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 Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 6:15 pm, 15th March 2017

My Lords, Amendment 162 is taken from Amendment 476, moved in Committee by the noble Lord, Lord Patel. While there is no dissatisfaction with the way the Government responded at that stage, it is more that, particularly in relation to the changes wrought by the decision reached a few days ago for the Scottish Government to try to move forward on a second independence referendum, a certain piquancy has been added to the debate and discussion. It might be time to reflect a little further on some of the issues that were raised on that occasion.

When the noble Lord, Lord Patel, moved his amendment in Committee, he was clear that he did not expect this to be a surrogate for a change in the way in which UKRI is set up. It is not a representative body and I do not think that either he or I in this amendment are trying to make that change. However, as the noble Lord pointed out, there are significant differences in the customs, practice, legal systems and operational practices of the Scottish university sector and research community to suggest that at least there, and I believe also in Wales and Northern Ireland, it would be sensible for UKRI to have regard to more than just once in a few returns around the membership cycle of having someone with experience and practical knowledge of how things operate in those parts of the United Kingdom. In Committee we also talked about other parts of England requiring certain attention, but I do not think the difference between what happens in the regions of England in any sense mirrors the differences present in the legal and other structures that operate in Scotland and will over time also accrue in Wales and Northern Ireland.

In re-presenting this amendment I make no excuses for going over some of the same ground, but it is important that we reflect very carefully before agreeing to a system that will not give specific responsibilities to those who have worked in and have experience, understanding and knowledge of the operation of Scottish universities and research institutions. In his response last time the noble Lord, Lord Prior of Brampton, quoted the words of Sir Alan Langlands, who has been vice-chancellor of the University of Dundee. He said essentially what I have been saying, which is that,

“given the dynamics of devolution and the fact that essentially we are dealing with four different financial systems and four different policy frameworks, the one thing that has stuck together through all this has been the UK science and research community”.

He draws a different conclusion from the one I would draw, but the point he makes is worth saying.

I hope I have said enough on this occasion to show that, while we welcome what the Government did in the other place to ensure that the Secretary of State, in appointing members to UKRI and its board, must have regard to the desirability of including at least one person with relevant experience in either Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, I do not think it is sufficient. Will the noble Lord think again about this issue? I beg to move.