Newcastle MP flays Lib Dem leaders over tuition fee ‘betrayal’

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12 Oct 2010
Newcastle’s Labour MP Paul Farrelly strongly attacked the leadership of the Liberal Democrat party over their abandonment of manifesto promises on university tuition fees.

Paul’s comments, in the House of Commons, came as Lib Dem universities minister Vince Cable unveiled the end of a cap on fees, recommending a £7,000 a year charge, which – after living costs – would leave students with over £30,000 of debts after graduation.

The somersault came despite Lib Dem promises in the last three general elections to abolish fees entirely. All 57 Lib Dem MPs also signed a pledge this year to oppose any rise in tuition fees after May’s election.

Justifying the about-turn, Mr Cable - flanked on the front bench by Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg – dismissed the pledge as one of many pre-election manoeuvres.
‘The roads to Westminster are paved with skid marks,’ he told an astonished House of Commons.

In the week before the election, Mr Clegg said in a Lib Dem press release:‘If fees rise to £7,000 a year….within five years some students will be leaving university up to £44,000 in debt. That would be a disaster.’

‘The only thing that has changed between then and now is that Lib Dems, to the surprise of many in their ranks, find themselves in government,’ Newcastle’s MP said today. ‘And in their first big test, they have let down huge numbers of people who voted for them over their long-standing opposition, on the face of it, to university fees.’

Paul was the first of his family ever to go to university and, from 2003, led backbench opposition to a free market in higher education, as in the United States.

As a result, fees were capped at £3,000 when the system changed in 2006, grants and bursaries were re-introduced and any rise had to be agreed by a vote in parliament, giving electors a strong democratic lever over MPs.

‘Several years ago I was strongly opposed to variable tuition fees and a market in higher education. And so were the Liberal Democrats,’ he told Mr Cable during today’s debate.

‘Following the Browne report today, I looked at the Lib Dem website. It contains a six point timetable ending in the scrapping of tuition fees. It is in the section: ‘What we stand for’.’

‘The Coalition Agreement already allows Lib Dems to abstain on the issue. They have negotiated an ‘opt out’ from what they stand for.’

‘Can I ask the Secretary of State this, therefore. Over variable tuition fees, today he has nailed his colours to the mast. But for other Lib Dem ministers, is it to be their manifesto and a principled ‘orange line in the sand’? Or is it to be betrayal of their voters and a miserable white flag of surrender?’

Pictured above: Paul, with former NUS President Wes Streeting, signing the pledge earlier this year to oppose increases in tuition fees.