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Alistair Burt: It is not an Opposition debate: it is a Liberal Democrat debate.

Margaret Hodge: They are both the same. Either way, we do not have much to learn from the their contributions today or from their actions outside the House. I remind the House, for example, that the Conservatives slashed the unit funding by 36 per cent., put a cap on student numbers and starved our institutions of the money that they needed to retain their global status.

The Liberal Democrats, on the other hand, do not have a clue. The infinite elasticity of their 1p on tax is the stuff that dreams are made of. For example, they have

25 Oct 2001 : Column 466

responded to every plea on higher education. They would abolish fees, restore grants for poor students, and open access to benefits for students in the holidays—[Hon. Members: "No."] I have read it all in Liberal Democrat manifestos and other documents. They would raise the threshold for repaying loans, put up salaries in higher education institutions, give universities more money for taking working-class children, give more money to universities for every student that they take, solve the equal pay issue in higher education, extend generous student support to part-time students and bring in student support for all students in further education. Then the Liberal Democrats would spend the change from the extra 1p tax by cutting class sizes, recruiting more teachers and spending more on equipment for our schools. Who do they think they are kidding?

I welcome the hon. Member for North-East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) to his post and I look forward to engaging in debates with him. As I understand it, he will consult on subsidies for poor students by the introduction of maintenance grants and on top-up fees to give our universities some money. As I see it, the only outcome of that will be taxing the very rich, the only people who still occasionally support the Conservative party. Given the hon. Gentleman's record at the Child Support Agency, we should not have expected much more from him today.

Alistair Burt: The Minister is trying to draw conclusions that simply are not there. I made no specific reference to any particular partner group. We are having an open consultation with all the parties involved in higher education. That is in total contrast to the closed review that the Minister started, but which now seems to have been completed by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister.

Margaret Hodge: I was simply drawing to the House's attention the spending implications of some of the suggestions that the Conservatives have put on the table.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) asked us not to abandon the principle that those who gain from education contribute towards it. I can give him the assurance that we will not. I also recognise my hon. Friend's support for early-day motion 308, and I recognise the additional financial pressures that exist for students in London. I hope that he recognises that their entitlement to loans is 23 per cent. higher than elsewhere, but we will keep that under review.

The hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling) showed more concern for today's students than for our ambition to increase participation to half of all people under 30 in Britain today. The financial burden imposed on today's students by the mortgage-style loans system introduced by the Conservative party in government creates far more difficulties for today's graduates than our proposal, which is based on the ability to repay because it is income-contingent.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton, North (Mr. Hopkins) is right that we are a listening Government. We are listening to him and to all other hon. Members. I agree that providing support to enable people to participate post-16 is one of the key issues that we must address.

25 Oct 2001 : Column 467

The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) also referred to post-16 participation. I agree entirely that if we cannot get that right, we will not achieve the ambition that we have set ourselves. Part of our task is to ensure that those students who go through further education—most of the 16 to 19-year-old cohort is in that FE sector—should receive high-quality education. We must work to improve the retention and attainment rates of those students who go through the education system. The attention that we are placing on raising quality and standards in the FE sector—a matter addressed by the chief executive of the Learning and Skills Council—is important. The matter may not have been raised in the most appropriate way, but the issue is important. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me and the Government in what we are trying to do to raise standards.

Only the Government have the credibility, the energy, the commitment and the bottle to tackle the tough and challenging issues that need to be tackled to achieve real change. Getting more people through higher education will not be easy. We have to keep more young people in full-time education beyond school-leaving age. We must raise attainment levels at level 3. We must lift young people's aspirations, especially those from the lower socio-economic groups. We must change attitudes in schools, universities and colleges.

As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said in her speech to the universities on Monday, we want universities to put down roots in schools and colleges so that the presence of someone from higher education in our schools becomes the norm. We want young people's ambitions to be raised so that they are persuaded that university is for people like them.

We must also ensure that the student funding systems are right to support our policies. I should like to make three brief points.

First, we should not get the issue out of proportion. The UCAS figures for this year, far from showing a decline, show a healthy increase in the number of people seeking and securing a place in higher education. The exception, interestingly enough and in contradiction to an earlier claim, is Scotland. That goes for mature students, who belong to the group that many have claimed were the most fearful of debt and most likely to reject university because of the new funding regime.

Secondly, we need to be clear about what is in place already. The tuition fee is means tested. This year, more than half of students will pay no fees at all. There is a range of specifically targeted schemes to support those students most likely to face most financial difficulties. That range includes opportunity bursaries, grants for disabled students, grants to students with dependants and child care grants.

Thirdly, I believe that all hon. Members share and accept the important principle that it is right that those who benefit from the investment in higher education should contribute to the costs of it. The issues that we need to address have to do with the balance between the contributions from graduates, their families and the state, and about how and when repayments occur.

That is why we have established our review. Now is the right time to take stock. We want to look at the concerns that have been expressed about student debt,

25 Oct 2001 : Column 468

especially among students from lower-income families. We want to maintain and enhance the standards of excellence in our universities, and we want to make sure that we can reach our target of widening access.

Despite speculation to the contrary, nothing is ruled in, and nothing is ruled out. This is a complex and difficult area, and the debate has shown that we will need to consider it carefully.

I reassure hon. Members that the Government will want to consult widely on the options that we develop, but our ambition is clear. We want to open up opportunity for many more young people. We want them to have the opportunity to widen their horizons by engaging in further and higher learning, and to develop their intellectual skills, imagination, confidence and understanding.

We want young people to be able to enhance the qualifications that they gain so that they can contribute more to the world of work, and to be able to earn more through their adult lives. We want them to have the opportunity to contribute fully to our country's economic, social, cultural and political life. Our agenda is about widening opportunity for individuals, and enhancing the potential for the economy.

Higher education has a vital contribution to make to that agenda. It is our task to deliver, and we will.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 42, Noes 301.

Division No. 43
[3.58 pm


Allan, Richard
Beggs, Roy
Beith, Rt Hon A J
Breed, Colin
Brooke, Annette
Burnett, John
Burnside, David
Burstow, Paul
Cable, Dr Vincent
Calton, Mrs Patsy
Chidgey, David
Cotter, Brian
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Doughty, Sue
Foster, Don (Bath)
Gidley, Sandra
Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Harris, Dr Evan (Oxford W)
Harvey, Nick
Heath, David
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Kennedy, Rt Hon Charles
(Ross Skye & Inverness W)
Lamb, Norman
Laws, David
McDonnell, John
Oaten, Mark
Öpik, Lembit
Price, Adam
Pugh, Dr John
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Rendel, David
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Sanders, Adrian
Taylor, Dr Richard (Wyre F)
Tonge, Dr Jenny
Tyler, Paul
Webb, Steve
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Willis, Phil
Younger–Ross, Richard

Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Andrew Stunell and
Tom Brake.


Abbott, Ms Diane
Adams, Mrs Irene (Paisley N)
Ainger, Nick
Alexander, Douglas
Allen, Graham
Anderson, Rt Hon Donald
(Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale)
Armstrong, Rt Hon Ms Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Bailey, Adrian
Banks, Tony
Barnes, Harry
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Benn, Hilary
Bennett, Andrew
Benton, Joe
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob
Blunkett, Rt Hon David
Borrow, David
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Rt Hon Nicholas
(Newcastle E & Wallsend)
Brown, Russell (Dumfries)
Browne, Desmond
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burnham, Andy
Byers, Rt Hon Stephen
Cairns, David
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Cawsey, Ian
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Clark, Dr Lynda
(Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, Rt Hon Tom (Coatbridge)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann
Coffey, Ms Ann
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael
Cook, Rt Hon Robin (Livingston)
Corston, Jean
Cousins, Jim
Cox, Tom
Crausby, David
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Jim (Cov'try S)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Curtis–Thomas, Mrs Claire
Darling, Rt Hon Alistair
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
David, Wayne
Davidson, Ian
Davis, Rt Hon Terry
(B'ham Hodge H)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, Rt Hon John
Dhanda, Parmjit
Dobson, Rt Hon Frank
Donohoe, Brian H
Doran, Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, David
Drown, Ms Julia
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Farrelly, Paul
Field, Rt Hon Frank (Birkenhead)
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Foster, Rt Hon Derek
Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings)
Foulkes, George
Francis, Dr Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, Rt Hon Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibson, Dr Ian
Gilroy, Linda
Goggins, Paul
Griffiths, Jane (Reading E)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grogan, John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Hanson, David
Harman, Rt Hon Ms Harriet
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Healey, John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hendrick, Mark
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, Rt Hon Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, Keith
Hinchliffe, David
Hodge, Margaret
Hood, Jimmy
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, Rt Hon Alan (Newport E)
Howells, Dr Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hurst, Alan
Iddon, Dr Brian
Illsley, Eric
Ingram, Rt Hon Adam
Jackson, Glenda (Hampstead)
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W & Hessle)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Jowell, Rt Hon Tessa
Joyce, Eric
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Keen, Alan (Feltham & Heston)
Keen, Ann (Brentford & Isleworth)
Kemp, Fraser
Khabra, Piara S
Kidney, David
King, Andy (Rugby & Kenilworth)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green)
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Ladyman, Dr Stephen
Lammy, David
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Laxton, Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Liddell, Rt Hon Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Love, Andrew
Lucas, Ian
Luke, Iain
Lyons, John
McAvoy, Thomas
McCafferty, Chris
McDonagh, Siobhain
MacDonald, Calum
MacDougall, John
McFall, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNulty, Tony
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Martlew, Eric
Meale, Alan
Merron, Gillian
Milburn, Rt Hon Alan
Miller, Andrew
Moffatt, Laura
Moonie, Dr Lewis
Moran, Margaret
Morgan, Julie
Morris, Rt Hon Estelle
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Munn, Ms Meg
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Murphy, Rt Hon Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr Doug
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
O'Hara, Edward
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Organ, Diana
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Owen, Albert
Pearson, Ian
Perham, Linda
Picking, Anne
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris
Pope, Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Quin, Rt Hon Joyce
Quinn, Lawrie
Rapson, Syd
Raynsford, Rt Hon Nick
Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Reid, Rt Hon Dr John (Hamilton N)
Robertson, John
(Glasgow Anniesland)
Rooney, Terry
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Ms Christine (Chester)
Ryan, Joan
Sarwar, Mohammad
Sawford, Phil
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Shipley, Ms Debra
Simon, Siôn
Singh, Marsha
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, Rt Hon Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, Rt Hon Chris (Islington S)
Smith, Geraldine (Morecambe)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Soley, Clive
Starkey, Dr Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E)
Stewart, Ian (Eccles)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Stoate, Dr Howard
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Ms Dari (Stockton S)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth R (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark
Touhig, Don
Trickett, Jon
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr Desmond (Kemptown)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tynan, Bill
Vaz, Keith
Vis, Dr Rudi
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Ms Claire
Wareing, Robert N
Watson, Tom
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, Rt Hon Alan
(Swansea W)
Williams, Mrs Betty (Conwy)
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wood, Mike
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony
Wright, Anthony D (Gt Yarmouth)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Noes:

Dan Norris and
Mr. Graham Stringer.

Question accordingly negatived.

25 Oct 2001 : Column 470

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments), and agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.

25 Oct 2001 : Column 471


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