A LITTLE FEES HISTORY
7 December 2010
Labour’s 2001 election manifesto said: “We will not introduce top-up fees and have legislated to prevent them”. Top-up fees meant the increasing of university tuition fees payable by students.
Despite its manifesto promise, Labour introduced increased tuition fees as part of its Higher education bill (Commons second reading 27 January 2004, third reading 31 March 2004). The then current £1000 a year tuition fees payable upfront became up to £3000 a year, available on loan and payable after graduation. The second reading was won by Labour by 316 -311 votes with around seventy Labour MPs voting against the government. Forty six Labour MPs for Scottish constituencies voted to increase fees.
Higher education was a devolved matter in Scotland and after second reading Tim Yeo (Conservative) asked whether it was not “completely wrong that a bill that imposes higher charges on students attending English universities should be carried by this House only by using the votes of Scottish members of parliament, given that the constituents of those Scottish members do not have to pay these higher charges” (Hansard 27 January 2004 column 275).
At both second and third readings Candy Atherton, Labour MP for Camborne and Falmouth, voted for the bill; the four Cornwall Liberal Democrat MPs (Colin Breed, Andrew George, Matthew Taylor, Paul Tyler) voted against.
Andrew George is the only Cornwall MP who was in the House of Commons in 2004 and there now.
The 2010 election manifesto of the Liberal Democrats said: “We will scrap university tuition fees for all students taking their first degree” and “We have a financially responsible plan to phase fees out over six years so that the change is affordable, even in these difficult economic times, and without cutting university incomes” (page 39 of the manifesto).
Before the general election current Libdem MPs individually signed a pledge that said: “I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament…” All the three Cornwall Libdem MPs (Andrew George, Stephen Gilbert, and Dan Rogerson) signed this pledge.
Both the Labour (3.7) and Conservative (page 17) 2010 election manifestos said the party was awaiting the John Browne report on the fees and university funding. Neither spelt out whether the party would or would not raise fees though Browne was widely expected to recommend an increase. According to this list ninety Labour parliamentary candidates and three Conservatives also signed the no-rise pledge.
In the 2010 vote England MPs voted 311-209 in favour of the increases in fees, with eight abstentions/absences and including tellers [this sentence added 17 December 2010].