UK Politics

Cable personally committed over fees rise - Willetts

Liberal Democrat Business Secretary Vince Cable is "personally committed" to plans to raise university tuition fees, a Tory colleague has said.

Higher education minister David Willetts said he was "confident" Mr Cable would back the measure in a Commons vote next month.

Before the election the Lib Dems signed a pledge not to support any rise in fees, currently set at £3,290 a year.

But Mr Cable's department is overseeing an increase to as much as £9,000.

Students at several universities are continuing sit-in protests against the plans. Twelve occupations reportedly on-going on Sunday included those at Plymouth, Leeds, Cambridge, Newcastle, Edinburgh and University College London.

'Crucial role'

Mr Willetts, who works in Mr Cable's Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, told Sky News: "Vince, as the secretary of state, is personally committed to these proposals.

"Indeed, he has played a crucial role in shaping them, in making them as progressive as they are. So I am confident that Vince would be voting for these proposals."

Lib Dem leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has said some of his party's ministers are considering abstaining in the vote on fees, as is allowed under the terms of the coalition agreement with the Conservatives.

Mr Willetts said: "I think we must allow this decision to the Liberal Democrats and they are clearly having their own discussions, as they are absolutely entitled to do."

He added: "I think there are many Liberal Democrats who will recognise that these are proposals that have been shaped to be as progressive as possible.

"I recognise that this a particularly difficult issue for the Lib Dems. But what the Lib Dems have done as members of the coalition is press for things like the £150m national scholarship scheme to ensure social mobility."

Lib Dem MPs, including Mr Cable and Mr Clegg, signed a pre-election pledge that they would not back any further rises in fees.

They have since become the focus of much student anger over the party leadership's backing of increases.

Last Wednesday, there were 35 arrests and seven injuries to police officers as an initially peaceful anti-fees rise protest in Whitehall flared into violence.