MPs have rejected Labour calls for the publication of a higher education White Paper before the parliamentary vote on tuition fees, as the opposition accused the coalition government of wanting the House of Commons to “rush to judgement on introducing the highest fees of any public university system in the industrialised world”.
A Labour motion urging David Willetts, the universities and science minister, to bring forward the publication of the White Paper was defeated by 307 votes to 244 yesterday.
High-profile Liberal Democrats such as Vince Cable, the business secretary, and Simon Hughes, the party’s deputy leader, voted against the motion, while some Lib Dem MPs representing constituencies with large student populations chose not to take part.
John Denham, the Labour shadow business secretary, criticised the government’s approach and highlighted Mr Cable’s indication that he may not vote for the rise in fees – despite the fact he is steering the policy.
“It is humiliating for the secretary of state, but it takes the arrogance and cynicism of this government to new depths,” Mr Denham said.
“Millions of parents and millions of future students are desperately worried about the cost of degrees, but all [Mr Cable] is concerned about is saving face for the Lib Dems.”
Mr Denham also highlighted studies questioning whether the new policy on fees and student support will actually save money as the coalition claims.
He accused the government of pursuing a “bastardised, compromised, ‘coalitionised’ parody” of the Browne Review.
Mr Cable said delaying the issue by waiting for a White Paper was not the right option.
“If the cap is going to be introduced for the academic year 2012-13, it has to be introduced quickly,” he said.
Mr Cable added that the only alternative to cutting university funding would be to raid the further education budget.