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

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

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Photo of Lord Krebs Lord Krebs Crossbench 7:15 pm, 15th March 2017

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction of these amendments. I shall refer very briefly to Amendments 189, 190 and 191 which are related to the Haldane principle. I am delighted that it is in the Bill. During the passage of the Bill we heard many different views on what the Haldane principle is, whether there is more than one Haldane principle and, indeed, whether it should be called the Willetts principle because one of the key references is the paper by the noble Lord, Lord Willetts.

Cutting to the core of what is involved here, it is about peer review and deciding which individual projects are funded within broad areas. Of course, it is reasonable for Ministers to have broad priorities, just as when the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, was Minister for Universities and Science, he described the eight great technologies that he thought were priorities for this country. However, within those, it should be the peer review system, the practitioners and others who are close to the action, who decide which projects are funded. Although the wording says “quality”, if I were on a peer review committee I would interpret “quality” as including excellence, echoing the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Judd. Therefore I warmly support this amendment.

Amendment 176 is about changing the name of research councils or reconfiguring their remit, and in the past we have seen many changes in the research councils. The 1993 White Paper and the legislation that followed it introduced a complete reconfiguration of the councils and we have seen a number of changes since then. We all accept that both the remit of individual councils and indeed the names and the configuration may change. What is important is that changes are the result of wide consultation taking into account the views of the scientific community. Therefore I welcome Amendment 176 too.