Watching the long sessions of the committee stage in the House of Lords can be painful. The Lords try to propose ‘probing’ amendments, teasing out the issue and suggesting a solution. After the excitement of a division on the first amendment on the first day, the Government has settled into a pattern of either saying that they’ll write to the proposer, or that they’re just not minded to include the amendment. There are over 500 on the latest list of amendments, very few of the non-government ones will make it on.
What might be worrying the government is that an amendment requiring them to exclude international students might get passed. It’s clear how few supporters of their approach they can find in the Lords. A debate before Christmas saw only Lord Green (of migration watch) supportive of their stance, and in the committee stage even Conservative peers have taken to mocking them.
Take Lord Patten, he’s added his name to an amendment to prohibit students being included in migration targets. He said:
My Lords, my default position is always to try to be helpful. That is one reason why I was so pleased to support this very important amendment to this legislation. How can I be helpful? First, we know that having now shaken off the chains of membership of the European Union, and having turned our back on a millennium of introverted, insular history, we have become “global Britain”. It would be extraordinary if, having become “global Britain”, we were to prevent the huge numbers more of international students coming to study here. It has been said again and again in this debate that our higher education system is one of the jewels in our crown. It is not surprising, therefore, that so many other people want to enjoy its benefits.
The House of Lords doesn’t go for humour very much, but it’s clear that Lord Patten was teasing his front-bench colleague.
Lord Willetts wasn’t adverse to teasing either. He has been pretty staunch in defending the HE Bill, but not here. He said:
As my noble friend Lord Patten displays such a close familiarity with Conservative slogans, let me add a second—one of the great Brexit slogans, “Take back control”. I do not see why our migration policy should be determined by the United Nations. No other country says its policy should be determined by how the United Nations has chosen to define immigration. If we want to take back control, I do not see why we should allow our policy to be determined by the United Nations. We should take back control of our migration policy and set it in accordance with our national requirements, rather than allowing this dangerous, global institution to decide who we should or should not count as migrants. As well as being about global Britain, the excellent proposition from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, is about taking back control.
Viscount Younger, as is his way, repeated all the Government’s assurances – that there was no cap and no plan to limit the number of genuine students (note how ministers now always stress ‘genuine’).
Lord Lucas, who has been very engaged on this bill, intervened to ask about Amber Rudd’s speech from October:
My Lords, can my noble friend confirm, as I gather from his speech, that the proposals made by the Home Secretary in her speech to the Conservative Party conference in relation to students are no longer being proceeded with?
But, sadly, the answer is no – we still await the ‘consultation’ – including those worrying ‘tougher rules for students on lower quality courses’.
My understanding is that during that speech she undertook to go ahead with the consultation, as I have made clear.
The Lords are likely to back an amendment to the bill, and there’s a slim chance there are enough Tory MPs who oppose students being counted as migrants that it might pass there. But the Government should be more positive. As maniacal executive orders issue forth from the White House, here is an opportunity to expand one of our more successful export industries – tge education of a globally engaged cohort of students. This will prove we are ‘global Britain’, not ‘little Britain’.