I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement. The Prime Minister’s speech yesterday had plenty of platitudes and good intentions, but there has been absolutely nothing of substance. We have had an admission that the current system in England is not working for students. Admitting that it is wrong is one thing, but failing to correct the situation is simply incompetent. In Scotland, the Scottish National party has restored Scotland’s tradition of free higher education while maintaining the educational maintenance allowance for those at school or in further education and the bursary for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education—[Interruption.] Contrary to the comments from the Government Benches, that support package works. Scottish 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged areas are now 67% more likely to apply to higher education than 12 years ago, and they graduate with the lowest debt in the UK. Is it not time that we stopped the nonsense and abolished the fees, and matched not just Scotland, but the rest of the developed world? Going to university should be based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.
If the fees for some less expensive degree courses are lowered, as has been rumoured, has the Secretary of State considered how he will encourage young people to study the more expensive STEM subjects that are so desperately needed in the UK? We have already seen the impact of removing the nursing bursary, with applications to study nursing in England down by 23%. How will the Secretary of State ensure that that does not happen in STEM?
Both the Government and the Labour party are trying to rewrite the history of their responsibility for the tuition fees fiasco, and it is clear that Scotland is leading the policy debate in the UK. With the average debt on graduation in England now at £50,000, how will the Secretary of State ensure that a flow of talent from all backgrounds will continue? How will he ensure that the industrial strategy is supported? Is it not time that fees were abolished?