Previous Section Index Home Page

would be assured. It is no wonder that after doing so little for HE, and FA for FE, he was sent to the FO. He left a legacy for the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property; I know that the situation was not of the latter's making, but it is still his responsibility. How stark is the contrast between past soft-soap rhetoric and the granite-hard reality of the problems facing students and their families this year!

Some 175 students started this term without loans. Worst hit are first-year students, as the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams) said. At the end of last week, 28 per cent. of first-year applications had yet to be dealt with, and universities are being obliged to make emergency pay-outs. I hope that when the Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs winds up, he will talk about those emergency pay-outs and will comment on the questions asked by the hon. Member for Bristol, West, about how easy those pay-outs are to access, and what the Government are doing to support universities in that regard.

The problems could have been anticipated. Indeed, they were; minutes from the board meetings of the Student Loans Company reveal that in July 2008-a full year before the problems became public-the company forecast that 40 per cent. of telephone calls would go unanswered. At the same meeting, a policy of avoidable contact was adopted. That, by the way, is Labour-speak for not answering the phone. The Student Loans Company is using an 0845 number, against official Ofcom advice, so callers must pay for a 10p-a-minute call, and some of the revenue can be "shared" with the Student Loans Company. I call that adding insult to injury, and adding impertinence to both.

To add to the chaos, the future of the student loan book is now unclear. At the beginning of the week, the Government announced a fire sale of Government-owned assets. Back in 2007, the comprehensive spending review committed the Government to raising £6 billion over the next three years from student loan sales, yet no sale has yet been made. When the Minister winds up the debate, will he tell us whether the £3 billion is in addition to the £6 billion in the CSR? Can he tell us when he expects the first tranche of loan sales to be made, and if no sale is expected to be made by the end of the financial year, can he say how the Government intend to make up the £6 billion shortfall?


14 Oct 2009 : Column 360

In the past year, there has been a succession of crises in HE, further education and skills. First, there was the crisis over FE capital funding; then the crisis of the Train to Gain overspend and the problems with apprenticeships; and now there is the crisis in student finance. Is it any wonder, when responsibility for this vital area of policy has been shifted from one Department to the next, like a macabre game of pass the parcel-first DFES, then DIUS and now BIS? But this is not a game. The Government are playing with people's lives-the hopes, dreams and potential of a generation. In Labour's end, to paraphrase Eliot, is its beginning-a 13-year journey back to where it started.

As the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property knows, I admire his progress from disadvantage in Tottenham to high office. I know that in his heart he must be ashamed that as a result of his Government, few others so disadvantaged will follow in his footsteps. For he must also know in his heart that if we want to reinvigorate higher education, if we want to reignite social mobility, if we want to deliver social justice, we need a Government who genuinely believe in education: change driving hope, a fresh start-a new Conservative Government for a new Britain, because Britain deserves better.

4.10 pm

The Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs (Kevin Brennan): We have had a good debate with some excellent contributions, some colourful ones and some thoughtful ones from both sides of the House. It has been an immensely enjoyable debate.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Norwich, North (Chloe Smith) on her maiden speech. She spoke with great clarity and passion about her constituency. I particularly thank her for the praise that she gave to her predecessor, Dr. Ian Gibson, who is a close friend of mine and was an excellent Member of the House. She said that she wanted to emulate his independence in the House. I hope she has informed her Whips Office of that, as I am not sure her Whips will so heartily praise her if she does so.

We are clear that finance should not be a barrier to people entering university. The hon. Member for South Holland and The Deepings (Mr. Hayes) referred to the background of my right hon. Friend the Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property. Both my parents left school at 14, and I come from the first generation of people who had the opportunity to go to university, coming through comprehensive education and going to Oxbridge. If people have been through that experience, it stays with them and makes them genuinely and honestly committed to widening participation and access.

That is what the Government have done. Many more people from my kind of background are now able to go to university than was the case in the past, and certainly when I went to university in the early 1980s. We are committed to widening access to higher education, and that is what we have been doing. That is why we have a generous system of student support providing both grants and loans for tuition fees and living costs in university. That is why we have non-repayable maintenance grants of up to £2,906, which were reintroduced by the Government. About two thirds of all students are expected to benefit from a full or partial maintenance grant.


14 Oct 2009 : Column 361

Whatever review takes place- [Interruption.] I hear the hon. Member for Bristol, West (Stephen Williams) chuntering-it will not involve the savage cuts that the Liberal Democrat party leader seems to have promised, although the hon. Gentleman was quick to distance himself from that. However, it is appropriate to refer, as my right hon. Friend the Minister did, to the problems that there have been with the Student Loans Company. He gave a clear explanation of events. It is a matter of great regret that students have not been able to get through to the Student Loans Company to speak to an adviser and find out about their application. Students and parents have been confused about the process and about what has been happening with their applications. The poor level of customer service, as my right hon. Friend made clear, is not good enough.

Mr. Leech rose-

Kevin Brennan: I have very little time, so if the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make some progress, I may give way later.

The Student Loans Company has put measures in place with financial support from the Government to help students follow the progress of their applications and to address the problems that people have had in getting through to its call centres, including providing additional helplines and more staff to answer calls. Action is being taken, but we should keep the problems in perspective.

Every single one of those applications is important, but more than 640,000 students have been paid by Student Finance England this year. That is more people than ever before at this time of the year, and we should acknowledge that a significant number of students do not apply until shortly before the start of term. The suggestion of 175,000 students still being unpaid is way off the mark. Each year a large number of students begin applications but do not complete them. I understand from the Student Loans Company that this year that amounts to 77,000.

My right hon. Friend announced a review under Professor Deian Hopkin, which has been welcomed. In response to the point from the hon. Member for Bristol, West, the review will be undertaken as quickly as possible. We should make a judgment on what has happened when we hear the full conclusions of that independent review, but it should not divert us from the fact that this year more students than ever before are going to university. From reading the motion and listening to the hon. Member for Havant (Mr. Willetts), one would think that fewer students than ever before were going to university. The Opposition's motion regrets the rise in the number of applicants without a place, and we need to unpick that, because it means that the Opposition are saying that we should have provided more places. I heard the hon. Gentleman say that, but let us just analyse it for a moment. When we had fewer students a few years ago, the Opposition said that we had too many-that we were shovelling people into university; now that we have more students than we had then, the Opposition say that we have too few. How on earth can anyone sustain that position?

The hon. Gentleman has been described many times as having two brains, and perhaps that explains how two totally different positions can be maintained within
14 Oct 2009 : Column 362
the same head. That is the only possible explanation, because it would cause most of us great mental perturbance if we tried to square that circle.

Mr. Willetts: I wonder whether the Minister is not holding in his head two completely inconsistent positions. Is he claiming the credit for those extra numbers, because some of those extra students are students whom universities should not have recruited, and he is going to fine those institutions for taking them on.

Kevin Brennan: That is a nice attempt to avoid the charge, but before I conclude I shall refer briefly to a further confusion in the hon. Gentleman's head: his plan to pay for this sudden conversion to 10,000 extra places in university. When I intervened on him earlier, he told us that he would offer a discount to existing graduates who pay off their student loans more quickly and would use the money that was returned to pay for more university places. However, the cost of student loans to the Government is not the amount of money that is loaned to the student; it is the difference between the rate of interest charged on a student loan and the rate of interest charged by the bank from which the Government borrow the money to pay for the student loan. By asking for money to be returned early, all the hon. Gentleman is doing is taking money that is owed to the bank, bringing it back in-house and giving it out again to students to pay for their higher education. In other words, it is a smoke-and-mirrors, totally disingenuous way of borrowing extra money, which the hon. Gentleman claims he and his party do not want to do.

Earlier today, I heard the Leader of the Opposition say of the Prime Minister, "Doesn't he understand that we won't win the public's trust unless we're straight with them about the choices that we face?" Extra students at university cannot be paid for through some scam scheme by which money that the Government already owe someone else is repackaged in order to hide the need to borrow the money to pay for the places. When will we see the detailed costings of that policy and exactly how much the hon. Member for Havant believes it will raise?

Natascha Engel: Who does my hon. Friend think is most likely to pay back that money early? What kind of person? Would he hazard a guess as to whether a richer or a poorer person would have that kind of money up front to pay back their loan more quickly?

Kevin Brennan: I am not sure of the answer to that question, but I suspect that the money would not come from somebody who saved in a credit union; it would be more likely to come from somebody with access to a hedge fund, rather than anybody from the communities that we are discussing.

To talk about widening participation while proposing a highly regressive policy on higher education, combined with a completely bogus way of paying for additional places, really is disingenuous. We look forward to seeing the detailed costings of this fag-packet policy. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was consulted when the Leader of the Opposition talked about it on a Sunday television programme, nor whether the shadow Chancellor was consulted, but it is unravelling just as quickly as the right hon. Gentleman's pension plans.


14 Oct 2009 : Column 363

When will the man with two brains tell us whether there is one single coherent strand to his policy for extra places? It is not extra cash: one cannot magic money out of nowhere. Even in opposition one has a duty to be responsible about finances, and we look forward to hearing him tell us exactly how he would pay for that policy.

I fear that my time is running out-[Hon. Members: "Hear, hear!"] I am afraid that it is running out as rapidly as the credibility of the hon. Gentleman's policy. We shall oppose the motion and I urge the House to support the Government's amendment.

Question put (Standing Order No. 31(2)), That the original words stand part of the Question.

The House proceeded to a Division.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I ask the Serjeant at Arms to investigate the delay in the No Lobby.


The House having divided: Ayes 220, Noes 284.
Division No. 218]
[4.20 pm



AYES


Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Amess, Mr. David
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baker, Norman
Baldry, Tony
Barker, Gregory
Baron, Mr. John
Barrett, John
Beith, rh Sir Alan
Bellingham, Mr. Henry
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Beresford, Sir Paul
Binley, Mr. Brian
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Bone, Mr. Peter
Bottomley, Peter
Brady, Mr. Graham
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Breed, Mr. Colin
Brokenshire, James
Brooke, Annette
Browning, Angela
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burrowes, Mr. David
Burt, Alistair
Burt, Lorely
Butterfill, Sir John
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Cash, Mr. William
Chope, Mr. Christopher
Clappison, Mr. James
Clark, Greg
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Conway, Derek
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey
Curry, rh Mr. David
Davey, Mr. Edward
Davies, David T.C. (Monmouth)
Davies, Philip
Davis, rh David
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dorrell, rh Mr. Stephen
Dorries, Nadine
Duddridge, James
Duncan, Alan
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fallon, Mr. Michael
Featherstone, Lynne
Field, Mr. Mark
Foster, Mr. Don
Fox, Dr. Liam
Francois, Mr. Mark
Fraser, Christopher
Gale, Mr. Roger
Garnier, Mr. Edward
Gauke, Mr. David
George, Andrew
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gidley, Sandra
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Gray, Mr. James
Green, Damian
Greening, Justine
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Hancock, Mr. Mike
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Harris, Dr. Evan

Harvey, Nick
Hayes, Mr. John
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Heath, Mr. David
Heathcoat-Amory, rh Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, Nick
Hermon, Lady
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hogg, rh Mr. Douglas
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Holmes, Paul
Howarth, David
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Howell, John
Hughes, Simon
Huhne, Chris
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hunter, Mark
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Jones, Mr. David
Kawczynski, Daniel
Kennedy, rh Mr. Charles
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Kramer, Susan
Laing, Mrs. Eleanor
Lait, Mrs. Jacqui
Lamb, Norman
Lancaster, Mr. Mark
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Laws, Mr. David
Leech, Mr. John
Leigh, Mr. Edward
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Maclean, rh David
Main, Anne
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Maples, Mr. John
Maude, rh Mr. Francis
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McCrea, Dr. William
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Mercer, Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Moore, Mr. Michael
Mulholland, Greg
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Neill, Robert
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
Öpik, Lembit
Ottaway, Richard
Paice, Mr. James
Paisley, rh Rev. Ian
Paterson, Mr. Owen
Penning, Mike
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Pritchard, Mark
Pugh, Dr. John
Randall, Mr. John
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Reid, Mr. Alan
Rennie, Willie
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Robinson, Mrs. Iris
Robinson, rh Mr. Peter
Rosindell, Andrew
Rowen, Paul
Ruffley, Mr. David
Russell, Bob
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, David
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Smith, Chloe
Smith, Sir Robert
Soames, Mr. Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs. Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Steen, Mr. Anthony
Streeter, Mr. Gary
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swinson, Jo
Swire, Mr. Hugo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Tapsell, Sir Peter
Taylor, Mr. Ian
Taylor, Matthew
Taylor, Dr. Richard
Teather, Sarah
Timpson, Mr. Edward
Tredinnick, David
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Viggers, Sir Peter
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Walter, Mr. Robert
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Willetts, Mr. David
Williams, Mr. Roger
Williams, Stephen
Willott, Jenny
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Wilson, Sammy
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Younger-Ross, Richard
Tellers for the Ayes:

Bill Wiggin and
Mr. Stephen Crabb

NOES


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Alexander, rh Mr. Douglas
Anderson, Mr. David
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Austin, John
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Baird, Vera
Balls, rh Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Battle, rh John
Bayley, Hugh
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Bell, Sir Stuart
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Blunkett, rh Mr. David
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bradshaw, rh Mr. Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byrne, rh Mr. Liam
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Caton, Mr. Martin
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, Rosie
Cooper, rh Yvette
Corbyn, Jeremy
Crausby, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Davies, Mr. Dai
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Drew, Mr. David
Durkan, Mark
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, rh Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gardiner, Barry
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr. Tom
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, rh John
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hood, Mr. Jim
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, rh Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Ingram, rh Mr. Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, Ms Diana R.

Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Jowell, rh Tessa
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, rh Jim
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, rh Mr. David
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Lloyd, Tony
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Robert
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCafferty, Chris
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McDonagh, Siobhain
McDonnell, Dr. Alasdair
McDonnell, John
McFadden, rh Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGuire, rh Mrs. Anne
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, rh Edward
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Mr. Austin
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Morden, Jessica
Morgan, Julie
Morley, rh Mr. Elliot
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, rh Mr. Mike
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Olner, Mr. Bill
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Prentice, Mr. Gordon
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purnell, rh James
Rammell, Bill
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, rh John
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Robertson, John
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Lindsay
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Ryan, rh Joan
Sarwar, Mr. Mohammad
Seabeck, Alison
Sharma, Mr. Virendra
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Simpson, Alan
Singh, Mr. Marsha
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andy
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, rh Angela E. (Basildon)
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Stewart, Ian
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Ms Dari
Taylor, David
Thornberry, Emily
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Ussher, Kitty
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, rh Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Wilson, Phil
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, Mr. Anthony

Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Dr. Tony
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Bob Blizzard and
Mr. Dave Watts
Question accordingly negatived.
Next Section Index Home Page