HL Deb 01 December 1998 vol 595 cc360-2

3 p.m.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas asked Her Majesty's Government:

What progress has been made with the formation of the commission to look into the effects of the decision that English, Welsh and Northern Irish students should pay £1,000 more for attending a four-year degree course in Scotland than Scottish and other European Union students.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Education and Employment, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are today announcing the membership of the Scottish Fee Support Review Committee. The chairman will be Sir George Quigley, as already announced. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, Professor Michael Hamlin and Sir Philip Jones have also agreed to serve as members. Terms of reference for the committee have been placed in the Library.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Will he say definitely whether or not a future Scottish parliament could reverse the original decision in order to place students attending the same courses in Scottish universities on the same footing?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, that issue will come under the competence of the Scottish parliament. It is hoped that the committee that is being set up will publish its report by the summer of 1999. It will then be reported to both the Westminster Parliament and the Scottish parliament.

Lord Dean of Beswick

My Lords, if the future Scottish parliament reverses that decision, does the Minister believe that it will want to pick up the bill and pay it because it is usually foisted on to us?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, it is clear that that funding, both in terms of the original concession and then in terms of the arguments of those who have said that the concession should be extended to the rest of the UK, will represent a significant financial figure which will need to be taken into account.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

My Lords, has the Minister noted the results of the European by-election in the north-east of Scotland in which his party was forced into a humiliating third place? Does he believe that the collapse of the Labour vote in the university towns of Aberdeen and Dundee might just be related to what is seen in those university towns as the total unfairness of that system, not only for the students involved but also for the Scottish universities?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, no. The fact is that according to the figures which the department holds, there has been no adverse impact on admissions to Scottish universities this year.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford

My Lords, the result of the European by-elections in the university towns of Aberdeen and Dundee was, quite frankly, a disastrous result. No one should hide from that. However, analysis has shown that the electors in Aberdeen and Dundee did not bother to vote. The turn-out in both Aberdeen and Dundee was well under 10 per cent. and there was more interest in the rectorial election at Aberdeen university than there was in a European parliamentary by-election.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for that information. I am sure that when it comes to the election of a Scottish parliament, the turn-out will be much higher. However, I doubt whether the party opposite will draw much comfort from the results.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, will the Minister please tell the House why it is that a student from Carlisle should pay more to attend a Scottish university than a student from Paris?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, we are covering old ground. Of course, the whole purpose of setting up the independent review committee is to look into those matters and to take evidence. The noble Baroness will know that the issue in relation to people coming from EU states other than the UK is covered by treaty requirements. She will know also that we are talking about a very small number of people—350 in the fourth year.

Lord Addington

My Lords, is the Minister prepared to give a guarantee that there will be no pressure to introduce an A-level or higher plus style examination which will affect the four-year degree course and drive it more towards the English model, which does not have the advantage of allowing people to study their best subject at university?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I am not aware of any pressure and I acknowledge the strength of the Scottish education system.

Lord Selkirk of Douglas

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his replies on this thorny issue. Does he accept that it is a matter of principle and an issue of fairness rather than of numbers? Is it not the case that in future, the Scottish parliament will wish to consider such issues just as much as this Parliament?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

My Lords, I am sure that the Scottish parliament will wish to consider that. I agree that it is a matter of principle. I believe that the Government have taken a principled decision; it has been the subject of much debate; and we should now allow the matter to be considered by the independent review body.