HC Deb 09 September 2004 vol 424 cc843-4
1. Tony Cunningham (Workington) (Lab)

What plans there are to increase access to higher education in west Cumbria. [187694]

The Secretary of State for Education and Skills (Mr. Charles Clarke)

I begin by paying tribute to an absentee this morning—the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hull, West and Hessle (Alan Johnson). During a tremendous process of reform that was fully debated in the House, he carried out an outstanding stewardship of his office with wit, friendship and courage. I pay tribute to his work, and he deserves his promotion most richly.

The Government are fully committed to improving access for disadvantaged young people, including in west Cumbria. We welcome the work being done by University Education Cumbria to improve access. A strategic alliance of the Cumbria learning and skills council, St. Martin's college, the university of Central Lancashire, the Cumbria Institute and Cumbria county council was established in February 2003 to promote higher education throughout the county. The University Education Cumbria project board, chaired by Sir Brian Fender, worked with the alliance to promote higher education and encourage professional development. We will encourage the work of that group to develop access to higher education in Cumbria.

Tony Cunningham

I thank my right hon. Friend for that encouraging reply. As he knows, west Cumbria has particular problems. Will he take a personal interest in the implementation of the Fender report? Widening access to higher education in west Cumbria is vital to the social and economic regeneration of that area.

Mr. Clarke

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance. I pay tribute to his work in the House and outside, campaigning for a university in Cumbria. It is the right project, it will benefit the whole of the county, and I will certainly take a personal interest in the issues, as he requests.