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May I declare an interest in this fascinating debate? Like Hugh Bayley, I represent two universities and I want to lead the debate on to them.
Lancaster university is a multi-million pound business that reached the top 10 of English universities; indeed, last year it was top in performance in physics. It makes a massive contribution to Lancaster and the wider Lancashire economy and it hopes to develop and proceed in what it perceives as a global market. That point has not been mentioned tonight. It wants to provide the best tuition and facilities.
Before the election, the pressure for an increase in fees came from universities. The previous Government faced that issue by cutting a certain amount, which Lord Mandelson did, and, to be fair to them, by setting up the independent Browne review. There might be an argument about whether that was kicked into the long grass to prevent Lord Browne from saying anything before the election because Labour needed to compete in so many university seats, but I would not suggest that. Labour set up the review and waited for the report. As a result, the whole of the previous Cabinet did not sign up to the pledge, although many Labour MPs-116, I think-did. I went to university debates in my area and I did not sign the pledge, but every single opponent of my candidature did-except the British National party, but I do not think that it was offered the opportunity to sign, thank God.
That was the situation. Now, universities say that they want a system that can fund them. I do not want to go into the deficit argument, but I think we all accept that things are tight.