Hooray for HE and politics nerds; we have a general election and HE will be a big feature of it. While everyone is distracted by the cranking up of party election campaigns, there will be large teams of Government and Opposition whips in both houses, working out what can be ‘wash-up’ed.

Does that mean the HE Bill is dead? I doubt it, it’s probably the most substantial Bill on the books that the Government (and especially the current Minister) would want to see through before it gets lost in the mire and the inevitable rush of post-election legislation, and I imagine the Government would prefer not to have to return to it afresh after the election.

The parliamentary wash-up period is often misreported as an opportunity for Government to ram through any final bits of legislation that it wants to sneak under the radar. It cannot work that way, because the time available is very short and the amount of legislation to get through is quite numerous, the Government and Opposition must work together in both Houses of Parliament. If a Government were to try to ram through a controversial piece of legislation, then the opposition would be able to block it through delaying tactics that eat up all the parliamentary time left and deny progress on anything at all. Given this, it is actually surprising how much legislation gets through (an average of 16 Bills at the end of each parliament since 1987).

So, it is not in the gift of Conservative MPs to just hold the line and defy Labour opposition in the Commons; opposition parties wield an effective veto during this period.

So, before you even get on to the Lords amendments, the Government need to satisfy Labour MPs by stripping out points of major concern to them. I think this is achievable, many of the issues raised by Labour in the Commons were related to Government policies on HE but not with the fundamentals of the Bill.

Then you get to the Lords, they also have an effective veto. So what about their amendments? I imagine the Lords will give up on a large number (including the one insisting that fees are not linked to the TEF), but insist on some of the more significant constitutional issues related to institutional autonomy, raising the bar for degree awarding powers and research funding.

We might be excited by the prospect of the Lords digging their heels in on TEF-linked fees, or any other matter, and refusing to allow the Bill to pass, but all that does is give the Government an opportunity to lay out its plans in the manifesto, after which the Lords will have no influence and the Bill will be passed in whatever form the Government wants. Be careful what you wish for!

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2 responses »

  1. Susan Lapworth says:

    But the only issues in play during ping pong are the Lords amendments. HoC has had its opportunity to amend the bill and this isn’t a new opportunity. The HoC needs to accept, or not, the Lords amendments and the HoL then gets to respond if the Commons is not in agreement. But only on the territory of the amendments that came out of the HoL after third reading. This is a process of tidying up not relitigating other areas of the bill. I guess I’m saying that this is a much more tightly defined negotiation than you’re suggesting. But agree that the politics at this sharp end of the electoral cycle are interesting!

    • derfelowen says:

      That would be the case if we were not in the wash up phase. The Government could just cave-in on all the Lords amendments and let the bill through, but that will not happen as the Lords have made some amendments that change the fundamental direction of travel. So there will have to be a vote and at this stage the Government can’t just force through its will because opposition MPs have an effective veto, so concessions will have to be made or the whole thing dropped and restarted after the election.

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