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Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

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Mr. Willis: I shall just finish the quotation first. On 23 March 2000, the then Secretary of State said:

He continued:

His successor as Secretary of State, now the Minister for the Arts, the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Estelle Morris), wrote in The Guardian on 4 October 2001:

During the Government's first term of office, Baroness Blackstone, the Minister responsible for higher education, told the Select Committee on Education and Employment:

In this Parliament—within the past year—the Chancellor of the Exchequer was quoted at a breakfast meeting with journalists as deriding the idea of top-up fees as a "ridiculous idea". In November 2002, in The Guardian, the former Secretary of State for International Development said that in her view university top-up fees are "a really bad idea".

Even the current Secretary of State for Education and Skills said on the day that he was appointed that he was "generally anti" top-up fees and that

So what has changed? Why is he now so determined to push through a policy that he must know is not only deeply unpopular in this House, but is likely to be counterproductive for the core objectives of the Labour Government? The Times Educational Supplement affectionately refers to the Secretary of State as a rhino. It is time that he stopped charging and listened to those who describe the effects of a policy that will be quite disastrous.

Mr. McLoughlin: The hon. Gentleman is explaining how various members of the Cabinet have expressed their opinions on the matter. May I take him back to his reference to the early-day motion and the number of Labour MPs who signed it? Will he be surprised if those Labour MPs do not vote in the Lobby in which he intends to vote? Is he aware that two weeks ago, when we had a debate on post offices, several Labour MPs who had signed an early-day motion on that subject nevertheless voted against the motion under debate?

Mr. Willis: I thank the hon. Gentleman. I will of course be equally surprised when the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green), who speaks for the Conservative party, and who said on 19 January,

jumps camp and votes in favour of the motion.

Mr. Damian Green (Ashford): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Willis: I am still trying to deal with the previous intervention.

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I believe that those 139 Labour MPs signed that EDM as a matter of principle—that is, the principle of their opposition to top-up fees. I hope that they do come into the Lobby tonight to vote with us. If they fail to do so, they will have failed on that issue of principle.

Mr. Green: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, since he purported to represent my views. I feel that I should draw his attention to Liberal Democrat News of 30 May 2003. It is a publication that I read sporadically. This edition is particularly interesting because it makes the following thoughtful point:

I always welcome support from Liberal Democrat News, and I hope to get it from the Liberal Democrat Front-Bench spokesmen, as well.

Mr. Willis: May I say to the hon. Gentleman that that was a most unfortunate intervention, because I shall now put into my speech a section on his policy? I know that he searches far and wide for policy initiatives, but Liberal Democrat News was one place to which I did not think he would go.

Mr. Simon Thomas (Ceredigion): My colleagues and I will support the hon. Gentleman's motion tonight, but I am interested to know where his party is now going on tuition fees. In Scotland, it has followed the path of an endowment-type scheme. In Wales, before the coalition came to an end, there were different thoughts on the issue. Mention has also been made of a graduate tax. Will the hon. Gentleman tell us exactly what alternatives are available, because universities in Wales, in particular, are faced with a funding bind?

Mr. Willis: The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. Our existing policy is based on what we have done in the coalition in Scotland. We are very proud of our achievement in getting rid of up-front tuition fees—[Hon. Members: "Up front?"] If Conservative Members read Liberal Democrat News as avidly as their Front-Bench spokesman says they do, they will know that no student in Scotland pays tuition fees, full stop. [Hon. Members: "Up front."] Neither up front nor back front. There are two elements to student finance in Scotland: the tuition fee, which is free, and the maintenance grant, which is contributed to by an endowment for all students. That is a fair policy, and I compliment my colleagues in Scotland and the Labour Members of the Scottish Executive on having introduced it.

In answer to the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas), there is quite rightly a debate taking place in Wales on what is right for Wales. When I gave evidence to the Select Committee—which the Conservatives refused to attend because, of course, they have no policy to discuss—I suggested that, given the Secretary of State's proposal in the White Paper of a £1,000 grant, we

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should consider rolling that grant into our grant arrangements in England. If the hon. Member for Ceredigion will be patient, I will come to that issue later.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Willis: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, who is incredibly courteous to me on all occasions.

Mr. Bercow: I am extraordinarily grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. He is offering a typically spirited denunciation of the Government's ill-thought-out policy. Given, however, that his own party's internal briefing document—reproduced, appropriately enough, in The Guardian on 17 January this year—hints that Liberal Democrat policy will be to provide maintenance grants to people only if they study close to home and preferably take only two-year foundation courses, does the hon. Gentleman not see the narrowness of the ambition of Liberal Democrat thinking? Why does he not recognise that people ought to be able to decide their courses on the basis of personal choice rather than financial affordability?

Mr. Willis: My goodness, the hon. Gentleman is sinking to new lows! His Front-Bench colleagues say that the Conservatives want to deny 150,000 students the opportunity to go into higher education and that, by 2010, they want another 250,000 to be denied that opportunity, yet the hon. Gentleman says that we should not be considering how to deliver higher education policy. The hon. Gentleman should not believe everything that he reads in the newspapers because, if he does, he will be a very disappointed gentleman. One in two of our students—1 million students—study part-time and, virtually without exception, they study locally. The offer that they get locally should be as good as the offer that they get anywhere else in the United Kingdom. If they wish to go away and spend three years at a distant university, they should have the right to do that.

However, that does not negate the fact that the Government and indeed the political parties should be fighting to ensure that every local university has a first-class offer to make to its students. The origins of the great civic universities of Leeds and Manchester were based in their local students. That is where we should be looking, rather than replicating a public school boy-type education of three years for everyone.

Several hon. Members rose—

Mr. Willis: I want to move on.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Willis: I am sorry. I want to make some progress.

Mr. Boswell rose—

Mr. Willis: Very well, I give way.

Mr. Boswell: I shall seek to intervene only once. The hon. Gentleman can perhaps clear up a confusion that

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has been worrying me for some time in relation to the graduate endowment liability, or whatever it is going to be called, in Scotland. If he were to go on holiday this summer and to pay for his holiday with, say, a Barclaycard or whatever—I make no particular endorsement of that card, although I have one myself—he would not pay until he came back home, so does he think that he would not have to pay at all?

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