Higher Education: Loans - Motion to Regret

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 5th April 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, 5th April 2017

My Lords, I thank noble Lords very much indeed for their comments, particularly about me. I am a deeply private person, and I hate it when the spotlight suddenly swings round and catches you like a rabbit—which I am here today. I did not want that or expect it, and I certainly did not want it to spoil the debate. I hope it has not, because the contributions have been on a serious level, and I thank the Minister in particular for dealing with the issues as they were presented.

The question of personality in this House is interesting. When you first come into the House, the thing that is impressed most on you is how it has to be treated as a third person in a passive sense—namely, as your Lordships’ House. You never speak about individuals. You certainly do not use first names. So the sudden emergence of an individual who has something to say is really rather shocking, and I hope that it does not get repeated—certainly not to me.

We have had a good debate. I have now realised, after nearly seven years here, that the way to tackle these issues is by tabling this sort of Motion because in the normal cut and thrust of debate and in the discussion of legislation and questions, one can never get down to a serious debate about serious issues. Therefore, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Willetts, that a Motion such as this is a good thing to have now and again—not all the time, but just occasionally—to enable us to have a detailed discussion of issues causing concern. I fully accept what the noble Lord, Lord Bew, said—some of these issues are rather worrying.

The Minister said in his conclusion that he thought we had a fair and sustainable student finance system. It may or may not be fair—I am reminded of Zhou Enlai who, when asked about the impact of the French Revolution, said that it was too soon to say—and we will not know that for 30 years until we look back at the system when it has ended. However, we cannot wait that long. Therefore, the suspicion is that it is not fair. Is it sustainable? We cannot tell that because the figures are very difficult to interpret. The noble Lord, Lord Willetts, with several brains working full time, has not been able to crack it all and will be able to give us lectures and seminars to end all seminars. I look forward to those. However, I cannot cope with that. I just want something simple. If we cannot interpret this system on the basis of the DfE’s published accounts, perhaps tabling another Motion at an appropriate time agreed with the Minister, because he is a friend as well, would be the way forward. However, in the interim, we should get things started by testing the opinion of the House on whether it would like to see more information on this interesting area.

Ayes 174, Noes 163.