Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
May I first declare the following interests? I have a daughter who is currently a student in her second year, and my youngest daughter anticipates going into higher education and going to university in 2012. I am also a former member of the executive of the National Union of Students, which was obviously a considerable time ago. I took part in many a march to this place with people who are now Members not just on my side of the House but on the Opposition side. We did not march peacefully—we shouted out our protest, but we did march lawfully. We should all say that the cause of those who oppose the motions has been done no service whatever by the antics of what may be a minority. That has done nothing but set back their cause, and we should all condemn that criminal activity.
I had the benefit of getting my degree at no cost to myself—I am of that generation, as are many others in the House. However, I wish to say, notably to the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), that this comprehensive-educated girl needs no lessons, please, on social mobility. It is to the eternal shame of the Labour party that after 13 years, far from advancing people who attended the sort of school that I went to, it set the process back.
Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab)
Will the hon. Lady give way?
Forgive me, no. Time is so short that Opposition Members may well say that they want to hear less of me, not more.
I feel that there should be considerably more honesty, notably from Labour Members, about the legacy they left us. That legacy is not just in relation to the deficit, because 45% of youngsters leaving school now go into higher education. I pose this question: has that actually been to the benefit of them and the nation? There is a really good argument that we have had an over-expansion of higher education that has devalued degrees and falsely raised the expectations of young people of my daughters’ generation. It has also led to an undervaluing of the skills, ability and achievements of those who have not gone into higher education. That is why I am so proud that this Government have increased the number of apprenticeships by up to 75,000.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
No, sir. Another day.
What I would say to the Secretary of State, apart from the fact that I admire his courage in all that he has done in recent times, is that I wish him to look again at our proposals in relation to those who repay early. Many families will now save to assist their children through higher education, and I respectfully submit that it would be wrong to penalise them for their thrift in saving for their children’s future.
If we really want social mobility, and if we really want to give people from the most deprived backgrounds the opportunity to enter higher education, we need to improve our schools, to ensure that those who are bright but from bad and difficult backgrounds have the opportunity to move into higher education. That is all part and parcel of our determination to increase social mobility in a way that has not been done in the past 13 years.