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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 Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative 4:00 pm, 2nd February 2012

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response to the debate which was very generous, giving what a beating he was subject to during it. I always used to say of my late learned friend Nicky Fairbairn that if I were on a murder charge I would have him defend me. In the absence of Nicky, given that my noble and learned friend made a good job of a pretty limited set of arguments, that accolade may fall to him. We do not need to think about the future to see what is going to happen in the future. Only this week the UCAS figures were published. They show, surprise surprise, that more Scottish and European students, but fewer English students, are going to Scottish universities.

I feel a bit alarmed by the interests that were declared by my noble friends Lord MacGregor, a former Secretary of State for Education, and Lord Sanderson. I suppose I ought to declare a grandson, whom I am taking to the rugby on Saturday.; he will be supporting England and I will be supporting Scotland. He is only 13, but I would not like to think that his choice of university should be in any way limited by where he lives in the United Kingdom.

I do not normally disagree with my noble friend Lord Flight, but he has made some remarks about Irish universities. I ought to declare another interest: my youngest daughter went to Trinity College, Dublin. When she decided to go there, I thought that it would cost me an arm and a leg but it was free because there are no fees in Ireland. The consequence of that has been that a number of English students go to Trinity College, Dublin, but the university limits the number that it will accept and the result is that now you need to get four As, I think, in order to be able to go there. A distortion is being created not just in residency or wealth but also in the ability of the students. Only very able students from Europe are able to get into these universities.

I do not know whether or not it is legal to have a quota, but it is a remarkable argument. "Independence in Europe" was the slogan, and the whole idea of Europe-which, I confess, has been distorted-is that it is an open, single market where you have free movement of labour. That is the attractive part of the idea. It seems to be a complete distortion to argue that we are in favour of a single market throughout Europe but not within the United Kingdom. That argument will lead to fragmentation, which is precisely why Mr Salmond and his friends support it.

I will not detain the Committee; we will return to this. However, I want to pick up a couple of points that the Minister made. It is not right that an English student wanting to go to a Scottish university will to have to pay the same fees, because in Scotland we have four-year degrees. Personally, I would be very sad to see the end of the four-year degree system, but that may also be an unintended consequence of the distortion that has been created.

The Minister, speaking from the Dispatch Box, said something which absolutely horrified me, and which I hope will not be the general policy of the Government. He said that it would not be appropriate for him to comment from this Dispatch Box on the policies of the Scottish Government. Excuse me-this is part of the United Kingdom. The devolution Bill-the Scotland Bill-gave powers to the Scottish Parliament to exercise, but the powers to legislate on these matters remain with us. It is entirely appropriate for Ministers at the Dispatch Box to comment on the policies of the Scottish Executive-not Government, Scottish Executive-particularly if they affect the people of the rest of the United Kingdom. That is the kind of principle that I would expect to hear being enunciated by Mr Salmond and the separatists. It is the duty of this House to look at the consequences of the Scottish Executive's policy and their impact not just on Scotland but on the rest of the United Kingdom. I hope that my noble friend will take this away and consider it very carefully indeed. There has not been a single speech in support of the current position. I believe that if we were to divide the Committee and people knew what they were voting for, there would be a jam in one of the Lobbies and the Minister would be searching for tellers. This matter needs to be looked at very carefully.

The noble Lord and I did not confer on this issue at all. We both tabled amendments because we are both aware of the feeling on this matter. I put down my amendment as an amendment of principle because it seems to me that the principle of devolution should be that policies which affect Scotland are made in Scotland and that the Scottish Parliament should be responsible for them, but that in so doing-this is an important principle-people in the rest of the United Kingdom should not be disadvantaged vis-à-vis other European Union citizens. If I had put down an amendment that said the Scottish Parliament should have the power to legislate in a way which discriminates against people in England, Northern Ireland and Wales but not other EU citizens, it would be laughed out of court. That appears to be the position of the Government-that they are prepared to have a status quo of that kind.

I do not see this as being something that might have unintended consequences; it seems to me to be central to the whole philosophy of devolution. I find myself in a very surprising position in having to explain the philosophy of devolution as I have not been a strong supporter of it because I thought that it would lead to exactly the difficulties which we are now encountering. However, that is water under the bridge. If we are to maintain the United Kingdom, we have to make it work. Setting boundaries and a framework seems to me a more appropriate way of going forward than limiting the scope in particular areas of policy. But in whichever direction we go, we need to resolve this problem one way or the other. One way of dealing with it would be to say that the fees of those students who go from England to Scottish universities are picked up by the Department for Education and that the money is taken off the block grant to the Scottish Parliament. There is a whole range of ways of doing it. I think that would probably be the most provocative way of doing it. There are other ways of doing it but I urge my noble and learned friend and his colleagues to think carefully about the best way of doing it, perhaps as my noble friend Lord Maclennan said, in consultation with the Scottish Government. We cannot go on like this.

Amendment 22 withdrawn.

Amendments 23 and 24 not moved.

Amendment 25 had been retabled as Amendment 90A.

Amendment 26 had been retabled as Amendment 94A.

Amendment 26A

Moved by Lord Foulkes of Cumnock

26A: After Clause 14, insert the following new Clause-

"Rail passenger services

(1) In Part 2 of Schedule 5 to the 1998 Act, section E2 (rail transport) is amended as follows.

(2) In the exceptions insert-

"Services for the carriage of passengers by railway which start and finish in Scotland, including the power to decide who will run such services, the provisions of the Railways Act 1993 notwithstanding."

(3) In the interpretation insert-

""Services for the carriage of passengers by railway" has the meaning given by section 82 of the Railways Act 1993.""