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Meg Munn MP - Sheffield Heeley's voice in Parliament | Welcome
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Sheffield Star frontpage article 27th January - Top-up fees row

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

A SHEFFIELD MP today rounded on Labour rebels and accused them of trying to oust Tony Blair over the university top-up fees row.

Heeley Labour MP Meg Munn said some were "dishonestly" using the row over university fees to try to topple Mr Blair as leader.

Ms Munn also launched a fierce defence of the top-up fees plan and said universities, students and the country would lose out if the Government was defeated.

The counterblast came as Mr Blair faced tonight's knife-edge Commons vote on the plan to allow universities to charge up to £3,000 a year, payable when graduates have left and started earning £15,000 a year.

Mr Blair has staked his authority on winning Commons support for the plan, which comes on the eve of the potentially explosive Hutton report into the death of Government scientist Dr David Kelly.

Ministers have already warned Labour MPs they are "looking into an abyss" if the Government is defeated on tuition fees.

But Attercliffe Labour MP and former Government whip Clive Betts said his opposition was "absolutely not" based on wanting to topple Mr Blair. Mr Betts, who is against allowing universities to charge different amounts, said: "I cannot speak for everybody. There might be some Labour MPs who have decided they would like a change of Prime Minister.
"But the vast majority are concerned about the legislation and the principles behind it."
He made a plea for further last-minute concessions enabling rebels to support the Government.
Critics say the fees plan will put poorer students off going to university and will lead to an elite of prestige universities able to charge high fees.

But today Ms Munn said: "To my mind, those continuing to oppose it have other reasons for doing so. I think it is dishonest. If they don't want Tony Blair to continue as leader of the Labour Party and Prime Minister, they should say so.
"They should not sacrifice our universities and the lives of our young people in Sheffield to their personal views."

It was "incredible" to think the Government would not be harmed by a defeat wiping out its big 161 majority, said Ms Munn adding: "They know from our long history that the public do not support disunited Parties.

"The only gainers from their actions will be the Conservative Party.
"The people who will lose will be the Labour Party, the Labour Government, and importantly our universities and young people."

There were "definitely some" among the rebels who wanted to oust Mr Blair, said Ms Munn. Others had "backed themselves into a corner" and now felt they could not change their minds.
Mr Munn urged: "It is those people who really need to understand just how high-stakes this is. It could hardly be a more serious position."

She argued the Government plan abolished upfront fees, brought in grants and other help which would be lost if it was defeated, and would increase numbers going to university.
It had won backing from Sheffield's two universities which have said the plan will raise desperately needed money, she noted.

The plan benefited "hardworking families and poorer students", claimed Ms Munn who pleaded: "If we can't deliver for them, what does it say about our ability to be a credible Party?"

27 January 2004


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