Labour seeks to derail tuition fee rise

By Sean Coughlan
Education correspondent

image copyrightPA
image captionTuition fees are increasing to £9,250 and then again the following year

Labour is forcing a vote in the House of Commons in a bid to prevent an increase in tuition fees in England.

Fees are due to rise to £9,250 this year and then again to more than £9,500 for next year.

Labour is tabling a motion for Wednesday that would reverse the tuition fee increase - with the claim that the outcome would be binding.

But the Department for Education says that even if the government lost the vote "this motion has no legal effect".

Labour is attempting to use parliamentary process to block the tuition fee increases which are due to be implemented for students from this autumn.

Parliamentary tactics

The shadow education secretary, Angela Rayner, is seeking to revoke the "statutory instrument" process that will raise fees.

She said that fee increases would push up costs for students and warned that MPs who backed raising fees "will have to answer to the people they represent".

"They won't even trust their own MPs to back their latest hike in student fees, so they're trying to stop us voting on it at all," said Ms Rayner.

The House of Commons authorities say that there is a 40-day limit to force a vote on this and this has been exceeded.

But Labour says that it has not been allowed any opportunity until now in the parliamentary timetable to put forward its opposition and as such the result would remain binding.

Labour is threatening to mount a legal challenge if the government loses on the fee increase vote and then disregards the outcome.

A Labour spokesman suggested that a legal challenge would argue that ministers were acting beyond their powers if they were to press ahead with a fee increase after a parliamentary defeat.

"It would be unthinkable for the House of Commons to pass such a clear resolution and for the government not to immediately act on the clear will of the House.

"Any attempt to charge fees in those circumstances is bound to end up in the courts," he said.

But the House of Commons' authorities have rejected the claim that Labour's motion could be binding - and said it would be up to ministers to decide how to respond to the outcome of the vote.

"A resolution of this nature adopted by the House would have no statutory effect and would not have any consequence in law for the regulations," said a House of Commons spokesman.

A Department for Education spokesman said: "This motion has no legal effect. Our student finance system ensures that graduates only start paying back their loans when they are earning over £21,000 and debts are written off after 30 years.

"This approach ensures that costs are split fairly between graduates and the taxpayer, and does this while helping more young people from disadvantaged backgrounds go to university than ever before, up 43% since 2009."

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