Violence erupts as MPs agree to triple tuition fees

Tuition fees at the three universities in Leeds will rocket by thousands of pounds a year after the government narrowly won a crunch Commons vote.

In a heated debate which exposed deep divisions within the ruling coalition, MPs backed plans to treble the upper fees limit to 9,000 a

year by a margin of 323 to 302, a majority of 21.

A total of 21 Liberal Democrat MPs, including Leeds North West MP Greg Mulholland, and six Conservatives, including Shipley MP Philip Davies, rebelled against the government.

One Tory and two Lib Dem ministerial aides resigned in protest.

With tensions running high inside the Commons chamber, violence erupted outside in Parliament Square as demonstrators fought with police, lit fires and destroyed metal fencing.

The Metropolitan Police described the clashes as "extreme violence" and said officers came under attack from "flares, sticks, snooker balls and paint balls".

Mr Mulholland helped marshal the backbench rebellion, insisting the government had failed to win the argument and accused ministers of "rushing" through the reforms.

In a powerful speech, he declared: "I shall vote against the Government today, because I simply cannot accept that fees of up to 9,000 are the fairest and most sustainable way of funding higher education."

He accused the government of "smoke and mirrors" and in a plea to his Lib Dem Colleagues, said: "I say to this House and I say to colleagues, for the sake of the Liberal Democrats, for the sake of this Government, for the sake of Parliament, please vote against these proposals tonight."

Earlier, a Commons amendment tabled by Mr Mulholland, which urged the Government to postpone the fees vote, failed after it was not chosen by Speaker Bercow for debate.

Under the government's plans, the tuition fee cap will almost be trebled from the current 3,290 to 9,000, while the government's funding for university teaching will be slashed by 80 per cent.

The University and College Union has claimed that the University of Leeds will have to charge fees of 6,815 per year just to fill the funding gap.

Leeds Metropolitan University will have to charge 6,858, Leeds College of Music 7,274 and Leeds Trinity University College 6,655, the union claims.

None of the city's universities have yet made clear what their future fees will be.

Opening the Commons debate, Business Secretary Vince Cable, who was flanked by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, noted the "very strong feelings inside and outside the House" as he was greeted with cries of "shame!" by Labour backbenchers.

However, he defiantly insisted he was "proud" of the package and told MPs: "I don't pretend, none of us pretend, that this is an easy subject.

"Of course it isn't. We have had to make very difficult choices."

He accused Labour of leaving a "shameful" legacy under which children from the poorest families struggled to gain places at the country's top universities.

But Labour MPs jeered and waved their order papers as the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister left the Commons after Mr Cable's speech.

Shadow business secretary John Denham said: "It's a shame that as the

two architects of this policy they don't have the courtesy to stay and listen to both sides of the debate."

The Lib Dem rebels included party president Tim Farron and former leaders Sir Menzies Campbell and Charles Kennedy. Senior Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes abstained.

The Tory rebels included Brigg and Goole MP Andrew Percy.

Lib Dem Parliamentary Private Secretaries Jenny Willot and Mike Crockart both resigned, along with Lee Scott, a Conservative PPS to Transport Secretary Philip Hammond.

Police on patrol in Albion Street, Leeds. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

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