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My Lords, the debate has been helpful. I think we all agree that participation and choice in further and higher education must be open to everyone with the potential to succeed, irrespective of their background, gender or religion. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, for a sensitive and reflective contribution to that debate.
The Government recognise that, under the current system, there are concerns that some prospective Muslim students may feel deterred from accessing student loans; we appreciate that they might consider that student loans are not consistent with the principles of Islamic finance. Our research has suggested to us that Muslim students are less likely to use student loans than their contemporaries. That is why the Government have introduced Clauses 80 and 81, which are ground-breaking and innovatory and set out our intention to provide the Secretary of State with the power, for the first time, to offer alternative payments alongside existing powers to offer grants and loans. We are the first Government to legislate to make alternative student finance possible, and we have legislated at the first opportunity. We are fully committed to making alternative student finance available.
I reassure noble Lords that the Government, while bringing forward this legislation, are also continuing to work on the policy and operational detail that will be needed for forthcoming regulations and for the new model to work within our systems and processes. It is only by exercising due diligence on all this detail, including with experts on Islamic finance, that we will be able to meet our policy objective—our shared policy objective—of supporting participation in education. This careful, sensitive and important work cannot be rushed towards a deadline that is simply chosen and written into legislation. Our timeframes must be grounded in the realities of the work necessary to deliver a workable system. The Government are reliant on the successful passage of Clauses 80 and 81 if we are to be able to make alternative student finance available. That is the issue which concerns us today.
The Government’s commitment to alternative student finance is not in doubt. We are the first to legislate for it, we will continue to work on it and we will make it available. In these circumstances, I beg to move Amendment 438 and urge the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, not to press his amendment.