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Higher Education and Research Bill - Committee (6th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 25th January 2017.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 4:15 pm, 25th January 2017

The subtlety of that point, I am afraid, has been lost on me entirely and therefore I will continue. The point I was trying to make —it completes the circle of the argument—is that it is not about the Privy Council in essence but about independent scrutiny of the processes under which organisations achieve the valuable status of becoming universities, which at the moment is done by an outside body. It may not be perfect, and probably it is not, but it still requires a step to be taken by a body beyond the processes controlled by Ministers which could, at least in theory, raise questions of an uncomfortable nature.

The Minister will be aware that although there has been no occasion when the Privy Council has not accepted the recommendations, I am sure there have been occasions when difficult questions have been asked of institutions which have wanted to change statutes or make changes to their own governing arrangements. Indeed, I know that to be true. Because of Privy Council requirements these have had to be laid before the council and before they could be agreed they were the subject of a considerable exchange of information, discussion and debate. Indeed, anecdotally one could even talk about the recent press standards issue. Just after the legislation went through both Houses of Parliament, the royal charter for the press recognition arrangement could not be implemented because the Privy Council could not consider two applications for approval on a single area at the same time. There are processes that engage with the sort of scrutiny I am talking about. It is not about the Privy Council but about whether such standards should be in existence. Let us park that for a moment.

As I understand it, the changes proposed in the Bill will not reduce standards. I accept that. There will still be a process under which a university title is different from being a higher education provider—the Minister read out a list including the number of students, the amount of time it takes and so on. These are distinctions that would be made and the body currently charged with that, the Office for Students, would have to make the recommendations, whether to the Privy Council or not, on that issue. That is good and I am not trying to move away from it, but it still raises the question of whether the last step, which may not be substantive step at the moment but could be, is still required. That is the point that we might want to return to, but I will not detain the Committee further. I look forward to reading Hansard and I may come back to this on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 339 withdrawn.

Clause 51 agreed.

Clause 52: Unauthorised use of “university” in title of institution etc

Amendments 340 to 343 not moved.

Clause 52 agreed.

Clause 53: Revocation of authorisation to use “university” title

Amendments 344 to 347B not moved.

Clause 53 agreed.

Clause 54: Revocation of authorisation: procedure

Amendments 348 to 352 not moved.