Harriet Harman warns Clegg he'll regret tuition fees U-turn

Posted by Dailymail on 2010-11-10 07:16:05 | Views: 531 |

Harriet Harman warns Clegg he'll regret tuition fees U-turn

By Nicola Boden
Last updated at 1:16 PM on 10th November 2010

  • Clegg mocked for backing fees' hike up to £9,000
  • He tries to defend 'extraordinarily difficult' decision
  • Cameron: Hike will mean foreign students pay less
  • Thousands protest in Westminster over shake-up

Harriet Harman savaged Nick Clegg over his party's U-turn on tuition fees today as thousands of students protested in Westminster.

The deputy Labour leader likened Mr Clegg to a student who had met a 'dodgy bloke' in Freshers' Week and done something he will regret.

At PMQs, where the deputy Prime Ministesr was standing in for Mr Cameron who is in China, she claimed he had been 'led astray' by the Tories.

Mr Clegg accused Labour of offering no alternative, insisted the plans were still progressive and that they were unavoidable because of the state of public finances.

Their clash in the Commons came as thousands of angry students protested outside against the measures, which will see fees treble from £3,290-a-year to up to £9,000.

Row: Nick Clegg and Harriet Harman at loggerheads in PMQs today


Stand-in: Nick Clegg appeared in place of David Cameron, who is in China

Organised by the National Union of Students and the University and College Union, the demonstration marched through central London before a rally in Westminster. 

Meanwhile, David Cameron, on his visit to China, told students there the changes in the UK would mean fees for foreign students won't rise so quickly. 

'Foreign students will still pay a significant amount of money but we should be able to keep that growth under control,' he said at Beijing University.

He told students that charges for foreign students had to date been hiked as a way of 'keeping them down on our domestic students'.

Miss Harman taunted Mr Clegg from the very start, reminding MPs of the Lib Dem pledge to scrap tuition fees and asking him to tell the House how this was progressing.

The Deputy PM was forced to admit it was 'an extraordinarily difficult issue' and hinted for the first time that Tory pressure might have also played a part in the shift.

'I have been entirely open about the fact that we have not been able to deliver the policy that we held in Opposition,' he said.

'Because of the financial situation, because of the compromises of the coalition government we have had to put forward a different policy.'

Students demonstrating against tuition fees in Westminster

Anger: Students demonstrating against tuition fees in Westminster today

He insisted that the Lib Dems had stuck to their 'wider ambition' of making sure going to university was handled in a 'progressive' way and did not deter poorer students.

Miss Harman was scathing about his claim that public finances were to blame, pointing out that the changes only start in 2012/13 whereas the deficit should be addressed by 2014.

Enlarge   A student wearing a costume made from bank notes near Parliament

A student wearing a costume made from bank notes near Parliament

'This is about him going along with a Tory plan to shove the cost of He onto students and their families,' she said.

'We all know what it's like, you're at Freshers Week, you meet up with a dodgy bloke and do things you regret. Isn't it true he's been led astray by the Tories?'

Mr Clegg reminded that Labour had also attacked tuition fees but introduced them when they came to power and how the previous government had initiated the Browne Review.

'I know she thinks she can re-position the Labour Party as the champion of students but let's remember the Labour Party's record,' he said.

Miss Harman accused the coalition of hiking up fees while they are 'pulling the plug on funding and dumping the cost on students'.

She pressed Mr Clegg again: 'During the election he was the one who hawked himself around university campuses pledging to vote against tuition fees.

'By the time it came to Freshers' Week, he had broken his promise. Every single Lib Dem MP signed the pledge to scrap tuition fees. He must honour that promise. Will he think again?'

Mr Clegg said: 'The truth is before the election we didn't know the unholy mess that was going to be left to us by  her party.

'On this issue as on so many issues the two parties on this side of the house have come together to create a solution for the future.'

The changes, unveiled last month, will see undergraduates saddled with debts of up to £43,500 as they begin their working lives in the biggest shake-up of higher education for half a century.

Middle-class graduates will bear the brunt of the pain, with those on £45,000 repaying nearly as much as those earning more than £80,000 since the better off will repay their loans more quickly.

Ministers insist that everyone will see their monthly payments fall because they have raised the threshold at which graduates start to pay back their loans from £15,000 to £21,000.

The Department for Business said a graduate on £30,000 would repay £15.58 a week but average debts for a new graduate will soar from £21,000 to £30,000.

Only a minority of graduates will ever clear their debts. Most will be repaying well into their 50s and will see outstanding debt written off after 30 years.

In the run-up to the election every Lib Dem MP signed a pledge to vote against any increase in tuition fees. The party’s manifesto also promised to scrap tuition fees.

But Business Secretary Vince Cable announced last month that he was backing Lord Browne’s review of student funding, which will saddle the average student with debts of more than £30,000.

The move sparked uproar in Lib Dem ranks, with former leader Sir Menzies Campbell among those who are set to rebel and vote against the measures in the Commons.

Lib Dem local government spokesman Lord Greaves warned the party will be sees as 'cheats, hypocrites and liars' for breaking their pledge and accused Mr Clegg and Mr Cable of 'shoddy, unprincipled behaviour'.

The coalition agreement allows Lib Dem MPs to abstain on the vote on tuition fees if they find the policy unacceptable. But several MPs are expected to go further and vote against.

Lib Dem deputy leader Simon Hughes has hinted the party's backbench MPs could be given an unofficial licence to rebel and stressed their official policy is still to scrap fees.


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