.
The fundamental point here is that we have a classic distorted market. The Secretary of State quite properly controls the amount that he spends, but he also controls the decision as to how much that money shall buy. That is not a proper decision for him. It creates a distorted market quite as much as the market in Russian airlines and, if we are not careful, it will end up in the same kind of mess. I beg to move.
§ Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn
The noble Earl has given us a wide-ranging insight into aspects of problems in the education system which he has clearly prepared with great care. I am sure that we are grateful that the fruit of his preparations was not lost to us.
As the number of students in the higher education sector increases, we may all worry that there is a risk that quality may not be maintained or may be diminished. It might be helpful if some provision in the Bill would allow attention to be focused on that issue, but the amendment tabled by the noble Earl is not entirely practicable. He asks the quality assessment committee to monitor whether the resources made available by the Secretary of State to the funding councils are sufficient for their purpose. It might haw: been an interesting amendment to suggest an insertion into the Bill for some body—a committee or council—to have that function, but, after all, the quality assessment committee is to be set up by the funding council and, according to the usual convention, it should therefore report to the funding council.
Moreover, provision is made in Amendment No. 272 that all reports by the quality assessment committee should be published. I can well see the merit of advocating that the quality assessment committee should produce reports of a certain kind which should indeed be published. But we must assume that the quality assessment committee on occasion will want to make to the funding council confidential reports which will be personal and critical of the level of quality in certain departments. It may wish to indicate in personal terms some of the reasons why that quality is not what it might be. Clearly such reports should not be published if they are to be framed with the candour that would be useful to the funding council.
I feel great sympathy with the noble Earl's 1064 observations. I understand that he is rightly concerned about the risks of reduction in personal contact if the unit of resource is diminished. However, I feel that it might be more appropriate to set up a mechanism by which the unit of resource could be in some manner reviewed. But this is too heavy a burden to put upon the quality assessment committee as it is framed within the context of the Bill.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Desai
I support the spirit in which the noble Earl, Lord Russell, moved the amendment. As a practising academic I have no doubt in my mind that over the past 10 years the quality of education that we provide has declined. I am sorry to say so, but it has declined.
It strikes me that there is a paradox. The public at large have not understood a very simple proposition. Perhaps the unit of resource used by the universities—that is the only system that I know—was thought to be rather high; but people did not see the quality of the output. At the Second Reading of the Bill I pointed out that when Professor Robin Marris examined the quality of output in relation to the cost, he found that the university system funded on the old rules (somewhat more generous than they are now) was a highly productive system and that cutting the money would make it less productive.
It is a false economy to believe that to cut the unit of resource in higher education will improve matters. Yes, it would save money; but it is false economics to consider only the money spent and not take into account the quality of output obtained. At the time I pointed out that I am teaching twice as many tutees as I did when I first came to this country. I support what the noble Earl said. I see less of them and speak less to them; and they have no time to talk to me.
We shall end up with the Continental system of education: not much money spent, lots of students, ostensibly undertaking higher education, but far fewer of them finishing that education and a large degree of wastage. The quality of education will be poor. The students will take much longer to finish. That is what will happen. When people say that they want to look at quality, they mean that they want to minimise the amount of money spent, regardless of the quality of output.
The noble Earl talks in paragraph (d) of Amendment No. 272 about:the likely effects of any terms and conditions imposed by the Council … on the quality of education".Unless we examine that question, we are heading towards a situation in which the universities will not only be as poorly funded as the polytechnics have been in the past 15 years but they will be funded as are the Continental universities and we shall lose the one critical edge that we have, which is the production of high quality graduates.
§ Lord Renton
I must apologise to the noble Earl, and do so gladly, for saying that the two amendments were paving amendments. The truth is that I misheard him. I thought that he referred to Amendment No. 273 whereas he spoke of Amendment No. 272. I agree 1065 very much with my noble friend Lord Renfrew on Amendment No. 273. I should like to add that Clause 66 (1) (b) states that:Each council shall … establish a committee, to be known as the 'Quality Assessment Committee', with the function of giving them advice".In the amendment we find that the committee is to report to the Secretary of State and Parliament on various matters concerning the work of the funding council; in other words, the noble Earl wishes the quality assessment committee to become a watchdog instead of an advisory committee.
The noble Earl nods his head in agreement. That would be a fundamental change and one which would require very careful consideration by this Chamber and especially by the Government. I should not have thought that the amendment could be made as an addition to Clause 66, as that clause stands at the moment. However, in any event, although I understand and to a great extent agree with the views expressed by the noble Earl about improving the quality of legislation—that is what everyone is trying to do—I am doubtful about having that body in effect to report to politicians, the Secretary of State and Parliament.
I believe that it is much better that the people who are given the statutory responsibility—the funding councils which are responsible to the Secretary of State who, in his turn, is responsible to Parliament—should act in the way envisaged by the Bill and not in the direct way suggested by the noble Earl's amendment.
§ Baroness Perry of Southwark
I should like to return briefly to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, and challenge one or two of the assumptions that he made. Although there is a limiting point at which the funding per student in higher education becomes too low to preserve quality, we are a very long way from that point. Nor is the direct relationship which the noble Lord suggested between a diminishing unit of resource and the quality of higher education at all proven. Indeed, it would be most unfortunate for the generation of graduates of the past few years should this House go on record as believing that they were of any lower quality than any of their predecessors. It would be no justice either to them or to the teachers who worked hard to teach them.
§ Earl Russell
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. I did not say that the students were of lower quality but that the education that they were receiving was of lower quality.
§ Baroness Perry of Southwark
I thank the noble Earl for his interruption. It was the noble Lord, Lord Desai, who mentioned that the quality of education had declined in the past few years.
§ Lord Desai
I did not say that the quality of students had declined; I referred to the quality of the education that we are providing.
§ Baroness Perry of Southwark
The Committee will forgive me but I believe that if the quality of the 1066 students' education has declined, that must say something about the quality of the graduates. Otherwise, why are we in the business of educating them? In that case the education that we give them bears no relation to the quality of output. I find that a very strange thesis.
I should like also to take issue with the comparison made with our Continental counterparts. It would be extremely arrogant if we in this country were to claim that our graduates were somehow innately superior to the graduates of our European partners. They have produced a magnificent record both in their scholarship and their contribution to the economy. To say that our higher education system is moving in the direction of the European system might indeed be considered a compliment rather than a criticism.
§ Lord Beloff
I am afraid that the noble Baroness mistakes the point made by the two noble Lords opposite. It is not a matter of the merit of the graduates produced by either system. Because most of the students who begin also graduate, our system is economically and socially superior to a system in which every young person registers at a university and intermittently attends it without ever graduating. It is a point about the economics of education. It is no reflection on the product of Continental systems which we all know and admire.
§ Lord Belstead
I understand from the noble Earl's amendment, Amendment No. 272, that he is asking the quality assessment committee to monitor whether resources are efficient in various different ways—there are about five indents to the amendment. My noble friend Lord Renfrew was right in his intervention. There will be scope, through the publication of quality assessment reports and quality audit reports, for quality to be monitored.
Unit costs and the relationship between funding and quality are reviewed each year as part of the public expenditure survey, with all the external advice which is offered and all the reporting that goes on when the announcement is made.
The noble Earl was good enough—I thank him—to give me notice of the specific question that he would ask about the straight choice, as he sees it, between lowering standards of a degree and closure of a college. I do not accept that that choice faces a university. Without being boring about it, public funding for higher education is at record levels. The latest settlement gives the Universities Funding Council £144 million more in fee income and capital in recurrent grant for 1992–93 than the estimated out-turn in 1991–92.
One could go on about it, but I bring the matter to a conclusion by saying that available recurrent funding for the two sectors in 1993–94 and 1994–95 will be £4.2 billion and £4.4 billion-17 per cent. and 22 per cent. more than they were in 1991–92.
§ Earl Russell
With respect, I did not ask the Minister to accept that the choice faces any academic. I did not ask for miracles. I asked the correct course of conduct for an academic who, rightly or wrongly, believes himself to be facing such a choice.
§ Lord Belstead
The answer is to consider the facts which I give the noble Earl. The fact is that universities are enrolling more students than ever, thus indicating their confidence that they have spare capacity. I realise that there are those who believe that more always means worse. However, HMI has reported that the quality of education in polytechnics and colleges, where growth in student numbers has been more rapid than in universities, has been maintained and advanced. I hear the noble Lord, Lord Desai, protesting that it is easy to say these things from this Box. However, the noble Earl has to explain why, in the light of the figures that I have given him, he believes that that choice faces a particular academic.
§ Earl Russell
I am happy to do so. The unit of resource per student since 1984 has fallen by 12 per cent. There is, I admit, more money. However, the number of students grows above that proportion—and that is what the Secretary of State means by efficiency!
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, for his support. I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Beloff and Lord Desai, for the point they both made about the Continental system. I agree with them both. My college teaches, either on a visiting basis or on a more permanent basis, large numbers of students from countries in the European Community. Many of those students have told me that they have come to the college precisely because the quality of teaching that they receive is so much better than that available to them in their own countries.
The noble Lord, Lord Renton, suggested that we continue the system envisaged in the Bill. If I had believed that that system had shown the least sign of working effectively I would not have put down what I agree with him is a rather unusual amendment. However, I believe what I said about the decline in quality having been precipitous this term. I speak on the matter from personal experience. We cannot simply wait and allow a mechanism which has failed many times to continue to do so.
I listened with a great deal of care to the noble Lords, Lord Renfrew and Lord Renton, about the technicalities of the amendment. I confess that I am not wedded to every detail of the drafting of the amendment. However, my objective in putting it forward in this way is to find a body to which one can appeal in which the Secretary of State has expressed confidence. That was precisely the advantage to me of the attraction of the quality assessment committee. The Secretary of State cannot say that this is a packed jury. It is a jury in which the Secretary of State has expressed confidence and to whose finding, therefore, he should be prepared to listen.
I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, said about the possibility of constructing an alternative mechanism for a review of a unit of resource. If the noble Lord were to offer to get together with me before Report stage to draft such an amendment and to find ways of picking a body which the Secretary of State would accept, I would not press the matter to a Division. If he can find a better way of 1068 doing that, I shall listen. I have not found a better way. The matter must be accomplished in one way or another.
The Minister spoke of spare capacity. I have had discussions in many places in the past two weeks where expansion has already reached a point which is illegal under the Factories Act 1961. If the noble Lord speaks of spare capacity he is giving an incentive to break the law. I thought that that could only be done on Sundays!
We referred to books. I was told today of an institution in London where the teachers have taken the books into protective custody. They allow them out only to selected students whom they trust to look after them. That is a degree of unfair advantage that I do not believe we should accept. I heard of another institution which has given up teaching from books. That is the point at which we should draw the line. Where that happens we should recommend closure. Rather than wait until that point, I commend the amendment to the Committee.
§ 6.17 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 257) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 25; Not-Contents, 112.1069
|Division No. 1|
|Addington, L. [Teller.]||Howie of Troon, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Jenkins of Hillhead, L.|
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.||Kirkwood, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Boston of Faversham, L.||Mayhew, L.|
|Broadbridge, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Chichester, Bp.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Desai, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Rochester, L.|
|Gladwyn, L.||Russell, E. [Teller.]|
|Grey, E.||Tordoff, L.|
|Grimond, L.||Zuckerman, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.|
|Adrian, L.||Davidson, V. [Teller.]|
|Aldington, L.||Denham, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Denton of Wakefield, B.|
|Annan, L.||Elles, B.|
|Arran, E.||Elphinstone, L.|
|Astor, V.||Elton, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Faithfull, B.|
|Balfour, E.||Ferrers, E.|
|Belhaven and Stenton, L.||Flather, B.|
|Belstead, L.||Fraser of Carmyllie, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Gray of Contin, L.|
|Bethell, L.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Harmsworth, L.|
|Blyth, L.||Harrowby, E.|
|Boardman, L.||Henley, L.|
|Borthwick, L.||Hesketh, L. [Teller.]|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Holderness, L.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Hooper, B.|
|Butterworth, L.||Howe, E.|
|Caithness, E.||Hylton-Foster, B.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Kinnoull, E.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Lauderdale, E.|
|Carnock, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Cavendish of Furness, L.||Limerick, E.|
|Colnbrook, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.|
|Constantine of Stanmore, L.||Long, V.|
|Cox, B.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Lyell, L.|
|Dainton, L.||McAlpine of West Green, L.|
|McColl of Dulwich, L.||Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.|
|Macfarlane of Beardsden, L.||Renton, L.|
|Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Mackay of Clashfern, L.||Rodney, L.|
|Macleod of Borve, B.||St. Albans, Bp.|
|Mancroft, L.||Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.|
|Marlesford, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Merrivale, L.||Simon of Glaisdale, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Milverton, L.||Stockton, E.|
|Montagu of Beaulieu, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Mottistone, L.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Mountevans, L.||Swansea, L.|
|Munster, E.||Swinfen, L.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Napier and Ettrick, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Nelson, E.||Trumpington, B.|
|Newall, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Norrie, L.||Vivian, L.|
|Orr-Ewing, L.||Waddington, L.|
|Oxfuird, V.||Wade of Chorlton, L.|
|Park of Monmouth, B.||Warnock, B.|
|Pearson of Rannoch, L.||Wharton, B.|
|Pender, L.||Wilberforce, L.|
|Perry of Southwark, B.||Wise, L.|
|Peyton of Yeovil, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Reay, L.||Young, B.|
§ Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ [Amendment No. 258 not moved.]
§ Clause 64 agreed to.
§ Clause 65 [Supplementary functions]:
§ Lord Dainton moved Amendment No. 259:
§ Page 46, line 19, after ("require") insert ("and in such manner as he may determine, and").
§ The noble Lord said: Recently we have heard a great deal about quality assessment and how it should be dealt with. At the end of the day the funding councils will proffer to the Secretary of State any observations which arise from their experience of assessment if the quality of higher education is diminishing. My amendment is intended to liberate the councils so that they may offer advice of any kind in any form that they wish.
Clause 65 states that each funding council:
shall provide the Secretary of State with such information or advice … as he may from time to time require",
and in the form in which he requires it. The clause further states:
Each council … may provide the Secretary of State with such information or advice relating to such provision as they think fit".
§ However, it does not state that it should be in the manner that each council thinks fit. My amendment is intended to make it possible for the councils to proffer such advice in any manner that appears reasonable to them.
§ The obvious point is that the Secretary of State cannot know the precise form in which the information or advice from the funding councils should come forward if he is not the originator. It is right that when seeking advice or information on particular matters the Secretary of State should prescribe the form that that should take. However, I submit that if there were such a degree of freedom on the part of the councils they could raise any matter which appeared to them to be germane and necessary to draw to the attention of the Secretary of State.1070
§ I hope that the Government will give favourable consideration to the amendment. It will free up the system in the manner that I have described and enable an easy interchange between the Secretary of State and the funding councils in both directions. That is the sole purpose of the amendment. I beg to move.
§ Lord Peston
I support the amendment which is also tabled in my name. The noble Lord, Lord Dainton, has put forward the main points and I wish to add only two. First, anyone who has had any experience of the government machine would wish to see the provision as a possibility without necessarily encouraging the councils continually to take such action.
Secondly, I believe that the addition of the words in the amendment will solve the problem about which the noble Earl, Lord Russell, was so exercised; that is, about unitary resource, total resource and so forth. I notice that the noble Earl is not present in the Chamber. However, under such a heading the councils might feel obliged to say to the Secretary of State, "We do not believe that the financial problems of the institutions with which we are dealing are being tackled properly on your side". They will also be able to say that in public.
This amendment appears to be a more satisfactory way of dealing with the problem. I hope that the Government will take it seriously. It is not a matter that can be taken for granted. It is an amendment which, correctly, should appear on the face of the Bill; those words should certainly be there.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Lord Belstead
Both the noble Lords, Lord Dainton and Lord Peston, are persuasive in the way in which the amendment is tabled and supported.
Clause 65(1) preserves the balance struck after considerable debate in your Lordships' Chamber in 1988 in providing for a free flow of advice to the Secretary of State from the funding councils, but for the Secretary of State to be the final arbiter as to the manner in which the advice is conveyed. The amendments seek to alter that balance.
A successful partnership between the councils and the Secretary of State must be based on mutual confidence. There will certainly be some examples of advice which is properly made public. But in other cases it will be sensible for advice to remain confidential.
The report of the committee chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Croham, was surely correct in its analysis of the role of an intermediary funding body such as the higher education funding council. The committee rightly said that the Government need independent advice on policy objectives, on the capabilities of higher education institutions and their capacity to meet those objectives, on the level of funding which would be required, and on the consequences for higher education of different levels of funding. It is precisely that sort of independent advice which the funding councils are equipped to provide.
But the committee went on to say that,Any advisory body will retain the Government's confidence only so long as it is seen to be both competent and 1071 independent; its usefulness vanishes if it acts, or is thought to act, as a stalking horse for special interests … In the political sense of lobbying, petitioning for public funds and seeking to influence public opinion, it is for higher education institutions, individually and collectively, to make their case".I do not think that the difference between political lobbying and independent and objective advice can be exaggerated. Both have a role to play in the annual consideration of higher education funding. Giving the funding councils discretion over whether to publish their advice would inevitably mean pressure from institutions to do so. That, in turn, would inevitably place the councils in the position of having to justify to the institutions either why they did not propose to publish the advice or the nature of that advice if it was published. In the latter case, the advice would be bound to be affected. I believe that the funding councils welcomed the protection from lobbying that the Education Reform Act provisions gave them, and I suspect that their advice has been more effective for that.
Clause 65(1) strikes the right balance between the responsibilities of the Secretary of State and the funding councils, whereas Amendments Nos. 259, 260, 262 and 263 would upset that balance. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, for sounding trenchant on the issue. But on behalf of the Government I feel that in this case the amendment is not acceptable.
§ Lord Dainton
I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, introduced the word "publishing" which I refrained quite deliberately from using. I always envisaged that, as in my time as chairman of the University Grants Committee, 90 per cent. of the advice—indeed I cannot recall 1 per cent. myself—to the then Secretary of State (and I believe I served three) was proffered by the funding council, if one can call the UGC that, on a non—publishable basis, unless the Secretary of State declared otherwise. Therefore the question of publication is a red herring.
I find quite shocking the suggestion that a funding council should be a lobbying device. Its duty is not that of a lobbyist; its duty is, as part of the machinery of government, to do the job laid down in whatever Bill ultimately becomes an Act. I cannot accept the notion that it is a lobbying body and I hope that we will clear our minds of that. It is obscuring the straight issue in front of us; that is, that the flow of information and advice between the Secretary of State and the funding councils, in both directions, shall be on the basis of complete trust on either side so that nothing shall be lost for reasons of lack of trust or the feeling that one partner is able to constrain the advice and the form of it which it receives from the other. That is the simple point at issue.
§ Lord Belstead
I apologise to the noble Lord if I have got the wrong end of the stick. As I read Amendment No. 260,—it is talking about the power—when it says information and advice shall be provided "in such manner" as the funding councils think right, it presumably means, among other things, to decide either to publish or not to publish.
§ Lord Dainton
Of course that must come within it. Presumably the same applies to the Secretary of State. But I doubt whether the power would be used by either side. In the light of what the noble Lord said I find it difficult to withdraw the amendment and therefore will not do so. I beg to move.
§ 6.35 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 259) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents 67; Not-Contents 89.1073
|Addington, L.||Kirkwood, L.|
|Adrian, L.||Lawrence, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.|
|Annan, L.||Lloyd of Hampstead, L.|
|Beloff, L.||Lockwood, B.|
|Blackstone, B.||Macaulay of Bragar, L.|
|Bonham-Carter, L.||McCarthy, L.|
|Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.||McFarlane of Llandaff, B.|
|Carter, L.[Teller.]||McIntosh of Haringey, L.|
|Cledwyn of Penrhos, L.||Mackie of Benshie, L.|
|Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.||Morris of Castle Morris, L.|
|Craigavon, V.||Nicol, B.|
|Dainton, L. [Teller.]||Ogmore, L.|
|David, B.||Peston, L.|
|Desai, L.||Pitt of Hampstead, L.|
|Dormand of Easington, L.||Prys-Davies, L.|
|Ennals, L.||Redesdale, L.|
|Falkland, V.||Rochester, L.|
|Galpern, L.||Russell, E.|
|Graham of Edmonton, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Grey, E.||Sherfield, L.|
|Grimond, L.||Stoddart of Swindon, L.|
|Hatch of Lusby, L.||Strabolgi, L.|
|Henderson of Brompton, L.||Taylor of Blackburn, L.|
|Hollick, L.||Taylor of Gryfe, L.|
|Hollis of Heigham, B.||Tordoff, L.|
|Houghton of Sowerby, L.||Underhill, L.|
|Hughes, L.||Walton of Detchant, L.|
|Hylton-Foster, B.||Warnock, B.|
|Jenkins of Hillhead, L.||Wharton, B.|
|Jenkins of Putney, L.||Wilberforce, L.|
|Kilmarnock, L.||Williams of Elvel, L.|
|Kinloss, Ly.||Young of Dartington, L.|
|Arran, E.||Elphinstone, L.|
|Astor, V.||Elton, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Faithfull, B.|
|Balfour, E.||Ferrers, E.|
|Bauer, L.||Flather, B.|
|Belstead, L.||Fraser of Carmyllie, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Harmar-Nicholls, L.|
|Bethell, L.||Harmsworth, L.|
|Blatch, B.||Harrowby, E.|
|Blyth, L.||Haslam, L.|
|Borthwick, L.||Henley, L.|
|Brabazon of Tara, L.||Hesketh, L. [Teller.]|
|Brentford, V.||Holderness, L.|
|Brigstocke, B.||Hooper, B.|
|Brougham and Vaux, L.||Howe, E.|
|Butterworth, L.||Kenilworth, L.|
|Caithness, E.||Kinnoull, E.|
|Campbell of Alloway, L.||Limerick, E.|
|Carnegy of Lour, B.||Long, V.|
|Carnock, L.||Lucas of Chilworth, L.|
|Cavendish of Furness, L.||Lyell, L.|
|Colnbrook, L.||McAlpine of West Green, L.|
|Craigmyle, L.||McColl of Dulwich, L.|
|Davidson, V. [Teller.]||Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.|
|Denham, L.||Mackay of Clashfern, L.|
|Denton of Wakefield, B.||Macleod of Borve, B.|
|Dundee, E.||Mancroft, L.|
|Marlesford, L.||Renton, L.|
|Merrivale, L.||Renwick, L.|
|Mersey, V.||Rodney, L.|
|Milverton, L.||St. Albans, Bp.|
|Mottistone, L.||Sharples, B.|
|Mountevans, L.||Skelmersdale, L.|
|Munster, E.||Stockton, E.|
|Murton of Lindisfarne, L.||Strathclyde, L.|
|Napier and Ettrick, L.||Strathmore and Kinghorne, E.|
|Nelson, E.||Swinfen, L.|
|Newall, L.||Teviot, L.|
|Norrie, L.||Thomas of Gwydir, L.|
|Pearson of Rannoch, L.||Trumpington, B.|
|Pender, L.||Ullswater, V.|
|Perry of Southwark, B.||Vivian, L.|
|Peyton of Yeovil, L.||Wise, L.|
|Reay, L.||Wynford, L.|
|Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative and amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ 6.43 p.m.
§ [Amendment No. 260 not moved.]
§ The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Strabolgi)
Before calling Amendment No. 261 I must inform the Committee that, if it is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 262 or 263.
§ [Amendment No. 261 not moved.]
The Deputy Chairman of Committees
If Amendment No. 262 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 263.
§ [Amendment No. 262 not moved.]
§ [Amendments Nos. 263 and 263A not moved.]
§ [Amendment No. 264 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
§ [Amendment No. 265 not moved.]
§ Clause 65 agreed to.
§ Clause 66 [Assessment of quality of education provided by institutions]:
§ Baroness Perry of Southwark moved Amendment No. 266:
§ Page 47, line 13, after ("shall") insert ("following consultations with the organisations representing higher education institutions").
§ The noble Baroness said: In speaking to this amendment I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 297. Clause 66 deals with the duty of the funding council to make provision for assessing the quality of education in institutions which they fund. As the previous debate made clear, the assessment of quality is a matter of great importance to the health of the higher education system, to the freedom of academics within it and to the aspirations which students in the wider community have as regards the nature of teaching and research in higher education. I welcome the consultation which my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has already undertaken with higher education institutions about quality assurance and the plans for auditing the quality assessment. Amendment No. 266 asks for an assurance that this consultation will continue and specifically will take place in relation to the detailed arrangements for the assessment of quality in individual institutions.
§ Amendment No. 297 relates to the provision in Clause 78 of reserve powers for the Secretary of State for the assessment of the arrangements for quality assurance within institutions. I find it reasonable that 1074 such reserve powers should be available to the Secretary of State as a last resort, if there were evidence that existing alternative arrangements had broken down. However, again, I seek reassurance that, before such powers are used, appropriate consultation will take place with the higher education institutions. In the light of the length of the debate so far, it is not my intention to press the amendment, but I ask for that reassurance from the Minister. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Blackstone
I wish to support Amendment No. 266. It seems to me desirable to continue a practice that has been going on for some years that the CVCP and the CDP should be consulted on these matters. In future, we expect there to be a single organisation representing higher education institutions. We on this side of the Committee hope that consultation on these matters will take place with whatever the organisation may be.
§ Baroness David
As my name is on Amendment No. 297, I wish to express my support for the amendment of the noble Baroness.
§ Lord Belstead
The difficulty with Amendment No. 266 is that it would focus the scope of consultation on the handful of organisations which represent further education institutions. My understanding is that the practice of both the UFC and the PCFC has been to consult each and every institution on major policy issues before reaching a view. In that way the voice of the smallest as well as the largest, the minority as well as the majority, is registered and considered. I think that the new funding councils would want to carry out a similar widespread consultation process with all institutions on the procedures for quality assessment.
The voice of the institutions will also be heard by virtue of subsection (2) of this clause which requires that the majority of the members of the quality assessment committee will be experienced people from higher education institutions. Therefore, the PCFC and UFC are already involving representations from institutions in arranging pilot assessments in universities, polytechnics and colleges next year. At each level of decision making, institutions will be fully involved, therefore. I hope that that is a reassurance, although I resist the amendment.
I am a little unsure of my ground on the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that it had been normal practice in the past for the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals and the CDP always to be consulted. I wish to take advice on that and perhaps write to the noble Baroness. If there is something which we or I have got wrong and on which I should have given a different reply, I shall write to the noble Baroness and also to my noble friend Lady Perry.
In addition my noble friend spoke to Amendment No. 297, the name of the noble Baroness, Lady David, being attached to that amendment. That is covered. The only circumstances in which the Secretary of State will use his reserve power to issue a direction to the funding councils to establish quality audit arrangements is if for some reason the institution's own efforts 1075 fail. I know that very considerable efforts are being made at the present time. If that were to happen—it is very unlikely to come to pass—consultations with the institution would have already taken place to establish that failure had occurred and the reasons for it. There would be no point in having a statutory requirement for yet more consultations. I hope that the noble Baronesses will not think that I am in any way brushing the matter aside. It is important, but I believe that it is covered by what will happen in real life.
§ Baroness Perry of Southwark
I thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply and for his assurance that the practice of consultation with the individual institutions and, as is currently the case, with the bodies representing the institutions, will continue. In the light of my noble friend's reply I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Lord Dainton moved Amendment No. 267:
Page 47, line 18, leave out paragraph (b) and insert:
("(b) establish such expert competent committees as they think fit to give them advice on the discharge of their duty under paragraph (a) above and such other functions as may be remitted to the committees").
§ The noble Lord said: We have already heard a very great deal about Clause 66 and the assessment of quality. It has been a theme running through our debate. Curiously enough, the aim of my amendment is not to oppose what the Government propose in the sense of insisting that in the Bill there should be something which refers to quality assessment. On the contrary, it is to strengthen the means by which that should be done. I attach enormous importance to the maintenance of quality, as I imagine do all Members of the Committee and the Secretary of State. The poorer the information available to a council on this score the lower will be the quality of its decisions.
Moreover, the range of educational activities of any higher educational institution is now so vast that I do not believe that any single committee such as that specified in Clause 66(1) (b) could, unaided, possibly arrive at reliable judgments on the relative educational qualities of different institutions. What is needed are several committees of the council, each dealing with a major faculty area—for example, medicine, dentistry, the arts, humanities, science, engineering and so forth—and each acquiring information from every university possessing such a faculty and meeting the representatives of the universities, including students, at each university.
As I know from experience, this is very sensitive work requiring vast experience and the good judgment of knowledgeable people who are respected—that is enormously important—by those with whom they have to deal and who can penetrate the mass of opinions, statistical and quasi-numerical data with which they will be confronted and perceive the inwardness of opinions and data and thereby arrive at sound judgments.
The councils will need those judgments not just once in a single quality assessment but will need them to be available to inform many of their decisions whether concerned with general policy matters or, and most importantly, with resource allocation. I do not 1076 see how the councils can possibly succeed in their duty or command the respect of the universities without such a strong committee infrastructure. One quality assessment committee alone cannot possibly suffice. Many committees are necessary; hence the need for this amendment. I commend it to the Committee.
Ideally, and in order to ensure the closest possible connection between the council and its committees, the chairman of a subject committee should be a member of the council. However, I recognise that however important the principle, the small size of the committees, limited to between 12 and 15 members of the council, may preclude that from always being the case. For that reason I did not extend the amendment to include the point. I beg to move.
§ Lord Peston
My name is attached to the amendment. There are two things I want to say. I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, said, but I am not certain that he will agree with what I shall add although he cannot be held responsible for the remarks that I make. As a matter of good practice it seems that the noble Lord is entirely right in what he says and that the amendment is also right. The correct statement to be on the face of the Bill is contained in the amendment; namely, that the council shall set up all such committees as it thinks will help it discharge its job. I have no difficulty with that at all, and that is why I am glad to support the amendment.
I wish to take the opportunity to express my doubts about the particular role given in the Bill to the quality assessment committee. That is not because I do not believe that quality is important, quite the contrary! My doubts arise, first, because the implication seems to be that somehow the universities have failed in the past as regards quality. Why is this committee being put forward? Is it because we have not met the quality standards required? The Government cannot have it both ways. Only a few moments ago they argued, in attacking the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that there has been no decline in quality and that there is no resource problem. The same point was made to my noble friend Lord Desai.
If there has been no decline in quality why are we suddenly being directed to that subject? I can only say tartly that perhaps the Government themselves know that their own future policies will lead to the danger of falling quality and that they had better see to it that a committee is set up to prevent that. I do not believe that the central quality assessment committee is the way to ensure quality. As I have argued before, the people who assure quality are the academics who teach in the institutions. They do not need to have committees to tell them about such things or to prompt them to deliver the quality of higher education that is required.
There is a difference between saying that quality is important—I am certainly happy about setting up the relevant set of committees and the funding councils asking them questions about quality—and the Government or more generally outsiders and taxpayers believing that the setting up of a committee of this kind achieves anything in the way of quality. To believe that is not to understand how any institution works let alone a higher institution.
1077 My final point is a party political one. My view and that of my noble friends is that what is absolutely vital in quality assessment is that it should be undertaken by an independent body. One of the reasons why I had some difficulty with the earlier amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, is that I wish the quality assessment body to be independent of the body that deals with resources. I want an outside and independent body to say that something has gone wrong or, more to the point, that higher education teachers in both the existing and the new universities are having enormous difficulties in delivering quality because of the pressures put on them. I want that undertaken as an independent exercise.
I emphasise that that is a party political point. It is the view of my own party and that of my noble friends. It is not the view of the Government. That is why I was very careful to say that the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, would not necessarily agree with everything I said. I do not want that to detract from the merits of the amendment as it stands. I simply thought that Members of the Committee would like to know where I and my noble friends stand on these matters.
§ Lord Annan
I am sure that the noble Lord remembers how these expert committees arose. When Sir Edward Parkes was chairman of the University Grants Committee, for the first time he really had to make some decisions about priorities between universities. He had to say that certain universities should have their grants cut and others should perhaps have their grants augmented. There was a furore. As a result, his successor, Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer, as I remember, set up expert committees to, as it were, rank departments in all universities and say how they stood in relation to each other. That was a defence which the UGC had to make so that it retained the confidence of the universities.
The committees made their reports and again there was a furore. It was argued that this department had been totally underestimated; that that department was living entirely on its past and that anyone who knew about these matters realised that it was on a downhill path and so on and so forth. Two or three years later Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer did the exercise again. It bore a remarkable resemblance to the one before it. This time there was comparatively little dissent. He could not have made the allegation that he did without the advice of those expert bodies. However, it was not one body which was there, as it were, to put a facade before the public. These were expert bodies composed of people whom everyone respected. Pretty well all the academics were respected by their peers. I should like to ask the noble Lord why the Government have decided that the system which was used successfully by Sir Peter Swinnerton-Dyer is to be replaced by something which has no possible hope of success unless it reproduces the same system as a series of sub-committees?
§ 7 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
When my noble friend the Minister speaks on this amendment I should like him to tell me whether Clause 6 as it stands would enable the funding councils, United Kingdom-wide, to have a common assessment of quality and, if it does not, whether the amendment would help. I spoke about this at Second Reading. I know that the principals of the universities and colleges in Scotland are anxious that it should be possible to make a common assessment of quality so that quality does not vary too much across the United Kingdom. I wonder whether this amendment may be one way of achieving that in specific areas. The noble Lord, Lord Dainton, probably knows the answer to that. I am sure my noble friend does, too.
§ Lord Dainton
Perhaps I may respond now to the noble Baroness. Amendment No. 295 is directed, among other things, to enabling funding councils in Wales, Scotland and England to combine, if they wish, in exercises of this kind by appointing the same person.
§ Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn
Clearly assessment will be of great importance in the new system. Many of us would acknowledge that that is necessary while not welcoming the enormous amount of labour that it will involve both for the universities and for the committee structure that is set up. It might be argued that the clauses in the Bill relating to assessment are perhaps more concise than one might have anticipated in the light of the considerable attention devoted to the subject in the White Paper where the quality audit unit is explicitly spoken of which is different from the quality assessment committee. I was a little surprised not to see the relationship between these two bodies more clearly set out in the Bill.
I have a specific question to ask the Minister. I rather suspect that given the emphasis on assessment the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Dainton—although I am happy with the sense of it—may scarcely be necessary. I assume that a quality assessment committee would indeed set up sub-committees in the various subject areas. I believe that it is useful to have a quality assessment committee which will regulate the work of those sub-committees. One would not want different sub-committees or different committees going off in different directions, as it were, without some unity in their approach. It makes perfect sense to me to have a hierarchical system with the quality assessment committee, as the Bill proposes, with its subcommittees very much along the line suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Dainton. However, I am not sure that it makes sense to demolish the quality assessment committee, as his amendment proposes, and set up a multiplicity of other committees. I believe that a central committee with subcommittees would be the ideal arrangement.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to confirm that the quality assessment committee will 1079 be in a position to set up sub-committees that would operate much as the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, suggests.
§ Lord McCarthy
I intervene now because this is the first opportunity we have of asking the Government what they mean by quality. I understand what the Government might mean by standards—maintaining and improving standards—and I understand what the Government might mean by ranking universities in order of excellence, but what is a "quality" committee?
In the world outside academe total quality management is a "buzz" phrase. Everybody is after total quality management. It is a new word for a new form of participation by small groups consulting small numbers of people. It is all very Japanese. It is very fashionable. I cannot think that that is what the Government mean, so why do they call it a quality committee?
§ Earl Russell
On behalf of these Benches I should like to support the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Dainton, is quite right. Quality assessment is a more expert matter than many suppose. What the noble Lord is much too modest to tell the Committee himself was that the system described is one he worked when chairman of the University Grants Committee. I still remember as a junior lecturer being ushered in, much in awe, before him. It worked very well and since it ceased to operate decisions have much more often been made in ignorance than they were before.
§ Lord Walton of Detchant
I should like to support the amendment. In answer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, may I comment upon the fact that in my view it will be the responsibility of the higher education funding council to ensure that the quality of education provided throughout the higher education sector is sufficient and indeed of a very high standard.
A few years ago, in a notable lecture, Professor Ralf Dahrendorf talked about professional self-regulation. He said that professional self-regulation was one of the glories of a free, learned and civilised society. He pointed out that in his view the alternative regulation of professional activity and education by the state was fearful. He spoke with some authority having been, as he then was, a German citizen and having seen the effects of the regulation of professional activity by the state.
Certainly my belief is that the universities and other higher education institutions of this country have increasingly in recent years embarked upon what some call audit, some call quality assurance and others call performance review. It is vital that all such institutions embark upon such activity not only in order to examine their own procedures but to ensure that they are producing the highest standard of education which this country and its people deserve. Having made that point, I believe that there must be—as the Government suggest—an arbiter to examine those 1080 institutions which may be achieving high standards and those which may be falling below the standards that the country expects of them.
My anxiety is, as also pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, that a single quality assessment committee, answerable only to the higher education funding council in question, simply could not conceivably undertake the task that this Bill as it stands would remit to it. For that reason I support the amendment. It will clearly be necessary to have a range of committees examining the subject areas throughout the whole sector of higher education. I believe that it would then be unnecessary to interpose between those subject committees a single quality assessment committee and the higher education funding council. I believe that they should report directly to the higher education funding councils in question. For that reason I warmly support this amendment.
§ Lord Pearson of Rannoch
From the other side of the binary line I should also like to support the concept of this amendment. In the CNAA we certainly found it essential to have, first, subject committees and then, later, widening more generally into faculty committees. It is very hard to see how the work of the quality assessment committee—or possibly the quality audit unit—could work without splitting itself into subject or faculty committees.
Depending on the final shape of the quality audit unit, and how it organised itself, it might be that the quality assessment unit could actually rely on and refer to the faculty or subject committee set up by the quality audit unit. However, that remains to be seen. I can certainly say from my experience that one needs expert people in the subjects concerned who are respected by their peers throughout the system.
§ Lord Belstead
The noble Lord, Lord McCarthy, asked whether there was a definition of what we mean by quality assessment. Of course there is no absolute definition—certainly not in the Bill. However, we are talking about quality audit, by which is meant scrutiny of institutions' own internal systems. We are talking about process, the quality of teaching and learning, its management and organisation and accommodation and equipment; and we are talking about output. There will be statistical indicators in these matters.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, asked why the Government had suddenly alighted on quality assessment. Clause 66 of the Bill places on the funding councils the duty of securing assessment. We believe that the quality assessment responsibility should lie with the funding councils because it is they who have the duty to secure that money is spent where it can achieve the best results. As we have already discussed, the councils will be advised by essentially independent committees on how they should exercise their responsibilities and the actual assessments would be carried out by experts.
That leads me to the amendment and to how one does this. I realise from what has been said that the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, has great experience of this matter. Perhaps I may set out briefly how the Government feel. The assessments will need to be 1081 carried out by experts in their field. They must include full-time professional staff with suitable academic backgrounds. Assessors will be recruited initially in part from staff with responsibility for higher education in the inspectorate, of which a proportion has a background mainly in the university sector. The remainder of the staff of the units will be recruited mainly from the academic world. In addition to permanent staff, the councils would be free to make arrangements for bringing in experts at particular times for particular purposes.
The Bill is deliberately non-prescriptive—this is the difficulty so far as concerns the noble Lord—about how the councils should fulfil their role of securing arrangements for assessment. But they can certainly set up sub-committees in subject areas, the point raised by my noble friend Lord Renfrew. Under the Bill as drafted they can do so. But having said that the Bill is deliberately non-prescriptive about how the councils should fulfil their role, the Bill is rightly prescriptive about there being quality assessment committees, comprising a majority of institutional representatives to advise on those arrangements. How those committees are constituted will be a matter for the funding councils, which will want to consult institutions. But securing an institutional voice in this way is the paramount requirement. If, over time, further committees or sub-committees are felt to be necessary, the funding councils will be perfectly at liberty to establish them. And that is how it should be as the duty to establish proper mechanisms for carrying out assessment rests with the councils.
I find this difficult, possibly because I do not know enough about it, but what I am trying to say is that the Government are wary about setting up in statute what could become a huge bureaucratic structure. That is why Clause 66 as drafted facilitates a variety of possible approaches to assessment, with a core staff employed by the council but with a range of alternatives available to the council as advised by the quality assessment committee if that is considered necessary. Undoubtedly there will be areas—shortage areas—where the funding councils will have to make the proper arrangements for proper advice. I know that that sounds a little as though we are advancing without preplanning but I say quite openly to the noble Lord, Lord Dainton, that it is because we are wary of setting up in statute what could be a large bureaucratic structure when we feel that the councils should be at least able to decide how they should plan this themselves that I do not support the amendment.
§ 7.15 p.m.
§ Lord Dormand of Easington
Before the noble Lord sits down, I wonder whether he can clarify the point made by his noble friend about sub-committees, a point with which I have considerable sympathy. Is he prepared to say whether he approves of sub-committees? The clause states that the committee—the one committee—will have the function,of giving them advice on the discharge of their duty under paragraph (a) above".1082 One Member of the Committee said that he would prefer the committee to report direct to the council. That is somewhat different. As I understand the position, a number of sub-committees would have to report to the main committee. It would put its own interpretation on those reports, add to them or subtract from them before reporting to the council. It would be helpful if the Minister could say whether he approves—I repeat myself for emphasis—of the setting up of sub-committees as he also said that the Government are against a large bureaucracy. I suggest to the noble Lord that he cannot have it both ways.
§ Lord Belstead
I do not think that I would want to move from what I have already said. It is perfectly open under the Bill as drafted for sub-committees in subject areas to be set up. Let us not forget that there is the advice from the quality assessment committees, comprising a majority of institutional representatives, to advise on what the right arrangements ought to be.
§ Lord Dainton
I find myself with a problem—not being a philosopher I do not know whether it is Occam's Razor or some other problem which philosophers face—in that the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, said that the Government were anxious to be non-prescriptive. What could be more prescriptive than one quality assessment committee. My problem is that it is too prescriptive. I understand perfectly that the funding council can establish any kind of committee it wishes to look after particular subjects. But what I am anxious to achieve by this means is that those who are chairmen of these committees, if they are set up by the funding councils, will then become the advocates of the arguments and the transmitters of the information from those committees at the meetings of the councils. That was the point which I particularly stressed. If the noble Lord, Lord Belstead, can give me an assurance that every encouragement will be given to the higher education funding councils to establish a form of assessment by the subject areas which will find its way to the main funding council, I shall be content. The other could be left to evolution. Necessity will force what I have recommended in this amendment and experience will ensure that the funding council will have to go down this route.
§ Lord Belstead
I do not think that I can go as far as that on my feet this evening. I wonder whether I might write to the noble Lord on that point.
§ Lord Dainton
I thank the noble Lord. In those circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
This may be a convenient moment to break for dinner. Perhaps I may suggest that we return to the Committee stage at 8.15 p.m. I beg to move that the House do now resume.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.