Clause 23 — Duty of Secretary of State to Impose Condition as to Student Fees, etc

Part of Orders of the Day — Higher Education Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:00 pm on 23 June 2004.

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Photo of Alan Johnson Alan Johnson Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education) 4:00, 23 June 2004

I never like to be difficult with the hon. Gentleman, but the answer is no. I see no point in considering that proposal at all, but it was a nice try. Neither do I think, incidentally, that the noble Lords would expect me to consider it, particularly after the debate that they had last night about trying to find the funding for this gap.

I have outlined the key arguments against the amendment, but before I finish, it would be remiss of me not to point out that it is also technically flawed, in that it sets a condition but provides no means of enforcing it. On a more minor note, the term "eligible student" is defined in the student support regulations, not the Bill, so the effect in this context would be ambiguous.

Lords amendment No. 4 would have a significant effect on future decisions about public spending, and should therefore be rejected on the ground of privilege. It would tie the hands of future Governments and prevent them from determining their spending priorities in the light of the circumstances at the time. We are all concerned with the important issue of funding for higher education, but the amendment goes further than ensuring that the new fee income would be additional, and guarantees that public funding for higher education could never decrease, regardless of the needs of other public services.

If we were to accept the amendment, we would be setting a strange and dangerous precedent. We could hardly offer such a guarantee for higher education without recognising the needs of schools, hospitals, and other vital public services. This illustrates the traditional argument against hypothecation; the provision would lead us quickly to a position in which every part of the public sector had its own special case for protection.