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Baroness Blatch: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask one question in relation to

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what he said about the maximum of £500. I shall not go into semantics, but the noble Lord said something interesting. My understanding was that from 2000 part-time students will be given help up to a maximum of £500. The noble Lord said--and it is quite important--that it could be more. Will he confirm that?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, Ministers have not decided what the maximum will be. My brief said "at least £500". I wanted to add that if people wanted smaller loans they could have them. The maximum amount has not yet been decided. It will not be less than £500; it could be more. I commend the Motion to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Education (Student Loans) (Scotland) Regulations 1999

7.13 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 8th February be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee].

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the regulations come before your Lordships because they need to come into force before the Scottish Parliament assumes its powers so that applications can be processed and payments made at the start of the autumn term. Student support in Scotland will, of course, be a matter for the Scottish Parliament in future years.

I can be brief because the regulations cover the same ground as the loans provisions in the England and Wales regulations which we have just approved.

These regulations govern the provision of student loans to Scottish domiciled students in full-time higher education in the academic year 1999-2000. The Scottish regulations were laid in draft on 8th February and they have been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

The only significant differences between the two sets of regulations are that the Scottish ones cover only loans, and they do not spell out the administrative procedures in quite the same detail. On the first point, there are existing regulations--made under the same legislation--covering the payment of grants in Scotland which will remain in force. On the second point, the regulations reflect the fact that the administrative arrangements in Scotland are already centralised and do not involve the education authorities. In relation to the availability of loans, however, the two sets of regulations are designed to have precisely the same effect.

As in England and Wales, these regulations will apply to students who enter higher education in the academic year 1999-2000 and to those who entered during the 1998-1999 transitional year. They will not apply to students who entered higher education before 1998-99, or to those for whom special entry arrangements were made in 1998-99--principally gap-year students. Those students will continue to be subject to the previous arrangements.

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The 2½ per cent. increase in the resources being made available to all students to meet their living costs applies equally in Scotland, as does the fact that students' families will not be expected to contribute any more in real terms towards living costs than under the old grant/loan regime.

In addition to their loans, those students who qualify will continue to be eligible for supplementary allowances, in the form of grants, for dependants, disability needs and excess travel. These will be paid under the existing Scottish grants regulations.

Again, as in England and Wales, provision for the repayment of loans will be dealt with in a further set of regulations to be made later this year.

Scottish students seeking grant and/or loan support will apply to the Student Awards Agency. It will assess each student's application to determine the amount of grant and loan support to which the student is entitled. It will notify the student of the result and, at the same time, advise the Student Loans Company of the loan entitlement. The aim, as in England and Wales, is that all students will receive their first payment on the first day of term, and thereafter in termly instalments, provided applications are submitted in good time.

The new initiatives referred to in our previous debate will also apply in Scotland. Loans for those aged 50 to 54 who intend to return to employment are covered in these regulations, while the new vacation grant for those entering higher education after having been in care will be offered under the existing grant regulations. I commend the Scottish regulations to the House.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 8th February be approved [8th Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord McIntosh of Haringey.)

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation and he will be relieved that I shall not cover the same ground as that covered by my noble friend Lady Blatch. I can take a read-across when I see one.

I welcome the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh, to this little bit of Scotland. I must tell him that the chief of the clan McIntosh rejoices in the simple title of "The MacIntosh". Perhaps, I may suggest that the noble Lord should have his title changed. I know that it is MacIntosh of MacIntosh but in conversation, he is known by the shorthand form of "The MacIntosh". I believe that that would be appropriate for the noble Lord because he seems to pop up, answering for every department in government. I had hoped to have one of the two Scottish Office Ministers here but there you are. I shall not say that one "makes do" with the noble Lord because that is quite unfair to him as he always attempts to answer all the points made.

I join with my noble friend Lady Blatch in welcoming some of the points the noble Lord made, especially about disabled students, which were mentioned also by the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy.

I should like to get something clear in my own mind about fees. Looking at the two sets of regulations, one is immediately struck by the fact that there is no provision in the Scottish regulations for fees in the same

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way as there is in the regulations for England and Wales. My understanding--and I hope the Minister will confirm it--is that the issue of fees will be dealt with at the discretion of the Secretary of State for Scotland and, subsequently, the Ministers of the Scottish Executive and that the situation will be exactly parallel to that pertaining in England and Wales.

That may have been a perfectly good way for us to proceed until now, but as education will be entirely devolved, perhaps the Scottish Parliament should make its own regulations in relation to these matters rather than merely following the regulations for England and Wales which, after 1st July, will be made separately by Parliament and the new assembly.

I fully accept that we have to deal with these regulations because it is necessary to do so before 1st July. But perhaps it is a message to the new Scottish Parliament that it should consider the question of bringing out and clarifying its position in regulations and not follow the regulations for England and Wales.

One difference concerning fees--the noble Lord would be surprised if I did not say this--is that the Scottish government, in addition to fees being paid for people from poor families, which we all welcome, will also pay the fourth-year fees of all the students from Scotland taking four-year degrees. That reminds us of the great issue that English, Welsh and Northern Irish students are going to be disadvantaged compared with other students.

I always ran the argument, as your Lordships will remember, entirely on the basis of fairness; the Government argued on the basis of numbers. They said that no one would be affected and people would not stop applying. I did not think they would stop applying because obtaining a degree from a Scottish university is such a good buy. I therefore kept my argument to "fairness". The interesting point is that the most recent figures given to me by the NUS from UCAS suggest that there has been a decline in English, Welsh and Northern Irish students applying for entry to Scottish universities.

Overall in the United Kingdom there has been a decrease of 1.8 per cent. in the indications at this time of year compared with last year. In the UK as a whole it is interesting that the under-21s have gone up by 0.4 per cent., so we can give a small cheer for that. But the interesting factor is that applications from English, Welsh and Northern Irish students to Scottish universities have gone down by minus 6.5 per cent.; by 12.8 per cent. in the case of Wales; and by 4 per cent. in the case of Northern Ireland. That is actually a bigger decrease than the decrease for Scottish students applying to Scottish universities or for students applying overall in the UK.

That is therefore an interesting piece of arithmetic and I wonder how the committee is proceeding--the noble Lord probably will not be able to answer but he may well have been briefed on this--which was set up thanks to the insistence of your Lordships in our little tussle with the House of Commons on the issue. The figures are significant. I am very surprised by them, but they

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underline the problem that some people felt when they looked at the unfairness of the way with which the fees were being dealt. It was always the unfairness aspect that bothered me. It is interesting that the statistics may well show that there will be a problem.

I cannot disguise the fact that I am amazed at the way the Government have taken fees and loans to their bosom considering how they opposed them a decade or so ago when we started the concept of student loans. But so be it. There have been many U-turns along the road from the 1980s. What is interesting is that my friends in Scotland who are fighting for the Scottish Parliament make clear that such is their determination to keep alive the traditions of Scottish universities and the importance of education in Scotland that they are proposing that bursaries should be paid to all Scottish students to cover the fees at any university, whether in Scotland or any other part of the world. I am hopeful that the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party will back those moves and that in a year's time Scottish students will not be inflicted with the fees of their courses.

I do not want to go on any longer. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation. I take all the points he made to my noble friend and to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, as applying to Scotland as well. I just hope that the student loans body can meet its targets and that students are not left in the lurch for a few weeks with a great deal of worry at the beginning of term.

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