Commons 'to vote on fees next week'
The Government is to stage the crucial Commons vote on raising university tuition fees next week.
Ministers have decided to hold the vote on Thursday December 9, according to reports. The move comes as Liberal Democrats continue to agonise over whether to support the measure in the division lobbies.
Staging the vote on a Thursday - when many Scottish and Welsh nationalists and Northern Ireland MPs will have left for their constituencies - could make it easier for the Government to get it through without the Lib Dems.
The party is currently deeply divided, with some Lib Dem MPs determined to vote against the measure, having promised during the general election campaign to oppose any increase in tuition fees.
Business Secretary Vince Cable has suggested that he could abstain - even though he has direct Cabinet responsibility for the measure - if it would help keep the party together.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg - the target of much of the fury of student protesters opposed to the plan - has refused to say what he will do.
However former Lib Dem higher education spokesman Lord Willis - who retired as an MP in May - said that they should "bite the bullet" and rally behind the plan. He said: "The reality is that we either bite the bullet and believe that the ... proposals ... are the ones to take us forward in terms of higher education or we don't."
"They do take us forward and it is time the Liberal Democrats now simply got on board and said 'Well, let us back them, let us sell them'. I would like Nick to say that and I would also like Vince to say that."
Shadow business secretary John Denham said that Labour would mount an intensive campaign against the increase in the fees right up to the day of the vote. He said: "We will launch a 'last seven days campaign' to persuade Tory and Lib Dem MPs that they should not inflict on young people the highest fees of any public university system in the industrialised world."
The National Union of Students (NUS) later announced plans for mass protests ahead of the MPs' vote and called for protests on campuses across the country on December 8. The following day students and NUS officials will hold a rally and then lobby MPs inside the Palace of Westminster in an effort to persuade them to vote against any fee rise.