The most popular posts, according to my WordPress statistics, are the caption competitions, though the most extensively read in recent times has been the preceding post on same-sex marriage. Here’s the latest caption competition. It is a picture taken at the recent reception in Hull to mark the 25th anniversary of the Hull parliamentary placement scheme. As usual, the winner will be the reader who provides what in my opinion is the wittiest caption. The prize will be a copy of either Eminent Parliamentarians or The Voice of the Backbenchers. That is, unless the winner is Tony Sands, who has now triumphed twice in the competition and so won copies of both. Given that, I had better add Parliament in British Politics, 2nd ed., to the list.
On Wednesday, I spoke in a debate in the Lords on higher education. You can read the speech here. I focused on the recommendations of the Higher Education Commission, which I c0-chair, in its report on regulating higher education. The present system is too disparate, complex and wilting under pressure from significant developments, including the new funding regime and the entry of new providers. What is needed is not more regulation, but better regulation. Our report offers a new, coherent scheme that maintains pluralism within the system.
However, I ended the speech with a free-standing point. It concerns how we spend foreign aid. There is in my view a strong case for devoting more of the aid budget to offering bursaries to study at UK universities. That would benefit the nations receiving the aid: they would acquire more university graduates who can contribute to their economic and political development. It would benefit UK universities, not least at a time when there is likely to be a decline in recruitment of overseas students. It would also benefit the UK in that having UK-educated graduates around the globe is the greatest form of soft power that we have. It would also mean that the aid was being put to its intended use and not siphoned off by a particular regime. It would, as I argued, create a virtuous circle. I suspect even critics of foreign aid would have difficulty decrying its use in this way. It is something that merits being pursued.
The House of Lords yesterday (Friday) debated the House of Lords Reform (No. 2) Bill. It has already been taken through the Commons by Dan Byles MP and was introduced in the Lords by Lord Steel. The Bill is a short version of the original Steel Bill. Because I had a longstanding speaking commitment in Glasgow, I missed the debate. However, there were several and very kind references to me, in part because I drafted the original Steel Bill and because of my role as convenor of the Campaign for an Effective Second Chamber. I wasn’t expecting to be the subject of such comment. Perhaps I should consider missing more debates…
Much more importantly, the Bill received an unopposed Second Reading.
I do manage to take the occasional weekend off, usually by arranging something in advance so that I cannot then avoid getting away. Each year, I celebrate my birthday by spending a weekend with friends: it is a tradition that we gather at Wroxton College in Oxfordshire. The college is housed in a Jacobean mansion – the ancestral home of Lord North – and set in magnificent grounds. Here’s a stunning picture of part of the grounds taken by Dr Mark Shephard. I can claim some credit by suggesting he capture the scene, given that he had remembered to bring his camera with him and I, as usual, had left mine back in my briefcase.