Clause 10 - Research in arts and humanities

Higher Education Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 10th February 2004.

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Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education) 3:15 pm, 10th February 2004

I beg to move amendment No. 13, in

clause 10, page 3, line 39, leave out 'carry out or'.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 14, in

clause 10, page 4, line 1, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 29, in

clause 10, page 4, line 11, leave out 'carry out or'.

No. 30, in

clause 10, page 4, line 21, leave out 'carry out or'.

No. 31, in

clause 10, page 4, line 33, leave out 'carry out or'.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

This set of amendments addresses what is undoubtedly a puzzlement in the Bill and I seek an explanation about the wording in the clause.

The words in subsection (1), which apply to England, have been replicated in subsequent subsections for the National Assembly for Wales, Scottish Ministers and the Northern Ireland Department, although I assume that the last provision would change if powers were redevolved to a reconstructed Assembly. The words refer to the Secretary of State's ability to

''carry out or support research in the arts and humanities''.

Most of that, particularly the latter part, makes perfect sense. What does not make perfect sense is the words ''carry out or''. At the very least the wording appears strange, given the potential dimensions of the clause.

We have some sense of the Secretary of State's academic background. He is a Cambridge graduate and was a distinguished member of that university who became a senior representative of the students' union. He achieved a degree in maths and economics, perhaps making his skills more suited to the work of the Economic and Social Research Council than that of the arts and humanities research council. Indeed, I looked through the board's work to try to identify which projects he might wish to carry out. Perhaps the project '''Meeting the Other'—Cross-Sexual Encounters with the Other World in Old Norse Mythology'', a recent piece of work, would interest him. The board's website lists a number of interesting and diverse projects, such as the ''The history and current status of 'bad language' as a concept in German folk linguistics''. Perhaps the obvious one is ''The Absurd in Literature''.

The board funds an enormous diversity of projects from all parts of the globe in the arts and humanities. Some are very worthy; others, to those of us of a more sceptical and cynical mind, are of more questionable academic benefit. There is not a great deal of mediaeval history in the projects listed on the board's

website, but I am sure that, in its new guise, and with the guidance that the Secretary of State will give it, that may change in future. Knowing the Secretary of State's particular interest in mediaeval history, he may have had that in mind when thinking about the ability to carry out research in his own right.

I seriously question exactly what use the Secretary of State and his Department will make of the right to carry out research in the arts and humanities. I also have questions about the role of the National Assembly for Wales in carrying out research in the arts and humanities. The same is true of the Scottish Ministers, and certainly of the Northern Ireland Department. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and his Ministers are estimable people, but I am not entirely sure where this particular aspect of the needs of the nation fits into their portfolio.

Given the wording of the clause, can the Minister explain the purpose of giving the Secretary of State the right to carry out research? Why have the words ''carry out'' been used? That seems unusual. Why does paragraph (b) provide the Secretary of State with the power to

''disseminate the results of research in the arts and humanities''?

Why is that same power offered to the devolved bodies and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland? I should have thought that disseminating research was a matter for the academic world and learned journals. It does not make an awful lot of sense for the Government to have that power.

Photo of Mr Tim Collins Mr Tim Collins Conservative, Westmorland and Lonsdale

Has my hon. Friend noticed the contrast between the roles set out for the Secretary of State in this clause and the roles set out for the arts and humanities research council in clause 1? The council's role includes:

''carrying out, facilitating, encouraging, and supporting'' research; the Secretary of State has only half those abilities. The council's role includes ''advancing and disseminating knowledge'', but the Secretary of State will only disseminate knowledge. Does my hon. Friend think that it is interesting that the Secretary of State will not have the power to advance knowledge?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

That is an interesting point. Nor, I see, does he have the right to encourage knowledge. He has been doing a lot of encouraging in recent weeks, and is probably very well versed in it—although I suspect not when it comes to encouraging research and in the arts and humanities.

This is an odd clause. In my experience of working on Bills, they throw up clauses that on the face of it seem strange and to some extent incomprehensible. The Minister undoubtedly knows why the clause has been included and will give us a cogent explanation, but I am intrigued to know his justification for the provision that will enable the Secretary of State himself to

''carry out . . . research in the arts and humanities''.

Photo of Alan Johnson Alan Johnson Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education)

We have begun the process of the textual striptease that will take place in the debates on the three groups of amendments for this clause. It is proposed that we start by removing three words, then

delete two sentences per subsection, and then, in the final debate, delete practically the whole lot. The clause would be left entirely naked by the time we had finished the striptease process.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) talked about the Secretary of State as being the Secretary of State for Education and Skills. The hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale pointed out earlier that most references to the Secretary of State mean the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, who is quite a different person. I would love to carry out one, but I would have great difficulty in carrying out the other.

On the famous ''carry out'' amendments, the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell is right, because the provision applies to Secretaries of State in all Departments that have any contact with the research councils. I asked the same question about carrying out. We are talking about the difference between a Department carrying out research itself within that Department, and a Department getting another body to carry out research for it. For instance—this may be the only example, but it is certainly a good one—''carrying out'' is used for almost all the research undertaken by the Department for Transport under the authority of section 5(1)(a) of the Science and Technology Act 1965. There is a similar provision in the 1965 Act. The Department does all of that research in house, and that is why the words ''carry out'' are there, as well as ''support''. That is the simple explanation.

The hon. Gentleman also wishes to remove the part of the clause that states:

''(d) establish advisory bodies for the purpose of assisting the Secretary of State in matters connected with research in the arts and humanities, and

(e) if the Secretary of State establishes such a body, appoint its members on terms which include the payment of remuneration, allowances or pension benefits''.

The Secretary of State often needs to establish advisory bodies on pieces of research. As that happens with the other seven research councils, we see no reason why it should not happen with arts and humanities. I understood the confusion of the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell in his rather entertaining speech, but it would be perilous to remove the paragraphs.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education) 3:30 pm, 10th February 2004

The Minister is jumping a debate. My point was about paragraph (b), which states:

''disseminate the results of research in the arts and humanities''.

Photo of Alan Johnson Alan Johnson Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education)

I apologise. I thought that amendment No. 14, which would remove paragraphs (d) and (e) from subsection (1), was part of this group. I am happy to point out the terms of the hon. Gentleman's amendments.

Photo of Alan Johnson Alan Johnson Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education)

I am now sure that we all absolutely know where we are going.

If one thinks about the Department for Transport, for example—I can think of several other Government Departments to which this would apply—the dissemination of information is not done by the Secretary of State himself but within the Department. That is what is referred to in the clause. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment. If he will not, I hope that the Committee will defeat it.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

Having heard the Minister's comments, I am not entirely certain that I fully understand the situation. In fact, it seems rather worse than I had anticipated. I accept that the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry has ultimate responsibility for the councils, but I had not fully understood that even carrying out research would fall within the DTI's remit. Doubly bizarre is the fact that, clearly, not just the DTI but potentially the Departments for Transport and for Culture, Media and Sport, the Northern Ireland Office, the Scotland Office, the Wales Office and, indeed, even the Department for International Development would apparently have the right to carry out research in the arts and humanities. It seems strange, to say the least, that such work would be carried out by a Department.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale said, the opening words in clause 1 about the remit of the arts and humanities research council refer to

''carrying out, facilitating, encouraging and supporting''.

Had clause 3 referred to any of those words or mentioned commissioning, it would have made more logical sense.

I find the paragraph totally bizarre. It is an unnecessary element in the Bill. I am delighted that the Minister saw the same incongruity that I did, but I am disappointed that he failed to persuade his officials that it should be removed. However, I do not see the point of detaining the Committee by forcing the matter to a Division. I had rather hoped that civil servants and Ministers in the Department would have better things with which to occupy their time than organising complicated research on what are sometimes wild, wacky and strange issues. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move amendment No. 15, in

clause 10, page 4, line 4, leave out paragraphs (d) and (e).

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 113, in

clause 10, page 4, line 15, leave out paragraphs (d) and (e).

No. 114, in

clause 10, page 4, line 25, leave out paragraphs (d) and (e).

No. 115, in

clause 10, page 4, line 37, leave out paragraphs (d) and (e).

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

We now come to the point that the Minister addressed in his previous remarks. It is obvious from reading the White Paper and the regulatory impact assessment that the Government are

again creating more different bodies and organisations that are designed to play a role in the higher education arena. It is a matter of great concern because every time that the Government establish a new organisation, that organisation requires a building, a secretariat, IT equipment and accounting support. It has to produce publicity material and an annual report. Even when such bodies have relatively informal status as set out in the clause

''advisory bodies for the purpose of assisting the Secretary of State in matters connected with research in the arts and humanities''— the probability is opened up that we shall once again see a proliferation of administration in Government. Costs are incurred that detract from front-line service, which means funds are not available to spend on our universities. That money should be spent on improving the situation in those universities, on extra research and on supporting individual students—postgraduates and PhD students—in their work.

I seriously question whether there is a need for additional advisory bodies. We are already finalising the creation of a new body to fill a gap that has been recognised by Government, with the support of all parties, to provide a proper focal point for research in the arts and humanities. That has been missing until now, and missing at the expense of an undue focus in the other direction on science, technology and related areas, which is necessary for the nation for strategic reasons.

The board provides a welcome element of the research mix. It provides a body that can filter funds provided by the central Exchequer to those on the ground carrying out research. That body can advise on which research should be supported. Indeed, its very remit is to advise on which research should be supported. Its remit is to identify academic excellence, research needs and gaps in our knowledge base, and it will attempt to find individuals in the project that can plug those gaps.

All that is estimable and enormously desirable, but given the fact that we are creating just such a body, which is there to be an expert body in the arts and humanities, to know who is good in that field, what is working well and to provide the mechanisms to judge where to put future investment in that research, why is it necessary to establish additional advisory bodies for the purpose of assisting the Secretary of State in matters connected with research in the arts and humanities? That would incur, not simply in the case I highlighted, all the associated costs that go with the creation of advisory bodies. Paragraph (e) refers to the appointment of members

''on terms which include the payment of remuneration, allowances or pension benefits to or in respect of them.''

We go beyond that, because not only are we establishing such bodies for England, but we are paving the way for similar bodies to be established in Wales, under the auspices of the Assembly, in Scotland, under the auspices of Scottish Ministers, and in Northern Ireland, under the auspices of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and, ultimately, the Assembly. Therefore, we have a national research council that is channelling work, investment and knowledge throughout the country. It

is happy to deal with four different political bodies, but will be given the power to set up additional advisory bodies. Theoretically we could have four, 8, 12 or 16 further bodies specialising in this area.

Every time such an example comes before the House in Committee the Minister argues that it is innocuous and will provide an element of help in this area or that area. It happens again and again, and each time, costs and the cost of running Government mount. Money that should be diverted to front-line services—in this case to deliver excellent academic research and support departments that must be world leaders for the future of our nation—is being used at the centre by Government. That is wrong; it is a waste, and I do not see why the Government cannot simply channel all of their contacts with the research world through the council, and seek from the council the advice they need on that world. They should rely on the AHRC as the national expert to which they turn. There is no need to create additional bodies.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Education & Skills, Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

I am trying to follow the hon. Gentleman, and I have a lot of sympathy with what he is saying. What would happen to the British Academy under his proposals—would it be disbanded?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

I do not see the necessity to write into the Bill the ability to establish advisory bodies. If there is a need to treat the British Academy as a specific one-off, let it be so. What we are doing here is providing the powers for the United Kingdom Government and all three of the devolved Assemblies-cum-Administrations to set up advisory bodies in a blanket way, with no restrictions, no financial limitations upon them. We are opening the door for more initiatives, more schemes, more good ideas that create another panel to do something-or-other in the future. This is a blanket open-door to create yet more organisations, coming from a Government who have been responsible for a proliferation of organisations. The hon. Gentleman will have read the regulatory impact assessment document, and I find it striking that on almost every page, there is a new organisation, a new ring-fenced fund, something additional within the system that means that money will not flow directly to the front line, and that is to be regretted.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Chief Whip, Spokesperson (Agriculture; Culture; Environment; Heritage; International Development; Sustainable Energy; Transport)

The hon. Gentleman says that this is an open door, and I can see the point that he makes, but one does not have to go through an open doorway. These are enabling powers. They do not insist that anyone sets up any type of advisory body in any part of the United Kingdom. Therefore, the point that he is making about regulatory assessment is surely a little over-egged.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

It remains my view that powers to:

''establish advisory bodies for the purpose of assisting the Secretary of State'', when the Secretary of State already has a substantial advisory body for just that purpose, is opening the door to yet more bureaucracy. Given the fact that we are dealing with a Government that has a track record of pushing up spending on central units, task forces,

teams and advisory bodies at an extraordinary rate, to the extent that the cost of government has risen in recent years at a rate that is inexcusable and should be reversed, I see no reason to pass another Bill that gives them the power to do that.

Photo of Phil Willis Phil Willis Shadow Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Education & Skills, Shadow Spokesperson (Education)

May I persevere on the issue of the British Academy? The funding for the British Academy under these clauses is being transferred, effectively, to the Secretary of State. There would, therefore, need to be some piece of legislation, or regulatory device to enable resources to flow from the Secretary of State to the British Academy. How would the hon. Gentleman resolve that problem? Does not this clause set up a framework that will enable that to happen? Indeed, is it not the case that, should any of the constituent bodies of the United Kingdom want to set up similar research bodies in future, this is the enabling legislation for that? Or is it more sinister?

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

I suppose that the answer to the hon. Gentleman's question will come in the Minister's response. [Interruption.] A traditional support mechanism. The point is that the wording of this section is ''establish advisory bodies''. We are not talking about transferring existing bodies, or changing the funding arrangements for existing bodies, but about establishing advisory bodies. My reading of that is that it is a power to create something new and fresh. That is where I have a dispute with the Government. It is surely not necessary, when we are already in the process of establishing a substantial infrastructure of support, advice and knowledge on research into the arts and humanities, to have a blanket power to establish new bodies. If we are simply dealing with a single situation, let the Bill say that. It does not say that. It allows sweeping power to a Government that has been very good at using sweeping powers to create more and more initiatives at the centre. That is not necessary.

Photo of Alan Johnson Alan Johnson Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education) 3:45 pm, 10th February 2004

The hon. Gentleman over-eggs this issue. He talks about a proliferation of expenditure and of committees. Clause 10 replicates the powers already held by the science research councils, so if there is a proliferation, we have not seen it. Regarding our arts and humanities, the ability to create these kinds of bodies is necessary to keep up with developments. As an example, who would have thought 10 years ago that we would need to have the kind of advisory bodies that we have now on cloning, including its religious aspects, and on the ethical issues of surrogacy? Those are very important issues. The Government need those bodies to advise on priorities, strategies and specific issues.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell says that we have a track record of spending on all types of advisory bodies, but does not mention that we have a track record of spending on research. The Dearing report of 1997 was scathing about the reduction of our research base over the previous 10 years. The £1.25 billion that is the latest tranche of money under the spending review aimed to rectify that situation. I doubt whether in any of our competitor countries—the US or

elsewhere—would be arguing about the need to set up advisory bodies. The basic obsession would be ensuring the proper funding for research. We are proud that we put huge investment into research. That money has not been siphoned off into a proliferation of expenditure on advisory bodies.

There are a number of important strategic advisory bodies. I have mentioned some in the field of arts and humanities. While I would love to agree with the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), I do not think that the British Academy is an advisory body in the context of this debate. However, we do have a number of such bodies. There is the Scottish Science Advisory Committee, which reports specifically to the Scottish Executive. There is the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, which reports to both the Secretary of State and the devolved Administrations. If anyone, including the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell, has felt that they are unnecessary or a waste of expenditure, they have not raised it before. In fact, I think that almost everybody, across all parties in the House of Commons, would think that their work was necessary.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Chief Whip, Spokesperson (Agriculture; Culture; Environment; Heritage; International Development; Sustainable Energy; Transport)

Would the Secretary of State give way? [Interruption.] I promoted the Minister a little prematurely, but then again the Secretary of State has been promoting himself recently as well.

The Minister mentioned the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission. I believe that that is the body that has lately advised the Government on GM crops. That underlines the importance of the advisory boards and the vital role that they play in public policy making based on good scientific research.

Photo of Alan Johnson Alan Johnson Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education)

I wish that people would get my title right, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right about the issue. That is an important example of the need to have an advisory body. The research councils would not perform that function, nor should they. In fact, they would benefit from the advisory groups that are set up under the clause. Clause 10 enables the Secretary of State, and each devolved Administration, to establish and appoint members of similar bodies for the arts and humanities, as they do for the other research councils. I hope hon. Members would be satisfied that those powers are necessary.

It would be a failing of considerable magnitude not to allow the Bill unamended, because the basis of the argument of the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell is misplaced. It is easy, in any environment, to talk about Government spending money on and paying salaries for advisory boards. I understand that that is fair game for all politicians. We must look at the essential element—what that money provides. In this case, there is no evidence of proliferation over the past 40 years with the other research councils. There is evidence that the work that the advisory bodies do is necessary and important. I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

I have listened to the Minister's response with interest. I obviously understand the issue that he raised about the number of ethical areas that have arisen in the past 10 years, where Government have sought guidance. The point about the situation is that the Government are delegating responsibility to the councils for the distribution of funding for research, for deciding research priorities and for considering where the gaps are. The additional advisory bodies impose an extra layer in that decision-making process. The Government refers first to an advisory body on, for example, mediaeval history to ask it what should be done, and then offer a mandate to the arts and humanities research council as to what it should do, which then goes through its own process of decision-making. Surely, in a simplified, streamlined system without a proliferation of organisations, issues concerning ethics and changes of knowledge and technology within the different councils could and should be addressed by them in dialogue with the Government. Is it really necessary to have advisory bodies?

That is the nub of the question behind the amendment. It has become all too easy in recent years, when there is a difficult issue to address, for the Government to create an organisation of experts to think about it. Sometimes, there is a strong argument for saying that that process could and should happen within the existing organisational structures so that the additional layers of cost imposed by the creation of a multiplicity of organisations are not incurred.

I do not intend to delay the Committee and there will be plenty of opportunity for a future Conservative Government to address the proliferation of advisers. For now, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

I beg to move amendment No. 26, in

clause 10, page 4, line 9, leave out subsection (2).

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 27, in

clause 10, page 4, line 20, leave out subsection (3).

No. 28, in

clause 10, page 4, line 31, leave out subsection (4).

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

The final stage of the Minister's striptease exercise comes now with this group of probing amendments, and I want to ask some serious questions.

The amendments would remove subsections (2), (3) and (4), which offer the National Assembly for Wales, Scottish Ministers and the Northern Ireland Department the power to

''carry out or support research in the arts and humanities . . . disseminate the results . . . further the practical application of the results''

and to set up the advisory bodies. The arts and humanities research council is a United Kingdom body set up to further, encourage and develop research throughout the United Kingdom. I hope that, in the context of the words of the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) who represents Plaid

Cymru, the funds distributed by the council will go to institutions around the United Kingdom and will pick up expertise wherever it is in all our higher education institutions, which are first rate in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, as well as England. I share the sentiments espoused by the hon. Gentleman.

There is a serious question about the burden placed on the organisation in terms of the political reporting lines that it goes through. Subsections (2), (3) and (4) require it to work not only with the Secretary of State in London to give it a United Kingdom perspective, but with the Assembly in Wales, Ministers in Scotland, the Northern Ireland Office and perhaps subsequently the Assembly. There is a question about the degree to which it is sensible for a single nation—I believe that we are still a single nation—to have such a diverse involvement in the shaping of issues, many of which are not only national but international.

I read out a sample of research projects and many are not about the United Kingdom or Wales, but about Neapolitan literature, aboriginal rights in Siberia, trends in modern culture and literature, and so on. They are not usually specifically Welsh, Scottish or English projects. For example, they may include a project by academic or research students, at universities in Wales and so on, with a particular interest in and doing some work on Norse mythology. Such projects are of international and national importance; they are not projects of Welsh, Scottish, English or Northern Irish importance.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Chief Whip, Spokesperson (Agriculture; Culture; Environment; Heritage; International Development; Sustainable Energy; Transport)

The hon. Gentleman may like to know that a recent project at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth—I came across it last Friday night after watching ''The Return of the King''—was a research project on ''The Lord of the Rings''.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

That gives rise to many questions, including that of where the Lord of the Rings is.

The hon. Gentleman makes a very serious point because that is a cultural phenomenon that goes far beyond Wales and England; it is an international phenomenon. There is therefore a question about the degree to which it is prudent to make the devolved Assemblies a reference point for the AHRC—individual, national focal points within the United Kingdom as opposed to the United Kingdom itself as a national focal point. It will place extra burdens on the organisation, requiring more people to travel to and fro, or to be based in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, dealing with officials in Departments in those countries as well as the Secretary of State and her colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills in London. Is that truly prudent? As the AHRC is a United Kingdom body, should it not mean that it is only a United Kingdom body? Its work does not necessarily need the participation of politicians in different parts of the United Kingdom.

I would be grateful for the Minister's clarification about the links he envisages and an explanation of why it is necessary to spread out the political contacts of the organisation to the degree foreseen in the measure.

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Chief Whip, Spokesperson (Agriculture; Culture; Environment; Heritage; International Development; Sustainable Energy; Transport)

I have waited my turn until now, when we have got to the meat of the matter and the last strip of cloth from the Conservatives' amendments has been unveiled and they stand arrayed in their anti-devolutionist glory. That is what their amendments add up to.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell spoke to them in a very measured and considered way. He talked about the impact of regulation and the fact that the research council is a United Kingdom body, but he cannot conceive that, if the Secretary of State in England retains powers to initiate research in science or arts and humanities, the modern devolution settlement means quite rightly that those powers are devolved for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the Bill explains that.

The Minister mentioned the Scottish example, which has been used to develop strategic research development grants in Scotland through the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council in science. Who is to say what similar need will arise in Scotland or Wales or Northern Ireland for similar pump-priming? The debate that I had with the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw) was about the need—

Photo of Mr Simon Thomas Mr Simon Thomas Chief Whip, Spokesperson (Agriculture; Culture; Environment; Heritage; International Development; Sustainable Energy; Transport)

It was this morning. The debate was about the need to divert resources from time to time to help develop the research capacities of particular institutions or parts of the United Kingdom. The clause allows us to do that and it should therefore be supported. I hope that the Committee will resist the siren voices of the Conservatives, which seem to suggest that the matter is about getting rid of regulation, when it is really about getting rid of devolution and democracy.

The clause rightly allows the National Assembly to consider research needs in Wales. If there is a gap that needs to be closed to allow institutions to enter the Research Council circle of funding and develop their ideas, we will be able to do it.

In my constituency I have the National Library of Wales, which is a research centre in arts and humanities. Next door to it is the Canolfan Uwch-efrydian Celtaidd. I do not know the English title but I assume that it would be something like the Centre for Advanced Celtic Studies. It is one of the major centres of Celtic study in the world. It is possibly related to the element of Norse that we discussed earlier as well. It receives money from the National Assembly and from research councils, and it shows how we can develop arts and humanities research particular to Welsh needs that reflects on a wider international stage as well. I hope that the Committee rejects the amendments and supports the Bill as it stands.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

Before I call the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel), I just say to those on the Government Front Bench and their colleagues behind them, that if I can hear them whispering, they are whispering too loudly.

Photo of Mr David Rendel Mr David Rendel Shadow Minister (Higher Education), Education & Skills 4:00 pm, 10th February 2004

I rise to support what the hon. Member for Ceredigion has just said. The amendments are an attempt to remove devolution from the Bill, which would be sad to see.

We can see some of the reasons behind the amendments, and I suspect that Conservative Members are concerned about subsection (3), which relates specifically to Scotland and provides no excuse for Scottish Members of Parliament to avoid voting on the Bill on the ground that it has nothing to do with Scotland. The subsection quite clearly states that it has something to do with Scotland.

That is even more interesting, given one hon. Member's attempt to raise a point of order earlier today. You quite rightly explained that it was not a point of order, Mr. Hood. He announced that the Government's majority on the Bill had sunk to three, since the voting pattern of the Conservatives on the matter—

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Mr David Rendel Mr David Rendel Shadow Minister (Higher Education), Education & Skills 4:16 pm, 10th February 2004

I was speaking mainly to amendment No. 27. You will remember, Mr. Hood, that I was saying that the point of order raised earlier by Conservative Members showed that the Government's majority on the Bill might now be down to three. That raises an interesting situation, as four of the Government's majority on Second Reading was due to Conservative Members, one voting with the Government and two abstaining. One of those who abstained was the sole Scottish Conservative Member. If the clause were removed, that might help the Government—I hope that they will not vote to remove it—because it would enable that hon. Member to abstain again. However, that would not necessarily help the Liberal Democrats, because we want to put pressure on that hon. Member. Leaving the clause in the Bill would enable us to put pressure on him, particularly as it now looks as if that one vote may make all the difference to the whole Bill at the end.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

I hate to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, as he seeks to find possible motives for this set of amendments, but I assure him that the amendment is based on principle and concern rather than political strategy and intent.

Photo of Mr David Rendel Mr David Rendel Shadow Minister (Higher Education), Education & Skills

Whatever the reasons for tabling the amendment, I should be delighted to see the subsection remain in the Bill. If it does, the pressure on that Conservative Member to vote next time round will be greater. I hope that we will put that pressure on him and enable him to vote in what I consider to be the right way.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): We have a change of act on this side, Mr. Hood, but as with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education, there will be no striptease. Rather, I shall try to strip away the arguments put by the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell. We have been here before. It is Groundhog Day, with three of us facing one another, as we have on matters of this nature in the past. I pay tribute to you, Mr. Hood, as our Chairman, and to your co-Chairman, and I look forward to serving on this Committee under your guidance.

The amendments would place arts and humanities research in the devolved Administrations in an unreasonable position, and one that is very different from that for the science and technology research councils. They would remove the powers provided to the devolved Administrations to undertake activities in support of arts and humanities research and to fund such work.

We must consider how that the clause will benefit research. We should replicate what the Secretary of State proposes for England in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Those powers are among the key mechanisms by which we are implementing the recommendations of the review of arts and humanities research funding.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell made the point that the review said that there should be a duty to promote research into the cultural aspects of the various parts of the United Kingdom. That should be safeguarded. It is important that we take that into account when considering the amendment.

The devolved Administrations support the transformation of the Arts and Humanities Research Board into a UK-wide research council. We discuss those matters with colleagues in those Administrations in order to ensure that the transfer will be as seamless as possible.

Amendments Nos. 26, 27 and 28 would leave the devolved Administrations with no option other than to use an intermediary organisation to achieve their broader policy objectives in arts and humanities. Understandably, members of those Administrations do not consider that to be an acceptable position. When debating clause 1, the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale said that arts and humanities research deserves parity of esteem. I hope the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment as a consequence.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion made an important point. People from my part of the country feel that the Conservatives in Wales say one thing about the devolution settlement, but in Committee they seek to amend any legislation that impedes its development. He will forgive me if I chide him a little. He speaks about devolving powers to Wales. His party is not in favour of devolving those particular powers to Wales. That is a mystery to me.

The hon. Member for Newbury also made an important point. We should remember that we are Members of the United Kingdom Parliament. People from all parts of the country have a right to speak on

matters that come before the House. It is a pity that the Conservative and Unionist party can no longer call itself the Unionist party because of its attitude to Scottish Members voting on matters. I will be careful not to stray too far in case I test your patience, Mr. Hood.

In that part of the Bill, we wish to ensure that the devolved Administrations have the same opportunity and ability to support research and development as the Secretary of State has in England. I hope that the hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell understands that point. That is the proper way forward. We recognise the need for parity of esteem for the devolved Administrations.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

I have been listening carefully to the Under-Secretary's comments. I am delighted to see him again. It is the third time in 12 months that we have debated related issues. We seem to follow each other around. It is a pleasure to debate with him again and to return to some of the arguments and issues that we have discussed previously. One of those is the risk of duplication of work in bodies in different parts of the United Kingdom.

I am reassured by the Minister's comments. Those measures concern commissioning research, and will ensure that resources that are available within devolved Assemblies are made available to Research Councils UK. I add a caveat. There is a danger that that will become not simply a method to deploy research money strategically for the benefit of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but a vehicle to centre research upon those countries. I hope that the three Administrations would not direct their research solely into matters relating to Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland, but use the resources available to support specific strategic objectives, economic or otherwise. If there were, for example, a specific link between one of the creative industries and a higher education institution in Wales, it would be of benefit to the institution and the local economy if the devolved Assembly made resources available to encourage research that was supported by both that industry and the institution.

Photo of Don Touhig Don Touhig Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Wales), Department for Constitutional Affairs, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) (also in Wales Office)

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we are very fortunate with the current state of the arts and media in Wales. S4C has done a great deal of work in the research and development of animation techniques. We have the international film school at the university of Wales college at Newport. We are outward looking. I have no doubt that my colleagues in Scotland and Northern Ireland take the same view.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Shadow Minister (Education)

I am grateful for the Under-Secretary's comments. As with all these things, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. I hope that there are the right outcomes, but, as the Under-Secretary well knows, I part company with him over his broader comments. The structure of the Bill relates specifically to the UK—meaning Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Needless to say, the expectation is that the Secretary of State will do England. Some incongruities are created in the devolution settlement when powers are spread out as they are. Having said that, that debate is not for this Bill.

Given the Minister's reassurances that this is a commissioning power, not a regulatory power, and notwithstanding my anxieties about the ability of the devolved Assemblies to establish bureaucracies alongside the Bill, I hope that it is purely about commissioning research for strategic purposes, therefore I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.