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Orders of the Day — Further and Higher Education Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 11th February 1992.

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Photo of Jack Straw Jack Straw Shadow Secretary of State for Education 5:45 pm, 11th February 1992

I shall not give way because I wish to make progress. There is enormous scepticism and a great deal of opposition to the proposal, and the Minister knows that as well as I do.

I shall deal briefly with higher education. The first issue is quality control. During the debate on the Queen's Speech, the Secretary of State sought to assert that quality control in higher education could be adequately protected simply by using the funding council. He failed to see any reason for distinguishing between those involved in quality control and those involved in funding. I am glad to say that, in the other place, the Government accepted the need for some separation in terms of quality control because the quality control committees of the funding council will have to have a majority of members who are not drawn from that council. In Committee, we shall table amendments to seek to make quality control quite separate from the funding councils, because that is the best way to ensure the proper maintenance of standards.

We were glad to hear that the Secretary of State had finally accepted the arguments in favour of controls on his power to dictate to individual institutions. The original powers were not minor. There was a try-on in 1988 and the powers were potentially monstrous. We are glad that the Minister has accepted the Beloff amendment. However, there is great merit in the amendment moved by Lord Simon of Glaisdale in the other place for affirmative resolution control on the use of the powers. We shall table such amendments in Committee.

The Government have no mandate for the Bill, which represents a centralising and authoritarian takeover of local colleges and the replacement of local accountability by a new, untried and bureaucratic system under the Department of Education and Science. They have no mandate to railroad the measure through under the guillotine that will be debated later. The further education sections of the Bill are fatally flawed. They have no educational justification but were born of the poll tax. We may not defeat the Bill, but it is one more reason why we shall defeat the Government in the coming election.