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Labour scorns Lib Dem ‘betrayal’ over tuition fees

By Andrew Grice and Nigel Morris

As police clashed with student protesters in violent scenes outside Parliament, the votes of Liberal Democrat MPs ensured the passage of the coalition Government's plan to allow English universities to charge up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees.

Nick Clegg failed to persuade a majority of his 57 MPs to support the controversial measure last night, as 21 Liberal Democrats voted against and another eight abstained, while only 28 voted in favour. It was the biggest rebellion against the Liberal Democrat leadership since the party was formed in 1988.

After a passionate debate, the Commons approved the fees hike by 323 votes to 302, as the Government's majority of 84 was cut to just 21, its lowest since the |coalition was formed.

Students in Northern Ireland currently pay a maximum £3,290 per year in fees. A consultation on tuition fees in Northern Ireland is due to go out for public consultation in February.

Two Liberal Democrat MPs, Mike Crockart and Jenny Willott, and one Tory MP, Lee Scott, |resigned their posts as parliamentary private secretaries because they could not bring themselves to support the rise in fees. Six Tories opposed it and others abstained.

The landmark debate will lead to universities charging at least £6,000 a year in fees from the autumn of 2012 and see the virtual trebling of fees to £9,000 a year for some courses. It was also a watershed moment for the Liberal Democrats. Allies of Mr Clegg hope it marks their transition from a party of protest to a serious party of government. But his internal critics fear his ditching of the party's election pledge to scrap tuition fees is a betrayal from which it will not recover.

Labour pointed out that the Government's majority of 21 would have been wiped out without the votes of Mr Clegg and 27 colleagues.

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, called it “a bad day for democracy”. He added: “It doesn't just damage trust in the Liberal Democrats; frankly it damages trust in politics as a whole. They did get their proposals through but the idea that they are a party that can be trusted has gone; the idea that they can be a progressive party has gone.”

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