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Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian): My information is that 31 per cent. of the students from England who will be eligible to pay these fees will come from English public schools. As a former pupil of an English public school, I find it odd that the Scottish National party proposes to raise Scottish taxpayers' money to subsidise people from English public schools.

Mr. Welsh: The hon. Gentleman has been in the Labour party for too long. He has forgotten what principle means. If he is willing to sell his political soul to new Labour, good luck to him, but others have different views.

Let me point out to the hon. Gentleman that, by that reckoning, 70 per cent. do not come from English public schools. We would sort the anomaly out, but his question should be directed at the person who--

Mr. Home Robertson rose--

Mr. Welsh: Will the hon. Gentleman sit down? We have heard enough from him.

Mr. Wilson rose--

Mr. Welsh: The hon. Gentleman's question should be directed at the hon. Member who is now trying to intervene, and who failed to convince his English, Welsh and Northern Ireland colleagues of the need to sort out the discrimination. The hon. Gentleman should direct his ire at his own Front Benchers, who could solve the problem very quickly and at very little cost.

Mr. Wilson: I think that--doubtless inadvertently--the hon. Gentleman misunderstood the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home Robertson). At least a third of students coming from England, Northern Ireland or Wales to Scotland will pay no tuition fees. My hon. Friend's point was that, as a third of students coming from England to Scottish universities come from the private sector--and are welcome to do so--inevitably the vast majority of those who would benefit from the waiving of fees would be people who had paid for a private-school education in England. The hon. Gentleman intends to give them--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The intervention is far too long.

Mr. Welsh: I wanted the Minister to explain his hon. Friend's question, because I am a bit fed up with the Minister fiddling statistics and trying to make a case when none exists. He stated categorically that 40 per cent. of students would not pay tuition fees, but that is not necessarily the case. If the worst comes to the worst, and people from low-income households are deterred from coming to university--as we fear--the figure will not be 40 per cent.; it could be 30 per cent., 20 per cent. or lower. The Minister has used statistical methods and debating tricks to hide a policy that is fundamentally flawed and basically immoral.

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I was going to say that the Government must tonight listen to the views expressed, not only in another place, but by hon. Members on both sides of the House--those who have not have been gagged on the Minister's side, that is. They must also listen to the voices of students and those working in education. The Government's policy is opposed by Scottish Ancients, the Association of University Teachers, the National Union of Students and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom--but, of course, this Labour Government think that they know better. If they are so confident of the wisdom of what they are doing, why do they not allow a free vote?

The fact is that, yet again, the House of Lords has given the Government a chance to get out of the corner into which they have painted themselves. They are totally out of step with educational and public opinion on the subject, and they will pay a price for that. It will be unfortunate for everyone if the Scottish education system also pays a price for their incompetence.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West): I welcome the Secretary of State's announcement of an independent review as a step in the right direction and a recognition by the Government that, on this important issue, they may be wrong; but I ask my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, or whoever will wind up the debate, to give us assurances along the lines requested by my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell). The Government's announcement seems to be a last-minute concession: I certainly knew nothing about it before the debate, and I think that it has taken many of us by surprise. I feel that we are entitled to know more about the details of the membership of the body conducting the review, and about its remit and time scale. Nevertheless, I welcome the fact that the Government have acted, and the fact that the debate was opened by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State.

During the previous debate, I remarked to my hon. Friend the Minister for Education and Industry at the Scottish Office that he had perhaps drawn the short straw in coming to the Dispatch Box and trying to defend the indefensible. Of course this matter is of great relevance to the Scottish Office, which has some responsibility for Scottish universities and Scottish higher education in general, but, because it affects students attending Scottish universities from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, greater interest should be--and should have been from the outset--shown in this matter by the Secretary of Statefor Education and Employment and, indeed, by the Secretaries of State for Wales and for Northern Ireland.

I do not want to go over the same old ground that we have gone over in previous debates, but I should like to comment on some of the points that have been put forward by the Government, both in the House and in some of their press statements. We are told that better-off students would be the main beneficiaries of the fee waiver. If that is true, it would also be true in the case of the Scottish Office's original decision regarding a fee waiver for students from Scotland and other European Union countries.

I suppose that there are some well-off students from England who attend Scottish universities, but there are some well off students from Scotland and indeed from France, Germany and Italy who attend Scottish universities. The latter will nevertheless benefit from the

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fee waiver, whereas their English counterparts with the same parental income will not. That is where the injustice comes in.

Besides, it is nonsense to suggest that students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland who go to Scottish universities generally come from very high-income families. The Government's own figures refute that, because we are talking about 3,500 people a year and, if they all came from very high-income families, obviously, they would all pay the full fees of £1,000 and the total cost of the amendment would be £3.5 million, but the Government have at last admitted that the total cost of the amendment would be only £2 million. Therefore, the average fee paid by the 3,500 students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland works out at about £570 and the corresponding average residual parental income is £22,750 per annum, which is not exactly filthy rich.

During the previous debate, the Minister for Education and Industry said--this has caused a bit of controversy in Scotland:


What he did not tell us was that he was referring to a grand total of 256 students, out of a total of 8,400 students, from England attending Edinburgh or St. Andrews universities, which are not typical Scottish universities. Nevertheless, we are talking about a sample--and not exactly a random sample--of 256 students out of a total of 8,400.

Mr. Ian Bruce: I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman has done any more research. I believe that most of those 256 probably come from Scottish families and go to English public schools, and will get the concession because their parents live in Scotland.

Mr. Canavan: That may be the case. The statement that those 256 are absolutely domiciled in England may be inaccurate.

The broader picture--of students from England accepted to all Scottish universities last year--shows that the breakdown is far more egalitarian than was suggested by my hon. Friend the Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office. Of those students, 33 per cent. came from state schools, including 26 per cent. from comprehensives; 21 per cent. came from further education, many--probably most--of whom would have come indirectly from state schools; 1 per cent. from higher education; 13 per cent. from other or unknown sources; and 32 per cent. from independent schools. It is therefore nonsense to claim that the majority of English entrants to Scottish universities are from English public schools.

11.15 pm

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one of the principal issues that is being missed in the debate is that the Scottish higher education system needs students from all walks of life and from all countries to provide the diversity and specialness that make Scottish universities so vibrant

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and positive? Does he agree that the Government's proposals will drive away the very students who give the Scottish education system its very special flavour?


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