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The hon. and learned Member for Harborough and the hon. Member for Angus said that we were wrong, as a matter of principle, to question the ombudsman's findings. We do not accept this. To treat the ombudsman's findings and recommendations as though they were binding would reflect neither the true nature and extent of her role, nor that of Government in their stewardship of public funds. Rightly, the Government cannot simply dismiss her findings and recommendations, and I assure hon. Members that they did not do so in this case, but they can depart from them in certain circumstances. To be clear, this was not indicative of any lack of respect for the office of the ombudsman; still less did it stem from any disregard for the plight of policyholders affected
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by the events at Equitable Life. It was simply grounded in the need to ensure that our response, and any actions that we might take, were based on a proper appreciation of the evidence.

The hon. Member for Angus asked what the disproportionate impact is. The concept of disproportionate impact is intended to help to ensure that payments made under the scheme are targeted at where they are needed most. Sir John will advise us on factors arising from his work. In his third interim report, he expressed his provisional view that holders of with-profits annuities and late joiners have been disproportionately impacted, in that the impact of maladministration was severe beyond the norm. However, the Government have not stated that only those two groups will receive payments. Final decisions on who will be paid will be made after Sir John submits his final report.

The hon. Member for Cheltenham asked about the comparator with the regulator in the 1990s and the possibility of that leading to delay. That was also raised in an intervention by the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Susan Kramer), who is not in her place. Sir John's third interim report set out his provisional views on regulatory behaviour in the 1990s. He is considering various scenarios of regulation, whether stringent or loose, but he has not said which he prefers. He is open to all views on this-it is not fixed in stone-and input from everyone, now, will minimise dispute later. Sir John has not yet finalised the comparator.

The accusation levelled at the Government is that that we have consistently-some have even said wilfully-dragged our feet on this matter: even now, when Sir John is close to completing his work. That is simply wide of the mark and absolutely not the case.

In conclusion, we appreciate and share the genuine concerns that Members in all parts of the House continue to have on behalf of policyholders. We have before us a motion that exhorts us to set a clear timetable for implementing the ombudsman's recommendations. However-

Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby) (Con) claimed to move the closure (Standing Order No. 36).

Question put forthwith, That the Question be now put.

Question agreed to.

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

The House divided: Ayes 236, Noes 291.
Division No. 110]
[7 pm


Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Alexander, Danny
Amess, Mr. David
Ancram, rh Mr. Michael
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bacon, Mr. Richard
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
Brake, Tom
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brokenshire, James
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Browning, Angela
Bruce, rh Malcolm
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burrowes, Mr. David
Burstow, Mr. Paul

Burt, Alistair
Burt, Lorely
Butterfill, Sir John
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Cameron, rh Mr. David
Campbell, Mr. Gregory
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Cash, Mr. William
Clappison, Mr. James
Clark, Greg
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Conway, Derek
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Curry, rh Mr. David
Davies, Mr. Dai
Davies, David T. C. (Monmouth)
Djanogly, Mr. Jonathan
Dorrell, rh Mr. Stephen
Dorries, Nadine
Duncan, Alan
Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Evans, Mr. Nigel
Evennett, Mr. David
Fabricant, Michael
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
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gidley, Sandra
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Godsiff, Mr. Roger
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gove, Michael
Greening, Justine
Greenway, Mr. John
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hammond, Mr. Philip
Hammond, Stephen
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
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
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Holmes, Paul
Horam, Mr. John
Horwood, Martin
Hosie, Stewart
Howard, rh Mr. Michael
Howarth, David
Howarth, Mr. Gerald
Howell, John
Hughes, Simon
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Hunter, Mark
Hurd, Mr. Nick
Jack, rh Mr. Michael
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Jones, Mr. David
Kawczynski, Daniel
Keetch, Mr. Paul
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
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Luff, Peter
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Maclean, rh David
MacNeil, Mr. Angus
Main, Anne
Malins, Mr. Humfrey
Maples, Mr. John
Mason, John
Maude, rh Mr. Francis
May, rh Mrs. Theresa
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Mulholland, Greg
Mundell, David
Murrison, Dr. Andrew
Neill, Robert
Newmark, Mr. Brooks
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Öpik, Lembit
Osborne, Mr. George
Ottaway, Richard
Paice, Mr. James
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Penning, Mike
Penrose, John
Pickles, Mr. Eric
Price, Adam
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Pritchard, Mark
Pugh, Dr. John
Randall, Mr. John
Redwood, rh Mr. John
Reid, Mr. Alan
Rifkind, rh Sir Malcolm
Robathan, Mr. Andrew

Robertson, Angus
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Rosindell, Andrew
Rowen, Paul
Russell, Bob
Sanders, Mr. Adrian
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Shepherd, Mr. Richard
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Alan
Simpson, Mr. Keith
Smith, Chloe
Smith, Sir Robert
Soames, Mr. Nicholas
Spelman, Mrs. Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
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, Dr. Richard
Timpson, Mr. Edward
Tredinnick, David
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vaizey, Mr. Edward
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Wallace, Mr. Ben
Walter, Mr. Robert
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Webb, Steve
Weir, Mr. Mike
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Willetts, Mr. David
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mark
Williams, Mr. Roger
Williams, Stephen
Willis, Mr. Phil
Willott, Jenny
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Wishart, Pete
Wright, Jeremy
Yeo, Mr. Tim
Young, rh Sir George
Tellers for the Ayes:

James Duddridge and
Mr. Philip Dunne

Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Alexander, rh Mr. Douglas
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, John
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Bain, Mr. William
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
Blears, rh Hazel
Blunkett, rh Mr. David
Borrow, Mr. David S.
Bradshaw, rh Mr. Ben
Brennan, Kevin
Brown, rh Mr. Gordon
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Browne, rh Des
Bryant, Chris
Burden, Richard
Burgon, Colin
Burnham, rh Andy
Butler, Ms Dawn
Byrne, rh Mr. Liam
Caborn, rh Mr. Richard
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Campbell, Mr. Ronnie
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clark, Paul
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, Rosie
Cooper, rh Yvette
Crausby, Mr. David
Creagh, Mary
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Mrs. Ann
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Darling, rh Mr. Alistair
David, Mr. Wayne
Davidson, Mr. Ian

Davies, Mr. Quentin
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dismore, Mr. Andrew
Dobbin, Jim
Dobson, rh Frank
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, Mr. David
Eagle, Angela
Eagle, Maria
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Etherington, Bill
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, rh Caroline
Flynn, Paul
Follett, Barbara
Foster, Mr. Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Francis, Dr. Hywel
Gapes, Mike
Gardiner, Barry
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gilroy, Linda
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Hain, rh Mr. Peter
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hanson, rh Mr. David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Mr. Tom
Healey, rh John
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Hesford, Stephen
Hewitt, rh Ms Patricia
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hillier, Meg
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hoon, rh Mr. Geoffrey
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, rh Dr. Kim
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Ingram, rh Mr. Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Jowell, rh Tessa
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Alan
Keen, Ann
Kelly, rh Ruth
Kemp, Mr. Fraser
Khan, rh Mr. Sadiq
Kidney, Mr. David
Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter
Knight, rh Jim
Ladyman, Dr. Stephen
Lammy, rh Mr. David
Laxton, Mr. Bob
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Lewis, Mr. Ivan
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony
Love, Mr. Andrew
Lucas, Ian
Mackinlay, Andrew
MacShane, rh Mr. Denis
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Robert
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McDonagh, Siobhain
McDonnell, John
McFadden, rh Mr. Pat
McFall, rh John
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McGuire, rh Mrs. Anne
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, rh Mr. Tony
Meacher, rh Mr. Michael
Meale, Mr. Alan
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miliband, rh Edward
Miller, Andrew
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Morden, Jessica
Morgan, Julie
Mudie, Mr. George
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, rh Mr. Jim
Murphy, rh Mr. Paul
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Hara, Mr. Edward
Olner, Mr. Bill
Osborne, Sandra
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick

Pearson, Ian
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pope, Mr. Greg
Prentice, Bridget
Prescott, rh Mr. John
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Purnell, rh James
Rammell, Bill
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Robertson, John
Robinson, Mr. Geoffrey
Rooney, Mr. Terry
Roy, Mr. Frank
Roy, Lindsay
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Ryan, rh Joan
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mr. Mohammad
Seabeck, Alison
Sharma, Mr. Virendra
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Singh, Mr. Marsha
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, rh Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, Geraldine
Smith, rh Jacqui
Snelgrove, Anne
Soulsby, Sir Peter
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Strang, rh Dr. Gavin
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Ms Dari
Thomas, Mr. Gareth
Thornberry, Emily
Timms, rh Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Touhig, rh Mr. Don
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Twigg, Derek
Ussher, Kitty
Vaz, rh Keith
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Ward, Claire
Watson, Mr. Tom
Watts, Mr. Dave
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, rh Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Wills, rh Mr. Michael
Wilson, Phil
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, rh Ms Rosie
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wyatt, Derek
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Bob Blizzard and
Mrs. Sharon Hodgson
Question accordingly negatived.
16 Mar 2010 : Column 788

16 Mar 2010 : Column 789

16 Mar 2010 : Column 790

16 Mar 2010 : Column 791

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 31(2), That the proposed words be there added.

Question agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to (Standing Order No. 31(2)).


16 Mar 2010 : Column 792

Higher Education

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I advise the House that Mr. Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

7.15 pm

Mr. David Willetts (Havant) (Con): I beg to move,

The amendment is significant because it is an entirely tendentious historical account of the past few years. It gives the Government gloss on what has happened, but mentions nothing about the crisis of equivalent or lower qualifications-ELQs-which has affected many people who are trying to return to study further. It also ignores the current crisis in the funding of universities and the issue on which we wish to focus, which is the sheer difficulty that prospective students face in finding a place this year-

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op) rose-

Mr. Willetts: I am just getting into my stride, but I will give way to the Chairman of the Select Committee.

Mr. Sheerman: The hon. Gentleman mentions being tendentious. Does he agree that the history of higher education over the past few years is important? Was it not tendentious of the Opposition's motion to fail to mention the fact that when we really needed their support on top-up fees they did not have the bottle to vote for what they knew was right?

Mr. Willetts: We were concerned about the effect of fees on participation, although so far it looks as though fees have not had the effect on participation that was feared. We are being consistent, because we want to focus on the effect on participation of the current pressures that universities face. Above all, and rightly, our motion focuses on the future. We are looking at how we can spread opportunities for young people to go to college, get apprenticeships or go to university. After all, Ministers and the Chairman of the Committee were elected on a manifesto in 2005 entitled "Britain forward not back". But the amendment is entirely backward looking and contains nothing about the future. By contrast, our motion is forward looking. It looks at how we can spread opportunities and educational access to people across the country.

The background to this debate is the Government's target of 50 per cent. of people going into higher education. The target was first set by Tony Blair in 1999, and the 2004 public service agreement expressed the aim of increasing participation to 50 per cent.-it
16 Mar 2010 : Column 793
was already sliding backwards. The target then became an aspiration, and eventually, as we see from the amendment, the aspiration subtly changed. It is no longer an aspiration for the Government; instead the amendment talks of the aspiration of more than 50 per cent. of young people to go to university. The Government have changed the definition of the aspiration yet again.

We on the Conservative Benches do not believe in top-down targets for how many people should go to university. We do not believe that to be the right approach. Rather, the number of people going to university should emerge from the decisions that well informed young people make about the different opportunities available to them and about how best they can take advantage of them. To us, that seems much more consistent with trusting young people than the Government's approach.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): My hon. Friend is making an extremely good start. In the light of the recession and the vital importance of ensuring that young people, and in particular those between 18 and 20, have the maximum opportunity to get work, does he agree that one of the most important things is for them to be given access to further education, and in particular education of a practical kind, if they are not necessarily attuned to the academic world? In other words, we want to help those young people to get into work.

Mr. Willetts: I completely agree with my hon. Friend. Our approach is a properly balanced one, whereby those young people who would benefit most from going to university should have that opportunity. However, what many young people could benefit most from is work-based learning, notably apprenticeships. That is why we have proposed refocusing the Train to Gain budget on more apprenticeships, so that more young people have the opportunity for practical learning. We particularly salute the efforts of further education colleges, which are often an effective route into work, with practical experience linked in.

Mr. Mark Lancaster (North-East Milton Keynes) (Con): May I commend the work of the Open university? Does my hon. Friend accept that more and more young people are looking to study part time, so that they can go into higher education while continuing their work? Does it not seem odd that nearly two thirds of part-time students are unable to get any form of Government support?

Mr. Willetts: Yes, and one of the things that we very much hope will emerge from Lord Browne's inquiry into the funding of higher education is a fairer deal for part-time students. This relates to the previous intervention, but one of the ways forward is for people to combine working and part-time study at university.

Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): May I congratulate my hon. Friend on including in the motion a mention of higher and further education colleges? If we examine the Government's amendment, we see that it does not mention further education colleges, which is a serious omission, but perhaps one indicative of the way that this Government have treated further education generally, and not least Wiltshire college in my constituency.

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