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Mr. Forth: My degree is a master of arts in politics and economics. Here I am: I rest my case. The one-word answer to the hon. Gentleman's very fair question is employability. It is for students to judge the relevance of their courses to their future and whether they are likely to be employed. Whether they do archaeology or electronics, or whatever, is for them to judge. They will look for the appropriate course, in terms of its content, duration, reputation and cost, and they will make their judgment on that basis. That is my plea.
Norman Lamb (North Norfolk) (LD): The right hon. Gentleman appears to be making the case for top-up fees without any limitsimply a market-oriented approach. With that approach, would we not inevitably see a widening of the gulf between access for students from poorer families and those from richer families? Surely the fear of debt, according to all the evidence, will put off students from poorer families from going to university, and bursaries simply would not be enough to cover the gulf.
Mr. Forth: That is a traditional patronising attitude that is somewhat old-fashioned now. At a time when we are told that debt is an increasing problem right across the social spectrum, I am not sure that the argument about fear of debt is valid any more. In any case, it does not have relevance, because if it were demonstrated to be a problem, which I am not sure that I accept, bursaries and scholarships are one approach, but there is anotherthe Government of the day can make financial provision through grants or loans skewed in the direction of able people from disadvantaged backgrounds who have some fear of indebtedness, if that is perceived to be the problem. If it is a problemI am not necessarily convinced of thatit is eminently soluble through a whole battery of responses. What we must not do, however, is reverse matters and try to solve the problem from the other end. Incidentally, I am not making a plea for top-up fees; I am making a plea for fees full stopfull-blown, full-on, frontal fees, judged by the institutions themselves.
I have not done research in any detail, but I have probably not spoken in the House on Europe for something like 15 years. I have quite a lot to get off my chest, therefore, but I am watching the clock and shall try to speak as briefly as possible, because what I have to say probably will notif I may put it this wayresonate in all quarters. We are often asked, are we not,
My serious point is in the context of both the euro referendum Bill, which was referred to in the Queen's Speech, and the important issue of the EU constitution that now confronts us. The issue is becoming this: how do we as a people regard ourselves as a nation? Is our nationality important to us any more? What do we think should be the relationship between our nation and country and the European Union of which we are a member? If we look back at the argument for joining, and the referendum that was held in the 1970s, in which I voted yesI had my eyes opened when I became a Member of the European Parliament in 1979 and rapidly became a scepticwe see that all those questions have not been asked very much, because they have been discouraged in all political parties. The Liberal Democrats are Euro-fanatics, the Labour party has moved from scepticism to dewy-eyed enthusiasm and my party, it is fair to say, has moved from enthusiasm to scepticism.
At no time, however, have we been encouraged to debate whether we are satisfied about the way in which the European Union is developing, and, crucially, about our relationship as a country to that European Union. That is brought into focus by the extent to which, increasingly, decisions that affect our citizens and our voters are taken by institutions outside our country. In that crucial respect, the very democracy of which the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, North-East (Mr. Purchase) spoke with such pride is being undermined. His democracy, I suspect, is based in Wolverhampton, of which he is rightly proud, and in his country, the United Kingdom. I wonder how often Members of this House give serious thought to the extent to which more and more decisions that affect our citizens, taxpayers and voters are taken by bodies on which we, the British, have less and less of a view in the expanded European Union.
Mr. Forth: Yes, I do. I regret that very much. One of the biggest mistakes that was madeI thought that I would never hear myself say thiswas in 1985 with the Single European Act. I regret that very much too. If the hon. Gentleman thinks that he has just scored a bulls-eye in getting me to admit a mistake, let me tell him that one of the benefits of being in this place for a while and of being in and out of the Government is that one learns the occasional lesson and to regret things that are done. I regret what happened on that occasion; I do not deny the process.
I challenge not just the Government but my colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench. We have a duty to know what we will do in response to the constitution when we are faced with it. We in the Opposition have a duty to know how we will respond if the Government erroneouslyfatally, in my viewsign up to the constitution and we subsequently find ourselves in Government. We must know what we will say to the country, and I do not think that we are quite there yet.
These questions are of the greatest seriousness and import. I am very conscious of them. They worry me enormously, and I hope that we will be able as politicians to speak out on them frankly and to have the debate and discussion that I would welcome so that we can make it absolutely clear to our fellow citizens where we are taking them and what our membership of the European Union means. We must explain where decisions are increasingly being made on their behalf and how they are less and less able to control them. That worries me, so I want to hear a debate. I look forward to it.
Mrs. Barbara Roche (Hornsey and Wood Green) (Lab): It is of genuinely great interest to follow the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), but may I offer him a small piece of advice if he does not think that too impertinent? The next time he addresses the House, he should really say what he means; he should not be so mealy-mouthed. We should be left in no doubt.
Mrs. Roche: The hon. Gentleman is right. However, it is good to discover that I have something in common with the right hon. Gentleman. One of my very first votes was in 1975 when I voted yes in the European referendum. We are similar, given what we did in that important vote.
I believe strongly that the Gracious Speech marks an important point for the Government and the country. Since 1997, the Government have had a record to be very proud of, and I am pleased to have been able to support them as a Minister on some of the issues with which I am very proud to be associated. For example, the minimum wage and the working families tax credit are two measures out of many that have immeasurably improved the lives of many people and certainly many people in my constituency.
Norman Lamb: Is the hon. Lady concerned that Treasury officials revealed in evidence given to the Treasury Select Committee that no modelling had been done to determine whether the aspiration of the child trust fund would have the effect that the Government want to achieve? In fact, the people who will gain most are the middle classes, who will have the ability to make the top-up payments and gain the tax benefits.