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[Amendment No. 123HC, as an amendment to Amendment No. 123HB, not moved.]

4 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 123HB, Amendment No. 123HD:



In subsection (6), leave out ("may") and insert ("shall")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 123HD I want also to respond to the major points made by the noble Baroness and the amendment that she moved. As there was going to be such a major change in the Government's position it might have been for everyone's convenience if this matter had been held over until tomorrow. We have not spent a very edifying hour since 20 minutes to three when the proposed Motion appeared in our hands. However, one must look on this as a little bit of progress and that, after all these months, somebody somewhere is doing some listening--perhaps not quite enough but at least some.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, on being a little closer to the Government than I am, despite the fact that I have been leading on this issue for many months. However, I can understand why the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, had his amendment taken over and re-worked by the Government. It would

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be churlish of me to do other than congratulate the noble Lord on being with me in this successful operation--not completely successful, but nearly.

I welcome the noble Baroness to the Dispatch Box. On every occasion that we debated this matter-- I believe this is the seventh time on the Bill itself and the Commons reasons--it has been the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, who has had to come to the Dispatch Box and defend what we considered to be indefensible. I am not sure what one reads into that. Does the noble Baroness come as the gods bearing gifts? In that case, I am not sure whether or not she supplanted the noble Lord, Lord Sewel. I am not sure that it is not a little unfair to the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, who has been beaten about the head for weeks now in relation to this issue, that he cannot come with at least a small olive branch to your Lordships' House.

I am not surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, has not done that because I received a letter, as did many other noble Lords, from no less an organisation than the University of Aberdeen, in which the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, was a distinguished academic. That letter makes it absolutely clear that it would be,

    "absolutely unfair to choose courses or universities dependent on where people live in the United Kingdom. We consider the issue to be one of equality and the Government's failure to recognise this is angering and worrying students across the United Kingdom".

I do not know whether Claire MacBride was an ex-pupil of the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, but clearly she has not been convinced by his argument.

The noble Baroness made a half-hearted attempt-- I do not blame her for that--to defend the Government's position over those many months. She attempted to revisit the question that Scottish education is somehow different and that Highers courses last a year. However, she moved away a little from that and conceded that most students in Scottish schools spend two years after 16 in education and therefore the reality is that they are in exactly the same position when they go to university as students from elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

I do not want to lecture your Lordships on Scottish education, but the fact is that one needs a fair clutch of Highers in order to achieve university admission. The cleverest youngsters achieve them by the end of their fifth year--I grant that--but the great majority of youngsters go to university after the sixth year. It is worth saying that more youngsters go to university from schools in Scotland than in England. The Scottish education system therefore has something to say to the rest of the country in that regard.

Most youngsters need two years to take one of the Highers in order to reach the necessary standards. Therefore, many youngsters need the two years in secondary school after 16 in order to achieve the entrance qualifications. As I said, and as the honourable Member Dennis Canavan, who was also a principal teacher in mathematics, as I was, said to the other place, most youngsters, even the cleverest ones, stayed on for an extra year when they did the sixth year of studies when he and I were teaching.

The idea that somehow Scottish youngsters went off to university at the end of the fifth year is simply not true. In recommendation 81--I say this as charitably as

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I can--the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, got it wrong, or the Government did not read it properly. They should only have used the argument for those few youngsters who went immediately after the fifth year. There is, therefore, a difference in Scottish education and I am glad to hear the noble Baroness accept that this afternoon. Indeed, that is a great deal more charitable to Scottish education than our right honourable friend David Blunkett was last night, when my most un-Scottish nationalist hackles were raised by the way he suggested that Scottish students need another year at university to make up for their school education. As I say, considering we send more youngsters to university than they do south of the Border, we do not need to take lectures in that regard.

The noble Baroness also talked about the anomaly that English students who take four-year courses--they are in the minority--might expect their fourth-year fees to be paid. But that is not the anomaly. As I explained, the anomaly is this. In the same queue in Scottish universities in their fourth year will be youngsters from Scotland who are only paying £3,000 and not paying at all for the fourth year; there will be youngsters from European Union countries--dare I mention Italy?--who will not be paying at all for the fourth year, and there will be youngsters from England, Wales and Northern Ireland who will pay £1,000 for the fourth year. That is at the centre of the inequity.

If we look to an English university, there will be no anomaly in the queue. All the youngsters in the queue will be paying for the fourth year, if that is the queue they are in, wherever they come from. I am amazed that the Government have not been able to understand the huge difference between the Scottish and the English positions. However, they are beginning to show some understanding.

I notice that neither here nor yesterday in the Commons was much made of the anomaly of the European Union students, except that they were dismissed as just a few. I know it is hard for new Labour to understand, but principles do not involve the number of people affected by something; they are actually principles. If we consider Ireland, about which we are all worried at the present time, it is indefensible that a youngster going to the university of Abertay--which is 14 per cent. down on its applications this year--coming from Limerick will only be asked to pay for three years, but a youngster coming from Limavady will be asked to pay for four years. That does not send out the right picture and I was not surprised therefore that the noble Baroness made no attempt to defend that.

I turn now to my amendment. I am happy to hear from the noble Baroness that this will be an independent review; I am glad about that. I hope it is undertaken by somebody who knows about Scottish education and the British education system and will be aware of what is happening. I understand the Northern Ireland point; I thought that was it and I am grateful to her for spelling it out from the Dispatch Box. When it comes to,

    "such other bodies as he considers appropriate",

I take it that that means bodies and persons. It is not just bodies; it is persons as well so that individuals can give evidence. I will be grateful if I can have that assurance.

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I wonder also whether, when the Scottish parliament is set up as it will be next May, I am right in thinking that the question of university fees will become a matter for that Scottish parliament and that the Scottish parliament will be able to revisit this issue and decide what it wants to do. In the manifesto which my party shall write for the Scottish parliamentary elections, whatever the outcome of this review, we will pledge to deal with this anomaly and find the £2 million.

However, accepting the independent review, accepting the evidence, the information I have indicates that bodies such as the Scottish Higher Education Principals, the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, the National Union of Students, the Association of University Teachers, all the teacher unions, I suspect, in Scotland, the Education Institute for Scotland and other unions, will all come and present overwhelming evidence along the lines of the speeches that I have made to your Lordships over the past few months. The only people coming forward with a contrary view will be those who give evidence for Her Majesty's Government. If the body is independent it will conclude that something should be done and that the fourth-year anomaly should not exist.

It is not that I distrust government ministers but I know a lot about them. I have had experience of them. I can see that if I get a report from the commission saying, "Yes, it is an anomaly. We do not believe that you should charge fourth-year fees to students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We think you should sort it out", the Government will say, "Very kind. Thank you for your advice. We will not sort it out because the Bill just says 'may.'" That is why I am putting in "shall". If the Government have confidence in the case that they can present to the independent committee and believe that they can persuade all these bodies to change their current view and come forward with evidence to say that there is no problem, then they should be confident enough to accept my amendment and incorporate "shall".

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