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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 25th January 2017.

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Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 6:15 pm, 25th January 2017

My Lords, it is very much to be welcomed that Muslim students are to be offered Sharia-friendly student loans which should assist in applying to university, although I accept the point of the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, that only some students have been put off in the past in the belief that taking out a loan conflicts with their religious beliefs.

This is certainly a big step forward, but as the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, outlined, when will it happen? He has traced the path that has been followed since 2012, when a government commitment was first made. As he said, the consultation exercise was undertaken and the Government responded in September 2014—quite quick for government replies. Their response said that,

“the Government supports the introduction of a Sharia-compliant takaful alternative finance product available to everyone, and will work on its development”.

That response also mentioned the need to find what was described as an “appropriate legislative window”. Two years on—more than that, in fact—we are at that window, yet we do not have a date for the commencement.

Amendments 442 and 516 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Sharkey and Lord Willis, appear to me to be rather contradictory. Amendment 442 calls for the scheme to begin in the autumn of 2018, while Amendment 516 seeks its introduction immediately after the Bill becomes law, but no matter. We wish to see the scheme introduced as soon as it is practical, and I trust the Minister will outline the timescale that the Government have in mind. In particular, I hope they will offer some explanation if, as the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, said, they suggested that a delay would be necessary until 2019. I found it very interesting that the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, said that he had consultations with people in the Muslim community who said that it need not take that long, so we look forward to the Minister’s response on this important matter.