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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:30 pm on 25th January 2017.

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Photo of Lord Sharkey Lord Sharkey Liberal Democrat 6:30 pm, 25th January 2017

I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Cormack, Lord Willetts and Lord Watson, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, for speaking to this amendment. I would say in passing to the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, that his own consultation answers the point he made, as it points out that the unattractiveness of conventional student loans is a matter of major concern to many Muslims. That is the point I was trying to make—and it is still of major concern.

I was going to answer the noble Lord, Lord Watson, in a slightly more prolix way than did the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay, but I think the noble and learned Lord made the point very eloquently about the commencement date.

I am extremely disappointed by the Minister’s response, which was so vague and non-committal that it seems to send a message to the Muslim community that it is entirely possible that the next two cohorts of your children will not be able to take a student loan. That is an unsatisfactory situation, as it was nearly five years ago. I am extremely disappointed that the Government have not proposed any method of speeding it up. I acknowledge the point about IT failures, but that is a universal truth. I am not convinced by the apparent complexity that the Government are relying on as a cause for this delay. I have talked to Islamic experts—some of whom were involved in designing the scheme—who have told me explicitly that the scheme itself is judged to be sharia-compliant, and the problem is only one of administration within the Student Loan Company and HMRC. A delay caused by an administrative failure in those agencies is not a good reason to deprive two cohorts of children of funding to go to university.

As I say, I am very disappointed by the Minister’s response. Will the Minister agree to meet me and other interested parties before Report to see whether we can find a way out of an extremely unsatisfactory situation? I do not see a response from the Minister, but perhaps he did not hear what I said. I was inviting him to agree to a meeting with me and other interested parties to discuss whether we can find a way out of this unsatisfactory situation. Since I still do not get a response, I assume that the answer is no—and I shall inquire on Report why that is the case. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw.