HC Deb 31 March 2004 vol 419 cc1715-23

7.9 pm

Mr. Charles Clarke

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This is an important moment for the future of higher education in this country. I believe that the decisions that the House has taken in considering this important Bill secure the future of our universities and enable them to make the economic and social contributions that our society needs. They prepare the country for the future in a way that, to be fair, I believe hon. Members on both sides of the House want to see. As the Bill goes to the other place, we are producing a measure for its consideration that guarantees more resources for universities, that will open and strengthen access to universities and that will ensure that people from the poorest communities in the country get a fair crack in our society.

Many people deserve thanks, and I should like to take a moment to thank colleagues for what they have done. First, I thank the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education and our colleagues in the ministerial team, the Parliamentary Private Secretaries and in the Whips Office for what has been an outstanding performance. I know that no one will mind if I particularly thank my right hon. Friend for the tremendous leadership that he has shown throughout the consideration of the Bill.

Secondly, I thank my official team, the Bill team led by Lesley Longstone, and her colleagues who have given outstanding support, as I hope that colleagues on both sides of the House would agree, to all those hon. Members who have wanted to make points. Thirdly, I want to thank political colleagues on both sides of the House. There have been substantial and difficult debates, with real tension, as everyone has been aware, but throughout people of different opinions have been ready to engage in serious dialogue in a way that I appreciate and that shows the strength of the House as a place where political consideration can properly take place. It would be invidious to name individuals, but I repeat that a number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have been ready to engage in serious dialogue about the important issues that we have discussed. I emphasise that the way in which they have done so is important for the reputation of the House and Parliament and for the future of our universities.

Finally, I thank you, Mr. Speaker, the Clerks and, indeed, those in the wider university sector for their engagement in the debate on the Bill, which I have the honour to present on Third Reading this evening.

Mr. Bob Blizzard (Waveney) (Lab)

Does my right hon. Friend accept that a good number of hon. Members will vote for the Bill with less than full enthusiasm, but they do so because he has responded to some of the deep concerns that people had by introducing a much larger student grant, by putting variability in a cage for a long time and by being willing to review the arrangements? As he will know, I am particularly interested in next year's review—the Langlands review. Will he briefly tell the House how he will deal with the Langlands review when it reports?

Mr. Clarke

I appreciate that intervention, as it provides a good opportunity to say that we have tried throughout to have a serious debate about the kind of concerns that my hon. Friend and other hon. Members have raised with seriousness. I asked Alan Langlands, the former chief executive of the NHS and vice-chancellor of Dundee university, to conduct a report that we have coded, "Gateway to the professions", as a means of ensuring that people from all backgrounds can get the professional education and training that they need, particularly those who are not from the very poorest families, but over a wider range. When the Bill receives Royal Assent, we will immediately ask him to commence his work, take evidence from people and report as rapidly as he can. That is an example of the kind of work that is very important.

Mr. Allen

In the context of Royal Assent, will the Secretary of State also ensure that the Department is ready and willing to move very quickly to inform all secondary head teachers and the youngsters at those schools about the advantages that a £3,000 a year grant will give to those who qualify for it—those on incomes of less than £16,000?

Mr. Clarke

I am happy to give that assurance. One of the sadnesses about the debate in the country is that many people have been worried about the Bill's implications, but not all of them understand in detail the precise meaning for them in their individual circumstances. When we are free to do so—that is, after Royal Assent—there will be a significant programme to explain in the most effective way, certainly to families and particularly to young people, precisely how the system will operate.

I am glad to give that assurance.

Mr. Quentin Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Clarke

I will not, I regret. Under the agreement that we have made with the Opposition about timing, I must finish in a moment.

Today's vote was not only for the future of higher education, but for the public sector reform agenda that is so critical for the country. To conclude on a partisan point, the official Opposition, as was brilliantly exposed by the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson), were shown to have failed utterly to live up to the challenges of the time. We accept the challenge. I commend the Bill to the House for its Third Reading.

7.15 pm
Mr. Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) (Con)

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for allowing me this brief opportunity to take part in the Third Reading debate, although I utterly deplore the fact that the Government did not protect the time for the debate. It is ludicrous to allow only 12 minutes for the Third Reading of such a controversial measure. It is not hard to guess why they have done that. The Government lost the argument about the policy comprehensively on Second Reading. They lost it again comprehensively in Committee, and they lost it yet again comprehensively during the debate on the last group of amendments, when my hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Collins) demolished their case in a particularly effective analysis of the consequences of the Bill.

The Bill is bad for students, bad for universities, bad for the taxpayer and bad for democracy. It is bad for students because it imposes on them such a heavy burden of debt that some will find it hard to get a mortgage, others may have to delay starting a family, and all of them will find it costly to repay the loans that the Government have forced on them. The repayment process for those who do not achieve above-average salaries quickly may continue right through their 30s and until the age of 40.

Equally important—a point that was made in the previous debate—the prospect of the high loans that students will have to take out, which will be up to £30,000 for a student studying at a university in London, will deter many potential students from applying to university in the first place. Sadly, the evidence shows that it is students from the poorest backgrounds who are most likely to be debt-averse, so the effect of the Government's policy of introducing top-up fees will be to discourage the very group of students about whom they claim to be most concerned.

Mr. Allen

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Yeo

No, I am sorry. I have only five minutes.

The Bill is bad for universities because it attacks their independence in a way that no Government in the whole of our history have ever attempted to do. The access regulator will dictate to universities whom they can admit and whom they should exclude. The regulator will do so not on the basis of academic achievement or the potential of applicants to benefit from university study, but in pursuit of goals that have nothing whatever to do with enhancing the status of any university, and which will actively harm universities that aspire to world class.

The Bill is bad for universities for a further reason. It does nothing to guarantee that their long-term funding needs will be met. Under the Labour Government, funding per student has been lower at all times than it was throughout the 18 years of Conservative government. Funding from the Department per student has fallen dramatically since 1997. Although Labour introduced tuition fees over five years ago, the Treasury clawed back all the extra income that universities might have hoped those fees would give them. Nothing that the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Secretary of State has said in the past three months indicates that the same process of clawback will not be repeated.

The Bill is bad for taxpayers as well, because although initially it may give the universities some extra money—there is no certainty about that—the amount it gives them will be far outweighed by the extra bill that taxpayers have to pay.

Worst of all, the Bill is bad for democracy, because less than three years ago, Labour candidates campaigned for election on the basis of one of clearest and most unequivocal election promises that I can ever remember—that a Labour Government would not introduce top-up fees and had legislated to prevent them. The cynical and unprincipled way in which that promise is now being broken will further damage the faith of voters in politicians and in the whole political process, a faith that has already been sorely tested under the present Government. If Labour Ministers really wanted to undergo a change of heart about top-up fees, they should have included a pledge in their next election manifesto and campaigned honestly on that.

The Government might just have got their Bill through the House today, but they have a long way to go before they win the argument in the country. I and my Conservative colleagues are delighted to have this chance to show that when we give a pledge to a voters, our word can be relied on, and I urge hon. Members on both sides of the House to join us in opposing Third Reading tonight.

7.20 pm
Mr. Willis

When Government Back Benchers go back to their constituencies, let them realise that tonight they have voted through a Thatcherite Bill. They have changed the face of higher education in the face of a Conservative Opposition who have opposed them root and branch. I am deeply disappointed that we have reached a point where we will have a two-tier higher education system, based on ability▀×

It being six hours after the commencement of proceedings,MR. SPEAKER put forthwith the Question, pursuant to Order [this day],

The House divided:Ayes 309, Noes 248.

Division No. 125] [7:21 pm
Adams, Irene(Paisley N) Clarke, rh Tom(Coatbridge &
Ainger, Nick Chryston)
Ainsworth, Bob(Cov'try NE) Clarke, Tony(Northampton S)
Alexander, Douglas Clelland, David
Allen, Graham Clwyd, Ann(Cynon V)
Anderson, rh Donald(Swansea E) Coffey, Ms Ann
Anderson, Janet(Rossendale & Coleman, lain
Darwen) Cook, Frank(Stockton N)
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary Cooper, Yvette
Atherton, Ms Candy Corston, Jean
Atkins, Charlotte Cranston, Ross
Bailey, Adrian Cummings, John
Baird, Vera Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack
Banks, Tony (Copeland)
Barron, rh Kevin Cunningham, Jim(Coventry S)
Battle, John Cunningham, Tony(Workington)
Bayley, Hugh Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Beard, Nigel Darling, rh Alistair
Begg, Miss Anne David, Wayne
Bell Sir Stuart Davies, Geraint(Croydon C)
Benn, rh Hilary Dawson, Hilton
Benton, Joe(Bootle) Dean, Mrs Janet
Betts, Clive Denham, rh John
Blackman, Liz Dhanda, Parmjit
Blair rh Tony Dismore, Andrew
Blears Ms Hazel Donohoe, Brian H.
Blunkett, rh David Doran, Frank
Boateng rh Paul Dowd, Jim(Lewisham W)
Borrow, David Drown, Ms Julia
Bradley, rh Keith Eagle, Angela(Wallasey)
(Withington) Eagle, Maria(L'pool Garston)
Bradley, Peter(The Wrekin) Edwards, Huw
Bradshaw, Ben Efford, Clive
Brennan, Kevin Ellman, Mrs Louise
Brown, rh Gordon(Dunfermline Etherington, Bill
E) Field, rh Frank(Birkenhead)
Brown, rh Nicholas(Newcastle E Fitzpatrick, Jim
Wallsend) Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Brown, Russell(Dumfries) Flint, Caroline
Browne, Desmond Follett, Barbara
Bryant, Chris Foster, rh Derek
Buck, Ms Karen Foster, Michael(Worcester)
Burden, Richard Foster, Michael Jabez(Hastings
Burnham, Andy &Rye)
Byers, rh Stephen Foulkes, rh George
Caborn, rh Richard Francis, Dr. Hywel
Cairns, David Gapes, Mike(IIford S)
Campbell, Alan(Tynemouth) Gardiner, Barry
Campbell, Mrs Anne(C'bridge) Gilroy, Linda
Campbell, Ronnie(Blyth V) Goggins, Paul
Caplin, Ivor Griffiths, Jane(Reading E)
Casale, Roger Griffiths, Nigel(Edinburgh S)
Cawsey, Ian(Brigg) Griffiths, Win(Bridgend)
Challen, Colin Hain, rh Peter
Chapman, Ben(Wirral S) Hall, Mike(Weaver Vale)
Chaytor, David Hall, Patrick(Bedford)
Clark, Dr. Lynda(Edinburgh Hamilton, David(Midlothian)
Pentlands) Hamilton, Fabian(Leeds NE)
Clark, Paul(Gillingham) Hanson, David
Clarke, rh Charles(Norwich S) Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Tom(Glasgow Cathcart) Mandelson, rh Peter
Henderson, Ivan(Harwich) Mann, John(Bassetlaw)
Hendrick, Mark Marsden, Gordon(Blackpool S)
Hepburn, Stephen Marshall, David(Glasgow
Heppell, John Shettleston)
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia Martlew, Eric
Heyes, David Michael, rh Alun
Hill, Keith(Streatham) Milburn, rh Alan
Hodge, Margaret Miliband, David
Hoon, rh Geoffrey Miller, Andrew
Hope, Phil(Corby) Mitchell, Austin(Gt Grimsby)
Howarth, rh Alan(Newport E) Moffatt, Laura
Howarth, George(Knowsley N & Mole, Chris
Sefton E) Moonie, Dr. Lewis
Howells, Dr. Kim Moran, Margaret
Hughes, Beverley(Stretford & Morley, Elliot
Urmston) Morris, rh Estelle
Hughes, Kevin(Doncaster N) Mountford, Kali
Hurst, Alan(Braintree) Mullin, Chris
Hutton, rh John Munn, Ms Meg
Iddon, Dr. Brian Murphy, Denis(Wansbeck)
Ingram, rh Adam Murphy, Jim(Eastwood)
Irranca-Davies, Huw Murphy, rh Paul(Torfaen)
Jackson, Helen(Hillsborough) Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Jamieson, David Norris, Dan(Wansdyke)
Johnson, Alan(Hull W) O'Brien, Mike(N Warks)
Johnson, Miss Melanie(Welwyn Olner, Bill
Hatfield) O'Neill, Martin
Jones, Kevan(N Durham) Organ, Diana
Jones, Martyn(Clwyd S) Osborne, Sandra(Ayr)
Jowell, rh Tessa Palmer, Dr. Nick
Joyce, Eric(Falkirk W) Pearson, Ian
Kaufman, rh Gerald Perham, Linda
Keeble, Ms Sally Picking, Anne
Keen, Alan(Feltham) Pickthall, Colin
Keen, Ann(Brentford) Pike, Peter(Burnley)
Kelly, Ruth(Bolton W) Plaskitt, James
Kemp, Fraser Pollard, Kerry
Kennedy, Jane(Wavertree) Pond, Chris(Gravesham)
Khabra, Piara S. Pope, Greg(Hyndburn)
Kidney, David Pound, Stephen
King, Andy(Rugby) Prentice, Ms Bridget(Lewisham
King, Ms Oona(Bethnal Green & E)
Bow) Prescott, rh John
Knight, Jim(S Dorset) Primarolo, rh Dawn
Kumar, Dr. Ashok Prosser, Gwyn
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen Purchase, Ken
Lammy, David Purnell, James
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie Quin, rh Joyce
Laxton, Bob(Derby N) Quinn, Lawrie
Lazarowicz, Mark Rammell, Bill
Lepper, David Rapson, Syd(Portsmouth N)
Leslie, Christopher Raynsford, rh Nick
Levitt, Tom(High Peak) Reid, rh Dr. John(Hamilton N &
Lewis, Ivan(Bury S) Bellshill)
Liddell, rh Mrs Helen Robertson, John(Glasgow
Linton, Martin Anniesland)
Love, Andrew Robinson, Geoffrey(Coventry
McAvoy, Thomas NW)
McCabe, Stephen Roche, Mrs Barbara
McCartney, rh Ian Rooney, Terry
McDonagh, Siobhain Ross, Ernie(Dundee W)
MacDonald, Calum Roy, Frank(Motherwell)
MacDougall, John Ruane, Chris
McFall, John Ruddock, Joan
McGuire, Mrs Anne Russell, Ms Christine(City of
McIsaac, Shona Chester)
McKenna, Rosemary Ryan, Joan(Enfield N)
Mackinlay, Andrew Salter, Martin
McNulty, Tony Sarwar, Mohammad
MacShane, Denis Savidge, Malcolm
Mactaggart, Fiona Sawford, Phil
McWalter, Tony Shaw, Jonathan
McWilliam, John Sheerman, Barry
Mahmood, Khalid Sheridan, Jim
Mallaber, Judy Shipley, Ms Debra
Simon, Siôn(B'ham Erdington) Touhig, Don(Islwyn)
Singh, Marsha Turner, Dennis(Wolverh'ton SE)
Skinner, Dennis Turner, Neil(Wigan)
Smith, rh Andrew(Oxford E) Twigg, Derek(Halton)
Smith, Angela(Basildon) Twigg, Stephen(Enfield)
Smith, rh Chris(Islington S & Tynan, Bill(Hamilton S)
Finsbury) Vaz, Keith(Leicester E)
Smith, Jacqui(Redditch) Walley, Ms Joan
Smith, John(Glamorgan) Ward, Claire
Soley, Clive Watson, Tom(W Bromwich E)
Southworth, Helen Watts, David
Speller, rh John White, Brian
Squire, Rachel Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis Wicks, Malcolm
Stewart, David(Inverness E & Williams, Betty(Conwy)
Lochaber) Wills, Michael
Stewart, Ian(Eccles) Wilson, Brian
Stinchcombe, Paul Winnick, David
Stoate, Dr. Howard Winterton, Ms Rosie(Doncaster C)
Straw, rh Jack Woodward, Shaun
Stringer, Graham Woolas, Phil
Stuart, Ms Gisela Worthington, Tony
Sutcliffe, Gerry Wright, Anthony D.(Gt
Tami, Mark(Alyn) Yarmouth)
Taylor, rh Ann(Dewsbury) Wright, David(Telford)
Taylor, Dan(Stockton S) Wright Tony(Cannock)
Thomas, Gareth(Clwyd W) Wyatt, Derek
Thomas, Gareth(Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen Tellers for the Ayes:
Tipping, Paddy Gillian Merron and
Todd, Mark(S Derbyshire) Vernon Coaker
Ainsworth, Peter(E Surrey) Cash, William
Allan, Richard Chapman, Sir Sydney(Chipping
Amess, David Barnet)
Ancram, rh Michael Chidgey, David
Arbuthnot, rh James Chope, Christopher
Atkinson, David(Bour'mth E) Clappison, James
Atkinson, Peter(Hexham) Clark, Mrs Helen(Peterborough)
Bacon, Richard Clarke, rh Kenneth(Rushcliffe)
Baker, Norman Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Baldry, Tony Collins, Tim
Baron, John(Billericay) Colman, Tony
Barrett, John Conway, Derek
Beggs, Roy(E Antrim) Corbyn, Jeremy
Beith, rh A. J. Cotter, Brian
Bellingham, Henry Cousins, Jim
Bercow, John Curry, rh David
Beresford, Sir Paul Davey, Edward(Kingston)
Blunt, Crispin Davidson, Ian
Boswell, Tim Davies, rh Denzil(Llanelli)
Bottomley, Peter(Worthing W) Davies, Quentin(Grantham &
Bottomley, rh Virginia(SW Stamford)
Surrey) Davis, rh David(Haltemprice &
Brady, Graham Howden)
Brake, Tom(Carshalton) Djanogly, Jonathan
Brazier, Julian Dodds, Nigel
Breed, Colin Donaldson, Jeffrey M.
Brooke, Mrs Annette L. Dorrell, rh Stephen
Browning, Mrs Angela Doughty, Sue
Bruce, Malcolm Drew, David(Stroud)
Burnett, John Duncan. Alan(Rutland)
Burns, Simon Duncan Smith, rh lain
Burnside, David Evans, Nigel
Burstow, Paul Ewing, Annabelle
Burt, Alistair Fabricant, Michael
Butterfill, Sir John Field, Mark(Cities of London &
Cable, Dr. Vincent Westminster)
Calton, Mrs Patsy Flight, Howard
Cameron, David Flook, Adrian
Campbell, Gregory(E Lond'y) Forth, rh Eric
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies(NE Foster, Don(Bath)
Fife) Fox, Dr. Liam
Carmichael, Alistair Francois, Mark
Gamier, Edward Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
George, Andrew(St Ives) May, Mrs Theresa
Gibb, Nick(Bognor Regis) Mercer, Patrick
Gidley, Sandra Mitchell, Andrew(Sutton
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl Coldfield)
Goodman, Paul Moore, Michael
Gray, James(N Wilts) Moss, Malcolm
Grayling, Chris Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Green, Damian(Ashford) Norman, Archie
Green, Matthew(Ludlow) Oaten, Mark(Winchester)
Greenway, John O'Brien, Stephen(Eddisbury)
Grieve, Dominic Öpik, Lembit
Grogan, John Osborne, George(Tatton)
Gummer, rh John Ottaway, Richard
Hague, rh William Page, Richard
Hammond, Philip Paice, James
Hancock, Mike Paisley, Rev. Ian
Harris, Dr. Evan(Oxford W & Paterson, Owen
Abingdon) Pickles, Eric
Harvey, Nick Portillo, rh Michael
Hawkins, Nick Prentice, Gordon(Pendle)
Hayes, John(S Holland) Price, Adam(E Carmarthen &
Heald, Oliver Dinefwr)
Heath, David Prisk, Mark(Hertford)
Heathcoat-Amory, rh David Pugh, Dr. John
Hendry, Charles Randall, John
Hermon, Lady Redwood, rh John
Hesford, Stephen Reid, Alan(Argyll&Bute)
Hoban, Mark(Fareham) Rendel, David
Hogg, rh Douglas Robathan, Andrew
Holmes, Paul Robertson, Angus(Moray)
Horam, John(Orpington) Robertson, Hugh(Faversham &
Howard, rh Michael M-Kent)
Howarth, Gerald(Aldershot) Robertson, Laurence(Tewk'b'ry)
Hughes, Simon(Southwark N) Robinson, Mrs Iris(Strangford)
Hunter, Andrew Robinson, Peter(Belfast E)
Jack, rh Michael Roe, Mrs Marion
Jackson, Glenda(Hampstead & Rosindell, Andrew
Highgate) Ruffley, David
Jenkin, Bernard Russell, Bob(Colchester)
Johnson, Boris(Henley) Salmond, Alex
Jones, Nigel(Cheltenham) Sanders, Adrian
Keetch, Paul Sayeed, Jonathan
Kennedy, rh Charles(Ross Skye & Selous, Andrew
Inverness) Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Key, Robert(Salisbury) Shepherd, Richard
Kirkbride, Miss Julie Simmonds, Mark
Kirkwood, Sir Archy Simpson, Keith(M-Norfolk)
Knight, rh Greg(E Yorkshire) Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Laing, Mrs Eleanor Smith, Sir Robert(W Ab'd'ns &
Lait, Mrs Jacqui Kincardine)
Lamb, Norman Smyth, Rev. Martin(Belfast S)
Lansley, Andrew Soames, Nicholas
Laws, David(Yeovil) Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Leigh, Edward Spicer, Sir Michael
Letwin, rh Oliver Spink, Bob(Castle Point)
Lewis, Dr. Julian(New Forest E) Spring, Richard
Liddell-Grainger, Ian Stanley, rh Sir John
Lidington, David Steen, Anthony
Lilley, rh Peter Steinberg, Gerry
Llwyd, Elfyn Streeter, Gary
Loughton, Tim Stunell, Andrew
Luff, Peter(M-Worcs) Swayne, Desmond
Lyons, John(Strathkelvin) Syms, Robert
McDonnell, John Tapsell, Sir Peter
McGrady, Eddie Taylor, John(Solihull)
McIntosh, Miss Anne Taylor, Matthew(Truro)
Mackay, rh Andrew Taylor, Dr. Richard(Wyre F)
Maclean, rh David Taylor, Sir Teddy
McLoughlin, Patrick Teather, Sarah
Mahon, Mrs Alice Thomas, Simon(Ceredigion)
Malins, Humfrey Thurso, John
Maples, John Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Marsden, Paul(Shrewsbury & Tredinnick, David
Atcham) Trend, Michael
Maude, rh Francis Trimble, rh David
Turner, Andrew(Isle of Wight) Williams, rh Alan(Swansea W)
Tyler, Paul(N Cornwall) Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Tyrie, Andrew Williams, Roger(Brecon)
Viggers, Peter Willis, Phil
Walter, Robert Wilshire, David
Wareing, Robert N. Winterton, Ann(Congleton)
Waterson, Nigel Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Watkinson, Angela (Macclesfield)
Webb, Steve(Northavon) Yeo, Tim(S Suffolk)
Weir, Michael Young, rh Sir George
Whittingdale, John Younger-Ross, Richard
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill Tellers for the Noes:
Wilkinson, John Mr. Hugo Swire and
Willetts, David Gregory Barker

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.