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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 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) 6:45 pm, 15th March 2017

My Lords, I thank all those who spoke in this debate. We learned a great deal from the contribution of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Wallace, whose experience is of course unparalleled in seeing things from the perspective of the devolved Administrations. The noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, has real experience of trying to operate in an institution that is largely based in Scotland but that draws from the strength of UK science and UK contributions to its work. He therefore understands the mechanics of what we are about.

It seems that Goldilocks has been ignored in this process. I agree that “not just one” does not exclude “more than one”, but I think that Goldilocks would have wanted a little more in her porridge than just the promise that over a period of time there would be not one bowl but three bowls and that she could sup from all of them—I think my metaphor is about to run out, but noble Lords get my point. I hear what the Minister said, and he is an honest and good man. I am sure that he is trying to set up an arrangement under which we will achieve what is set out in Amendment 162. I will not press that to a vote on this occasion. We will take his assurances, but I hope he recognises that we are in difficult circumstances here.

Hardwiring may be too hard an approach to this. Underwiring, with support from below, may not be sufficient. I just hope that in some way, in the gap between memoranda of understanding and letters of guidance, we can get to a more settled arrangement over a period of time. I agree that it is difficult and I am not trying to constrain the Minister in any way. However, it is a bit defensive to say that one reason you do not wish to go down this route is so as not to disincentivise or in other ways constrain English institutions. That is exactly the sort of poison that will be used by those north of the border and in Wales and Northern Ireland to complain they are not getting fair treatment. The sensibility is probably right, but the wording must be looked at carefully. I hope that that message will get across.

We seem to be permanently in difficult times in terms of constitutional issues. This is not the time to let any chink through. If we all agree around the House, as I think we do, that this matter cannot be ignored and must be brought forward and foregrounded, then we can make progress together. Our commitment will not be doubted. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 162 withdrawn.

Amendment 163 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.