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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 25th January 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Goldie Baroness Goldie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 5:15 pm, 25th January 2017

My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson and Lord Lucas, and the noble Baroness, Lady Wolf, for raising these important issues.

The amendments seek to limit the power of the OfS or someone working on its behalf to carry out efficiency studies on HE providers under Clause 63. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that we entirely accept the principle of what he is seeking to achieve here. For many providers on the register the teaching of higher education will be just a part of their overall business. Many providers will also carry out other activities, such as offering corporate conference facilities or operating sports facilities which the public can access.

Let me also assure my noble friend that the Government would not want the OfS to look at the efficiency of those other activities. Instead, the Government would expect the OfS to confine its efficiency studies to providers’ HE teaching activities. I accept that the Bill does not explicitly limit the OfS’s efficiency studies power in the way my noble friend seeks but we do not think that these amendments would achieve that laudable end. They seek to link the OfS’s efficiency studies power to those activities which are subject to the contract between the OfS and the provider relating to the provider’s registration. A provider’s registration, however, is not subject to a contract.

The Bill is not, though, entirely silent on how the OfS should carry out its functions. I point to the general duties this Bill places on the OfS in Clause 2(1)(e), which requires the OfS to,

“use the OfS’s resources in an efficient, effective and economic way”.

Furthermore, Clause 2(1)(f) places a duty on the OfS to have regard to,

“the principles of best regulatory practice, including the principles that regulatory activities should be … transparent, accountable, proportionate and consistent, and … targeted only at cases in which action is needed”.

Let me also assure my noble friend that individuals conducting efficiency studies on behalf of the OfS will be subject to the same confidentiality requirements as the OfS.

I hope that these latter points provide my noble friend with some reassurance that the OfS will carry out its efficiency studies in the focused way he seeks to achieve. This level of focus is certainly something the Government want to see. In these circumstances I ask him to withdraw Amendment 416.