Labour's hypocrisy on fees

24th July 1998 at 01:00
AS A truce is called in the controversy that has raged over the Labour Government's determination to charge a final year's fees to students at Scottish universities whose domicile is elsewhere in the United Kingdom or Northern Ireland, it is perhaps an appropriate time to disclose the anomalous position of two particular Labour MPs who have seen fit to support this punitive measure.

In 1991, when student loans were first mooted by the then Conservative government in the face of a huge escalation in the numbers of young people attending university, I was invited to defend this policy to a meeting of students at the College of Building and Printing in Glasgow.

The meeting was arranged by the then National Union of Students leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy - now Labour MP for Eastwood. The speaker for Labour was Tony Worthington, MP for Clydebank, and now a junior minister in the Northern Ireland Office.

While Mr Murphy, as chairman for the evening, had to show a modicum of neutrality, there was little doubt that he was opposed to the measure. That Mr Worthington and the audience of around 200 were implacably opposed to student loans was beyond doubt. I put my case as best I could, emphasising that the Conservative government was paying - on behalf of the public - for the huge expansion in buildings and equipment, but that without massive tax increases it would not be possible to fund grants as they had been awarded in the past to much lower numbers of people.

I still believe that the student loan system was an inevitable consequence of the explosion in places which occurred. But I am totally opposed to student tuition fees. What appals me today is that a Labour government in general, and these two MPs in particular, are determined to impose an extra year's fees on students from other parts of Britain, and in Mr Worthington's case disadvantage students from Ulster, for he has direct responsibility.

There was no mention of fees in the Labour manifesto for 1997. Messrs Murphy and Worthington should explain to the students who attended that meeting, and to the wider public, why it was wrong to have student loans in 1991 but it is right to have student fees in 1998.

Gordon Lind 25 Irvine Crescent, Coatbridge

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