HC Deb 08 June 1998 vol 313 cc765-839
Mr. David Willetts (Havant)

I beg to move amendment No. 102, in page 15, line 12, at end insert— '(1A) No regulations may be made under this section if their effect would be to disadvantage students by reason of their residence in one part of the United Kingdom as opposed to their residence in any other part.'.

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

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment No. 2, in page 15, line 45, at end insert— '(2A) Regulations under this section shall provide that, for an eligible student who attends a higher education institution in Scotland and whose parental home or normal place of residence for purposes other than attendance at that institution is in England or Wales, the payment of grant in respect of fees shall be made on the same basis as for a student whose parental home or normal place of residence is in Scotland.'. Amendment No. 8, in page 17, line 12, at end insert— '(5A) Regulations under this section shall make provision for the payment of grant in respect of tuition fees for the fourth or any subsequent year of study at any higher education institution in the United Kingdom to a student whose parental home or normal place of residence for purposes other than attendance at the institution is in any part of the United Kingdom.'. Amendment No. 9, in clause 28, page 26, line 42, at end insert— '(3H) In exercising his powers under this section, the Secretary of State shall ensure that fees in respect of tuition for the fourth or subsequent year of any course of higher education at a publicly-funded institution in Scotland shall only be payable by the student concerned where a grant in the same amount has been made available for that purpose to that student. (3I) In subsection (3H) "the student concerned" means any student at a publicly-funded institution of higher education in Scotland whose normal place of residence for purposes other than attendance at that institution is in any part of the European Union.'.

New clause 1—Commencement of sections 27 and 28— '.—Sections 27 and 28 shall come into force when ratified by a resolution of the Scottish Parliament.'. New clause 3—Treatment of students regarding tuition fees— 'Under any regulations of this enactment relating to tuition fees, students normally resident in the United Kingdom who are doing the same course at the same college or university shall be treated on the same basis, irrespective of their country of residence within the United Kingdom.'. Amendment No. 1, in clause 39, page 34, line 31, leave out '28' and insert '26'.

Mr. Willetts

I thank Ministers for their kind welcome to my new Front-Bench colleagues: my hon. Friends the Members for Maidenhead (Mrs. May) and for Ashford (Mr. Green). I thank Ministers for their best wishes after our reshuffle. I hope now that they can get on with their reshuffle, after the Chancellor of the Exchequer removes his objections, and that they are suitably rewarded when it comes.

The central statement in amendment No. 102 is simple. Things have come to a pretty pass when that simple statement—that students from England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland should not be disadvantaged, when it comes to access to a university within the United Kingdom, because of where they happen to have been born or to be living—has become the subject of controversy in the House.

We have reached an absurd position. The Government are going to try to whip people through the Division Lobby in defence of the proposition that there should be disadvantages for students dependent on which part of the United Kingdom they happen to be residing in. I am encouraged that that essential point is conveyed not just in our amendment, but in the other amendments, which have been tabled by the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National party, and, indeed, by some Labour Members as well.

All we are talking about is one nation. The Prime Minister has tried rather cheekily to use the language of one nation. If one nation means anything, it means that access to higher education in this United Kingdom should not depend on one's place of birth—

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

Does the hon. Gentleman believe that a student living somewhere else in the UK who chooses to do a four-year degree course in Scotland is conferring on him or herself an advantage or a disadvantage?

Mr. Willetts

It is an advantage both for the student in question and for the Scottish university. Scottish universities want their flow of students from outside Scotland.

We would not give our amendment priority over amendments and new clauses tabled by other parties with the same objective. If, within the procedures set down for these debates, we could have a vote on new clause 3, we would be much happier; but as new clause 3 comes much later, the danger is, given the time restriction, that we would end up unable to vote on this measure at all.

Mr. Jamieson

indicated dissent.'

Mr. Willetts

I assure the Whip that that is the procedural position, and it is why we will press our amendment to a vote, in the hope that other Members who believe in the principles of one nation and non-discrimination will support us in the Lobby.

Someone from England, Wales or Northern Ireland—especially Northern Ireland, which lacks enough universities, and which sends many students to Scotland—will, absurdly, have to pay £4,000 in tuition fees to follow a four-year course in a Scottish university, whereas a Scottish student will have to pay only £3,000.

Ministers have managed to upset many English students who had hoped to go to Scotland for a four-year course. They have also managed to irritate and insult many people in Scottish universities who value this inflow of students. They have added insult to injury by claiming that the four-year Scottish course is merely the equivalent of the second year of English A-levels plus a normal three-year English degree course. That is not how many people in higher education in Scotland regard such courses; nor is it how English, Welsh and Northern Irish students who go to Scotland having completed their A-levels regard Scottish courses.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Some students from St. Andrews with whom I have just held discussions make the astonishing claim that students from France, Italy or Germany will be exempt from the additional £1,000 fee. Surely that cannot be true. Are the Government saying that a migrant worker from Italy living in London will be exempt, while someone from Southend will have to pay? Can my hon. Friend think of anything more ridiculous or insulting?

Mr. Willetts

My hon. Friend is quite right—that is the next absurdity. The Government have angered English, Welsh and Northern Irish students, and insulted the people running Scottish universities—

Dr. Howells


Mr. Willetts

I have held meetings with students who have come down here from the Scottish universities, and they are indeed seething. That is why they have come to the House to protest.

Dr. Howells

In that case, will the hon. Gentleman tell me why applications to Scottish universities from Welsh students are up this year?

Mr. Willetts

The Minister will know that there has been a significant increase in applications for three-year courses. With this ill-thought-out measure, he is distorting the pattern of higher education in Scotland by forcing students to begin with the second year of a course instead of starting at its natural commencement.

Dr. Howells

The hon. Gentleman seems to forget that there is a reason: in Scotland, pupils do one year of A-levels; in Wales, England and Northern Ireland, they do two years. They are thus equipped to go into the second year of a Scottish degree course.

Mr. Willetts

I must warn the Minister against proceeding too far down that line of argument. Nothing irritates Scottish universities more than being told that the first year of an integrated four-year course is simply a repeat of the second year of an English A-level course. That is not how they regard it, nor is it how the vast majority of students from outside Scotland who go to Scottish universities regard it.

Caroline Flint (Don Valley)

If that is so, why are Scottish universities allowing students from England into the second year of degree courses?

Mr. Willetts

The reason is that they face a serious problem. Because of the Government's actions, applications are increasingly for places to begin with the second year—instead of what students would prefer, which would be a full four-year course.

Mr. Wilson

Will the Minister do the House a service by telling us which Administration provided for students with A-levels from England and the rest of the UK to enter Scottish universities in the second year—Tory or Labour?

Mr. Willetts

That is not the point. It is clearly the preference of a majority of students from England with English A-levels to go to Scotland for a four-year integrated degree course. That is a coherent and sensible option, now liable to a £1,000 penalty.

The only people laughing—this is the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor)—are the students from the rest of the European Union, who will enjoy the same regime as Scottish students. As was said in Committee, someone from Umbria will pay £3,000, but someone from Northumbria will pay £4,000. Not only will English students be disadvantaged compared with their Scottish counterparts: they will be disadvantaged compared with students from France, Germany, Italy and the rest of the EU.

This point was put to the Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office, the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson)—incidentally, I should remind him that he is the Minister, not me. In answer to it, he said, "Because France is in the EU." If France is to have special treatment, what about England? Are not England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the EU as well? If the Minister carries on using this argument, he will find himself before the European Court of Justice having to explain why he is operating two different regimes.

Mr. Wilson

Does the shadow Minister genuinely not understand the fact that the different education systems that prevail in the UK are a matter for the Administration of the UK, whereas students from EU countries studying in the United Kingdom have parity with the arrangements in any specific part of the UK? I should have thought that a man with two brains could grasp that.

Mr. Willetts

It is indeed a matter for the Government of the UK; all we ask is that that Government take a view about the whole of the UK. One reason for this mess is that the Scottish Office Minister may not have taken the DFEE Under-Secretary fully into his confidence when he was planning this little manoeuvre, which he suddenly launched on an amazed world—some time after the Government decided their policy on Dearing. So the Scottish Minister has made life very embarrassing for his colleagues in the DFEE, who have found themselves having to explain why they are unwilling to give English and other UK students the treatment being offered to Scottish students in Scotland. All we plead for is a United Kingdom approach.

It is no accident that the Government have got themselves into a mess on the Scottish question—the so-called Scottish anomaly. They have been getting themselves into a mess on aspect after aspect of the proposals on higher education, and have got into a series of muddles and improvisations.

Sir Teddy Taylor

I do not want to be a pest, but I want to put a straight question to the Government and stop the Minister laughing, because something filthy and foul is being done. Why the blazes should we have a special rule applying to French and Germans, but not to Bulgarians, Czechs, Slovaks, Australians or New Zealanders? That is not a question at which the Minister should laugh; he is doing something filthy and foul to Scottish universities, and he should be ashamed of himself.

7 pm

Mr. Willetts

Of course, we will not have heard the end of it tonight. Those who live by the European Court of Justice will die by the European Court of Justice: the Minister may come to regret the Government's attempt to impose a regime that discriminates against one part of the United Kingdom.

My point is that this is only one in a catalogue of disasters which began the day—23 July 1997—that the Government published the Dearing report and, on the same day, tore it up. It was when the Government failed to implement Dearing that they got themselves into the muddles on higher education policy that have bedevilled them ever since.

The Dearing committee was set up on a bipartisan basis—although we set it up when in government, we consulted the then Labour Opposition before doing so—and its report is the only serious game in town when it comes to the future of higher education in this country; it is a serious piece of work that sets out a way forward for higher education.

The Dearing committee had to be set up because we recognised that the time had come to take a serious look at the future financing of higher education. British universities had delivered heroic improvements in efficiency, so as to deliver a significant increase in participation in higher education by British young people, while at the same time bringing down the cost of educating each individual student. The Dearing committee was set up to identify a way forward, and the way forward it identified was very clear.

First, the committee decided that the maintenance grant should stay. I think that the members of the committee probably began their deliberations expecting to conclude that the maintenance grant should go, but, after they had taken evidence and deliberated, it became clear to them that the case for the maintenance grant was overwhelming. They did not want to abolish the maintenance grant and end up with students from a modest-income background finding themselves, say, £10,000 in debt—far more than students from more affluent backgrounds.

It is impossible to defend the abolition of the maintenance grant and increased debt for students from low-income families, while simultaneously talking about a belief in wider access. Abolishing the maintenance grant and imposing greater debt on students from low-income backgrounds is incompatible with any serious commitment to widening access. The Dearing committee decided in favour of keeping the maintenance grant, and it was right to do so.

The committee also looked at tuition fees, and concluded in favour of a £1,000 tuition fee for each student. As we are consistent in our support for Dearing, we recognise that, if Dearing recommends tuition fees, the case for tuition fees is one that we must accept. However, the basis on which Dearing recommended tuition fees was that they would be a source of extra income for universities.

The committee did not envisage tuition fees being a student tax. For every £1,000 a university raises, the threat is of an offsetting reduction in the Government grant to universities. That is why we hope to make clear later in the debate our belief that tuition fees should be a source of extra revenue for universities rather than a means of displacing Exchequer grant.

Before the election, the then Leader of the Opposition, now the Prime Minister, told the Evening Standard: Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees". The Government are in a rather awkward position. The stage has been reached where believing that one should stand by the pledges made before an election makes one a rebel in today's Labour party—that is a path down which many Labour Members have had to tread in the past few months. If any Labour Member thinks that the Prime Minister was right to say that to the Evening Standard in March 1997, the Whips will descend threateningly, urging him or her to take constituency leave.

Of course, the Prime Minister appears to believe that he is implementing Dearing, and I should be fascinated to learn exactly what briefing he has been given by Education Ministers. At Prime Minister's Question Time, the right hon. Gentleman claimed: I made it clear throughout the election campaign that we should abide by the recommendations of the Dearing Committee".—[Official Report, 29 October 1997; Vol. 299, c. 892.] If only he would. If he had done so, his Government would not have got into the mess in which they now find themselves, whereby they abolish maintenance grants when the arguments in favour of the retention of maintenance grants are overwhelming; they impose tuition fees without the prospect of their bringing extra resources to universities as was promised; and they break their pre-election pledges.

Today, the Secretary of State for Education and Employment has announced a package of measures that is supposed to assuage the concerns of many on both sides of the House about the provisions of the Bill. I studied the Secretary of State's package with some interest, because he has some skill—I pay tribute to it—in plucking a little package out of the air every time he is in some political difficulty.

I realised that the package announced today is the same as the one announced on 23 September, when the right hon. Gentleman was going to speak to the Labour party conference about this measure; and it was the same as the one announced on 4 November when he was coming to the House to face a Supply day debate. What is interesting is not that he announces a package every time, but that he announces the same package every time. We have spotted that.

Mr. Willis

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that there is a significant difference between those packages, which is that full-time undergraduates aged over 50 but less than 55 will now be entitled to loans?

Mr. Willetts

Would the hon. Gentleman like to tell the House his exact date of birth? I suspect that that measure is a desperate attempt to curry the support of the Liberal Democrats later this evening—I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not fall for it.

The package is nothing that the House has not seen before, and the financing for it is to be achieved purely by delaying payments to universities. The only way the Secretary of State can fund that extra resource, which he has plucked out of thin air, is by delaying the payment of the annual grant to universities, so that, instead of coming in a single one-off payment, it is to be made in three separate payments, with the third coming in the subsequent financial year.

That will yield savings in the first financial year which the right hon. Gentleman can then put back into higher education in the form of the package that has been before the House so many times before. That is sleight of hand of rather impressive skill, but it is not a serious attempt to address the problems facing higher education because of the provisions of the Bill.

There is nothing in the so-called package that addresses the concerns felt by Members on both sides of the House, or our desire to ensure that maintenance grants continue. We do not believe that saddling students from low-income backgrounds with large debts is a sensible or convincing way of broadening access to higher education.

Ms Hodge

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. For 10 minutes or quarter of an hour, we have not addressed the issue of fees for students in Scottish universities. Is the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) in order?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Lady has taken the words out of my mouth—perhaps she will do a good job in the Chair one day. The point of order is correct, and the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) should return to addressing the amendment.

Mr. Willetts

I know that many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, so I shall not pursue my points. I simply wanted to put it on the record that we had seen through the Secretary of State's sleight of hand in respect of the package. However, you are quite right, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The basic point is a simple one: if hon. Members on either side of the House believe in equitable treatment of students from England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland as part of one nation, they should support our amendment, which we shall press to a Division tonight.

Ms Hodge

I should say that I did not make my point of order so as to hasten my contribution to the debate, but I am delighted that you called me, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Let me start by saying that the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) has got it wrong, and, if he had not taken so many interventions in his speech, I would have risen to point that out. The proposal for the payment of fees in Scotland has absolutely nothing to do with access to universities. That is a completely different point. Access to places in Scottish universities will depend, as it does now, on the qualifications and standards reached by those applying. The treatment of students within the universities will be different, not the access to the universities. I should have thought that someone with the hon. Gentleman's stated intelligence would have known that.

Mr. John Randall (Uxbridge)

I am concerned about degree courses that are offered only by Scottish universities—for example, Celtic studies—which people of Scottish parentage, living in England, might want to follow. Surely they would be put at a disadvantage because, coming from England, they could not study in Scotland on the same terms as someone who came from Scotland.

Ms Hodge

That point is central to the debate, and I shall deal with it in my speech.

We all know that there are different systems of education in Scotland and England. Indeed, one of the justifications for devolution in Scotland, which the Opposition do not support, is that the different systems can be administered by local people who have an affinity with the area. Students from Scotland enter university a year earlier than those from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, because they finish their compulsory schooling a year earlier.

That is an anomaly that we must deal with, but it is one of many. To pull that anomaly out of the hat is to do a disservice to our attempt to ensure that there is equitable access to our universities and that the opportunity to study in higher education is open to the many, not the few.

Other anomalies are more important. Why should mature students in all universities be expected to pay fees, as many of them do? Why should part-time students be expected to pay fees, as they will have to until these changes are introduced? Mature and part-time students tend to come from lower socio-economic groupings. If we want, over the longer term, to introduce a system of student finance that opens opportunity to the many, not the few, we must create a system that will allow us to open up maintenance loans and student grants to those groups before we open them up to Scottish students.

More importantly, why should students in further education—who are the subject of a recent Select Committee report—particularly those over 19, be expected to pay fees?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. As the hon. Lady was kind enough to remind me about hon. Members straying from the subject of the amendment, I should advise her that, if her case relates to comparisons between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom, I can rule her remarks in order.

Ms Hodge

Thank you for drawing me back to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was attempting to demonstrate that there is a series of anomalies and unfairnesses, and that, even if one were to deal with one anomaly, others would remain which are worthy of more immediate concern.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine)

The hon. Lady seems to have a strange logic: she argues that, because there are other anomalies, the anomaly that is the subject of the debate should not be addressed. The fact that the world is full of anomalies does not mean that we should not deal with one when we have the chance.

Ms Hodge

We have to choose our priorities, and this anomaly would not be my top priority, given the costs involved in dealing with it.

Dr. Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Is not the point that, although we are concerned about existing anomalies, tonight we shall create a further anomaly?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The hon. Lady is referring to amendments that we shall come to later.

Dr. Jones

Mr. Deputy Speaker, a new anomaly would be created in the treatment of students in different parts of the United Kingdom.

7.15 pm
Ms Hodge

The direct answer to that point is that, if we were to accept the Opposition's proposal, we would create further anomalies.

I shall give my hon. Friend an example. Students would get a free education in St. Andrews or Edinburgh, but if they were taking a four-year course at the university of East London or the universities in my hon. Friend's constituency, they would not have that advantage. By trying to iron out one anomaly, we would create further anomalies.

Mr. Willis

The hon. Lady has described the essence of the anomaly—on the one hand, students who are domiciled in Scotland and go to a Scottish university will have their fourth year paid because they have one year less of compulsory full-time education, but if they go over the border to an English university, they will have to pay for their fourth year. Surely that anomaly is unacceptable even in her terms.

Ms Hodge

The hon. Gentleman is simply alluding to the fact that the Opposition amendment would create further anomalies.

I shall move on to other issues. Will the introduction of our measures for Scotland put off English students from applying to Scottish universities? That is what we should all be interested in. Are we, by our proposals, putting back the clock on access to higher education, or in any way constraining choice? The answer must be no.

As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said in his intervention on the Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Havant, this year there has been an increase in the number of Welsh students who have applied to go to Scottish universities. More English, Welsh and Northern Irish students have applied to go to Scottish universities this year than Scottish students. If the proposals were as damaging as has been suggested by some hon. Members, that would not have happened.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West)

Would the hon. Lady like to develop that argument further, and suggest that we should further increase fees so that even more students will apply?

Ms Hodge

I know that the Conservatives regard this issue facetiously, but increasing access to higher education is important. I was attempting to counter the allegation that the proposals in any way inhibit access. The facts speak for themselves, and the applications prove that the proposals have not inhibited access.

There may well be an increase in the number of students who choose to go into the second year of their study in Scottish universities. At present, the figure is 10 per cent., but it may go up. That is not a bad thing, and we should not regret it.

It was the Conservative Government who recognised the differences between the Scottish and English education systems, and enabled English students to start their education at second-year level. Last year, 10 per cent. of those who went to Scottish universities went to do a three-year degree, not an honours degree. They will be subject to the same rules for the three years of an ordinary degree as if they had gone to an English university.

Mr. Green

Does the hon. Lady recognise the difference between choice and coercion? The previous Government gave students the choice of going to university for three or four years, but this Government are coercing them by reducing the amount of money available. Does she not recognise that this is essentially a case of fairness? Different students will be paying different amounts in the same circumstances.

Ms Hodge

I tried to point out earlier—perhaps the hon. Gentleman did not understand me—that there are many anomalies and unfairnesses throughout the post-education system. If we were to accept the Opposition amendment tonight, we would create still further anomalies.

The hon. Member for Havant referred to European Union students. European legislation provides that students from European countries will have their fees subsidised in their fourth year. Let us be absolutely clear how many students we are talking about. In 1995–96, only 350 students in the Scottish university system came from European Union countries outside Britain. That anomaly is not so important that it compels the sort of anger and frustration that has been expressed by some Opposition Members.

Mr. Don Foster


Sir Teddy Taylor


Ms Hodge

I will give way.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. To whom is the hon. Lady giving way?

Ms Hodge

I am giving way to the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster).

Mr. Foster

I am grateful to the hon. Lady. Will she remind the House whether England is part of the European Union?

Ms Hodge

As a Liberal Democrat, the hon. Gentleman—more than anyone else—should support the concept of subsidiarity, which is integral to the debate.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Things are getting out of hand. The hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor, should not walk across the Chamber while asking the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) to give way. He is out of order. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to intervene, he should stand in his place and ask the hon. Lady to give way.

Sir Teddy Taylor

I am sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but I got carried away—I do not usually. As a socialist, how the blazes can the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) accept the expenditure of public money to subsidise students from France and Germany when the same subsidy is not provided for students from Bulgaria and places like that? Is the hon. Lady saying that, because there are only about 300 such students, it does not matter? As a supporter of people's rights, should she not be concerned that the Government are offering facilities to people from certain areas and not to those from the poorest countries in the world? As a socialist, should not the hon. Lady be ashamed of herself?

Ms Hodge

As a member of the new Labour party, and a warm supporter of the European project, I embrace the huge benefits that membership of the European Union has brought to the people of this country.

Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Hodge

I must move on, as many hon. Members wish to participate in the debate. However, I shall give way once more.

Mr. Beith

The hon. Lady may have inadvertently misled the House when she said that there were 300 students from EU countries. The figure for 1995–96 is in fact 3,082.

Ms Hodge

I obtained my figures from the Library—I am not sure whether we are exchanging figures that were obtained in different ways—and they show that 350 students from EU countries outside Britain were studying at Scottish universities in 1995–96.

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan)


Ms Hodge

I must continue, as I have taken a range of interventions, and the hon. Gentleman has just entered the Chamber.

I turn to other issues that I believe are relevant to the debate. When most people from England, Wales and Northern Ireland think of Scottish universities, places such as Edinburgh and St. Andrews come to mind. However, many Scottish universities cater primarily for Scottish students. For example, Robert Gordon university derives only 3.5 per cent. of its student intake from outside Scotland, and Paisley university derives only 4 per cent. Most Scottish universities—except perhaps the more elite establishments in Scotland—cater primarily for Scottish students.

The Opposition may have identified an anomaly, but is it a priority for targeting resources? I argue strongly that it is not. I share the priorities of the Secretary of State for Education and Employment for distributing additional resources. Any additional money—there will be even more when resource accounting gets under way and we treat loans under public expenditure rules—should be used to improve access for lone parents, mature students and people with disabilities.

Let us use the money to iron out other anomalies that I believe are more important. For example, part-time students are treated differently, and students in further education are treated in a totally unfair and discriminatory manner. Let us put that money to better use, so that we may create opportunities for the many, not the few.

Mr. Donald Gorrie (Edinburgh, West)

Before attempting to controvert the intellectual chicanery practised by various Government Members, I shall speak to Liberal Democrat amendment No. 8.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. No hon. Member is ever involved in chicanery.

Mr. Gorrie

I beg your pardon, Mr. Deputy Speaker; I thought that the phrase might be allowed.

I shall speak to Liberal Democrat amendments Nos. 8 and 9. Amendment No. 8 means that fees for the fourth year and subsequent years of study in all United Kingdom universities would be covered by grants. There would be a level playing field across the whole United Kingdom, as fees would be paid for only three years. Concentration on the Scottish anomaly has concealed the fact that many university courses in England continue for four or more years and that students enrolled in those courses will suffer under the present arrangements.

The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals estimates that it will cost £12 million a year to remove the fees or cover them by grants. That seems a modest amount to pay, to address that anomaly and assist the students enrolled in those courses, many of which are vital to the future of our economy. This is one anomaly, but there are many others. We are concentrating on the single anomaly in this amendment and we deal with other anomalies in later amendments. I commend to the House our proposal, which would solve the problem in Scotland. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Hon. Members must allow the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie) a hearing. Every hon. Member is entitled to a hearing. Far too many conversations are being conducted in the Chamber.

Mr. Gorrie

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Amendment No. 9 would address the Scottish anomaly by covering fourth-year fees in Scottish universities with grants. Different parties have tried to address that question from four different directions. In addition to our amendments, we endeavoured to address it by moving a motion for recommittal, which did not leave the starting blocks. We proposed that the clauses regarding Scotland be recommitted to a Scottish Standing Committee. Our amendment seeks to deal with the anomaly, and other parties' amendments deal with it satisfactorily in other ways. We shall be happy to support the Conservative amendment or any other amendments that are selected.

This is the most extraordinary mess that the Government have made. The sight of different Departments passing the buck from one to another and saying, "It wisnae me," "I'll not pay," and "It isn't my fault," is not enlivening.

The Government—or their latest spokesperson—argue that they are retaining equal access. In theory, there will be equal access to the most expensive seats at Covent Garden when it reopens, in that anyone will be able to go in, part with several hundred pounds and get the seat, but that is not equal access, as whether one can afford the ticket price enters into the equation.

The arguments made in Labour interventions and speeches so far are of the "angels dancing on the point of a pin" variety, but they have a new angle on the issue, which the mediaeval people did not. The area of residence of the angel dancing on the point of a pin was the crucial new issue. The arguments—

Mr. Ian Davidson (Glasgow, Pollok)

New Labour, new angle.

Mr. Gorrie

New Labour, new lunacy. The arguments are incredibly unconvincing.

7.30 pm
Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling)

If this is as huge an issue as the hon. Gentleman implies, and if the amount of hot air generated means that the Government are in trouble, why is that not borne out by the statistics of applications by real people in England, Northern Ireland and Wales to universities in Scotland? Why is it not borne out by a plummet in applications? That is what we would expect if what he said bore a shred of a relationship to reality.

Mr. Gorrie

We are setting out a—[HON. MEMBERS: "Answer."] I will answer the question. We are setting out a point of principle. If Labour Members cannot recognise a principle, that is their problem, not ours. We are looking to the future. We want to establish a principle that will last. It is not a question of whether one year of students decides in a specific way, when the facts are not fully known. I ask Labour Members to imagine a scenario in which we were not doing this but, in a year or two, the Scottish Parliament passed a Bill to the effect that it would cost English students more than it would Scottish students to study in Scotland. My God, what an outcry there would be—"Wicked Scots nationalist discrimination!" Instead, the Labour party, whose duty it is to run the Union satisfactorily and fairly, is introducing this anomaly. It is blowing a hole in the concept of the Union and fairness throughout the country.

Mr. Wilson

I wonder whether the obvious solution would be to have the same system of school qualifications, the same entry qualifications and the same higher education system in England as in Scotland. Then there would be no anomalies. Is that what the hon. Gentleman is recommending?

Mr. Gorrie

No; I am not proposing that. I am proposing that there should be a level playing field and non-discrimination for entry to Scottish universities. For the sake of £2 million—what it has been estimated would be necessary to redress the anomaly—the Government are seriously damaging Scottish universities. They have enraged the students and the university community, which are very unhappy about the whole thing.

Mr. Byers

Oh dear.

Mr. Gorrie

"Oh dear" is not a very intelligent remark for Ministers to make if a large number of university principals are very unhappy with their policy.

Ministers are deliberately denigrating the Scottish four-year degree. On a previous occasion, the Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office referred to a "leisurely four-year degree". Ministers ignore the fact that, throughout Europe, broader and longer degrees are the norm. Scotland is more in tune than is England with most of continental Europe. The Government are much mistaken in undermining the Scottish four-year degree. The idea that people can go straight in at the start of the second year—

Caroline Flint

Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that, on a point of principle, the task should be to increase opportunities for students at school and in further education in Scotland to have access to university? Is not that the point of principle—increasing the number of students from Scotland who can apply to do the four-year degree course?

Mr. Gorrie

With due respect to the hon. Lady, that is not the issue. Scotland already has a better rate of people going on to university than England does. We shall support any measure to improve the participation of people in any part of Britain in higher and further education, and to improve their opportunities, but how one improves their opportunities by charging fees, I do not know.

Mr. Willetts

The hon. Gentleman may be aware of the survey conducted by Scottish university students, approaching every head teacher in Scotland, of whom 68.5 per cent. felt that the percentage of their pupils entering higher education would fall as a result of the introduction of tuition fees and 70.4 per cent. felt that abolition of the maintenance grant would further reduce the percentage of their students entering higher education. If that is indeed the concern of the hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint), it does not look as if these measures make much sense.

Mr. Gorrie

The Conservatives can speak for themselves on their policy on fees.

At present, about 10 per cent. of students coming from England, Northern Ireland and Wales go straight into the second year of a Scottish course. It is not an option in many courses and, according to my information, many people who start in the second year go back to the first year because they do not think that it would be sensible to continue, and they cannot cope. Only the top-quality entrants from England can go straight into the second year, and it is arguable whether it is beneficial for them, because they miss out on the breadth of the traditional Scottish degree.

The Government have got it entirely wrong, first, on the issue of equality throughout the Union, and secondly, in their extraordinarily consistent attack on the Scottish traditional four-year degree, which is very damaging for the future. I hope that the House will support whatever amendment it has to vote on to oppose these foolish policies.

Mr. John McAllion (Dundee, East)

I support new clause 3, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), my colleagues and myself.

The hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) made what he described as a one-nation political speech—a one-Union political speech, if you like—but I warn him that taking a Unionist line will not work with me. I certainly will not support amendment No. 102, which is a Tory amendment tabled in his name. I have been 11 years in the House, and so far I have managed never to support the Tories in any decision; I will not support them now.

I say to Ministers, however, that neither will I vote against amendment No. 102. In an ideal world, I would have hoped that new clause 3 would be selected and voted on, and if it were voted on, I would vote for it, because it is about a serious, important issue, which Ministers should take seriously—the issue of fairness and not discriminating against people because they happen to live in a different part of this island from other people. That is the basic principle.

People who attend the same university and do the same four-year degree course should be treated exactly the same. There is no way round that basic, simple argument. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) says that access for English, Welsh and Northern Ireland students to Scottish universities remains the same as it did before; it does not. A student from England, Wales or Northern Ireland must find an extra £1,000 in tuition fees if they want to take a course at a Scottish university. I realise that £1,000 here or there does not matter to a millionaire, but to many people £1,000 is a lot of money. It may make all the difference when they are deciding whether to stay in England, Northern Ireland or Wales or go to university in Scotland.

Many of my hon. Friends have argued that it is possible to jump into the second year if one has an A-level qualification instead of a higher, as they have in Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Barking conceded that, at the moment, only 10 per cent. of students from the rest of the United Kingdom go straight into the second year of courses in Scottish universities. In fact, at a briefing given to Members of Parliament from Dundee by the local universities—Dundee university and Abertay university—it was made clear that most students coming from England, Wales and Northern Ireland do not go straight into the second year, and would not be allowed to do so because of the type of course on offer. Accountancy was mentioned. Students from England will not be allowed to go into the second year of that course at Dundee university. Of course, we can score debating points across the Chamber, but the problem is real for real students in the real world. We must take it on board when the policy that we are advocating has discriminatory implications and damages the interests of students from elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

There is also a Scottish perspective to the argument. I was born and raised in Glasgow, but I have spent most of my life living in Dundee. I know that there are more universities in Scotland than just Edinburgh and St. Andrews. Dundee university and Abertay university in Dundee—some of my hon. Friends may never have heard of it—have high proportions of students from elsewhere in the UK. At Dundee university, 30 per cent. of the intake consists of non-Scottish students, with 14 per cent. coming from Northern Ireland. If we consider particular disciplines at the university—for example, medicine—60 per cent. of the students on those courses are non-Scottish students.

The universities believe that the measure is bound to have an impact on the applications that they will receive and the number of students coming into the universities. The preliminary figures produced by the universities last November showed that in the case of Dundee, the number of applications was down by 17.5 per cent. At Abertay—

Ms Hodge

That is ridiculous.

Mr. McAllion

The principals of those universities have given those figures to the Members of Parliament who represent them. My hon. Friend may think that the argument is ridiculous, but those are the facts and that is the truth.

Ms Hodge

I said that that was ridiculous because November was not the last date for applications to universities. Can my hon. Friend say whether applications to Dundee university are down this year? Are applications from students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland down?

Mr. McAllion

If my hon. Friend had taken the trouble to read a Scottish newspaper last week, she would have seen a huge article reporting a speech made by Professor Bernard King, the principal of Abertay university, who was speaking about the likely effect of the extra £1,000 tuition fee on applications to his university. His words were that that would have a devastating effect. He believed that the number of students in universities across Scotland would be down by as much as 25 per cent. as a direct result of the policy. He went on to argue that, if the problem was not addressed, the reduction in the number of students attending Scottish universities would in the long term lead to a reduction in the number of universities across Scotland.

That is a man who knows what he is talking about. He is not an elected politician who does a wee bit here and a wee bit there about higher education. He has spent his life in higher education and he knows the likely impact of the changes on higher education in Scotland. He is alarmed, and if he is alarmed, I am alarmed and I suggest that my hon. Friends should also be alarmed. They should pay no attention to the smoothing of the figures. If we put barriers in the way of people going to university, we cannot say that that will have no effect.

I can trade soundbites with the best of us. I also want access to university to be for the many, not for the few. I suggest to my hon. Friends, however, that anything that puts a barrier in the way of students coming to Scottish universities will not encourage access for the many.

Mr. Wilson

Any university that was suffering a reduction in applications from elsewhere in the United Kingdom could take more students from less well-off backgrounds because, of course, no matter where in the United Kingdom they come from, they will not have to pay tuition fees.

Mr. McAllion

There is a danger in that. My hon. Friend highlights another anomaly. In Dundee, not only do we have two universities, but we have a college of further education, Dundee college, which has 10,000 or 11,000 students. If we lose students from elsewhere in the United Kingdom, the criteria for admission to Abertay and Dundee universities will be dropped. Consequently, many of the students who would have gone to Dundee college will go to one of those universities, and Dundee college will then be in trouble. Already it has insufficient funds to keep all the teachers teaching all the time.

There is a knock-on effect all the way down the chain. I plead with my hon. Friends. No doubt the decision was originally based on public spending considerations, but it has grave implications. It would not cost a great deal of money to restore the principle that is at the heart of new clause 3. That would go down very well with people in Scotland if we could find the money to do something about it. We have the money, because there are surpluses around, as everyone is saying. We do not need to adopt such a policy and we should not try to defend it.

Several hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I shall call the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor). I have noted his interventions regarding European Union students. He has made his point about EU students, and the amendment deals with UK students. I would not want him to make another European speech.

Sir Teddy Taylor

I am always grateful to you for your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and of course I shall stick absolutely to the rules.

The hon. Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion) made an excellent speech. He was trying to tell us that we should stop playing at politics and throwing around silly figures and estimates, and realise that there is a major problem.

We all know from experience that we cannot tell the impact of anything until it happens. Instead of discussing estimates given by university professors whom we can largely judge as sensible, or soundbites from Ministers that can be disregarded, let us wait and see what happens. We should ask ourselves, first, whether the policy can work; secondly, whether it is just; and thirdly, what impact it will have on Scottish universities.

7.45 pm

I have three children. One went to St. Andrews university, where 40 per cent. of the students came from Scotland, 40 per cent. from the rest of the UK and 20 per cent. from abroad. My daughter is at present at Durham university. Before hon. Members start making political points, I hope that they will think about my daughter. Because I am a wealthy Member of Parliament, I send her a cheque every month. I hope that she will emerge with a good degree and with no debts. However, if I were an unemployed bricklayer, she would probably leave university—if the Bill were enacted—with a debt of £10,000. Let us forget the idea that we are making provision to help the poor. should look at the facts, not the soundbites.

I should like to ask the Minister some questions. First, if the proposal is just, what is the definition of a Scottish student? I came from Scotland, went to a Scottish university, went down to England looking for a job and found one. If someone is temporarily residing in Scotland before starting university, having his previous home in Birmingham, is he a Scot or is he English? If somebody has been to Scottish schools and got a Scottish education and Scottish higher leaving certificates—

Ms Hodge

indicated dissent.

Sir Teddy Taylor

The hon. Lady should not shake her head, as this is a real situation. If that person then moves to Birmingham, is he an English resident? The first thing that the Minister should say in his reply is how he will define a Scottish applicant, as opposed to an applicant from England. We know that people move around a great deal. If someone has a Scottish school education and then moves to England, how can the definitions be reasonable or practical?

Secondly, I shall not raise the European issue but, bearing it in mind that the school education in Italy and France is fundamentally different, as the Minister well knows, why should those students get the same £1,000 off their fees, compared with other students coming from Canada, where school education tends to be shorter, or from Australia, where it is in between, or from Bulgaria, where I do not know the situation?

Can the Minister explain why there should be a block exemption for students from the European Union? Can he tell us what will happen in the case of South American countries? French Guyana is an overseas territory of France, but British Guyana is not covered by the measure.

Thirdly, what will be the impact on applications? I know that my son, who went to St. Andrews, was rather worried about going there because it meant an extra year of studying. He did not particularly want to do that, but the advantages of going to St. Andrews were considerable for him, so he decided to do it. Would it not be ridiculous if he had had the disadvantage of the extra year educationally as well as an extra £1,000 fee?

The fourth factor that the Government must bear in mind is that there are variations in the length of courses in Scottish and English universities. At St. Andrews, in some instances, students can apply for three-year courses. That is not possible at other Scottish universities. At Aberdeen university—I know that this applies to two courses at Dundee university—it is not possible to reduce the length of courses.

Finally, I hope that the Government will bear it in mind that they are introducing a new anomaly in the funding of education. That is wrong, especially when the Labour party did not say that it would do such a thing before it came to power.

I had the pleasure this afternoon of speaking to several students from St. Andrews. I spoke to others who came from Dundee and elsewhere. They happened to recognise me, although I have been away from Scotland for a long time. They were concerned. Indeed, they were alarmed. They thought that it was fundamentally wrong to introduce a measure which for the first time would bring in discrimination.

I hope that the Minister will tell students—this is not a laughing matter—how he defines whether an applicant comes from Scotland. For example, one of my children could decide to move in with an aunt, perhaps in May, and apply to go to a Scottish university. That child could move away from home for that purpose and say that his or her home had changed for that purpose. Would that child have the Scottish advantage? On the other hand, someone could move down to England temporarily. Does that person become English? The moment we introduce differentiations for Scottish nationals or English nationals, we are bringing something into our law that is fundamentally wrong.

As I have said before, the whole business is filthy, foul and cruel. I accept that other Governments might have done something similar. If they had, however, I fancy that there would have been marching in the streets. The Government's proposal, if enacted, will hit the poorest families hardest of all.

My children and others with parents on higher incomes will emerge without any debt whatever. Although the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) is shaking her head, I ask her to think about these matters. My daughter will leave university without any debt. If I were on a low income, she would leave with a debt of £10,000, and some day would have to repay it. As for charges and the fees that we were discussing, those on low incomes would not pay them. However, there is still the horrible business of paying back the debt for the money that is borrowed for a university course.

Something big has happened, and it is wrong. The hon. Member for Barking should be well aware that no indication was given to students that this would happen. The Government have done something fundamentally wrong. They should say at least that they will retain the principle that the same rules will apply throughout the United Kingdom, whether someone's residence is classified as being in Scotland or England.

Dr. George Turner (North-West Norfolk)

I confess that I learned the differences between Scottish and English education at an early age: the son of Scots parents, and with a working mother, I was sent for the English school holidays to Scotland, where, to get me out of the way and out of trouble, my relatives put me into school. The school holidays were different, of course. Having had cousins who went through the Scottish system doing their highers and four-year degree courses, and having myself followed the traditional English route—A-levels and a three-year degree course—I am well aware of the distinctive pattern of education in Scotland.

Before coming to this place, I worked for almost 30 years in higher education. I am disappointed that the House has not addressed the real issues. Admission to education—along with fees and the suitability of candidates—relates to educational background and experience and not to where people are resident. Over my years in higher education I dealt with exchange courses. Our best universities are international, and the university of East Anglia numbers among them. Within a three-year programme, we had difficulty in ensuring that exchanges could take place—although there were many four-year courses at English universities offering European exchanges, which recognised language difficulties. We must understand that students from elsewhere in Europe who come here as part of their course have similar problems.

In America, with no language differences, there were still grave problems in finding courses—as there would be for students moving between England and Scotland. The reason for that is that the educational system is different—salthough there are more similarities with the system in the United States, where I worked for a few years, than between the systems in Scotland and England.

As soon as we have differences in schooling and educational systems, anomalies in admission policies may arise. I know that many English universities would dearly have loved the funding to enable them to move to a four-year degree course for those who had completed an A-level course, but I know—

Mr. Randall

The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point. Does not the argument revolve round the fact that the Government are unwilling to fund four-year courses in the rest of the United Kingdom? As was said in Committee, there are many courses, such as language courses, where four years would be appropriate. The anomaly arises because of the Government's unwillingness to fund four-year courses.

Dr. Turner

With respect, the Government do fund four-year courses where appropriate. The question that must be addressed is whether residence is the appropriate qualification. The first part of my argument is that residence is not appropriate. What is appropriate is educational background and the totality of that education.

I know that there are strains on English universities in finding matching courses that can be made available to American students on exchange. That is because the Americans have a four-year system. If universities that wish to attract international students do not look to the structure of their courses, they will have difficulty in attracting them.

What are our priorities when it comes to the funding that is available for education? That is the real question for the Government to take on board. Despite the mantra of my party, I know that funding will be limited during this Parliament and the next. I know that some of my colleagues at the university of East Anglia will regret me saying that we do not have the luxury of funding to enable us to move from the standard English three-year degree course to one of four years. The students and the teachers might like the idea, but it is not our priority.

As an admissions tutor, I am aware of the problems that arise when there are different education systems within the same country. There is just as great a difference between the Scottish system of education and the English system of A-levels as there is for those students who chose to leave school at 16 to take the further education route. If a student takes the FE route in England through the ordinary national certificate and the higher national certificate, he may have more years of education than the student beginning a three-year degree course. That was certainly the case with the engineering course with which I was involved. The argument was that such students should be able to move into their second year at the English university. In some instances, with higher national diploma students, it was argued that they should be able to move into the third year. If the education system is to be efficient, it is necessary to structure courses for students.

I do not know whether it is because of ignorance or because there is little else about which to argue in terms of policy, but I feel that the House is missing the main point. That can certainly be said in relation to the new clauses. We have two distinctive schooling systems and transferring between them is not the same as moving between them. Of course consideration should be given to whether such transfer or movement should be encouraged financially. Much has been made of the £1,000 involved.

Any student who choose to extend the time that he spends in education by embarking on a four-year course after taking English A-levels could have two good reasons for doing so. One reason is that he has not planned his academic future carefully enough, early enough. It is a common fault, and understandable in the context of young people; such students continue to suffer from that, in England as well as if they wish to transfer elsewhere. Secondly, if someone else is paying, it is very nice to have a year longer to get to the same end point. There is only a modest discouragement because the extra £1,000 is less than 10 per cent. of the actual cost that is being met. The main contribution that young or middle-aged people make is the extra year that they devote to study.

Dr. Lynne Jones

When my hon. Friend talks about the luxury of an additional year in education, should he compare that with income forgone? The Minister suggested that Scottish universities might go forward by attracting more students from low-income backgrounds. Surely he should recognise that those students would have to pay their maintenance grant back, in the form of loans. Under current arrangements, they pay back £6,000 or £7,000, which will double under the new arrangements. Is my hon. Friend concerned about that?

8 pm

Dr. Turner

For the moment, I am concerned to stick to the amendments. I understand that there will be a wider debate on some of the principles later.

The principle that a person taking a year longer pays a £1,000 contribution towards that is not new. Students in England have done that, as have students who have moved. Students from Europe who I have known have usually wanted to come in and take the shortest route: they wanted to argue themselves into the latest year in the course that they could, not necessarily the earliest, because they wanted to diminish the maintenance that they paid—which I understand they will continue to pay.

Mr. Beith

I should like to compare notes with the hon. Gentleman, as someone whom did the same job as him—dealing with students applying to university. Does he not think it strange that an admissions tutor would say to students from Scotland or from other countries in Europe, "You should start in the first year because your education so far is such that that is the right place to start," while being unable to come to that conclusion for an English student without also saying, "It will cost you an extra £1,000"?

Dr. Turner

Never having dealt with these matters in Scotland, I cannot speak for what happens in that system. I dealt with students who came in from further education, and I understood a system whereby a person who had spent a further year in education could usually expect to go into the degree programme at a more advanced stage. As a county councillor, I knew that such students would not have got the grant or had their place paid for for the full three years.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill)

My hon. Friend is missing a particular point about the typical conduct of students fresh into the first year at universities in Scotland or anywhere else. Such students would not necessarily plan to do a four-year honours course and might have to enjoy success to realise that they were able to do a four-year course. They might come in planning to do three years, and then wish to go on for a fourth, but if they happen to come from any part of the United Kingdom other than Scotland, they will have to pay the extra £1,000. That is unfair.

Dr. Turner

I am afraid that I must disagree. There are different educational systems and we have to try to match them. The judgment has to be an academic one which, in general, depends on the number of years that a student has spent studying.

We cannot afford to let education be seen to be any less efficient than it has become in recent years. There may be effects from cuts in education which will mean that we have to improve quality, but we must maintain the efficiency of the system. Conservative Members are ignoring that, and they will not have my support.

Mr. Welsh

The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Dr. Turner) said that one of the problems is that England cannot move from a three-year degree to the more usual four-year degree because the Government will not provide the funding. They are also not funding the resources to end the discrimination against English and other students, which is a giveaway of the real reasons for the debate: education is now resource-driven rather than driven by education needs or reasons.

New clause 1 and amendment No. 1 would delay the Bill's implementation in Scotland until the new Scottish Parliament is set up. The education system in Scotland and attitudes towards education differ from those in the rest of the United Kingdom. That is widely recognised and has been mentioned several times in the debate. Even the Government have admitted that difference in attitude. The Scottish Office response to the Garrick report states: the existence of the Scottish Committee stems from the important and distinctive nature of the Scottish higher education system. The Under—Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Pontypridd (Dr. Howells), said in Committee: The Scottish education system differs from that elsewhere in the United Kingdom—not just at higher education level, but at school level."—[Official Report, Standing Committee F, 21 April 1998; c. 150.] Underlying the differences in the system are different attitudes and principles. For example, a Scottish education offers a breadth of learning: school pupils are able to study a wide range of subject at a high level, and university students take a broad-based four-year degree. In respect of funding, it has been possible for centuries for people in Scotland from the poorest backgrounds to enjoy the best education, if they have the ability.

The Bill will not only affect the Scottish education system, but will seriously undermine the principles on which it is built. It is incredible, therefore, that not a single Scottish constituency Member of Parliament served on the Standing Committee. The Scottish National party certainly sought representation, but was denied it. The Liberal Democrats chose not to give a seat to a Scottish Member, and the Conservatives could not have done so, even if they had wanted to. The Government filled their 14 seats with English and Welsh MPs, showing either that Scottish Labour MPs were not interested or that they could not be trusted to toe the party line. The truth of that will be seen in the Lobby.

The Government initiated legislation giving the Scottish Parliament powers to administer all levels of Scottish education, but the same Government are forcing through changes in Scottish education, even though the new Parliament will be in place in less than a year. It would be an abuse of power for the Government to force the Bill on the Scottish people when it has not been properly debated or scrutinised by their elected representatives, as it would most certainly be in the new Scottish Parliament. To use the Prime Minister's words, it would be an irresponsible act.

Given the huge administrative cost of making two fundamental changes to student funding arrangements in a short period, it would be wise to wait for the Scottish Parliament to pass such a Bill.

Sir Robert Smith

Might not the Minister have welcomed another benefit: the chance to make sure that the computer is finally working at the Student Awards Agency for Scotland? The nightmare that I foresee is that it will not only not manage to administer a system that it has operated for years but will be unable to cope, within the space of a few months, with a new system and the means-testing of parents from Greece, Germany and Denmark.

Mr. Welsh

The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. The problems of the Student Awards Agency for Scotland are only a starter—a preview of the horrors of 2000.

Amendment No. 2 would have similar effect to amendment No. 102. It would guarantee equity in payment of tuition fees for all students at higher education institutions in Scotland, regardless of United Kingdom domicile. That was the subject of my Adjournment debate on 15 January. As the Bill stands, English, Welsh and Northern Ireland applicants to Scottish universities will be expected to pay £1,000 more than Scottish or European Union students for the same course, even though they come from exactly the same background.

Mr. Coaker

May I ask the hon. Gentleman the same question that I asked the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie)? If the issue is so huge—he has returned to it—why does not what is happening outside the House reflect what he is saying? Applications have not been affected in the way that his argument suggests.

Mr. Welsh

That is not true. Applications at many universities are down, but we should remember that there is a difference between applying and taking a course. The hon. Gentleman should think beyond the present to one, two, three or 10 years from now. The Bill will not only lumber students and their families with massive debt but will have a ripple-back effect on the Scottish education system. Those major problems are being forced on Scotland. The Scottish Parliament is the best place to debate those issues so that the people of Scotland can decide what educational provision they want and what choices they wish to make, rather than have a fait accompli visited upon them.

To solve the English-Welsh-Northern Ireland anomaly would cost only £1.5 million for students from England, £45,000 for students from Wales, and £500,000 for students from Northern Ireland—a total of £2 million. That is a small sum compared with the overall budget available to the offices governing those countries, yet it would stop the anomaly, get rid of the discrimination and solve the problem. It would not take much, and the Government could easily do it if it were a priority.

The Government's policy is discriminatory. It will deter English, Welsh and Northern Ireland students from coming to Scotland. The Minister will no doubt quote figures to show, as the hon. Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) attempted to do, that overall applications have not been affected. However, some Scottish universities, such as Dundee and Abertay, have seen a substantial drop in applications, particularly from Northern Ireland.

The final result of the Government's policy will not be known until the autumn, when the important admissions figures will be released. We shall then all see the effect of what is happening. Any drop in the number of students from other parts of the United Kingdom will force Scottish institutions to downsize their diverse range of courses. There is also the danger that Scottish universities may be forced to consider abandoning the traditional four-year honours degree, replacing it with a three-year course to compete on a level playing field to attract non-Scottish UK students. The effects of that will ripple back through the whole system into secondary schools, and so on. The matter should have been thought through much more thoroughly. That could and should be done within the Scottish Parliament—not in this institution, where Scotland was not even represented in Committee.

The Government's proposal will also have a negative effect on the Scottish economy, causing a reduction in the £210 million spent each year in Scotland by students from other parts of the United Kingdom. The Government have given two reasons for not removing the anomaly, and neither is good enough. First, they argue that Scottish students will have had one less year of school education than English, Welsh or Northern Irish students, and are therefore entitled to one more year of free higher education. That is merely a convenient excuse, which is full of flaws. For example, Scottish students may have repeated years at school, but they will not be forced to pay the fourth-year fees. Several European Union countries offer free school education for 14 years or more, but students from those countries will be exempt from fourth-year fees. However, students from England, Wales or Northern Ireland who left school at 16 and who have done an access course will have to pay fees for all four years. People have been calling that an anomaly; it certainly is, and it is certainly unfair.

That is not the real reason for the Government's attitude. The real reason why they are unwilling to resolve the anomaly is that they are afraid of the implications in other parts of the United Kingdom. Students on longer courses in England will think it unfair that they are expected to pay fourth-year fees whereas students in Scotland are not; a maximum sum of £3,000 will be applied. The Department for Education and Employment could find a solution to that problem to satisfy English, Welsh and Northern Irish students—it could, if it wanted to.

It is typical of this Government that they are willing to allow universities in faraway Scotland to pay the price for their flawed policies rather than face criticism closer to London. The only solution that the Government have proposed to help ease the problem is that Scottish institutions should give English, Welsh and Northern Irish students direct entry into the second year of a four-year course. However, only 7 per cent. of non-Scottish UK students currently receive direct entry into the second year of undergraduate courses at Scottish universities. The Government are happy to encourage people to go directly into the second year, whether they are A-level students, Scottish students with a certificate of sixth-year studies or, in the future—if it comes to pass—holders of advanced highers. The first year of a four-year degree is foundational and often academically necessary. Direct entry into the second year is not possible in all courses, nor is it advisable for educational reasons.

Universities are being forced to redesign courses to suit second-year entrants for financial, not academic, reasons. The Government's flawed policy is causing the erosion of the original intention of the broad-based degree, which is gaining admiration and popularity in other countries. University is not, and should not be, simply a case of rushing people through and giving a certificate at the end. It is a learning process, which takes time.

Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde)

Why do so few students choose to enter the second year of a course? Is it because they are discouraged by the universities, or because they choose not to enter the second year?

Mr. Welsh

Funnily enough, more Scottish students than English choose to go directly into the second year. The question is too complex for me to answer in the short time available to me, but it is interesting.

8.15 pm

The English three-year honours system, rather than the Scottish four-year honours degree, is the exception. My argument is based on educational grounds. Scotland has something that is worth protecting, defending and improving. In the long run, the Government's flawed policy will act as a deterrent. It will not deter access, except in the sense that people will not wish to pay the extra money and have the extra debt, and will not choose to come to Scottish universities. If that happens, a smaller range of courses will be available in Scottish universities. The problems will be seen over the coming decades because the policy is flawed.

Our amendments would protect the four-year honours degree and ensure equity for everyone studying at Scottish universities. That is how it should be.

Mr. Dennis Canavan (Falkirk, West)

I wish to speak briefly in support of new clause 3, which seeks to address the anomaly referred to by other hon. Members.

Under the Government proposals, a new West Lothian question has arisen—namely: why should a student from Blackburn in Lancashire doing a four-year honours course at Edinburgh university have to pay £4,000, whereas a student from Blackburn in West Lothian pays only £3,000? The anomaly is complicated even further under European Union legislation: why should a student from Belfast have to pay £1,000 more than a student from Dublin? The whole matter is patently unjust, and unless the Government take action to eradicate the injustice, they may face a court action in the European Court of Justice. I appeal to the Government to see reason. That is the basic case for new clause 3—it is a plea for justice.

I take what the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) said about the available evidence regarding applications—I emphasise the word "applications" rather than admissions. However, it is early days yet and it would be wrong to jump to conclusions simply based on the application statistics at this stage. Well-articulated fears have been expressed by vice-chancellors and principals of almost all the Scottish universities about the damaging effect of the proposals and the fact that they will discourage students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland from going to Scottish universities. In the long term, that could undermine the Scottish four-year honours degree, which has been part of the tradition of our broad-based Scottish education.

Some hon. Members have said that some students from England and Wales with A-levels can go straight into the second year of a degree course. That may be true for some courses and for some students, but it is certainly not universally applicable.

I have heard at least one Minister say that students from England and Wales who opt to go to a Scottish university are already paying more anyway because they are having to pay maintenance for four years rather than the three years at an English university. That seems rather weak logic. It is almost like saying that students who already pay more should therefore pay even more. The extra £1,000 could be the last straw for potential students which dissuades them from opting for a Scottish university.

Dr. Godman

My hon. Friend said a couple of minutes ago that such an anomaly could be referred to the European Court of Justice. I am not so sure about that, but might it not create a very lively debate at the very first meeting of the Council of the Isles?

Mr. Canavan

It could, indeed. I am not a lawyer so I do not know the strength of such a case going to the European Court of Justice, although I think that outrage will be expressed by all parties in a debate on education in the Council of the Isles.

I made some effort to find out an estimate of costs involved by tabling some written answers, which were answered on Friday, and for which I am grateful to the Minister for Education and Industry, Scottish Office. He was not, however, very revealing in his first answer. I asked: what is the estimated total of tuition fees which will be payable in the final year of four years honours courses at Scottish universities and colleges by United Kingdom students from outside Scotland. He replied: I refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie) on Monday 24 November 1997".— [Official Report, 5 June 1998; Vol. 313, c. 383.] I looked with great anticipation for the appropriate extract in Hansard. In reply to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West, the Minister said: no specific estimate of the likely average fee per student for those students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland studying in Scotland is available."—[Official Report, 24 November 1997; Vol. 301, c. 422.] I know that, sometimes, figures are not the strongest points of some Education Ministers, but my hon. Friend the Minister for Education and Industry was educated at a Scottish university, so we expect better.

The Minister did eventually give me some figures, when I asked: how many United Kingdom students from outside Scotland are in the final year of four-year honours degree courses at Scottish universities or colleges."— [Official Report, 5 June 1998; Vol. 313, c. 383.] Although his reply did not exactly answer my question, he said that, last year, there was a total of 3,543 non-Scottish UK honours graduates from Scottish higher education institutions who had completed four or more years study.

Even if all those 3,543 students were paying the full fee of £1,000, the maximum cost to the Government would be just over £3.5 million. If we assume that one third will be exempt from paying fees, one third will pay a partial fee and only one third will pay the full fee, the total estimated cost would probably be less than £2 million. I should be grateful if the Minister would be good enough to confirm that, or give some rough estimate. That £2 million would or could be shared between the Department for Education and Employment, the Welsh Office and the Northern Ireland Office. Although the cost is not astronomical, the Government would generate much good will towards Scottish universities and colleges if they were to eradicate the unfair anomaly. I therefore plead with the Minister to do so.

Mr. Beith

I should like to stress to the Minister the sense of injustice with which this matter is viewed in Berwick-upon-Tweed, where the nearest two universities are in Scotland and there is a long tradition of people doing four-year courses at Scottish universities, including Aberdeen, and how people will sense the anomalies.

There is a fairly considerable movement of people and pupils across the border in and around Berwick. Quite a number of pupils complete their education in England but have a domicile in Scotland. All the Minister's arguments that, since students have had a year less full-time education in Scotland they are entitled to the full four years of education, do not apply in such cases. Such students will have completed their English education to the end of the A-level year, and will still be entitled to four years of a Scottish degree course because they live on the Scottish side of the border. On the other hand, the majority in England will have to pay the extra £1,000 in order to go to a university in Scotland. That is regarded as a very great injustice.

The injustice is compounded when it becomes clear that, by comparison with a student from Dublin, Bavaria or Sicily, the Berwick student will have to pay £1,000 more. The Minister still has not answered the argument that people in Berwick-upon-Tweed have long believed that they are in the European Union. They are entitled to parity of treatment in the EU as much as those who come to the United Kingdom from any other part of Europe.

The sense of annoyance, and even outrage, is very strong among pupils, teachers and parents in whose families there is a tradition either of going to university in Scotland or of going across the border and therefore having been in and out of both education systems. The anomaly is absurd. It is not a matter of removing some old anomaly. The Government have created a new one and I shall vote for any amendment that is designed to prevent them from doing so.

Mr. Wilson

I should like to pick up on the point made by the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). We are not talking about an anomaly, as I shall explain. We are talking about two different education systems. Anyone trying to square that circle must arrive at the conclusion that the only way in which to have an internal education system free of such anomalies is to have a unitary system. I doubt very much whether the nationalists or the Liberal Democrats are proposing that. Indeed, as a product of the Scottish education system, I would very strongly oppose that.

I turn to the amendments tabled by the nationalists because that will not take much time. The hon. Member for Angus (Mr. Welsh) proposed that all such matters should be put back for the consideration of the Scottish Parliament. If I wanted to be uncharitable and to put egg on the hon. Gentleman's face, I might accept the proposal. But I am an humane man, so I shall spare the hon. Gentleman's embarrassment.

The result of the proposal would be to deny Scottish universities the additional funding that these changes will bring, deny Scottish students access to the much more sympathetic loans regime that the legislation will introduce, and deny Scottish mature students the improved arrangements that have been announced today. Of course, by extension, the proposal would deny Scottish part-time students from less well-off backgrounds the abolition of tuition fees that we have announced in Scotland. If the hon. Gentleman wants to face his electorate to tell them that he has wiped out all of that in Scotland but not in the rest of the United Kingdom, I should perhaps facilitate it.

One wonders why the hon. Member for Angus wants to postpone all the matters for the consideration of the Scottish Parliament. The implication is that here is a Braveheart figure who cannot wait for the Scottish Parliament in order to abolish everything and introduce what he has espoused in recent months. It is therefore with interest that we look at the debate in the Scottish Grand Committee two weeks ago, in which my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Pollok (Mr. Davidson) asked the hon. Member for Angus: Before the hon. Gentleman finishes his peroration, will he say whether he is committing his party to abolish loans and reintroduce grants? If so, at what level? Is he committing his party to unfreeze bursaries and, if so, at what level will they be restored? The Braveheart figure replied: We will make good, as far as we can within the limit of resources, given the mistakes of the present Labour Government. Under repeated pressure, the hon. Gentleman admitted that he and his party have reneged on all their rhetoric to such an extent that the National Union of Students accused them of betrayal.

Mr. Welsh

All the hon. Gentleman's vitriol betrays his lack of policy and of faith in Scottish democracy. Such matters should be considered by the Scottish Parliament. The decisions should be taken in the Scottish interest. No amount of waffle, vitriol or attacks will disguise the fact that I am against tuition fees and the Minister is in favour of them.

Mr. Wilson

With respect, it is easy to be against bad weather and all sorts of things. Unless one is going to legislate on a matter, such comments are completely meaningless. Given the chance, the hon. Gentleman has again failed to say that his party would reverse the legislation. As he bravely said: We will make good, as far as we can within the limit of resources, given the mistakes"— as he sees them— of the present Labour Government."—[Official Report, Scottish Grand Committee, 20 May 1998; c. 22.] The grand old Duke of Banff has led his men to the top of the hill and marched them down again—without a shot being fired in anger.

Mr. Welsh

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Wilson

No, we must move on to serious matters.

I have heard the word "anomaly" used repeatedly tonight. [HON. MEMBERS: "From Labour Members."] Yes, from all over the place. I understand why some of my hon. Friends—including my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge)—talk about anomalies. I understand why the Liberal Democrats talk about anomalies. I understand why the press talk about anomalies. However, I am astonished that the Scottish National party describes the Scottish education system as an anomaly.

We are talking not about anomalies, but about two different education systems within one state. No amount of casuistry or complaining about anomalies can make them fit perfectly. We have two different systems. We have two different school qualification systems. We have two different university admissions systems. We have two different higher education systems in these universities, conferring different degrees in Scotland and other parts of the UK.

8.30 pm
Dr. Brian Iddon (Bolton, South-East)

I would like to throw my hon. Friend the Minister a Mackinlay and stand the argument on its head. I accept the difference between the two education systems, but there is a strong argument in England that we ought to broaden the A-level system—for obvious reasons—which would put pressure on universities to run four-year courses. If that is followed through—many of us are in favour of it—will the education team grant an extra £1,000 for those deserving it within the new English system?

Mr. Wilson

That is an interesting debate within the English education system for which, I am pleased to say, I am not responsible.

Let me turn that around, as that matter relates to the point made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie), who complained that the four-year degree in Scotland was being perniciously removed. There is much talk about the tradition of the four-year degree. How long does it take to make a tradition? When I attended university in Scotland, about 30 per cent. of students in Scotland took four-year honours degrees and 70 per cent. took three-year degrees. These figures have now been transposed, for reasons which are not entirely educational.

For some people, three-year degrees are right, and they are wasting their time doing six years at school and four years at university. I do not accept the idea that to maintain some bogus tradition, it is inherently better to spend 10 years at that stage of one's life in education than nine or eight years. What is best for the individual is what is best for education and this country.

Sir Robert Smith

The Minister seems to forget that in his desire to force people through more quickly, he wants to take away the first year at university. The tradition from which he came involved students starting on a level playing field in their first year, and it is far more important to keep the breadth at the beginning. How far people go through university—and how they come out and what experiences they choose to take with them—is a debate for another day, but forcing people to accelerate their education at the beginning of university is a mistake.

Mr. Wilson

Which is precisely why we are not forcing anyone to do anything. We are giving them choice. At present, around 10 per cent. of students from England choose to go into second year at Scottish universities in that relatively small number of cases where it is both an appropriate course and they hold appropriate A-levels. In exactly the same way when the advanced highers come on stream, I will not say that any Scottish school leaver should spend six years at school obtaining advanced highers and then—to maintain a tradition—must do another four years at university to get an honours degree.

For many, it is better to do that in eight or nine years, rather than ten years. We should think of the interests of students, rather than maintaining the financial arrangements which are dear to the heart of some higher education institutions.

Dr. Godman

As one of the few Members of this House who has taught in a Scottish university, I agree with what my hon. Friend says about the distinctiveness of our educational system, which I would not wish to change. Does he agree that our Scottish universities are enriched by encouraging youngsters—both as undergraduate and graduate students—to come to them from other points of the compass within the UK?

Mr. Wilson

Of course they are, but there is a wide range of proportions in Scottish universities; from 3 per cent. of students from England at Robert Gordon or 4 per cent. at Paisley, to between 45 and 48 per cent. at St. Andrews or Edinburgh. I do not believe that it is inherently better to have between 45 and 48 per cent. of students from England than it is to have a wider spread and to have students from a wider range of social backgrounds.

St. Andrews and Edinburgh are maintaining not only that they want students from England but, by definition—a point I made in answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee, East (Mr. McAllion)—that they want students who will be liable for full fees. In other words, they want students from the upper range of the social classes—the ones who pay fees. If they felt that there was a shortage of students coming from England, they could resolve that problem instantly—if they see it as a problem—by taking more people who would not be liable for fees, and who thereby come from different social classes from those who are, perhaps, more accustomed to the cloisters of St. Andrews. Let us have a wider mix of students at all universities, but let us not hide behind the fallacy that the Opposition's case is in any way internationalist—it certainly is not.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Will the Minister confirm that the science departments of international repute at the university of Edinburgh are not concerned about the social class of their students?

Mr. Wilson

I will indeed, but they are concerned with getting more money into the university to maintain that international excellence. That is why university principals support what we are doing in terms of university funding, which will bring up to £140 million extra each year into the Scottish universities. The weakness of the Opposition parties is that we say exactly where Scottish higher and further education can get £140 million a year, but by prevaricating on the changes in student funding, they cannot say where that £140 million is coming from.

I grant this to the Tories. For many reasons which had nothing to do with education—and had a lot to do with very high unemployment—they were good at piling numbers through the gates of our higher education institutions. However, the money did not follow. We now have a system that delivers high numbers of students to higher education, but which is underfunded, creaking at the seams and needs the infusion of new money which only the Labour Government are proposing to provide.

Dr. Lynne Jones

Will my hon. Friend confirm that in allocating funding to universities, the Government will not take into account the proportion of students who pay the fees, as opposed to those from lower-income backgrounds who will not pay the fees?

Mr. Wilson

The way to address that is for universities to go out and promote wider access to university, as we are doing in Scotland. On 1 May, we had a marvellous conference in Glasgow to discuss widening access and we have put serious money into the support of access programmes, run by universities, which go out into non-traditional areas to attract students into higher education.

It makes me angry when I hear people speaking from a supposedly radical political perspective, who defend a funding system which, to this day, delivers only 11 per cent. of students from lower-income groups, as opposed to 80 per cent. from higher-income groups, into higher education. If that is some sort of golden age which we are supposed to defend, count me out. When I went to a Scottish university, I was the one out of 14 Scottish school leavers who went to university. I have been acutely aware all my life that many of those 13 who did not go to university were every bit as well equipped to benefit from it as I was. The reality, which we cannot disguise from ourselves, is that, under the present system, almost 50 per cent. of school leavers in Scotland go to university despite—or perhaps because of—the loans system. What determines whether people go to university is not the theory of a funding system, but access to resources when they go through higher education. That is what we shall maintain and improve upon.

Sir Teddy Taylor

Is the Minister saying that the document published by the university of St. Andrews—which shows that, as a result of the Government's proposals, the average student could be £3,000 worse off and the poorer student could be £5,400 worse off—is utter nonsense? Does he accept as a straight fact that, as a result of the proposals, poor students will be much worse off than those who come from higher-income families? He must know that that is true.

Mr. Wilson

Even the hon. Gentleman does not believe that a Government can, even if they wanted to, remove all society's inequities through a higher education Bill. He supported a Government who introduced student loans, which I have to accept led to an increase in applications to university. I have to recognise that the effect of student loans has been to give students money when they need it, which is when they are going through university.

We should all have a common purpose in telling students the truth, so that people are not deterred from applying to universities because of false information. Under the current system, which was introduced by the Tories, a graduate who earns £17,000 a year repays £87 a month whereas, under the new system, that student will be repaying £50 a month. Under our proposals, there will be far less to deter people from lower-income backgrounds from entering higher education.

We reject the amendments. The United Kingdom does not have a symmetrical system of higher education or, indeed, of education. If the Government had agreed to pay students from the rest of the United Kingdom for four-year degree courses at Scottish universities, there would have been the same demand on a larger scale in respect of four-year courses at universities in the rest of the United Kingdom. Moreover, all the money to pay for that would, by definition, have gone to better-off families instead of into higher education. The whole purpose of the Bill is to ensure that more money goes into higher education, to widen access and to give this country the educational and research base that it needs for the future.

Mr. Willetts

We have heard a speech from the Minister who came up with the wheeze of cutting the tuition fees that Scottish students in Scottish universities had to pay—they would have to pay them only for three years. Presumably, he thought that that would have an effect on the participation rates of Scottish students in Scottish universities. If that argument is good enough for Scottish students, it is good enough for English, Welsh and Northern Irish students.

The simple point behind our amendment is that students from different parts of the United Kingdom should not be discriminated against by reason of their residence—that is one-nation politics, and I hope that hon. Members from all parties will be able to support the amendment. I appreciate that some Labour Members feel a bit squeamish about supporting a Conservative amendment, although, in the debate, they seemed happy to endorse its principle. We should have been happy if the House had been able to discuss and vote on new clause 3, which was tabled by the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), but, sadly, that was not procedurally possible. The only way in which hon. Members will be able to express their belief that students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland should receive the same treatment as students from Scotland in going to Scottish universities is to vote for the amendment.

The Minister created the problem for his colleagues in the Department for Education and Employment by breaking ranks—I should have loved to have heard their reaction when he came up with his wheeze. He made a rather tepid defence of the Government' s position. He described tuition fees as bad weather and the Scottish tradition of higher education as a bogus one. As we know, however, the four-year course is an integral part of the educational experience of going to a Scottish university, and there is no reasonable prospect that English students will all take up a course at a Scottish university in the second year. We invite hon. Members from all parties who believe in equity between the different countries of the United Kingdom to support the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made—

The House divided: Ayes 172, Noes 300.

Division No. 293] [8.44 pm
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Breed, Colin
Allan, Richard Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Ancram, Rt Hon Michael Browning, Mrs Angela
Arbuthnot, James Burnett, John
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Burns, Simon
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Burstow, Paul
Baker, Norman Butterfill, John
Baldry, Tony Cable, Dr Vincent
Ballard, Jackie Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Beith, Rt Hon A J Cash, William
Bercow, John Chidgey, David
Beresford, Sir Paul Clappison, James
Blunt, Crispin Colvin, Michael
Brady, Graham Cormack, Sir Patrick
Brake, Tom Cotter, Brian
Brazier, Julian Cran, James
Cunningham, Ms Roseanna (Perth) Maclean, Rt Hon David
Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Curry, Rt Hon David McLoughlin, Patrick
Dafis, Cynog Madel, Sir David
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Malins, Humfrey
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Maples, John
Day, Stephen Mates, Michael
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Maude, Rt Hon Francis
Duncan, Alan Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian
Duncan Smith, Iain May, Mrs Theresa
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway)
Evans, Nigel Moss, Malcolm
Ewing, Mrs Margaret Oaten, Mark
Faber, David Page, Richard
Fabricant, Michael Paice, James
Fallon, Michael Pickles, Eric
Fearn, Ronnie Prior, David
Foster, Don (Bath) Randall, John
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Redwood, Rt Hon John
Fox, Dr Liam Rendel, David
Fraser, Christopher Robathan, Andrew
Garnier, Edward Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
George, Andrew (St Ives) Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)
Gibb, Nick Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Gill, Christopher Ruffley, David
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Gorrie, Donald St Aubyn, Nick
Gray, James Salmond, Alex
Green, Damian Sanders, Adrian
Grieve, Dominic Sayeed, Jonathan
Gummer, Rt Hon John Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Hague, Rt Hon William Shepherd, Richard
Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Hammond, Philip Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns)
Hancock, Mike Soames, Nicholas
Harris, Dr Evan Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Harvey, Nick Spring, Richard
Hawkins, Nick Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Hayes, John Steen, Anthony
Heald, Oliver Stunell, Andrew
Heath, David (Somerton & Frome) Swayne, Desmond
Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon David Swinney, John
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas Syms, Robert
Horam, John Tapsell, Sir Peter
Howard, Rt Hon Michael Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N) Taylor, Sir Teddy
Hunter, Andrew Tonge, Dr Jenny
Jack, Rt Hon Michael Tredinnick, David
Jackson, Robert (Wantage) Trend, Michael
Jenkin, Bernard Tyler, Paul
Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Tyrie, Andrew
Viggers, Peter
Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn) Walter, Robert
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham) Wardle, Charles
Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye) Waterson, Nigel
Key, Robert Webb, Steve
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater) Wells, Bowen
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Welsh, Andrew
Kirkwood, Archy Whittingdale, John
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Willetts, David
Lansley, Andrew Willis, Phil
Leigh, Edward Wilshire, David
Letwin, Oliver Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E) Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Lidington, David Woodward, Shaun
Lilley, Rt Hon Peter Yeo, Tim
Livsey, Richard Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter Tellers for the Ayes:
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Mr. John M. Taylor and Mr. Tim Collins.
MacKay, Andrew
Ainger, Nick Davidson, Ian
Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE) Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Alexander, Douglas Dawson, Hilton
Allen, Graham Dean, Mrs Janet
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Denham, John
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Dismore, Andrew
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Ashton, Joe Donohoe, Brian H
Atherton, Ms Candy Doran, Frank
Atkins, Charlotte Dowd, Jim
Banks, Tony Drew, David
Barron, Kevin Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Battle, John Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Bayley, Hugh Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Beard, Nigel Efford, Clive
Begg, Miss Anne Ellman, Mrs Louise
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough) Ennis, Jeff
Bennett, Andrew F Fatchett, Derek
Benton, Joe Field, Rt Hon Frank
Bermingham, Gerald Fisher, Mark
Berry, Roger Fitzsimons, Lorna
Blizzard, Bob Flint, Caroline
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Flynn, Paul
Boateng, Paul Follett, Barbara
Borrow, David Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Bradshaw, Ben Foster, Michael J (Worcester)
Brinton, Mrs Helen Galbraith, Sam
Brown, Rt Hon Gordon (Dunfermline E) Galloway, George
Gapes, Mike
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Gardiner, Barry
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) George, Bruce (Walsall S)
Browne, Desmond Gilroy, Mrs Linda
Buck, Ms Karen Godman, Dr Norman A
Burgon, Colin Godsiff, Roger
Butler, Mrs Christine Golding, Mrs Llin
Byers, Stephen Gordon, Mrs Eileen
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth) Grant, Bernie
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge) Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Campbell—Savours, Dale Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Caplin, Ivor Grocott, Bruce
Cawsey, Ian Grogan, John
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S) Gunnell, John
Chaytor, David Hain, Peter
Chisholm, Malcolm Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Church, Ms Judith Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields) Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Clark, Dr Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands) Hanson, David
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Clark, Paul (Gillingham) Heal, Mrs Sylvia
Clarke, Charles (Norwich S) Healey, John
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge) Hepburn, Stephen
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S) Heppell, John
Clelland, David Hesford, Stephen
Clwyd, Ann Hewitt, Ms Patricia
Coaker, Vernon Hill, Keith
Coffey, Ms Ann Hinchliffe, David
Cohen, Harry Hodge, Ms Margaret
Coleman, Iain Hoey, Kate
Colman, Tony Home Robertson, John
Connarty, Michael Hoon, Geoffrey
Cooper, Yvette Hope, Phil
Corbett, Robin Howarth, Alan (Newport E)
Corston, Ms Jean Howells, Dr Kim
Cox, Tom Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Cranston, Ross Humble, Mrs Joan
Crausby, David Hurst, Alan
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Hutton, John
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Iddon, Dr Brian
Cummings, John Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Jamieson, David
Darvill, Keith Jenkins, Brian
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield) Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prosser, Gwyn
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Purchase, Ken
Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark) Quinn, Lawrie
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C) Rammell, Bill
Jowell, Ms Tessa Rapson, Syd
Keeble, Ms Sally Raynsford, Nick
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth) Reed, Andrew (Loughborough)
Kelly, Ms Ruth Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N)
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree) Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S)
Khabra, Piara S
Kilfoyle, Peter Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW)
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth) Roche, Mrs Barbara
Kumar, Dr Ashok Rogers, Allan
Ladyman, Dr Stephen Rooker, Jeff
Lawrence, Ms Jackie Rooney, Terry
Laxton, Bob Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Lepper, David Roy, Frank
Leslie, Christopher Ruane, Chris
Levitt, Tom Ruddock, Ms Joan
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S) Savidge, Malcolm
Liddell, Mrs Helen Sawford, Phil
Linton, Martin Sedgemore, Brian
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C) Sheerman, Barry
Love, Andrew Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
McAvoy, Thomas Singh, Marsha
McCabe, Steve Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
McDonagh, Siobhain Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Macdonald, Calum Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
McFall, John Smith, Miss Geraldine(Morecambe & Lunesdale)
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona Smith, John (Glamorgan)
McKenna, Mrs Rosemary Snape, Peter
Mackinlay, Andrew Soley, Clive
McLeish, Henry Southworth, Ms Helen
McNamara, Kevin Spellar, John
McNulty, Tony Squire, Ms Rachel
MacShane, Denis Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Mactaggart, Fiona Stevenson, George
McWalter, Tony Stewart, David (Inverness E)
McWilliam, John Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Mallaber, Judy Stinchcombe, Paul
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S) Stoate, Dr Howard
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury) Stott, Roger
Martlew, Eric Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Maxton, John Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Meacher, Rt Hon Michael Stringer, Graham
Meale, Alan Sutcliffe, Gerry
Merron, Gillian Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Michael, Alun
Milburn, Alan Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Moffatt, Laura Temple—Morris, Peter
Moonie, Dr Lewis Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W) Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley) Timms, Stephen
Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon) Tipping, Paddy
Mudie, George Touhig, Don
Mullin, Chris Trickett, Jon
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck) Truswell, Paul
Norris, Dan Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton) Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks) Twigg, Derek (Halton)
O'Hara, Eddie Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Olner, Bill Vaz, Keith
O'Neill, Martin Vis, Dr Rudi
Organ, Mrs Diana Walley, Ms Joan
Palmer, Dr Nick Ward, Ms Claire
Pearson, Ian Watts, David
Pendry, Tom White, Brian
Perham, Ms Linda Whitehead, Dr Alan
Pickthall, Colin Wicks, Malcolm
Pike, Peter L Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Plaskitt, James Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Pollard, Kerry Wills, Michael
Pond, Chris Wilson, Brian
Pound, Stephen Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C) Wyatt, Derek
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony Tellers for the Noes:
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth) Ms Bridget Prentice and Mr. Greg Pope.
Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)

Question accordingly negatived.

9 pm

Mr. Canavan

I beg to move amendment No. 35, in page 15, line 12, at end insert— '(1A) Regulations under this section shall make provision requiring the Secretary of State to pay maintenance grants to eligible students whose income or parental income is less than a prescribed amount.'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 107, in page 15, line 45, at end insert— '(2A) The Secretary of State shall ensure that—

  1. (a) in any regulations made under this section in relation to any eligible student for any prescribed purpose for any academic year, provision continues to be made for maintenance grants to be payable to such a student, and
  2. (b) the value of such grants shall be no less in real terms than the amounts prescribed at the time this section comes into force.'.
No. 121, in page 17, line 14, at end insert— '(6A) The Secretary of State shall ensure that, in any regulations made under this section in relation to any eligible student for any prescribed purpose for any academic year—
  1. (a) the maximum amount of any loan made available to that student is no greater than half the prescribed cost of maintenance for such a student for that purpose for that year, and
  2. (b) provision continues to be made for maintenance grants to be payable to such a student, subject to—
    1. (1) a maximum amount of half the prescribed cost of maintenance, and
    2. (ii) assessment of any contributions applicable in his case.'.
No. 36, in clause 27, page 21, line 46, at end insert— '(4) Regulations under this section shall make provision requiring the Secretary of State to pay maintenance grants to eligible students whose income or parental income is less than a prescribed amount.'.

Mr. Canavan

Amendments Nos. 35 and 36 would oblige the Government to pay maintenance grants to eligible students whose income, or whose parental income, is less than a prescribed amount. I am in good company in moving the amendment, because option B of the Dearing report—Dearing' s preferred option—included payment of maintenance grants, especially for low-income families, because their withdrawal would act as a disincentive to potential students.

The case for maintenance grants seems self-evident. Before I was elected to the House, I spent virtually all my working life in education, teaching in comprehensive schools. At one stage, I was assistant head of one of the largest secondary schools in Scotland, and a fair number of my pupils came from disadvantaged home backgrounds, many of them from low-income families. Despite their disadvantage, a reasonable number managed to stay at school and, in some cases, to go on to college or university, and I know that that involved considerable sacrifice and hardship for the low-income families who encouraged their sons and daughters to do so. That would have been absolutely impossible if those sons and daughters had not received grants.

How on earth will a young person from a low-income family be encouraged to go to college or university if he or she is told, "You will receive no grant and you will have to borrow all the money for maintenance while you are at college or university"? At the end of a course, students will have a millstone round their necks—a debt of more than £15,000 in some cases.

Most of the Government's Education Ministers used to be shadow Ministers, and some of them voted against Tory proposals to switch from grants to loans, arguing that that would be bad for students and for educational opportunity for young people. Now they are in government, they tell us that they have changed their minds, and that there is no evidence that the move from grants to loans will act as a disincentive because the participation rate is up, not down. However, that rate is up despite the movement from grants to loans, rather than because of it. Our participation rates are well behind those of countries such as the United States, Australia and Canada. Furthermore, our rates among socio-economic groups D and E are particularly inadequate, which is why Dearing recommended the continuation of maintenance grants to facilitate access for students from low-income families.

Dr. Lynne Jones

It is true that with the introduction of maintenance grants, the participation percentage went up for people from the lower socio-economic groups, but between 1991 and 1995, of the total of 60,000 additional places, students from group E took up only 3,000, and those from groups D and E only 10,000. Most of the additional places went to those from the higher socio-economic groups.

Mr. Canavan

My hon. Friend reinforces my point that a huge improvement is required to increase access for students or potential students from low-income families and deprived backgrounds.

I cannot for the life of me understand how a Labour Government can propose the abolition of maintenance grants, especially when that Government contain many Ministers who were themselves beneficiaries of the very generous higher education grant system introduced under an earlier Labour Government, when Harold Wilson was Prime Minister.

When I recently put that point to a senior Cabinet Minister, he said, "But Dennis, one in three or more now go to university, compared with only one in 14 when we went." I must confess that I fail to see the logic in that, because it would have been far fewer than one in 14 if there had been no grants.

Mr. Willis

I have a great deal of sympathy for the points that the hon. Gentleman is making, as I, too, have a background in education in deprived areas, particularly in Leeds and the north-east, but does he accept that the biggest barrier to young people from the lower socio-economic groups going on to university is not specifically finance, but their academic achievement in school?

Mr. Canavan

The hon. Gentleman's experience as a teacher may be quite different from mine, as I can remember some pupils of great academic achievement whose parents experienced grave difficulties in allowing them to stay on at school, let alone go on to university. The complete abolition of the grant system would be an even bigger impediment.

My brother and I were the first two members of our family to have the opportunity to go to university. We would never have had that opportunity had grants not existed. Our grandfather was forced to leave school at the age of 10, he went down a coal mine at 12 and he was a Labour councillor in the 1920s. He and his Labour colleagues had the vision to see that education was the key to the liberation of working-class people, and they laid the basis of a grant system to encourage working-class children to stay on in education. That continuing education would never have happened had it not been for the vision and foresight of Labour pioneers in local as well as national Government.

I now have four grandchildren and I think that I have a duty to pass on to them the same benefits that my grandfather passed on to me, but I fear that the Government's proposals will turn back the clock. I urge the House to support the amendment, which is forward-looking and will improve educational opportunity for many young people, and especially those from low-income families.

Mr. Willetts

The debate, which continues with this important amendment, shows how important and right it was that the Dearing committee was set up—and how significant a contribution to the higher education debate its report is. The reason why we set up the Dearing inquiry when we were in government—and, of course, we did so on a bipartisan basis, with the agreement of the then Labour Opposition—was that important questions needed to be asked about the future direction of higher education.

We had achieved a significant widening of access to higher education and a big increase in the number of students participating in higher education, but that was financed to a significant extent by a reduction in the unit of resource per student. Many people in the higher education world should be congratulated on delivering those efficiency savings, but they could not carry on indefinitely in that way; that is the first reason why we set up the Dearing committee.

We also set up the Dearing inquiry because we had had the objective of moving from a system of 100 per cent. grants to one of 50 per cent. grants and 50 per cent. loans. It was right, once we had reached that 50:50 mix, to take a step back and to invite an independent body of experts to review whether the 50:50 balance was correct or whether we should go further.

I will be frank with the House. I expected the Dearing report to conclude that the maintenance grant should be abolished, and I think that many people believed that that would be Dearing' s conclusion. Indeed, in his report, Ron Dearing—Lord Dearing as he now is—makes a remark in passing that suggests that that is where he himself began. In discussing precisely the point before the House—the balance between grants and loans—he says: In going through that process"— the process of careful scrutiny of the evidence— we all changed and developed our views: we did not end up where we started. When they reviewed the evidence, the 15 experts under Ron Dearing concluded that the 50:50 split between grants and loans was the right split, and that the maintenance grant should not be abolished. Having set up the Dearing inquiry—as I say, on a bipartisan basis—we are persuaded by the arguments that Ron Dearing advances. Those arguments are persuasive. If we set up the Dearing inquiry on an honest basis, we should all accept the conclusions that he reaches.

The core argument in Dearing's report is simple. It is that, with the proposals that are being put before the House by the Secretary of State for Education and Employment, a student from a low-income background will end his or her university career with a debt of £10,320, instead of a debt of £5,625. It is impossible for anyone contemplating the figures on the increased indebtedness of students who, by definition, will be from the poorest backgrounds, to maintain that that will have no impact on access to higher education.

It is extraordinary that the Secretary of State—and we all admire his decency and commitment to wider access to higher education—has got himself into the position of trying to maintain that doubling the debt of students from the poorest backgrounds is somehow compatible with the objective, which he believes in, of widening access to higher education. That is a problem that he has created for himself by not implementing the proposals in the Dearing report.

For the future of higher education, the best way forward is to take the entire package that is proposed by Ron Dearing; nothing else on offer from any party is more thought through, has more empirical evidence in support or commands greater consensus in the world of higher education. The onus is on those who want to do something different from the report's proposals to explain why they believe that, instead of keeping that 50:50 split between maintenance grant and loan, the maintenance grant should be entirely abolished. I suspect that there was an understanding on the part of many people in the world of higher education that if they agreed to the policies that the Labour party hinted at before the election—abolishing the maintenance grant—

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

It was not a hint.

Mr. Willetts

It was not explicit in the manifesto, but let us give the Secretary of State the benefit of the doubt: Labour implied that it would get rid of the maintenance grant. The problem is that there was another part to the deal, which was that Labour would not introduce tuition fees. When the National Union of Students signed up to the deal, it believed that if it went along quietly with the abolition of maintenance grant, tuition fees would not be imposed. That is why the then Leader of the Opposition told the Evening Standard in the notorious questionnaire that he answered that he had no plans to introduce tuition fees. People in higher education thought that they would have to sacrifice the maintenance grant in exchange for—

9.15 pm
Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge)

Does the hon. Gentleman recollect that, before the election, the NUS was far more concerned about the idea of top-up fees, which his party said it would allow colleges and universities to introduce? They would have been a far greater deterrent to equality of access than the current proposals.

Mr. Willetts

We were careful not to anticipate the Dearing report. The Government are in such a muddle partly because they thought that the deal they were putting together would also be proposed by Dearing. They were caught out by the fact that Dearing did not recommend abolishing the maintenance grant and not introducing tuition fees.

We have no desire for the widespread use of top-up fees—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] I will tell the House about the problems faced by real life vice-chancellors. One of them heads a university offering a course in maritime engineering, training engineers to investigate North sea structures. He is rightly proud of the course, one of the best in the country. He cannot be expected to give his students a free diving course, even though they need to be qualified divers. He wants, therefore, to be able to carry on charging for the diving course; and he wants to know whether he will need a statutory instrument, cleared by the DFEE, to enable him to do so. Anyone who thinks that the way to reform higher education for the 21st century is to force vice-chancellors to go to the DFEE to clear their financial arrangements for maritime engineering courses has another think coming—it is nonsensical.

Mr. Derek Twigg (Halton)

What exactly would the hon. Gentleman rule out for top-up fees?

Mr. Willetts

We would rule out a general regime of top-up fees. It is clear that the hon. Gentleman did not take part in the Committee debates. In Committee, we tabled an amendment making it explicit that the tuition fee should be no more than 25 per cent. of the cost of the university course; and to make it difficult for the Government to charge more than that. I know from our time in office how people often criticise reforms as the start of a slippery slope—there will be worse to come, they say. That is indeed what happened in Australia. We were trying to put more hurdles in the way of Ministers who might attempt to put up the percentage by more than price increases—but Ministers did not accept our amendments. The question asked by the hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Twigg) would, therefore, be better addressed to his own Government.

I do not want to go on for much longer, because I know that many Labour Members want to speak. The point is a simple one: it is whether or not the Secretary of State can honestly tell the House that the measures he is trying to get through tonight will widen access to higher education. Nobody can seriously believe that doubling the debt of students from the poorest backgrounds can contribute to that.

The Secretary of State has rushed out a package of concessions today which, no doubt, he will tell the House is intended to answer that anxiety about access. As I said earlier, today's package bears striking similarities to the one he launched before the Labour party conference to help get him through that event, and to the one he launched in early November to get him through a debate in the House, so little in the package is new to us. He has introduced some proposals on helping single parents, which seem to be focused more on the last Labour rebellion than on the issue before us tonight. Whatever he proposes in respect of mature students and single parents does not alter the fact that every person who seriously studied the issue concluded that the maintenance grant should stay on the 50:50 basis at which the Conservative Government left it.

I hope that I do not embarrass the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) when I say that, if the House does not reach our amendment—it is unlikely that we shall have an opportunity to vote on it—the Conservatives will support his amendment. We shall do so because his amendment is consistent with the Dearing report, and it is the Dearing report on which we rest our case. We shall not be supporting him on the abolition of tuition fees because, unlike the Liberal Democrats, we recognise that one of the things that people in higher education want is an increase in resources; therefore, the obligation on anyone who is serious about contributing to the debate on higher education is to specify where those resources should come from.

Dearing thought that that increase should come from the tuition fee. Our objection to the tuition fee is not one of principle, but one of practice. The Government, instead of introducing the tuition fee on the basis envisaged by Dearing, which would have brought an overall increase in resources to universities, have not been able to accept our amendment, which proposes that there should be a guarantee that there will not be offsetting reductions in Higher Education Funding Council grants to universities that will reduce universities' grant according to whatever extra money they raise from tuition fees. That is the objection of many in the university world to the Government's tuition fees proposals, to which subject we might turn later this evening.

Mr. Blunkett

I congratulate the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) on his appointment as shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment. I fear that courses in deep-sea diving may prove appropriate in the months and years ahead. I can help the hon. Gentleman out a little tonight, as my son is studying marine biology and has to undertake diving lessons—so far, at his own expense. However, if the hon. Gentleman examines amendment No. 77, he will see that his friend who teaches marine engineering will be able to organise suitable field trips so that his students can undertake diving. I thought that it would be useful to start off on a helpful note.

Mr. Willetts

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind words, and welcome the fact that the amendment to which he refers is one that Conservative Members tabled in Committee. The Government were not willing to accept it at that stage, but have now accepted it in response to the arguments that we advanced in Committee.

Mr. Blunkett

As long as I am in the job, I shall have the open-mindedness to see when even something from Conservative Members registers as acceptable. That is what we have done, and what we shall continue to do.

I fear that my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) will be less than pleased to be walking through the Lobby with Conservatives this evening, defending a system that is indefensible. Those who vote against our proposals tonight would have to put something in their place—not simply to replace our proposals on maintenance, or, for that matter, on a contribution by the better-off towards fees, but to replace the system that has clearly failed.

We are here tonight discussing this matter not for the benefit of our health or because we are masochists, but because the previous system was on the verge of collapse. The education system that we were offering had been eroded by the previous Government. There had been a 40 per cent. drop in unit costs. Universities were unable to envisage resources being made available in future to maintain and improve quality. At the same time, they saw a real danger that, as higher education became available to more students, restrictions would be placed, as they had been over the previous five years, on the number of students—certainly south of the border—who could go to university. That was the cap imposed by the Conservative Government, along with an erosion of quality and underfunding, and there were cries from the universities that they were on the verge of collapse.

Something had to be done. Students asked for something to be done because of the mish-mash of the mortgage-type loans scheme and the erosion of the residual grant, which the Conservative Government had cut year after year. Yet tonight, Conservative Members are telling us that they are suddenly in favour of maintenance grants, when it was they who started the process of removing them.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington)

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Blunkett

I will. I hope that you will not defend Opposition Members.

Hon. Members


Mr. McDonnell

I think that we deserve better than that. On the principle that you have raised—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord)

Order. I would be grateful if both the Secretary of State and the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) used the correct parliamentary language.

Mr. McDonnell

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

The Secretary of State said that the grant has been eroded and therefore must now be abolished, but pensions were eroded by the previous Government. Are we to abolish them?

Mr. Blunkett

I expected better of the hon. Gentleman, despite the remark I made when I gave way to him. [AN HON. MEMBER: "He is your hon. Friend."' He is "the hon. Gentleman" to me, and I shall describe him in the terms I want.

I point out to my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. McDonnell) that, if we were to do something about the mish-mash that existed, we would have to restore the grant in full, because to leave it in the circumstances that we inherited, with the mortgage-type loans scheme and the residual parental contributions, would do no student a favour. It would trap students in that mortgage-type scheme, fail to increase the grant element, and atrophy a mess in perpetuity. We would have to find the money for the grant and therefore raise money from elsewhere to fund further access and the opening up of places in higher education, which my hon. Friends who have put their names to the amendments would want.

At the same time, we would have to ensure that we funded priorities such as nursery education, literacy and numeracy programmes, the avoidance of exclusion, investment in the infrastructure of schools, and the preparation for a new century in terms of investment in new technology. Nobody believes that there is a fairy godmother, and that we will not only find the money for expansion and the money the universities are desperate for to retain their world-class status and quality, as well as to restore the former grant levels, but to deal with pensioners, which my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington raised. One has to live in the real world of politics to make difficult decisions and see them through.

Mr. Llew Smith (Blaenau Gwent)

Is the Secretary of State saying that some of the poorest families, and, indeed, the poorest students, in my community would prefer no grant to even a small grant?

Mr. Blunkett

I think that they would prefer to have higher education rather than no education at all. That is the option. My hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Mr. Smith) should bear this in mind: if we were to retain the cap on higher education and not expand the numbers, which will cost a lot of money, who would get their sons and daughters into university? Who have historically found places for their sons and daughters in university?

Ms Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

9.30 pm
Mr. Blunkett

In a moment.

Only 2 per cent. of children from manual labouring families get into university. Like me, my hon. Friend has a constituency with one of the lowest rates of adult higher education in Britain. My constituency is the sixth worst in Britain in that regard.

I know what students want. They tell me that they want support when they need it, and that they are prepared to contribute when they can afford to do so. It is a simple, old principle: to those according to their need from those according to their means. When people have the means—when their earnings from future prosperity allow them—they are willing to make a contribution.

That is what we are asking in our new programme: it is the nearest thing we have to progressive taxation. It is based on the simple principle of being attached to the Inland Revenue, with repayment determined by the level of income at a time when people can afford it and in circumstances that ensure that people receive the resources when they need them. The programme is entirely in line with the manifesto upon which my hon. Friends fought the general election.

For the benefit of the hon. Member for Havant, the manifesto said: The improvement and expansion needed in higher education cannot be funded out of general taxation. Our proposals for funding have been made to the Dearing Committee, in line with successful policies abroad. The costs of student maintenance should be repaid by graduates on an income-related basis, from the career success to which higher education has contributed. We cannot make it clearer than that—it is not a hint or an implication, but a manifesto commitment upon which we won the general election.

Mr. Don Foster

Although the Liberal Democrats do not support the Secretary of State in introducing tuition fees, he will be aware that we support him in requiring an increased amount of money from students through the change from maintenance grants to loans. Does he accept that his argument would have considerably greater force if he would give a clear commitment that the additional money raised from students will be ring-fenced and spent in the higher education sector?

Mr. Blunkett

I shall give what I have given at least twice in the House: a commitment that the resources raised will go to further and higher education. We refer to "further and higher education" because of the overlap between those two areas.

In Scotland, where the level of entry into higher education is 45 per cent., compared with 32 per cent. in England and a similar figure in Wales, the number of students taking higher education courses is very much higher than the figure south of the border.

I am not prepared to discriminate against further education, which needs funding desperately. Adult students are not exempt from having to contribute towards their further education fees, and they have been treated disgracefully in the past in relation to maintenance. This and subsequent Parliaments will begin to resolve that inequity. I wish that those who are today opposing the manifesto commitment and Government policy were concerned about the problems in further education.

Mr. Dalyell


Mr. Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)


Mr. Blunkett

To which of the group should I give way—the hon. Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms Abbott)?

Mr. Rowlands

Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, I hope. It is a bit different from Hackney. In my manifesto to my constituency, Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, I did not propose the introduction of tuition fees, and nor, to my knowledge, did we do so nationally.

Mr. Blunkett

I am dealing with maintenance, but I am not proposing to abolish free fees, and I am certainly not preparing to do so—as other parties would do—for those on low incomes. I am quite prepared, later tonight, to defend the situation in relation to protecting the better-off in relation to their having to pay a small contribution to—

Several hon. Members


Mr. Blunkett

I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell).

Mr. Dalyell

My right hon. Friend referred to the resources to be raised. What is the departmental estimate of the amount to be raised? What has the Department for Education and Employment said, in its professional opinion, is the amount likely to be raised by these proposals? Is it about £140 million, or is that the wrong figure?

Mr. Blunkett

What will be raised is offset by the initial costs of the provision of the sums that must be repaid. That would be necessary whichever system we used. In other words, we would have to find the money—be it a grant or a loan—initially, to do so. However, the actual amount that will come in from maintenance next year—as opposed to the amount that must go out—is £600 million, and the year after, it will be £850 million.

That is the nub of the reason why we took the decision to extend the Dearing proposals, and combined that with the manifesto commitment. In that way, we would raise sufficient resources to ensure that we could provide access, retain and extend quality, and provide a fair system, which would hold for years to come.

Mr. Rowlands


Dr. Lynne Jones


Ms Abbott


Mr. Blunkett

I shall not give way; I want to make progress.

Mr. Rowlands

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Secretary of State has said that he will not give way at the moment.

Mr. Blunkett

I shall give way later. I want to make progress, because we need to deal head on with the question why we are introducing the repayment system for maintenance.

At the start of the debate, the new shadow Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Havant, talked about what the Conservative Government had done. It is quite important tonight that we shed a little light on what the hon. Gentleman believed and believes, because, if he is to succeed in opposition, the first lesson he must learn is, "Always check what you have written yourself."

In his book, "Why Vote Conservative?"—an extremely good question—the hon. Member for Havant wrote: In the old days we spent a lot per student, including a generous maintenance grant. That high level of spending per student was only possible for a system aimed at a tiny elite of students: it acted as a barrier to expansion. The increase in student numbers has been associated with a change in the pattern of student support. He said that nearly 2 million student loan accounts would have been issued and £4 billion would have been provided in loans. He said: That is a massive contribution to student welfare. It is inconceivable that taxpayers, often on modest incomes themselves, would have been willing to pay it all outright as grants. The hon. Gentleman was right to say that the old system was designed for a small elite. He was right to say that modest income tax payers would be unwilling to fund others who would be better off in later life, if they did not believe that they would make a contribution themselves. He was right to say that the system would erode. Why cannot the hon. Gentleman stick to his guns tonight, and admit that his Government did not have the guts to reorganise the system? They did not have the bottle to set about the reforms needed. They left it to us to sort out the mess that they had created.

We are carrying through our manifesto and conference decision. I have always believed that conference decisions were important in ensuring that the parliamentary party was accountable to the party as a whole, and that conference was the decision-making body and should be respected by those who, as representatives of the party in Parliament, hold their place only because we stood on a common manifesto, not on one that we wrote ourselves on the back of an envelope.

Mr. Willetts

As the Secretary of State is so keen on the manifesto basis for maintenance grants, will he explain where in the Labour manifesto the introduction of tuition fees is mentioned? If the manifesto doctrine is the basis on which he defends maintenance grants, how will he explain the fact that, before the election, the Leader of the Opposition, as he then was, made it clear that Labour would not introduce tuition fees?

Mr. Blunkett

First, that does not relate to the amendment. Secondly, I made it abundantly clear at the general election that we would await the Dearing report. I said again and again, in Parliament and outside, that we would reserve our position, and that I was open to persuasion. That was included in the statements during the general election.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. On ITN at lunchtime, a student was interviewed. I do not know where the political reporters were. The student said that, if these measures were introduced, half the students would not want to go to university. That was a little out of date. The numbers of students applying for the autumn term from school and college have gone up this year. Those who predicted a massive drop were simply wrong. We understand from the Universities and Colleges Admission Service—UCAS—based on data from postal codes, that there has been no change in the socio-economic make-up of students applying for university next year.

Part-time students will not be affected, except that they will be secure if they lose their job. We will support them and help them out. Such help was not available before.

There is undoubtedly concern about full-time mature students. The matter is close to my heart, as I made clear on Second Reading. I have every intention of ensuring that mature students are supported and helped wherever necessary. First, in the Green Paper "The Learning Age", we stated that we would consult on the issue of lifting the threshold—the age—at which someone would be entitled to help. I am delighted to announce that, having consulted, we will lift that figure, so that people under 55 will be entitled to support and help in the same way as younger students.

We said that we would look at how we could increase access funding. We are doubling access funding, and we are making it available in such a way that it can help people who are seeking places, not just those who are already experiencing hardship in universities.

We said that we would provide a non-means-tested special grant for disabled people. I can announce that we will increase it to £10,000 for those who need extra support because of their special needs.

We said that we would protect those who were worse off as mature students with dependants. We will retain the non-repayable grant for students with dependants, and we will retain as a non-repayable grant the £1,000 for single parents, as we recognise that they do not have the support at home that would otherwise be available to mature students. The package ensures that those in their later years who wish to enter higher education have nothing to fear from our proposals.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre)

Will my right hon. Friend accept my congratulations on the excellent measures that he has brought forward? However, will he recognise that I have some disappointment that he has not yet explicitly addressed the issue of care leavers, who are grossly under-represented in the population of young people who go on to higher education? These people have explicit financial needs, and at least they should be supported through the long vacations.

9.45 pm
Mr. Blunkett

My hon. Friend is right. The scandal of 75 per cent. of school leavers from residential care leaving without any qualification must be recognised. Even more scandalous is that only 1 per cent. leave with an A-level qualification. We need to reverse that trend. As was said earlier this evening, it is the low standards that too many of our children receive at school that are the main barrier to them entering higher education. I am prepared to consider specific help for those leaving residential care as part of a much broader package between the Department for Education and Employment and the Department of Health, to support those people as a decent family would do if it had the necessary resources.

I do not pretend for a moment that the proposals that the House is considering right the wrongs of inequity within our society. I cannot overturn in terms of student funding and funding for universities the difference between the silver spoon that some children are born with and the wooden spoon of others. However, I can ensure that the education that those from poorer families receive enables them to provide that silver spoon for their children. In other words, it will be the foothold on the ladder of learning.

Dr. Iddon

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Blunkett

I shall give way one more time.

Dr. Iddon

I appreciate the raising of the age limit to 55, on which I have been lobbying my right hon. Friend. If, tragically, one of these mature students died, would repayment of the loan disappear, and not become a burden on the estate of such a person?

Mr. Blunkett

The difference between a mortgage-type repayment and an income-related scheme is that ability to pay is dependent on income. If someone is deceased, the debt dies with him. If his income drops, so does his repayment. That is why I said earlier that the proposal is as near as possible to the principle of progressive taxation. That is its basis.

Ms Abbott

Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Blunkett

I shall not give way. I shall make two final remarks.

First, our proposals are a direct alternative to universities introducing top-up fees, which were mentioned by the hon. Member for Havant. The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that, had we not reorganised and introduced an entirely new way of funding universities and access for students, we would have faced a barrage of top-up fees from universities. Top-up fees play no part in our proposals, and it is not my intention that they should.

Secondly, we had to face the simple reality that, over the years, we have let down too many of our young people. We have failed them in terms of the standards they received at school and the expectations that they should rightly have for themselves and their future. These proposals enable them to get that foothold and to take up higher education, not by squeezing out other students, but by expanding the possibilities and the available options, and by doing so to ensure that they can pay back. They will be able to afford to pay back the contribution that has been invested in their future. That is why rights and responsibilities go together. It is why the Government have bitten the bullet, and decided to take these measures for the future of our country.

Mr. Welsh

The Secretary of State taunted one of his colleagues, but I believe that it was the right hon. Gentleman who was seeking to defend the indefensible. If the previous system was on the verge of collapse, it was because the Tories were inventing the policies that the right hon. Gentleman is now carrying out. The real problem is lack of resources. Instead of providing them, the Government are putting the financial burden on to individual students and their families, which is unacceptable for a party that said that its priority was education, education, education.

When the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) and I were elected in 1974, we taught at neighbouring schools, and my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) was a teaching colleague of the hon. Gentleman at his school. I therefore understand exactly the situation he described, and his motivation in moving the amendment. Although the introduction of tuition fees has received a lot of attention, the scrapping of grants is a more serious problem. Dearing proposed retaining grants, but the Government ignored his considered view, and are steamrollering through this unpopular and unwise policy. Dearing had hardly uttered his conclusions before the Government had overturned them.

Means-testing fees will help students from poorer backgrounds, but the fact that they will be expected to pay their living costs will result in many deciding against higher education because of the financial barrier.

Mrs. Anne Campbell


Mr. Welsh

The Government's decision to abolish grants will force students on longer courses into debt of £15,000 or more. The loans may be income-contingent, but they will still act as sufficient deterrent. Perhaps the hon. Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) does not believe that.

Mrs. Anne Campbell

By how much would the hon. Gentleman's party be prepared to raise income tax to pay for the measures that he suggests?

Mr. Welsh

The hon. Lady should look at our policy for an independent Scotland. We have fully costed such policies, but our problem—[Interruption.] An independent Scotland could well afford it.

Our problem is that we are inheriting from the Government an impoverished devolved assembly living on pocket money that will face, for exactly the same reasons, exactly the same problems that the Government have imposed on the hon. Lady. The Government are not making education their priority, and she will be answerable to her constituents for that.

The amendment would tackle a severe problem. I must point out to the hon. Lady, because I notice the great distinction between traditional Labour and new Labour, that the reality under the new Labour Government is that a student in receipt of a full grant who takes out a full loan receives almost £800 a year less than an unemployed single person claiming jobseeker's allowance and housing benefit. Under the proposed system, students will, if anything, be in a worse position, which is hardly an incentive for people on benefits to enter further or higher education. That is the policy supported by the hon. Lady, and she is answerable for that.

Students are most concerned about the abolition of grants. That is the clear message at student rallies and protest marches, and in petitions which have been organised throughout the country. Perhaps the hon. Lady wants to ignore that, but those people are voters, and they will let her know how they feel.

I must make a point to the hon. Lady from the Scottish perspective. The previous debate showed that the Minister in charge of Scottish education believes that the Scottish four-year degree is a bogus tradition. No wonder he is even more unpopular than his Tory predecessor—the Government are completely out of touch with educational institutions and with public opinion. The hon. Lady can defend that if she wants to do so, but the Government should abandon their proposal to abolish grants and think again.

I support the amendment, and I know the motivation of the hon. Member for Falkirk, West in moving it. I commend him for so doing.The Government were elected on a priority of education, education, education. They should say why they have abandoned that priority. I leave that to their conscience.

Miss Melanie Johnson (Welwyn Hatfield)

First, hon. Members must ask how they want to use taxpayers' money. It is important to use a lot of that money to help people into the education system early and to give them every support, so that they come out of the school system with good qualifications and educated to a high standard. Secondly, we must ask ourselves what is fair for students and for taxpayers. Those questions must both be weighed in the balance. It is a matter of choice, and there are many choices to be made in this matter.

One way of looking at the issue is to imagine that we were making a decision without knowing, in this case, whether we were rich or poor. That form of decision making comes from the philosophy of a man called Rawls in deciding the meaning of justice. I recommend that way of looking at the matter to the House, because the Government's proposals, as opposed to those in the amendment, match the criteria for the best and most just way of making a decision.

Mr. Welsh

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss Johnson

I shall give way in a moment.

What we have here is a process that gives people a fair deal, whether they are poor or rich.

Mr. Welsh

The hon. Member for Harrow, East (Mr. McNulty), sitting two seats away from the hon. Lady, called me sotto voce "elitist" after my speech. I am a former pupil of Govan high school. Ordinary folk from Govan went to university and went on to do PhDs, which they could do then under the grant system. They will now be deterred from doing so by the massive loans that must be repaid. Is the hon. Lady really saying that putting a massive debt on individuals will improve access to further and higher education?

Miss Johnson

Several comments can be made about that. First, we have already heard this evening how, at one time, one in 14 people went on to university, whereas we now have a much better ratio of one in three. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Quite right. To sustain the progress that has been made in that respect, we must look at how to proceed in the future. I spoke earlier about the decisions and choices that people have to make. Crucial to the debate is the fact that people must decide at one time in their life what university course to do and what to do with the rest of their life—we are trying to give people as much access to those courses as possible—and, at a later time, they must pay back into the system, according to their income. Those two events do not happen at the same time. Some Members of this House, if not deliberately then certainly mistakenly, conflate the two time scales. The issue of when students pay back is crucial.

Earlier in the debate, we heard the hon. Member for Edinburgh, West (Mr. Gorrie) talk about the principle of angels dancing on a pinhead. Given his party, I was moved to wonder whether he was referring to the amount of Liberal Democrat policy that one could get from 1p on income tax. He talked about access to places such as Covent Garden and said that we could not get more access. People must pay now for the privilege of access to Covent Garden, which is why it is a privilege that few can afford. The proposals that we are discussing give people the opportunity to pay back later when they can afford so to do, which is why they are fair.

Ms Abbott

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Miss Johnson

The hon. Lady has come relatively late into the Chamber.

Dr. Lynne Jones


Miss Johnson

I shall give way to the hon. Lady, who has been here for some time.

Dr. Jones

The hon. Lady is perfectly right to say that our priority must be to give more young people from poorer family backgrounds access to higher education. That must be our top priority, but of the young people who are qualified to go to university, those from a lower socio-economic background are about half as likely to go to university as those from the top classes of society. Why does she think that is, and how does she think these measures will help to improve that situation?

Miss Johnson

The figures certainly do not show that the present system is successful. Were it successful, the hon. Lady would not be highlighting such figures. Nor would one of the other contributors to the debate have highlighted the same figures. If the system were successful, there would be much better access. That is what we are addressing.

10 pm

Caroline Flint

Will my hon. Friend comment on the fact that, following the introduction of student loans, between 1991 and 1997, the number of students from unskilled and semi-skilled families rose from 6 per cent. to 14 per cent., showing that previous maintenance loans were clearly not working for such people and that access to further funding to support them through college did? Today's proposals are a progression on that.

Miss Johnson

Exactly that point needs to be made.

I come now to the question of the future, in which there is every likelihood of good pay. Such a future is available to many graduates. If people do not receive a good income, they will not have to pay back the loans. In fact, they will have to pay back nothing if they earn less than £10,000 a year. At earnings of £17,000 a year, they will pay back only £12 a week—4 per cent. of their income.

I have felt able most strongly to recommend that extremely good investment to sixth-form students in my constituency, when I have spoken to them on the subject over the past six months or so. The comments were well received, and many local students were persuaded—quite rightly—of the Government's arguments. [Laughter.] Conservative Members may laugh, but those students were persuaded. I have received almost no letters of complaint about the changes from sixth formers. The proposals are finding much favour.

It is interesting to note, as does the editorial in The Times today, that there is an unholy alliance—The Times describes it as an "incredible alliance of convenience"—between the National Union of Students and the Tory party. The editorial expresses the hope that the arrival of the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) in place of his predecessor, the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell), as shadow Secretary of State for Education and Employment, will mean that the Tories will reconsider their opposition to the Government's proposals. My experience in talking to students is very much in line with the sympathies expressed in today's editorial in The Times.

Mr. Green

I assure the hon. Lady that, as long as the NUS is prepared to support the Conservative party, we Conservatives are happy to have its support. I am happy that she is happy to throw such support away.

Miss Johnson

I am reliably informed that the NUS is not entirely with the Conservative party in these matters, because it supports us on the question of maintenance. None the less, it seems to be making an unholy alliance with the Conservatives on other related matters.

We must bear it in mind that, although Conservatives and, indeed, some Labour Members are expressing concern, part-time, Open university and postgraduate students already pay fees of the kind that is envisaged. Indeed, most further education students pay fees. We are proposing that much more of the higher education sector should fall into line with much of the further education sector and the remainder of the HE sector. Parity between different sectors is important. There is no reason in justice why somebody on one course should receive markedly different support from the state from that received by someone doing a similar course post school.

Ms Abbott

The hon. Lady referred earlier to fairness and justice. She must be aware that after examining the options in great detail, Dearing expressly rejected completely abolishing the maintenance grant—a means-tested grant—as that would bear most heavily on the poorest students. Could the hon. Lady explain how loading young people from Hackney with a burden of debt—which would not be the case if the maintenance grant were not abolished—will encourage them to go to university?

Miss Johnson

The trouble with the hon. Lady's argument is that it takes no account of the fact that no remission was envisaged in the provisions to which she refers. Therefore, she is not comparing like with like. Under the proposals—which I support—twice the level of subsidy will go to those from poorer homes than to those from richer homes.

It was entertaining to hear the hon. Member for Rochford and Southend, East (Sir T. Taylor) describe his support for his daughters, and the fact that they would end up with no debts as a result of their time as students. I commend his support for them, but the fact is that many families cannot afford to do that. The question is how we provide people with access to higher education. We cannot usefully compare students from families with a lot of money, which will always be able to support and buy more for their children, with those from poorer families, which can never hope to do that.

Five years after a person graduates, he or she is likely to be earning 15 per cent. more than a non-graduate. After 10 years, the figure is 20 per cent. Those arguments meant that the position that I argued with the sixth formers found favour.

It was interesting that—probably because I was a member of the Standing Committee—I received correspondence from the local branch of the NUS, which decided to take out a full-page wrap-round in the local free paper to advertise my membership of the Standing Committee and to give its views of the Government's proposals. As a result of that extensive publicity—the paper was circulated to all local residents—I received no phone calls and only, I think, two letters at my constituency office.

Despite the Opposition's position—and although some students have joined them—their complaints are not finding support among the public, because the public recognise that there is an issue to be addressed. We cannot run the system that was left to us with 40 per cent. Less per head going in with each student to each university place. Many students will find that we shall not be able to increase access. Something will have to give—the access or the quality, or both. I would suggest that it is close to being both, but quality is currently at risk.

Mr. Willis

The hon. Lady's last point is incredibly important. Dearing said that we needed £365 million this year, £550 million next year and £1 billion by 2000 simply to stand still with the existing number of students. Fees this year will raise £150 million. How does the hon. Lady—and her Front-Bench colleagues—propose to make up the difference, to give us the quality that we need for our existing students, let alone more students?

Miss Johnson

We have spent £165 million this year, and proposals will emerge from the comprehensive spending reviews, which are about to report. The Government need take no lectures from Opposition Members—particularly the hon. Gentleman, who would spend 1p on income tax many times over. In Committee, we saw him spend that 1p many times over.

I reiterate my belief that the proposals will produce a much more just system—they will produce greater fairness and better access. In particular, people from poorer backgrounds will be helped; they will be able to afford to say, "I can invest in my education. As I can pay back the money when I can afford to do so, I can, as a young adult, take responsibility for this investment and pay back the system."

I am sure that this year's figures, which show an increased interest among 18 to 21-year-olds in university places, will be followed by even better figures in the years to come. We shall find that access is enhanced, especially for the groups that we want to be better represented in the universities.

Mr. John Hayes (South Holland and The Deepings)

There are three principal differences between the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Miss Johnson) and me—[Laughter.] I should say that there are three principal differences beyond those that are patently obvious. First, I recognise the extent of public disquiet about the Government's proposals—for the hon. Lady to say that she has received no correspondence about them is incredible, although I understand that she is ex-directory.

Miss Melanie Johnson

I did not say that I had received no correspondence; I said that, as a result of the student union advertisement, I received no additional correspondence. I have had some correspondence, but not a significant amount.

Mr. Hayes

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her qualification, although it throws even less light on the amount of correspondence that she received than her original comments did.

The second difference is that I come from a working-class background, so I might not have qualified to become a new Labour Member of Parliament. I was the first in my family to enjoy the opportunity of going to university, partly because sufficient funds were available to me. Anyone who believes that access to higher education is solely, or even principally, a matter of academic qualifications—as the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) suggested—misunderstands the cultural problems and social issues associated with the varying staying-on rates across the country. Even a superficial glance at those rates confirms that deep-rooted assumptions and preoccupations—about leaving school early, going to work and earning a first pay packet—prevent many people from working-class families from applying to university.

Mr. Coaker

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hayes

Nottinghamshire, from where the hon. Gentleman comes, is a good example of what I am talking about—I give him that tip before he intervenes.

Mr. Coaker

The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. Does he agree that the difference in staying-on rates is the key issue? Culture and educational achievement, not grants, impact on low-income families. Unless expectations and achievements are raised, and unless the way in which low-income families view education is changed, access to higher education for those families will never be improved.

Mr. Hayes

The hon. Gentleman speaks a lot of sense—expectations are a key issue. To separate expectation from finance—from the burden that working-class families are likely to endure—is a nonsense, as he must know. Anything that aggravates that burden and increases apprehensions will surely have a detrimental effect on attempts to widen access.

Dr. Nick Palmer (Broxtowe)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Hayes

I have already given way to one Nottinghamshire Labour Member, and I do not intend to make a habit of it.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) said, the truth of the matter is that Dearing looked into this issue carefully. The assumption was that just as all parties accepted and welcomed the setting up of Dearing, they would accept and welcome the conclusions because it was an independent and empirical study and it therefore was not prejudiced. Frankly, it was also assumed that Dearing would recommend the abolition of the maintenance grant. However, the Dearing committee believed that abolition would damage the prospects of working-class children. Let us make no bones about it, because that is what the report said. It viewed abolition as the likely cause, not of an increase in children from working-class homes going to university and a widening of access, as many hon. Members have said, but of a narrowing of access and a disincentive to those very children, which is why it recommended keeping the maintenance grant. Let us not be under any misapprehensions about that either.

I said that there were three differences between the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield and me—the third is that I am going to be concise. It is disingenuous to suggest that the public were made aware of the proposals before the election. I spoke in a number of places then—on NUS platforms and against Labour representatives.

10.15 pm
Mr. Phil Hope (Corby)

Will the hon. Gentleman explain why the previous Administration—the Conservative party, which he now represents—left university finances in such dire straits and capped the number of places, which meant that many young people in Corby simply could not get into university, because there were no places? Can he also explain why the Conservatives will tonight support charging all students in Corby tuition fees and why they are not opposed to universities being able to charge extra fees on top?

Mr. Hayes

I do not want to go off on a tributary towards Corby, but there was a massive expansion of higher education under the previous Government, as has been acknowledged by hon. Members on both sides of the House. The figures have been made clear. Higher education mushroomed during the previous Government. Also, the Conservative Government set up Dearing, mindful of the very issues that the hon. Gentleman draws to the attention of the House. The Conservative party did not assume that those were not problems that needed to be faced or challenges that needed to be met. It reflects badly on the Labour party now that it is in government that it does not accept the advice of that independent committee.

Finally, as I do not want to fall into the trap of being quite as long-winded as the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield: I meant that kindly, of course—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh!"] Well, I meant it fairly kindly. The truth of the matter is that there was no open acknowledgement or clear manifesto pledge. I have the Labour manifesto here—I carry it with me all the time, to see how many promises have been broken—and there is no clear indication that tuition fees would be introduced. That is not mentioned. The section on higher education is very short and does not mention tuition fees at all.

Let us be absolutely frank. Hon. Members on both sides of the House, if they care about widening access to higher education, should resist the proposals. Furthermore, those proposals do no credit to the new Labour Government.

Mr. Bill Rammell (Harlow)

I am disappointed that the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts) is not still in his place. I understood his argument about tuition fees to be that they would simply be a mechanism to deal with course fees. I think that he also referred to maritime students. That was very different from the interpretation of the right hon. Member for Charnwood (Mr. Dorrell) in Committee when we debated these matters, when it was clear that the Conservative party was in favour of the general principle of top-up fees for institutions. That may well be part of the reason for the right hon. Gentleman's removal. It is a problem when one thing is said in the Standing Committee and a different thing on the Floor of the House.

I am happy to support the package of proposals that the Government are putting forward and recognise that many of them are challenging. When moving from a minority system of participation in higher education to a mass education system, we clearly need and desire a new funding system. As someone who worked in the university sector for 10 years before the general election, I am conscious that the universities need a substantial injection of cash, which simply will not be produced from the annual Treasury spending round.

It has been argued many times that to restore student grants to the 1979 level, to remove the cap on access and to restore university funding would cost the equivalent of 3p or 4p on the standard rate of income tax. Even if the Government were committed to raising taxation by that amount, the idea that we would spend it on students and universities instead of schools, hospitals and public transport is simply not the politics of the Government, or of the real world.

Mrs. Fyfe

My hon. Friend is doing as others have done in assuming that the amendment is about restoring the old level of maintenance grant. The amendment mentions a maintenance grant but specifies no amount, and it refers to income of a "prescribed amount", not a specified amount. It is so open-ended, I wonder why hon. Members cannot accept it.

Mr. Rammell

No matter how beneficial our system of Government finance, we will always live with a limited budget. There is a choice between retaining the current proportion of student grant and protecting students from the poorest backgrounds from tuition fees. I believe that the latter is the higher priority.

I support the Government's position because there was an explicit commitment in Labour's manifesto at the general election. I acknowledge that individual Members may have taken a different personal view, but I did not. There was a specific commitment in my party's manifesto to move from a system of student grants to an income-contingent loans system, and that is what we are debating. I want to highlight some of the disingenuity—I would say hypocrisy, but that would be unparliamentary—in the Conservative party's statement that it is opposed to scrapping maintenance grants. When in government, the Conservatives steadfastly whittled away student grants year after year. How can their position this evening be squared with the statement in November 1993 of the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke)—then the Chancellor of the Exchequer—when he introduced the dramatic, unprecedented and previously unannounced expansion of loans as opposed to grants? He said: the recent explosion in student numbers has revealed as ridiculous the fears that the student loan scheme might deter students from poorer families."—[Official Report, 30 November 1993; Vol. 233, c. 931.] That is what the Tories said in government, but they are putting forward a different story this evening. They are crying crocodile tears, and playing politics with a crucial issue.

The evidence shows that the increase in loans has not deterred access. I have come to terms with that over time, and the fact is that participation by students of lower-income backgrounds has increased since the introduction of student loans—from about 6 per cent. of students from unskilled family backgrounds in 1991 to 14 per cent. in 1997. In supporting the Government, I very much welcome the substantial increase which has doubled access funds. It will address real needs in universities and institutions in which students are genuinely struggling to make ends meet, and it should be highlighted.

Part of my reason for supporting the overall package came up when I answered the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe): this issue is about choice within a limited budget. When it comes to deterring access, the imposition of tuition fees on students from poorer backgrounds would act as a greater disincentive to entering higher education than would the absence of a student grant. It is a question of choice, and a matter of weighing the arguments.

We must tackle the defence of the existing system which is based on traditional, principled arguments about the welfare state. It is argued that the welfare state was created to allow people to contribute according to their means and benefit according to their needs, but that is not the way in which universities and higher education have operated over the years. Over time, the people who have benefited from university education have predominantly been those from better-off backgrounds, with the vast majority coming from socio-economic groups A and B.

The key issue is how to get more students from the lower socio-economic groups to go to university. It is a matter of opening minds and raising ambitions, and the current system is inadequate. Money is important, but it is certainly not everything.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda)

My hon. Friend said several times that people from working-class and lower socio-economic backgrounds do not have the expectation of going on to higher education, but he is absolutely wrong: the whole tradition of the Rhondda and the mining valleys of south Wales is that people from those very backgrounds have indeed gone to university, and that is one reason why they have supported the Labour party so solidly; they have always supported the idea of free access to higher education. My hon. Friend should come to my constituency to find out whether working-class people have those aspirations.

Mr. Rammell

It is not my intention to trade working-class credentials, but the matter is one on which I feel passionately, because I was the first person from my family to go to university. I grew up in a council house and come from a working-class background, and I very much value the benefit that I received from a university education. The fundamental problem with that argument is that, for every one of me or of my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan) who benefited from the system, eight or nine of our contemporaries simply did not get the opportunity.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will my hon. Friend explain to me and to my constituents how it is an incentive for people from poor backgrounds to go to university if they know that, at the end of their course, they will be £10,000 in debt? That is surely the fundamental issue: either we support poor students in going to college or we do not; if we do not, it is the middle classes who will benefit.

Mr. Rammell

There is nothing in the proposals to force students to pay before they go to university. If we are genuinely interested in opening up higher education and creating a mass opportunity for at least half our people, we must square the circle and ask the question how we are to fund the system.

Another key question is how we are to encourage people from lower-income backgrounds to go on to higher education. It is not simply a matter of finance. One of the most striking statistics that I have come across is that the proportion of students from socio-economic groups D and E who go on to higher education is about 14 per cent. but that the proportion of those same students who gain two A-levels is greater than 50 per cent. We must improve our school system and open up new opportunities.

Some will argue that we must retain decent grants and not have tuition fees, paying the price of a reduced number of students in higher education. I do not support that elitist argument, and nor should the Government. We need to consider how genuinely to open up university education to allow as many people as possible to benefit.

The proposed reforms are necessary. The Conservative party's insistence that we accept the Dearing proposals lock, stock and barrel is interesting, but the idea that, had it won the general election, it would have accepted all 70 or 80 proposals without any intervention or independent thinking, is clearly unrealistic.

Overall, the package of reforms is necessary if we genuinely want to open up higher education. It is a package that must be viewed against the background of determination to open access and to increase student numbers. Part of the reason why we should support it is that, overall, we have ensured that students from lower-income families do not have to pay tuition fees.

This is a difficult issue. Many hon. Members have thought about it, but the key issue is opening access and getting more students from poorer families into higher education. The previous system has not done it. This one has a chance of doing it and we should support it.

10.30 pm
Mr. Don Foster

Unlike the Labour and Conservative parties, which were unable at the last general election to go to the electorate with clear policies for the future funding of higher education—because they decided to wait until the Dearing committee reported—the Liberal Democrats considered this issue well before the general election. In our policy document "The Key to Lifelong Learning", we considered all our concerns, which are shared by hon. Members on both sides of the House, about the future funding of higher education, and we were able to come to some clear conclusions as to what the way forward should be.

We acknowledge, as Labour Members certainly do, that the 40 per cent. cut in funding over the past 10 years under the previous Government led to severe difficulties for universities. The financial pressures on them will be increased still further if the new Government do as we hope they will—ensure an increase in quality and opportunity to widen and extend access for students. If that is to happen, it is clear that higher education needs a significant injection of additional funds.

We considered how best that might be done. Of course, one of the options was the introduction of tuition fees. Very rapidly, we chose to reject that option. We easily came to the conclusion that their introduction would be an extension of a tax on learning—a student tax—and we were therefore fundamentally opposed it.

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment would respond by saying that some students, notably part-timers, already pay tuition fees. We acknowledge that, but the right hon. Gentleman's solution to the problem of creating a level playing field is not to say that we will try gradually to remove tuition fees for all students, including part-timers, but to say that we will introduce tuition fees for all students. Sadly, he is supported in that policy by the Conservative party.

As we have already seen, the introduction of tuition fees has led to considerable confusion. I do not need to repeat all the difficulties; we already know about the fiasco involving gap-year students, about the problem of Scottish universities, and about the confusion of students doing courses for four, five, six or even more years. We also know that means-tested tuition fees are socially regressive.

It is very surprising to find a Labour Government introducing a socially regressive policy. [Interruption.] I am asked, "Why is it socially regressive?" It is simple. It is based on parental income, rather than on the future income of students. It seems ludicrous that a child from a wealthy family will end up paying fees, but, later, when perhaps doing a relatively low-paid job, have to repay that amount, whereas someone from a low-paid family who ends up in a well-paid job will have nothing to pay back. Indeed, the Prime Minister told the House that the Government's policies were based on the future earnings of students. That is simply not true. Either the Prime Minister was misled by the Department or he is misleading himself.

Any political party that has stated that our universities need increased income also has a duty to be honest with the electorate and say where the additional funding will come from. In our policy documents, before and during the election, we made it clear what our solution was. We said that there are three beneficiaries from high-quality higher education. The first is the nation; so some of the additional money should come from the nation through increased income tax. Secondly, employers benefit; so they too should make an increased contribution, perhaps through an education and training levy. We also believe that students benefit; they too should pay more towards their costs.

That is why we accept the need to convert the current maintenance grant to a loan. In that respect, we support the Government. We accept the Secretary of State's argument that we have a simple choice: either to revert to a complete grant, or to revise the system completely and make it a loans system, based on a much fairer repayment regime.

The real difficulty tonight is not just with the Government's proposal to introduce tuition fees, but with the Government's refusal to ring-fence the money being raised from students for use in higher education. It is no good implying, as the Secretary of State did today, that if students want higher-quality higher education they should pay for it, if he will not even ensure that the money raised from them will be used to that end.

Ring fencing, coupled with a new system of resource accounting—I know the Secretary of State wants that introduced as quickly as possible—would release, by 2001, an additional £1 billion for use in higher education.

Although we will support the Government in the Lobby in this vote, we are disappointed that there will be no opportunity for a vote on tuition fees. We would definitely have voted against the Government on that. We are disappointed, too, that we will not have the chance to vote on the ring-fencing of fees. On that also we would have voted against the Government.

Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)

The one thing upon which the House is agreed is that the former Government left us with a very serious situation affecting the universities. There were serious anomalies, including the fact that students in further and part-time education paid fees while those in full-time education did not. But what the House has not been told is that the money saved by the previous Government was given in tax cuts to the very rich—that has hardly been mentioned in the debate.

I have listened carefully, but I am unpersuaded that the Government's proposals are the right ones. No one has mentioned the fact that if someone goes to college he or she forgoes three years' earnings. Those earnings may be from a low-paid job filling shelves in a supermarket; but someone doing that at £120 a week would end up with £18,000 after three years. That is the investment that students make in their education.

The Liberal Democrat spokesman was right to say that education benefits everybody. When I go to see my doctor from Chesterfield, I benefit from her education. Everybody in the House has benefited from the education of doctors and lawyers—[HON. MEMBERS: "Lawyers?"] Of course: everybody benefits. The idea that the only beneficiary of education is the person who receives it is an illusion.

Then we come to the assertion that graduates make more money and therefore should pay more. What about people who make more money without being graduates? We should tax the rich, not the educated. The other day, I was picked up by a cab driver and I always ask cab drivers what they did before. The driver was about 20 years old and he said that he had worked in the City. When I asked what he had earned, he said "About £70,000 a year, but the firm went bust and now I'm back driving a cab." It is a ludicrous idea that those who have a degree ought to pay more tax than people who have more money and no degree.

I do not know how many hon. Members read the evidence given by Bernie Ecclestone to the Nolan committee. He said that what he did had nothing whatever to do with formula one; he gave the money to the Labour party because he had read that the Labour party would not increase personal taxation. These proposals are taxes on those who go to colleges to protect the wealthy from having to make any contribution.

As to the question of whether this measure was in the manifesto, one can use all sorts of phrases, but, throughout the whole election campaign, I never heard any member of the Front-Bench team say, "If you vote Labour, we will have tuition fees." It was never put like that. One can say, "We are going to ask people to make a proper contribution," or put it other ways, but if it had been said, "Vote Labour and there will be tuition fees," it would at least have alerted people to what was in the Government's mind, even if it would not have affected the outcome of the election.

One other point worries me: the arguments in favour of loans for higher education could apply equally to schools. The principle would be exactly the same if the Government were to say, "We need more money for schools; people who go to school do better; so we will let you go to secondary school, but you will have to take out a loan." I can imagine people saying to me, "Mr. Benn, we will give you an operation, but you will have to take a loan if you can't afford to pay now." The principle at stake is that of the welfare state: that we benefit collectively from the health and education of the nation. That is the argument and I fear that we are eroding it.

I do not know the Secretary of State's own view, but, having been a Minister for many years, I know that every Minister has a row with the Treasury. What we are doing tonight is paying the price for what the Chancellor said two days ago, reaffirming the continuation of the public expenditure limits set by the previous Chancellor before his Government were defeated. I might be wrong, but I did not meet anyone in the election campaign who said, "I'm voting Labour to be sure that the public expenditure limits of the Government now in power will be retained for the next five years." Perhaps there were some who did—perhaps new Labour made such an appeal, but it certainly did not do so in Chesterfield.

I shall support my hon. Friend the Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan). I wish we had more time to debate fees, but at least his is a solid amendment, reaffirming the Labour party's historic commitment to opening the way for people to go to college. I benefited from a free education before the grant system came in, because at the end of the war, if one had been in the Royal Air Force, one was allowed through; but I would find it awfully hard to watch any Member of Parliament who had benefited from grants going into the Lobby tonight to vote to replace those grants with loans and to introduce tuition fees.

Mr. Coaker

I rise to oppose the amendment and support the Government, because I do not believe that it is the lack of grants that will deter students from going on to higher education. In my view, grants do not determine who goes on to higher education.

If we look at the number of people going to university under the current system, we can see that that system is failing. The figures force us to confront the stark reality that the current higher education system benefits the higher socio-economic groups and disadvantages those at the bottom. Only 2 per cent. of those from the unskilled social group go on to higher education, compared with 14 per cent. and 39 per cent. from the top social groups.

Mr. Hayes

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Coaker

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to elaborate my points, he will then be able to attack them.

Those are phenomenal figures. In 1997, 4,895 home applicants in the unskilled social class were accepted to degree courses. In the intermediate group—the second-highest social class—109,020 applicants were accepted. In the top, professional class, 37,758 applicants were accepted. That policy is not working to benefit the lower socio-economic classes; it is failing them. If we do not confront that fact and do something about it, we will continue to fail those people, even if we now feel that we are doing them a disservice.

10.45 pm
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Coaker

I shall develop my arguments first.

The repayment of the loan is progressive—it relates to income. That progressive tax is the system with which we want to replace grants. If people's incomes are below a certain level when they go to work, they will not repay the loan. They will repay it only on the basis of what they are earning. It is about time that we stopped frightening people by talking about students incurring debt, and started talking about lending people money so that they can invest in their future. We will then be able to move forward.

Mr. Hayes

Is the hon. Gentleman telling the House that this is a matter of semantics and marketing? Is he suggesting that the groups that he has described, which are not benefiting from the current system, will be encouraged and assisted by getting rid of the maintenance grant?

Mr. Coaker

That is exactly what I am confronting head on—the fact that the existing system is failing. If we fail to recognise that, all we will do is perpetuate that failure. These are hard choices, but we must make them.

We should consider why people from lower socio-economic groups are not going on to further and higher education. I have experience of working in schools, trying to encourage young people from those backgrounds to stay on in education. It is a question of getting those young people, not into higher education, but into further education. We cannot persuade many of them to stay on at 16, let alone 18. Again, if we do not confront that fact, we will not be in a position to do much about it. We should consider that in the context of all the reforms that we want to introduce.

The question is not one of money or grants, but one of raising people's educational achievement and their expectations, and of encouraging them to believe that they can stay on. We must expand opportunities in higher education and further education so that young people in the social groups about which we are particularly concerned can make progress. The Bill must be seen in conjunction with the School Standards and Framework Bill.

Mr. McDonnell

My hon. Friend said that we should not scare potential students about the level of debt but say, "We are transforming your grant into a loan and that is an investment opportunity for you." A number of years ago, the Conservative Government abolished the grants to several of my constituents under social security legislation and loaded them with debt. Was that an investment in their future?

Mr. Coaker

I am talking about trying to encourage young people into further and higher education. The current system does not work, but if we start talking about loans as investment for the future that allows people to go into further and higher education so that they can earn more and have all the opportunities and advantages that education brings, we will encourage more people from those backgrounds to stay on and, in doing so, we will create opportunities for all.

I taught for many years in schools that served those communities and, for the last few years, I worked as a deputy head teacher. The problems that we faced did not involve money—although that is also important. We could not encourage young people to stay on in education at 16 and go to college. We could not raise their expectations and we could not create a culture of educational achievement. That will be the real mark of the Government's success: if we achieve those aims, we will ensure that more young people go on to further and higher education. In that way, we shall create opportunities for all groups in society, but particularly for those at the bottom of society.

Lorna Fitzsimons (Rochdale)

I speak in this debate as the first person from my family to enter higher education and as one who spent a long time representing students in post-16 and post-graduate education.

I praise the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Mr. Rammell), who encapsulated the lessons that I learnt the hard way by representing students and the real politics that faced us when we gained office and read the Dearing report. Those who advocate swallowing all of Dearing forget that that report suggested that every student, regardless of his or her socio-economic background, should pay a flat tuition fee. [Interruption.] I do not find that funny. The reality for students under your Government was debt because of the way that you whittled down the student grant.

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

Order. The Chair does not have a Government.

Lorna Fitzsimons

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but the passion carries me away.

Under the previous Administration, the student grant was whittled down to such a small amount that debt was a way of life for the majority of students. Therefore, I think that it is fickle for the Opposition to talk about student debt in relation to the maintenance grant. They had plenty of time to address the problem of debt among students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Labour turned honestly to the Dearing report before the last election—as did all three main parties. We recognised that we had a limited amount of money and a crisis on our hands and we considered how we would spend those funds.

As my colleagues have pointed out eloquently, the Government's priority was ensuring that the barrier to higher education was not at the point of access. I am disappointed that hon. Members have confused students with graduates in this debate. Students will pay off loans for tuition fees or maintenance grants only after they have graduated and their incomes have reached a certain level. Under the previous Administration, we had the most expensive student loans system that was ever manufactured. Despite all the economic expertise of the banks, London school of economics graduates, professors and so on, it would have been cheaper to give students the money than administer the old student loans system. We must be honest about the plight that many students face.

The other argument I wish to nail is the claim that we have enjoyed free state higher education and that this Government are somehow responsible for its abolition. As has been said in the Chamber tonight, that denies the fact that many students have been responsible for meeting their own fees for years—only a minority of students were privileged to receive the state subsidy. That fact is swept under the carpet. The Opposition are not bothered that those students have had to shoulder the load; they have had to pay their fees and it has been hard. The reality, however, is that new Labour is about principles.

Mr. Richard Allan (Sheffield, Hallam)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Lorna Fitzsimons

No, I will not; I have limited time.

With limited money and with the crisis that we inherited, we had to ensure that there was no barrier to access for those poor students who, we believed, would have been more disfranchised by having to pay a tuition fee. That is where we put our subsidy. We are putting our policies and principles into practice. I am sad that some of my colleagues cannot see the reality of the system that we inherited.

In a perfect world, of course we would like everyone—

Mr. Allan

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Lorna Fitzsimons

No; I have limited time and I am trying to let more hon. Members speak.

In an imperfect world, it is necessary to prioritise. We have prioritised, ensuring that poor students do not have to pay fees. If there is one message that must go out of the Chamber to the students of the future, it is: "If you come from a low-income background, you will not have to pay a fee under the present Government's proposals."

Yvette Cooper (Pontefract and Castleford)

Tonight, we have heard many arguments about access—especially access for people from low-income and low-skill backgrounds. Labour Members passionately agree about that. We all believe in that, we all want to achieve it and we are all passionately angry about the previous Government's failure to do enough to get children from lower-income backgrounds into higher education. However, we must be hard-headed about the way in which we act to pursue that goal.

In my constituency, the problem is not only the low number of people entering higher education, but the low number of people who stay on, after age 16, in any form of education. Nationally, 77 per cent. of 16-year-olds stay on in full-time or part-time education. In my constituency, only 50 per cent. do. From some schools, only 25 per cent. do.

Mr. Swayne

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Yvette Cooper

I shall not give way. I am sorry, but I have little time and it has been a long debate.

In my constituency, 30 per cent. of teenagers leave school at 16 and go into unemployment or into a job with no training. That is the problem that we must face if we are to improve access to the crucial skills and education that, at the moment, are the key to prosperity in life. To tackle inequality in this country—

Mr. Corbyn

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Yvette Cooper

I am sorry; I must make progress, because it has been a long debate and I want to finish to allow other hon. Members to get in.

To tackle inequality in this country today, we must do so through education. If we leave those 16-year-olds in my constituency without access to further or higher education, we are failing to tackle inequality. Faced with a choice between a continuation of the existing maintenance grant system, a return to the 1990 maintenance grant system, as suggested by amendment No. 36 and a new, fair, loan system that liberates hard cash to do something radical for the 16-year-olds in my constituency, enabling them to stay on and have a chance, I shall go for the fair loans and the cash, to do something more substantial.

It is a fair principle that graduates who earn more—

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West)

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Yvette Cooper

I am sorry; I shall not take interventions.

It is a fair principle that graduates, as they earn more—because they do earn more—should pay something back. Even taking into account the three years that they may spend not earning, they still earn more. They earn masses more than the people in my constituency who are not going into any form of further or higher education—some figures say 10 per cent. more, others say 25 per cent. Either way, a degree is the key to getting on in life, and to higher earnings throughout life.

Of course, society also benefits from higher education, so society must continue to contribute to it. That is a central part of the Secretary of State's higher education funding proposals. Society must continue to pay, but it is fair that people who earn the most pay something back.

I have been very lucky. I have benefited not only from higher education and an undergraduate degree, but from being able to take a master's degree at the London school of economics. As a result of the latter, my earning power—my salary—doubled. I took out a career development loan to pay for that, and I have only just finished paying it back. I think that it was fair that I should take out a loan, rather than asking people in my constituency who have been taxpayers in low-income jobs to pay that subsidy to my higher earnings.

Of course, post-graduate education is different from undergraduate education. I do not say that the same principles should apply, but the underlying principle that if one earns more and is benefiting more, one should pay something back is surely right.

I ask the House, having listened to the debate this evening, not to vote for the status quo, which has not helped my constituents, but to take the radical approach, to go for the new, fair student loan system and to give us the cash to do something far more powerful to help my constituents to get a better chance in life.

11 pm

Mr. Green

Behind much of the passion that we have seen this evening lies a good deal of sadness. I share that sadness because the House will take an historic decision this evening if it votes against the amendment and votes with the Government today and tomorrow, and it is a historically wrong decision.

The maintenance grant has served many thousands of people well since it was introduced, and I see no reason why it should not continue to do so. Like many hon. Members on both sides of the House, I benefited from it. I was educated at a state school, and my sister and I were the first generation of our family to go on to higher education. We benefited from maintenance grants.

Clearly, we cannot continue with the previous system if the expansion of higher education is to continue; we all accept that. That is why the previous Government introduced a mixed grant and loan system, and we can be proud of that. I am extremely proud of the massive expansion in higher education over the past 18 years. When we came to power, one in eight went into universities; when we left, the figure was one in three. That gave many thousands of young people the opportunity to go into higher education—an opportunity that they would never have had in any previous decade.

We should be proud of that expansion, and we should recognise that we achieved it through a balanced financial system which mixed grants and loans for those students. Many Labour Members pointed out that access did not diminish after loans were introduced, and we can all be proud of that. One Labour Member noted that since the loan system was introduced, not only did the numbers go up, but the range of those going into higher education increased. There can be no hon. Member who does not believe that we must do better in extending the range of those who have access to higher education.

The objection to the Government's proposals, and the reason why we support the amendment, is that their proposal will move sharply in the opposite direction. Many Labour Members are embarrassed about it because they feel that they are breaking their election pledge. The right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) observed that his constituents did not think that they were voting for the introduction of tuition fees if they voted for a Labour Government. He can go further than that.

A month before the election, in his 50 answers to the Evening Standard, the Prime Minister was asked in question No. 6: Will Labour introduce tuition fees for higher education? He replied: Labour has no plans to introduce tuition fees for higher education. Perhaps the Secretary of State could argue that something has happened since that has changed the situation.

Mr. Dawson

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Green

My time is limited and I want to give the hon. Member for Falkirk, West (Mr. Canavan), who moved the amendment, a chance to get in.

What has happened since that might have changed the situation? The Dearing committee reported. It was set up on a cross-party basis; everyone agreed that it was a sensible way forward and that we needed to examine the funding of higher education. I remember that my Labour opponent at the general election, who was a teacher at a university, always said that the Labour party could not make any commitments about higher education because it was waiting for Dearing to report.

That is how Labour fought the general election. What did the Government do as soon as they received the Dearing report? On the day that it was published, they started rubbishing it, and they decided not to implement one of its most important proposals. That is a betrayal not just of the students of this country, but of everything that Labour told the British people during the general election campaign.

The Dearing committee was clearly set up with the idea that the time for maintenance grants might have gone. The issue has been discussed by those who care about funding for higher education for many years. There was a clear presumption that the Dearing report would come down on the side of saying that the time had passed for maintenance grants. We should respect the fact that after 14 months of study, the distinguished group that made up the Dearing committee decided, rather unexpectedly, that there was a role for maintenance grants to play in the future of British education. That decision was made precisely because the committee was most concerned with access to higher education for those who would not otherwise be able to afford it.

It is not simply a matter of adding up how much students might pay or determining who should not have to pay tuition fees. It is, as many hon. Members have said, a matter of culture. Those who say that we are reclassifying debt as investment and who claim that by so doing, everything will be all right, are talking nonsense. People know when they are in debt. They know that they will have £10,000 to pay back when they leave university.

Students who come from less well-off backgrounds are much less likely to take the risk. It would be a tragedy for those individuals and for the country as a whole if less well-off children, thinking about higher education, decided that it was too high a risk and said, "I'll play it safe and not go into higher education." If the Government force through their proposal, they will condemn thousands of the less well-off to a less good life than they could achieve by their own efforts and damage our economic performance by narrowing the base of those who will develop the skills that we as a country need to ensure that our prosperity continues.

The position is worse than that, because there is no guarantee that the money that will be raised from the fees and saved on the maintenance grant will be put into higher education. We have had half a commitment for this year and we have no commitment for future years. This is a Treasury-driven agenda which will do nothing for higher education. The Government have disappeared into the logic of their own focus groups. They have decided that if the Treasury demands it, they prefer to clobber the poor rather than the better-off. That is an historic mistake.

I admit that the motives of many of those on the left of British politics have been good. I think that they have been wrong-headed, but socialism clearly arose from a desire to promote common decency. Uniquely, the Government are throwing out the baby of common decency with the bath water of socialism. Socialism has been proved to be intellectually wrong and not to work. However, behind it there was a thought—many Labour Members must have gone into politics with this in mind—that there must be some common decency. The Government are betraying the sense of common decency that brought many Labour Members into politics in the first place.

Mr. Blunkett

The hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) will have to do much better than that if he is to succeed on the Opposition Front Bench. He said that he was proud of the Conservative Government. Is he proud of a 40 per cent. cut in unit costs per student? Is he proud of capping entry into university, to prevent increased access? Is he proud of a Government who halved the grant, but who did not provide additional funds for access or for hardship, which we are doing by means of the Bill?

The hon. Gentleman's opponent at the general election was right. We spelled out clearly what we would do on maintenance, and we said that we would review the Dearing proposals on fees.

Mr. Nick St. Aubyn (Guildford)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Blunkett

No, I will not.

We are voting on the issue of the maintenance award. We are voting not on fees, but on whether a manifesto commitment, which was explicit, will be carried forward. We are voting on whether a Labour party conference decision, which was overwhelming, will be carried this evening. We are talking about ensuring that students have the money at the point when they need it, and that they repay it when they can afford to do so.

That is the simple issue before us. It is not a matter of principle about free post-16 education, because that is not even at stake within the amendment. If it were, part-timers and further education students would be in a different position from full-time undergraduates. No principle is being laid aside. We are talking about a provision to ensure that no one is in hardship at university, with additional provision for those who find themselves in difficulty, with loans to be repaid at a real nil rate of interest based on the Inland Revenue system and linked entirely to ability to pay.

We are asking the House to carry forward this signal reform in the funding of the higher education system, so that the majority, not the minority, can benefit. For the sake of a modern Britain in a new century, we ask hon. Members to vote against the amendment.

Mr. Canavan

The Government propose to abolish maintenance grants and to make students completely dependent on loans. To put sugar on the pill, the Government are telling students that they will be able to borrow more money and repay it over a longer period. May I say to the Secretary of State that it is little consolation, especially to students from low-income families, to be told that the millstone around their necks will be heavier and there for longer?

May I also say to the Secretary of State that nothing in my amendment is inconsistent with Labour party policy or with the manifesto commitment, which was a bit ambiguous? It said that the costs of student maintenance should be repaid by graduates on an income-related basis. Some graduates might argue that they already do that by paying income tax. May I also say to him that, sooner or later, the Government will have to grasp the nettle and realise that the introduction of a progressive taxation system is essential for a fair education system?

The Secretary of State has already introduced some special financial support for students with disabilities and lone parent students, and I welcome that. If my amendment proposed the abolition of loans and the reintroduction of a comprehensive system of maintenance grants for all students, I might be able to understand part of his argument that, in some way, it conflicts with his reading of the manifesto, but I am not proposing that. All I propose is that there should be some maintenance grant for students from low-income families. I imagine that most hon. Members, at some stage in their careers, have received the advantage of a maintenance grant to enable them to go on to college and university. I appeal to every hon. Member please not to kick away the ladder of opportunity from future generations, and please to support my amendment in the vote.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 176, Noes 313.

Division No. 294] [11.13 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Fox, Dr Liam
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey) Fraser, Christopher
Arbuthnot, James Garnier, Edward
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham) Gerrard, Neil
Baldry, Tony Gibb, Nick
Bell, Martin (Tatton) Gill, Christopher
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Bercow, John Grant, Bernie
Beresford, Sir Paul Gray, James
Blunt, Crispin Green, Damian
Boswell, Tim Grieve, Dominic
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W) Gummer, Rt Hon John
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia Hague, Rt Hon William
Brady, Graham Hamilton, Rt Hon Sir Archie
Brazier, Julian Hammond, Philip
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Hawkins, Nick
Browning, Mrs Angela Hayes, John
Burns, Simon Heald, Oliver
Butterfill, John Heathcoat—Amory, Rt Hon David
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V) Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Canavan, Dennis Hopkins, Kelvin
Cash, William Horam, John
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet) Howard, Rt Hon Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Clappison, James Hunter, Andrew
Collins, Tim Jack, Rt Hon Michael
Colvin, Michael Jackson, Robert (Wantage)
Corbyn, Jeremy Jenkin, Bernard
Cormack, Sir Patrick Johnson Smith, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Cran, James
Cryer, Mrs Ann (Keighley) Jones, Ieuan Wyn (Ynys Môn)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch) Jones, Dr Lynne (Selly Oak)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Key, Robert
Cunningham, Ms Roseanna (Perth) King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Curry, Rt Hon David Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Dafis, Cynog Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Dalyell, Tam Lansley, Andrew
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Leigh, Edward
Davies, Quentin (Grantham) Letwin, Oliver
Davis, Rt Hon David (Haltemprice) Lewis, Dr Julian (New Forest E)
Day, Stephen Lewis, Terry (Worsley)
Dorrell, Rt Hon Stephen Lidington, David
Duncan, Alan Lilley, Rt Hon Peter
Duncan Smith, Iain Livingstone, Ken
Emery, Rt Hon Sir Peter Loughton, Tim
Etherington, Bill Luff, Peter
Evans, Nigel McAllion, John
Ewing, Mrs Margaret MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Faber, David MacKay, Andrew
Fabricant, Michael Maclean, Rt Hon David
Fallon, Michael McLoughlin, Patrick
Fitzpatrick, Jim Madel, Sir David
Flight, Howard Mahon, Mrs Alice
Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman Malins, Humfrey
Maples, John Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Marek, Dr John Spring, Richard
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Mates, Michael Steen, Anthony
Maude, Rt Hon Francis Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Mawhinney, Rt Hon Sir Brian Swayne, Desmond
May, Mrs Theresa Swinney, John
Mitchell, Austin Syms, Robert
Morgan, Alasdair (Galloway) Tapsell, Sir Peter
Moss, Malcolm Taylor, Ian (Esher & Walton)
Nicholls, Patrick Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Norman, Archie Taylor, Sir Teddy
Ottaway, Richard Townend, John
Page, Richard Tredinnick, David
Paice, James Trend, Michael
Pickles, Eric Tyrie, Andrew
Pollard, Kerry Viggers, Peter
Powell, Sir Raymond Walter, Robert
Prior, David Wardle, Charles
Randall, John Waterson, Nigel
Redwood, Rt Hon John Wells, Bowen
Robathan, Andrew Welsh, Andrew
Whittingdale, John
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry) Widdecombe, Rt Hon Miss Ann
Rogers, Allan Wilkinson, John
Rowlands, Ted Willetts, David
Ruffley, David Wilshire, David
St Aubyn, Nick Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)
Salmond, Alex Winterton, Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Sayeed, Jonathan Wise, Audrey
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian Woodward, Shaun
Shepherd, Richard Yeo, Tim
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S) Young, Rt Hon Sir George
Simpson, Keith (Mid-Norfolk)
Skinner, Dennis Tellers for the Ayes:
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent) Mrs. Maria Fyfe and
Soames, Nicholas Mr. John McDonnell.
Ainger, Nick Burnett, John
Alexander, Douglas Burstow, Paul
Allen, Graham Butler, Mrs Christine
Anderson, Donald (Swansea E) Byers, Stephen
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale) Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Armstrong, Ms Hilary Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Campbell, Menzies (NE Fife)
Ashton, Joe Campbell—Savours, Dale
Atherton, Ms Candy Caplin, Ivor
Atkins, Charlotte Casale, Roger
Banks, Tony Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Barron, Kevin Chaytor, David
Battle, John Chidgey, David
Bayley, Hugh Chisholm, Malcolm
Beard, Nigel Church, Ms Judith
Begg, Miss Anne Clark, Rt Hon Dr David (S Shields)
Beith, Rt Hon A J Clark, Dr Lynda(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Bell, Stuart (Middlesbrough)
Bennett, Andrew F Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Benton, Joe Clarke, Charles (Norwich S)
Bermingham, Gerald Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Berry, Roger Clelland, David
Blizzard, Bob Clwyd, Ann
Blunkett, Rt Hon David Coaker, Vernon
Boateng, Paul Coffey, Ms Ann
Borrow, David Cohen, Harry
Bradley, Keith (Withington) Coleman, Iain
Bradshaw, Ben Colman, Tony
Brake, Tom Connarty, Michael
Breed, Colin Cooper, Yvette
Brown, Rt Hon Gordon (Dunfermline E) Corbett, Robin
Corston, Ms Jean
Brown, Rt Hon Nick (Newcastle E) Cotter, Brian
Brown, Russell (Dumfries) Cox, Tom
Browne, Desmond Cranston, Ross
Buck, Ms Karen Crausby, David
Burgon, Colin Cummings, John
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S) Jackson, Ms Glenda (Hampstead)
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Darvill, Keith Jamieson, David
Davey, Edward (Kingston) Jenkins, Brian
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W) Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Davidson, Ian Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davies, Rt Hon Ron (Caerphilly) Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Dawson, Hilton Jones, Mrs Fiona (Newark)
Dean, Mrs Janet Jowell, Ms Tessa
Denham, John Keeble, Ms Sally
Dismore, Andrew Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank Kennedy, Charles (Ross Skye)
Donohoe, Brian H Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Doran, Frank Khabra, Piara S
Dowd, Jim Kilfoyle, Peter
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey) King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston) Kirkwood, Archy
Efford, Clive Kumar, Dr Ashok
Ellman, Mrs Louise Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Ennis, Jeff Lawrence, Ms Jackie
Fatchett, Derek Laxton, Bob
Fearn, Ronnie Lepper, David
Field, Rt Hon Frank Leslie, Christopher
Fisher, Mark Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Fitzsimons, Lorna Liddell, Mrs Helen
Flint, Caroline Linton, Martin
Follett, Barbara Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Foster, Rt Hon Derek Love, Andrew
Foster, Don (Bath) McAvoy, Thomas
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings) McCabe, Steve
Foster, Michael J (Worcester) McCartney, Ian (Makerfield)
Galbraith, Sam McDonagh, Siobhain
Galloway, George Macdonald, Calum
Gapes, Mike McFall, John
Gardiner, Barry McGuire, Mrs Anne
George, Andrew (St Ives) McIsaac, Shona
George, Bruce (Walsall S) McKenna, Mrs Rosemary
Gilroy, Mrs Linda Mackinlay, Andrew
Godsiff, Roger McLeish, Henry
Golding, Mrs Llin Maclennan, Rt Hon Robert
Gorrie, Donald McNamara, Kevin
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E) McNulty, Tony
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) MacShane, Denis
Grocott, Bruce Mactaggart, Fiona
Grogan, John McWalter, Tony
Gunnell, John McWilliam, John
Hain, Peter Mallaber, Judy
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale) Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford) Martlew, Eric
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE) Maxton, John
Hancock, Mike Meacher, Rt Hon Michael
Hanson, David Meale, Alan
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet Merron, Gillian
Harris, Dr Evan Michael, Alun
Harvey, Nick Milburn, Alan
Heal, Mrs Sylvia Moffatt, Laura
Healey, John Moonie, Dr Lewis
Hepburn, Stephen Morgan, Rhodri (Cardiff W)
Heppell, John Morris, Ms Estelle (B'ham Yardley)
Hewitt, Ms Patricia Morris, Rt Hon John (Aberavon)
Hill, Keith Mowlam, Rt Hon Marjorie
Hinchliffe, David Mudie, George
Hodge, Ms Margaret Mullin, Chris
Hoey, Kate Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Home Robertson, John Norris, Dan
Hoon, Geoffrey Oaten, Mark
Hope, Phil O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
Howarth, Alan (Newport E) O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Howells, Dr Kim O'Hara, Eddie
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N) Olner, Bill
Hughes, Simon (Southward N) O'Neill, Martin
Humble, Mrs Joan Organ, Mrs Diana
Hurst, Alan Palmer, Dr Nick
Hutton, John Pearson, Ian
Iddon, Dr Brian Pendry, Tom
Perham, Ms Linda Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Pickthall, Colin Stinchcombe, Paul
Pike, Peter L Stoate, Dr Howard
Plaskitt, James Stott, Roger
Pond, Chris Strang, Rt Hon Dr Gavin
Pope, Greg Straw, Rt Hon Jack
Pound, Stephen Stringer, Graham
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E) Stunell, Andrew
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle) Sutcliffe, Gerry
Prosser, Gwyn Taylor, Rt Hon Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Purchase, Ken
Quinn, Lawrie Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Rammell, Bill Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Rapson, Syd Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Raynsford, Nick Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Reed, Andrew (Loughborough) Timms, Stephen
Reid, Dr John (Hamilton N) Tipping, Paddy
Rendel, David Touhig, Don
Robertson, Rt Hon George (Hamilton S) Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Paul
Robinson, Geoffrey (Cov'try NW) Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Roche, Mrs Barbara Turner, Dr George (NW Norfolk)
Rooker, Jeff Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Rooney, Terry Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W) Tyler, Paul
Vaz, Keith
Roy, Frank Vis, Dr Rudi
Ruane, Chris Wallace, James
Ruddock, Ms Joan Walley, Ms Joan
Russell, Bob (Colchester) Ward, Ms Claire
Savidge, Malcolm Watts, David
Sawford, Phil Webb, Steve
Sheerman, Barry White, Brian
Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert Whitehead, Dr Alan
Singh, Marsha Wicks, Malcolm
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E) Williams, Alan W (E Carmarthen)
Smith, Angela (Basildon) Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S) Willis, Phil
Smith, Miss Geraldine(Morecambe & Lunesdale) Wills, Michael
Wilson, Brian
Smith, John (Glamorgan) Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Smith, Sir Robert (W Ab'd'ns) Woolas, Phil
Snape, Peter Worthington, Tony
Soley, Clive Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Southworth, Ms Helen Wright, Dr Tony (Cannock)
Spellar, John
Squire, Ms Rachel Tellers for the Noes:
Starkey, Dr Phyllis Mr. Robert Ainsworth and Mr. Jon Owen Jones.
Stevenson, George

Question accordingly negatived.

It being more than six hours after the commencement of proceedings on consideration of the Bill, MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order [19 May] and the Resolution [this day], put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.

Amendments made: No. 69, in page 15, line 45, at end insert—

  1. '(j) modifying any enactment or instrument (whenever passed or made) so as to provide for the treatment, in connection with any calculation with respect to the income (however defined) of persons to whom grants or loans are made under this section, of amounts due from or payable to such persons under such grants or loans;
  2. (k) for appeals with respect to matters arising under the regulations (including provision for determining, or enabling the determination of, the procedure to be followed in connection with appeals).'.

No. 71, in page 16, line 32, leave out 'any government department,'.

No. 76, in page 16, line 37, leave out 'remuneration' and insert 'emoluments'.

No. 65, in page 17, line 3, at end insert—

'(ca) requiring the payment, by persons or bodies to whom requirements imposed in pursuance of any of paragraphs

(a) to (c) apply, of—

  1. (i) penalties in cases of non-compliance with, or otherwise framed by reference to, such requirements, and
  2. (ii) interest in respect of periods when such penalties are due but unpaid;

(cb) requiring the payment by borrowers, in respect of periods when amounts due under their loans are unpaid, of—

  1. (i) interest (applied to such amounts at a rate calculated otherwise than in accordance with subsection (4)(a)), or
  2. (ii) both such interest and one or more surcharges (together with further interest in respect of periods when such surcharges are due but unpaid);'.

No. 66, in page 17, line 10, leave out 'Income Tax' and insert 'Taxes'.

No. 70, in page 17, line 12, at end insert— '(f) determining the priority as between deductions falling to be made by virtue of paragraph (a)(i) and deductions falling to be made from emoluments payable to borrowers by virtue of other enactments (whenever passed).'.

No. 67, in page 17, line 14, at end insert ', and "the Taxes Acts" has the same meaning as in the Taxes Management Act 1970'.

No. 72, in page 17, leave out lines 32 to 38.—[Mr. Jamieson.]

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