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Mr. Dalyell: Will my hon. Friend clarify whether his argument is that the Scottish four-year course should be ended, or have I misunderstood?

Dr. Turner: My hon. Friend misunderstands me. As I said at the outset, to avoid misunderstanding, I have an automatic, even genetic, sympathy with the Scottish system. However, that system is fundamentally different from the English system. One may regard it as superior or inferior, but the truth is that it is fundamentally different. People can create false anomalies only because we are trying to match the needs of two different systems and of those who want to transfer between them.

Mr. Randall: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Turner: I must make some progress, as I know that other hon. Members want to speak.

The fundamental question that Dearing and the Government have had to face is why four-year courses in Scotland are treated differently from the four-year courses that exist in England. If that had been the subject of this debate, I could have understood that those who represent the Scottish interest had an argument. I know enough about Scotland to be aware that significant numbers--it used to be the majority--of pupils move from school to university after one year of post-compulsory school education.

I know that the pattern has shifted and that many now do a further round of highers, but a large number of pupils in Scotland start their four-year degree course after only one year at highers, as opposed to the two years at A-level enjoyed by the vast majority of English pupils as the standard--although by no means the only--route into English universities.

A comparison between the number who flow north of the border and the number who come south shows that the real difficulties arise in transferring into England after one year post-16 in Scotland. Some of the English four-year courses allow that transition, because they are structured for those who want to change subjects.

The Dearing inquiry had to consider whether an exception should be made for Scottish universities' four-year courses because of the significant number of students who would be seen to be treated inequitably if they were required to pay for all four years. Because the inquiry saw that that would be unfair to that majority, or large minority, of students in Scotland, it recommended an exclusion for Scottish students, who would have only the same number of years of post-compulsory schooling as their English counterparts, who had two years at A-level and three for a standard university course.

Mrs. Browning: If what the hon. Gentleman says about the situation in Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland is the case, what is the justification for the exemption for Holland, Germany, Italy, Belgium, France, Portugal, Spain and all the other European Union countries? Are they all being exempted for exactly the

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same reason, or have the Government received rather different advice about their actions in relation to those countries?

Dr. Turner: I know that the Conservative party is obsessed with all matters European, and I believe that that was an arid debating point, with which the Minister has already dealt completely adequately. The hon. Lady may tempt me to speak for longer than I had intended. That dreadful nationalistic approach, which does not recognise the difference between this country and Europe, has divided her party and done it no good whatever.

It is important to realise--I hope that Scottish Members are listening carefully--that the Government erred on the side of generosity to Scotland. I was tempted to raise this issue when these measures last came to the House, and I will resist no longer. The Government have taken a principled exemption, designed to allow those students in Scotland who had done only one year of post-compulsory education at school to pay for only three years of fees, and extended it to all students in Scotland, so that those students who take two years and do a further round of highers are also exempt.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): It is important to realise that it is not only a matter of the number of years at school and university, because often the first year of the subject that you study at university will be crucial to your degree and not relevant to what you studied in your two years in the sixth form. Say you studied law, medicine or--

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): Order. The hon. Gentleman should know that it is highly unlikely that I will be studying law or any other subject.

Dr. Turner: It would be nice if we could afford to allow everyone to do whatever they wanted and to have unco-ordinated career patterns, switching to any course at any time. Some time in the next millennium, we will no doubt be able to have perpetual students who never make up their mind about what they want to do. My question is whether the Government can afford to give greater priority--

Mr. Willis: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Turner: I need to make some progress with my argument. I want to make sure that the House clearly understands that the Government have erred in favour of Scottish students and Scottish universities. Will the Minister explain why the Government have been so generous to Scottish universities?

Mr. Willis: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Turner: I will, as the hon. Gentleman is so insistent.

Mr. Willis: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I know that he was in full flow, but I am trying to help him. He seems to be saying that, because students in Scotland leave school a year earlier than their English counterparts, they deserve an additional year's exemption.

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Can he tell me why a domiciled Scottish student who wants to study medicine or veterinary science will receive no exemption?

Dr. Turner: As I said, the trouble with exemptions is that, once those in authority embark on them, they have to justify not going one step further. The Government need to be pinned down on why they have made the exemption at all. That is the real question that needs to be answered, and I hope to hear a clear answer from the Minister.

The Minister has said--I believe that the figures given by his counterpart in the House of Lords bear this out--that the extra cost is about 5 per cent. of the total that might be involved. Supporting a four-year course will involve many costs to the state. As I said at the outset, I believe that, when fundamentally different systems are operating, an element of judgment must feature in the granting of exemptions to take account of those fundamental differences.

I think it reasonable to exempt Scottish students, because of the fundamentally different system under which they are educated in and after school; but I see no reason why someone from northern England, for example, should be able to cross the border to do a four-year course and benefit from an exemption from which he or she could not benefit at the university at which I studied in England. The Opposition want to create an anomaly: they want an English student taking a four-year course in Scotland to be treated differently from an English student taking a four-year course in England. I see no reason for that, and I think that the Government should stick firmly to the opposite principle.

I have read the report of the debate in the other place. The Opposition there seemed not to be learned and erudite, or to know what they were talking about; their views seemed to be based on the same party political principles as the views that we are hearing tonight. I hope that the amendments will be thrown out.

Mr. Wallace: I hope that I will be forgiven if I do not follow the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner) down all the byways of his speech, since I was not entirely sure where he was going.

The Minister's introductory speech astounded me. I had already thought that the Government's arguments were pretty threadbare, but the longer the Minister went on, the more threadbare they became. That has been the character of the Government's position throughout the debate. The hollowness of their arguments has been matched only by their obstinate unwillingness to admit that they are wrong, and that the simplest thing to do would be to accept the Lords amendments, particularly the one dealing specifically with Scottish institutions.

9.45 pm

I mentioned the Government's arguments. No great battery of arguments has been fired against us, however; instead, the Government have had to put up successive arguments, because almost every argument that they have made has been shot down. When the policy was first announced, the Minister thought that he could destroy his critics and win the day by sheer bluster. He described

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his critics as indulging in "hyperbolic nonsense". He criticised those who defended extra fees for defending the "rich English". The Minister likes to pride himself on being the scourge of the Nats, but if that remark had come from the Scottish National party, I can just imagine his outcry against such a nationalistic act. There were further echoes of that statement in the Minister's attempted defence of the Government's position tonight.

Having failed with that argument, the Government attempted to use misleading figures. I would be ruled out of order, and would not argue, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I said that the Minister had used lies or damned lies, but "Erskine May" allows me to say that he used statistics. As the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) has pointed out, it was totally misleading to say that the proportion of students applying to Scottish universities from England was down by less than the total drop in applications. The point being made was about the substantial reduction in student applications from the Republic of Ireland, whose students are not coming to Scotland because Irish tuition fees have been abolished. The Minister also ignored important points about students who come to Scotland from Northern Ireland for long-standing traditional reasons. The number coming from Northern Ireland is down about 5.5 per cent. The overall figure is 4.5 per cent. As the hon. Member for Havant said, the Universities and Colleges Admission Service explained that with reference to the introduction of tuition fees.

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