Tories stand by pledge to abolish tuition fees

November 14, 2003

The new Conservative leadership remains committed to abolishing tuition fees, although it is looking again at how the policy would work, it was confirmed this week.

Tim Yeo was appointed shadow secretary of state for health and education this week, with Tim Collins as his deputy with responsibility for education. The change in Tory leadership had led some to question whether the party would rethink its pledge to abolish tuition fees.

Asked on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Tuesday whether the policy to abolish tuition fees might be dropped, Mr Yeo said: "We have a couple of years to go before the next election. I want to sit down with my team and decide what our policies are. I think it would be rather insulting to students and their parents if I loosed off on this programme, after less than 24 hours in the job, with some sort of policy statement."

He said he would reflect on the issues and would be in a more-informed position in a month.

But on Wednesday, the new shadow chancellor, Oliver Letwin, said: "We have no intention of undoing any of the major policies that were approved by the policy board of the party on which both Michael Howard and I sit. We have a radical programme and intend to carry it into action to give this country better public services."

A party spokeswoman told The THES : "We will take the policy (to abolish tuition fees) forward and we will have more details over the next few months on how we would implement it."

The Higher Education Policy Institute found that the Tory policy would freeze the amount of money going into higher education while cutting student places by 450,000.

Mr Yeo is seen as one of the key modernisers in the shadow cabinet. He was made shadow trade and industry secretary by former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith after being strongly critical of the government's handling of the foot-and-mouth epidemic as shadow agriculture minister.

When the Conservatives were in power, Mr Yeo was parliamentary aide to the foreign secretary, who was then Douglas Hurd, before serving as a junior minister in the departments of health and the environment. He resigned in 1994 when he was revealed to have fathered a Tory councillor's child and he narrowly avoided deselection by his local party.

Mr Collins, who appealed for loyalty to Mr Duncan Smith, was press secretary for former prime minister John Major.

Before his election to parliament in 1997, he was a member of the policy unit at 10 Downing Street and wrote speeches for Margaret Thatcher, Mr Major, William Hague and Mr Howard.

Responsibility for higher education had yet to be allocated as The THES went to press. The appointment will come from one of a team of shadow health and education ministers announced this week: John Baron, Simon Burns, Chris Grayling, Mark Hoban, Tim Loughton, Andrew Murrison, Mark Simmonds, Baroness Blatch, Earl Howe, Lord McColl, Baroness Seccombe and Lord Skelmersdale.

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