Changes to bill given one-month deadline

February 13, 2004

Any amendments to the higher education bill will have to pass through the Commons standing committee within a month, it emerged this week, writes Alison Goddard.

The Liberal Democrats have tabled amendments that would undo the variable element of tuition fees, and the Conservatives aim to prevent the creation of the Office for Fair Access.

The committee will meet 12 times over six days before March 4, when it is due to conclude its business. The bill will then pass to the report stage and third reading before going to the House of Lords. Ministers are determined that this should take place before the summer recess, in July.

The Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives and the National Union of Students have criticised the composition of the committee because it includes only one Labour MP who voted against the second reading of the bill, George Mudie.

The committee is chaired jointly by Roger Gale, Conservative MP for North Thanet, and Jimmy Hood, Labour MP for Clydesdale.

Of the 25 members of the committee, 16 MPs are from the Labour Party, including Alan Johnson, higher education minister, and Ivan Lewis, minister for young people and adult skills.

The other Labour members are: Graham Allen, MP for Nottingham North, who opposed variable fees at the outset but switched to backing them before Christmas; David Chaytor, Bury North, and Jonathan Shaw, Chatham and Aylesford, both members of the Commons select committee on education; George Mudie, Leeds East; Anne Campbell, Cambridge, who abstained; and backbenchers Mike Foster, Worcester; Hywel Francis, Aberavon; Patrick Hall, Bedford; Bob Laxton, Derby North; Kali Mountford, Colne Valley; James Plaskett, Warwick and Leamington; Don Touhig, Islwyn; and Derek Twigg, Halton.

The Conservatives are: Tim Collins, shadow education secretary; Chris Grayling, shadow higher education minister; Tim Boswell, a former shadow higher education minister; Eleanor Laing, former spokeswoman for education and skills; and backbenchers James Clappison, Hertsmere, and Mark Francois, Rayleigh.

The Liberal Democrats have two MPs on the committee: Phil Willis, education spokesman; and David Rendel, the party's higher education spokesman. The final member is Simon Thomas, Plaid Cymru MP for Ceredigion.

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