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LORDS AMENDMENT IN LIEU

The Lords disagreed to the amendment but proposed the following amendment in lieu--
64D

Clause 19, page 14, line 31, leave out subsections (6) and (7) and insert--


("( ) Regulations under this section shall ensure that any arrangements for the payment of grant in respect of tuition fees for the fourth or any subsequent year of study at a higher education institution in England or Wales apply equally to a student whose parental home or normal place of residence for purposes other than attendance at that institution is in Scotland or Northern Ireland as they do to a student whose parental home or normal place of residence for purposes other than attendance at that institution is in England or Wales.").
The Commons disagreed to the amendment proposed by the Lords in lieu of their amendment and insisted on their amendment for the following reason:
64E

Because the said Lords amendment and the disagreement by the Lords to the Commons amendment involve charges on public funds, and the Commons do not offer any further reason, trusting that this reason may be deemed sufficient.

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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish rose to move, That this House do not insist on their Amendment No. 64D in lieu of Commons Amendment No. 64, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reason numbered 64E, but do propose the following amendment in lieu of the words so left out of the Bill--

MOTION MOVED ON CONSIDERATION OF COMMONS REASON FOR DISAGREEING TO A LORDS AMENDMENT IN LIEU OF A COMMONS AMENDMENT

64G

Clause 19, page 14, line 30, at end insert--


("( ) Regulations under this section may make provision for the Secretary of State to secure that any arrangements for the payment of grant in respect of tuition fees for the fourth year of study at a higher education institution in England or Wales apply equally to a student whose parental home or normal place of residence for purposes other than attendance at that institution is in Scotland or Northern Ireland as they do to a student whose parental home or normal place of residence for purposes other than attendance at that institution is in England or Wales.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 64F standing in my name. With it there are two other amendments, one standing in my name--namely, Amendment No. 123G--and one standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, Amendment No. 123E.

Amendments Nos. 123E and 123G are at the centre of the disagreement your Lordships are having with the other place. Perhaps I may explore the issue for a few minutes. I believe it is a very simple one. I can persuade your Lordships that we ought to disagree with the other place again.

Honours degrees at Scottish universities take four years. That is a long and honourable tradition. I was very surprised to read in Hansard of the other place for 8th of June (col. 794) that the Scottish Education Minister, Mr. Brian Wilson, described it as a "bogus tradition". I can assure your Lordships that there is nothing bogus about it. The Scottish universities and their graduates feel it to be a serious slur on the high reputation of Scottish universities to describe the four-years honours degree as bogus.

When the Government decided to charge £1,000 a year in tuition fees--we are not arguing about that today--they realised quite quickly that charging £4,000 for an honours degree in Scotland and £3,000 for an honours degree at an English or Welsh university, was not right. The Scottish Office rapidly agreed to fund the fourth year at Scottish universities only for Scottish-based students. So full marks to the Scottish Office. It did the right thing when it saw this issue coming up. However, it is a pity that yet again the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has been put into the firing line to defend decisions which are not his and when his department well realised what the problem was.

Having said something kind about the Scottish Office, I suspect that, unfortunately, lateral thinking is not its strong point. Many students from outside Scotland attend Scottish universities and they will all have to pay the extra £1,000, making a total of £4,000. That would at least have some logic about it, although it would have been unfair to students from elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

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However, along came the killer punch for the Government, changing what I submit would be unfair into what I suggest is plain daft. Students from countries in the European Union have to be charged the same as Scottish students; in other words, the Scottish Office will have to fund the fourth-year tuition fees of anyone from Italy, France, the Republic of Ireland or any other member state of the European Union, except other parts of the United Kingdom. As I explained recently to your Lordships, when Mr. Brian Wilson, the Minister for Education and Industry, was asked on "The World at One" why a student from France should be asked to pay only £3,000 while a student from England will be asked to pay £4,000, he replied, "Because France is in the European Union", to which the interviewer replied, "Isn't England?". There is no answer to that.

We are now in a position where students from North Berwick in Scotland, from Bonn in Germany and even from Bosisio Parini in Italy, which some of your Lordships know is dear to my heart, will have to pay £3,000, yet students from Berwick-upon-Tweed in England will have to pay £4,000.

Perhaps I may look briefly at the Government's defences, if that is what they call them. The first defence is that the changes that your Lordships would like to make would cost £27 million and not the £2 million that everybody in the world, bar the Government, think that they would cost. I believe that the Government's assumptions are based on the proposition that they would have to pay for the fourth year of every student at an English or Welsh university. That has never been our intention. We have never asked for that. Your Lordships are not asking for that. What we have said--we do so again in Motion No. 64G--is that if the Government ever decided to introduce a special provision for Scottish students attending English and Welsh universities, that provision should not relate to only English and Welsh students but to all students from the United Kingdom. That is what Motion No. 64G seeks. Those provisions give the Government order-making powers. The ball is entirely in the Government's court. We are not forcing them to do anything.

If the Minister can say to me that the Government have no intention of introducing a grant for the fourth-year payment for any student attending an English university, I would be content to withdraw my first Motion. My intention is not to deal with England and Wales, but to ensure that there is no discrimination and that students from Scotland and Northern Ireland would not have to pay more if they went to an English university than would students from England and Wales. If I can be given the assurance that any future change made by the Government will treat students attending English and Welsh universities on the same basis, wherever they come from, there will be no great argument over my first Motion.

It is on my second Motion and on that in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, that we have a problem. Perhaps I may therefore consider all the other defences to the amazing proposition that students from all parts of the UK who are attending Scottish universities should not be treated in the same way.

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I note that it has been argued that all students coming from elsewhere in the UK to study at Scottish universities are "little rich kids" who attended private schools such as Eton, Wellington, Charterhouse and Westminster. Those schools were mentioned by Brian Wilson in the House of Commons. The class war will never be over as long as one breath remains in Mr. Brian Wilson's body.

As the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, said in an intervention when we last debated this, "What about the little rich kids from Scotland?". I do not know why I pluck this out of the air, but what about those "little rich kids" from Scotland who went Fettes? Why should they receive a subsidy of £1,000 from Scottish taxpayers? The private school argument is bogus and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, will not use it.

What about Northern Ireland? Are students from Northern Ireland "little rich kids" who have attended private schools? Perhaps I may quote briefly from a letter that I have received from Richard Baker, the president of the National Union of Students in Scotland. It states:


    "NUS Scotland has been inundated with telephone calls from anxious students from Northern Ireland who wished to know if they could escape the additional £1,000 fee by gaining Scottish residency. We arranged to meet with a large number of them in Belfast".
I understand that there is the ploy that if those students spend one night in Scotland just before they go to university, they might be able to claim Scottish residency and thus be absolved from the fee. I say "Good luck to them".

Mr. Baker continued:


    "Of 40 or so students we met, not one was from a 'privileged elite'. None were well able to afford fees, none were confident of missing out the first year of the four year degree, and most did not have that option".

The Minister will tell us that if students do not come from the privileged elite, their parents will be means-tested and they will not have to pay, but there is a whole chunk of youngsters in the middle whose parents have reasonably well paid jobs but who are by no means rich or belong to the privileged elite, and they will have to pay. Those are the facts about Northern Ireland. Is it not ridiculous that when we are attempting to bring together people in the island of Ireland we have the proposition that if a youngster from Belfast attends Glasgow University he or she will have to pay £4,000, whereas a youngster from Dublin will have to pay only £3,000. That is unfair on any count.

Then there is the argument about what will happen to student numbers. The Scottish universities are particularly worried about this because a proportion of their students--in some universities, quite a high proportion--come from outside Scotland. To be honest, it is too early yet to say positively what will happen, but we do know that after years of seeing an increase in the number of applicants from England to Scottish universities, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, applications from England are showing a slight fall this year. That fall was initially denied by the Prime Minister, who said on 24th June that the numbers were up, not down. A week later, he had to put the record straight and admit that it was true

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that overall, for all Scottish education, there had been a fall in such applications. Perhaps the Prime Minister had been misinformed previously. However, he has now been properly informed. I know that it is his finger on the trigger, so I hope that he will look at this afresh, given that the facts that he seemed to be using are not correct.

There is also the point about second-year entry to Scottish universities. Only a tiny number of youngsters from outside Scotland enter in the second year. Your Lordships will be told in a little while that this year double the current number will be second-year entrants. Perhaps I should point out that "double the number" means an increase from 600 to 1,200. That is a lot, but when it is set against the background of 25,000 youngsters from England, I think that your Lordships will see that the vast majority of youngsters enter at the beginning of the first year. As I said when we last discussed this--I shall not go over it again because noble Lords who were present then will remember--the Association of University Teachers made it abundantly clear in a letter that it did not think that second-year entry was a sensible or wise option. Indeed, the association did not think that such a move was successful because within a few weeks of entry many second-year entrants--a very small proportion of all the youngsters attending Scottish universities--fall back from the second year to the first year. The fact is that the argument about second-year entry is bogus and the Government should not use it.

The last argument with which I want to deal is that youngsters in Scotland spend a year less in senior school than do youngsters in England. The proposition is that youngsters in Scotland go to university at the end of their fifth year. When we last discussed this, I reminded your Lordships that in a previous life I was the head of a mathematics department in a large comprehensive school which, I am pleased to say, sent many youngsters to Scottish universities. I must tell your Lordships that the vast majority of those youngsters stayed on for two years, taking more Highers or studying what was at that time the certificate of sixth-year studies, which in many ways was the equivalent of A-levels.

This bogus argument has been exposed not only by me but by Mr. Dennis Canavan, a Member of the other place, who was also the head of a mathematics department. (That is about the only thing that we have in common.) Mr. Canavan underlined the point that I have made to your Lordships when he said that in his experience the vast majority of youngsters went to university at the end of the sixth year.

All the arguments are bogus. I hope that I do not hear again the "fifth-year" argument. Nothing shows people's ignorance of the Scottish education system more than an argument such as this; it demonstrates that they are unaware of something upon which they are pontificating. I know that the noble Lord will not do that because he comes from the University of Aberdeen and knows what happens on the ground.

However one looks at this, the Government are in a hole and insist on continuing to dig. This afternoon noble Lords have before them an amendment that allows

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the Government to stop digging and throw away the spade. That appears to be the most sensible course to take.

I end where I began by referring to those who agree with me, or us if I may include the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood: the National Union of Students, which is not usually in the same camp as me; the Association of University Teachers; the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals; and all the Scottish media. That is certainly a novel experience. I have a letter from Mr. Baker, president of the National Union of Students Scotland, in which he writes:


    "On behalf of the students of Scotland and in the interests of all UK students I ask you again to defend fairness. What was unjust and bad legislation last week has not been altered by the Commons this week. I recognise that we are asking Peers to vote against the Government for a third time on this issue and understand the possible consequences and sensitivities this will raise. I wish you to know that this is not a request that NUS Scotland would make lightly and is motivated by genuine indignation on the part of students at the inequity that the proposals seek to introduce".

I do not want to hear about the constitution or anything like that. Your Lordships will be in agreement with everyone else outside if you return this matter to the Commons today. You will be in agreement with the letter that appears in today's Times from the president of the NUS, the president of the NUS Scotland, the convenor of the NUS Northern Ireland and the president of the NUS Wales. Will the Government stop digging and start to listen?


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