Parliament & politics: Education: Fresh rebellion over tuition fees

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A FRESH Commons rebellion over the introduction of tuition fees was threatened last night after a Scottish Labour backbench MP challenged Tony Blair over the policy at Prime Minister's Question Time.

Mr Blair rejected left-wing demands for a free vote on the issue when the Bill to impose tuition fees returns to the Commons to overturn a defeat inflicted in the Lords on Tuesday.

With peers, parents, and teachers raising objections to the move, a renewed revolt in the Commons is threatened, following the rebellion by more than 20 Labour MPs earlier this month. Mr Blair rejected an appeal to make it a free vote, and warned that the Government would impose a whip on the vote in the Commons.

Dennis Canavan, the Labour MP for Falkirk West, silenced his own side but won cheers from Tory MPs when he gave his backing to an attack on Mr Blair by the deputy leader of the Conservative Party, Peter Lilley.

Mr Canavan is a veteran left-wing rebel, and Mr Blair made light of his attack. "He is entitled to ask an awkward question. Indeed, why change the habit of a lifetime?" he said.

But the outspoken nature of his assault on the Prime Minister in supporting the Opposition will intensify speculation that he could be deselected for disloyalty from his Westminster seat. Mr Canavan was excluded from the shortlist of candidates for the Scottish Parliament.

"Why should students from England, Wales, Northern Ireland, doing a four- year course at Scottish universities have to pay pounds 1,000 more than students from any other country in the EU?" he asked.

He claimed applications for admission to Scottish universities were down 4.5 per cent and said Mr Blair had said during the general election campaign that Labour had no plans to introduce tuition fees.

The clash came over the government defeat in the House of Lords on the Government's Bill to introduce tuition fees in a way which could leave students travelling across the border to Scotland from England pounds 1,000 worse off.

Mr Lilley and Mr Canavan said it was wrong that English students should be worse off than students from other EU countries.