Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I should like to follow the noble Lord and make a further, even wider, point. During the debate in another place the responsible Scottish Office Minister, Mr. Brian Wilson, commented that this is a peripheral aspect of the Bill. Noble Lords will appreciate that it is not peripheral. There cannot now be many people in Scotland who think that it is peripheral: first, because of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Shore, has just made--it is unjust and it is discrimination--and, secondly, because of its crucial political implications from Scotland's viewpoint.

To charge UK students from outside Scotland for the same course in Scotland more than resident Scots are charged will undermine one of Scotland's greatest assets. Many students who choose to come to Scotland do so because they are attracted by our four-year honours degree. They find themselves enjoying life north of the Border, and stay on to work or live there, or return later in their lives as opportunity offers. That helps Scotland to be the cosmopolitan, outward-looking, talented place that it is.

At present, the SNP's anti-English thinking, and the threat that that thinking may be reflected as time goes on in the policy of the Scots parliament, is a great worry, I know, to many of your Lordships. It is certainly a worry across Scotland. Had the noble Earl, Lord Perth, been here he would have made that point.

This Labour Government are insisting on sending out the same SNP-type message: English, Welsh and Northern Ireland students must pay more just because they do not live in Scotland. The matter is no less frightening because it happened, as several noble Lords have said, as a result of a mistaken, snap decision by Scottish Office Ministers. Indeed, it is widely known-- I say this to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett--that Mr. Brian Wilson wanted to put the matter right by producing the necessary £2 million from the Scottish Office budget. Presumably he had the money set aside to do so, but that was blocked, I understand, by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment himself. I am not sure what the Minister's part in this was, but the noble Baroness certainly knew the feelings in this House, and I am sure responded to them.

Second chambers have their uses. It may well be that this example indicates that the Scots parliament may need a second chamber. In the meantime, this is the second Chamber of the Parliament of the whole of the UK. The Government have made a damaging mistake. The other place should have the courage, even now, to recognise that, to stand up to the Government and to put it right. This House should give it that opportunity by voting for one or other of these Motions.

For the sake of many students of the Scots universities, of the universities themselves, and, above all, for the future of the Union, I hope that your Lordships will express a sensible opinion.

Lord Wilson of Tillyorn: My Lords, Perhaps I may reinforce some of the thinking behind what the noble

7 Jul 1998 : Column 1105

Baroness, Lady Carnegy, has just said. First, I declare a non-financial interest as Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen. As the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, pointed out, it will not be unknown to the Minister, who was a distinguished and effective member of staff.

This is not an issue of fees, as has already been said. Fees are tough on many students, but they are justifiable as a way of financing our universities. I do not believe that it is even a question of numbers. As regards the University of Aberdeen, up to now the effect on numbers of good students applying does not seem to be great.

I suggest that the real issue is different: it is more subtle; it is more important. It is the psychology of what we are in danger of putting in place if we are discriminatory. That is particularly important at this moment in the history of Scotland. It is surely a time when we should want our universities in Scotland to have the maximum number of young people from elsewhere in the United Kingdom enjoying a shared experience. It is surely not a time when people who come from outwith Scotland to Scottish universities should feel that they are being discriminated against. Whether or not they can afford it, the psychology of that discrimination is wrong, and in particular at this moment in the history of Scotland.

I imagine that at this stage it is impossible to guess what will happen at the end of this yo-yoing on amendments between your Lordships' House and another place. However, at the end of the day when the dust has settled and the guns are silent, perhaps I may appeal to the Government and Ministers to look for ways in which the universities in Scotland can be inclusive and including and not exclusive and excluding.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Shore of Stepney is not alone. He beat me on to his feet. I am glad that he did so because he spoke with the enormous experience and authority of a long reign as Secretary of State and from holding many posts in the Labour Party. He was absolutely right. From my conversations, many people on this side of the House are most unhappy about this matter. Indeed, I can assure the House that many on this side of the Chamber are unhappy that we are charging tuition fees. Many people joined this party because they believed in equality of education. It is part of the classless society about which New Labour is talking; that there should be no discrimination in education; and it has brought us to this point. Had we not decided that we should charge tuition fees, we should not be arriving at this absurd point in time where the Government are insisting that people from England, Wales and Northern Ireland should be charged more for being educated in Scottish universities than people from almost anywhere in the world.

It is nonsense. The danger to the Labour Party is that this sort of nonsense will undermine its position. It will not be the great affairs of state but the little things that people cannot understand. Ordinary working folk, the people in factories and offices, will not understand why English, Welsh and Northern Ireland students have to pay £4,000 for a course in Scotland, while Italians,

7 Jul 1998 : Column 1106

Southern Irish and Scots have to pay only £3,000. They will laugh their sides off. They will ask, "What sort of people can do this? Who is advising them? Why do they take the advice that they are receiving if that sort of nonsense is being handed out to them?" I appeal to my noble friend to understand what damage it will do to the new Government out in the country among the ordinary people, who are commonsensical and will not understand the discrimination being imposed on many of our countrymen by the Bill when it becomes an Act.

Finally, we in this House not only have the power, we have the duty, if we feel we are right, to insist on amendments. The Parliament Acts of 1911 and 1949 are specific. They give this House limited power; and that limited power is to delay legislation. It is perfectly right, proper and reasonable for this House--it is the only second Chamber and revising Chamber that we have--to use its powers to the full. If the House were restricted in any way because expenditure were involved--expenditure is involved in any Bill we discuss--the Speaker of the House of Commons would have certified it as a money Bill and that would have restricted us completely.

So we have the power. We have the desire. If my noble friend will not accept the amendment, let us hope we have the will to insist once again that we will not vote for nonsense and absurdity.

3.45 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon: My Lords, the case made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, and the noble Lord, Lord Steel, is overwhelming. It is based on principle. The principle has been made entirely clear by the two noble Lords and others who have spoken: that those from England, Wales and Northern Ireland should not be discriminated against in relation to Scots for the fees that they pay at Scottish universities.

Against that, no decision of principle is placed as a counterweight. It is a matter of expediency. The noble Lord, Lord Steel, put a figure on that expediency. It is not a large figure: it is £2 million. When principle is opposed to expediency, there can be only one way forward. Some noble Lords will have noted the exhibition in Westminster Hall on the life of William Ewart Gladstone and will have seen at the heart of that exhibition the sentence that his parliamentary life was based upon the supremacy of principle over expediency. I believe that to be entirely right. That is the issue at stake in this matter. This House should say to the other House that it is a matter of principle and we believe that the principle should triumph.

Lord Addington: My Lords, I speak as someone who moved from the English system to the Scottish system. My parents were in the income bracket at which I would have been expected to pay fees. While not receiving full funding support under the new arrangement, there would not have been sufficient income to make the matter irrelevant. Under such circumstances, no English student will go into the Scottish system where he is required to pay more money. It would place an extra burden on parental support.

7 Jul 1998 : Column 1107

One is not best prepared to enter such a system by A-levels. One needs the extra year. Four years' work are required for an honours degree. Therefore one effectively asks people to go into a new system for which they are not prepared through their current examinations. It is universally accepted that the A-level system is not the perfect way to encourage people into higher education. It is exclusive. Could anyone construct a system which is better designed to put off students from within the same sovereign state? I suggest that you would have to try pretty damned hard to come up with something as good.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page