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Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland): Thehon. Gentleman referred to the anomalies which it is incumbent on the Secretary of State to resolve. Does he agree that, as the Secretary of State intends to set up an independent review, the best way of ensuring certainty would be to assure those entering Scottish universities this

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year that they would not have to pay fees in the fourth year, and that the review should be on the anomaly that the Secretary of State considers important and the extent to which it matters in the longer term?

Mr. Willetts: If the Government accepted that there should not be anomalous treatment of students attending Scottish universities, and undertook to review the evidence, having protected the status quo, that would be a different matter. Sadly, that was not the point that the Secretary of State made this evening.

We have heard much in the past few days about the Secretary of State's other responsibility. We have already heard some of the briefing about the statement that we shall hear from the Chancellor tomorrow. We may find that the Secretary of State himself comes to the House to tell us about the enormous sums that he claims are to be put into education in the next few years. We have read in the press about £15 billion of higher education expenditure over the next few years.

Will not the Secretary of State look a rather absurd figure if he pops up on our television screens explaining that he has secured billions of pounds of extra cash from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, yet it is impossible to spend £2 million to deal with an anomaly that makes no sense to anyone outside the whipped ranks of his own party?

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk) rose--

Mr. Willetts: No, I am about to finish.

If the Secretary of State is to be taken seriously when he speaks about the financial settlement that he is bringing to the House in the next few days, he cannot also maintain that £2 million to deal with such an anomaly is a concession that it is impossible for him to make.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow): A lot of this is about perception. Many students at Scottish universities come from the north of Ireland, so how is it to be justified that a student from Belfast will pay £1,000 more than a student from Dublin? That raises the issue of the cement of the British universities system. Part of the cement that keeps the United Kingdom together is the universities, and anything that damages the Scottish universities as United Kingdom universities is a serious matter.

In the previous debate, I asked specific questions about the legal situation. I am entitled to say that the view of Edinburgh university, which comes through Sir Stewart Sutherland, the vice-chancellor, after the taking of legal advice, is that it is more than likely that the Government's view would not be sustained in a test case. I havealso consulted Professor Anthony Bradley, a practising Queen's counsel, former editor of the Journal of Public Law and recently retired professor of constitutional law at the university of Edinburgh. This is what he put into print in the Edinburgh Evening News on Thursday 9 July:


That is the view of a QC. Although this is not the time to occupy the House with the detailed legal argument that some of us have heard, I must ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State two specific questions about the

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review. I welcome the offer of a review and think that it will be helpful and constructive, but will he undertake that nothing will be done to charge existing students until, first, the review has reported and, secondly, there has been a test case in the courts to determine whether Professor Bradley and the university of Edinburgh, backed by Professor Ian Graham-Bryce of the university of Dundee, are correct? If he could give those undertakings, he would greatly assist some of us.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus): Now we have it: after all the to-ing and fro-ing, and after all the kerfuffle outside this place, all that we are being offered is an independent review of a situation that should have been resolved by any Government who were semi-competent. Will the Minister explain how independent the review will be, who will be on the review body, and how will it prevent uncertainty among the student population? From what I have heard, all this is simply a ploy based not on any principle, but on ducking and weaving by a Government who have been trapped by their inability to sort out discrimination that they have created.

This is a point of principle. Tuition fees are wrong and, along with student loans, they will restrict access to higher education. The Government are completely out of step with university principals, students, the Association of University Teachers and others involved in education. The Scottish National party has opposed all attempts to erode the principle of education for all, according to ability and regardless of financial circumstances. Tuition fees are, like student loans, a backward step. As the Government insist on those fees, we can only seek to ensure that the arrangements are as fair as possible.

Mr. Wilson: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that his party's commitment to use the Scottish Parliament to remove student tuition fees and student loans has been wiped from the internet, along with the rest of his party's previous policies?

Mr. Welsh: The Minister has forgotten all points of principle. His Government should have allowed the Scottish Parliament to take this decision. In respect of the Scottish Parliament, we will get rid of this discriminatory anomaly affecting English, Welsh and Northern Irish students. We shall maintain our moral commitment, unlike the Government.

The amount involved is only £2 million. It is a disgrace if the three Departments cannot find £2 million from their budgets. The Scottish National party will, on a point of principle, ensure that we get rid of this discrimination against English, Welsh and Northern Irish students.

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): Can I be absolutely sure that the hon. Gentleman is committing the Scottish National party to spending Scottish taxpayers' money to fund English students coming to Scottish universities. [Interruption.]

Mr. Welsh: Who is the nationalist now, I wonder.

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11 pm

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South): On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Will you ask hon. Members to apologise? We do not use the word "racist" in the House.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: I did not hear that word being used.

Mr. Welsh: The question of the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Miss Begg) should be directed to the Government, who have introduced this measure that discriminates against English, Welsh and Northern Irish students. The Scottish National party will ensure that such discrimination does not exist.

I refer the hon. Lady to a debate on this issue that I secured last January. We made our views clear that we are against such discrimination. The Home Departments in Wales, Northern Ireland and England should pick up the tab. The Government are annoyed at the House of Lords' refusal to back down. The Secretary of State for Education and Employment is becoming increasingly alarmed that his whole Bill will collapse. My party believes that it would be no bad thing if it did collapse, because we think that all matters relating to higher education in Scotland should be within the remit of the Scottish Parliament. It will not be long before the Scottish Parliament is in power and taking these decisions. It should be left to that Parliament to decide, in a Scottish context, what the Scottish people want to happen in our universities.

If the Government are determined that the Teaching and Higher Education Bill should become law, all they need to do is to accept the amendment and they would have the approval of those involved in education, and of the general public.

In January, I led an Adjournment debate on this issue. I raised objections to the Government's policy, not just because it is discriminatory, but because of the effects that it will have on Scottish universities and on the Scottish economy. I was accused of scaremongering, yet my fears are shared by many involved in education in Scotland.

The principal of Dundee university said at this year's graduation ceremony last Thursday:


Even before the review, the Government have been told what is going on. The principal went on:


    "Whatever rationalisations are put forward, the practical impact is discriminatory. If this leads to a decrease in the diversity of the student body . . . then it will be Scottish higher education and ultimately Scottish interests which will be the losers."

The Government do not need a review to find out what educationists of Scotland are telling them now.

In an independent Scotland, the Scottish National party plans to abolish tuition fees. If the Government fail to listen to public opinion and to solve this anomaly, a SNP-led Scottish Parliament, even at a reduced devolutionary level, will find the £2 million required to ensure equity for all students who choose to study in

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Scotland. That compares well with the Government's prevarication by offering a review rather than solving the problem.


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