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Lord Beloff: My Lords, I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, of whose pronouncements I have long experience, and I was totally unconvinced. He suggested that somehow or other the concession would spill over from Scottish four-year courses to English four-year courses and therefore that the amount could rise from £2 million to £27 million. He might as well have said that we can spend a lot more money on aircraft carriers. You can always drown any case for expenditure if you make the reference wide enough.
Lord Sewel: My Lords, I shall reply directly to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Beloff, because it is actually bound up with the proposals that the House is being invited to support by the two Opposition parties. Indeed, rather than removing an anomaly, the proposal before us this afternoon would actually create a greater anomaly.
The Opposition have actually sought to fight on the ground of equity, but they have actually sunk into the very ground upon which they have chosen to fight. However, let us look briefly at the other arguments which have been advanced. I give way to the noble Lord.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. Is not the defect in that argument the fact that one should look at the university and ask whether a particular student of English origins is being treated less favourably than a student of Scottish origins in relation to that university? If that is the right approach, how can the noble Lord square it with the European Convention on Human Rights, which expressly says that there should be no discrimination in relation to the right to education on grounds of anything, including nationality?
Lord Sewel: My Lords, I can reply to that and I shall, at the same time, reply to the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, on the advice that the Government have received as regards whether this action, our proposals or our policy are compatible with European law. Members of your Lordships' House know well that the detail of legal advice that the Government receive is not revealed to this House.
However, the noble Earl laid down a challenge. He said that I responded in Committee that I was confident we could stand a challenge and asked whether I could go one better than that today. The answer is yes: on the basis of the advice that we have received, I am very confident that we can withstand the challenge.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, will my noble friend the Minister clear up the question of whether this issue is about nationality? Am I not right in thinking that if I were born in Scotland, but educated in the English system and wished to apply to a Scottish higher education system, I would be treated as an English student because I am in an English educational institution and that it is nothing to do with my nationality?
There has been scaremongering. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, because he did not indulge in that this afternoon, although he got very close to it on an earlier occasion. There has been scaremongering about a disproportionate drop in the number of other UK applications to Scottish universities. I have used these figures before. I hope that that is why the noble Lord has modified his argument. The drop in English applicants is less than the overall drop in applications to Scottish universities--a figure of 4.1 per cent. compared to one of 4.5 per cent.
I should like to deal with the argument about the European Union. I realise that this excites a great deal of interest on the part of my noble friend Lord Shore and other noble Lords. Having been a university teacher for some 30 years, I have been sitting here on the Front Bench trying to think how many students from European countries I taught who went through the full four years of a Scottish honours degree. Over the course of the debate, which lasted for about 45 minutes, I have managed to think of four. Indeed, as the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, mentioned, the total number of European Union students in Scotland who would benefit from this anomaly--if one terms it as such--would be 354.
Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how long ago he did his teaching? Indeed, in the past 10 years I think he might have found that the figures would be rather different.
It is also right to ask the question: who would actually benefit most from the proposals standing in the name of Opposition Peers? The answer is simple; namely, those in least need of assistance. The reason being--and, again, I put it simply--that it was calculated that one-third of students going from England to Scotland would pay no fee at all. Indeed, one-third would pay part of the fee and one-third would pay the full fee. That would be the impact on the students. That is a message that I hope the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, will take back to his friends in the National Union of Students in Scotland, who also happen to be my former students.
We should also remember that the full £1,000 fee would represent only about 5 per cent. of the additional cost that an English domiciled student would choose to accept in deciding to take a four-year Scottish honours degree. The additional maintenance costs and the income forgone during that extra year are much more significant than any additional fee. If we are looking for some kind of cost deterrence, it is much greater in terms of income forgone than any additional fee of £1,000. As I pointed out, the full fee of £1,000 would be paid by only one-third of the students coming across the Border from England.
I accept--and no one is arguing against this--that it is quite proper, although I might not always like it or find it comfortable, for this House as an unelected Second Chamber to give the opportunity to the elected House to think again. But that has been achieved; indeed, it has already been done. The other place has thought again and has decided, clearly decided, to support the Government's view. I simply ask the question: what in these circumstances is the proper response of your Lordships' House? Is it to stand in the way of the clear and deliberate will of the other place?
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving my poor choice of words additional reclame. I can answer his challenge by saying that I hope my words mean exactly what I thought they meant, and the meaning that he intended to convey when he issued his challenge just now.