Lords pass tuition fees

Peers will have their chance to reject a rise in tuition fees today
Peers will have their chance to reject a rise in tuition fees today

By Ian Dunt

The Lords easily passed plans for a rise in tuition fees today, as the last obstacle to reform crumbled.

Peers defeated Labour's 'fatal amendment' by 283 to 215, leaving the government with a majority of 68.

"I fear that this evening our aspiration - to create a fairer and more equitable higher education system - have been set back for a generation," National Union of Students president Aaron Porter said.

"I had hoped that the extraordinary circumstances of the fees rise would have empowered peers to reject these proposals."

The government won a second vote with an even larger majority of 73.

The amendment was never likely to succeed, with government peers easily outnumbering the opposition.

Liberal Democrat peers were far more united than their MP counterparts and did not have the additional pressure of having signed pledges to oppose a raise in fees.

Twenty-five per cent of peers are also crossbenchers, including many former university chancellors, who were well convinced of the case for a rise in fees.

Some of the most influential Lib Dem peers, including former leader Lord Ashdown, former Labour education secretary Baroness Williams and former party general secretary Lord Rennard, are all supporters of an increase in tuition fees.

Lady Sharp, Lib Dem higher education spokesperson in the Lords, is understood to have voted against the government, however.

Speaking for the government, Lord Henley tried to fight off the attempt to have the decision on fees delayed.

"Students, families and universities need to know what the arrangements will be for the 2012 academic year. These decisions are needed now," he argued.

"Today's proosals are part of a progressive package that will put higher education into the future and I commend them to the House."

Lord Triesman, shadow innovation and skills minister, countered that Lord Browne's report was commissioned in an economic environment that was entirely different to the one the UK faced today.

"This proposal changes everything," he said.

"This afternoon's decision will switch the concept of universities from being a public good, as they have always been through modern history, to essentially a private sector, market-driven by personal private investment.

"It is, straightforwardly, undeclared privatisation of our universities."

Lord Henley later branded his speech "a mere rant".

Outside, activists tried to gather in Parliament Square, bringing back memories of last Thursday, when police and demonstrators clashed outside as MPs voted on the fees increase.

Those scenes were not repeated today, with only a small crowd gathering in the Square. But police were on high alert regardless, having come in for criticism from all sides for failing to prevent demonstrators attacking the royal car and for allegations of excessive force.

Home secretary Theresa May told the Commons yesterday that 30 police officers had been injured in the violence and six were taken to hospital.

Meanwhile, it was confirmed that the Directorate of Professional Standards, an internal body that examines police officers' conduct, had been called in to investigate what happened to Jody McIntyre, a cerebral palsy sufferer who lodged a formal complaint over his treatment.

Videos circulating on YouTube appear to show officers dragging him out his wheelchair and down the street.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) is looking into many of the other 43 injuries to protestors.

The most serious of them saw student Alfie Meadows spend three hours in an operating theatre after being knocked unconscious by a police baton.

Westminster continued to assess the events of last week through the afternoon, with Ms May appearing in front of the home affairs select committee, while the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts, National Union of Students, Association of Chief Police Officers and the Metropolitan Police appeared in front of the joint committee on human rights.

"The police were allowing people out of that kettling in Parliament Square," Ms May insisted, despite numerous eyewitnesses on the ground contradicting her.

"If you look at the numbers of people left in Parliament Square in the evening, given the number that started, it's quite clear that people were being allowed to leave."

Assistant commissioner at the Met Chris Allison told the joint committee on human rights: "It was our lines that came under attack.

"I have no doubt that if those officers had not bravely defended their line, people would have tried to get into parliament."

The National Union of Students said it had no plans for protest today but the Educational Activists Network (EAN) said hundreds of demonstrators attended a 'kettle' of Scotland Yard in a protest against police containment strategies before heading down to parliament for the vote.

"The student protesters on the previous demonstrations have been kettled over and over, denied their right to protest and their basic human rights," EAN spokesman Mark Bergfeld said.

"They've been kept in freezing temperatures for eight and even ten hours at a time. What we're saying is that we have the right to protest in the face of attacks by a government that is making the deepest cuts since the Second World War."

Activists reported that the police had prevented them from protesting outside Scotland Yard and instead forced them into a 'sterile zone' to the side of the building. There, Mr Meadows' mother spoke to TV reporters about his treatment at the hands of the police.


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