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Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, it might be for the convenience of the House and might help the Minister were I to say that in the light of the procedural situation described initially I shall not move my Motion in due course.
Lord Sewel: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. That will help me to abbreviate my comments. I regret that I am detaining the House, but I had a number of lengthy and detailed interventions at the beginning of my speech. I am sure that the House would wish me to cover in full the points that have been made.
I want now to turn to the problem of cost. It would cost approaching £2 million a year to meet the fees of all fourth year students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland on Scottish courses. But, as I have said, that in itself would create an anomaly and would no doubt lead to mounting pressure on the Government to meet the fees for all UK students on the fourth year of degree courses at institutions throughout the UK, because once one makes the point that the fourth year is covered automatically for all students in Scotland, regardless of where they have come from or what they have done before, it is, in all fairness, impossible to say that we will not do the same for students attending courses at English universities. That seems to follow inevitably. Throughout the course of the Bill, I have heard no argument that those who support the position taken by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, will draw the line there and will not argue for that extension.
If that extension takes place, which I believe is inevitable, it will cost 10 times as much--in the region of £27 million a year, and possibly quite a lot more. Such an exemption would benefit the well off since only they would be required to contribute towards tuition fees. I repeat that it would do nothing to benefit those most in need of assistance. In practice, a subsidy of £20 million or so for better off families would mean £27 million less in public funding for universities and colleges.
I accept that there are Members opposite who started to go down that path for understandable reasons of equity. I believe that when noble Lords properly understand the situation--students come to Scottish universities from different school environments and traditions, having reached different stages--it is clear the Government's proposals answer the test of equity. The Opposition's proposals raise the anomaly as regards people attending four year courses in English, Welsh and Northern Irish universities. If they propose that the
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his first intervention. The noble Lord indicated that if Amendment No. 64D were carried by your Lordships, Amendment No. 123A would be accepted by the Government. I am grateful for that.
As regards his second intervention, I hope that Scotland do a good deal better in a few minutes than the noble Lord has done in defending the Scottish goals. He seemed to spend most of his time passing the ball back which, as some noble Lords will know, is a dangerous occupation in football.
I do not wish to take too long, but I shall make a few points. I find it far from the reality of Scottish education when I hear that in Scottish schools there is only one year after the statutory leaving date. The noble Lord, Lord Dearing, repeated that. I do not know where the Minister and noble Lord get their information. It is 20 years since I taught at Oban High School as principal teacher of mathematics. The vast majority of my pupils stayed on for two years after the statutory leaving date. They gained Highers and the certificate of six years study which was every bit as good as A-levels. They went into the first year of universities. I worry that our education policy has been based on a totally fallacious view of Scottish school education.
The Minister did not answer the other point. What about the Republic of Ireland, Italy or France? Do all those pupils leave at 17? Do they only have five years of schooling? Of course not. They leave at 18-plus. The noble Lord failed to mention Europe. I am not surprised. He made no attempt, for example, to reply to the noble Earl, Lord Russell. I am not surprised. The noble Earl asked me many questions in my time and sometimes they were difficult. The question tonight was clearly so difficult that the Minister did not even try to convince the noble Earl that government policy is not contradictory to European law.
The essential unfairness is lost, it would appear, on the noble Lord, Lord Davies. It would be bad enough if it involved only England, Wales and Northern Ireland. But it involves the Republic of Ireland with students from Northern Ireland. I gave the example of Italy, and the rest of the European Union. That is the other anomaly that the Government have not addressed.
The Minister referred to students in Northern Ireland: no one is having his or her fourth year paid at Queen's University, Belfast. That is the point: no one is. I should complain if Northern Irish students were having their fourth year paid and no one else was. That is the point: the Minister seems to have lost it altogether.
I do not believe that the Government have made their case. I believe that noble Lords would be reasonable and correct, and defending not only the Scottish tradition but also the interests of those students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland who wish to go to Scotland for their education, if they voted with me this evening.
I can do no better than to leave your Lordships with the words of Mr. Dennis Canavan--a man who will not find it easy to be bracketed in the same group as your Lordships, both life and hereditary, and especially the latter. Mr. Canavan said that he appealed to the Government to see reason; it is a plea for justice. That is the plea I make. I ask the House to agree to Amendment No. 64D in lieu of Commons Amendment No. 64.
Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.