Clause 4 - Returns, reports etc. by Council to Secretary of State

Part of Higher Education Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:45 pm on 10th February 2004.

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Photo of Alan Johnson Alan Johnson Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education) 2:45 pm, 10th February 2004

I shall argue that we want this research council to be consistent with the other seven, and that the procedures should be consistent with other non-departmental public bodies. The

procedures in the clause, including those in the two subsections that the amendments would remove—the lead amendment would amend another subsection—are entirely consistent with those policies. The research councils do not distribute research funds in their own right; they distribute them on behalf of Government under the auspices of the Office of Science and Technology.

The amendments would leave the arts and humanities research council in a different position from the rest of the research councils, but I take the point made by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale that that is not a total argument for rejecting the amendment. However, the onus is on my hon. Friend to give a good reason why we should leave the arts and humanities research council in a different position.

This is not a bureaucracy argument; reports will always come before Parliament, but at the moment can they do so via the Secretary of State, with any comments attached that the Secretary of State might wish to add. In answer to the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel), no Secretary of State has ever added any comments to research by the research councils. That is not to say that they will never want to. At the moment it is—to use the term used by the hon. Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale—the unvarnished report that goes to Parliament, but it comes to the Secretary of State first. What would happen if it went direct to Parliament? Surely it is sensible for the Secretary of State to receive the report and then to be obliged, as the clause requires, to lay that report before Parliament with any comments, if there are any, and so far there has not been the need for any.

I cannot understand why my hon. Friend thinks that that procedure is inefficient, improper or bureaucratic, and that point comes up in later amendments, too. It seems perfectly reasonable for a Government of whatever persuasion with responsibility for the distribution of funding by research councils to report to Parliament.