Clarke warns rebels as fees debate opens

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Indy Politics

Embattled Education Secretary Charles Clarke today launched a last ditch bid to prevent a damaging Commons defeat for the Government over student tuition fees.

Mr Clarke bluntly warned Labour rebels that rejection of the further education funding package would "strip universities" of the resources they needed.

"It is fair to ask students when they have graduated to make a contribution towards the cost of the university education from which they have benefited," he insisted.

Mr Clarke was opening the crucial second reading debate on the Higher Education Bill, which will allow ministers to introduce variable tuition fees of up to £3,000.

The chamber was packed as Mr Clarke appealed to Labour backbench critics of the Bill to follow key rebel Nick Brown, who previously opposed the plans, but announced earlier today that he would be backing the Government.

Tony Blair, who sat with Chancellor Gordon Brown alongside Mr Clarke as the debate got under way, has made the issue a test of his authority.

MPs will vote at 7pm tonight with the result known shortly after.

If the rebels win, it will be the first defeat for the Prime Minister on a major plank of legislation since he took office in 1997.