Higher Education (Monetary Penalties and Refusal to Renew an Access and Participation Plan) (England) Regulations 2019 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 20th May 2019.

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Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 5:00 pm, 20th May 2019

I thank all noble Lords for their participation in this fairly short but interesting debate. I will do my best to answer in short order the questions that were raised on these Higher Education (Monetary Penalties and Refusal to Renew an Access and Participation Plan) Regulations.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and all other noble Lords for being broadly supportive of these regulations. I welcome the remarks that the noble Lord made towards the end of his speech, saying that it is welcome that more efforts are being made towards access and participation to ensure that more disadvantaged pupils go to university. He is right that there is more to do; I think I said that in my speech.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, raised a point about impact assessments on the fees and penalties. I will spend a little time on that. There was a full consultation on the penalties. The maximum level of penalty is set at 2% of the income that the provider receives through grant funding from the OfS and from tuition fees in a 12-month period, or £500,000. To clarify, by this I mean that the maximum level of penalty is 2% of income, unless that calculation produces a figure that is less than £500,000. If that is the case, the maximum is £500,000. The maximum penalty is set at a level to allow the OfS to ensure that there are visible and meaningful consequences for a provider that is in breach of an ongoing registration condition, without being unduly punitive. The OfS has discretion as to whether to impose a monetary penalty and to set the level of that penalty up to the maximum mentioned.

It is envisaged that the OfS would impose the maximum level of penalty only in the most exceptional circumstances. These regulations set out the factors that the OfS must consider. These factors are intended to help ensure that the imposition of a monetary penalty and the amount of any penalty is appropriate, reasonable and proportionate, given the circumstance of a particular breach of a registration condition. There was broad agreement on these factors in the consultation response. On the question of whether a higher maximum was suggested in the consultation, I can say that no provider suggested a higher maximum penalty in the consultation.

The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, asked about the appointment of a statutory reviewer. I can reassure him that a statutory reviewer has already been appointed to focus particularly on access and participation. This appointment is in line with the principles of public appointments and will be under review. She is getting up and running; we will see what other resources she might need—at the moment, we are perfectly happy that she has a role, but of course it will depend slightly on what the demands of her role are. I hope that is understood.

The noble Baroness, Lady Garden, asked where the money from the penalties will go. Money from monetary and financial penalties, as well as income derived from interest, is required under the Act—under HERA—to go to HM Treasury’s Consolidated Fund, from which government expenditure is funded. This prevents the OfS from imposing penalties or charging interest to raise income. That is a long-winded way of saying that the money goes to the Treasury, which I suspect is an answer that she—