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Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of Scotland Bill – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 2nd February 2012.

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Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland) 3:15 pm, 2nd February 2012

I have not been long in your Lordships' House, but I have learnt to be wary of the noble Lord's simple questions. It is a pretty straightforward question and, when we were sharing responsibility with the people of Scotland for the devolution settlement, it was certainly never envisaged that this discrimination against young people in relation to higher education would be a consequence. I do not think anybody imagined that. In fact, I suspect that had the issue of internal discrimination in the United Kingdom been raised, we would have set our face against it in the original Act.

However, the politics of Scotland have moved on and, as the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, and my noble friend Lord Foulkes spelt out very clearly, decisions have been made about student fees and the way in which we support higher education, and they have had consequences. One of them has been a significant potential financial disadvantage to Scottish universities, which could have untold detrimental consequences in the longer term for their ability to hold on to the best of their staff or to provide the level of education that they pride themselves on having provided, in some cases over centuries. That was an issue that had to be addressed and those who have looked at the way in which this discrimination has come about and how it was debated in the Scottish Parliament will know what the issues about funding are. It may be possible to address them in other ways but I do not know the detail of that. I am not supporting the way in which they have been addressed here. It is right that we should debate them but I am not entirely certain that this is the right way to do it.

That brings me to the noble Lord's amendment, which is complementary to my noble friend's amendment but is much wider because it seeks to establish a principle that is not related to a particular area of policy. Instinctively, I support that idea. However, as the noble Lord spoke to his amendment I was trying to think of another area of activity where this discrimination has surfaced. The only place I could see it had previously surfaced in my experience in Scotland was in relation to my own profession, the legal profession, and the rights of audience.

It is so long since I practised law in Scotland that I am not entirely sure of the current position. But I remember that, when I did practise there, there was discrimination about the recognition of the qualifications which I held and the rights of audience that I had both north and south of the border. I was conscious that we lived within an EU framework where those qualifications and rights of audience should be respected throughout. I know that that situation persisted for some time-I am not sure what it presently is-on these islands.

However, I have to say that it was not just the Scots who were responsible for this situation. All the individual jurisdictions of these islands practised discrimination in that area in recognition of those professional qualifications in the legal profession. This discrimination, in principle, predates devolution. It persisted through devolution and was practised, to my knowledge, not just by Scots against others but against Scots legal professionals for a period of time. It may not have continued and I am not entirely sure of the position.