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Mr. Jim Murphy: I have listened with interest to the point made by both the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) about students from Northern Ireland. Applications to Scottish and other United Kingdom universities from Northern Ireland have gone down. The hon. Gentleman claims that that was caused by tuition fees. If that is so, how can he explain the 15 per cent. reduction in the number of Northern Irish students going to colleges and universities in the Republic of Ireland over a two-year period? His figures do not add up. There has been a drop of 4 to 5 per cent. in applications from Northern Ireland to the UK, but a drop of 15 per cent. of applications from Northern Ireland to the Republic, despite its abolition of fees.

Mr. Wallace: I will not explain why students have not gone to the Republic of Ireland, although they would not get loans if they did so. However, almost 380 fewer students have applied from Northern Ireland to Scottish universities, which is a significant drop over last year's figure. The hon. Gentleman cannot just wish that away by making comparisons with applications to the Republic of Ireland.

Mr. Hayes: Of the Northern Irish students who go to Scottish universities, more than three quarters are from state schools. We heard no description from the Minister of the schools in Northern Ireland when he gave his sociological breakdown; he chose to dwell solely on England in his analysis.

Mr. Wallace: I noted that point. The Minister was keen to read out Eton, Wellington and dear knows where else, but he failed significantly to respond to queries on the schools attended by Northern Irish students who went to Scottish universities.

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Other arguments have been used. In the other place, Lord Sewel said that the Bill compensated Scottish students who went to university aged 17 after only one year of post-statutory school age education. That is simply factually wrong. It is a long time since I was at school but only two of my fellow pupils left at the end of fifth year. The rest of us went to university at the end of sixth year. When I heard that argument from the Government, I thought that there had been a sea change but in fact only 7.4 per cent. of 17-year-olds in Scotland were in higher education institutions in 1995. The argument does not stack up.

Lord Sewel advanced another argument. He tried to say that the first year at Scottish university was there to make up for the alleged lack of depth achieved with a one-year or two-term higher. Apart from being patronising to the Scottish education system, that ignores the fact that the distinctiveness of the Scottish education system lies in its breadth and quality. That point has been used to justify another weak prop of the Government's argument.

The Government say that students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland can skip the first year of Scottish degree courses and go straight into the second year, thereby avoiding a year's worth of fees. That does not meet the test of critical examination. Less than 12 per cent. of students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland go straight into the second year of courses in Scottish universities. It was previously only 6 per cent. for England and 7 per cent. each for Wales and Northern Ireland. The numbers were decreasing. The Government's argument ignores the fact that many subjects, such as law, engineering and psychology cannot be done at school, so the first year is necessary. That argument does not stack up either. Second-year entrants miss out on the opportunity to study the extra subjects that they could have studied in the first year.

Shona McIsaac (Cleethorpes): Does the hon. and learned Gentleman accept that applications from England for entry in the second year of Scottish university courses have doubled, which totally destroys his argument?

Mr. Wallace: That makes rather than destroys my argument, because the trend was down. It is under the pressure of the Government's policy that the figure has tumbled. Unfortunately, the hon. Lady cannot see it.

The fear is that linked to these measures is the systematic undermining of the Scottish four-year degree course. The Minister, who is no longer with us, has said that he wants the advanced higher to be on a par with A-levels. In a letter to me this week he said that he looks forward to similar advanced entry for Scottish pupils who had taken the advanced higher. He wrote:

Mr. Swayne: Will the hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wallace: I want to make progress. There is widespread concern that what underlies the proposal is the systematic undermining of the traditional, broad-based, four-year Scottish honours course.

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The Government's most ludicrous argument is that they are acting in this way because it helps to emphasise the distinctiveness of the Scottish education system.

Mr. Welsh: I am amazed at what the hon. and learned Gentleman says. He makes an important point by illustrating what a mess the Government's policy is in. They cannot even implement "higher still", never mind the advanced higher. They have got their education policy, both at schools and universities, into a complete mess.

Mr. Wallace: The hon. Gentleman knows that we agree. "Higher still" implementation has been appalling. When the advanced higher was first mooted, the understanding was that it would proceed on a broad base, but now we are talking of people taking only two or three advanced highers, making the examinations similar to A-levels--just when people in English education have been looking at the breadth of the Scottish education system.

For the Minister to argue that what the Government are doing emphasises the distinctiveness of the Scottish system, and that we will have such so-called anomalies with devolution, misses the point. The distinctiveness will not be based on the system but on domicile, and a limited domicile at that because the arrangements apply only to people living in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. The proposals are nothing to do with the system. The problem is made worse by the fact that students from Umbria are exempted whereas students from Cumbria are not. The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), may groan, but he will have cause to groan even more. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. There is too much noise in the House.

Mr. Wallace: As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) said, there could be a legal challenge to the Government. My noble Friend Earl Russell was told in another place that the Government were confident that they were right. This evening, the Minister told us that he had taken legal advice. Of course, we know that the Government take legal advice. The Labour party in Scotland took legal advice when it tried to remove the lord provost of Glasgow, and look what happened then. So we know the quality of advice--

Mr. Jim Murphy rose--

Mr. Wallace: I am not going to take any advice from the hon. Gentleman. It is probably no better than the last lot he gave me and probably no better than the advice that the Government were given on this matter.

Some distinguished professors of educational law have raised a serious point. Under the European convention on human rights, there may well be challenges to the Government's position on this matter.

My final point relates to cost. The point has been made tonight that the amendments would cost some £27 million. The first amendment makes no such commitment. All that it says is that there cannot be discrimination between

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Scottish and Northern Irish students who attend English and Welsh institutions. The second amendment relates only to making a level playing field for English, Welsh and Northern Irish residents who come to Scottish universities. The Minister has accepted that the cost of that is only £2 million. That is £2 million that will not kick in until 2001--the fourth year of courses starting this year under the present system. I do not believe that the Government could not find £2 million in the next three years.

Dr. George Turner: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Wallace: No, the hon. Gentleman had a fair say.

In his report, Garrick referred to comparable qualifications elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East): I did not realise, until the hon. and learned Gentleman said it a few moments ago, that the requirement to find £2 million would not apply until 2001--the fourth year of honours courses starting this year. By that time, there will be a Scottish Parliament, which will be responsible for the funding of higher education. It could be that the Scottish Parliament will overturn the decision of the House tonight when it really matters.

Mr. Wallace: That is obviously the case. Perhaps people will be sufficiently enlightened to find the £2 million.

Mr. Jim Murphy: I thank the hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. If I have the opportunity to speak, I will give way to him. On the issue of the Scottish Parliament, the hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Mr. Campbell), writing in the alumni association magazine of St. Andrews university, said:

Those are the words of his hon. and learned Friend, in whose constituency the university is. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman disagree with his hon. and learned Friend on that point?

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