My Lords, my noble friend Lord Storey—I am not saying this just because he is my noble friend—has introduced more or less a perfectly delivered Private Member’s Bill. He has identified a problem and, in a short document, given a solution that addresses it. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, might well be right that it could go further than higher education, but that would destroy the fact that it is a nice, short Bill that we can see.
There is an easier way to do this and, once again, my noble friend’s name is on it: in the current skills Bill, stick in his amendment after Clause 25. That might be the best reason the Government can give for not accepting this now.
The principle behind this, just to make it clear, is not the initial trivial one that “I struggled through my dissertation. These little—insert whatever expletives you like—of today should damn well do the same”. It is because some of these qualifications are professional; they may even require somebody to go on to take a job that has a responsibility for somebody’s life. They should know what they are doing and should have passed the qualification. It could be a matter of public safety.
There is also the fact that our university education system is supposed to be where you are intellectually tested and encouraged to go on to new ground; you are encouraged to push yourself and to open up your mind to see what is there. But you might go to university and discover that half the people on your course are not taking this step—and it can be quite a worrying step sometimes, causing people to ask, “How bright am I? Am I bright enough to do this? Should I take that little chance? Should I push that argument?” It is being undermined by this activity.
The internet has almost made this inevitable. Let us face it, there was always an essay going around on certain subjects and topics which you could have copied, even in the stone ages of the photocopier, when I took my degree. But it is the level at which it is available now that we worry about. I hope the Government say yes to this Bill or the amendment, or make sure that something achieves the same thing, in a short timeframe, because this is wrong. We have the opportunity to change it. I hope we will hear how that is happening.