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Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)

Part of Scotland Bill – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 2nd February 2012.

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Photo of Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Labour 4:00 pm, 2nd February 2012

I will deal with that very point. I started by saying very much what the Minister has said in his last few words. I am very aware of that sensitivity. I will come back to this in a few minutes, but I am really grateful to the Minister for agreeing to take this away and reflect on it. When he expresses the view to his colleagues, I hope he will make it clear that this is an all-party, Cross-Bench, overwhelming, united, passionate and powerful message from the House of Lords. We have had people from all the parties, with lots of graduates from Scottish universities and other universities, all powerfully talking in one direction. That is a message to get over: we may be non-elected, but some of us have been elected in other places for long periods and have a lot of experience. I hope that message will get through.

I will make two points before I come to my last general point. First, on unintended consequences that arise, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said this was a question of domicile, not nationality, which is absolutely right. Let me tell the Committee of one of the unintended consequences. Early last year, a Tory Peer-I will not name him-told me that he already knows of relatively well-off people who are buying up flats in Edinburgh to establish domicile there, so that they will not have to pay fees. That is the kind of thing that happens-and no, it was not the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, saying that. Just as others have said, those who are relatively well off might pay the fees while others can get what I might call a domicile of convenience, so as to not pay them. They will eventually sell the flat, or whatever, and manage to reap some profit on that.

My second point is on what the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, and, again, the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said about the Barnett formula. There is an amendment tabled for later in this Committee from my noble friend Lord Barnett himself-I call him Lord Formula-to have this revised. He has wanted that done for some time. We know that, per capita, it is exceptionally generous to Scotland. That is why the Scottish Government and the Scottish Parliament have been able not just to keep free higher education but free prescriptions and free personal care as well, all of which is building up tremendous resentment south of the border. There is a feeling here that the taxpayers south of the border are paying for all those better services. We heard that expressed in a previous debate in this House by Members from England, and it is a very strongly held feeling.

I urge the Minister to think about the consequences. There is of course another way of dealing with this, which is how Mike Russell, the Education Minister in Scotland, wants to deal with it. He wants to end the anomaly by stopping allowing European students in for free. He wants to go to Commissioner Vassiliou and say, "Let's have this changed so that we don't have this obligation". I do not think he will succeed in that-I think it will be impossible for him to succeed in that-but let us think of what he is trying to do. He is trying to make it financially difficult not just for English, Welsh and Northern Irish students but for European students to come to Scottish universities. My noble friend Lord O'Neill spoke about the Caledonian closet. Can your Lordships imagine Scottish universities reverting to what they were centuries ago when Glasgow, for example, had just students from around the Glasgow area? They would become narrow, introverted and isolationist universities and not in the old tradition of Scottish universities. I hope that we will not move in that direction.

The Minister was genuinely helpful and I hope that he will take it away, as he said, and discuss it. I listened very carefully to my noble friend Lord Browne. I think that he supported me in principle and that he will take it away to look at in more detail. I will help him in that task. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, asked the Minister to talk to the Prime Minister about it. Can I add the Deputy Prime Minister, just to make sure that it is all squared with both parts of the coalition? Will the Minister also talk to the Scottish Government about it and say that there is a strength of feeling, there are anomalies and there may be other ways around it? Will he ask them to consider the options for ending an unfair and discriminatory arrangement? We have some time until Report stage to do that. We are not going to finish this Committee stage until late in March so we will probably not get to Report until April.

I hope that the Minister will go away and talk sincerely to them. I know that he is busy with other things, but I hope that he can take some time out to talk to people about this anomaly, which clearly upsets so many people, not just in this Chamber but, far more importantly, outside it, and try to find a fair and equitable solution. On that basis, I shall withdraw the amendment.