Clause 30 - General duties of relevant authority

Part of Higher Education Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 4th March 2004.

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Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Labour, Chatham and Aylesford 11:00 am, 4th March 2004

The hon. Gentleman makes an entirely reasonable point. He describes an ideological difference between us: laissez-faire; it is working; do not intervene. As I was about to say, my hon. Friend

the Member for Nottingham, North and others have referred to examples of good practice. We want that to be widespread. If we are making additional investment, it is reasonable to want assurances and a light-touch plan for that. Some hon. Members say that the provision is not necessary and that the universities will widen participation anyway, but we are not satisfied with the level of participation at the moment. We are not convinced that we should leave the job to universities or the market, or that we should take a laissez-faire attitude.

There were the same ideological differences about the minimum wage. Conservatives argued that the issue should be left to employers and employees, who will ensure that they get a good rate for their work. That did not happen; people were exploited—not by all employers; the majority are fine. It follows that some universities will make every effort to push the boundaries of intervention in their communities but that others will not be so proactive. We have heard that figures for the participation of people from different social groups vary considerably among similar universities. Yes, we can point to examples, but perhaps they are of some universities not doing as well as others. Therefore, we say that if we are increasing investment, we should have a light-touch OFFA—an organisation that will ensure that best practice is spread.