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Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of Scotland Bill – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 2nd February 2012.

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Photo of Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lord Wallace of Tankerness Lords Spokesperson (Attorney General's Office), Lords Spokesperson (Wales Office), The Advocate-General for Scotland, Lords Spokesperson (Scotland Office) 3:45 pm, 2nd February 2012

I agree and accept that, but we are perhaps kidding ourselves to think that those students in Scotland who chose to go to a university very close to home were not also taking into account financial considerations; albeit that they were fortunate to have so many universities of considerable quality on their doorsteps. If you came from the part of Scotland that I came from, nowhere was on the doorstep. I pay particular tribute to my noble friend Lord Forsyth for what he did when he was Secretary of State for Scotland in giving an impetus to the idea of the University of the Highlands and Islands, which, as my noble friend Lord Maclennan has indicated, has now come to fruition. It has taken a somewhat long time but it was worth it. I know how keen he was on it. It has made higher education available on the doorsteps of many people who otherwise would not have had that opportunity.

I never particularly like, and do not think this debate lends itself to, technical issues, but the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, is deficient in a number of ways. It reserves to the UK Parliament the power to make variations in fee levels between different parts of the United Kingdom. I am sure that it is not really quite what he was intending. I acknowledge and appreciate that my noble friend Lord Forsyth has sought to couch this in a way that is more related to an issue of principle rather than focusing on tuition fees. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, pointed out, with the possible exception of rights of audience, you would be hard pushed to actually think of any other circumstance where this principle might arise. I will clarify the position on rights of audience. I clearly recall that it certainly was the case. I know of many practising advocates now at the Scottish Bar who are also at the English Bar-and some, indeed, at the Northern Ireland Bar-as well as some solicitors trained in Scotland who now work in firms in England. It does seem easier at a practical level to go between jurisdictions than it was hitherto. The point of my noble friend's amendment is very much focused on tuition fees, which he did not attempt to disguise in speaking to his amendment.

However, one should always be aware of the law of unintended consequences. One possible consequence of his amendment is that the Scottish Government could address this by paying the tuition fees of every student from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. My noble friend says that would be fine. Obviously it could be budgeted and other things would have to give way to fund that. However, it would suddenly mean that it would be hugely cheaper for students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland to attend universities in Scotland. My noble friend says that is ridiculous, but of course that would be the consequence.