Peers are on a possible collision course with the government after MPs overturned their amendment on fourth-year tuition fees in Scotland.
Following a boisterous three-hour debate, MPs voted on two motions, both seeking to overturn the Lords amendments on the Scottish anomaly, by 3 to 183 and by 325 to 185. The Lords amendment sought equal treatment for English, Welsh and Northern Irish students attending Scottish universities.
The amendment now returns to the House of Lords for consideration. Peers could reject the government amendment again, although opposition parties are yet to decide which course to take.
The government, which wants to charge English, Welsh and Northern Irish students for an extra year's tuition, while exempting Scots and other Europeans, admitted that it would cost just Pounds 2 million to end the so-called anomaly.
But Scottish Office minister Brian Wilson said that the Lords' amendment sought to exempt all students throughout the UK from fourth-year tuition charges. "That would cost Pounds million and that would be Pounds million that would not be going into higher education," he said.
Phil Willis, the Liberal Democrat education spokesman, asked Mr Wilson where the Pounds million figure came from since the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals had said that the cost was nearer Pounds 12 million and that many of those students would not be paying the full Pounds 1,000 means-tested fee.
Shadow education secretary David Willetts said the government was merely "piling distortion upon distortion." He warned that the Scottish fees policy would result in discrimination cases being brought to the European courts.