My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Higher Education and Research Bill, has consented to place her prerogative, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
Clause 10: Mandatory transparency condition for certain providers
1: Clause 10, page 7, line 19, at end insert—
“( ) their age.”
My Lords, this issue was raised in Committee and on Report and concerns the characteristics which the Office for Students can require of universities seeking registration as higher education providers. On Report I narrowed it down in exchanges with the Minister, saying that we would be prepared to consider solely the question of age, and he agreed that he would look at it. I regret that the Government did not come forward with their own amendments, so I have tabled this one. It is a very short amendment, as will be obvious.
As I have indicated, the importance of this clause is that it will ensure transparency. I acknowledge what the Government have done in the course of the Bill. They have added degree outcomes to the information that is required which will complete, as it were, the student life cycle. The Bill specifies that the information should cover gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic background; this amendment would add age to that list. The reason I have narrowed it down so much is that concerns were expressed on previous occasions that some of the other characteristics, specifically those covered by the Equality Act 2010, involve to a greater or lesser extent an element of self-identification. I do not think that age could be described in that way, given that it is absolutely objective by reference to one’s date of birth.
The amendment might be small but it makes an important point. Throughout the debates on this Bill and indeed in other spheres, many noble Lords have stressed the importance of trying to do something to revitalise part-time education. The inclusion of a description of age would give us at least one tool to evaluate the progress that is being made in promoting part-time education. It is estimated that most initial entrants into part-time education are aged between 31 and 60, but between 2007-08 and 2014-15 there was a 60% decrease in that group coming in.
As I have indicated, there is a widespread view that we should encourage part-time education. The Open University has taken a particular interest in this amendment because of the important provision it makes for students studying courses on a part-time basis—I declare an interest as an honorary graduate of the university—and this would be a useful and important tool if it was included in the legislation.
Since our debates on Report the Minister and I have exchanged ideas and wordings, and through the toing and froing, he agreed to reflect on the matter. Of course the Government have promised a consultation by the Office for Students with regard not only to age but also to the other characteristics. Can the Minister give an indication of the likely timescale for the Office for Students to carry out this consultation because it will help universities to understand better how they will be supported in the planning and implementation of the requirements?
Quite simply, this small amendment meets the criterion of not being one of self-description. Perhaps I may also quote from the letter sent by the Minister jointly with Jo Johnson on 22 March. He refers to the duty and states:
“While the Duty itself must remain balanced and proportionate, it is clear that greater transparency on characteristics such as age is desirable to support equality of opportunity through widening participation”.
So the Government themselves think that this is desirable. The amendment does not run into some of the difficulties encountered in the earlier amendments. I am not holding my breath that the Minister will respond positively, but I shall listen to him with great care. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, in his amendment. We tabled a similar amendment, although one that was slightly broader in context, both in Committee and on Report, so we have a continuing interest in this area. We have chosen not to support this amendment at this time, but I do not think that one should read anything into that—rather, I hope that discussions of which I am aware that are being conducted outside your Lordships’ House will have matured to a point where there may be some news that might bring a conclusion to this matter.
One of the main purposes of the Bill, at least as outlined in the White Paper which preceded it, is that it is intended to improve social mobility. That is an admirable aim and one which we fully support. One of the things about social mobility is that it is supported by a number of legislative arrangements, one of which is the Equality Act 2010 which brings into play a series of protected characteristics that define and encapsulate the issues around the need for social mobility in particular groups. It is important that we should have regard to this in all aspects of our public life, and it is therefore very important that new Bills which come forward should be built on that foundation. It is therefore rather surprising that the information requirements which are part of the amendment and focus on the need for transparency conditions that will be organised by the Office for Students—or as we prefer to call it, the office for higher education—do not include all the protected characteristics. It is only with considerable reluctance that the Government are prepared to concede that age is an important part of this area, and I hope that the Minister will confirm that when he comes to respond.
There are other values in having a confident sector that is able to publish information around all the protected characteristics. It will give students of all types and varieties the chance to judge whether a particular institution or institutions more generally are appropriate for them, given their protected characteristics, and of course it will be vital in terms of trying to formulate policy. For all these reasons, it is important that the Minister should reassure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace of Tankerness, about his concerns around age as a matter that must be one of the transparency conditions, and of course subject to the consultation it is hoped that some direction will be given to the office for higher education, also known as the Office for Students, that it is something which should be taken into account. Perhaps the Minister can also reassure me that it is not impossible that in future years, work can be done to gather information around the protected characteristics, which will be important for all the reasons I have given.
My Lords, I am not against collecting information because it is always interesting, but I would regret seeking information under all the protected characteristics set out in this Bill, among other reasons because I do not think asking intending students whether they are pregnant is a good idea. Age has the advantage, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, said, that it is quite objective; people know how old they are. However, one characteristic which is not in the list of protected characteristics is socioeconomic background. I think that it is separate from the socioeconomic one and it depends on the utility of the information for the purposes at hand. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, has made the case that it is useful because of the decline in participation rates among older students. I do not think we know the significance of that decline. It has happened in an age group of whom many more have had the opportunity to participate in higher education when they were younger, and it is in that context that I would be uncertain whether it is of tremendous informational value. I am not against the amendment but I do not believe that it will yield very much additional information.
My Lords, the transparency duty has generated much debate in both Houses and I am pleased to note that there is an appetite for further transparency to be brought to higher education as a whole. Indeed, this Bill and our accompanying reforms will mean that more information than ever before is published and made available to students. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, for his engagement with the Bill. Let me assure him that I have reflected carefully on the comments he made in Committee, including those of adding attainment as one of the life cycle points in the transparency duty. We did respond to his suggestion and I was pleased to table an amendment on Report which will require higher education providers to publish data on attainment broken down by gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic background, something which the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, has just referred to. This will mean that the whole student life cycle is covered by the transparency duty and will support its focus on equality of opportunity.
I would like to take a moment to reassure the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, about the consultation. We will be setting out our expectations for the consultation in our first guidance to the Office for Students. That guidance will be issued before the OfS comes into being in April 2018, so there is no question but that it is definitely a priority.
Let me also make the important point that the transparency duty is focused on widening participation. We have been at pains to balance the need for greater transparency on admissions and performance against the robustness of the available data and burdens on providers. This means that we have prioritised those areas where a renewed emphasis on widening participation will have the most impact. However, we have continued to listen and respond. The noble and learned Lord tabled further amendments on Report and I was grateful for the further opportunity to discuss this important issue. I was delighted to make a firm commitment in response to the points raised, which I will reiterate.
We will ask the OfS to consult on what other information should be published by institutions in the interest of widening access and participation. While the duty must remain balanced and proportionate, it is clear that greater transparency on characteristics such as age is desirable to support equality of opportunity through widening participation.
The noble and learned Lord has made a good case for the inclusion of age as a characteristic and I am sympathetic to his aims. Although I cannot pre-empt the consultation, I am prepared to say from the Dispatch Box that we fully anticipate that age will be part of the information the OfS will ask institutions to publish. In addition to age, we will also ask the OfS to consult on whether information on the other protected characteristics should also be published by providers, in line with the comments that the noble and learned Lord and other Peers so helpfully made at earlier stages. I also reassure noble Lords that we will ask the OfS to consult on whether information on the other protected characteristics should also be published by providers in line with the comments the noble and learned Lord so helpfully made. This means that we would balance the need for greater transparency with being mindful of the comparability of the data and burdens on providers.
The consultation will not be limited to the protected characteristics. In this way, a much broader range of potential information can be considered, as the noble and learned Lord has previously called for. Universities will be expected to respond to the outcome of the consultation as part of their access and participation plan arrangements. It is precisely because we have listened to the points on other characteristics that are also important that I do not believe it is right that we introduce one further characteristic at this stage. Many noble Lords, including the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, my noble friend Lord Lucas, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, have spoken on this. Given the good cases that have been made for numerous other characteristics, introducing just this one at this stage could suggest that we are prioritising mature learners over other groups of students for whom noble Lords have so eloquently argued, such as care leavers or disabled students. That is not the case.
We have listened and committed to look at what other information we would like providers to publish through a consultation by the OfS. We believe that this must be looked at in the round rather than in a piecemeal fashion. Through the consultation, all stakeholders will be able to have their voices heard. Let us allow the consultation to run and ensure that all these characteristics are given equal consideration. However, we fully anticipate that age will be part of the information that the OfS asks institutions to publish through their access and participation arrangements.
I hope I have reassured the noble and learned Lord that we have listened very carefully throughout the passage of the Bill and have responded with not only an amendment to the Bill, but a clear commitment to consult on what other information we would expect providers to publish. I value the contributions that noble Lords have made on this and it is clear that there are many characteristics to consider through the consultation. In the light of my reassurances that this consultation is expected to include age, I respectfully ask the noble and learned Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, and the noble Baroness, Lady O’Neill, for their contributions. The fact that my amendment is limited to age in no way detracts from some of the other characteristics, as the Minister has said. I am grateful to him for his response. I listened carefully to what he said. I am still slightly puzzled as to why we cannot add this to the legislation at the outset. It would not be adding on after the Bill hits the statute book; it would be there for the Office for Students from the very beginning. I heard the Minster indicate that he fully anticipates that age will be part of the information that the OfS will ask institutions to publish, as well as indicating that it will be asked to consult on some of the other characteristics.
In the light of that anticipation, which we will do our utmost to remind the Minister of and continue to monitor, it would be somewhat churlish to press this matter. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Clause 39: Duty to monitor etc the provision of arrangements for student transfers
2: Clause 39, page 23, line 19, leave out “and the extent to which those arrangements” and insert “,
(aa) must monitor the extent to which the arrangements monitored under paragraph (a)”
My Lords, this group of minor and technical amendments simply clarifies the drafting of the Bill, ensuring that it is consistent across the board. It also contains an amendment that I committed on Report to bring forward at Third Reading. I do have longer speaking notes, but I intend to keep this very short—so if noble Lords have any questions I would be happy to address them in my closing remarks. In the meantime, I beg to move.
Amendment 2 agreed.
3: Clause 39, page 23, line 23, leave out “paragraph (a)” and insert “paragraphs (a) and (aa)”
Amendment 3 agreed.
Clause 58: Revocation of authorisation to use “university” title
4: Clause 58, page 40, line 19, leave out “it” and insert “the OfS”
Amendment 4 agreed.
Clause 78: Power to require information or advice from the OfS
5: Clause 78, page 53, line 6, leave out “or” and insert “and”
Amendment 5 agreed.
Clause 83: Meaning of “English higher education provider” etc
Amendments 6 and 7
6: Clause 83, page 55, line 24, at end insert—
“( ) section 11(9) (mandatory fee limit condition for certain providers),”
7: Clause 83, page 55, line 26, at end insert—
“( ) section 33(5)(b) (content of an access and participation plan: equality of opportunity), and”
Amendments 6 and 7 agreed.
Clause 119: Pre-commencement consultation
8: Clause 119, page 76, line 26, at end insert—
“(3A) Where the OfS has a consultation function involving registered higher education providers, references to registered higher education providers in the provisions describing the consultees are to be read as references to English higher education providers—(a) for the purposes of applying subsection (2) at any time when there are no registered higher education providers, and(b) for the purposes of applying subsection (3) in relation to anything done under subsection (2) in reliance upon paragraph (a) of this subsection.(3B) For the purposes of subsection (3A), “a consultation function involving registered higher education providers” is a function of consulting—(a) registered higher education providers (whether generally or a description of such providers), or(b) persons with a connection (however described) to such providers.(3C) In subsections (3A) and (3B), “English higher education provider” and “registered higher education provider” have the same meaning as in Part 1 (see sections 83 and 85).”
Amendment 8 agreed.
Schedule 4: Assessing higher education: designated body
9: Schedule 4, page 96, line 14, leave out “Part 1 of”
Amendment 9 agreed.
Schedule 5: Powers of entry and search etc
10: Schedule 5, page 98, line 43, at end insert “and that all the requirements for the grant specified in this Schedule are met,”
My Lords, this amendment has a rather interesting history. It arose from my reaction in Committee to an amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, in connection with this schedule, which contains a power of search that is absolutely new to the academic community. It therefore required very careful consideration, which the noble Baroness’s amendment provided. In addition, she pointed out that this power had created anxiety in the academic community, as noble Lords might expect. Apart from what it might achieve, one thing is certain: if it were ever carried out, it would do very serious damage to the reputation of a higher education provider whose premises were the subject of a search.
Having listened to this, I suggested that it might be a good idea for the magistrate granting the warrant to indicate that he or she was satisfied that the conditions had been applied and satisfied. These conditions are extremely strong and very useful. When the point was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, my noble friend the Minister read out the conditions and said that they would certainly be satisfied, and that that was implied in the statutory provision.
After raising in response to that the idea that the magistrate might indicate by signature that he or she had been satisfied that the conditions had been met, I quite quickly received a letter to say that the idea of a separate signature was unheard of and that it would be a quite startling innovation. Well, the search warrant itself was something of an innovation, so I was not particularly disturbed by that—but I thought that I had better meet that and deal with it by suggesting an amendment to the form of the warrant specified in statute and put into the warrant that the magistrate was satisfied that the conditions for the grant set out in the schedule had been met.
Noble Lords who are interested will remember that ultimately this came to Report, when my noble friend Lord Young of Cookham dealt with the amendment. In the course of his observations he referred to two statutes that were supposed to indicate a form of warrant that would exclude my idea. Needless to say, I examined both of those and neither of them seemed to support the proposition for which they were cited. Eventually, my noble friend kindly agreed that the Government would consider the matter further—which is why it is competent for me to raise it at Third Reading. I had permission, as it were.
Since Report, I have had a meeting with the Minister—this time, the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie—officials from the Department for Education as well as, and this is the vital information, an official from Her Majesty’s courts service. It was not clear from the previous meeting exactly what the objection was to my amendment. It was thought that his department was carrying out an operation to simplify all warrants and make them pretty well the same. It turned out at the meeting that these were related to the criminal procedure and the operations of the committee concerned with the revision of criminal procedure matters. I continued to think that this was not a criminal matter and therefore did not preclude what I wanted.
I was fairly insistent that this should happen, so we had a meeting this afternoon. It transpires that the idea of it being unheard of to have a separate signature is without foundation, because the criminal procedure committee and the Lord Chief Justice, who is no doubt an implement of that, have approved a form of warrant in criminal procedures which includes at the end of the application a space for the magistrate to sign to the effect that he or she has granted a warrant and to give the reasons for it.
It is apparent that this is not a criminal warrant; it is much more general than that. The official from the courts service kindly gave me a copy today of the form of warrant in criminal matters. It refers to the Criminal Procedure Rules and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, but it also says:
“Use this form ONLY for an application for a search warrant under a power to which sections 15 & 16 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 … apply, other than section 8”.
There is a different form for Section 8. So whatever you say about the form, it does not seem expressly to apply to one type of warrant. The official undertook to confirm whether this procedure applies generally as a matter of practice to other warrants—and he rather thought that it did.
I would be content if this form of warrant or something like it was agreed to be applied to the warrants under Schedule 5 to the Act, because it is a form of what I originally suggested. If that is correct, it is a perfectly reasonable way of allaying the concern of the academic community that the warrant would be too readily granted and that the very strict conditions laid down in the schedule might not be fully understood by the magistrate who had the obligation in connection with the warrant.
I think it right that I should move my amendment but explain that, in light of the rather tortuous history that it has had, I would be content if the Minister confirmed that the practice of magistrates’ courts generally in relation to all the warrants that they deal with is to contain in the application a form for the signature of the magistrate confirming that he or she has issued the warrant for the reasons that are summarised.
It seems a little odd—but odd things happen—that the reason for the decision should be appended to the application, because the application is from somebody other than the magistrate. But that seems to be the form that has been accommodated for criminal procedure, and I suppose that there is no reason why the slightly less formal way of doing it than I suggested would not be appropriate for civil procedure as well. You would think that the reasons for the judgment would normally be in the judgment issued rather than appended to the application for the judgment—but, as I say, strange things happen. So if the Minister is able to say that, as a matter of general practice, warrants issued under this provision as well as under other civil provisions are subject to the procedure which requires a signature on the application form by the magistrate giving the reasons for which he or she has granted the application, I will be content. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay. As a former vice-chancellor of a university that, early in my tenure, did not always get its returns on student numbers to HEFCE correct, and was therefore subject to some stern discussions with the team at HEFCE and some refunding of income to it, I feel that Schedule 5 sounds potentially rather threatening—and I know that that is how others in the sector feel. While I recognise that such powers would be used only in exceptional circumstances, the addition proposed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, would help provide reassurance to the sector that the greatest care and attention to detail would be applied if and when such powers needed to be invoked.
My Lords, it is otiose to add very much to what was a wonderful account of the ramifications that one can get into when one moves to question some of the wording in the schedules to some of our more complex Bills. As a guide, the noble and learned Lord has been a wonderful education for a higher education specialist such as me. To have gone through a higher education Bill and then to have learned something right at the very end is a touch of magic—a bit of fairy dust that will sprinkle down across all of us. All we now need is for the noble Viscount to stand up and measure up to the relatively low but still quite precise hurdle that has been set for him. He is an elegant, small chap; he has light feet; he has had a brilliant career in dealing with difficult questions that we have thrown at him across the Dispatch Box. I am sure that this is well within his capabilities. He would be strongly advised, given the rather glowering face behind him, to do it right this time.
My Lords, with that introduction, how can one fail? I thank another noble and learned Lord—this time, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay—for his helpful and astute contributions on this issue both in Committee and on Report. We are very grateful for the expertise that he brings to bear. As my noble and learned friend said, this amendment has had an interesting history and has done the rounds, but, on a serious note, let me offer my apologies if the department’s letters to him on this issue have misunderstood his area of concern.
I shall briefly reiterate why the powers to enter and inspect higher education providers, set out in Schedule 5, are needed. These powers will allow suspected breaches of registration and funding conditions which are considered by a magistrate to be, to quote directly from Schedule 5,
“sufficiently serious to justify entering premises”,
such as financial irregularity, to be tackled swiftly and effectively through the new power of entry. This will safeguard the interests of students and the taxpayer, and protect the reputation of the sector. As the NAO said in its 2014 report on alternative providers, at the moment the department has no rights of access to providers, and this affects the extent to which it can investigate.
We agree that it is vital, of course, that strong safeguards are in place to ensure that these powers are used appropriately. As set out in Schedule 5 as drafted, a magistrate would need to be satisfied that four tests were met before granting a warrant: first, that reasonable grounds existed for suspecting a breach of a condition of funding or registration; secondly, that the suspected breach was sufficiently serious to justify entering the premises; thirdly, that entry to the premises was necessary to determine whether the breach was taking place; and fourthly, that permission to enter would be refused, or else requesting entry would frustrate the purpose of entry. These criteria will ensure that the exercise of the power is appropriately limited. Further limitations are built into Schedule 5, including, first, that entry must be at a reasonable hour, and secondly, that the premises may be searched only to the extent that is reasonably required to determine whether there is or has been a breach.
I believe that the thinking of the Government and that of my noble and learned friend is very largely aligned in relation to these safeguards. I fully understand that this amendment does not seek in any way to alter the conditions which must be met for a warrant to be granted, or prevent warrants being granted where they otherwise would have been. Rather, as my noble and learned friend has set out, the amendment makes a small change to the powers so that the search warrant to enter a higher education provider must state that all the conditions for grant of the warrant specified in Schedule 5 have been met. I am grateful for my noble and learned friend’s valuable contribution and have discussed this with him outside the Chamber and reflected on this matter very carefully. As he said, he spoke with my honourable friend in the other place, Jo Johnson, on this matter today, and with officials from HM Courts and Tribunals Service. I hope that these conversations were helpful. However, the Government remain of the view that this schedule should stand as drafted, as we believe that a requirement to state that the conditions have been met would not provide an extra legal safeguard.
We agree that it is imperative that the conditions in the schedule are fully met before any warrant is granted. However, we believe that this is already the effect of the Bill as drafted, specifically paragraph 1 of Schedule 5. Furthermore, paragraph 3(1)(f) already provides that the warrant must, as far as possible, identify the funding or registration condition breach which is suspected. We understand that, in the past, magistrates may have taken an insufficiently robust approach towards scrutinising warrant applications but, as I have impressed upon my noble and learned friend, the position is markedly different now: the specifics of applications are carefully scrutinised and it is not uncommon for warrants to be refused. I should acknowledge to my noble and learned friend that there may have been a misunderstanding as to the requirement for a magistrate to certify that the statutory requirements for the issue of a search warrant have been met. I want to reassure him that a magistrate will be required to set out the reasons for their decisions in writing, and to add their signature to their reasons. I accept that this may be described as a certificate.
I want to go into a little more detail, bearing in mind the comments of my noble and learned friend. He asked whether an application under Schedule 5 is within the ambit of the criminal procedure rules. The criminal procedures apply to a magistrates’ court,
“when dealing with a criminal cause or matter”.
Although an application for a warrant under Schedule 5 can be granted only where the breach under investigation is sufficiently serious, there is no requirement that the investigation must relate to possible breaches of the criminal law. However, in the absence of any specific guidance to the contrary, it is the practice of magistrates’ courts to deal with applications for a warrant to enter premises in accordance with the CPR and the criminal practice directions and using the prescribed form of application and warrant. Magistrates’ courts do not seek to make fine distinctions as to whether an application is civil or criminal. It is the nature of the application that is important.
As I said earlier, I can confirm that a magistrate will sign a separate form which certifies that the statutory criteria are met. In addition, of course, the magistrate will sign the warrant. With that reassurance, with the extra detail that I have set out and the reasons we believe this amendment is not necessary, I respectfully ask my noble and learned friend to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am extremely happy because the purpose of my original intervention has been fully met by the description that my noble friend has given of the practice of the court. It is a little odd that the form is to be used only for criminal matters, but practice sometimes overcomes that. I am constrained to add a personal note. When I came to politics rather late in life, I had a very skilled, shrewd and experienced person to guide me. He was operating in a very hostile atmosphere and I gathered from him that if you could do anything to allay the concerns of those who were concerned about your activities, so long as it did not alter your own position it was wise to do so. I have used that criterion for most of my time in these offices. The person to whom I owe this tuition was the father of my noble and learned friend. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 10 withdrawn.
Schedule 6: English higher education information: designated body
11: Schedule 6, page 105, line 29, leave out “Part 1 of”
Amendment 11 agreed.
My Lords, before the Bill does, I hope, indeed pass, I want to say a few words. At this milestone in the Bill’s passage, I, along with my colleague, the Minister in the other place, would like to take a moment—and I hope that noble Lords will indulge me as I use this term one last time—to reflect, and perhaps I should say reflect carefully, on how far it has come since being introduced to this House last November.
The Bill is the most significant piece of legislation that the higher education sector has seen in 25 years. As is fitting for such an important piece of legislation, we have heard powerful speeches from distinguished noble Lords, many of whom have held respected posts in our world-class higher education and research institutions, on key aspects of the Bill. For example, the importance of protecting institutional autonomy has been an area on which we have reached agreement. The amendments on this issue that were brought forward by noble Lords on Report, which the Government supported, were welcomed across these Benches. The Government listened carefully and responded on this issue, as we did on many others. I believe that the Bill is better as a result of this reflection. I look forward to continued discussions on the changes that the Lords is sending to the Commons, but I am truly grateful for the extensive debate, discussion and consideration of all aspects of this important piece of legislation from all sides of the House.
I express particular gratitude for the constructive engagement of numerous noble Lords. Before I forget, I want to thank my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay for his very kind words about my father. It was moving and I am very grateful. I start by thanking noble Lords opposite, particularly the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson, Lord Watson and Lord Mendelsohn, who have led the Bill from the Opposition Benches. The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, and the noble Lords, Lord Storey and Lord Addington, played a key role for the Liberal Democrats. A wealth of experience has been brought to bear from the Cross Benches: to name just a few, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Kerslake, Lord Lisvane and Lord Krebs, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Brown, Lady Wolf in particular, Lady O’Neill, who is in her place today, and Lady Deech. I also thank the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Durham, Portsmouth and Chester. Of course, I thank my noble friends behind me: my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay, who I have mentioned already, and my noble friends Lord Lucas and Lord Selborne. Above all, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Willetts, who may or may not be in his place—I do not have eyes in the back of my head, I am afraid—whose higher education White Paper in 2011 paved the way for the reforms outlined in the Bill.
Finally, I thank my colleagues—my noble friends Lady Goldie, Lord Prior and Lord Young—for their admirable support throughout the passage of the Bill so far; I stress “so far” because there is a little way to go. I also thank the officials in the Department for Education and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, along with officials in the Home Office, the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Justice who have supported the Bill. I particularly thank the officials in the higher education and research teams and the Bill team. Having mentioned all those departments, I think the Bill has been a great example of how departments can work together effectively. Once again, this House has demonstrated the value of the scrutiny it adds to the legislative process. While we are by no means at the end-point of the Bill, as I have said, I thank all those involved in reaching this significant milestone.
My Lords, I gather from the Public Bill Office that the Bill may have broken all records for the number of amendments tabled during its passage. That is an indication of the interest it generated across the House, which allowed the House to play a full and important role, as just mentioned by the Minister, as we scrutinised every clause and, indeed, virtually every line.
The Minister was kind to say that he felt that the Bill had been improved in this process. Ministers do not always feel that way about Bills that have been torn to pieces and not always put back together in the form that they originally liked. He is right that there were things we could do with the Bill to make it, within the context of its overall shape and form, slightly better and more accommodating of the needs of the sector it was intending to regulate. As the Minister says, there is further to go and perhaps it will change again, but we have certainly made a lot of progress. My noble friend Lord Watson said earlier on another Bill that the work we had done here is what we do best. It is something your Lordships’ House should continue to do.
I add my thanks to those expressed by the Minister, starting with him and his colleagues—the noble Lords, Lord Young and Lord Prior, and the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, who all contributed to various areas within the Bill—for their unfailing courtesy and willingness to meet and, of course, to write. We have the epistolary Minister in front of us, who writes letters almost as easily as he breathes. We benefited a lot from those because they were very detailed and gave us a lot of information. We also appreciate, as has been mentioned, the substantial involvement of the Minister for Universities and Science in the other place, who, unusually, is not here today but has been seen around as we have discussed the Bill.
I also thank the Bill team. They were very good at organising meetings and often anticipated what we needed. But they also produced some very helpful factsheets, which have not been mentioned but I found very useful. These were necessary, because for those not involved in higher education it was a bit difficult to get down into the detail of the Bill. The factsheets were very useful in exemplifying what was meant by the various regulatory frameworks and what the architecture would do in practice, and we found them very helpful.
My Front-Bench team was superb. I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Watson and Lord Mendelsohn, who covered large areas of the Bill and obtained many of the concessions now in it. Our legislative assistant, Molly Critchley—we have only one—was extraordinary and superb and kept us going with grids and other materials so necessary for an effective Opposition, as well as dealing with the Public Bill Office and all those amendments. We are very grateful for its work as well in that respect.
One of the greatest pleasures of the Bill has been the experience of working closely with the other groups in the House. We quickly discovered that our views on the Bill were shared by the Liberal Democrats and a substantial number of Cross-Benchers, and indeed some Members on the Government Benches. We found that by meeting regularly and sharing intelligence about what Ministers were saying in bilateral meetings, we could make better progress than perhaps would otherwise have been the case. As I approach the end of my current spell of active Front-Bench responsibilities in your Lordships’ House, the close working relationship we built up over the Bill is one of the memories I will cherish the most.
My Lords, I add the thanks of the Liberal Democrat Benches to the Ministers—the noble Viscount, Lord Younger of Leckie, the noble Lords, Lord Prior of Brampton and Lord Young, and the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie—who have given such detailed contributions throughout some very tough debates on the Bill. I echo the appreciation expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to the Bill team for their engagement, briefings and meetings—and, indeed, their patience—in the course of the Bill.
We are most grateful that the Government have accepted and introduced so many amendments to the Bill, and we live in hope that the amendments agreed by this House will be confirmed by the Commons when the Bill returns to them. These include amendments on the issue of international students, on which the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, has a compelling article in today’s Guardian; to the teaching excellence framework; on safeguards for the quality of new providers; and on encouraging students to vote. We look forward to hearing the progress of my noble friend Lord Addington’s proposals for guidance for disabled students, and we hope that the Bill more generally will offer more opportunity to adult and part-time students.
Across the House we have all understood the need for teaching in universities to be accorded the same regard as research, but have sought ways which would encourage, rather than brand, institutions. We have seen it as imperative to maintain the worldwide respect of the UK’s higher education, while addressing any areas of shortcoming. I hope that the amended Bill will ensure that both teaching and research continue to flourish and offer learners—young, adult and, indeed, old—opportunities to develop and progress. We wish the ill-named Office for Students and the better-named UKRI every success, in the interests of the country, international collaboration and the individuals who work and achieve within our higher education sector.
I thank my noble friend Lord Storey for his tireless support and invaluable contributions on this and the Technical and Further Education Bill, and Elizabeth Plummer in our Whips’ Office, who provided us with immensely useful briefings. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, said, we have certainly benefited from close co-operation with the Labour Benches and the Cross Benches, as well as those on the Government Benches who shared some of our concerns. Collaboratively, we have left the Bill much better than how it reached us. Once again, I express the thanks of these Benches for the way in which scrutiny has been conducted, and the hope that the final Bill may reflect the wide- ranging expertise and contributions of your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I, too, will say a few words of thanks on my behalf and on behalf of my noble friends Lady Wolf and Lord Kerslake, who apologise that they are unable to be here today. As we have heard, the Cross Benches have played a significant role in scrutinising and revising the Bill, leading on four major amendments that were approved on Report, and championing many of the important changes that the Government have delivered through their amendments.
I thank the Government for listening and engaging with so many noble Lords from across the House. I particularly thank the Ministers—the noble Viscount, Lord Younger, the noble Lord, Lord Prior, and the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie—for their numerous responses. I have been hugely impressed by their stamina under enormous pressure and very long hours, and their numerous meetings and letters, which have been very helpful in developing a shared understanding of how to regulate and support a successful higher education system.
Most of all, I acknowledge the Bill team, with whom we have had some great, fun, controversial and heated meetings. They are really hard-working and committed civil servants. They have worked some very long and unsocial hours to support the passage of the Bill through your Lordships’ House and they deserve huge credit for that. All these efforts have contributed to what I am very pleased to hear we all agree—and I know the sector agrees—is now a much stronger Bill.
Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.