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Mr. Willis rose--

Mr. John Gunnell (Morley and Rothwell) rose--

Mr. Dorrell: I must move on, but I will give way later.

The need for equitable access to degree courses is not the only reason why the Dearing proposals differed from those that the Government intend to introduce. The Dearing report also envisaged a more flexible system of higher education, that responded more accurately to the demands of students.

One of the reasons for Dearing's recommendations is made explicit in paragraph 20.68:

these recommendations

    "will enable students to be more demanding of institutions".

In other words, institutions should respond more directly to students whose support and custom they seek.

Dearing expected the creation of more diploma courses and more access to part-time courses, which already charge 25 per cent. of tuition costs as tuition fees. That is why Dearing made the recommendation he did on tuition

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fees. He wished to avoid unnecessary and perverse distortions in the development of the system and, in particular, in the development of more diploma courses and more part-time courses. The Secretary of State's proposals will impede that development.

Mr. Bercow: Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is curious that the hon. Members for Rochdale (Lorna Fitzsimons) and for Enfield, Southgate (Mr. Twigg)--both former prominent activists in the student movement and long-term opponents of tuition fees--have suddenly, and without explanation or apology, become supporters of the Government's policy? Does he agree that it is therefore significant that both hon. Members are absent from the Chamber?

Mr. Dorrell: My hon. Friend is an old sparring partner of both hon. Members. It is significant that they have chosen not to attend today's debate to support their U-turn in person. They are too frightened of the authorities in Millbank tower to raise the voices that they have traditionally raised against the policy being advanced by the Secretary of State.

The final reason why Dearing recommended the policy is made explicit in the paragraph to which I have referred. Dearing feared that, if the student contribution was raised by the abolition of maintenance grant, the money might never reach the higher education institutions at all. The report stated:

It is not often that an official committee has its predictions proved so triumphantly right within two months of the publication of its report. But that is precisely the policy that the Government have now made clear--or more or less clear--they are to pursue. They will raise extra money from students, but they will not provide that money to the higher education sector.

Last Friday's edition of The Times Educational Supplement published a memo circulating within the Department which confirmed that the cash raised by the £1,000-a-year tuition fees will be redirected away from higher education. The memo said:

you are telling me--

    "because the £165 million package for 1998-99 does not allow universities to keep all the funds raised by the new £1,000 fees as extra income".

The memorandum makes it crystal clear that

    "they retain £125 million out of an estimated £150 million."

Dearing recommended a set of proposals precisely to safeguard the university system against the manoeuvre that the Secretary of State has engaged in: to raise extra money from students, and use it to finance a deficit somewhere else in public expenditure. That is the charge against the Secretary of State--not only has he undermined equitable access, but he has done so under false pretences.

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett): That is not true.

Mr. Dorrell: The Secretary of State says that that is not true. Is he saying that a memorandum circulating

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within his Department and written by civil servants is a Tory plant? These are the figures from the memorandum. Is he denying those figures? Will he come to the Dispatch Box and say that the figures in the memorandum are wrong? Will he explain to the House what the right figures are? I would be interested to hear his comments, and I shall give way to him.

The Secretary of State stays firmly in his seat. Clearly, he recognises that his officials' memorandum is right, and that the money raised from charging students will not go into the higher education system.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): I entirely agree with the shadow Secretary of State that we need a clear statement from the Secretary of State on ring fencing. He has stated that the Conservative party's policy is clear--it is to accept Dearing in its entirety, including the £1,000 non-means-tested fees, regardless of income, for all parents. For the sake, therefore, of Tory party unity, will the right hon. Gentleman condemn the Tory party candidate in the Winchester by-election, who has just produced a leaflet which says:

Hon. Members: Oh!

Mr. Dorrell: I am absolutely delighted to endorse Gerry Malone as the Conservative candidate for Winchester, and I look forward to welcoming him back to the House of Commons as the next Member of Parliament for that constituency. He is right to insist that the Government should explain to the electorate of Winchester how they will deliver the objectives set out by the policy that they have introduced.

The hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) is wrong to say that I have explicitly endorsed every detail of the Dearing report. The Government made a serious mistake, and I have demonstrated how they have tripped over themselves as a consequence--I have more to say on that. They were so anxious to get to this place to make an announcement that they did not read the Dearing report.

The Dearing report is a major piece of work and its recommendations should have been the subject of more serious analysis by the Secretary of State and the Government. Instead, at the end of July, we were presented with a few thoughts sketched out on the back of a couple of envelopes, and higher education policy developed on that basis during the summer. That was pretty obvious to any onlooker.

Let us consider the saga of the gap year students. Within days of the Secretary of State announcing the policy, we heard stories of students who were signed up for courses starting in autumn 1998 shifting to start in autumn 1997 to avoid being affected. Ministers were caught completely unawares.

On 7 August, the noble Baroness Blackstone, who was apparently left in charge while the Secretary of State took a well-earned holiday, dismissed as "irresponsible scaremongering" the hyping of fears that students who had deferred their entry to university until 1998 would bring it forward a year and be pushed into trying to take up places in autumn 1997. The noble Baroness said:

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On 11 August, we heard that the Government had changed their position; someone briefed The Times on behalf of the holidaying Secretary of State, and said:

    "It's a one-off and not for those who have decided to go off back-packing. It should not be presented as a U-turn."

The aide, who no doubt thought that he was being helpful, was of course talking about the proposal to allow students to start a course in 1998 provided that they had signed up to a course of charitable work in the gap year.

It is just as well that that first concession was not presented as a U-turn, because the true U-turn came three days later, when the Government announced that the fears were not all scaremongering hype, and that the gap year arrangement would be open not only to those who had signed up for charitable work but to all 19,000 students who were expecting to start their courses in autumn 1998.

Within three weeks of the Secretary of State announcing his gap year policy, there have been three different versions. That was the first example of the noble Baroness's deft political touch.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): Does my right hon. Friend agree that confusion was left trailing in the wake of the various U-turns, in that there were further anomalies, as with my constituent who intended to have a gap year but waited until her A-level results had confirmed her university place, and found that she was excluded arbitrarily from the Government's concession?

Mr. Dorrell: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We might expect a fourth concession, although I would not hold out much hope for his constituent. That is an example of what happens when a Government introduce a policy within hours of a report's publication, without having thought through the details.

There are other details that Labour has not thought through. I hope that the Secretary of State will make it clear to the House whether he agrees with Baroness Blackstone or with the Prime Minister about college fees for Oxford and Cambridge. The noble Baroness has made no secret of her view that the Oxbridge college fees system is an anomaly.

An unnamed Minister, whose views were an uncannily accurate reflection of those of the noble Baroness, was quoted in the Financial Times on 23 October. The Minister said:

On 24 October, the Financial Times had the headline, "Blair steps into Oxbridge Funding Row". This is a Government who make policy by press leaks to the Financial Times; it is a facility they have used more than once in recent weeks.

Is the Secretary of State lining up with his noble Friend the Minister of State, or is he lining up with the Prime Minister, who has made it clear that he has no truck with the ending of Oxford and Cambridge college fees? Will the Secretary of State tell us what is going on with the policy on Oxford and Cambridge college fees? Will he tell us who makes policy on the issue? Is it the Secretary of State, Baroness Blackstone or the Prime Minister? If he does not intend to make an announcement this afternoon, will he tell

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us when the announcement will be made? Perhaps he will tell us which copy of the Financial Times we should buy to find the authoritative statement of the Government's policy.

We now come to the reason for the presence of the Scottish Minister for Education and Industry on the Government Front Bench this afternoon. The shambles over gap year students and the shambles over Oxford and Cambridge college fees are as nothing compared with the shambles the Government have got themselves into on English students, Welsh students and Northern Irish students attending Scottish universities. Let us be clear about the issue.

Some 27,000 students in Scottish universities today come from elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Some 48 per cent. of the student population in Edinburgh, 45 per cent. of the student population at St. Andrews, 36 per cent. in Dundee and 32 per cent. in Stirling are non-Scottish UK students who will now be asked to pay £4,000 of fees for a four-year course that costs the Scottish students studying alongside them in the same seminars £3,000.

The Secretary of State is a member of a United Kingdom Cabinet. He must explain to the United Kingdom Parliament why the same course, supported by the same taxpayers, should cost his constituents £4,000 in fees, but should cost the constituents of the Scottish Minister for Education and Industry £3,000 in course fees. The Secretary of State must answer that question. Why is the deal that is good enough for the Scottish Minister's constituents not good enough for the constituents of the Secretary of State and of every Member of this House of the United Kingdom Parliament who represents a constituency in England, in Wales, or in Northern Ireland?

When the Secretary of State has explained that point, he may then like to move on to the second question. Why will Scottish bankers and lawyers get their four-year courses for £3,000 of fees, whereas Scottish doctors and dentists will have to pay £4,000 of fees? The position is not entirely clear to the British Medical Association, but it seems clear enough from the press release issued by the Scottish Minister for Education and Industry that Scottish doctors and dentists will pay £4,000 for their course, whereas Scottish bankers and lawyers, who are not noticeably less well paid than Scottish doctors and dentists, will pay £3,000 for their course. I look forward to hearing the explanation of United Kingdom policy from a United Kingdom Minister to the United Kingdom Parliament.

I have a third question--

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