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Monday, June 8, 1998 Published at 12:03 GMT 13:03 UK

UK Politics: News

Blair faces rebellion over student fees

Students will be facing £1000-a-year fees

By BBC News online's Nick Assinder.

Labour rebels are predicting a "significant" revolt over Tony Blair's plans to charge students a £1,000-a-year tuition fee.

The policy has caused dismay amongst many backbenchers and veteran left-winger Tony Benn and Blaenau Gwent MP Llew Smith have already announced they will vote against the government.

BBC Today's Laura Trevelyan reports on the expected rebellion of Labour MPs
The issue will come to a head this evening when the Commons debates the Teaching and Higher Education Bill which will abolish student grants and replace them with loans.

The rebels want to stage as big a protest as the revolt over cuts to single parents' benefits which shocked the government earlier this year.

They claim it was not an election manifesto commitment and is not one of Tony Blair's early pledges.

[ image: Tony Benn is leading the revolt]
Tony Benn is leading the revolt
Immense pressure

Labour insiders immediately tried to play down the size of the revolt, claiming it would only amount to between 10 and 15 MPs.

But Mr Benn warned that anyone signaling they would be ready to defy the government would face immense pressure to fall in line.

"Those of us who vote for free education and a free health service - introduced by Labour when the country was bankrupt after the war - will, no doubt, be denounced as troublemakers, reported to our constituencies and told the whip may be withdrawn.

"Party loyalty now requires us to forget the past and do what we are told," he said.

Writing in the New Statesman magazine, he said: "Some of us will be voting against this legislation because we believe that taxation should be based on wealth and not educational qualifications.

"How long will it be before we have loans for schools, or operations on the NHS, so that we may modernise the welfare state, allow Britain to keep its nuclear weapons and fit the Maastricht criteria?"

Substantial revolt

Mr Smith, who met with other potential rebels last week, said they were likely to use the debate to vent their anger at the tuition fee proposal.

Declaring the rebellion would be "substantial", he said: "Free higher education is an integral part of our philosophy as socialists, just as much as a free National Health Service is part of our socialism.

"We should cling to our principles, which are as relevant today as they ever were. Both me and a lot of my colleagues refuse to be part of a process which will destroy the principle of free education.

"We do not see our task as Labour MPs to attack the living standards of families in the poorest communities and depriving bright kids of the chance to use their talents."

But Labour insiders insisted the vast majority of back benchers would support the government's line.

And they insist the children of the poorest families would not be expected to pay the fees.

Margaret Hodge, who chairs the Commons select sub-committee on education said: "They may get 10 to 15 people voting at most."

The amendment to the Teaching and Higher Education Bill which encapsulates the opposition of Labour MPs to the introduction of tuition fees was tabled by John McDonnell, the MP for Hayes and Harlington.

He acknowledged that there was no way of knowing whether the amendment would be called, or whether all of those who had signed it would vote for the amendment. But it represented a clear message to the Government.

"No Labour Government should be reducing the opportunity to students from low income families to have access to higher education," Mr McDonnell said.

The amendment says tuition fees should only be payable "where a grant in the same amount has been made available for that purpose to that student".

As well as Mr McDonnell, Mr Benn and Llew Smith, the other 32 MPs who have put their name to the amendment are:
Audrey Wise (Preston),
Ted Rowlands (Merthyr Tydfil),
Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North),
Ann Cryer (Keighley),
Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby),
Denzil Davies (Llanelli),
Sir Raymond Powell (Ogmore),
Mike Wood (Batley and Spen),
Ken Livingstone (Brent East),
Tess Kingham (Gloucester),
Julie Morgan (Cardiff North),
Maria Fyfe (Glasgow Maryhill),
Jenny Jones (Wolverhampton South West),
Michael Clapham (Barnsley West and Penistone),
John Austin (Erith and Thamesmead),
Harold Best (Leeds North West),
Paul Flynn (Newport West),
Dennis Skinner (Bolsover),
Bill Michie (Sheffield Heeley),
John Cryer (Hornchurch),
Norman Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde),
Bob Wareing (Liverpool West Derby),
Lynne Jones (Birmingham Selly Oak),
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North),
Allan Rogers (Rhondda),
Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow),
Alan Simpson (Nottingham South),
Harry Barnes (Derbyshire North East),
Rudi Vis (Finchley and Golders Green),
Piara Khabra (Ealing Southall),
John McAllion (Dundee East),
Neil Gerrard (Walthamstow).

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