The UK government has suffered a House of Commons defeat over its policy of increasing tuition fees in line with inflation, but it insists that the vote is not binding.
MPs backed a Labour motion that called for this autumn’s increase to £9,250 to be rescinded, after the Democratic Unionist Party – whose support the Conservatives rely on to govern – indicated that it would side with the opposition.
Before the debate, ministers had insisted that the latest increase in fees would be unaffected by a defeat because the 40-day period to challenge the secondary legislation that introduced the rise had expired. But Labour said that the calling of June’s general election had left it with no opportunity to challenge the vote in the Commons and claimed that the government was showing “blatant disregard for democracy”.
The defeat comes amid growing concern about levels of student debt among graduates of English universities.
Angela Rayner, the shadow education secretary, said that the fee increase should now be scrapped.
“The Tories brought in this fee hike through a statutory instrument, not a vote in the Commons, so today is the first time [the issue of] £9,250 tuition fees has been brought to Parliament, where it was unanimously rejected,” Ms Rayner said after the debate.
“The government had no mandate to increase fees to begin with, and if they do not now reverse the fee hike they will be defying the will of Parliament in blatant disregard for our democracy.”