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Vince Cable may abstain in tuition fees vote PDF Print E-mail
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Tuesday, 30 November 2010 12:31

Vince Cable, the cabinet minister in charge of tuition fees, said today he was prepared to abstain in a key vote on the government's policy if that was what fellow Liberal Democrat MPs decided to do as a group.

The business secretary said he was prepared to take the unprecedented step of not backing his own proposals for the sake of party unity.

Cable's suggestion that he might not vote for his own policy was described as "extraordinary and appalling" by John Denham, his Labour shadow.

The 57 Lib Dem MPs were holding talks today in a bid to find a solution to what Cable conceded was a "difficult" situation for the party amid growing grassroots pressure from within its own ranks to abide by the pre-election Lib Dem pledge to oppose a rise in fees.

A petition signed by 104 former parliamentary candidates for the Lib Dems called on Cable, the Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, and their fellow MPs to abide by the pre-election pledge to avert "many more years back in the political wilderness".

Labour will trigger a vote on the plan to raise tuition fees in an opposition day debate this afternoon, which coincides with the third national student demonstration against government plans to increase the cap on tuition fees from £3,375 to as much as £9,000 a year from 2012.

The debate comes ahead of the parliamentary vote on the plans, expected in the next two weeks.

A provision in the agreement forming the power-sharing deal between the Conservatives and the Lib Dems allows Clegg's MPs to abstain but is ambiguous about the position of ministers and Commons aides.

In comments that appeared to seek to deter Lib Dem colleagues from voting against the policy, Cable highlighted the need for party discipline, as he told BBC Radio 5 Live that, while he backed his own policy, he was willing to sit out the vote ? due before Christmas ? to ensure the party took a united approach.

"If we all abstain then that is the position I am happy to go along with. There is an option that we all abstain together and we are considering that," he said.

"My own personal instinct ? partly because I am the secretary of state responsible for universities and partly because I think the policy is right ? are very much to vote for it. But we have got to vote as a group, collectively, and we are discussing how we do that.

He went on: "My position is somewhat different but I am willing to go along with my colleagues. We are a disciplined party; we work together. We are clearly going through a difficult period over this issue and we want to support each other."

Denham rounded on Cable for suggesting he may abstain on a policy designed under his watch.

The shadow business secretary told the BBC: "Here you have a cabinet minister who has personally designed a system that cuts English university funding by 80% and makes English students and graduates pay the highest tuition fees of any public university system anywhere in the world, now saying: 'Personally, I might not vote for it.' That is appalling and outrageous."

Today all eyes will be on the Lib Dems' vote in the opposition day debate, to look for the strength of a possible rebellion.

The Labour motion calls for the white paper on the future of universities to explain the plans in full before the Commons votes on the issue, though the wording does not go as far as opposing higher fees.

Central London was brought to a standstill again today as students took to the streets in protest against the planned rises.

The event began with a short rally in Trafalgar Square, after which students dispersed throughout Westminster, blocking traffic on some of the city's busiest roads. A planned march to parliament did not take place and today's event appeared to be free of any incidents of violence, in contrast to the previous two.

University students and pupils in Wales also joined today's national day of protest against tuition fees and cuts to university teaching grants.

The Welsh assembly government's education minister, Leighton Andrews, will announce later today the Welsh government's position on tuition fees. Tuition fees charged by Welsh universities are currently in line with those in England.

Courtesy to guardian.co.uk.

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