Higher Education and Research Bill - Report (4th Day)

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

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Photo of Lord Prior of Brampton Lord Prior of Brampton Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 6:15 pm, 15th March 2017

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, for not pressing his amendment requiring a shared OfS and UKRI board member with at least observer status. While I do not think that such arrangements need to be put on the face of the Bill, I recognise absolutely the value of establishing such a link between the OfS and UKRI boards. As such, I am pleased to be able to confirm that the chairs of both the OfS and UKRI would welcome an observer of each other’s organisations at their respective board meetings.

I turn now to Amendment 165A. The noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, and the noble Lord, Lord Willis, drawing on his experience as a member of the Natural Environment Research Council, have previously outlined the value of lay members, and they have been supported today by the noble Lords, Lord Sharkey and Lord Krebs. Although in the future appointments to councils will be a matter for UKRI, I should like to take this opportunity to make it clear that the Government would have the full expectation that the current practice regarding lay member representation will continue and we will commit to reflecting this in guidance to UKRI. Perhaps I should add in passing that the number of 12—the Goldilocks solution—reflects best practice advice from the Cabinet Office. I cannot recall what the code says on numbers, but 12 is a manageable figure. If a board is much larger than 12 members, it becomes much more difficult for it to be effective.

The idea of a senior independent member was raised in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Broers, and described just now by the noble Lord Mendelsohn. I really cannot add to his description of the sometimes critical role in acting as a very important channel, in this case to UKRI from council members. That could be extremely important. I have some words here about the senior independent council member, but given the way the noble Lord has set out the role, I feel that I no longer have to do so; I will simply agree with what he said.

Having discussed the issue with the chair and chief executive of the future UKRI, I am pleased to be able to confirm that a member of each council will be appointed as the senior independent council member. This does not need to be set out in the legislation, not least because the amendment would result in an additional member of each council beyond what I believe to be a reasonable and workable number. Instead I can commit to making this a permanent feature of the organisation through setting the role out clearly in the governance documentation for UKRI. I therefore ask the noble Lord not to press his amendment.

Amendment 159 agreed.

Amendments 160 and 161 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.