Newcastle MP pledges to oppose lifting cap on tuition fees

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11 Nov 2009

Newcastle-under-Lyme’s MP Paul Farrelly has renewed his pledge to oppose any increase in university tuition fees - and called on students and their families to demand to know if any candidate at the next general election would be prepared break their ‘party whip’ over the issue on a future vote in Parliament.

The call came at a packed rally in parliament organised by students from around the country, after the government this week announced the start of its much-anticipated review of the system of university and student finance.

Paul has already been working closely with students at Keele, and the National Union of Students at Westminster, to oppose any lifting of fees.

A petition at Keele to ‘Keep the Cap’ has collected hundreds of signatures and Paul also sponsored an Early Day Motion (EDM) in parliament supporting the NUS policy of replacing fees with a more progressive ‘graduate tax’.

Many Vice Chancellors at leading universities, however, are already pushing for fees to rise to £5,000 to £7,000, or to lift the cap altogether and let them charge what the so-called ‘market’ will bear, as in the US.

“I was the first of my family ever to go to university and I’m really concerned that fear of debt still puts students from less well-off backgrounds from going,” says Paul.

“That should never happen. This review will take a year, but there’ll clearly be a general election in the meantime, most likely next May.”

“The reality is that after the election, there will be lots of young, ambitious new MPs jostling to climb the greasy pole. What students and their families, therefore, should demand of any parliamentary candidate is: will you oppose a rise in fees and would you break your party’s ‘whip’ in a vote, if it supported higher charges for students?”.

“People should get it in writing and start getting it now. I’ve already made my position clear, as I did in the vote a few years ago, It’s an unequivocal ‘yes’.”

Paul helped lead Labour’s backbench opposition to variable tuition fees before the 2005 election. The Bill was only passed by five votes, but as a result fees were capped at £3,000 (adjusted for inflation), student grants were improved and university bursaries made obligatory to help students who are less well-off.

The concessions also included a vote in the House of Commons itself by law before the cap on fees could be lifted, giving voters and their MPs a real power to influence what happens in the future.

To view the EDM in parliament, and MPs who have signed, click here

Picture top left: Paul in Parliament with West Streeting, current President of the National Union of Students