HC Deb 09 September 2004 vol 424 cc848-9
5. Mr. Piara S. Khabra (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)

How many university access agreements have been agreed; and if he will make a statement. [1876981]

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

We expect that institutions will start to submit their access agreements for the approval of the director of fair access later this autumn.

Mr. Khabra

I recently received a letter from a college in my constituency, which raised concerns about a recommendation by the Learning and Skills Council to increase tuition fees for access and professional courses. That will affect my constituents, especially young people. The courses offer many of my constituents a second chance to enter higher education. Will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents that the courses will remain affordable?

Mr. Clarke

I think that I can offer that reassurance but I shall examine the specific case that my hon. Friend raised and write to him about the detail of the Learning and Skills Council's proposals. I am not familiar with the details that he mentioned but I am happy to consider them and come back to him.

Mr. David Chaytor (Bury, North) (Lab)

Has my right hon. Friend had the opportunity to consider the impact on access to higher education of the alternative funding plans that the Conservative party published yesterday, especially—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I have told the hon. Gentleman previously that it is not for the Secretary of State to answer such questions. The hon. Gentleman can always write to Conservative party headquarters.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow) (Lab)

While the Secretary of State could be forgiven, at least in my opinion, a certain impatience with the Scots, does he acknowledge that there is a delicate problem of access, especially to the university of Edinburgh, given the different regimes for tuition fees? Has that been considered in the Department and is it in contact with the Scottish Executive on that awkward matter?

Mr. Clarke

Mr. Speaker, I have no impatience with the Scots, especially your good self, on any matter.

We are in close discussion with colleagues in Scotland about the issues. We accept the devolution settlement, under which Scotland makes its own policy on such matters. We also accept that it is important to have a proper dialogue so that the consequences can be properly considered. There is dialogue about those questions at political and official level. As my hon. Friend knows, the higher education and political systems in Scotland are currently actively considering them.