Last Thursday in an obscure Committee at Westminster, 10 men and women – all Tories – voted to deprive the poorest students of maintenance grants.
The aim is to scrap the maintenance grant for the most disadvantaged and replace it with loans.
This decision to hit those who are aspiring to better themselves, and using the education system to do that, was sneaked through without proper consideration on the floor of the Commons – in yet another example of the Tories’ contempt for democratic scrutiny and process.
Labour put up a hard fight in the committee – but the numbers were stacked against us.
So today Labour will force the issue into public debate in Parliament in a last ditch attempt to halt these Tory plans.
Labour is using its Opposition day debate and has tabled an annulment motion.
We’ll be watching to see how MPs vote.
The changes the Tories are rail-roading through would affect around 500,000 students. They would, according to the government’s own Equality Impact Assessment, especially affect disabled students, older learners, women and those from BME and Muslim backgrounds.
At the moment, students from families with a household income of £25,000 or less get a grant to cover living costs of £3,387 per year – a grant which decreases as family income rises, disappearing when that income reaches £42,620.
The Tories plan to replace this with a loan.
Students from poor backgrounds would end up with loan debts higher than those of their more advantaged peers.
The Tories attempted to force through the sweeping changes – which were not in their election manifesto – in committee rather than on the floor of the House of Commons, hidden away from public scrutiny.
They chose the obscure Delegated Legislation Committee – heard of it?? – to push the measure through.
Labour MPs fought hard in the committee – with Gordon Marsden and Wes Streeting leading the attack.
But the Tories have a built-in majority – and they used it.
Just 10 men and women voted to deprive the poorest students of grants.
Wes Streeting was scathing about the undemocratic way the Tories have tried to push this measure through:
‘Only 18 Members can vote in the Committee this morning, yet this issue will affect students in every constituency across the country. . . . we find ourselves here on a Committee that most of our constituents have never heard of, away from the eyes of the public—this debate should be taking place on the Floor of the House.’
As he reminded the Tories
‘This Government should remember that they have a majority of just 12, elected on a minority share of the vote. Even when we had Labour Governments with landslide majorities after 1997 and 2001, those Labour Governments were always prepared to put their policies before the whole House. . .
How can any Member look themselves in the mirror this evening and say that this issue has been properly considered?’
As Wes pointed out, the government’s own assessment concluded that the detrimental impact of the measure would be especially felt by those from backgrounds least well-represented in higher education.
“How can it possibly be justified that in a mere 90-minute debate we allow something such as this to go through?’
Why indeed – this measure is just another example of a growing trend
“So why are we not on the Floor of the House? It is because this Government, in the short time they have been in office since May, have already established a clear track record of ducking scrutiny, avoiding debate and seeming to believe that, on a slender majority and a minority share of the vote, they have the will and the ability to do anything they please. Well, I think that students, their parents and their grandparents across the country will be appalled at what is taking place today.’
Labour has now tabled an Opposition Day Debate and an annulment motion, which if successful would torpedo the Tories’ plans.
Commenting on Labour’s decision to use its Opposition day opportunity to bring this question to proper Parliamentary scrutiny, Angela Eagle MP, Labour’s Shadow First Secretary of State and Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, said:
“Instead of investing in future generations the Tories are betraying students and making life harder for people from the poorest backgrounds.
“Targeting those who are working hard and doing the right thing to better their lot in life leaves the Tories’ claim to back those who want to get on in tatters.
“The Tories have shown yet again that they’re governing from the shadows, trying to force through the sweeping changes in committee hoping that no one would notice.”
We’ll be watching how the debate and the vote goes today.
Tom Watson has accused Cameron and Osborne of trying to govern from the shadows.
Labour will not allow Cameron and his cronies to take British government back into the dark.