Speaking in the House of Commnons today, "I will vote against tuition fees simply because I believe that an increase in the cap will discourage some young people from going to university in the future."
"I stick by the old-fashioned view that a university education benefits the country and the economy as well as the individual, and graduates who are successful and earn more money, pay more tax, and repay the cost of their university education that way."
Full speech below:
Thank you Mr Speaker. I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate this afternoon, although I wish that the Government had been persuaded not to press ahead with the plans and that it wasn’t necessary.
I don’t intend to speak for very long because I made it very clear in the Opposition debate last week where I stood on the issue of increasing tuition fees.
I will be opposing the proposed increase and I have put my name to the amendment in the name of my Honourable Friend the Member for Leeds North West.
I take no pleasure from voting against the plans put forward by my Right Honourable Friend, the Business Secretary and in fact I welcome some of the proposals being put forward following the Browne Review. Increasing the threshold to £21000 before graduates pay back any tuition fees is a big improvement on the current £15000 threshold. Treating part-time students the same as full-time students is also significantly fairer than the current up-front tuition fees that part-time students have to pay. And providing additional support to students from poorer backgrounds is also a step in the right direction, and the Institute for Fiscal Studies has confirmed that the proposals are more progressive than the current REGRESSIVE tuition fees system.
But I will vote against tuition fees simply because I believe that an increase in the cap will discourage some young people from going to university in the future. Under these proposals, the least well-off quarter of graduates will be better off than under Labour's current system, but the flaw in my right hon. Friend's proposal is that no one goes to university thinking that they will be among the least well-paid 25% of graduates, so it will put some off. Their assumption will always be that they will have to pay off the whole of their student debt, even though for some this will never be the case.
I have put my name to the amendment in the name of my Honourable Friend the Member for Leeds North West, but I also strongly support the amendment in the name of my Honourable Friend the Member for Cambridge. Along with the vast majority of graduates in the House I benefitted from a free university education and I left university with a smaller level of debt, so I’m not about to vote to leave future graduates with tens of thousands of pounds of debt. I stick by the old-fashioned view that a university education benefits the country and the economy as well as the individual, and graduates who are successful and earn more money, pay more tax, and repay the cost of their university education that way.
I’m disappointed that the amendment hasn’t been selected, in some ways I would like to have seen this amendment selected so that we could be clear which members of the House actually support the principle of a free education, so that the members opposite could have the chance to show that their support for the existing unfair regressive fees system.
But we’re not going to get that opportunity, and all we’re getting from the party opposite is pathetic political opportunism. The House witnessed this last night during the debate on the length of today’s debate.
The Leader of the Opposition has suggested that he supports a graduate tax, but isn’t prepared to tell us how much it would cost and how many graduates would be worse off under his proposals. This week we’re told that the Shadow Chancellor has had a Damascus Road style conversion to the concept of a graduate tax. Either that, or more likely he has had a North Korean style conversion to the merits of the Graduate Tax. Of course both the Leader of the Opposition and the Shadow Chancellor were Cabinet Members in the last Parliament that instigated the Browne Review and delayed it until after the election because they planned to raise tuition fees. Perhaps we’ll now see the delay in their policy announcement until after the next General Election. Nobody should be duped into believing that Labour would not be proposing increasing tuition fees if they were still in government, and while I welcome their apparent conversion to opposing a rise in tuition fees, the House should be under no illusion that they would not be proposing the same if they were still in Government.