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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 January, 2004, 16:29 GMT
Rebel Brown explains his switch
Nick Brown MP in the Commons
Nick Brown says he is concerned for the welfare of young people
Chief Labour rebel Nick Brown has been telling the Commons why he made a last-minute switch to back the government over its controversial top-up fees.

Mr Brown named a promised review of the effect of the fees with possible monies set aside in the spending review, as the prompts for his change of heart.

But the ex-Cabinet minister made clear his "four-fold" objections to the bill still stood.

Mr Brown insisted his views had not been influenced by the chancellor.

He told MPs that it was the government's offer of an interim report on the impact of the fees, coupled with monies being made available in the spending review - to be used for any of the report's recommendations - which swayed him.

"At last we would have the chance to make the case again," he said.

Worries

But there appeared to be some confusion over the nature of the offer and the scope of the report on the impact of the fees.

The prime minister's official spokesman said there were no changes to the principle of the controversial Higher Education Bill, with no new cash on offer either.

"Reports of concessions in the last 24 hours are wrong," he said.

Mr Brown told the Commons the government had "gone a long way" to meeting some of his concerns.

But he made clear that he still had worries and objections about the bill, which would allow universities to charge students 3,000-a-year, payable when they earn 15,000.

While the government had pledged to do a lot for students from the lowest income backgrounds, he said he was concerned about "the next poorest".

"I am worried about the amount of debt youngsters will be encumbered with in their young 20s," he said.

He said the bill would not meet the universities' funding gap and he poured scorn on the idea of introducing a "market mechanism" into the higher education system as a solution to this problem.

Joking

The MP appeared in jovial mood in the Commons, even finding time to joke that his colleagues on the backbench - many of whom are opposed to the bill - might well be among those on the review body to study the impact of the fees.

He also added that it would be "perfectly reasonable" to consider the Conservative's ideas on how to fill the funding gap.

Mr Brown argued that the government should have used the party's policy forum procedure to test its top-up fees proposals.

"Then we could have rallied the proposals once we had agreed them," he said to "hear, hears" from colleagues.

He favoured a "graduate contribution based on earnings" he said.

"In other words the earnings of the youngster once they have been advantaged by the higher education - rather than looking back at the financial position of the youngsters' mums and dads."




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