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Dr. Howells: I have seven minutes—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I must remind the hon. Gentleman that he needs the leave of the House.

Dr. Howells: I am dreadfully sorry, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I wrote that down on my brief in thick black handwriting.

With the leave of the House, I now have about six minutes.

May I begin by wholeheartedly endorsing the support voiced for the intrinsic value of university education, although I must tell hon. Members that I still grind my teeth occasionally at having once lost out in a shortlist to someone who was studying the effects on warfare of horsemanship in 13th-century Castile? I have my doubts about whether my subject of research was much more useful—

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire) (Con): What was it?

Dr. Howells: It was the coal industry, which the hon. Gentleman will know about.

This has been an interesting and informative debate, which has made clear the depth of feeling in the House about higher education. My esteemed predecessor as Minister, now Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, would have enjoyed the debate, because it has underlined the importance of ensuring that we get this right. I was especially encouraged to hear expressions of support from both sides of the House for maintaining what my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) referred to as the commitment to excellence in the quality of teaching and research in our universities. He posed some central and difficult questions about how we can ensure that the highest-quality research—the excellence to which we have referred—is funded properly, and located throughout the regions and nations of this country. Our policy remains to concentrate research funding on the best institutions, but we do not propose to take all funding away from 4-rated departments, for example. In 2003–04, there was only a moderate reduction—about £20 million, or 2 per cent.—in the overall research budget of the Higher Education Funding Council for England for such departments. HEFCE will continue to
14 Sept 2004 : Column 1182
provide £17.5 million in capability funding for departments rated 3A and 3B in 2004–05 to support the seven emerging areas in the next research assessment exercise.

The hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Jackson) highlighted some of the problems with his own Front Bench's proposals. One interested me particularly: the proposal to replace HEFCE's funding arrangements and tuition fees with a voucher arrangement. Let me add to his timely and constructive questions one or two of my own.

The Conservatives do not say how they will control the number of places. At present we do that through HEFCE. If a university recruits too many students, grant will be lost. How will the Conservatives manage with a voucher system? Will they ration the number of vouchers that they hand out? If they do not, they will have written a blank cheque: they will be giving a voucher to anyone who is admitted to university. How can they possibly do that, and control public spending? They will have to ration the vouchers—but how? How can they say who is worthy and who is not? Will that not amount to taking centralised control of the university admission process?

The hon. Gentleman posed those questions in his usual elegant fashion, but I am afraid that none of us has received answers of any description, elegant or otherwise.

Maintaining and building on the success of higher education is essential, not only for students and graduates but for our economy and society as a whole. Just as a successful higher education can bring great benefits, making the wrong decisions, or no decisions at all, could cause great damage. I am confident that the vision set out in the 2003 White Paper, "The Future of Higher Education", and subsequently enacted in the Higher Education Act 2004, is the right vision to deliver successful higher education. It represents a carefully considered and decisive package for reform, and for the creation of a higher education sector that will stand the tests of time and international competition.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Dr. Whitehead) reminded us that higher education plays such an important part in any modern economy that we must be absolutely clear and precise about how we pay for it. He challenged the Opposition parties to give us that precision, because the Government face tough spending choices. The country's future economic success depends on our getting higher education policy right. There can, indeed, be few more important topics. It is not realistic to think that now, with 44 per cent. of 18 to 30-year-olds going into higher education, we can fund it in the same way as we did in the mid-1960s, when the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis) and I went into higher education. Less than 8 per cent. of our cohort did so then. We are living in an entirely different world now—one in which we must get more and more students into higher education.

We accept that going for tuition fees was not an easy option, and, as we were reminded by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test, it is not a popular one. We do not care to play that game. He was right to cite figures showing the great popularity of the Liberal Democrat policy, but it is a different matter to try to pay for it. In government it is necessary to make real
14 Sept 2004 : Column 1183
decisions. The Liberal Democrats will never face that opportunity, so they can say what they like. It is, of course, one long wish list.

We think that our policy is the right one, and the only realistic way forward, and so do many of our competitors. In Europe, for example, universities in Germany are pressing the federal Government to change the constitution to allow fees; the Netherlands is already going ahead with tuition fee pilots; and even in Sweden, which has traditionally taken the position of having high public spending financed by high taxation, voices are beginning to be heard from the higher education sector arguing in favour of fees. Then there is the OECD. Its UK economic survey of 2004 praised the Government's approach to higher education, stating that it could provide "a role model" for other European countries.

The message is very clear. If our economy is to remain competitive, our higher education must remain competitive—and that means fees. We either face up to that or we face long-term decline as a nation. Put that way, it is not so tough a choice; it is precisely what we have to do.

Question put, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 55, Noes 386.

Division No. 242
[4:00 pm


Allan, Richard
Baker, Norman
Barrett, John
Beith, rh A. J.
Brake, Tom (Carshalton)
Brooke, Mrs Annette L.
Burnett, John
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Campbell, rh Sir Menzies (NE Fife)
Carmichael, Alistair
Chidgey, David
Cotter, Brian
Davey, Edward (Kingston)
Doughty, Sue
Ewing, Annabelle
Foster, Don (Bath)
George, Andrew (St. Ives)
Gidley, Sandra
Gill, Parmjit Singh
Green, Matthew (Ludlow)
Hancock, Mike
Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford W & Abingdon)
Heath, David
Holmes, Paul
Hughes, Simon (Southwark N)
Jones, Nigel (Cheltenham)
Keetch, Paul
Kennedy, rh Charles (Ross Skye & Inverness)
Lamb, Norman
Laws, David (Yeovil)
Llwyd, Elfyn
Moore, Michael
Oaten, Mark (Winchester)
Öpik, Lembit
Price, Adam (E Carmarthen & Dinefwr)
Pugh, Dr. John
Reid, Alan (Argyll & Bute)
Rendel, David
Robertson, Angus (Moray)
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Sanders, Adrian
Stunell, Andrew
Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Taylor, Dr. Richard (Wyre F)
Teather, Sarah
Thomas, Simon (Ceredigion)
Thurso, John
Tonge, Dr. Jenny
Tyler, Paul (N Cornwall)
Webb, Steve (Northavon)
Weir, Michael
Williams, Hywel (Caernarfon)
Williams, Roger (Brecon)
Willis, Phil
Wishart, Pete

Tellers for the Ayes:

Richard Younger-Ross and
Sir Robert Smith


Abbott, Ms Diane
Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, Bob (Cov'try NE)
Ainsworth, Peter (E Surrey)
Allen, Graham
Amess, David
Ancram, rh Michael
Anderson, rh Donald (Swansea E)
Arbuthnot, rh James
Armstrong, rh Ms Hilary
Atherton, Ms Candy
Atkins, Charlotte
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Bailey, Adrian
Baird, Vera
Baldry, Tony
Barker, Gregory
Barnes, Harry
Baron, John (Billericay)
Barron, rh Kevin
Battle, John
Bayley, Hugh
Beard, Nigel
Beckett, rh Margaret
Bell, Sir Stuart
Bellingham, Henry
Bennett, Andrew
Bercow, John
Beresford, Sir Paul
Berry, Roger
Best, Harold
Betts, Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blears, Ms Hazel
Blizzard, Bob
Blunkett, rh David
Blunt, Crispin
Boswell, Tim
Bottomley, Peter (Worthing W)
Bottomley, rh Virginia (SW Surrey)
Bradley, rh Keith (Withington)
Bradley, Peter (The Wrekin)
Bradshaw, Ben
Brady, Graham
Brazier, Julian
Brennan, Kevin
Browne, Desmond
Browning, Mrs Angela
Bryant, Chris
Burnham, Andy
Burns, Simon
Burnside, David
Burt, Alistair
Butterfill, Sir John
Cairns, David
Cameron, David
Campbell, Mrs Anne (C'bridge)
Campbell, Ronnie (Blyth V)
Casale, Roger
Caton, Martin
Cawsey, Ian (Brigg)
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben (Wirral S)
Chapman, Sir Sydney (Chipping Barnet)
Chaytor, David
Clark, Mrs Helen (Peterborough)
Clark, Dr. Lynda (Edinburgh Pentlands)
Clark, Paul (Gillingham)
Clarke, rh Kenneth (Rushcliffe)
Clarke, rh Tom (Coatbridge & Chryston)
Clelland, David
Coaker, Vernon
Coffey, Ms Ann
Cohen, Harry
Collins, Tim
Connarty, Michael
Conway, Derek
Cook, rh Robin (Livingston)
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cox, Tom (Tooting)
Cran, James (Beverley)
Cranston, Ross
Cruddas, Jon
Cryer, Ann (Keighley)
Cryer, John (Hornchurch)
Cunningham, Tony (Workington)
Curry, rh David
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs Claire
Davey, Valerie (Bristol W)
David, Wayne
Davies, rh Denzil (Llanelli)
Davies, Geraint (Croydon C)
Davies, Quentin (Grantham & Stamford)
Davis, rh David (Haltemprice & Howden)
Dawson, Hilton
Dean, Mrs Janet
Denham, rh John
Djanogly, Jonathan
Dobbin, Jim (Heywood)
Dobson, rh Frank
Dowd, Jim (Lewisham W)
Duncan, Alan (Rutland)
Duncan, Peter (Galloway)
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth
Edwards, Huw
Efford, Clive
Ellman, Mrs Louise
Etherington, Bill
Fabricant, Michael
Farrelly, Paul
Field, rh Frank (Birkenhead)
Field, Mark (Cities of London & Westminster)
Fisher, Mark
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Flight, Howard
Flook, Adrian
Flynn, Paul (Newport W)
Follett, Barbara
Foster, rh Derek
Foster, Michael (Worcester)
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings & Rye)
Foulkes, rh George
Francois, Mark
Gale, Roger (N Thanet)
Gapes, Mike (Ilford S)
George, rh Bruce (Walsall S)
Gerrard, Neil
Gibb, Nick (Bognor Regis)
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gillan, Mrs Cheryl
Gilroy, Linda
Godsiff, Roger
Goggins, Paul
Goodman, Paul
Gray, James (N Wilts)
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian (Ashford)
Greenway, John
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Grogan, John
Gummer, rh John
Hall, Mike (Weaver Vale)
Hall, Patrick (Bedford)
Hammond, Philip
Hanson, David
Harman, rh Ms Harriet
Harris, Tom (Glasgow Cathcart)
Havard, Dai (Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)
Hawkins, Nick
Heald, Oliver
Healey, John
Heathcoat-Amory, rh David
Henderson, Ivan (Harwich)
Hendry, Charles
Heppell, John
Hesford, Stephen
Heyes, David
Hinchliffe, David
Hoey, Kate (Vauxhall)
Hood, Jimmy (Clydesdale)
Hoon, rh Geoffrey
Hope, Phil (Corby)
Hopkins, Kelvin
Horam, John (Orpington)
Howard, rh Michael
Howarth, rh Alan (Newport E)
Howarth, George (Knowsley N & Sefton E)
Howarth, Gerald (Aldershot)
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Lindsay
Hughes, Beverley (Stretford & Urmston)
Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)
Hurst, Alan (Braintree)
Hutton, rh John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Eric
Ingram, rh Adam
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jack, rh Michael
Jackson, Helen (Hillsborough)
Jenkins, Brian
Johnson, Boris (Henley)
Joyce, Eric (Falkirk W)
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeble, Ms Sally
Keen, Alan (Feltham)
Kelly, Ruth (Bolton W)
Key, Robert (Salisbury)
Khabra, Piara S.
Kidney, David
King, Andy (Rugby)
King, Ms Oona (Bethnal Green & Bow)
Knight, rh Greg (E Yorkshire)
Knight, Jim (S Dorset)
Kumar, Dr. Ashok
Laing, Mrs Eleanor
Lammy, David
Lawrence, Mrs Jackie
Laxton, Bob (Derby N)
Leigh, Edward
Lepper, David
Leslie, Christopher
Letwin, rh Oliver
Levitt, Tom (High Peak)
Lewis, Dr. Julian (New Forest E)
Liddell, rh Mrs Helen
Liddell-Grainger, Ian
Lilley, rh Peter
Linton, Martin
Lloyd, Tony (Manchester C)
Loughton, Tim
Love, Andrew
Luff, Peter (M-Worcs)
Lyons, John (Strathkelvin)
McAvoy, Thomas
McCabe, Stephen
McCafferty, Chris
McDonagh, Siobhain
MacDonald, Calum
McDonnell, John
MacDougall, John
McFall, rh John
McGuire, Mrs Anne
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McIsaac, Shona
Mackay, rh Andrew
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
Mackinlay, Andrew
Maclean, rh David
McLoughlin, Patrick
Mactaggart, Fiona
McWalter, Tony
McWilliam, John
Mahmood, Khalid
Malins, Humfrey
Mann, John (Bassetlaw)
Maples, John
Marsden, Gordon (Blackpool S)
Marshall, David (Glasgow Shettleston)
Marshall-Andrews, Robert
Martlew, Eric
Mawhinney, rh Sir Brian
Meacher, rh Michael
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Miller, Andrew
Mitchell, Andrew (Sutton Coldfield)
Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)
Mole, Chris
Morgan, Julie
Morley, Elliot
Moss, Malcolm
Mudie, George
Munn, Ms Meg
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norman, Archie
O'Brien, Bill (Normanton)
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
O'Hara, Edward
Olner, Bill
O'Neill, Martin
Osborne, George (Tatton)
Osborne, Sandra (Ayr)
Ottaway, Richard
Owen, Albert
Page, Richard
Paice, James
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Paterson, Owen
Perham, Linda
Picking, Anne
Pickthall, Colin
Pike, Peter (Burnley)
Plaskitt, James
Pollard, Kerry
Pond, Chris (Gravesham)
Pope, Greg (Hyndburn)
Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)
Prisk, Mark (Hertford)
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Ken
Purnell, James
Randall, John
Rapson, Syd (Portsmouth N)
Redwood, rh John
Reed, Andy (Loughborough)
Robathan, Andrew
Robertson, Hugh (Faversham & M-Kent)
Robertson, John (Glasgow Anniesland)
Robertson, Laurence (Tewk'b'ry)
Robinson, Geoffrey (Coventry NW)
Roche, Mrs Barbara
Roe, Dame Marion
Rooney, Terry
Rosindell, Andrew
Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Ruddock, Joan
Ruffley, David
Russell, Ms Christine (City of Chester)
Salter, Martin
Savidge, Malcolm
Sayeed, Jonathan
Sedgemore, Brian
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Barry
Shephard, rh Mrs Gillian
Sheridan, Jim
Shipley, Ms Debra
Simmonds, Mark
Simpson, Alan (Nottingham S)
Simpson, Keith (M-Norfolk)
Skinner, Dennis
Smith, rh Andrew (Oxford E)
Smith, rh Chris (Islington S & Finsbury)
Smith, Jacqui (Redditch)
Smith, John (Glamorgan)
Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)
Soames, Nicholas
Soley, Clive
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob (Castle Point)
Spring, Richard
Squire, Rachel
Stanley, rh Sir John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Steen, Anthony
Stewart, David (Inverness E & Lochaber)
Stinchcombe, Paul
Streeter, Gary
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Swayne, Desmond
Swire, Hugo (E Devon)
Syms, Robert
Tami, Mark (Alyn)
Taylor, rh Ann (Dewsbury)
Taylor, David (NW Leics)
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Taylor, John (Solihull)
Taylor, Sir Teddy
Thomas, Gareth (Clwyd W)
Timms, Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Touhig, Don (Islwyn)
Trickett, Jon
Trimble, rh David
Truswell, Paul
Turner, Dennis (Wolverh'ton SE)
Turner, Dr. Desmond (Brighton Kemptown)
Turner, Neil (Wigan)
Twigg, Stephen (Enfield)
Tyrie, Andrew
Vaz, Keith (Leicester E)
Vis, Dr. Rudi
Walley, Ms Joan
Ward, Claire
Waterson, Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Watson, Tom (W Bromwich E)
Watts, David
White, Brian
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Whittingdale, John
Wicks, Malcolm
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Wilkinson, John
Willetts, David
Williams, rh Alan (Swansea W)
Williams, Betty (Conwy)
Wills, Michael
Wilshire, David
Winnick, David
Winterton, Ann (Congleton)
Winterton, Sir Nicholas (Macclesfield)
Winterton, Ms Rosie (Doncaster C)
Woodward, Shaun
Woolas, Phil
Wright, Anthony D. (Gt Yarmouth)
Wright, David (Telford)
Wright, Tony (Cannock)
Wyatt, Derek
Yeo, Tim (S Suffolk)
Young, rh Sir George

Tellers for the Noes:

Ms Bridget Prentice and
Mr. Stephen Twigg

Question accordingly negatived.

14 Sept 2004 : Column 1186

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 31 (Questions on amendments):—

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