Tuition Fees

Part of Opposition Day — [7th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 9:37 pm on 30th November 2010.

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Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central 9:37 pm, 30th November 2010

I certainly agree that there should be a delay in the process. We are on the verge of the most fundamental reform of our higher education system in more than 50 years, and it is an outrage that we are putting the cart before the horse by being asked to make a decision on the financial framework for our universities before we have had a debate on the higher education White Paper to conclude what sort of university system we want.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I signed the pledge to vote against any increase in tuition fees. Unlike my neighbour, the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Clegg, I do not regret it. I did not make the decision lightly, but I made it with the intention of keeping it. On 12 October the Business Secretary casually dismissed the pledge with some obscure reference to "skid marks", but let me remind Lib Dem Members that their pledge was no manifesto small print.

In university seats such as mine, the Liberal Democrats fought the election on the issue. As the president of Sheffield Hallam university students union said,

"Before the election, we couldn't get the Deputy Prime Minister out of our Union . . . now we can't get him in."

The outcome of individual elections was determined by that pledge. Just days before the election, what was it that the Deputy Prime Minister said?

"The Liberal Democrats are different. Not only will we oppose any raising of the cap, we will scrap tuition fees for good . . . Use your vote," he said to students,

"to block unfair tuition fees and get them scrapped once and for all."

Now we know that while the Deputy Prime Minister was making that heartfelt appeal, he was planning to ditch the commitment.

I accept that most Lib Dem Members who were kept out of the loop by the Orange Book faction that now leads their party signed that pledge with honest intention, and I urge them to keep to that honest intention. If they vote in favour of the proposals, not only will they be dashing the hopes of thousands of young people, but they will be destroying the confidence of those young people in democratic politics. This was the election in which the Liberal Democrats tried to seize the moral high ground, talking about honesty, trust, integrity-