Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Peston: My Lords, this is getting preposterous. The noble Baroness has done this throughout the Bill and some of us do not like the suggestions she makes. I was a poor student both here and in America. I have no problems with that in the society in which we live. If I were a waiter in a restaurant, I should probably be serving people who are richer than I am, but I can live with that kind of society. I really wish that the noble Baroness would stop making such interventions which are not only irritating but actually offensive.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I found the remarks of the noble Lord offensive when he was talking about poor students from low-income families. The system that we now have in place will disproportionately disadvantage students from low-income families. They will lose the grant they receive now and must make up the difference by taking out a loan. Therefore, they will leave university with a greater burden of debt than students from more affluent families. That is the truth.

The Minister said that survey after survey shows that students from lower income families are disadvantaged. The Government's response to that is to put in place a system that doubly disadvantages students from low income families. I commend my amendment to the House.

23 Jun 1998 : Column 167

5.39 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 64B) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 105; Not-Contents, 132.

Division No. 1


Aberdare, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V.
Attlee, E.
Baker of Dorking, L.
Beloff, L.
Bethell, L.
Biddulph, L.
Biffen, L.
Blackwell, L.
Blaker, L.
Blatch, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L.
Brookeborough, V.
Bruntisfield, L.
Burnham, L. [Teller.]
Butterworth, L.
Byford, B.
Carnock, L.
Chesham, L.
Clanwilliam, E.
Cuckney, L.
Cumberlege, B.
Dartmouth, E.
Davidson, V.
Dean of Harptree, L.
Dearing, L.
Denbigh, E.
Denham, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Eden of Winton, L.
Ellenborough, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L.
Fookes, B.
Gainford, L.
Geddes, L.
Gibson-Watt, L.
Gisborough, L.
Glenarthur, L.
Gormanston, V.
Gray of Contin, L.
Grimston of Westbury, L.
Hampton, L.
Harmsworth, L.
Hayhoe, L.
Holderness, L.
HolmPatrick, L.
Howe of Aberavon, L.
Hunt of Wirral, L.
Jopling, L.
Kenyon, L.
Lane of Horsell, L.
Lauderdale, E.
Lindsay, E.
Liverpool, E.
McConnell, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
MacLaurin of Knebworth, L.
Macleod of Borve, B.
Manton, L.
Marlesford, L.
Marsh, L.
Mayhew of Twysden, L.
Middleton, L.
Molyneaux of Killead, L.
Monro of Langholm, L.
Montagu of Beaulieu, L.
Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Mottistone, L.
Mountevans, L.
Munster, E.
Norfolk, D.
Northesk, E.
Onslow of Woking, L.
Oxfuird, V.
Park of Monmouth, B.
Pender, L.
Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Prior, L.
Pym, L.
Rees, L.
Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.
Rennell, L.
Renton of Mount Harry, L.
Renwick, L.
Rotherwick, L.
Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Sandwich, E.
Seccombe, B. [Teller.]
Selborne, E.
Selkirk of Douglas, L.
Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, L.
Strange, B.
Sudeley, L.
Swinton, E.
Taylor of Warwick, L.
Teviot, L.
Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Trenchard, V.
Tugendhat, L.
Waddington, L.
Weatherill, L.
Wynford, L.
Young, B.


Acton, L.
Addington, L.
Amos, B.
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Berkeley, L.
Blackstone, B.
Blease, L.
Borrie, L.
Broadbridge, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L.
Buchan, E.
Burlison, L.
Calverley, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Carter. L. [Teller.]
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Currie of Marylebone, L.
David, B.
Davies of Oldham, L.
Dean of Beswick, L.
Desai, L.
Dholakia, L.
Dixon, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Dubs, L.
Evans of Parkside, L.
Ezra, L.
Falconer of Thoroton, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Gallacher, L.
Gilbert, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L.
Goodhart, L.
Gordon of Strathblane, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L.
Gregson, L.
Hamwee, B.
Hanworth, V.
Hardy of Wath, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Haskel, L.
Hayman, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hogg of Cumbernauld, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Holme of Cheltenham, L.
Howie of Troon, L.
Hoyle, L.
Hughes, L.
Hughes of Woodside, L.
Hunt of Kings Heath, L.
Irvine of Lairg, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Islwyn, L.
Jacobs, L.
Janner of Braunstone, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Jeger, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L.
Kennedy of The Shaws, B.
Kirkhill, L.
Levy, L.
Linklater of Butterstone, B.
Lockwood, B.
Lofthouse of Pontefract, L.
Longford, E.
Ludford, B.
McIntosh of Haringey, L. [Teller.]
Mackie of Benshie, L.
McNair, L.
McNally, L.
Maddock, B.
Mallalieu, B.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Mason of Barnsley, L.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Meston, L.
Milner of Leeds, L.
Monkswell, L.
Montague of Oxford, L.
Morris of Manchester, L.
Murray of Epping Forest, L.
Newby, L.
Nicol, B.
Ogmore, L.
Orme, L.
Paul, L.
Peston, L.
Pitkeathley, B.
Prys-Davies, L.
Ramsay of Cartvale, B.
Razzall, L.
Redesdale, L.
Rendell of Babergh, B.
Richard, L. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Rochester, L.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Russell, E.
Serota, B.
Sewel, L.
Shannon, E.
Shepherd, L.
Shore of Stepney, L.
Simon, V.
Simon of Highbury, L.
Simpson of Dunkeld, L.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Stone of Blackheath, L.
Strabolgi, L.
Symons of Vernham Dean, B.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Thomas of Gresford, L.
Thomas of Macclesfield, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Thomson of Monifieth, L.
Thurso, V.
Tope, L.
Tordoff, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Varley, L.
Walker of Doncaster, L.
Wallace of Coslany, L.
Wallace of Saltaire, L.
Walpole, L.
Watson of Invergowrie, L.
Whitty, L.
Williams of Crosby, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L.
Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Young of Old Scone, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

23 Jun 1998 : Column 168

5.47 p.m.



Clause 19, page 14, leave out lines 31 to 49.



That this House do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 64 but propose the following amendment in lieu--


Page 14, line 31, leave out subsections (6) and (7) and insert--

("( ) Regulations under this section shall ensure that any arrangements for the payment of grant in respect of tuition fees for the fourth or any subsequent year of study at a higher education institution in England or Wales apply equally to a student whose parental home or normal place of residence

23 Jun 1998 : Column 169

for purposes other than attendance at that institution is in Scotland or Northern Ireland as they do to a student whose parental home or normal place of residence for purposes other than attendance at that institution is in England or Wales.").

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish rose to move, That the House do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 64, but do propose Amendment No. 64D in lieu thereof.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in speaking to Amendment No. 64D I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 123A standing in my name and Amendments Nos. 123B and 123C which stand in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth.

Here we return to the question of English, Welsh and Northern Ireland students at Scottish universities. Your Lordships will recall that in Scotland the honours degree in both the arts and the sciences lasts for four years, whereas in England the degree lasts for three years. Therefore, when the Government decided, quite surprisingly, to impose tuition fees, the position became that Scottish students would pay £4,000 for their honours course whereas English, Welsh and Northern Ireland students would pay only £3,000 at their universities. That was obviously unfair. It was also an interesting contrast to the remarks made by Tony Blair in the Evening Standard in March 1997 before the election when he said that Labour had no plans to introduce tuition fees. Never mind. I suppose we can leave that aside. We have rewritten history in that regard. The idea was certainly not to introduce tuition fees in a way that was discriminatory against Scottish students and Scottish universities.

The Scottish Office quickly realised that there was something wrong. Its policy changed to a position whereby the fourth year of a Scottish honours degree would not be charged and, therefore, Scottish students would pay only £3,000 like their fellow students going to universities in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the good sense of the Scottish Office did not seem to transmit itself to the Department for Education in the South and to the Northern Ireland Office, which insisted that students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland attending a Scottish university should pay £4,000.

It is that discrimination that we are examining. It is discrimination against the Scottish universities and their traditional four-year honours degree. It is also discrimination against youngsters from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, many of whom wish to attend Scottish universities. Clearly, that flow from England, Wales and Northern Ireland is important for Scottish universities, and is more important for some than for others. For example, Dundee, St. Andrews and Edinburgh have a higher proportion of students from the three other parts of this still united kingdom than other universities, including my old university in Glasgow. So it is a particular problem for some of the universities, and a problem in part for all of them. It is therefore a Scottish problem, but it is also an English, Welsh and Northern Irish problem.

23 Jun 1998 : Column 170

That is why I am disappointed that, yet again, the Government have fielded the Scottish Office Minister, when the Scottish Office has in fact solved the problem, realised the injustice and done something about Scottish students who would be asked to pay £4,000 as opposed to £3,000 elsewhere. I am sorry that once again it is the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, who has to take the brunt of these arguments. The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has once again ducked out of the argument altogether.

When the Bill came before this House it contained that iniquity. Noble Lords agreed with me and amended the Bill to be sent back to the House of Commons. Our amendment was removed in Committee in the other place. We shall no doubt be told that we should not undo what the House of Commons has done.

However, I have in front of me an interesting letter from Mr. David Bleiman of the Association of University Teachers. He tells me:

    "Although in general it may be said that the House of Commons has greater democratic legitimacy than the Lords"--
but we never tire of hearing that from the Government--

    "on this occasion there was not a single Scottish MP on the Standing Committee".
The Government did not put one single Scottish Member of Parliament on the Standing Committee. That is quite hard to do, considering the number of Labour MPs in the other place from my country. But the Government managed to do it.

At Report stage an attempt was made to insert a new clause into the Bill to do what I am now asking your Lordships to do. When the vote was called in the other place, there was a significant number of Scottish Labour MPs who suddenly had things to do other than vote. I noted that the names of Mr. Dennis Canavan, Mr. Michael Connarty, Mr. McAllion, and even Mr. Jim Murphy, a former president of the NUS, were absent from the Division List. It is interesting that retribution has been visited on poor Mr. Canavan, who had the temerity to speak. He is not even being allowed on to the list of those who have a chance of going to the Scottish parliament, such is the control opposite.

When we discussed these matters previously at one Question Time, when I managed slightly to sidestep a question on another subject and move it into this field, the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, argued that students outside Scotland could enter at the second year because there were differences between Scotland and the rest of the kingdom in the way school education was conducted.

In fact, not many students do enter at the second year. I have the statistics before me. They were given last year in a Parliamentary Answer. The figures are 6 per cent. from England; 7 per cent. from Wales; and 7 per cent. from Northern Ireland. This year there has been an increase. I almost said a considerable number, but the percentage has just about doubled. The vast majority of students from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland still enter at the first year.

There is a total misunderstanding--and I am surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, subscribes to it--that somehow or other as long as someone has some A-levels, he or she can enter university at the second

23 Jun 1998 : Column 171

year. It is simply not true. It may be true in a very limited number of cases if someone's A-levels are extremely good; but it is certainly not true in the generality of cases.

My noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour, who is unfortunately not able to be present, has done a lot of work for the Scottish universities. I am indebted to her for a letter that we have received from the Association of University Teachers. In answering the question that will no doubt be put to the House later by the Minister regarding entry at the second year, I can do no better than read out some of the contents of the letter about the whole issue of Scottish student fees. It refers to,

    "the Scottish Minister of State for Education's recent intervention stating that more 'A' level students should apply for, and gain access to, the second year in Scottish institutions",
which was echoed by the Minister last time round, and will no doubt be echoed again. The letter continues:

    "The number of students who presently enter directly into the second year is only 8% for all nationalities. Even at this manageable level, there is anecdotal evidence from our members and student associations that many students find the transition too difficult and either drop down into the first year or have to retake the second year".
Indeed, just a few hours ago I spoke to a young student from Heriot-Watt university. He said that the view in the student association there was that roughly half of the students entering in the second year fall back within a few weeks of the start of the session and restart the first year. He tells me that that is the position; and it is the position referred to by the Association of University Teachers.

There was one time when a word from the Association of University Teachers meant that the Labour Party simply did what it was told. The world has changed significantly. I even find them on my side, so it has changed quite a lot. Frankly, the letter makes compelling reading.

Even more compelling is the simple fact that the Minister will be unable to give the House any statistics in relation to the outcomes for those students who enter at the second year--how many drop back to the first, how many achieve a poorer degree than they ought to, or how many drop out of university altogether. That information is simply not held.

The Association of University Teachers goes on to say:

    "This line of policy threatens the very existence of the Scottish four-year honours degree as Scots with 'A' levels, and in the future advanced highers, will wish to have the same treatment as English students".
The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, said previously that most Scottish students go to university at the age of 17 because they do only five years at school. That is simply not true. Although it was 20 years ago, I speak as someone who taught in a Scottish school. The great majority, indeed almost all, of our students who went to university did a sixth year at school. So the idea that they were fifth-year students and 17 year-olds is not completely true. By the end of their sixth year some students are still just 17. Some Scottish Office statistics pointed out to me by the AUT indicate that only 7.4 per cent. of higher education students were 17 on 31st December 1995, when the survey was taken.

23 Jun 1998 : Column 172

Interestingly, the association goes on to point out that,

    "the number and proportion of direct second year entrants has decreased over the last three years, hence this politically enforced increase",
which is the Government's intention,

    "would buck the academic trend and require institutions to radically rethink their admissions policy. It also raises a purely academic problem in that degree courses will have students with differing academic backgrounds in the first 3 years of honours programmes where traditionally the first year has been used to harmonise the academic standards of the students. This may well increase the workloads incurred by a minority of students".

There is more to it than that. For many degrees the students will not have comparable A-levels. Let us say that a student is good at languages, has A-levels in the traditional languages taught in an English school and decides to go to university in Scotland to study Russian. He will have to start at year one. If he goes to study engineering at, for example, Strathclyde or Heriot-Watt university, he will have to start at year one. He will not have done the width of courses at A-level that are necessary to skip that first year.

The same is true of students who decide that they would like to study, say, geology, not having done it at school. They will have to start at year one. I could go on and mention a range of subjects for which there will be no option but to start at year one. The only people who will have any degree of certainty of being able to start in year two will be those with very good A-levels, not just ordinary, run-of-the-mill A-levels.

Your Lordships will be interested to hear about the cost of the change I propose. As the National Union of Students said in a letter from Andrew Pakes, the national president elect:

    "The amount of money involved is negligible and it is hard to understand how the Government has allowed this situation to develop".

In England it would cost £1.5 million to do the sensible thing that the Scottish Office has done; in Wales it would cost £45,000; and in Northern Ireland, because of the large number of Northern Irish students who go to Scottish universities, it would cost £550,000. We are talking about a couple of million pounds in order to right a great wrong which I believe the Government are doing to students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland who choose to go to Scottish universities.

But that is not the end of the oddities that occur. Here I quote from a letter from Richard Baker, the president elect of the National Union of Students in Scotland:

    "An added irony exists in that students who are nationals of other European Member States will be treated as Scottish domiciled purely for the purposes of the final year fee waiver and will also be excused the final year tuition fee charge. It would seem that the Government recognise that to practise such discrimination against European Union citizens studying in the UK is in breach of the Maastricht Treaty, and would constitute racial discrimination. Although European law does not protect UK citizens under these circumstances this discrimination is wholly unjustifiable".

Your Lordships will remember that I told you about the exchange with Mr. Brian Wilson on the "World at One" programme. The "World at One" presenter said to Mr. Brian Wilson: "So the youngster from France going to Scotland will pay £3,000; a youngster from England will pay £4,000. Why is that?" "Ah", said Brian Wilson,

23 Jun 1998 : Column 173

"France is in the European Union", to which the interviewer said, "Isn't England?" I thought that that said it all. As the NUS letter concludes,

    "It remains absurd that students from Birmingham and Belfast should be expected to pay £1000 more for that choice than students from Munich or Motherwell".

I hate to bring this to your Lordships' attention, but I have two grandchildren. I would not like to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Sewel! One lives in Kent, and her parents pay their taxes to the UK. The other lives in Italy, and her parents pay their taxes to the Italian government. In the fullness of time, if they decide to follow their parents and grandparents to Glasgow University, the one in Italy will be charged £3,000 for tuition fees; the one in Kent, in the United Kingdom--the same country, supposedly--will be charged £4,000. That is simply not fair.

There is a combination of people who think that that is not fair. The Association of University Teachers and the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals of the Universities of the United Kingdom think that it is totally unfair; the Liberal Democrats think that it is totally unfair; my noble friends think that it is totally unfair; I trust that many members on the Cross-Benches think that it is totally unfair; and I suspect that not a few members on the Government Back-Benches think that it is pretty unfair as well.

I invite your Lordships to join me today in asking the Commons to think again on this issue and to give it serious consideration. Two million pounds is not a lot of money to sort out an internal anomaly in the United Kingdom and an anomaly as far as the European Union is concerned.

Moved, That this House do disagree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 64, but do propose Amendment No. 64D in lieu thereof.--(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

6 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): My Lords, it may be for the convenience of the House if I say a few words about the grouping of the amendments now before us. The noble Lords, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and Lord Thomson of Monifieth, have rightly grouped their amendments for the convenience of the House so that the issues raised can be discussed in a single debate. The amendments proposed to Clause 25 appear, however, to be alternative ways of making a similar point. The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, proposes to disagree with the Commons amendment, while the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, offers an amendment in lieu.

I should indicate to the House that, should the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, press his Motion No. 64C to a vote and win, we on these Benches will accept that decision as binding on Amendment No. 64D and on Motion No. 123A, both of which also stand in the name of the noble Lord. If the noble Lord's Motion No. 64C is carried, I shall therefore accept Amendment No. 64D and Motion No. 123A without a further vote.

23 Jun 1998 : Column 174

The Government believe, however, that the House should have an opportunity to form a separate view on the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, given that this provides an alternative approach to the same question. Accordingly, if the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, chooses to move his Motion No. 123B when it is called at its place in the Marshalled List, the Government will oppose that Motion, although I hope that the House will, having already debated the issues in the grouping now before it, proceed swiftly to a Division if the noble Lord presses his Motion at that point.

I hope that this clarification will allow the House to proceed to an orderly debate on these questions. I shall, of course, seek the leave of the House to speak again at the end of the debate and will save my substantive remarks until then.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page