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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 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) 5:15 pm, 25th January 2017

My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 423 in my name. The question is about grants to the OfS for set-up and running costs, but there is the additional possibility, picked up in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, that there may be other aspects and bright ideas that come to mind about how these charges might be recouped. The amendment asks whether or not there are tight guidelines available which would restrict the ability of the OfS to raise funds in a broader sense other than specifically for set-up and running costs. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

The point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, in her opening remarks on Amendment 420 is important, because we still worry a bit about what the nature of the beast called “OfS” is. Is it a regulator? It has been said that it is, and if it is, does it fall under the Regulators’ Code? I think I heard the Minister say on a previous amendment that it did not qualify to be considered within the code of practice for regulators. But if that is so, why call it a regulator? It will cause confusion and doubt if, in the public mind, it is a regulator for the sector but in fact it is not because it does not fulfil the criteria that would normally apply to other regulators. As the Minister said, these are not unhelpful comments in relation to regulator practice. They would clarify a lot of the uncertainty we have been experiencing in terms of how the regulator will operate. It might be that there is a case for it, even though it was not intended.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, has pointed out a number of times that there are other statutory provisions and considerations that might bear on how this Bill is constructed and issues relating to it. It is wise to have a wider net on these matters than simply to focus on the wording of the Bill. If there are other considerations that we ought to be aware of, it would be helpful if the Minister could respond, making quite clear what it is that drives the determination that the regulatory code does not apply in this area, even though some of the factors might be helpful and effective in terms of how it discharges its responsibilities.