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Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of Scotland Bill – in the House of Lords at 3:30 pm on 2nd February 2012.

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Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland) 3:30 pm, 2nd February 2012

The noble Lord raises a point of principle. My point was that, to my knowledge, there was one other offence to that principle. Others may know of others. I do not know whether that situation persists because I am not up to date enough. I know that there was a period of time when advocates from the European Union had a right of audience in Scottish Courts as a consequence of their own domestic qualification, whereas, as I remember it, that did not apply to English advocates and vice versa. Indeed, I have many friends in the legal profession who qualified again, as it were, in England in order to be able to appear before English courts. But if that no longer persists, this area in relation to student fees is the sole area of discrimination that I can drag up from my own experience. Whether in those circumstances it is right to deal with this with some amendment of principle, I would have to consider. If the only issue relates to student fees, perhaps there is another way to address that apparent inequity and it should be thought through.

Going back to my noble friend's amendment, I wish to make a point which has already been alluded to; namely, the real inequity of this current discrimination of regime is that these decisions are beginning to affect the kind of students we get in Scotland from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The continuation of our union, which I support, depends substantially on our young people interacting. The differentials in the cost of education weigh heavily in decisions that our young people are taking about where they wish to be educated, as we have heard from those who are fathers or grandfathers of young people who have made those sorts of decisions. We are in danger of creating a Scotland in which our indigenous Scots student population will only meet the children of rich English, Northern Irish and Welsh families. At the same time, less well off children in other parts of the United Kingdom will be denied the benefit of a Scots university education. I do not think that can be right. The question that faces this Committee is the best way to address it.

I am pleased to say that on this occasion I do not speak for the Government. I am glad to have been able to make a short contribution to the debate. It has been enhanced by what we have heard from the noble Lords, Lord Sutherland, Lord MacGregor, Lord Maclennan and Lord Sanderson, and my noble friend Lord O'Neill. I do not think that the noble and learned Lord can be in any doubt about the mood of the Committee on allowing the scope for discrimination to persist in the framework of the Scotland Act. I will listen carefully to what he has to say and I am certain that we will find a way of returning to this issue on Report once we have had a chance to take in his response.