Mr Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme, Labour)
I would prefer to encourage Front Benchers to keep their remarks briefer.
I, too, welcome the Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education to his new ministerial post. I start by congratulating the Government on abolishing upfront tuition fees and on raising the payback threshold for student loans, which are both welcome. I also congratulate them on increasing university funding and on recognising that we need to maintain our universities as among the best in the world.
Today, however, I particularly congratulate the Government on tabling an amendment that makes no reference to top-up fees whatever. It is a masterpiece of drafting. If the omission is a hint that the Government are having second thoughts about top-up fees, it would be the most welcome development since we started the debate last autumn. It would show that the Government were sensitive to concerns and that they had not lost their political antennae. It would also show that the Government were listening to the Labour party, both in the country and in the House.
If I may correct Mr. Willis, not 139, but 180 Labour Members—a clear majority of our Back Benchers—have put their names to motions that say that top-up fees should not be introduced and that the genie must certainly not be let out of the bottle to allow different universities to charge different prices.