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Lord Alderdice: I am eager to speak on this amendment not because the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, failed to make a robust case. Quite the contrary. The feeling of students and their families in Northern Ireland is very strong indeed on this matter.

My own university, Queen's University, has suffered a good deal over recent years. We have suffered from the lack of input and enrichment from young people from other parts of the United Kingdom and other places coming to our university because they have been

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frightened away, at least in relatively recent years, by events which have taken place. In truth, part of the business of being a student anywhere, and not least part of the business of being a student in the United Kingdom, is the enormous richness that becomes possible when you can meet, study, live and work with other young people from whom you can learn a great deal.

One of the things that has been rather disturbing recently has been a number of developments which has meant that many students have been discouraged from moving around, even within our United Kingdom. But in this situation it is quite remarkable that we find ourselves treating our own students and their families within the UK less favourably than students from other places. As the noble Lord has said, the situation in Ireland is especially anomalous because we now find that young people from the Republic of Ireland can move around with greater freedom within the United Kingdom and are less discouraged than young people from Northern Ireland who have a tradition, going back not 10 or 20 years but some hundreds of years, of going to Scottish universities. That is sad and really rather absurd.

As regards finance, one of the matters that we must understand is that if young people wish to travel, live, work and study with other young people, that is something to be encouraged. But if we discourage them from doing so within the United Kingdom, students from Northern Ireland will find themselves going not to Scotland, England or Wales but going to the Republic of Ireland. Their funds and grants will follow them outside the United Kingdom altogether, actually worsening the situation.

It is unnecessary to speak at any great length. The argument has been made with great clarity and persuasion by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay. It does not seem to me that there is some great matter of principle; that in some fashion to accept this amendment would change radically the whole nature of the Bill or transgress some important policy. It seems to me rather that if the Government were to be able to consider the amendment and were simply to ensure that the Secretaries of State in Scotland and Northern Ireland could address those matters appropriately, the matter could be resolved and everyone, particularly students and their families, not least in Northern Ireland, would feel grateful to the Government rather than aggrieved by their actions.

9.15 p.m.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I have raised this matter twice already in this Chamber and on the last occasion, on a Starred Question, the Minister told me that I had asked the question in the wrong way so he was not allowed to answer. That was rather unconvincing. I wonder now whether he can tell us clearly whether this policy is legal under the Maastricht Treaty, equal opportunities legislation and the Race Relations Act. If he cannot answer the question on this occasion, I believe that noble Lords really will be feeling rather strongly about the situation.

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Members of the National Union of Students in Scotland who were here yesterday want to know, in addition to the answer on legality, whether a French student living in England who comes for a four-year course to a Scottish university will pay the same as a French student living in France or an English student living in France will pay coming to a Scottish university. Those questions may sound theoretical, but the issues may arise and they are very important as regards the legality of the matter.

There is an additional question that I wish to ask the Minister which has been raised with me by the principal of Heriot-Watt University, Professor Archer. He asks, who will fund the £1,000 which Scots will not pay for that fourth year of tuition? That is the £1,000 missing from the fees of the Scottish students. The Scottish Office appears to think that universities will be compensated through the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, but the funding council is not expecting to receive any extra money earmarked for that cost. If the fees paid by students are really to be new money into the universities, which is claimed by the Government, and a concession has been made to Scots' students on the four-year courses that they need not pay one-quarter of the fees due, surely the universities in Scotland are entitled to that new money from somewhere else.

I understand that that is rankling a good deal with the universities and they want to know the answer because neither the Scottish Office nor the funding council has been able to answer the question. It is quite an interesting question. If the noble Lord cannot answer it now, I should be very glad if he would write to me. I hope that I have expressed the matter clearly but if not, I shall explain it to him again. It is quite complicated. Who will pay for the fourth year for which the Scottish students have been allowed not to pay?

Mr. Brian Wilson has suggested in a letter to Tam Dalyell that he will ask the universities to rejig their four-year courses so that they are entirely suitable for people coming with A-levels from England to enter the second year because he wants more people to be able to enter the second year.

The Minister probably saw in the Scotsman newspaper, on Wednesday 7th January, an article in which Professor Archer was talking about the situation. He said:


    "There seems to be some kind of misconception in the mind of the minister that all university degree courses are simple extensions of a continuous process from school. That is far from the truth. Heriot-Watt welcomes suitably qualified students into the second year of four-year degree programmes, but it is not necessarily true that three A-levels will prepare a student for such entry. This is particularly the case when the degree course has been designed as a coherent programme over the four years, with second-year success dependent on mastery of first-year topics".

In the same article, Professor Swinfen, a vice-principal at Dundee University, said that less than 3 per cent. of non-Scots UK students were allowed directly into the second year, and that there were "practical academic limits" on how many could be admitted. So he was making the same point. Therefore, it is not possible simply to say that students with A-levels from England can easily get into the second-year. They can do so in

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some subjects in some universities. However, it would be most difficult to make those courses suitable to enable that to happen on a large scale, so that is not a solution.

I hope that the Minister will be able to give answers to some of those questions because they relate to very serious points. The noble Lord may also have noticed in today's press reports that the population of Scotland is dropping in relation to that of England; indeed, it is going up in England and down in Scotland. The reason for that drop is that young people are not coming into Scotland; it is the older people who are coming back. Young people are leaving and are not coming in. We all know that one of the reasons for young people coming into Scotland is that they come to take up university courses. They then get attracted to it and want to stay or, indeed, to return to work. This is quite an urgent issue and I hope that I shall receive a good answer.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I wonder whether my noble friend saw the table in a Written Answer from Mr. Wilson in the Official Report of the other place on 2nd December, in which he gave certain statistics for all undergraduate entrants from England, Wales and Northern Ireland who entered directly into the second year of their course in Scottish universities. Mr. Wilson could only give figures for the past three years but it is interesting to note the decline in England over those three years. For example, in 1994-95, 11 per cent. entered directly into the second year; during 1995-96, the figure was 8 per cent. and in 1996-97 the figure was 6 per cent. Does my noble friend agree that that underlines her argument?

Lord Lewis of Newnham: I do not wish to add complications to the problem, but I find it somewhat difficult to understand that, while the English system seems to be acquiring knowledge by going north of the Border, a number of degrees in England, as my noble friend Lady Warnock said earlier, are now developing into four-year degrees, especially in the sciences. From that, do I understand that, if students attend such courses, the English will pay for three years and that the Scots will pay for four? Alternatively, exactly how are we going to deal with this particular problem?

Lord Sewel: I shall try to reply to all the points made during this debate. I should like, first, to deal with one of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. It is perfectly right and proper that I stand here tonight and speak to these clauses. I do so because they seek to translate into English practice, to a limited extent, those procedures which will be adopted in Scotland. Therefore, it is perfectly sensible for me to be the Minister who speaks on behalf of the Government in this context.

Let me take the various points made by noble Lords. It was an utter delight to learn more about the details of the family of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. I spent many a happy hour sitting in this Chamber during the debate on the referendum Bill learning about the iniquity of the daughter of the noble

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Lord who lived in Italy not being able to vote in the referendum Bill on Scotland. Lo! and behold, we now have the iniquity regarding his grandchildren. The issue ties in with the point that noble Lords made about the legal basis upon which these proposals have been put forward. I have made the point before that it is not the custom of the Government to indicate the content and detail of the legal advice that they have received. Let me make clear that the Government are confident that they would be able to rebut robustly any legal challenge they faced in the courts. On that basis, we have every confidence that what we propose is perfectly lawful in terms of European law.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, made a further point on, effectively, cross-Border flows, with English students going to Scottish universities. The figures this year are somewhat difficult to interpret. I have spent most of my professional life trying to interpret figures. These figures are particularly difficult to interpret. At a specific date, before what we know has been a last minute rush, the figure for Scots-domiciled students applying to Scottish universities has fallen. But for the English-domiciled students applying to Scottish universities the figure has fallen by a smaller rate. It is an interesting observation. It does not make the point that the extra £1,000 tuition fee for the extra year is differentially discouraging English-domiciled students from applying to Scottish universities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour, made two points. I was a little confused about the French student living in France and the French student living in England. The point she sought to draw out, I think, was not so much nationality but domicile. Where a person establishes a domicile qualification is the basis upon which he will be judged.


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