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Cable 'would abstain in fees vote'

The Cabinet minister in charge of tuition fees will abstain in a key vote on the Government's policy if that is what fellow Liberal Democrat MPs decide to do as a group, he said.

Business Secretary Vince Cable said he is prepared to take the unprecedented step of not backing his own proposals for the sake of party unity.

The party's MPs are in talks in a bid to find a solution to what he conceded is a "difficult" situation for the Tories' coalition partner.

A provision in the agreement forming the power-sharing deal allows Lib Dem MPs to abstain but is ambiguous about the position of ministers and Commons aides.

The party has come under intense criticism from student leaders for abandoning general election pledges to oppose rises in fees - and eventually to scrap them.

Fresh protests are expected in London over the Government's proposals to increase the cap on tuition fees from £3,375 to as much as £9,000 a year.

Mr Cable insisted that he backs his own policy but is willing to sit out the vote - due before Christmas - to ensure the party takes a united approach. His words will be seen as an attempt to persuade rebels considering voting against the policy to row back and stick to the terms of the agreement.

"If we all abstain then that is the position I am happy to go along with. There is an option that we all abstain together and we are considering that," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

"My own personal instinct - partly because I am the Secretary of State responsible for universities and partly because I think the policy is right - are very much to vote for it. But we have got to vote as a group, collectively, and we are discussing how we do that."

Asked whether David Cameron would be happy for his Business Secretary to abstain in the fees vote, the Prime Minister's spokesman said: "The Prime Minister is entirely happy that people abide by the provisions of the coalition agreement."


From Belfast Telegraph