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Monday, June 8, 1998 Published at 05:02 GMT 06:02 UK

UK Politics

Labour MPs revolt over tuition fees

Students: Public backing of small group of Labour MPs

Labour MPs are preparing to stage their biggest rebellion yet against the government in protest against plans to introduce tuition fees for students.

The BBC's Carole Walker: "Party whips are keeping up the pressure"
But while the MPs are voicing their concern on the floor of the House of Commons, Education Secretary David Blunkett is guaranteed enough support to bring in an annual £1,000 fee for students and finally abolish the grant.

In what has so far proved to be one of the most divisive issues for the party since it came to power, MPs have put down amendments calling for the retention of maintenance grants, set to be phased out in 1999.

And campaigners are handing in a petition at Downing Street, signed by prominent Labour- supporting pop stars including Paul Weller and Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers.

[ image: Paul Weller: Signed petition]
Paul Weller: Signed petition
Some 35 Labour backbenchers have put their names to the amendments despite Mr Blunkett's pledge to introduce a £100m package of measures to improve access to higher education.

Llew Smith, one of the MPs behind the rebellion, conceded the rebels could not stop the legislation.

But he added: "In my own constituency I've had people stopping me in the street, and phone call after phone call from people shocked that a Labour government should be doing this."

Government supporters are predicting that few MPs will actually vote against the government in Monday's debate.

But Mr Smith added: "It's a sad day when it comes to this under New Labour.

"I would never have thought I would have seen a Labour government bringing an end to free higher education."

Other opponents of the legislation include leading left-wingers Tony Benn and Ken Livingstone.

Change 'unavoidable'

[ image: Blunkett: Pledged £100m package]
Blunkett: Pledged £100m package
Critics of the annual fees say that since the government announced the move there has been a drop in the number of mature students applying for university courses.

But Mr Blunkett is countering that charge with figures showing the predicted fall-off in overall applications has failed to take place.

Ministers say that they have had no choice but to introduce charges for students because of the rapid growth during the 1990s in the numbers of those studying.

[ image: The NUS says poorer students will end up in more debt]
The NUS says poorer students will end up in more debt
Mr Blunkettt says that the new system is designed to protect the least well-off students and replace the often criticised current student loans scheme.

But the National Union of Students has attacked the new system.

They say it will leave the average student only £8 a year better off, forcing many to borrow from banks or work during their studies.

Campaigners attack Labour

Labour's introduction of tuition fees has become one of the main issues to galvanise internal party opposition.

It comes after the party suffered a bitter and public row last year over cuts to single parent benefits.

Although free higher education does not figure highly in many voters' concerns, it is a subject at the heart of the party's heritage.

Many party supporters have accused the New Labour leadership of selling out the party's ideals by failing to ensure open and free education for the least well-off.

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04 Mar 98†|†UK
Students walk out in fee protest

17 Dec 97†|†UK
Student university applications drop

01 Nov 97†|†UK
Students protest against fees

Internet Links

The Teaching and Higher Education Bill

NUS : Stop fees now campaign

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