Tuition Fees

Part of Opposition Day — [7th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 8:48 pm on 30th November 2010.

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Photo of John Leech John Leech Liberal Democrat, Manchester, Withington 8:48 pm, 30th November 2010

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this Opposition day debate. When I heard that it would be on the important issue of the future of higher education funding and the contribution that graduates will be expected to make, I thought that we would finally get to hear what the Labour policy on that is. The Leader of the Opposition supports a graduate tax, and the shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer does not support that, so this was Labour's first opportunity to make it clear how it would fund higher education. What a disappoint the Opposition motion is. It is bluster and waffle, and contains absolutely no policy. It is yet another example of shameless opportunism and opposition.

The coalition Government should take no lessons on tuition fees. It is worth reminding the House time and time again that it was the Labour Government who introduced tuition fees, after making an explicit manifesto commitment that they would not do so, and with an enormous Commons majority. It was also the Labour Government who were responsible for setting up the Browne review, with the explicit intention of increasing fees. But because they knew that it would be unpopular, they cynically delayed the outcome of the review until after the election to avoid losing votes.

Nobody should be duped into believing that Labour would not be proposing increasing tuition fees if they were still in government. The only difference would be that a Labour Government's proposals would be an extension of the unfair and regressive tuition fees introduced by the previous Labour Government. All graduates would have been worse off, and we would not be expecting our wealthiest graduates to pay a reasonable contribution.

This evening, I want to make it very clear that I do not support a rise in tuition fees, and I have made it clear publicly that I will vote against any attempt to lift the cap on fees. Call me old-fashioned, but unlike the Labour party, I actually support free education and I believe that a first degree should be free. That is why I supported our policy to scrap tuition fees. The House should be clear that things would have been different under a Liberal Democrat Administration, rather than a coalition Government, but we have to face the fact that 66% of people voted in the election for parties that were committed to increasing tuition fees, so in coalition discussions it was always going to be difficult to win the argument on tuition fees and force them to be scrapped.