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3.50 pm

The Minister for Lifelong Learning, Further and Higher Education (Alan Johnson): This debate, unlike Monday night's, highlights the stark choice before the British people. The Liberal Democrats have always added to the gaiety of the nation, but it will be a long time before they rule the nation. We enjoyed listening to their policies on Monday, but today we have seen the real stark choice. This issue concerns the future not just of higher education but of this country and where we want to be in the 21st century.

What I find really amazing about the Conservative party is that, even after the full process of Letwinisation, even after the caring Conservative phrase, even after the Leader of Her Majesty's Opposition had visited working-class estates in Edinburgh, and even after several focus groups and bonding sessions—or bondage sessions as they were called on Monday—we have this Tory policy.

What we are debating here is not whether we should see a growth in numbers, although that is an important issue to which I shall return, nor whether we could do more to widen participation, although that too is an important debate. Those are not the central issues. What we are talking about here is whether to expand higher education and to maintain investment in higher education for the good of the nation, or whether to contract and cut back, squeeze and freeze and damage opportunities for our young people.

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At best, 10 Conservative Back Benchers were present for this important Opposition day debate, yet the Conservative proposal is to remove £430 million of funding for higher education—90,000 university places and 13,000 lecturers would go as part of their policy—and to end payments of £193 million currently going through the Higher Education Funding Council for England to widen participation for youngsters from working class backgrounds in higher education. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies, to which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State referred earlier, said in its press release this morning, that is a clear redistribution from poorer to richer households. That is at the core of the Conservative party's policy.

In opening, the hon. Member for Ashford (Mr. Green) made a number of remarks with which we fully, wholeheartedly, 100 per cent. agree. He said that fair access should be based on merit. That is absolutely true. We have said that over and over again and it is in our document on wider participation. It will not be the role of OFFA in any way whatever to interfere in the basis for access to university. [Interruption.] I shall come to the purpose, but let us deal with the points on which we can agree.

We also agree that we should concentrate on skills when we unveil our policy in the next week or so, and I assure hon. Members that it will be worth waiting for. They will see that we are investing a considerable amount in skills. We also agree that the key is to improve secondary education.

Our White Paper deals with all those issues, but it does not duck the central question of how we will secure expansion and ensure good-quality higher education into the 21st century without additional funding. Much of Monday's debate was about how to provide that funding, but today's debate has been about reducing the amount that we invest in higher education.

The hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Rendel) told us how terrible Tory policy was and how the Liberal Democrats would therefore support the Conservatives in the Lobby this evening—an argument that lost me. He also asked about provisions to protect extra investment, which were also raised by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) on Monday. I have given an assurance about that, as has the Secretary of State, but, perhaps more importantly, legislation already protects the funding council from taking fees income into account in its funding of institutions. Such provision already features in legislation and we have no intention of interfering with it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Mrs. Campbell) showed her usual good grace and courtesy, and gave paeans of praise for the Government's policy. She mentioned pay for higher education lecturers. Of course, we have invested a considerable amount in the past three years and we will invest more in the next few years. She has a difference of view about the key issue, which we have not tried to hide: our proposals for variable fees. We say that, just as Dearing argued four years ago, graduates should make a contribution and that it should go to universities and not be centralised. She said—I hope this is correct—that someone's decision whether to go to university should not be determined by their parents' finances or the money in their pocket. Of course, the basis of our argument is that

25 Jun 2003 : Column 1112

that will not happen. We are doing away with up-front tuition fees, students will repay money only when they are in work earning £15,000 a year or more and the debt will be repayable at very modest levels. If the difference between us were simply about the level of the increased tuition fee, it would not be so wide, but it is about much more.

The hon. Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) referred at the start of his speech to somebody whom I suppose could be described as "Paranoid of Hertsmere" and what they had written to the newspapers. I think that there was paranoia and scaremongering in his speech. He spoke about supporting the reintroduction of assisted places and made it absolutely clear where the Conservative party wants to go in that regard. He accused the Government of attacking the middle class, when it is clear that the issue is about money moving from the poorer to the more wealthy, as this morning's report pointed out.

My hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mr. Hendrick) made a very important point about the perception of debt. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bury, North (Mr. Chaytor) pointed out, we are talking not about whether there should be debt for students and graduates, but about the level of that debt. My hon. Friend the Member for Preston made the important point that, if we scaremonger and frighten people about the level of debt, which is obviously an issue, it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. What we need to do is ensure that youngsters understand that the money is an investment in their future and that, in terms of our proposals, it is not an onerous burden.

The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman) was simply wrong. He said that the drop-out rate had increased, as did the hon. Member for Ashford. The rate has not increased; it was 18 per cent. before we took office and it is 17 per cent. now. Indeed, it is now 17 per cent. of vastly increased student numbers, so that argument is not reasonable. Neither is the argument that the funding per student has been reduced. It is now 36 per cent. more; we reversed that trend.

My hon. Friend the Member for Selby (Mr. Grogan), who will be seeing more of me on our train journeys between London and Selby—I congratulate him on his appointment as president of the parliamentary beer club—said that we need Dearing II. Let us look at Dearing I. Dearing represented a very important contribution to the debate. The Conservative Government set up the Dearing committee of inquiry. Conservative Members supported tuition fees through the Lobby, yet they cannot accept Dearing's central proposal, which is that there has to be increased funding, some of which needs to come from the graduate.

This has been an extremely interesting debate. We believe that universities are powerful instruments for transforming society and that they are a civilising influence on society. The Conservatives' policy is a triumph of opportunity over integrity—[Interruption.] I meant of opportunism over integrity—I correct that slip straight away. Even the families whom they purport to help will find that they have been sold a pup when they realise that their child will find it harder to find a place at university. If we are to pull youngsters through to the stage where they have two A-levels and the chance

25 Jun 2003 : Column 1113

of a university place—as all hon. Members agree that we should—and they find that the place is no longer available, that entire generation will have been let down. Even worse, the Conservatives' policy would drive down attainment, because those who get two A-levels will not have those university places to go to. So, to the delight of our international competitors and to the dismay of the higher education sector and business—

Mr. McLoughlin rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

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

The House divided: Ayes 191, Noes 293.

Division No. 256
[4:02 pm


AYES


Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Allan, Richard
Amess, David
Ancram, rh Michael
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Baker, Norman
Baldry, Tony
Baron, John (Billericay)
Barrett, John
Beggs, Roy (E Antrim)
Bellingham, Henry
Bercow, John
Blunt, Crispin
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bottomley, rh Virginia (SW Surrey)
Brady, Graham
Brake, Tom (Carshalton)
Brazier, Julian
Breed, Colin
Brooke, Mrs Annette L.
Browning, Mrs Angela
Burnett, John
Burns, Simon
Burnside, David
Burstow, Paul
Burt, Alistair
Butterfill, John
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Cameron, David
Campbell, Gregory (E Lond'y)
Campbell, rh Menzies (NE Fife)
Cash, William
Chidgey, David
Chope, Christopher
Clappison, James
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey
Collins, Tim
Conway, Derek
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cotter, Brian
Cran, James (Beverley)
Curry, rh David
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford)
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Djanogly, Jonathan
Dodds, Nigel
Doughty, Sue
Duncan, Alan (Rutland)
Duncan, Peter (Galloway)
Duncan Smith, rh Iain
Evans, Nigel
Fabricant, Michael
Fallon, Michael
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)
Flight, Howard
Flook, Adrian
Forth, rh Eric
Foster, Don (Bath)
Fox, Dr. Liam
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Garnier, Edward
George, Andrew (St. Ives)
Gidley, Sandra
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Goodman, Paul
Gray, James (N Wilts)
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian (Ashford)
Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Greenway, John
Grieve, Dominic
Gummer, rh John
Hague, rh William
Hammond, Philip
Harvey, Nick
Hawkins, Nick
Hayes, John (S Holland)
Heald, Oliver
Heath, David
Hendry, Charles
Hoban, Mark (Fareham)
Hogg, rh Douglas
Holmes, Paul
Horam, John (Orpington)
Howard, rh Michael
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Jack, rh Michael
Jenkin, Bernard
Johnson, Boris (Henley)
Keetch, Paul
Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness)
Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Kirkwood, Sir Archy
Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lait, Mrs Jacqui
Laws, David (Yeovil)
Letwin, rh Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Lidington, David
Llwyd, Elfyn
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Mackay, rh Andrew
Maclean, rh David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Maples, John
Marsden, Paul (Shrewsbury & Atcham)
Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
May, Mrs Theresa
Mercer, Patrick
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)
Moore, Michael
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Norman, Archie
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Ottaway, Richard
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Paterson, Owen
Pickles, Eric
Portillo, rh Michael
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Randall, John
Rendel, David
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Angus (Moray)
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Robinson, Mrs Iris (Strangford)
Robinson, Peter (Belfast E)
Roe, Mrs Marion
Rosindell, Andrew
Ruffley, David
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Salmond, Alex
Sanders, Adrian
Sayeed, Jonathan
Selous, Andrew
Shepherd, Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Smyth, Rev. Martin (Belfast S)
Spelman, Mrs Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Spring, Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Steen, Anthony
Streeter, Gary
Stunell, Andrew
Swire, Hugo (E Devon)
Syms, Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, John (Solihull)
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Thurso, John
Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Tredinnick, David
Trend, Michael
Trimble, rh David
Turner, Andrew (Isle of Wight)
Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Tyrie, Andrew
Waterson, Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Weir, Michael
Whittingdale, John
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, David
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Willis, Phil
Wilshire, David
Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Young, rh Sir George
Younger-Ross, Richard

Tellers for the Ayes:


Mr. Laurence Robertson and
Mr. Mark Francois


NOES


Adams, Irene (Paisley N)
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)
Alexander, Douglas
Allen, Graham
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)
Anderson, Janet (Rossendale & Darwen)
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Charlotte
Bailey, Adrian
Baird, Vera
Battle, John
Beard, Nigel
Begg, Miss Anne
Benn, Hilary
Bennett, Andrew
Benton, Joe (Bootle)
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blizzard, Bob
Blunkett, rh David
Boateng, rh Paul
Borrow, David
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, rh Nicholas (Newcastle E Wallsend)
Browne, Desmond
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, Andy
Byers, rh Stephen
Cairns, David
Campbell, Alan (Tynemouth)
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Caplin, Ivor
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chaytor, David
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clarke, rh Charles (Norwich S)
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Clarke, Tony (Northampton S)
Clelland, David
Clwyd, Ann (Cynon V)
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Coleman, Iain
Colman, Tony
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, Yvette
Corston, Jean
Cranston, Ross
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Cummings, John
Cunningham, rh Dr. Jack (Copeland)
Cunningham, Jim (Coventry S)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Darling, rh Alistair
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
David, Wayne
Davidson, Ian
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, rh John
Dhanda, Parmjit
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Donohoe, Brian H.
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Eagle, Angela (Wallasey)
Eagle, Maria (L'pool Garston)
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Ennis, Jeff (Barnsley E)
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Fisher, Mark
Fitzsimons, Mrs Lorna
Flint, Caroline
Follett, Barbara
Foster, rh Derek
Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Hain, rh Peter
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hamilton, David (Midlothian)
Hamilton, Fabian (Leeds NE)
Hanson, David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Healey, John
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hendrick, Mark
Hepburn, Stephen
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Hill, Keith (Streatham)
Hinchliffe, David
Hodge, Margaret
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Hoon, rh Geoffrey
Hope, Phil (Corby)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Humble, Mrs Joan
Hutton, rh John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Eric
Ingram, rh Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jamieson, David
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Alan (Hull W)
Johnson, Miss Melanie (Welwyn Hatfield)
Jones, Helen (Warrington N)
Jones, Kevan (N Durham)
Jones, Lynne (Selly Oak)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S)
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Kaufman, rh Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Kemp, Fraser
Kennedy, Jane (Wavertree)
Khabra, Piara S.
Kidney, David
Kilfoyle, Peter
King, Andy (Rugby)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, David
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Lewis, Ivan (Bury S)
Liddell, rh Mrs Helen
Linton, Martin
Love, Andrew
Lucas, Ian (Wrexham)
Luke, Iain (Dundee E)
Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Stephen
McCartney, rh Ian
McDonagh, Siobhain
MacDonald, Calum
McFall, John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew
McNulty, Tony
MacShane, Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Marris, Rob (Wolverh'ton SW)
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, David
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moran, Margaret
Morgan, Julie
Morris, rh Estelle
Mountford, Kali
Mullin, Chris
Munn, Ms Meg
Murphy, Denis (Wansbeck)
Murphy, Jim (Eastwood)
Murphy, rh Paul (Torfaen)
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan (Wansdyke)
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Mike (N Warks)
Organ, Diana
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lewisham E)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Purnell, James
Quinn, Lawrie
Rammell, Bill
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Raynsford, rh Nick
Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Reid, rh Dr. John (Hamilton N & Bellshill)
Rooney, Terry
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Roy, Frank (Motherwell)
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)
Ryan, Joan (Enfield N)
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mohammad
Savidge, Malcolm
Sawford, Phil
Sheridan, Jim
Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, Angela (Basildon)
Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Soley, Clive
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh John
Squire, Rachel
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Steinberg, Gerry
Stevenson, George
Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Gerry
Tami, Mark (Alyn)
Taylor, Dari (Stockton S)
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Thomas, Gareth (Harrow W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mark (S Derbyshire)
Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Derek (Halton)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Claire
Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Williams, Betty (Conwy)
Wills, Michael
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Wood, Mike (Batley)
Woolas, Phil
Worthington, Tony
Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, David (Telford)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek

Tellers for the Noes:


Paul Clark and
Jim Fitzpatrick

Question accordingly negatived.

25 Jun 2003 : Column 1116

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.

Resolved,


25 Jun 2003 : Column 1117


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