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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 January, 2004, 21:37 GMT
Scots MPs attacked over fees vote
The vote is announced
The government won by five votes
A political row has broken out over the role of Scottish Labour MPs whose votes proved crucial as the government won the vote on university top-up fees.

The Higher Education Bill was backed by 316 votes to 311 at Westminster.

Some 46 Scottish Labour MPs voted with the government, even though the plans will not apply north of the border. Five voted against and three abstained.

Shadow education secretary Tim Yeo said the bill had only been carried on the votes of Scottish Labour MPs.

Mr Yeo branded the result an "utter humiliation" for the government.

The Tories' sole Scottish MP, Peter Duncan, abstained on Tuesday's vote.

Top-up fees only went through because of Tony's Tartan lobby fodder of Scots Labour MPs and an incompetent Tory opposition
Alex Salmond
Scottish National Party MP
Mr Duncan said: "This is a dark day for British democracy, and the actions of Scottish MPs are reprehensible.

"The constitutionally cavalier actions of Scottish MPs undermine the devolution settlement and play into the hands of the separatists on both sides of the border.

"Those Scottish MPs who walked through the lobbies today should hang their heads in shame."

In a point of order after the vote, Mr Yeo said: "It is completely wrong that a bill which imposes higher charges on students attending the English universities should only be carried by this house using the votes of Scottish MPs when the students attending universities in the constituencies of those Scottish MPs do not have to pay those higher charges."

However, Scottish National Party MP Alex Salmond argued that Mr Duncan had "sat on his hands" and done nothing while Scottish interests were "put to the sword" by Scottish Labour MPs.

Scottish electorate

"Top-up fees only went through because of Tony's Tartan lobby fodder of Scots Labour MPs and an incompetent Tory opposition," he said.

"The needs of Scottish higher education required top-up fees to be voted down and Scottish Labour and Tory have sold Scotland out.

"For that, they will now face the wrath of the Scottish electorate."

However, a spokesman for the Labour Party in Scotland said: "All who stand as MPs are elected to be full-time members of parliament and to vote on the issues that come before parliament."

Many students oppose top-up fees

Speaking before the debate, Glasgow Pollok Labour MP Ian Davidson said the proposals represented "the thin end of the wedge of co-payment.

"This could be introduced in the future in the health service and a whole number of other areas, breaking down of the principle of free public services."

He voted against the government, along with fellow Scottish Labour MPs Michael Connarty, Tam Dalyell, Iain Luke and Dr Gavin Strang.

The three who abstained were Robin Cook, Malcolm Savidge and Jimmy Wray, who was absent through illness.

Frank Doran, the member for Aberdeen Central, supported the prime minister despite initially signing up to the opposing motion.

He told BBC Radio Scotland: "My fundamental objections were about the variable fees and the effect on Scottish universities, but I think the effect of the variable fees has been mitigated in a huge way by the various concessions the government has made.

"On the Scottish side, the discussions I've had with Scottish universities and others has convinced me that the executive will protect the universities so I'll be voting with the government."

The executive is committed to ensuring our excellent universities maintain a competitive edge
Scottish Executive spokeswoman

The five SNP MPs and 10 Scottish Liberal Democrat MPs voted against the bill, as did former Labour MP George Galloway.

Some experts have warned that the policy could be damaging to universities north of the border.

The Scottish Executive has ruled out the introduction of top-up fees.

A spokeswoman said it would carefully consider the findings of a review on higher education.

"It is important we make a measured and informed response, not a knee-jerk reaction, and that the proper process is allowed to run its course," she said.

"The executive is committed to ensuring our excellent universities maintain a competitive edge."

First Minister Jack McConnell told BBC News 24 that there would be additional money for Scottish universities.

He promised to invest "substantial" sums in Scottish higher education.

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