Lords aim to return bill to Commons

June 19, 1998

PEERS are to challenge the government head-on by moving to reject Commons amendments to the Teaching and Higher Education Bill when it returns to the Lords on Tuesday. If successful this will send the bill back to the lower house for a second time.

Baroness Blatch, Conservative education spokeswoman in the Lords, said the House would challenge the government on two issues. The main target is the government's plan to charge English, Welsh and Northern Irish students for their fourth year at Scottish universities while exempting Scots and other Europeans. It has been estimated that it would cost about Pounds 2 million to exempt English, Welsh and Northern Irish students too.

A Conservative amendment to eliminate this "Scottish anomaly" was passed in the Lords, where the bill started late last year, but was removed by the Commons.

Baroness Blatch said: "The case for equal treatment of students throughout the UK is unanswerable, and there was a great deal of support for it on all sides of the House."

An amendment has already been put down by the Liberal backbencher, Lord Thomson of Monifieth, who was chancellor of Heriot-Watt University from 1977 to 1991. Baroness Blatch said: "We will certainly be adding our names to that amendment and will be happy either to back that or to seek the reinstatement of our amendment - it depends on which will attract the greater support."

The peers will also try to amend the bill to restore maintenance grants for students from low-income families. The original Lords amendment was an almost exclusively Conservative enterprise, and the Lords has traditionally been reluctant to press straight party-political disagreements.

But Baroness Blatch said: "While the abolition of maintenance grants was in the Labour manifesto, we feel that they misled students in obtaining their acquiescence before the election. Students were not told that they would all go at the same time, or that it would be in the context of introducing tuition fees."

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