MPs threaten to revolt over top-up fees

November 15, 2002

Labour backbenchers are threatening a revolt over top-up fees amid fears that higher tuition charges will deter young people from poor families, writes Alan Thomson.

More than 90 Labour MPs have signed a Commons' motion to get the subject debated, and many of them say that they would consider voting against government legislation to introduce top-up fees. It would take 83 Labour MPs to defeat the government on top-up fees, if all opposition MPs also voted against the legislation.

The government would almost certainly need to legislate to allow universities to charge higher fees. The publication of the higher education strategy document in January should make clear its intentions.

Top-up fees are ruled out this parliament, but if the government wanted to allow them in the next, any legislation would have to start its journey to the statute books in this parliament.

Ian Gibson, MP for Norwich North and chairman of the Commons' science and technology select committee, put down the early day motion. He said: "I have been opposed to top-up fees for years. I will fight them in the common rooms, in the colloquia and definitely in the Commons.

"The motion has so far attracted 138 signatories, including 37 Liberal Democrats, who oppose fees as policy, and one Tory. It would need to attract hundreds more votes to stand a chance of being debated.

Signatory Lynne Jones, Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak and a former academic at Birmingham University, said: "I think there is deep disquiet in the party over top-up fees. The government has walked into a minefield.

"Jeff Ennis, MP for Barnsley East and Mexborough and a member of the Commons' education and skills select committee, said: "My main concern is to get more people from poorer backgrounds into higher education and I think top-up fees would send out the wrong message to them.

"Karen Buck, Regent's Park and Kensington North, said: "I went to the London School of Economics and I have not the slightest doubt that I would not have gone to such a prestigious institution without a grant and the fact that higher education was free."

Huw Edwards, MP for Monmouth, said: "I am prepared to wait for the higher education review before making my mind up. But I would certainly consider voting against any top-up fee legislation."

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