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Higher Education and Research Bill - Report (1st Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:15 pm on 6th March 2017.

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Photo of Lord Watson of Invergowrie Lord Watson of Invergowrie Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 7:15 pm, 6th March 2017

My Lords, the amendment moved so ably by my noble friend Lady Royall proposes to make it mandatory for all higher education institutions to offer students who are enrolling or re-registering the opportunity to be put on the electoral roll. The question surely is: why not? As we have heard, some universities already encourage their students to do that and it would be logical for all of them to do so. The reason given by the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie—as alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden—was, I think, that such a measure would be a bureaucratic burden on institutions, whether that was cost-based or not. How any activity that increases the number of people who participate in our democracy can be dismissed as a burden I fail to see, and I do not think that is in any sense the appropriate way to look at it.

The noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, also listed a number of universities in addition to the University of Sheffield, whose pilot the Government part funded, and a number of other institutions which are already implementing the system voluntarily. That is all well and good but there seemed to be a complete lack of urgency on her part on behalf of the Government, given that she said that the Government had committed to write to other HE and FE providers later this year, as if that were something they might or might not get round to. It is absolutely inappropriate for there to be any delay. Democracy does not take sabbaticals. We will have elections very soon and they have a habit of keeping on happening—by-elections or whatever. It is inappropriate that people who have the right to vote for whatever reason—I do not in any way discount personal responsibility—should be prevented from doing so.

Another figure from our earlier debate that stuck in my mind was that given in response to my noble friend Lord Stevenson, I think. The noble Baroness said that 60% of students register at home rather than where they attend university. That is fine but it leaves 40% who do not. As we have heard, that amounts to almost a quarter of a million students at any one time who will not be able to vote. That is far too many. Action needs to be taken urgently. That is why my noble friend’s amendment is necessary, and is necessary now.