HC Deb 04 November 1997 vol 300 cc118-75
Madam Speaker

I must inform the House that, on the two motions tabled by the Opposition, I have had to limit Back-Bench speeches to 10 minutes. I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.44 pm
Mr. Stephen Dorrell (Charnwood)

I beg to move, That this House welcomes the expansion of higher education which has taken place in recent years; shares the view of the Dearing Committee that a further period of expansion is desirable; believes that part of the cost of this expansion should be met by students themselves, but agrees with the Dearing Committee that means-tested maintenance grants make an important contribution to improving access to higher education for students from low-income backgrounds and deeply regrets the Government's hurried decision to reject this advice; and finds incomprehensible the Government's proposal that students from other EU countries should be able to attend four-year courses at Scottish universities on terms more favourable than those available to home students living in England, Wales or Northern Ireland.

I am pleased that, on the first occasion when the Opposition have the opportunity to choose the subject for debate after our prolonged summer recess, my colleagues and I agreed that we should focus the attention of the House on the shambles that is the Government's higher education policy.

That subject was last discussed when the Secretary of State for Education and Employment came to the House at the end of July following the publication of the Dearing report. He came to the House within a matter of hours of the publication of that report in order to reject its key recommendations on the future of undergraduate student finance.

Dearing recommended, first, the continuation of means-tested maintenance grants in order to ease access for students from a low-income background. The Secretary of State announced that the Government were to reject that recommendation.

Secondly, Dearing recommended against the introduction of means-tested tuition fees, although the report considered it as option C. The Secretary of State came to the House of Commons to announce that, despite the Dearing report's recommendation that it be rejected, he and the Government would introduce means-tested tuition fees.

Thirdly, Dearing recommended that any income raised from students in order to finance the future growth of higher education should be ring-fenced to go into the higher education system. The Government have made it clear that that recommendation, too, is rejected.

The Secretary of State came to the House and disingenuously presented his policy as Dearing-plus. His policy was not Dearing-plus; his policy was to reject Dearing and substitute his own, or perhaps I should say the Treasury's, policy instead. His branding of that policy as Dearing-plus has fooled almost no one. I say "almost no one"; a week ago I would have said it had fooled no one, but it appears to have fooled the Prime Minister.

We saw last week, when my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister—[Interruption.] The Secretary of State is embarrassed by the Prime Minister. I am not surprised. The Prime Minister was asked why the Government had rejected the Dearing report, and his reply was nothing short of astounding. The Prime Minister said: I made it clear throughout"— by which he meant the election campaign— that we should abide by the recommendations of the Dearing committee".—[Official Report, 29 October 1997; Vol. 299, c. 892.]

I know that the Prime Minister is not a detail man, but as a statement that beggars belief. It is wrong on almost every count. It is not true that the Prime Minister made it clear throughout the election campaign that the Government intended to implement the Dearing report's recommendations. It is just as well that it is not true, because that is a policy that they will not carry out.

Last week, the Leader of the Opposition repeated to the Prime Minister his words during the election campaign, when he said: Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education. That was not, as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) might have said, a remark offered on a wet night in Dudley; it was a remark that was regularly repeated by people who are now senior Ministers.

On 24 April, not much more than a week before polling day, the right hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook), now the Foreign Secretary, said: We are quite clear that tuition costs must be met by the state. He went on to say that he was happy to predict that, if the Tories got back for a fifth term, they would start to charge students for tuition. It is a pity that he did not offer a prediction about what Labour would do if it was elected on 1 May.

Last week, the Prime Minister was wrong in his description of the Government's present policy. Furthermore, he was wrong in his recollection of what either he or his right hon. and hon. Friends said during the election campaign. That shambles at Prime Minister's Question Time last week was symptomatic of a much wider shambles that has pervaded this field of policy since the Secretary of State's rushed statement to the House in July, before the summer recess.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Government did not publish their suggestions on how loans are to be paid back until the last day of the Labour party conference? To obtain that information on the day of the conference, Labour Back Benchers had to access it through the internet. The proposal was that, as soon as people earn £10,000 they will have to pay 9 per cent. of their income towards their loan. A student who has been on a four-year course will probably be paying back the loan for 30 years.

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend is right about the timing of the publication of the details of that proposal. He is a trifle grudging in his representation of the Secretary of State's political skills. I am certain that the right hon. Gentleman was right to conceal that information from his party conference if he wanted to get the motion passed on the floor. It was a straightforward exercise in political management.

More important, my hon. Friend could have pointed out that not only was that information published at the very end of the Labour party conference, but it was denied to people whose opinions were being sought following the publication of the Secretary of State's recommendations at the end of July.

It is important to understand why this shambles arose. When he took office, the Secretary of State thought that he knew what Dearing intended to propose, and it was supposed to be relatively straightforward. All parties in the House supported the continued development of higher education. One of the aspects of our record in office of which I am most proud is the improved access to higher education between 1979 and 1997. I agree with Sir Ron Dearing and with the Secretary of State that continued development of higher education should be an objective of Government policy.

Mr. Phil Willis (Harrogate and Knaresborough)

Is the shadow Secretary of State also proud of the Tory Government's record of a 40 per cent. reduction in spending per student in higher education?

Mr. Dorrell

The most important thing is to focus on the number of people who have had the opportunities afforded by high-quality higher education. One of the findings of the Dearing review was that the expansion of higher education allowed a dramatically increased number of people to take part, and, furthermore, that they had done so without undermining the quality of the system. That is a Dearing finding with which I agree.

The Secretary of State thought that this matter would be straightforward, and that there would be support for continued development of higher education. He also recognised that the financing of that continued growth required a contribution from students. He expected the Dearing committee to recommend the end of the maintenance grant as the means by which the student contribution to the growth of higher education would be financed. He hoped to be able to present it to the House and to the world as an uncomfortable but unavoidable fact.

The right hon. Gentleman expected the support of the Dearing report for that recommendation, and what he and his right hon. and hon. Friends said during the election campaign were weasel words. They made it clear that they would not introduce tuition fees. They were not expecting to do so, as they were hoping that Dearing would let them off the hook by recommending the ending of the maintenance grant.

The problem that the Secretary of State found when he came to office and actually read the Dearing report was that the Dearing review team did not perform their part of the bargain. They looked at the subject in depth, and concluded that the superficial analysis—to which the Secretary of State is still working—was wrong. The Dearing review is very explicit on that. At paragraph 20.66, it says: In going through that process"— the process of review of the options— we"— the members of the Dearing review— all changed and developed our views: we did not end up where we started.

It is a great pity that the Secretary of State did not allow himself and his colleagues in the Government sufficient time to go through the same process. In his anxiety to get to the Floor of the House and announce a quick conclusion, the Secretary of State denied himself and his colleagues the opportunity to consider the evidence that led the Dearing team to a different conclusion from the one that they, the right hon. Gentleman and—probably—we expected when the Dearing review was established.

Mr. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey)

1 share the right hon. Gentleman's criticism of the new Government's change of position and the misleading nature of their comments before the election. Just for the record, can it be made clear whether it is Conservative party policy that students should make a contribution to their fees?

Mr. Dorrell

I have already said—I was slightly surprised by the quiet in the House as I said it—that it was not a subject of dispute between the Government and Opposition Front-Bench teams that, if we are to see the continued growth of higher education, students need to participate in the financing of that growth. The question is how. The Dearing review examined the central options, which the Government have examined, and recommended against the conclusions that the Government reached. Let us examine why the Dearing review reached the conclusion that it did.

Dearing said that he was concerned about the problem of equitable access to higher education for students from a low-income background. When the Secretary of State came to the House in July, he said that he was also concerned about that subject. It is therefore strange that he should have rejected Dearing's recommendation to continue the means-tested maintenance grant, because Dearing recommended that it be continued precisely in order to address the problems of equitable access for students from low-income backgrounds.

There are some fairly startling figures in the Dearing report. Let us consider equivalently qualified students with two A-levels prior to entering higher education. Of people taking A-levels and securing two, 77 per cent. of those from high-income backgrounds go on to higher education. The equivalent figure for students from low-income backgrounds is 47 per cent. It is a responsibility of the taxpayer, through the Government, to seek to ensure that the playing field is made as level as it can be for students from low-income backgrounds, yet the Government have set their face firmly against that Dearing recommendation and analysis.

Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

All that the right hon. Gentleman has said is quite correct. I think that Dearing was absolutely shocked to discover that, although there had been a great increase in the number of people going into higher education, the number of those from lower socio-economic groups had hardly gone up at all. Does the right hon. Gentleman therefore accept that it was a mistake for his Government to move from full maintenance grants to 50 per cent. loans?

Mr. Dorrell

The issue is not a great inquiry about what happened over the past 18 years, but what the Government are going to do now. From the point of view of the hon. Lady's question, what the Government are going to do is take the record they inherited and make it a great deal worse. The Secretary of State's proposals will make it £2,265 more expensive for a student from a low-income background to do a three-year undergraduate course in England than it was on the day that the right hon. Gentleman took office.

The hon. Lady should address her question to the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, whose proposals will make it more difficult for a student from a low-income background to finance a course of higher education than it is for a student from a middle or higher-income background.

That is the central charge against the Government. A high-income student will face a cost increase of £3,000 for a three-year course, but a low-income student will face a cost increase of £5,265. That is an extraordinary testament to the new Labour Government, and it is the central point that the Secretary of State must explain to his right hon. and hon. Friends, the student body and those who are responsible for managing the university sector, who do not share his analysis.

Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking)

The right hon. Gentleman has been on his feet for more than 15 minutes, and we have no idea what policy he would follow if he were Secretary of State for Education and Employment. Does he support the introduction of tuition fees, and does he believe that they should be means-tested?

Mr. Dorrell

I thought that I had made it clear that I do not support the Government's proposals, which are the subject of our debate today. It is an old tactic for Government Back Benchers—and the hon. Lady is a skilled exponent of it—whenever the Government are in difficulty, to ask the Opposition what they would do. This Parliament has four and a half years to run, and the hon. Lady should inquire of the Secretary of State how he will deliver the combined objectives of improved access to higher education and equitable access for students from a low-income background.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)


Mr. Willis


Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Rothwell)


Mr. Dorrell

I must move on, but I will give way later.

The need for equitable access to degree courses is not the only reason why the Dearing proposals differed from those that the Government intend to introduce. The Dearing report also envisaged a more flexible system of higher education, that responded more accurately to the demands of students.

One of the reasons for Dearing's recommendations is made explicit in paragraph 20.68: We believe that these recommendations will enable students to be more demanding of institutions". In other words, institutions should respond more directly to students whose support and custom they seek.

Dearing expected the creation of more diploma courses and more access to part-time courses, which already charge 25 per cent. of tuition costs as tuition fees. That is why Dearing made the recommendation he did on tuition fees. He wished to avoid unnecessary and perverse distortions in the development of the system and, in particular, in the development of more diploma courses and more part-time courses. The Secretary of State's proposals will impede that development.

Mr. Bercow

Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is curious that the hon. Members for Rochdale (Lorna Fitzsimons) and for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg)— both former prominent activists in the student movement and long-term opponents of tuition fees—have suddenly, and without explanation or apology, become supporters of the Government's policy? Does he agree that it is therefore significant that both hon. Members are absent from the Chamber?

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend is an old sparring partner of both hon. Members. It is significant that they have chosen not to attend today's debate to support their U-turn in person. They are too frightened of the authorities in Millbank tower to raise the voices that they have traditionally raised against the policy being advanced by the Secretary of State.

The final reason why Dearing recommended the policy is made explicit in the paragraph to which I have referred. Dearing feared that, if the student contribution was raised by the abolition of maintenance grant, the money might never reach the higher education institutions at all. The report stated: We fear that if public subsidies for maintenance are reduced, the funding released would not be redirected to higher education institutions. It is not often that an official committee has its predictions proved so triumphantly right within two months of the publication of its report. But that is precisely the policy that the Government have now made clear—or more or less clear—they are to pursue. They will raise extra money from students, but they will not provide that money to the higher education sector.

Last Friday's edition of The Times Educational Supplement published a memo circulating within the Department which confirmed that the cash raised by the £1,000-a-year tuition fees will be redirected away from higher education. The memo said: The issue is sensitive— you are telling me— because the £165 million package for 1998-99 does not allow universities to keep all the funds raised by the new £1,000 fees as extra income". The memorandum makes it crystal clear that they retain £125 million out of an estimated £150 million.

Dearing recommended a set of proposals precisely to safeguard the university system against the manoeuvre that the Secretary of State has engaged in: to raise extra money from students, and use it to finance a deficit somewhere else in public expenditure. That is the charge against the Secretary of State—not only has he undermined equitable access, but he has done so under false pretences.

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

That is not true.

Mr. Dorrell

The Secretary of State says that that is not true. Is he saying that a memorandum circulating within his Department and written by civil servants is a Tory plant? These are the figures from the memorandum. Is he denying those figures? Will he come to the Dispatch Box and say that the figures in the memorandum are wrong? Will he explain to the House what the right figures are? I would be interested to hear his comments, and I shall give way to him.

The Secretary of State stays firmly in his seat. Clearly, he recognises that his officials' memorandum is right, and that the money raised from charging students will not go into the higher education system.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

I entirely agree with the shadow Secretary of State that we need a clear statement from the Secretary of State on ring fencing. He has stated that the Conservative party's policy is clear—it is to accept Dearing in its entirety, including the £1,000 non-means-tested fees, regardless of income, for all parents. For the sake, therefore, of Tory party unity, will the right hon. Gentleman condemn the Tory party candidate in the Winchester by-election, who has just produced a leaflet which says:

Gerry Malone has thrown his weight behind Winchester's students in their campaign against the introduction of tuition fees?

Hon. Members


Mr. Dorrell

I am absolutely delighted to endorse Gerry Malone as the Conservative candidate for Winchester, and I look forward to welcoming him back to the House of Commons as the next Member of Parliament for that constituency. He is right to insist that the Government should explain to the electorate of Winchester how they will deliver the objectives set out by the policy that they have introduced.

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) is wrong to say that I have explicitly endorsed every detail of the Dearing report. The Government made a serious mistake, and I have demonstrated how they have tripped over themselves as a consequence—I have more to say on that. They were so anxious to get to this place to make an announcement that they did not read the Dearing report.

The Dearing report is a major piece of work and its recommendations should have been the subject of more serious analysis by the Secretary of State and the Government. Instead, at the end of July, we were presented with a few thoughts sketched out on the back of a couple of envelopes, and higher education policy developed on that basis during the summer. That was pretty obvious to any onlooker.

Let us consider the saga of the gap year students. Within days of the Secretary of State announcing the policy, we heard stories of students who were signed up for courses starting in autumn 1998 shifting to start in autumn 1997 to avoid being affected. Ministers were caught completely unawares.

On 7 August, the noble Baroness Blackstone, who was apparently left in charge while the Secretary of State took a well-earned holiday, dismissed as "irresponsible scaremongering" the hyping of fears that students who had deferred their entry to university until 1998 would bring it forward a year and be pushed into trying to take up places in autumn 1997. The noble Baroness said: This sort of irresponsible scaremongering helps no-one—neither the students, the universities, nor the admissions service.

On 11 August, we heard that the Government had changed their position; someone briefed The Times on behalf of the holidaying Secretary of State, and said: It's a one-off and not for those who have decided to go off back-packing. It should not be presented as a U-turn. The aide, who no doubt thought that he was being helpful, was of course talking about the proposal to allow students to start a course in 1998 provided that they had signed up to a course of charitable work in the gap year.

It is just as well that that first concession was not presented as a U-turn, because the true U-turn came three days later, when the Government announced that the fears were not all scaremongering hype, and that the gap year arrangement would be open not only to those who had signed up for charitable work but to all 19,000 students who were expecting to start their courses in autumn 1998.

Within three weeks of the Secretary of State announcing his gap year policy, there have been three different versions. That was the first example of the noble Baroness's deft political touch.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire)

Does my right hon. Friend agree that confusion was left trailing in the wake of the various U-turns, in that there were further anomalies, as with my constituent who intended to have a gap year but waited until her A-level results had confirmed her university place, and found that she was excluded arbitrarily from the Government's concession?

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We might expect a fourth concession, although I would not hold out much hope for his constituent. That is an example of what happens when a Government introduce a policy within hours of a report's publication, without having thought through the details.

There are other details that Labour has not thought through. I hope that the Secretary of State will make it clear to the House whether he agrees with Baroness Blackstone or with the Prime Minister about college fees for Oxford and Cambridge. The noble Baroness has made no secret of her view that the Oxbridge college fees system is an anomaly.

An unnamed Minister, whose views were an uncannily accurate reflection of those of the noble Baroness, was quoted in the Financial Times on 23 October. The Minister said: with the entire sector facing a squeeze, it's becoming increasingly difficult to defend a system which gives extra money to the rich".

On 24 October, the Financial Times had the headline, "Blair steps into Oxbridge Funding Row". This is a Government who make policy by press leaks to the Financial Times; it is a facility they have used more than once in recent weeks.

Is the Secretary of State lining up with his noble Friend the Minister of State, or is he lining up with the Prime Minister, who has made it clear that he has no truck with the ending of Oxford and Cambridge college fees? Will the Secretary of State tell us what is going on with the policy on Oxford and Cambridge college fees? Will he tell us who makes policy on the issue? Is it the Secretary of State, Baroness Blackstone or the Prime Minister? If he does not intend to make an announcement this afternoon, will he tell us when the announcement will be made? Perhaps he will tell us which copy of the Financial Times we should buy to find the authoritative statement of the Government's policy.

We now come to the reason for the presence of the Scottish Minister for Education and Industry on the Government Front Bench this afternoon. The shambles over gap year students and the shambles over Oxford and Cambridge college fees are as nothing compared with the shambles the Government have got themselves into on English students, Welsh students and Northern Irish students attending Scottish universities. Let us be clear about the issue.

Some 27,000 students in Scottish universities today come from elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Some 48 per cent. of the student population in Edinburgh, 45 per cent. of the student population at St. Andrews, 36 per cent. in Dundee and 32 per cent. in Stirling are non-Scottish UK students who will now be asked to pay £4,000 of fees for a four-year course that costs the Scottish students studying alongside them in the same seminars £3,000.

The Secretary of State is a member of a United Kingdom Cabinet. He must explain to the United Kingdom Parliament why the same course, supported by the same taxpayers, should cost his constituents £4,000 in fees, but should cost the constituents of the Scottish Minister for Education and Industry £3,000 in course fees. The Secretary of State must answer that question. Why is the deal that is good enough for the Scottish Minister's constituents not good enough for the constituents of the Secretary of State and of every Member of this House of the United Kingdom Parliament who represents a constituency in England, in Wales, or in Northern Ireland?

When the Secretary of State has explained that point, he may then like to move on to the second question. Why will Scottish bankers and lawyers get their four-year courses for £,000 of fees, whereas Scottish doctors and dentists will have to pay £4,000 of fees? The position is not entirely clear to the British Medical Association, but it seems clear enough from the press release issued by the Scottish Minister for Education and Industry that Scottish doctors and dentists will pay £4,000 for their course, whereas Scottish bankers and lawyers, who are not noticeably less well paid than Scottish doctors and dentists, will pay £3,000 for their course. I look forward to hearing the explanation of United Kingdom policy from a United Kingdom Minister to the United Kingdom Parliament.

I have a third question—

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Dorrell

I have a third question for the Secretary of State, after which I will give way to my hon. Friend.

When the Secretary of State has finished giving the answers to my first two questions, he may then explain why the course that costs the Scottish student £3,000 and the student from England, Wales or Northern Ireland £4,000 is available to the citizens of southern Ireland and every other European Union country for £3,000. That is the pièce de ré00sistance. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Perhaps the Secretary of State can say the same phrase in Spanish, in Portuguese or in Greek to demonstrate how truly communautaire he is being. It is an odd policy that requires English students, Welsh students and Northern Irish students to pay £4,000 in fees at Scottish universities for a four-year course when students from every other country in the European Union get the same service for £3,000. I look forward to hearing the Secretary of State explain the objective of this aspect of United Kingdom Government policy.

Mr. Swayne

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, when the Secretary of State for Scotland was asked precisely that question not half an hour ago, he replied that he would not have to explain it to Germans or Greeks, because they understood the obligations of the European Union? Perhaps the Secretary of State for Education and Employment could explain to students from Ringwood, Lymington and New Milton why they will be charged an extra £1,000 that will not be charged to Greeks or Germans.

Mr. Dorrell

My hon. Friend puts his point vigorously, and he is entirely right. It is the same question. if it is good enough for the constituents of some Member of Parliament from southern Portugal, why is it not good enough for the constituents of my hon. Friend in Ringwood?

The effect of the Government's policy on Scottish universities is already clear. The Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals has warned: faced with the prospect of paying 33 per cent. more in fees in Scotland, English and other UK students will simply stay away. That is not only the view of higher education principals but the experience of the dean of admissions of St. Andrews university, who said: We have been getting a steady flow of cancellations in the last few weeks and the number is growing. Since the start of the week, we have been getting calls from English students to tell us that they aren't even going to bother coming to see us. That is what is happening in the Scottish university system because of the Government's policy. I look forward to hearing why they think that it is the right policy.

The problem of declining admissions is not confined to Scotland. We have already seen Universities and Colleges Admissions Service figures showing early applications to universities throughout the United Kingdom down by 12 per cent. That reduction in early applications to British universities as a whole reflects the uncertainty and malaise that has settled over higher education policy since the Secretary of State came to the House in July.

The Dearing report was a major missed opportunity. It was a chance to address the issues facing the higher education system in a serious way. The Opposition agree that we need continued growth in the higher education system, and that we need a more flexible system that responds to the different demands of students; a system in which students fairly contribute an element of the cost of growth; and a system that is fair to students from low-income backgrounds. In his anxiety to rush out his response, the Secretary of State has bungled those issues, and bungled them badly. He should have offered a considered response; he has wholly failed to do so.

4.22 pm
The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

I beg to move, To leave out from "House" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof: welcomes the decisive response of Her Majesty's Government to the report of the National Committee of Enquiry into Higher Education and to the crisis of funding in higher education bequeathed by the previous administration; notes with approval the new arrangements for supporting students, including fair repayment arrangements and targeted help for the most disadvantaged; and welcomes the commitment to ensuring that more people will have opportunities to participate in high-quality education to their benefit and to the benefit of the country as a whole.

The shadow Secretary of State has the barefaced cheek to have served in a Government who cut, on average, 25 per cent. per student from university funding over the past eight years alone, who cut 40 per cent. from the funding available for maintenance for students over the past eight years alone, and who oversaw the collapse of direct funding into research, teaching, equipment and the infrastructure of our university system; and, six months after losing office, to criticise this Government for taking difficult but necessary decisions.

The previous Government at least set up the Dearing committee in the feeble recognition that there was a problem, even if they were not prepared to face up to it. We signed up to Dearing precisely because we were prepared to face up to reality. The problem is that the Opposition are suffering from two diseases: internal fission leading to impending political disintegration, and chronic amnesia, which means that they forget 18 years of what they were up to while they were the Government.

Mr. Bercow

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Blunkett

In a moment.

This is the new political animal that hibernates during the summer and comes out in the depths of winter, covered by darkness, blinking into the shadows, continuing in obscurity, unable to distinguish real decision taking in government from the dithering of opposition.

Mr. Bercow

I should like to test just how the Secretary of State fares on the amnesia count. Is he prepared now, on the record, to acknowledge that the expansion of higher education under the previous Conservative Government was dramatically greater than any that occurred under the Labour Administration between 1974 and 1979? Does he acknowledge that fact or does he seek to deny it?

Mr. Blunkett

The hon. Gentleman may be surprised to learn that, even before the election, I gave the previous Government credit for their one commendable action in respect of higher education—to open up access, which they subsequently sealed by introducing a cap that stopped students entering university even if they had the required standard and capacity to do so.

On the back of the hon. Gentleman's intervention, I should like to welcome the conversion of the shadow Secretary of State and his party. I was delighted to hear his announcement this afternoon that they are in favour of the continued development of the university sector. In other words, the Conservative party is now committed to expansion—first, to overturn the policy that it followed for the past four years, which put a cap on university entrance and, secondly, to overturn the evidence that the previous Government gave to the Dearing committee to the effect that expansion should be blocked, so no extra money would be required to fund universities as the answer was retrenchment. I am delighted to demonstrate that my amnesia is more than matched by that of the shadow Secretary of State this afternoon. Let me spell out one or two examples of what we have done. Of course we made a statement on the back of the publication of the Dearing report on 23 July, not merely because parliamentary procedure and practice demanded that we did so, but because it was necessary to ensure that students, universities and those engaged in the admissions process were aware of our policies for 1998. Had we not done so, we would have lost a whole year. Even on existing accountancy rules, we would have lost £100 million in 1999–2000, never mind the opportunities provided by the imaginative programme that I have announced for 1998–99. Let me say a word or two about that, given that I have been challenged on the so-called memorandum within my Department.

On 23 September, we announced that we would allocate £165 million to the higher education sector. We did not announce that the entire sum would simply be handed over to the universities, but we announced that £125 million—£27 million more than Dearing recommended would be required to ensure that savings of more than 1 per cent. would not be demanded—would go directly to the institutions.

The rest will be spent on carrying out the policies that I am delighted to reiterate this afternoon. They include ensuring that disabled students are no longer means-tested and will receive an additional grant for the special needs that they have in terms of equipment, reading and so on. We shall begin the process of providing equity between full-time and part-time students by ensuring that part-time students who fall out of work can apply for an additional contribution towards their fees so that they can continue their studies.

We said that we would find £10 million to provide bursaries for postgraduate teacher training and that we would double the access funds to prevent students in hardship from having to drop out of their courses. I am proud to have agreed to the doubling of access funds as that is the beginning of the process of tackling directly the inequality and injustice of the present system which, as the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) pointed out, has resulted in 77 per cent. of better-off students getting into university compared with abysmal figures in respect of those from the less well-off bracket of society.

Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus)

Will students' supplementary allowances continue to be in the form of a grant, or will they become a loan that is repayable?

Mr. Blunkett

The additional allowance that we have agreed to make in order to overcome hardship—the extra £250 a year, for which we do not appear to have gained as much credit as I had expected—will be part of the overall loan system. That loan system results in families not having to find more than they currently have to find, because the maintenance and fees elements are bolted together imaginatively to ensure that that is so. The doubling of access funds ensures that provision will be made directly available for those in greatest hardship.

When we publish our lifelong learning consultation White Paper in a few months' time, I look forward to being able to spell out in more detail our recommendations backing up the proposals of the Dearing inquiry for a radical programme of opening up access for socio-economic, geographic and cultural minority groups that have suffered from an inequitable system in the past.

Mr. Welsh

May I draw to the Minister's attention my great concern that supplementary allowances being in the form of a loan might act as a massive time bomb in the further education system? It would deter anybody with parental responsibilities—mature students, for example—from undertaking studies. That threatens great potential harm to the entire further education system, so I hope that the Minister will take those concerns on board.

Mr. Blunkett

The difficulty is that further education students are currently denied the opportunity of contingent loans, never mind grants; therefore the contribution made by 2 million adult further education students across the United Kingdom is inequitable in relation to full-time undergraduates. That is one of the issues that we seek to address. We have said that higher national diploma students currently in their courses will not be disadvantaged. In addition, a proportion of the money—£1 million from the £165 million—will be allocated next year to ensure that they are not disadvantaged.

Out of the £165 million £125 million will go directly to the institutions, with the remaining £40 million spread between investment in ensuring greater equity of access, overcoming anomalies, ensuring that disabled students receive grants and not loans to cover their special needs and are not means-tested, and ensuring that part-time students are treated equitably. That is a major package, which I would have expected the shadow Secretary of State to welcome—especially because, on 23 July, he suggested that there would be no new money for universities. He said: simply another vague promise that will be delivered some time or never".—[Official Report, 23 July 1997; Vol. 298, c. 952.]

The "some time" took us two months from 23 July—two months to deliver £165 million, which the university sector as a whole has welcomed. Let me make it clear that the resources we are identifying will be delivered for lifelong learning for all those who can take advantage of it in further as well as higher education, so that we can bring about equity, invest in our future and take on the challenge of a knowledge-based society for a new century.

I should also put straight the hon. Member for South Dorset (Mr. Bruce). He might have been able to get the figures for income-contingent repayment on the internet only from 3 October, but I published them—as I did the £165 million package—on 23 September. In fact, I referred to those figures in my speech to the Labour party conference in Brighton on 1 October, in which I spelt out that a student on £17,000 would be repaying only £12 a week, compared with £129 a month under the current loans system. How I could refer to those figures on 1 October when I did not publish them until three days later I do not know. This is just cloud cuckoo land. The so-called confusion or lack of information comes from people taking extraordinarily long holidays and being unable to catch up with the newspapers until it is too late.

Mr. Ian Bruce

I apologise to the right hon. Gentleman if the information was available. However, under his proposals, a student studying for four years in London will, at today's prices, take out a loan in excess of £16,000. If that student marries another student, the couple will start their married life with a debt of £32,000. If they are on average earnings, how long will it take them to pay back the loan? Is not such an appalling debt the reason why nobody is coming forward to become a student teacher?

Mr. Blunkett

The previous Government introduced a mortgage-type loan scheme that demanded draconian repayments of up to £129 a month over five years as soon as the trigger came. We propose an income-contingent loan scheme, repayable over a lengthy period of up to 23 to 25 years, according to an individual's income. It is a progressive principle, espoused by all those—including my colleagues—who believe in the progressive principle of income tax. In that way, students will receive resources when they need them without an up-front top-up fee payment, and will pay back when they can afford it. I am happy to produce other figures and put them on the internet so that everyone can share them.

Mr. Bruce 1

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again, but he appears to miss the essential point: the debt will be at least doubled under his proposal.

Mr. Blunkett

This may have arisen from a misunderstanding by the shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment. The figures do not involve a doubling. Students in London must already pay back an increased loan. That was part of the previous Government's grant reductions, which is why I find the shadow Secretary of State's eulogy in respect of grants a bit difficult to take. The previous Government eroded grants year after year: 10 per cent. followed by 10 per cent. followed by 10 per cent.—a 40 per cent. real-terms cut in the amount available in grant. It has been instructive this afternoon to see the shadow Secretary of State say that he whole-heartedly agrees with a non-means-tested £1,000 contribution to fees.

I wish to explain clearly what we have done. We have Dearing-plus. We have Dearing plus our manifesto, which spelt out clearly what we would do in terms of income-contingent repayment for maintenance, but we have changed the Dearing recommendation by exempting those who are worse off from having to pay the fee. We have ameliorated the system for those in the middle-income bracket and we are asking the better-off to pay the £1,000, which they will repay over a period, based on their ability to pay.

Mr. Willis


Mr. Blunkett

I shall give way to the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis), whom I had the pleasure to hear on my local radio station demonstrating in my great city on Saturday.

Mr. Willis

It was a pleasure to entertain you, Secretary of State. One of the real issues, to which you started to allude, is that of getting resources into our universities. You made the point about—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)


Mr. Willis

I am sorry. The Secretary of State made the point about—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Gentleman is now correcting himself.

Mr. Willis

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Secretary of State said that £165 million extra will go in next year. He has made it clear that his policy is Dearing-plus. The Dearing report made it clear that we needed £350 million next year and £575 million the year after to save our universities from collapse. Would the Secretary of State be kind enough to square those two issues, because I do not understand how £165 million bridges the gap which Dearing said desperately needed to be bridged?

Mr. Blunkett

I have not pretended for a minute that we have found for the coming year the amount of money that Sir Ron Dearing had in his checklist. I do not duck that issue at all. We have identified resources from our own Budget, in imaginative ways that previously were not available, which fall within the Government's overall control totals, and which allows us to get the programme into being from September 1998, and immediately to trigger in from 1999 onwards the savings—and therefore the income—which otherwise would not be available.

If we were not doing that, we would lose £100 million in 1999, increasing to £800 million in 2005–06, even under present accountancy procedures. If we moved to resource accounting, the sums would come much earlier, in terms of just over £1,000 million by 2002–03. This is the programme for raising the resources to lift the cap, to open up access, to target under-represented groups, to give opportunity to those who are denied it and to invest in lifelong learning and the knowledge-based society of the future.

I was grateful to the hon. Member for Banff and Buchan (Mr. Salmond) for drawing attention to the interesting division that exists between Conservative Members in their policy on this issue. We have a policy from the shadow Secretary of State, we have a policy from the candidate in the Winchester by-election, and we have a policy from those hon. Members who should know better, who have experience in these areas, such as the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson). Responding to my statement of 23 July, he said:

I congratulate the Government on the statement … the Government have taken a courageous decision, which should be supported by everyone who has universities' interests at heart. He was an ex-Education Minister, so he would at least have some idea.

Even the forthright right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), the immediate ex-Minister in the Department, said: I welcome the general thrust of the Dearing report and much of what the Secretary of State said".

What about the hon. Member for Esher and Walton (Mr. Taylor)? He said: The Secretary of State is to be congratulated on grasping some of' Dearing' s radical aspects, including the deferred contribution of students to tuition fees."—[Official Report, 23 July 1997; Vol. 298, c. 955-61.]

I know that there are several Conservative parties on the issue of monetary union and Europe in general. I had not realised, however, that there are three, not two, Opposition parties on the issue of student maintenance and student fees. I do not know what the policy of the former hon. Member for Winchester, Mr. Malone, would be if he were elected for Winchester. I do not know whether he would have a free vote on that issue, or whether, if he were co-opted to the shadow Cabinet immediately, it would be demanded of him that he change his mind only when the Leader of the Opposition changes his mind, and never if the ex-Chancellor and ex-Deputy Prime Minister lead him astray. I do know that the shadow Cabinet will remain a shadow for a very long time to come, because it is in a shambles.

Dr. Lynne Jones

It would be interesting to know whether Conservative Members accept Dearing's recommendation on the move to resource accounting. In that regard, I wish my right hon. Friend good luck in his negotiations with the Treasury because, as he admitted, beyond 1998–99, unless there is a change of that nature, we shall have difficulty in giving the extra resources to universities, the £165 million that Dearing recommended—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I remind the House that speeches have been limited today to 10 minutes for Back Benchers because time is very limited. That means that all interventions should be extremely brief.

Dr. Jones

May I briefly ask my right hon. Friend what his projections are for 1999–2000? As he is aware, the extra £165 million was obtained by rephasing student loans.

Mr. Blunkett

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her good wishes and support in this matter. I have indicated that the immediate yield from the new proposals would have been £50 million in 1999–2000 from Dearing and £100 million under our proposals. We are discussing with colleagues in the Treasury a plan to enable us to ensure that the universities are not disadvantaged and that—as I am sure that hon. Members would want—further education is supported and enhanced as well. It is very important that, in the wider debate, we see higher education in terms of lifelong learning, which has been grossly neglected.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Will my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, before he ends his speech, or my hon. Friend the Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office, give us the latest position on the financing of the four-year Scottish honours course, which greatly bothers Stuart Sutherland, the vice-chancellor of Edinburgh university, and many others in Scottish education?

Mr. Blunkett

My hon. Friend the Minister for Education and Industry, in winding up this afternoon's debate, will respond directly on issues relating to the decisions taken by the Scottish Office, but—

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)


Mr. Dorrell


Mr. Blunkett

I shall finish my sentence and then give way to the shadow Secretary of State. We are talking about the 25 per cent. of students who would have had to pay the full premium, because others would have had it ameliorated or alleviated anyway; and we are talking about a situation in which A-level students from England or Wales, not wholly but substantially, find themselves able to enter the second year of university courses in Scotland.

Mr. Dorrell

First, can the Secretary of State confirm that the number of students going from England to Scottish universities and claiming exemption from the first year of a four-year course on the ground of their A-levels is 10 per cent. of all the English students entering Scottish universities? Secondly, does he accept that it is not good enough to say that his hon. Friend the Scottish Office Minister will deal with the matter when he winds up? The Secretary of State is the United Kingdom Education and Employment Minister. We are talking about students who live in England, Wales and Northern Ireland and it is for the Secretary of State to explain why, on behalf of his right hon. and hon. Friends, he supports a policy that discriminates against his constituents.

Mr. Blunkett

I can now see why the right hon. Gentleman got himself into such a tangle when he went to Scotland before the general election, to talk about constitutional issues. The Scottish Office is responsible for the university sector in Scotland; that is the historic difference in terms of responsibilities for education in our country. That was before the referendum, of course; it has nothing to do with proposals for further decentralisation and devolution, welcome although they are. That is why I referred to my hon. Friend the Scottish Office Minister responding at the end of the debate.

However, I have explained the position. Many more students than those who currently take up the option of entering in the second year could, would be able to and I hope will, take advantage of that option, given that highers—I realise that they have now changed to "higher stills"—and A-levels were and are different. This afternoon we are discussing a package of measures addressing equity, access, the unfairness that has existed and investment in the future of our higher education and lifelong learning system.

Mr. Wallace

Although the Minister for Education and Industry is responsible for Scottish universities, the Secretary of State is ultimately responsible to local authorities for student awards and student payments made by students in England and Wales who attend Scottish universities. The Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals is expressing considerable concern that the change might frighten away a number of students from England and Wales, to the extent that it says that it could threaten the survival of courses, departments and even, in the long run, whole institutions. Will the Secretary of State acknowledge that that matter should be looked at again in terms of English, Welsh and Northern Ireland students attending Scottish universities?

Mr. Blunkett

I shall address myself entirely to the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. He asks whether there is fear, and there is. 1 want to confront that fear head on. Fear is generated by misunderstanding about what the Government will introduce. There is fear among those who believe that they will have to pay top-up fees, when we have explicitly ruled them out. There is fear among people who believe that they will have to find the money immediately rather than paying it back over a lengthy period according to their incomes. Many fears have been whipped up. Even those who have the best intentions in seeking to oppose our proposals are contributing to the danger that young and mature students who were contemplating attending university next year may now not do so.

I have written letters to all students in colleges, in further education, sixth forms and tertiary colleges—which will be delivered in the next few days—advising them of the Government's true proposals and asking them to take up places as they had intended. We ask those students to acquire the resources that will enable them—through the higher average earnings that higher education leavers achieve—to pay a contribution that will enable a future generation to enjoy the benefits and the privileges of higher education. What they have now, others will have in the future.

We seek to open access to new groups that have been denied it by targeting particular socio-economic, cultural and geographic groups. We appeal to people to take up the challenge to invest in their future and to ensure that both they and the nation gain in the approaching new century.

4.51 pm
Mr. Don Foster (Bath)

There is clearly much disagreement in the Chamber about the Government's proposals for the future funding of higher education. However, it is important to place on record the fact that there is also much agreement.

I hope that all hon. Members welcome the Secretary of State's announcement of an additional £165 million for education and the uses to which that money will be put. I hope that all parties agree that there is a significant measure of support for many of the proposals in the Dearing report, and we should be pleased that the Government have accepted them. We should also support the Government's proposals to introduce a new, fairer income-contingent loan scheme. Perhaps most important, I hope that all hon. Members welcome the expansion of higher education in recent years, from an elitist system for 5 per cent. to a mass 30 per cent system. We must surely welcome the Prime Minister's commitment to lift the cap and increase the number of students in both further and higher education.

I hope that we might also agree that the expansion of further and higher education was seriously underfunded by the previous Government. The Secretary of State has already referred to some relevant figures. For example, four fifths of our universities have obsolete or inadequate teaching equipment, and one in six students drop out, many because of problems associated with poverty. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) referred to Sir Ron Dearing's finding that universities will need £350 million next year and £565 million the year after merely to stand still. I hope that we also agree that there is an urgent need to widen access to universities and to attract more people from under-represented groups—particularly those from less well-off backgrounds and from certain ethnic minority groups.

If we agree on all of those points, we can surely agree that the tests of whether the Government's proposals—or any other proposals—are right are: will they truly widen access; will they provide much needed urgent funds to our universities in order to meet the current crisis; and will they avoid creating additional problems and inequalities in the system? Sadly, I believe that, in relation to the Secretary of State's proposals, the answer to all three questions is no.

First, as to whether the proposals will widen access, I understand the Government's argument that those from lower socio-economic groups and certain ethnic minority backgrounds are particularly averse to debt. Therefore, while introducing fees, the Government propose to means-test parents and offer lower fees and greater maintenance loans to the less well-off. I understand the reasons for it, but I believe that the Government's approach is fundamentally wrong.

Means testing is socially regressive. The Liberal Democrats believe that, from the age of 18, everyone should be treated as an independent adult. After all, at 18, people are old enough to vote, marry, drive and even to die for their country. However, when it comes to being assessed for paying for their university education, people are treated like little children. It is the students, not the parents, who benefit directly from higher education. Therefore, the students should contribute to their education from future earnings rather than from the family's current earnings. Means testing is good for the factory worker's son, who pays no fees, gets a higher maintenance loan and goes on to a highly paid job in the City. However, it is not so good for the managing director's daughter who becomes a social worker. The system is simply not fair.

More important, I believe that means testing is wrong because it misunderstands the nature of under-representation in higher education. Those from less well-off backgrounds tend not to attend university simply because they do not stay on in education after age 16. Therefore, the key to widening access to higher education is not means-tested fees, but boosting the staying-on rate post-16.

Dr. Lynne Jones

I understand the hon. Gentleman's point, and I have some sympathy with it. The fact is that, according to Barclays' student survey, on average, parents give £631 to their children at university in excess of the parental contribution. It is clear that students from poor families are not receiving that money, so those from affluent backgrounds are receiving far more than £631. The reality is that rich families will not allow their children to start off life in debt, but poor families have no choice.

Mr. Foster

I have some sympathy with the hon. Lady's view. I do not think that anyone can remove all the inequalities in society. It is a great pity that the hon. Lady makes that point yet supports a Government who are not prepared to change income tax regulations. We proposed helping to remove inequality by increasing the upper rate of income tax in order to support those who are less well off. I am delighted to see that the hon. Lady supports that move, even if her colleagues do not. The second test is: will the proposals provide extra funds to meet the current crisis in education? The answer is again no. The current loans system will not begin to make savings until 2015. However, the admittedly better income-contingent scheme proposed by the Secretary of State will not make a cumulative saving to the Treasury until 2092. Worse still—I do not think that this point has been picked up elsewhere—the new scheme may increase public spending because students will need to borrow more and a better repayment system will encourage them to do so.

At present, 63 per cent. of students take up the option of a student loan. If that figure increases to 90 per cent., for example, lending will increase by £375 million. Furthermore, if 100,000 of the Prime Minister's additional 500,000 students go into higher education, that 10 per cent. increase in students will require a 10 per cent. increase in funding for our universities, which will amount to another £700 million. We do not know where that money will come from, and the Government's proposals do nothing to solve the immediate crisis.

My third question is: will the proposals avoid other problems and inequalities? Sadly, the answer is again no. As the shadow Secretary of State pointed out, we have witnessed the chaos regarding the gap year students, where there were all the signs of the Government's hastily cobbling together a set of proposals. I warn the Secretary of State—I am delighted to see that the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), is by his side—that the problem in relation to gap year students continues. Even in the Government's latest publication, the Secretary of State says that he will write to all students about his proposals. I hope that when he does so, he will put right an error in his own document. The latest document states: 'Gap year' students starting in the 1998/99 academic year whose places have been confirmed by 1 August 1997 will be treated as other students starting in the 1997/98 academic year. The Secretary of State surely recalls, however, that the A-level results were not even out by 1 August, so not a single place could have been confirmed. The Secretary of State looks puzzled. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State will pass him a copy of the letter that he has been sending to many worried parents about that, in which the Under-Secretary puts right the omission in the Secretary of State's document.

Other problems that have arisen show that Ministers are creating policy on the hoof—for example, the recent decision on the discounted fee rate for trainee teachers, and the different discounted rate for trainee doctors and dentists. Perhaps the best example of all is the one raised by the shadow Secretary of State concerning the Scottish students, although I must tell the right hon. Gentleman that his defence of the European Union during his remarks on that may well oblige him to consider leaving the shadow Cabinet.

As the shadow Secretary of State rightly pointed out, Scottish students in Scottish universities get their fourth year free, as do students from other EU countries, but not students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Presumably they have opted out of the EU. The position was beautifully summed up by one Scottish principal, who said that an Umbrian from Italy would pay £1,000 less than a Northumbrian from England. That is the real confusion.

The problems are not over, and the Secretary of State will have to address them. On the question of up-front fees with no loan, what happens when parents fail to make up the contribution as, sadly, many do? Will there be court cases like the one currently going on in Scotland, in which a student is suing his mother? While they wait for the court judgment, will students be out on their ear? Will our universities have to set up huge debt collection departments?

Mr. Blunkett

I am intervening so that we do not start with the hares running. The balance that we have achieved between the maintenance and the fee structure is such that people are not being asked to contribute more as a result of the means testing of the family than they do at present. I would be grateful if the hon. Gentleman would concede that that is the case, and that therefore we are not imposing some additional, theoretical burden that makes it more difficult for families to contribute than it is at present.

Mr. Foster

I concede that point to the Secretary of State, but the mechanism for the collection of the money is now quite different. There is an additional layer of bureaucracy, with the student being responsible for making that payment, in addition to the local education authority fee contribution. That increase in bureaucracy concerns me.

Perhaps the Secretary of State will intervene and clarify another matter relating to the EU regulations. As he knows, we must treat all our EU partners the same. That means, presumably, that we must have a mechanism for checking on parental incomes for means-testing purposes—for example, the income of the doctor in Dortmund or the fishmonger in Frankfurt. Can the Secretary of State tell the House how he intends that to take place?

Mr. Blunkett

No, I am not answering questions.

Mr. Foster

The Government's plan seemed to be that they would hit the ground running, but if they want to do that, they should plan the route first.

The proposals for means-tested tuition fees fail all the tests, and they are profoundly wrong in principle. My party believes that education should be free and available to all. The Secretary of State knows that many in his party and in the Trades Union Congress agree with me. The Secretary of State rightly picked up my comments about Mr. Gerry Malone in Winchester, then cited various other Tory Members who disagreed with Tory policy, but he should not forget that there is equal division within the ranks of the Labour party.

At the recent Labour party conference, several constituency Labour parties tabled motions against tuition fees. Many Labour Members know that fees are wrong. Some spoke out at the rallies on Saturday. Some have signed early-day motion 361 calling on the Government to abandon their proposals. The recent Hams opinion poll discovered that 45 per cent. of Labour Members opposed fees, 12 per cent. did not know and only 34 per cent. were in favour of the Government's proposals.

Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking)

Is the hon. Gentleman contradicting what he said in 1995 in a Liberal consultation paper on higher education, and later in 1996 in Liberal Democrat News where he stated: Leaving aside the extra resources that we want to spend on other areas of education… such an approach"— which is an approach not means-tested—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I think that the hon. Lady is one of those who is seeking to speak later. This is not helping the debate along. Will she bring her intervention quickly to a close?

Ms Hodge

I have been told to ask the hon. Gentleman: is he not a hypocrite?

Mr. Foster

It is frightening how the Labour party has to operate. It asks various hon. Members to ask questions, but does not give them a proper briefing. If the hon. Lady had done her homework, she would know that 18 months ago the Liberal Democrat party changed its policy position. We did it openly and honestly, in a public debate within our party. We made it clear in the resolution that we passed at that time, which I will quote to the hon. Lady, that we would provide state funding for tuition fees for all courses up to and including first degree level, including"— as, sadly, her party will not do—" part-time courses. I am not a hypocrite. I am someone who is willing to change his mind when he discovers that he has got it wrong.

Of course the Liberal Democrats believe that our universities need extra funding. There are three beneficiaries—the state, employers and the student. We believe that all three could pay a little more. Students should pay more, through the remaining maintenance grants being turned into loans, as the Government propose, but not through fees. Employers could pay a little more into the system, and the state could do so too, out of general taxation.

Our proposals for a three-way funding partnership have widespread support. They would help to widen access, provide much needed money immediately and avoid the numerous problems that the Government are creating. They would also end the divide between part-time and full-time students.

There is another way in which additional funds for our universities could be found—by changing the current inappropriate accounting rules for student loans, which treat lending as spending. If we can instead treat the element of student loans that will be repaid, less administration and subsidy costs, as an investment in the creation of human capital, we could put that money on to the public sector borrowing requirement and reduce the money in the departmental control total, thereby freeing money to be spent on education.

I know that the Secretary of State has been pressing hard for that change. We give him every support to achieve that. We applaud him for the work that he is doing, but I cannot applaud his stance on means-tested tuition fees. They are a charge too far. They are a student poll tax, and we oppose them.

5.8 pm

Helen Jones (Warrington, North)

I am pleased that the Opposition have given us the opportunity to debate such a vital issue. It is sad that more Opposition Members could not be with us.

The funding of higher education is important not just to individuals, but to our community. It determines our economic health and our cultural wealth. We ask higher education institutions to do two things: to provide us with intelligent and adaptable men and women, who can solve the country's problems and modernise our industries, and to ensure that they have a broad educational experience which promotes personal development.

If our universities are to do that effectively, they must draw from the widest possible pool of talent. Sadly, that is not always the case. Too many of our students leave education far too early. The result is not only a tragedy for those involved, whose opportunities and life chances are restricted as a result; it represents an economic disaster for the country. Any proposals for student finance must be judged in that context, and those making those proposals must answer two vital questions: do they improve access to higher education and do they safeguard standards? Neither the system that the Opposition put in place nor the Dearing proposals alone satisfy those tests.

It is longer than I care to remember since I first went to university. When I did, none of my neighbours knew or understood where I was going or what I could expect there. It is shameful that the same would be true today. Despite the increase in student numbers which the Opposition have rightly mentioned, it is true that throughout the 1990s the increase among socio-economic classes A to C was more than double that among classes D and E, whose members are in any event less likely to participate.

Anyone who doubts the result of that statistic should speak, as I did recently, to a headmaster in my constituency who was trying to persuade one of his talented pupils, who was destined to get good examination results, to go to university. Her aim in life was to get a job in an office. Research tells us that that pattern is repeated throughout the country. The major disincentive to students staying on in higher education is the desire to go out and earn money.

The system that the Conservative party promoted when it was in government makes the position worse because it forces many students to be reliant on their parents not just while in education but afterwards. Students must pay back their loans over five years at a time when graduate incomes are at their lowest. Implementation of the Dearing report would not improve that situation because it would require repayments to be made when an income reached £5,000. It would also require all students, including the very poorest, to pay tuition fees. Students from lower-income families would thus be faced with a major disincentive.

Parents cannot subsidise students from such families when they graduate. There is no money in the bank from which they can draw. Graduates from these families must earn their own keep, and under that system many people are concerned about how they would keep, feed and clothe themselves. No wonder that many such students choose to leave when they are 18.

We not only fail to attract many students from low-income families into higher education. As the Dearing report makes clear, there are major concerns about standards throughout the country. The report refers to evidence of inconsistencies among external examiners. As a result, there is a reference to quality assurance agencies to maintain standards in our higher education institutions.

Anyone who has been in higher education recently cannot be surprised by what I have said. I returned as a mature student and I saw students who missed meals because they could not afford to eat properly. I saw students who could not keep up with their courses because they were working in the evenings. I saw libraries that were not properly equipped, with not enough books and, in one case, not even enough chairs. I saw overcrowded classrooms and out-of-date equipment. These are direct results of the Conservative party's cutting student funding by up to 25 per cent. per student. If we continue on the course that the Conservative party is proposing, in 20 years' time we shall face a shortfall of £2 billion.

How would the Conservatives square the circle? There are only two options open to them. Either they would have to increase taxes by as much as 3p in the pound or they would have to restrict student access. We do not need a crystal ball but merely to reflect on their past record to know which option they would prefer. That is why the motion represents crocodile tears from those who in the past have displayed crocodile teeth.

We shall put in place a system that protects the poorest students so that they do not have to pay tuition fees. We shall ensure that repayments are contingent on incomes. We shall ensure also that no parent has to pay more than he or she is paying now. The Opposition's proposals would not tackle student poverty, would not ensure security of funding and would not ensure a quality of education. Their proposals are a recipe for catastrophe. They would do nothing to improve access and nothing to help poor students. If we accept the motion we shall be failing the present generation of students and future generations. The motion offers a dead-end route, and I urge the House to reject it.

5.14 pm
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

The Secretary of State referred to my hon. Friend the Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), who described the right hon. Gentleman's decision as "courageous". That called to mind the excellent comedy programme "Yes. Minister". My recollection is that when Sir Humphrey used "courageous" in relation to his Minister's decision, he meant something quite different. Perhaps the Secretary of State should take that as a warning rather than a sign of encouragement.

I have nothing against the principle that students, when graduates, should pay something towards the costs of their education. The hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) talked about hypocrisy, but I would not want to use such a word. I remember clearly the strong opposition from the Labour party when the then Conservative Government introduced a modest system of top-up loans for students. Against that background, and given their record in office in the National Union of Students, when some were key figures in the opposition to the introduction of modest student loans by the Conservative Government, I find it remarkable that some Labour Members, who are not now in their places, are able to support the Government.

As I have said, I have nothing against the principle of students contributing something towards the costs of their education and, therefore, the introduction of some form of tuition fees. There is, however, an important distinction to be made, and that is that a tuition fee must relate to the education of the student. It must relate directly to what the undergraduate is receiving in terms of his or her higher education.

It is particularly disturbing—I know that this is the view of the university sector—that the Government have flatly refused to guarantee that the funding that is derived from the introduction of tuition fees will go to the institutions that are involved, to the universities at which individual students are studying. That raises serious questions about the Government's intentions. The higher education sector is rightly worried about that.

If the fee relates to the course and to the institution that the student is attending, what is the position of the Scottish universities? I believe that their circumstances and those of English students studying at them make clear the truth of the Government's policy, which is to introduce not tuition fees but a form of taxation that will be used merely to expand Government revenue. It will not be used necessarily to improve or fund the higher education sector.

That is wrong in equity and indefensible when put before those of our constituents contemplating going up to university, who may find themselves contributing £1,000 a year or, in the case of an English constituent going to a Scottish university, £4,000 over a four-year period. That is proposed on the pretext that they will be making a contribution to their education when in fact it will be a contribution to general Government revenue. I deprecate any such decision.

We have heard about resource accounting. There are accounting changes that can be effective, but it is clear that a political decision must be taken. Is there a political will to finance higher education or is there not? I understand that Government accounting is being debated between the Departments for Education and Employment and the Treasury. That does not remove the fact that public expenditure is public expenditure. If there is an increase in Government outgoings through the introduction of the proposed scheme, it must be accepted that that will count in terms of the public sector borrowing requirement.

The principle of fees is acceptable as long as they go towards the institutions where people are studying. What is not acceptable is where they are a feeble guise for the introduction of a tax that will impact on undergraduates and graduates. It is not acceptable if they are part of a massive, sweeping change in the overall package of student financial support. An important contrast can be drawn between the way in which the previous Administration introduced small top-up loans for students and what the current Administration are trying to do. The introduction of small top-up loans was a gradual approach.

My main concern at the effect that the Government's proposal will have on access is not necessarily the principle of what will he done, but the enormous shock effect of introducing an expensive new charge to students, through tuition fees, at the same time as abolishing the maintenance grant. There will be a massive increase in the debt that an individual contemplating going into higher education will have to accept. The Government have to accept that, under those circumstances, many people will be deterred from entering higher education, particularly those from the lower socio-economic groups.

5.20 pm
Mr. Gordon Marsden (Blackpool, South)

I am most grateful for the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this debate.

Before I came to the House, I was editor of History Today, so I hope that the House will forgive me for having felt some small pride and privilege in making my own little piece of history on 2 May as the first-ever Labour Member of Parliament for Blackpool, South.

Blackpool and history have always been intertwined. Blackpool has played a central part in the popular culture, history and leisure of our country over the past 150 years. Blackpool's motto is "Progress". Blackpool has been a pioneering and innovatory town in municipal government for more than 150 years. It is worth remembering that its Victorian values introduced the first tuppenny tourism rate, gas and electricity on a municipal basis, the promenade and the tramways, which still work today, and, of course, the tower, with which every visitor to Blackpool is familiar.

It is a great boon to come before the House as the new Member of Parliament for Blackpool, South, because most, if not all, hon. Members will be familiar with the town through conferences. We have not one but three piers. We have a Golden Mile, where one can encounter such delights as "The World of Coronation Street" or "The Life and Times of Sooty". We have the pleasure beach, which for more than 100 years has been run by the same family and has a saga very similar to that of a Barbara Taylor Bradford novel. We have the Big One and the promise of a dark ride for the millennium, which should perhaps be referred to the Minister without Portfolio. We also have quieter pleasures in the form of Stanley park and Marton Mere, and, of course, the illuminations. We have millions of visitors. My constituency has more than 2,000 guest houses doing bed and breakfast—with a finer cooked breakfast than one will get in many of the grander hotels in North shore.

When I was a child and was taken by my parents on day trips from Manchester to Blackpool, to see such delights as Zola the Zombie—"She's alive, she's well, she's living in a goldfish bowl"—little did I think that one day I would represent that town. As I reflect on my good fortune, however, it is, of course, customary in the House to pay tribute to one's predecessor, and that I am very happy to do. My predecessor, now the hon. Member for Surrey Heath (Mr. Hawkins), was a chivalrous and courteous opponent when I stood against him in 1992, and the case work that I have inherited from him shows that he was assiduous and thorough, as would befit a lawyer with his training. However, I was not aware, until relatively recently, of his keen interest in eastern philosophy.

The Tory party has had a new leader since the general election, who we believe practises meditation techniques, but it is obvious that the hon. Member for Surrey Heath practised Hagueism avant la lettre. That he has returned to the House is clear evidence of that other piece of eastern philosophy, reincarnation. He has given the House proof positive of the transmigration of souls by reappearing as the hon. Member for Surrey Heath. I thank him for his contribution to bridging the north-south divide and offer him many long and happy years in his new constituency.

Blackpool is not all tourism and holidays. Many of my constituents work in industries outside the town—British Nuclear Fuels, ICI and British Aerospace, where many of them are engaged in the Eurofighter project—and in the civil service, in war pensions, disability living allowance and National Savings, Ernie and premium bonds, which has just celebrated 40 years. All those industries have faced strong challenges in recent years but have come through. At a time of discontinuity and market forces, it is as well to remind hon. Members on both sides of the House of the proud ethos of public service that Fylde civil servants have given over 50 years.

Blackpool is not all fun and candy floss. Behind the fronts of the streets, some housing conditions are positively Dickensian. Many people in Blackpool earn a poor salary. Seasonal unemployment is high—up to 20 per cent. Many of the young people who come to our town find that the streets are not paved with gold, and the problems of drug and alcohol abuse are severe. Nevertheless, I am enormously proud of the self-help, good humour, enterprise and hard work of my constituents. However, without a personal and social infrastructure to support them, their efforts to make progress and grasp opportunities will always be maimed. That is why education times three is at the heart of our project in government.

At home, I have a medal struck from the copper of Nelson's first flagship, Foudroyant, which was wrecked off Blackpool 100 years ago this year. That medal was given to my grandfather for being one of the top 10 schoolchildren in a Derbyshire elementary school, when he was 10. He wanted to be a teacher, but time, class and family circumstances meant that he spent his life as a boiler man, although I remember as a child the historical novels on his shelves, which may have stirred my interest in the subject.

A former leader of our party, when speaking about such people, said that they had been deprived of a platform, and that platform of empowerment in education is at the heart of new Labour's project. It does, of course, involve very hard choices. I must tell Conservative Members that there was never any golden age in the funding of further and higher education, and least of all under their Government.

I was the first in my family to stay on at school and go to university, and am well aware of how chance, good teachers and family encouragement helped me to come out of Oxford with a history degree. However, I am also aware that dozens of my contemporaries did not have that first, nor second, chance. The existing system of grants did nothing to, support or help them. Therefore, it ill befits the Opposition to come here today to don the cloak of concern and pretend that we are in year zero.

The Opposition speak of maintenance grants, but it takes some cheek to defend a system that they progressively devalued and cut away during their period in office. In any case, it is not a system that ever benefited all students. One of the fastest-growing areas in the past few years, as Dearing has said, is that of part-time students. For them, a maintenance grant, even tutorial fee support, was never an option. I remind the House that the Conservative Government whittled away the voluntary grants that were available in their constant attack on local government funding.

As one who taught for 20 years as a part-time Open university tutor, I welcome the Government's opening moves to remedy Dearing's deficiencies in the report. I shall look to them to develop—perhaps with tax incentives—funding support to put part-time students, vocational and non-vocational, on a level playing field. The Government's response to Dearing is a responsible and realistic approach. It is one that is shared by the bodies concerned. I quote from the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, which says: CVCP accepts that the proposed funding system is realistic and necessary to secure the future of higher education in the UK: CVCP particularly welcomes the introduction of the new income-contingent loans scheme for maintenance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Helen Jones) referred to the crocodile tears and crocodile teeth of the Opposition. I am equally not fooled by the crocodile waffle of Opposition Front Benchers, whose Government frittered years away when they had the opportunity to address the problems that the Labour Government now face. The Conservative Government were happy to see student numbers expand, but they did nothing to fund them. They did nothing in office to address the problem of pauperising students year by year.

It was not the Conservative party which created the Open university, admired worldwide as a great British contribution to education. It was not the Conservative party which came before the House with proposals for the Open college and the university of industry. It was not the Conservative party which proposed individual learning accounts which will help and enable people. It is the Labour party in government which has done and is doing those things. We do them as a debt to the dead, but we also do them as an encouragement to the living. We do them because it is part of our central project to enable, to empower, to excite and to energise all our people for the 21st century, in my constituency and throughout Britain. That is why education, education and education is central to our endeavours. That is why the Government deserve support today against the Opposition motion.

5.30 pm
Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) on his maiden speech. It was a great pleasure to listen to him. I have listened to him before today. He mentioned the towers of Blackpool and Millbank. In my memory are the towering spires of Oxford where we were together. I can tell that we shall have as many amicable differences in the future as we used to have in the past.

The issue before the House can readily be understood only if credit is given where credit is due. Of all the inheritances that the Conservative party handed on to the Government of the day on 2 May, no jewel shone brighter than that of higher education. As Professor Dearing pointed out, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development described our system of higher education as highly efficient. We may not have yet achieved the highest levels of access to tertiary education, but we have achieved one of the highest levels of degree status.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)

The hon. Gentleman seems to have missed the past 20 years—the cuts in the 1980s when the Conservative Government declared that there were too many students in universities, and the expansion that was declared to be market driven, only for the Government to discover that students were not studying what they wanted them to study; so they introduced quotas, then targets, then capping, then expansion again. They destroyed the whole structure of our higher education. We would have been in a far better state if they had not been so manic in their change of policies every year.

Mr. St. Aubyn

I cannot help noticing that those Liberal Democrats who have spoken so far are passionately against the Government's proposals. It will be interesting to see whether their leader resigns from his Cabinet Committee as a result. Is this yet another example of Liberal Democrats saying one thing while they do something completely different?

Mr. Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. St. Aubyn

No, I shall not give way again for a while.

In Britain, almost twice as many go through the tertiary education system as in France, Germany and Italy. Not only is our system efficient, but it delivers results. Across the G7 economies, the proportion of gross domestic product put into research and development is an average of 2.1 per cent. In Britain it is 2.2 per cent.–1.5 times the proportion in Canada, nearly twice the proportion in Italy, and nearly the same as the proportion in France, Germany, Japan and the United States. Of course we want to be at the top of the league, but we are in there and we have a highly respectable place in it.

If there is a problem in the jewel that we passed on on 2 May, it is one of success. As has been acknowledged by representatives of all the parties who have spoken today, the Conservative Government widened access. It is that increase in access which has created the immediate problem of funding, which the Dearing report puts at £350 million a year.

The student loan book is growing at the rate of nearly £1 billion a year. Had the Government simply spent a short time working out how to unlock the value in that student loan book, they could have solved the immediate funding crisis at a single stroke and avoided this rush into a hasty judgment. They could have avoided tens of thousands having to give up their gap year and many more tens of thousands having a gap this year, next year and every year. As a result of the Government's actions, people will be deterred from entering further and higher education.

Mr. Willis

The hon. Gentleman alludes to an important issue which goes back to yesterday's debate. The sale of the student loan portfolio for this year of £1.6 billion and for next year of £1.5 billion, to which the hon. Gentleman correctly referred, was the Conservative Government's policy. This Government picked up the legislation and got it through the House because it was in the tax and spend plans.

Mr. St. Aubyn

The hon. Gentleman is completely off beam because we are talking about the growth in the loan book, not the sale of the old loan book.

The Government propose to raise the typical graduate's debt on leaving university from an average of around £5,000 to £10,000, or even, in areas such as I represent, possibly as much as £15,000. Unlike the Conservative Government's changes to the system, which were phased in over a long period, the Government propose to introduce their changes at a stroke.

It is surely a measure of the mistake that the Government are making that they have created an enormous flaw in the system. There must be such a flaw when a student leaves university with a debt of £15,000 around his shoulders and yet the value of that debt in the Government's hands, whether it is retained on their books or sold to some third party, or whether they undertake accounting tricks, is not much more than £5,000 or £5,500. That is fundamentally a flaw and a mistake in what the Government are doing.

That flaw arises because, without thinking the matter through, the Government have chosen to allow the system that they inherited, which was designed for low levels of student loan, to grow into a mammoth system which lends a great deal of money but produces very little for the Government's coffers. It is rather as if a business decided to resolve a cash flow crisis by trebling its prices while at the same time giving such generous credit terms that its cash flow worsened. How little confidence we would have in such a business and how little confidence the House should have in such a Government.

Had the Government made some modest changes to overcome the immediate funding crisis, they would have had the time that they need. The Government need time. They need time to explain to us how they will control the level of fees. Dearing is specific about that. He proposes that an independent body, involving the institutes of higher education, should be persuaded before any change in the proportion of fees was approved. The Government propose such a change by a resolution of the House in which they have a vast majority.

As we have already seen, Labour Members have proved to have no conscience, changing their minds when they hear the buzzer of the Minister without Portfolio on their little machines, and dropping their opposition to tuition fees in one fell stroke. No doubt they would drop their opposition to changes in those fees if required to do so by the Treasury. Moreover, if students are to contribute more to the cost of their education, time is needed so that they benefit more.

The other major weakness of the proposals is that future benefits, such as quality assurance, will require time. We should help rural students to get an education that will cost them a great deal more, and we should try to change attitudes among those in their ninth and 10th years at school, because that is when attitudes must be changed if we are to encourage them to gain access to the system when they leave the sixth form. All those benefits will take time to feed through. The haste in which the Government want to implement their new policy will deny us the time that is needed. It is a mistaken policy and will do great damage to the system of higher education that the Government inherited on 2 May.

5.40 pm
Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking)

The speech that we have just heard from the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) shows the depths to which the Conservative party has sunk since the election. The Conservative Government set up the Dearing inquiry because they had created a funding crisis in higher education. Conservative Members now want to wash their hands and walk away. It seems that they are even more shameless in opposition than they were in government, or, as with Europe, that they have abandoned pragmatic good sense for the wilder extremes of knee-jerk opposition.

Let us consider the facts. It was the Conservative Government, not the new Labour Government, who left universities expecting a £3 billion hole in their funding by 2000. It was under the Conservative Government that vice-chancellors saw their per capita funding cut by a quarter since 1989. The new Government inherited a situation in which the universities are short of money and academic standards are threatened, in which students are poverty-stricken and ever more are dropping out, and in which expansion has been halted just when consensus had developed around the importance of education and training.

The current student finance arrangements are a mess, and everybody knows it. They have evolved through piecemeal change and through compromises with vested interests. The idea that there ever was a golden age of free higher education for all is a sham. Nothing has ever been done to help either part-time or mature students, whose numbers have tripled since 1980, who often come from the lowest-income households and for whom we want to improve access. They have always contributed to their higher education.

The Conservative Government expanded student numbers, but they failed to put in place either the funding or the necessary student finance arrangements. They tried to build a higher education system for the next century without pausing to lay the foundations. Their student loans system has been dogged by problems. Repayments are not related to income, so they hit poor graduates hardest.

When the facade began to disintegrate, what did the Conservative Government do? They froze expansion and ducked the difficult questions. They passed the buck to Dearing before the election, and have now disowned his recommendations.

Mr. St. Aubyn

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Hodge

No, I will not, because of the shortage of time.

I cannot believe that the public will be fooled by the Conservative party's unprincipled scrabbling for votes. Labour Members are prepared to face the hard facts. In the long run, the taxpayer cannot meet the spiralling costs of a mass higher education system. We are spending more than £6 billion a year on higher education, yet it is not enough. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on finding an extra £165 million this year. It is much needed, and the previous regime would never even have tried to help. In the long term, a more fundamental approach is required.

The Government have had the courage to grasp the nettle. Not only are they putting into effect their manifesto pledge on student maintenance, but they have had the courage to implement the Dearing recommendations and introduce tuition fees. They are putting in place a sensible system for funding higher education that is sustainable in the longer term. It will allow us to expand and extend participation to reach the target set by Ron Dearing in his report. That target is affordable, and will protect the quality standards that we value in our higher education institutions.

Income-contingent loans will mean fairer repayments for graduates. Payment will be based on ability to pay. The scare stories about higher levels of debt are misleading. Pay-back will be spread over a much longer period, and graduates will repay only when they can afford to do so. No student or parent will have to face up-front costs that are higher than those under the present system. Students from low-income families will not have to pay anything towards their fees.

I believe that the Government's proposals achieve the necessary balance between finding more money for post-18 education and protecting access. Although it is right that, to improve access, those from low-income families should not have to pay tuition fees, it is also right and fair that those who benefit from a university education should contribute towards costs.

Let us consider the difference between the position of graduates and that of non-graduates. In 1996–97, unemployment among graduates stood at 4 per cent., whereas unemployment among non-graduates was 8.2 per cent. Gross weekly earnings of non-graduates were £237, whereas graduates earned about £457 a week: a massive £220 difference.

I have one question for those who support the current system, or who advocate a return to the days of full grants. Is the money really being spent where it is most needed? The answer must be no. Fewer than 10 per cent. of university students currently come from a background where parents are unskilled or partly skilled, whereas two out of three come from the top two socio-economic class backgrounds. The current system ensures free education only for those who are already achievers, the majority of whom come from better-off families. That is unfair, inefficient and indefensible.

For too long, further education has remained the poor relation in the tertiary sector. Further education is vital if we are to make a learning society a reality. Two thirds of those who continue in post-18 education do so in further education colleges. A quarter of FE students pay their own fees, and most receive no financial support from the state for maintenance. We need to strike a new balance between higher and further education: one that recognises the importance of the FE sector, and that offers FE students a fair deal.

I urge my right hon. Friends the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Education and Employment to consider two further issues. The first is the means by which graduate repayments are collected. One of the reasons why the current student loans system has been such a disaster is the bureaucracy involved in recouping the loans. It would be much simpler if repayments were collected through either the national insurance or the tax system. That would make it easier to track graduates, and would cut bureaucracy. It would also make the loans more secure.

Like other hon. Members who have participated in the debate, I want a change in the way in which student loans are dealt with in the public accounts. The current system treats grants and loans as the same, which is nonsense. It is true that student loans have to be funded initially by the Treasury, so they should come within the public sector borrowing requirement. But that is not straightforward Government spending. As Bill Robinson, the former Treasury official and adviser to the Treasury Select Committee and to a former Chancellor, said in evidence to the Select Committee on Education and Employment, not all lending is necessarily spending.

The Government will recoup a large percentage of this debt. Over time, only the interest subsidy and the bad debt will have to be met by the public purse. Most modelling suggests that most Government lending will be recouped. It therefore seems common sense that not all lending should be classified as spending for spending control total purposes.

That may seem an esoteric point, but it is not. If the accounts could be changed, it would allow the Government greater flexibility. It would allow them to use the money that they know that they will recoup to expand access and improve standards. I hope that my right hon. Friends will be able to examine that issue, which could do much to alleviate the short-term funding crisis facing universities.

The Government have been left to pick up the pieces that were left by the Conservative party. My right hon. Friends should be congratulated on the way in which they have responded to the Dearing report. In a few short months, they have tackled the problems that the Tories left to fester for years. The challenge for the Government was to reform the system to increase equity, provide the resources—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady's time is up.

5.50 pm
Mr. Andrew Welsh (Angus)

The hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) accused the Tories of being more shameless in opposition than in government. Her party could be accused of exactly the opposite. In carrying out Tory policies, it seems more shameless in government than it was in opposition. The main issue in this debate is quite clear: Tory hypocrisy matched by Labour hypocrisy. The losers are the students of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Tories have some cheek to raise the issue of student hardship. They know their own abysmal record. The previous Tory Government did more than any to increase the financial pressure on our student population. The reality is made clear by the constantly rising student debt—now more than £4,000 for the average student—and the tragic rise in the drop-out rate, which is up by 12 per cent. since grants were frozen and loans were introduced. Under the Tories, students faced a constant onslaught of personal cuts, lower grants and loss of housing benefit. For many students, university today is more about survival than about study. Getting to the odd job will become more crucial than missing the odd lecture. The Tories should be ashamed of their record and their backing of a large part of the Government's policy.

The Labour Government have cheated the electorate by promising education, education, education and delivering debt, debt and more student debt. The Government have acted on the Dearing report's recommendations by introducing tuition fees, but have blatantly ignored much of the rest of the report.

Dearing proposed that an additional £350 million be spent on higher education in 1998-99, but the Government refuse to spend much more than the Tories. The overall reality of the spending figures is less money for our universities, colleges and students. Dearing proposed the continuance of maintenance grants, but the Government, in their wisdom, have chosen to abolish grants, and in so doing have erected a financial barrier to the aspirations of potential students across the country.

The Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office (Mr. Brian Wilson)

To clarify the matter, is the hon. Gentleman endorsing the Dearing recommendations on tuition fees?

Mr. Welsh

The Scottish National party rejects tuition fees and wants to return to student grants. In an independent Scotland we would maintain the Scottish tradition from which the hon. Gentleman benefited. We are opposed to student loans and tuition fees. I am ashamed that our generation, which benefited from that grant system as part of the traditional education system Scotland, is imposing massive debt on future generations of students. It is something about which both he and I should be ashamed.

Mr. Wilson

Merely on a point of clarification, I take it that, contrary to what the hon. Gentleman may have just led the House to believe, he is not endorsing Dearing on anything.

Mr. Welsh

Far from it, I was pointing to the parts of the Dearing report which the Government and the Opposition have chosen to introduce. I was also clearly and exactly pointing out to the Minister the SNP's view. In dividing the House last night, we were against not only the privatisation of student loans but student loans on principle. I recommend that the Minister returns to the traditional view of the Scottish education system from which we both benefited and which he is withdrawing from vast swathes of the Scottish population.

The Government claim that abolishing grants and introducing fees will not be a disincentive to students from low-income families entering universities, but the students and the universities know that that is not true. The prospect of a £15,000 debt will discourage many from considering higher education. Education should not be a privilege restricted to those who can afford to pay, but that is precisely what it will become if the Government go ahead with the proposals.

The Government have often promised to listen to the electorate. Although they seem happy to listen, they refuse to hear what is being said. Thousands of students in cities throughout the United Kingdom protested at the weekend against the Government's higher education policies. Are the Government willing to listen to the voice of students or will they continue to ignore them as they have ignored the Dearing report?

The gaps and failings in the Government's plans are plain. Their proposals fail to take into account the position of mature students, especially those with family responsibilities. Will the Minister give a clear and absolute guarantee that students who claim supplementary allowances will continue to receive their grants—not as loans which they will be expected to repay? The Government's response, particularly with regard to further education, could cause enormous problems to that very important sector. Further education has tended to be ignored in comments and debates, yet it is the first stepping stone for many in returning to education or moving to higher education such as university. It is very important that students are not deterred from taking advantage of that first step on the ladder.

The Government's proposals are flawed. Why do proposals for the introduction of tuition fees continue to include a means-tested contribution when the principle of the loans system is that students are responsible for the cost of their higher education? Are the Government not admitting that fees will act as a disincentive to university entry, if not for the poorest people, for those who are just above the means-tested level? The motivation for the Government's policy is not better education but their on-going mission to save money. Theirs is a short-term approach at the expense of students and against the interests of the nation. The SNP believes that higher education is an investment in the future strength and wealth of our society. It is society which will lose out in the long run through the abolition of maintenance grants and the introduction of fees.

In the face of such education cuts, we can see the Government's true priorities. Over the past few months, they have squandered £210 million on the purchase of seven Trident missiles and the test firing of two others—another broken election promise. That £210 million could have removed the threat of tuition fees from Scots students for at least the next three years, restored student grants to 1990 levels for all Scottish students over the next four years, and restored housing benefit for the next eight years. I know what my priorities are and I am sad to see what the Government's have turned out to be. Education is not the Government's priority, given that they have squandered such precious resources on the ego-boosting but ultimately empty status symbol of the Trident weapons of mass destruction.

The weakness of the Government's proposals is best highlighted by one anomaly. Scottish-domiciled students studying in Scotland will pay for only three years of their four-year degree courses, while English, Welsh and Northern Ireland students will be forced to pay for the full four years. That will act as a clear disincentive to the thousands of non-Scottish United Kingdom students who have previously chosen Scotland for their higher education and threaten the £200 million spent by that group in the Scottish economy every year.

The Government must act to sort out the mess that they have created. The cost would be a mere £3 million to £5 million. I hope that the Minister will give a clear answer before this debate finishes. The House faces a choice: we can go down the road of ever-increasing loans and higher financial barriers to student entry to higher education or we can invest in the future of our youth and our country. The SNP will give a full and detailed reply to the Dearing report. We have always said that education is a Scottish priority—a system open to all of ability irrespective of wealth or any other background factor. Ability, not the cheque book, should remain the determinant. The SNP stands by that traditional Scottish philosophy; I deeply regret that the Government do not.

5.59 pm
Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North)

I am grateful for the chance to speak in this debate, which is of great importance to my constituency. I wish to draw in particular from the circumstances of students in Northampton. My constituency contains both a higher education and a further education college. To both, issues of access and opportunity in education are especially dear.

The Opposition have made much of the recent growth in higher education, but—as often happens—it was growth without spread. It did not bring the participation in higher education by young people from low-income families that I and my hon. Friends would have liked and that would have made education one of the main ladders to personal aspiration and success. Most of the growth in student numbers has been from young people from families with higher incomes. Those from a more disadvantaged background are still held back. The figures given by the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) illustrate that clearly.

In addition, compared with many of our competitors, participation of young British people in higher education still lags behind. It is no good for the Opposition to applaud themselves on the recent expansion of higher education when their 18 years in government left behind a system with a £2 billion funding crisis and an artificial cap on its expansion and without a breakthrough in the spread of benefits that could have transformed our society and the life chances of our young people.

It is especially wrong for the Opposition to pretend to champion the cause of low-income students. As a new Member, I have noted that whenever the Opposition come to the defence of any cause it is usually because of some vested interest that has no place in a modern society. That applies especially when we are discussing the chances of children and young people. For example, the Opposition defended the assisted places scheme, which we scrapped to provide funds to reduce class sizes for all children. They opposed the windfall tax, which will fund the new deal and give young people job chances. We now see their opposition to the Government's proposals to provide the expansion that we want to see in higher education.

The Government's proposals for the funding of higher education will ensure that young people from lower-income backgrounds are given appropriate support—and much more appropriate support than the measures behind the Opposition's weasel words. The Government's proposals for students from low-income families to be exempted from tuition fees will mean that many—probably most—of the students in my constituency will pay nothing at all. It has been calculated that 30 per cent. of students nationally will make no contribution to tuition fees.

In Northamptonshire, calculations based on the parental income of students applying to the county council for mandatory grants in previous years suggest that some 44 per cent. of students would not have to pay any tuition fees under the new scheme. In my constituency, full-time gross average earnings are £16,670, from which mortgage costs are deducted before there is any liability for tuition fees. Only 10 per cent. of the work force earns more than £27,000, which is well below the limit at which parents have to pay full tuition fees. If there is one message that the Government have failed to get across, it is the extent of the support that they are providing to students from middle-income as well as lower-income homes. I hope that the Secretary of State's letter will address some of the misunderstandings on that point.

The Opposition's emphasis on maintenance grants is perhaps because of their concern about full-time students doing a first degree straight after school. Increasingly, however, students are not recent school leavers doing full-time degrees. At Nene college in my constituency, 5,000 students aged under 21 do full-time degrees, but 4,250 mature students aged over 21 are financed completely differently and rarely benefit from maintenance grants. Half of those students are part-timers who already pay an average £600 a year in tuition fees, with no form of means testing.

The Government's proposals cannot be taken in isolation. They form a package that aims to ensure that we get the expansion needed in higher education. As part of that, I hope to see Nene college achieve university status. The only qualification on which it currently falls short is its research status and it should satisfy that criterion next year. After that, it need maintain its position for only three years to become a university. The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), is to visit Nene college shortly and I trust that he will be impressed by the standard of the work that it does, including its work building links with local and business communities and extending opportunities to students from a wide range of backgrounds. All those issues feature strongly in the Dearing proposals. I hope that my hon. Friend will also ensure that the criteria for qualifying as a university are not changed before Nene college gets its chance to qualify and to make its contributions to extending the opportunities for young people to obtain university degrees.

In his opening remarks, the right hon. Member for Charnwood spoke about a shambles. The only shambles in higher education is the one of the previous Government's making. The proposals from the present Government will go a long way to resolve the problems and ensure that higher education becomes—as we all wish—an opportunity for young people to achieve all their hopes and aspirations.

6.5 pm

Mrs. Theresa May (Maidenhead)

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate. The Dearing report made a number of recommendations that cover various issues. Two key issues were the need to widen participation in and access to higher education, and funding in higher education. The Dearing report was not some fly-by-night, hastily put together report. It was the result of many months of careful research and analysis of the issues. A carefully thought-through package of proposals was put before the Government. Sir Ron Dearing made it clear in his report, and when he came to give evidence to the Education and Employment Committee, that the proposals were a package, and that the Government should not cherry-pick from it by choosing some proposals and discarding others.

Given the careful analysis behind the Dearing report, the Government had a duty to consider carefully their response to it, especially as their response will affect the future lives of our young people.

Mr. Öpik

The hon. Lady is right to suggest that the Government should not cherry-pick from the Dearing report. Is she saying that, if she were in government, she would not cherry-pick, but would commit £350 million next year and £565 million the year after to higher education? If so, can she explain where she would find that money?

Mrs. May

The issue we are debating this evening is whether the people who are in government today are cherry-picking from the Dearing report.

We might also consider whether the Prime Minister understands his Government's response to the Dearing proposals. At Prime Minister's questions last week, in response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the Prime Minister stated categorically that the Government were implementing the proposals from the Dearing report. When he was challenged on that point, he said that my right hon. Friend was wrong.

My right hon. Friend was not wrong, because the Government are not implementing the Dearing proposals. They have discarded Dearing and are doing exactly what Sir Ron Dearing suggested they should not. He said they should not take the package of proposals in the Dearing report, tear it apart and put the proposals back together in their own package.

The fact that the Government came up with an instant response to the report suggests one of two things. Either the Government make policy on the hoof—and given the importance of the issue to the future of young people, that would be reprehensible—or the Government had decided beforehand that they would introduce tuition fees and abolish maintenance grants. In that case, the Prime Minister's statement during the election campaign— Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education"— is another example of the Government's betrayal of the people of this country.

The Government have chosen to move away from Dearing in two particular respects. There is real concern that the Government's decision not to follow Dearing's proposal to introduce tuition fees while maintaining the maintenance grant, but rather to abolish the maintenance grant and replace it with loans will, far from widening access, narrow it.

Particular concerns have been expressed also by those who represent rural constituencies about the impact on students who traditionally have to go away from home to get higher education. It can be argued that students living in an area with a variety of higher education establishments close by could ease their financial burden by choosing to stay at home. That would be a mistake, because the process of going away from home is part of the value of higher education. That opportunity is not open to many young people from rural parts of the country.

Another issue of concern about the Dearing recommendations is funding: here again we see the Government moving away from the proposals. The Dearing report was clear that resources produced from the introduction of tuition fees should go directly into the universities and higher education, but the Government have failed to confirm that. They give the impression that some money will be taken away from higher education and will go to other forms of education or—who knows?—into the Treasury pot.

The hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) referred to a briefing produced by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, but did not refer to this comment: The CVCP considers it essential that contributions from students towards tuition are ploughed back into universities and lead to a direct improvement in funding for teaching.

If nothing else, the Minister should make it clear whether the Government agree with that statement. Sir Ron made the point that, if students were paying tuition fees, the money would go into the universities which would be more careful in assessing courses. This would help to raise standards, as has been said tonight. People need to know the Government's intentions, and I trust that the Minister will provide the answer.

In opening the debate, my right hon. Friend the Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) referred to the absolute fiasco with regard to English students who go to Scottish universities. The Secretary of State said earlier that the reason why he chose to make a statement in response to the Dearing report was the need for clarity. We saw over the summer months an absolute fiasco concerning gap year students, and many families suffered uncertainty and worry. Students did not know what lay ahead, because the Government, frankly, failed to get their act together. Obviously, they had not realised that gap year students would be affected by the measure, which shows their incompetence.

We now have a second fiasco. English students will pay more to attend Scottish universities than Scottish, German, French or Italian students. A National Union of Students spokesman has said that this will "devastate" universities in Scotland which rely heavily on students from outside the country. St. Andrews university has said that it could have a marked effect on cross-border flow, and it may have a significant impact on the entire higher education sector, and not just on the successful importers of non-Scots university students.

The Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson), is here to respond to the debate. I trust that he will tell us that the Government have changed their mind and that English, Welsh and Northern Irish students will benefit from the same treatment to be given to Scottish, German and Greek students.

6.12 pm
Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Thanks to the previous Government, we now have mass higher education in this country—well, that is the case for some groups. Sadly, and worryingly, that does not apply to social groups IV and V, from which only 8 per cent. of young people go on to higher education. This is quite disgraceful, when one considers that that proportion is scarcely higher than the participation rate in my day, when only one in 10 went to university.

It is pleasing that the debate has concentrated on that issue, and that hon. Members realise what a waste of our national talent that represents and how we all suffer from the failure to ensure that all young people who are capable of benefiting from higher education get the opportunity to do so. That is the subject upon which I wish to concentrate, although I come to it from a slightly different perspective.

I do not want the present Government to finish with no improvement having been made to the present situation. I benefited from higher education and a full maintenance grant, and I did not have to pay any fees. I urge my colleagues to look again at what Dearing has said about access to higher education for the lower socio-economic groups.

I would like to draw the House's attention to another document, published around the same time as Dearing, by the Council for Industry and Higher Education. The report, by Hilary Metcalf, is entitled "Social Class and Higher Education: The Participation of Young People from Lower Social Classes". As one might expect, the report found that a major factor in the lower participation of people from lower-income groups arises because of their poorer educational achievements before higher education. That is an issue on which my Government are strong, and the White Paper "Excellence in Schools" has attempted to address that issue.

There are other factors which prevent young people from poorer backgrounds from going to university, and the report deals with them. Why do young people with the necessary qualifications to go to university not take up that opportunity? That is something that we should be addressing today. Sadly, the Government's proposals do not address the major recommendation in the report—that we should address the income differential between a young person going into work direct from school and a young person becoming a student.

If the Government's proposals are accepted, a young student will end up with greater debts than he or she would have done previously. It is true that the student will not have to pay a fee, but he or she will be poorer by the £2,000 that he or she will lose in maintenance grant—something that Dearing was strongly against. He saw the abolition of maintenance grants, and their replacement with loans, as a means of reducing subsidies to the poorer sectors of society and redistributing them to the better-off. In that regard, I urge my hon. Friends to look again at this report.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

Does the hon. Lady agree, on the issue of class, that the attraction of higher education for young people who saw their own pals going out and earning money, while they were piling up debt, would be minimal? We must be realistic about that.

Dr. Jones

That is absolutely right. When I was a young girl living on a council estate, very few of my friends went to university, and I was constantly asked whether I did not want to go out and get a job to earn some money, which was what the others aspired to do.

The report shows that young people from less affluent backgrounds are less likely to see higher education as the route to a higher income. They will be put off higher education by the knowledge that they will start their working life saddled with huge debts. Had I faced the prospect of debts of £5,000 or £6,000 more than the current debts, I cannot imagine that I would have been so enthusiastic about going to university.

It is not true that the majority of graduates earn more, because women graduates earn less than the overall male average. The logical conclusion of the argument that people who earn more should pay a levy for higher education is that all men should make some contribution; but of course that is nonsense.

I am deeply concerned about the proposals. There is no doubt that the Conservatives failed to fund the expansion in higher education, with the result that the vice-chancellors in 1996 proposed what they called a "political deficiency levy" of £300. That was the Conservatives' deficiency: their failure to fund education adequately. Industry had real worries about the effect on our national wealth and ability to compete in a technological, global economy.

We must give a higher priority to finding the resources for an adequately funded higher education system, with appropriately funded research and development in our universities. The previous Government failed to do that. I know that my Government want to address the issues, and that cannot be done without major changes in the Treasury rules and in the way in which universities are funded.

To those who say that people who benefit from higher education and earn higher salaries should pay more, I say, yes, but perhaps it is better to consider that many people earning higher incomes will have benefited, or will have children who have benefited or want to benefit, from a university education.

My parents would not have been able to help me out with a penny to finance my education, but I would not want my children to start their working lives saddled with enormous loans; I, as a parent, will find it incumbent on me to help my children to pay off the loans as they go through university. That is true of most parents from affluent backgrounds, who can afford the contribution.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

Does the hon. Lady accept that many parents who are expected to pay parental contributions currently do not do so? There is a qualitative difference between paying for tuition fees and paying for maintenance, because maintenance is controllable, but if those parents who have been assessed as affluent enough to pay for tuition fees do not do so, that is a bar to entering university in the first place.

Dr. Jones

I would not want to say that the parents who do not contribute to their children's education would necessarily make that distinction. I suspect that those who do not contribute are people from lower middle-class backgrounds who find it a struggle to supply that assistance, or people from working-class backgrounds who do not value education—we must do something about that—but the majority of parents give what they can afford. Some parents already give large sums in excess of what is required by the parental contribution assessment: the average figure is £631 per student per annum, but I bet that that is heavily skewed—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady's time is up. I call Mr. John Bercow.

6.24 pm
Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

It is a pleasure to add my tribute to the maiden speech of the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden). It was a witty, stimulating and intelligent contribution, of which he can be justly proud. He referred to the availability and calibre of bed-and-breakfast accommodation in Blackpool. If my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) were here, he would be able readily to testify to the accuracy of those comments, as the accommodation that he found in Blackpool was both high quality and extremely cheap. I am sure that the House will join me in looking forward to many future contributions of comparable calibre from the hon. Gentleman.

The Government's handling of student finance has not been adroit or sure-footed; it has been faltering and inept from the outset. They got into difficulty first and foremost because their approach was based on a deception. My right hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State and my hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) made the point, and it bears repetition, that, during the general election campaign, the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, said on 14 April—it was reproduced in the Evening Standard, so the veracity of the statement is not in question— Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education. If that was not enough, the Foreign Secretary, as he is now, amplified the point in an interview with Leeds Student Radio a mere 10 days later. He observed: We are quite clear that tuition costs must be met by the state.

If the purpose and effect of those statements was not to persuade people that the Labour party would not introduce tuition fees in any shape or form, it is difficult to know precisely what the intended interpretation was. It is shameful that the Government misled people, and they have got into grave difficulty as a result: they conned people into thinking that continuing state finance would be the order of the day; it is not. They gave no advance notice and they are therefore responsible for a breach of trust, of faith and of understanding with the electorate, whose support they were then inviting.

A mere 90 days after the Foreign Secretary, then shadow Foreign Secretary, had said explicitly that it was the state's duty to pick up the bill, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment had the brass neck to come to the House and announce the proposal to introduce tuition fees. That is at the root of the Government's difficulties.

Mr. Willis

Is not it equal brass neck that a shadow spokesman spells out from the Front Bench the Tories' policy on tuition fees while their candidate in the Winchester by-election says exactly the opposite to students? is not that hypocrisy?

Mr. Bercow

My former hon. Friend, Mr. Malone, was an outstanding Member of Parliament, and I am certain that, after 20 November, he will be so once again.

Not only have the Government misled people about their intentions: they are guilty on several other fronts. They propose to misuse the proceeds of the new tax that they have introduced—I use the word tax advisedly. Consistently, their rhetoric—I suspect that this is true of the Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office as it is of others on the Government Benches—has contained an insistence that higher education is underfunded and that more funds should be ploughed into the sector. One would assume that the logical corollary of that thesis would be that if new funds were raised—in this case through tuition fees—they would be ploughed back directly into the system. So far, however, we have managed to discover that only about £125 million out of the £150 million that is envisaged to be raised will be invested in higher education.

That information has been dragged out of the Government; they have not offered it voluntarily to the House, which is deeply regrettable. It is inconsistent with the position that they consistently advanced in the past. Higher education will be underfunded. Instead of supporting students, the Government propose to short-change them. That is a serious matter.

The problem of access to higher education is also serious. There are strong arguments in support of tuition fees, but the idea that there is a justification for a sudden change of policy, of which the public received no notification before the election and which they were assured would not happen, is much less powerful. The dangers are very real. Some Labour Members are deeply dissatisfied with the policy; I think of the hon. Members for Hornchurch (Mr. Cryer), for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Dr. Jones) and for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan). I must not leave out the distinguished hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone), who is profoundly dissatisfied with every component part of the Government's higher education policy.

The fact that there has been a 16 per cent. downturn in applications ought to be a matter of serious concern to the Secretary of State and his hon. Friends; it should not be lightly dismissed. If people now fear to go into higher education, that is a worrying problem. The Government must reckon with that problem because it is incompatible with their ambition for greater access to, and participation in, higher education.

The problems that I have described are severe enough, but they have been compounded by two others. First, there was the breathtaking incompetence over the gap year. There was an extraordinary saga of misinformation and tergiversation by the Government. At first, there was going to be no provision for gap-year students. In rushing helter-skelter to make an announcement after Sir Ron Dearing had reported, the Government had not considered what to do. Two weeks later, they said that there would be an allowance for people who were prepared to do three months of voluntary work. They suddenly announced that that was unworkable and that the 19,000 students involved would be admitted on the 1997 arrangements.

I still have constituents—I hope that there will be a response from the Minister on this in his winding-up speech—who are losing out because, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley) said, they made considered applications once they had received their A-level results. One such person, who comes from the lovely village of Cuddington in my constituency, is currently working, as she always intended to, at a school in Malawi where she helps the boys as a matron. She is doing good work for a year. She got good results and she always intended to go into higher education. However, she will not benefit from the concession the Government have announced. There is no intellectual justification for the arbitrary distinction that Ministers have drawn.

The Government should have the guts, the political dexterity and the will to stand up to the Treasury, and to secure the outcome that they need and that the interests of our students warrant. [Interruption.] The Secretary of State may chunter from a sedentary position, as has become his wont. I invite him to exercise what modicum of self-restraint he is able to muster in the circumstances.

I must direct one further gentle salvo at the Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office. I understand his predicament. It must be a source of the most stupefying embarrassment to have to come to the House today after his cack-handed, incompetent handling of the situation in Scotland. We assume that the Government's decision is testimony to their disbelief in equal treatment for every resident of the United Kingdom, and it is shameful. St Andrews, Dundee, Edinburgh and the other Scottish universities will demonstrate beyond peradventure the damage that the Minister's misjudgment has caused.

The Government's approach has been characterised by deception, iniquity and incompetence. The losers are the students and our higher education system. For that reason, I hope—I doubt that this will happen—that the Minister will have the good grace and courtesy to apologise to the House this evening.

6.34 pm
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes)

This has been a worthwhile, interesting and revealing debate. We heard a maiden speech by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) on which I congratulate him. I say in a friendly way that I look forward to the days when the conventions of the House allow us to hit back at his speeches.

We heard a number of powerful speeches by my right hon. and hon. Friends. I think particularly of the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Altrincham and Sale, West (Mr. Brady), who rightly pointed out the missing faces on the Government Benches today—the dogs that did not bark, the disappeared and those who were told that they had better keep away.

My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) rightly reminded us of the Conservative Government's record, when we saw the number of students entering higher education increase from one in eight to one in three.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

I am new to the customs of this House. Is it customary for only 12 Opposition Members to be present for the summing up in an Opposition day debate?

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman might count the proportion of Members on the Government side compared with the proportion on our side. One of the difficulties of having a very large majority is that questions such as the hon. Gentleman's tend to rebound. We certainly made up for numbers in terms of the quality of the speeches we made.

My hon. Friend the Member for Guildford made a powerful speech in which he reminded us of the Conservative Government's achievements. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) reminded us that, for all their protestations to the contrary, the Government have not endorsed the Dearing report and that their policies are not on all fours with that report. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) made it clear that the Government have misled people about their policies.

The most extraordinary thing about the debate has been the fact that many speeches made by Labour Members have been consistent in only one respect—that none of them supported the Government's policy of higher tuition fees. Labour Members blamed the previous Conservative Government and talked all around the subject, but they avoided tuition fees like a ghost avoids garlic.

The worst culprit was the Secretary of State himself. On three occasions, he was asked a question and, on each occasion, he failed consummately to defend the policy, obviously because he is embarrassed by it. The reasons for his embarrassment are also clear. He failed again, as he had previously, to explain what his leader, the Prime Minister meant when, on 14 April—I quote his words, as have many of my colleagues—he said: Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education. We were told the other day by the Prime Minister that he said that because the Dearing report had not yet come out. Why did he not say that the Government would have to wait for Dearing? He did not say that. He said during the election campaign to the people of this country that Labour had no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education.

What does the Secretary of State believe that students were led to understand by the Prime Minister's statement? Were they to understand that the Government would wait for the Dearing report or that tuition fees would be introduced? Alternatively, were they to understand before they voted that the Government had no intention of introducing tuition fees for higher education? That is an important point, which must be answered.

Throughout the election campaign and beyond, Labour Members have told us that they are to be trusted, that they have made a contract with the British people and that we can have confidence in their words, yet here we have a blatant example of an undertaking given during the election which has been refuted 100 per cent. by Labour's policies in government.

I shall now deal with the other question that has arisen during the debate—Scottish students and English students attending Scottish universities. I have had a soft spot for the Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office, who will respond to the debate, since the days in 1979 when he and I campaigned together on the no side in the devolution referendum campaign. He made a powerful argument then about the need for parity between the respective parts of the United Kingdom. He has obviously changed his mind on devolution, but to judge from Labour's education policy, as enunciated over the past few weeks, he has also changed his mind about parity. For all the huffing and puffing, the facts are straightforward. Scottish students at Scottish universities will not have to pay the tuition fee for the fourth year of degrees, and nor will Italian, German, French, Spanish Greek or southern Irish students, but English, Welsh and Northern Irish students will. The Government call that fair. They say that that creates equity in the system. Is it fair for a German student to be paid for in a way that a Northern Ireland student cannot be? Is it fair for an English student at Edinburgh to pay £1,000 for the final year when a Greek student gets it for free?

I have just seen an answer from the Minister to one of my colleagues that says that tuition fees are expected to be £1,000 a year and will be increased in line with inflation for subsequent years. That is an interesting departure. Until now, students had thought that it was bad enough having to find £1,000 a year but, given the previous Labour Government's record on inflation—taking average inflation over their last period of office—students will have to find another £150 a year in their first year, and every year afterwards. Once again, the Labour Government speak with one voice in one direction and another in another. The Government call it fairness when Scots will, rightly, still be able, without penalty of a tuition fee, to come to English universities but English students will have to pay to go the other way. That is the fairness of the madhouse, compounded by the arrogance of the Minister in responding to criticisms.

I am not going to personalise the debate but I should like to refer to the editorial of The Scotsman on 30 October, which said that the Minister had reacted to criticism with rancour and stated that it would matter less, of course, if Mr. Wilson's job did not matter so much. Yet whether making a hash of statutory appraisal, a botch of national testing, a mess of nursery vouchers, being posted missing during the gap year fiasco, or making a spectacle of himself over tuition fees, Mr. Wilson has at least been consistent in his attitude to opposition: he is right until proven wrong.

Hon. Members who have spoken today have comprehensively proved that the Minister is wrong. When the principals of the Scottish universities say that their institutions are endangered by the Government's policy, it is not enough for him to say that they are talking "hyperbolic nonsense"; he must address their points. I have some questions that I hope that he will answer in this debate.

What budget will bear the cost of the fourth-year subsidy? Will it come from the Scottish block, and what will have to be forgone to pay for it? From what budget will the cost of European students in their fourth year come? Will that come from the Scottish budget? If so, what is the expected cost? How can the Government justify that the Scottish block should bear the cost of students from Greece, France, Germany and southern Ireland when it is not prepared to bear the cost of students from England, Northern Ireland and Wales?

Are the Government really arguing, as I understood from an earlier answer, that the first year of a Scottish degree is not of university standard, so that English students can come to their university degrees a year late? If so, why is not the same argument made for European students who come into Scottish higher education? Is it not an insult to the basis of higher education in Scotland that such a suggestion should be made?

For four years, I was the Minister responsible for education in Northern Ireland. How many Northern Ireland students will be affected by having to pay for a fourth year? What will that do for the close link between the higher education systems of Scotland and Northern Ireland, which has been a matter of pride for the two countries for many years? Is it the Government's intention ultimately to make Scottish higher education for Scots alone? What will that do for the quality and reputation of Scottish universities?

Mr. Wilson


Mr. Ancram

The Minister may say that, but it was he who argued last week that the numbers were insignificant. He argued that all that mattered in Scottish education was that Scottish students were supported and devil take the hindmost. If he denies that, what robust calculation has been made about the overall viability of Scottish higher education institutions if students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland stop coming? How many would be threatened with closure? Where would the closures take place? Again, the Minister laughs, but there are people in the Scottish higher education system who predict that that will be the outcome of his policy.

Mr. Wilson

I did not laugh; I looked astonished because the right hon. Gentleman knows something about Scotland and cannot possibly believe that what is proposed will have a significant effect on the number of students who come from outside Scotland to Scottish universities, not least because more than half of them will not be touched by tuition fees at all.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman is closing his ears to what is being said by the principals of the Scottish universities. We have heard evidence from St. Andrews university that the number of students applying from England is going down as a result of the policy. If he is to be worthy of his office, he must stop blocking his ears and treating the matter with the arrogance of his talk of hyperbolic nonsense. He must start listening to those who know about higher education in Scotland: those who have to operate within it.

The whole policy has been a saga of incompetence, deceit, indecision, muddle and, ultimately, discrimination. That can serve only to undermine confidence in higher education across the United Kingdom but particularly in Scotland. If that is yet another example of the arrogance of this Government, who believe that rhetoric rather than reality is what counts and that public criticism of them is a new form of heresy, they will learn from us, and, increasingly, from the public, that that is not the case. They have to listen to what people say to them. If today's debate is anything to go by, they will learn it soon enough from their own Back Benchers. If the Minister had looked around, he would have seen that the faces behind him had all the warmth of the gathering storm.

We welcome the expansion of higher education and recognise the good work that has been proposed by Dearing, but we condemn the Government's deliberate attempt to ignore and distort the report. I ask the House to support the motion.

6.46 pm
The Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office (Mr. Brian Wilson)

This debate has been a great intellectual reinforcement of what we are doing.

As exercises in amnesia allied to brass neck go, even by Tory standards, this has been a classic. The right hon. Member for Devizes (Mr. Ancram) gives a new meaning to the term cross-border flow. Even though he was a Member of Parliament for most of the 18 years during which the Tories were in power, he made no attempt to explain why the funding crisis in higher education that the Dearing committee was set up to address even exists.

I congratulate my hon. Friends on some excellent contributions. In particular, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Marsden) on an excellent maiden speech. I congratulate him not only on being the first Labour Member for Blackpool, South but on being a Labour Member with a majority of 11,616. That may remind some Conservative Members of the realities of the past 18 years. I thought that his contribution, particularly in rebutting the golden age mythology of higher education, was outstanding.

As was pointed out, I did indeed benefit from the Scottish higher education system but I am mindful of the fact that when I benefited from it, I was the one in 14 of Scottish school leavers who did so. I am acutely and humbly aware that many of the 13 who did not go into higher education were every bit as able and eligible to benefit from it as I was but that the funding regime in place at the time meant that they never had the chance of seeing the inside of a university. Whatever else we can say about the Tories, we cannot deny that they increased the numbers in higher education.

Mr. Bernard Jenkin (North Essex)

Hear, hear.

Mr. Wilson

The hon. Gentleman says, "Hear, hear," but the tragedy, the disgrace and ultimately the hypocrisy of tonight's debate is that the previous Government did not provide the money to follow the students. As a result, Scotland has 44 per cent. participation in higher education, but the funding per student—the money that follows the student into higher education—has dropped by 40 per cent. under the Tories. That is what created the crisis in higher education.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil)

On the question of funding, is my hon. Friend aware that some of the small to medium-sized institutions such as Stirling, 31 per cent. of whose student intake comes from outside Scotland, are extremely worried? Can he give the House an assurance that due account will be taken of that, as we could experience a drop in student numbers and places not being filled as a consequence of the fourth-year rule? Will he bear that in mind in his calculations?

Mr. Wilson

I shall come to that later in my speech. I am sure I will satisfy my hon. Friend that those fears have been greatly exaggerated.

Congratulations are also due to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) on producing a splendid leaflet written on behalf of the Tory candidate in Winchester, which portrays a somewhat unrecognisable slimline figure, besweatered on the campus like a latter-day Winchester Daniel Cohn-Bendit and promising to stand four square to back the student fight. It says that a vote for Gerry Malone will ensure that the issue is not allowed to go away. Presumably, if Gerry Malone had been here today, there would have been six rather than five Tory Back Benchers behind the shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment. That is a true measure of Tory concern for students—[Interruption.] There were only five behind the shadow Secretary of State when he opened the debate. I can count and see. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin)

Order. There is far too much noise from the Opposition Front Bench.

Mr. Wilson

Most of them have only just woken up, so they have a lot of energy to get rid of, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

There are three key elements in the Government's policy. First, we aim to put substantial additional funds into higher and further education. We are committed to increasing the number of students in higher education, but because of the Tories' record, the money is not there. Secondly, one third of students in higher education and 40 per cent. in Scotland will continue to pay no tuition fees because of the application of the means test. It shows real political irresponsibility when politicians from any party try to give the impression that every student would be paying £1,000 a year when that bears no relation to reality.

Mr. Jenkin

It is not fair, is it?

Mr. Wilson

The hon. Gentleman says that it is not fair, but we are not talking about what is fair to me or to the Government. We are talking about the fact that it is not fair that people from less well-off backgrounds should be frightened away from higher education by the irresponsible scaremongering of people such as him.

Thirdly, the vast majority of graduates will repay less than they do under the current scheme which we inherited from the Tories: it is absolutely crucial that people realise that. Taken together, those elements—more money for higher education; 40 per cent. of Scottish students and one third of those throughout the United Kingdom being exempt from tuition fees; and the vast majority repaying less each month—represent a package that need deter nobody from a lower-income background from entering higher education.

Mr. Dorrell

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that last time one of his ministerial colleagues with responsibility for education spoke about irresponsible scaremongering, Baroness Blackstone was obliged to make a total retreat from her position a week later? Is he about to make a similar announcement? While he is answering that question, will he also explain to the House whether he is describing the view of the Scottish higher education principals as irresponsible scaremongering?

Mr. Wilson

Let us be clear about gap funding. There was a statement on gap funding at the conclusion of the discussions on it. However, there was no U-turn because there was no initial statement of the opposite—[Interruption.] Public school histrionics are the privilege of a Tory Opposition, but they do not change the facts. I am interested that the right hon. Gentleman and a number of his colleagues slavishly read out their brief, now appearing to take as gospel truth everything said by university principals as if it came down to them on tablets of stone. For a long time under the Tories, university principals were saying that more money should be pumped into universities: the Tories never reacted to that in such a positive way—all they did was cut, cut and cut again.

Those who know about Scottish education know that St. Andrews is a rather distinctive case because 41 per cent. of its students are from England. That is fine. I am all in favour of diversity. But that is in marked contrast with the position of Paisley university, where 4 per cent. of students are from England, or Robert Gordon university, where 3.5 per cent. of students are from England.

I know from his political history that the right hon. Member for Devizes is a very naive politician, but even he need not accept as biblical prophesy every word that comes from the principal of St. Andrews university. If he is aware of the geography of Scotland, may I suggest that he goes a little further south and listens to the much more reasoned, rational and measured comments of the principal of Edinburgh university, which has an even higher proportion of English students than St. Andrews? [Interruption.] The right hon. Gentleman says, "It is very worrying." He has made an interesting statement that it is very worrying that the principal of Edinburgh university should take a more rational view of these matters.

Mr. Ancram

The hon. Gentleman misheard me. I said that Edinburgh university is very worried. I have spoken to a number of senior people there recently. In the few moments that remain, will he take the opportunity to answer the question from the hon. Member for Ochil (Mr. O'Neill) about the fairness of the policy that he is introducing in Scotland?

Mr. Wilson

If Opposition Members will stop baying and guffawing for a moment, I shall be delighted to do so, but leopards cannot change their spots and I very much doubt whether they will do so.

I do not know whether the right hon. Member for Devizes has heard of the Garrick report. He looks very puzzled when I mention it. That report contained a request that I ensured equity for Scottish students in universities taking a four-year degree which had parity of esteem with the English three-year degree. That is exactly what we have done.

Mr. Bercow


Mr. Wilson

The hon. Gentleman clearly wants to use up part of the three minutes that remain. I shall not give way to the silly man. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. There is far too much noise in the Chamber. I expect Opposition Front-Bench Members to set a good example.

Mr. Wilson

What we are witnessing is a veneer of indignation built on a very deep trough of ignorance, and Conservative Members do not want to hear anything that threatens to expose that ignorance.

The Garrick committee recommended that, if a graduate contribution is introduced, the Secretary of State should ensure that the contribution from Scottish graduates for qualifications gained in Scotland is equitable with the contribution for comparable qualifications gained elsewhere in the UK. The Government have delivered exactly what Garrick recommended.

Let me educate the shadow spokesman. There is no perfect symmetry within the United Kingdom higher education system because there are different school qualifications and different higher education qualifications. As soon as we try to match them in order to resolve one anomaly, we run the risk of creating another anomaly. That is the reality, as the right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well. We have tried to give the optimum, fairest possible deal to the maximum number of students and we have succeeded.

Let me turn to the legitimate concern expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Ochil (Mr. O'Neill). Of course there are concerns about numbers, but we can take out various categories of student—the Tories know nothing about this subject. Let us take out the third of students coming from the rest of the United Kingdom who are exempt from means testing for tuition fees; the 10 per cent. who come in the second year to Scottish honours degree courses; and the 10 per cent. of English, Welsh and Northern Irish students who do ordinary degrees. After doing that, we are left with that small minority who are asked to pay the £1,000 tuition fees.

If the principals and everyone else went out and told the truth, they would frighten away many fewer students and do Scottish higher education a big favour. The important thing is to get more people from a wider range of social backgrounds into higher education in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. The Tories failed to do that, because they did not care. We are going to advance from the position in my day, when only one in 14 students went into higher education. In Scotland, we are going to get more than 50 per cent. of students into higher and further education and they will come from all social backgrounds. None of the scaremongering from Opposition parties will forestall that aim.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 139, Noes 373.

Division No. 80] [7 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Clarke, Rt Hon Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Amess, David
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Arbuthnot, James Collins, Tim
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Cormack, Sir Patrick
Baldry, Tony Cran, James
Beggs, Roy Curry, Rt Hon David
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Bercow, John Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice)
Beresford, Sir Paul Day, Stephen
Boswell, Tim Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Duncan, Alan
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Duncan Smith, Iain
Brady, Graham Evans, Nigel
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Faber, David
Browning, Mrs Angela Fabricant, Michael
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Fallon, Michael
Burns, Simon Flight, Howard
Butterfill, John Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Cash, William Fox, Dr Liam
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Roger
Chope, Christopher Garnier, Edward
Clappison, James Gibb, Nick
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Gill, Christopher
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Pickles, Eric
Goodlad, Rt Hon Alastair Prior, David
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Randall, John
Gray, James Redwood, Rt Hon John
Green, Damian Robathan, Andrew
Greenway, John Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Grieve, Dominic Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gummer, Rt Hon John Ruffley, David
Hague, Rt Hon William St Aubyn, Nick
Hammond, Philip Sayeed, Jonathan
Hawkins, Nick Shepherd, Richard
Hayes, John Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Heald, Oliver Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Soames, Nicholas
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Spicer, Sir Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Spring, Richard
Hunter, Andrew Steen, Anthony
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Streeter, Gary
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Swayne, Desmond
Jenkin, Bernard Syms, Robert
Johnson Smith, Tapsell, Sir Peter
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Key, Robert Taylor, Sir Teddy
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Temple-Morris, Peter
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Tredinnick, David
Lansley, Andrew Trend, Michael
Letwin, Oliver Tyrie, Andrew
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Viggers, Peter
Lidington, David Walter, Robert
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Wardle, Charles
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Waterson, Nigel
Loughton, Tim Wells, Bowen
Luff, Peter Whitney, Sir Raymond
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Whittingdale, John
McIntosh, Miss Anne Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
MacKay, Andrew Wilkinson, John
Maclean, Rt Hon David Willetts, David
McLoughlin, Patrick Wilshire, David
Malins, Humfrey Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Maples, John Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Mates, Michael Woodward, Shaun
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Yeo, Tim
May, Mrs Theresa Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Norman, Archie
Ottaway, Richard Tellers for the Ayes:
Paice, James Sir David Madel and
Paterson, Owen Mr. John M. Taylor.
Abbott, Ms Diane Betts, Clive
Ainger, Nick Blears, Ms Hazel
Allan, Richard Blizzard, Bob
Allen, Graham Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Boateng, Paul
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Borrow David
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Bradley, Keith (Withington)
Ashdown Rt Hon Paddy Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Ashton, Joe Bradshaw, Ben
Atherton, Ms Candy Brake, Tom
Austin, John Brand, Dr Peter
Ballard, Mrs Jackie Breed, Colin
Barnes, Harry Brinton, Mrs Helen
Barron, Kevin Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E)
Bayley, Hugh Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Beard, Nigel Browne, Desmond
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Begg, Miss Anne Buck, Ms Karen
Beith, Rt Hon A J Burden, Richard
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Burgon, Colin
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Burnett, John
Bennett, Andrew F Burstow, Paul
Benton, Joe Butler, Mrs Christine
Bermingham, Gerald Byers, Stephen
Berry, Roger Cable, Dr Vincent
Best, Harold Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Foster, Don (Bath)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Caplin, Ivor Foulkes, George
Casale, Roger Fyfe, Maria
Caton, Martin Galbraith, Sam
Cawsey, Ian Gapes, Mike
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Gardiner, Barry
Chaytor, David George, Andrew (St Ives)
Chidgey, David Gerrard, Neil
Chisholm, Malcolm Gibson, Dr Ian
Church, Ms Judith Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Clapham, Michael Godman, Norman A
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Godsiff, Roger
Clark, Dr Lynda Goggins, Paul
(Edinburgh Pentlands) Golding, Mrs Llin
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Clarke, Eric (Midlothian) Gorrie, Donald
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Clelland, David Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clwyd, Ann Grocott, Bruce
Coaker, Vernon Grogan, John
Coffey, Ms Ann Gunnell, John
Coleman, Iain Hain, Peter
Colman, Tony Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Connarty, Michael Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Cooper, Yvette Hancock, Mike
Corbett, Robin Hanson, David
Corbyn, Jeremy Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Corston, Ms Jean Harris, Dr Evan
Cotter, Brian Harvey, Nick
Cousins, Jim Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Cranston, Ross Healey, John
Crausby, David Heath, David (Somerton & Frome)
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Hepburn, Stephen
Cummings, John Heppell, John
Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John (Copeland) Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Hodge, Ms Margaret
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire Hoey, Kate
Dalyell, Tam Home Robertson, John
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Hoon, Geoffrey
Darvill, Keith Hope, Phil
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Hopkins, Kelvin
Davidson, Ian Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Howells, Dr Kim
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly) Hoyle, Lindsay
Dawson, Hilton Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Dean, Mrs Janet Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Denham, John Humble, Mrs Joan
Dewar, Rt Hon Donald Hurst, Alan
Dismore, Andrew Hutton, John
Dobbin, Jim Iddon, Dr Brian
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Illsley, Eric
Donohoe, Brian H Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Doran, Frank Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Dowd, Jim Jamieson, David
Drew, David Jenkins, Brian
Drown, Ms Julia Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth Johnson, Miss Melanie
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) (Welwyn Hatfield)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Edwards, Huw Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Ellman, Mrs Louise Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Ennis, Jeff Jones, Ms Jennifer(Wolverh'ton SW)
Fatchett, Derek
Fearn, Ronnie Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Field, Rt Hon Frank Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Fitzpatrick, Jim Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Fitzsimons, Lorna Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Flint, Caroline Keeble, Ms Sally
Follett, Barbara Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Keetch, Paul
Kelly, Ms Ruth Pike, Peter L
Kemp, Fraser Plaskitt, James
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye) Pollard, Kerry
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Pond, Chris
Khabra, Piara S Pope, Greg
Kidney, David Pound, Stephen
Kilfoyle, Peter Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Prosser, Gwyn
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green) Purchase, Ken
Kingham, Ms Tess Quinn, Lawrie
Kirkwood, Archy Radice, Giles
Kumar, Dr Ashok Rammell, Bill
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Rapson, Syd
Lawrence, Ms Jackie Raynsford, Nick
Laxton, Bob Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Lepper, David Rendel, David
Leslie, Christopher Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Levitt, Tom Roche, Mrs Barbara
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Rogers, Allan
Lewis, Terry (Worsley) Rooker, Jeff
Linton, Martin Rooney, Terry
Livingstone, Ken Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Livsey, Richard Rowlands, Ted
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Roy, Frank
Lock, David Ruane, Chris
McAllion, John Ruddock, Ms Joan
McAvoy, Thomas Russell, Bob (Colchester)
McCafferty, Ms Chris Salter, Martin
McDonagh, Siobhain Sanders, Adrian
Macdonald, Calum Savidge, Malcolm
McDonnell, John Sawford, Phil
McIsaac, Shona Sedgemore, Brian
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Shaw, Jonathan
Mackinlay, Andrew Sheerman, Barry
McLeish, Henry Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Maclennan, Robert Short, Rt Hon Clare
McNulty, Tony Singh, Marsha
MacShane, Denis Skinner, Dennis
Mactaggart, Fiona Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
McWalter, Tony Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Mahon, Mrs Alice Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Mallaber, Judy Smith, Miss Geraldine(Morecambe & Lunesdale)
Mandelson, Peter
Marek, Dr John Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Martlew, Eric Soley, Clive
Maxton, John Spellar, John
Merron, Gillan Squire, Ms Rachel
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Milburn, Alan Stevenson, George
Miller, Andrew Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Mitchell, Austin Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Moore, Michael Stinchcombe, Paul
Moran, Ms Margaret Stoate, Dr Howard
Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N) Stott, Roger
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W) Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Morley, Elliot Stringer, Graham
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Stuart, Ms Gisela
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Stunell, Andrew
Mountford, Kali Sutcliffe, Gerry
Mudie, George Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Naysmith, Dr Doug Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Norris, Dan Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Olner, Bill Timms, Stephen
O'Neill, Martin Todd, Mark
Öpik, Lembit Tonge, Dr Jenny
Organ, Mrs Diana Trickett, Jon
Palmer, Dr Nick Truswell, Paul
Pearson, Ian Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Perham, Ms Linda Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Pickthall, Colin Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield) Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Tyler, Paul Willis, Phil
Vaz, Keith Wills, Michael
Wallace, James Wilson, Brian
Walley, Ms Joan Winnick, David
Ward, Ms Claire Wood, Mike
Watts, David Woolas, Phil
Webb, Steve Wray, James
White, Brian Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Whitehead, Dr Alan Wyatt, Derek
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W) Tellers for the Noes:
Mr. Jon Owen Jones and
Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen) Ms Bridget Prentice.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):

The House divided: Ayes 311, Noes 169.

Division No. 81] [7.18 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Chisholm, Malcolm
Ainger, Nick Church, Ms Judith
Allen, Graham Clapham, Michael
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary
Ashton, Joe Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Atherton, Ms Candy Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)
Austin, John Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Banks, Tony Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Baron, Kevin Clelland, David
Bayley, Hugh Clwyd, Ann
Beard, Nigel Coaker, Vernon
Beckett, Rt Hon Mrs Margaret Coffey, Ms Ann
Begg, Miss Anne Coleman, Iain
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Colman, Tony
Bennett, Andrew F Connarty, Michael
Benton, Joe Cooke, Frank (Stockton N)
Bermingham, Gerald Cooper, Yvette
Berry, Roger Corbett, Robin
Best, Harold Corston, Ms Jean
Betts, Clive Cousins, Jim
Blears, Ms Hazel Cranston, Ross
Blizzard, Bob Crausby, David
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Cummings, John
Boateng, Paul Cunningham, Rt Hon Dr John (Copeland)
Borrow, David
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin) Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Bradshaw, Ben Dalyell, Tam
Brinton, Mrs Helen Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Darvill, Keith
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
Browne, Desmond Davidson, Ian
Buck, Ms Karen Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Burden, Richard Dawson, Hilton
Burgon, Colin Dean Mrs Janet
Butler, Stephen Dewar, Rt Hon Donald
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Dismore, Andrew
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Dobbin, Jim
Campbell-Savours, Dale Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Caplin, Ivor Donohoe, Brian H
Casale, Roger Doran, Frank
Caton, Martin Dowd, Jim
Cawsey, Ian Drew, David
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Drown, Ms Julia
Chaytor, David Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Kidney, David
Edwards, Huw Kilfoyle, Peter
Ellman, Mrs Louise King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Ennis, Jeff King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Fatchett, Derek Kingham, Ms Tess
Field, Rt Hon Frank Kumar, Dr Ashok
Fitzpatrick, Jim Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Fitzsimons, Lorna Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Flint, Caroline Laxton, Bob
Follett, Barbara Lepper, David
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) Leslie, Christopher
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) Levitt, Tom
Foulkes, George Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Galbraith, Sam Linton, Martin
Gapes, Mike Lloyd Tony (Manchester C)
Gardiner, Barry Lock, David
Gerrard, Neil McAvoy, Thomas
Gibson, Dr Ian McCafferty, Ms Chris
Gilroy, Mrs Linda McDonagh, Siobhain
Godman, Norman A Macdonald, Calum
Godsiff, Roger McIsaac, Shona
Goggins, Paul McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Golding, Mrs Llin Mackinlay, Andrew
Gordon, Mrs Eileen McNulty, Tony
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) MacShane, Denis
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Mactaggart, Fiona
Grocott, Bruce Mc Walter, Tony
Grogan, John Mahon, Mrs Alice
Gunnell, John Mallaber, Judy
Hain, Peter Mandelson, Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Marek, Dr John
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Hanson, David Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Martlew, Eric
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Maxton, John
Healey, John Merron, Gillian
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich) Milburn, Alan
Hepburn, Stephen Miller, Andrew
Heppell, John Mitchell, Austin
Hill, Keith Moran, Ms Margaret
Hinchliffe, David Morgan, Ms Julie (Cardiff N)
Hodge, Ms Margaret Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Hoey, Kate Morley, Elliot
Home Robertson, John Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hoon, Geoffrey Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Hope, Phil Mountford, Kali
Hopkins, Kelvin Mudie, George
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) Mullin, Chris
Hoyle, Lindsay Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Naysmith, Dr Doug
Humble, Mrs Joan Norris, Dan
Hurst, Alan O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Hutton, John Olner, Bill
Iddon, Dr Brian O'Neill, Martin
Illsley, Eric Organ, Mrs Diana
Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead) Palmer, Dr Nick
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough) Perham, Ms Linda
Jamieson, David Pickthall, Colin
Jenkins, Brian Pike, Peter L
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle) Plaskitt, James
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Pope, Greg
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Pound, Stephen
Jones, Helen (Warrington N) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Jones, Ms Jennifer (Wolverh'ton SW) Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S) Quinn, Lawrie
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Radice, Giles
Keeble, Ms Sally Rammell, Bill
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston) Rapson, Syd
Kelly, Ms Ruth Raynsford, Nick
Kemp, Fraser Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
Khabra, Piara S Roche, Mrs Barbara
Rogers, Allan Sutcliffe, Gerry
Rooker, Jeff (Dewsbury) Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Rowlands, Ted Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Roy, Frank Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Ruane, Chris Timms, Stephen
Ruddock, Ms Joan Todd, Mark
Salter, Martin Touhig, Don
Savidge, Malcolm Trickett, Jon
Sawford, Phil Truswell, Paul
Sedgemore, Brian Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Shaw, Jonathan Turner, Desmond (Kemptown)
Sheerman, Barry Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Short, Rt Hon Clare Vaz, Keith
Singh, Marsha Walley, Ms Joan
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Ward, Ms Claire
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Watts, David
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S) White, Brian
Smith, Miss Geraldine (Morecambe & Lunesdale) Whitehead, Dr Alan
Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Swansea W)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Spellar, John Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Squire, Ms Rachel Wills, Michael
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Wilson, Brian
Stevenson, George Winnick, David
Stewart, David (Inverness E) Wood, Mike
Stewart, Ian (Eccles) Woolas, Phil
Stinchcombe, Paul Wray, James
Stoate, Dr Howard Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Stott, Roger Wyatt, Derek
Straw, Rt Hon Jack Tellers for the Ayes:
Stringer, Graham Mr. Jon Owen Jones and
Stuart, Ms Gisela Ms Bridget Prentice.
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Cran, James
Allan, Richard Curry, Rt Hon David
Amess, David Dafis, Cynog
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Arbuthnot, James Davies, Quentin (Grantham)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Day, Stephen
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen
Ballard, Mrs Jackie Duncan, Alan
Beggs, Roy Duncan Smith, Iain
Berth, Rt Hon A J Evans, Nigel
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Faber, David
Bercow, John Fabricant, Michael
Beresford, Sir Paul Fallon, Michael
Boswell, Tim Fearn, Ronnie
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Flight, Howard
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman
Brady, Graham Fox, Dr Liam
Brake, Tom Fraser, Christopher
Brand, Dr Peter Gale, Roger
Breed, Colin Garnier, Edward
Browning, Mrs Angela George, Andrew (St Ives)
Bruce, Ian (S Dorset) Gibb, Nick
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Gill, Christopher
Burnett, John Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Burns, Simon Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Burstow, Paul Gorrie, Donald
Butterfill, John Gray, James
Cable, Dr Vincent Green, Damian
Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife) Greenway, John
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Gummer, Rt Hon John
Hague, Rt Hon William
Chidgey, David Hammond, Philip
Clark, Dr Michael (Rayleigh) Hancock, Mike
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey Harris, Dr Evan
Collins, Tim Harvey, Nick
Cormack, Sir Patrick Hawkins, Nick
Cotter, Brian Hayes, John
Heald, Oliver Robathan, Andrew
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Heathcoat-Amory, Rt Hon David Ruffley, David
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Howard, Rt Hon Michael St Aubyn, Nick
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Sanders, Adrian
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Sayeed, Jonathan
Hunter, Andrew Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Jenkin, Bernard Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Johnson Smith, Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Spicer, Sir Michael
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Spring, Richard
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Steen, Anthony
Keetch, Paul Streeter, Gary
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye) Stunell, Andrew
Key, Robert Swayne, Desmond
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Swinney, John
Kirkwood, Archy Syms, Robert
Lansley, Andrew Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Letwin, Oliver Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Lidington, David Taylor, Sir Teddy
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Temple-Morris, Peter
Livsey, Richard Tonge, Dr Jenny
Lloyd, Rt Hon Sir Peter (Fareham) Tredinnick, David
Loughton, Tim Trend, Michael
Luff, Peter Tyler, Paul
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Tyrie, Andrew
McIntosh, Miss Anne Viggers, Peter
MacKay, Andrew Wallace, James
Maclean, Rt Hon David Walter, Robert
Maclennan, Robert Wardle, Charles
McLoughlin, Patrick Waterson, Nigel
Madel, Sir David Webb, Steve
Madel, Sir David Whitney, Sir Raymond
Malins, Humfrey Whittingdale, John
Mates, Michael Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Dr Brian Wigley, Dafydd
May, Mrs Theresa Wilkinson, John
Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll & Bute) Willetts, David
Moore, Michael Wilshire, David
Öpik, Lembit Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Ottaway, Richard Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Paice, James Woodward, Shaun
Paterson, Owen Yeo, Tim
Pickles, Eric Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Prior, David
Randall, John Tellers for the Noes:
Redwood, Rt Hon John Mr. Don Foster and
Rendel, David Mr. Phil Willis.

Question accordingly agreed to.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

Resolved, That this House welcomes the decisive response of Her Majesty's Government to the report of the National Committee of Enquiry into Higher Education and to the crisis of funding in higher education bequeathed by the previous administration; notes with approval the new arrangements for supporting students. including fair repayment arrangements and targeted help for the most disadvantaged; and welcomes the commitment to ensuring that more people will have opportunities to participate in high-quality education to their benefit and to the benefit of the country as a whole.

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