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Lord Monkswell: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that those of us who ask Questions--here I declare an interest as one who asks a number of Written Questions--have a certain responsibility in judging such Questions so as not to produce such voluminous responses as are required to be placed in the Library?
Lord Henley: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that some Answers he has given have referred noble Lords to sites on the world wide web and that for some noble Lords who do not have access to computers that can make for difficulty? Will he guarantee that in future all Answers he gives to noble Lords are available through Hansard whether the Editor wishes it or not?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, it is good that attempts are made to make White Papers more interesting to the public. More effort should be made to encourage people to read government documents so that they see what the Government are doing. Therefore I do not agree with my noble friend.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, continuing the theme of cost, is the Minister aware that in relation to numerous Written Questions I have asked of the Minister of Agriculture, I have had to repeat those Questions because I have not been given a proper Answer? Will the noble and learned Lord contact his colleagues in that office and ask how much it costs to answer my Questions perhaps two or three times before I receive a proper Answer?
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, whenever the subject of Written Questions is raised, everyone stands up and complains about specific Questions. I am not in a position to respond to the inquiry about the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Obviously it is better that Questions are answered first time round. If they are not, it will cost more money. However, rather than putting such a question to me, the noble Countess would be better off contacting the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I was concerned by the noble and learned Lord's original Answer when he said that it was up to Hansard to decide whether a Written Question was published in the Official Report or whether it should go into the Library of the House and that it was not the Government's responsibility. Will the Minister consider the point again? It is surely the Government's responsibility to decide how information is given to the public.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): My Lords, the policy on tuition fees announced in July 1997 remains throughout the United Kingdom. It was designed to ensure that only those who could afford to do so would contribute. It is estimated that no more than 30 per cent of students will be required to pay the full amount.
Baroness Young: My Lords, I thank the Minister for the first part of his Answer, which was quite standard and anybody who has followed this matter expected that to be his reply. However, I am sure that the noble Lord values the great fruits that have come from devolution and the second part of his response is more important. It raises a serious issue as to whether or not tuition fees will be introduced at Scottish universities. Will the Minister indicate on behalf of the Government how they view such a situation? Does he recognise that it will have a serious effect on the staff and courses at universities throughout the United Kingdom, quite apart from the effect that it will have on students and their parents? We have a right to expect the Government to have thought through this policy and to tell us who will be paying for it.
Lord Sewel: My Lords, as I indicated in my initial reply, education--including the whole business of higher education expenditure and student finance--is a devolved matter. It is therefore open to the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive to develop policies that they believe suitable in all the circumstances.
Earl Russell: My Lords, perhaps I in turn may thank the Minister for the second part of his initial Answer. Is he aware that after 1st July we will have to consider how far Questions such as this will be in order? Does he know whose responsibility it will be to decide that matter? If not, will he make it his business to find out?
Lord Sewel: My Lords, I have had enough difficulty coming up with an answer to this question, let alone finding an answer to the second supplementary. However, the noble Earl is quite right. There is an issue at hand on how matters relating to Scotland will be addressed in this House. I am sure that other minds are bending to that matter as we speak.
Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, will my noble friend pass on to those who will be responsible next year for fees and payments in Scottish universities that on several occasions over the past two years this House has expressed its disgust at the odious act of discrimination which is now the practice under which Scottish and European Union students are exempted from certain fees, whereas English, Welsh and Northern Ireland
Lord Sewel: My Lords, it is absolutely right and proper that a Scottish Parliament and a Scottish Executive should deal with the issue of tuition fees for Scottish universities and for Scottish domiciled students. That is rightly a matter for that Parliament and I do not intend to interfere.
Lord Lang of Monkton: My Lords, is it part of the new politics of consensus, compromise and coalition that the least popular party in the new Scottish Parliament should make non-negotiable demands on that Parliament and that the major party in the Scottish Parliament should take its orders from Whitehall? What are the implications for England if the Scottish Parliament decides to use the powers given to it by this Government to ignore the instructions of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Education and abolishes tuition fees in Scotland? Is it part of the new politics that the Parliament of Scotland and the Assembly in Wales, whether in relation to tuition fees or beef on the bone, should dictate policy to Westminster?
Lord Sewel: My Lords, perhaps we could organise special needs classes. The point is that, on an issue affecting education and higher education, there is clearly an English and a Scottish interest. When this House was discussing the Scotland Bill there was not a single dissenting voice either in Committee or on Report saying that any aspect of higher education in Scotland should somehow be reserved. We must accept that, having given responsibility for that area of policy to the Scottish Parliament, it will proceed in what it considers to be an appropriate and responsible way. It is not a matter of a Scottish Parliament or a Welsh Assembly dictating to anybody.
Lord Tope: My Lords, I am sure the whole House will join me in my pleasure in the news we have just received that my noble friend Lord Steel of Aikwood has just been elected as Presiding Officer in the Scottish Parliament.
The Minister confirmed rightly that the question of who pays the students' tuition fees in Scotland is entirely a matter for the Scottish Parliament and I hope he will confirm that his colleagues, like my colleagues, are free to make their own decisions in that Parliament. Does he agree with me that the unfairness that might result from that could be much more easily resolved if this Parliament were to abolish tuition fees in the rest of the United Kingdom?
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