Stone thrown through MP Foster's window after he votes for tuition fees rise
A stone was thrown through the window of MP Don Foster’s constituency offices in Bath just hours after he voted for a rise in tuition fees.
Nobody was in the building at James Street West at the time of the incident, which happened either last night or early this morning
The criminal damage came after the Liberal Democrat MP voted in favour of the Government’s plans to increase university tuition fees, provoking the anger of many of the city’s students.
Mr Foster said he was surprised by the vandalism.
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He said: “Over the course of this debate I have spoken to the students of Bath on campus, in my office and on the streets outside Parliament.
“All are of the opinion that violent protest is counter-productive and detracts from the real issues.
“This act of vandalism is very uncharacteristic of the level of discussion that has happened so far.”
Today a spokesman at Mr Foster’s office played down the incident, stressing that “small stone” rather than a brick had been thrown through the window.
He confirmed that the police had been informed of the damage.
Mr Foster had been negotiating until the final moment and had refused to reveal his voting intentions ahead of yesterday's vote, which took place as angry protests went on outside at Westminster.
The controversial plans to treble the cap on tuition fees went through by 323 votes to 302, a majority of 21, following an impassioned five-hour debate, as thousands of students outside Parliament chanted “shame on you”.
Despite signing pledges opposing tuition fees before the last election, Mr Foster and his party colleague, Chippenham MP Duncan Hames for Chippenham, both backed the Government.
Mr Foster said it had been a “very difficult decision to vote for the proposals” and the first to learn were a delegation of University of Bath and Bath Spa University students and lecturers who attended the rally outside Parliament.
Mr Foster said he backed the move following further concessions by the Government including more help to more part time students, and extra support to existing ones.
He said: “My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I did sign a pre-election pledge on tuition fees, and I signed it in good faith.
“Looking at the higher education proposals now on the table, I faced a moral dilemma. Did I stick to my guns and oppose any change to the existing, unfair system? Or do I back the fairer proposals of this government and break my pledge?
“What must be remembered is that we lost the election. We therefore entered in to a coalition with the Conservatives to offer the country a stable Government at a time of economic uncertainty. That coalition deal meant agreeing to either abstain or vote for the fee rises.”
He said central to the coalition was compromise, and being in government had helped achieve a series of commitments including support for disadvantaged youngsters at school, linking pensions with earnings, getting a referendum to change the voting system, and providing more help for carers.
Mr Foster said: “Had my vote helped to defeat the government, the coalition would have collapsed. My ability to influence government policy and get Lib Dem policies into practice would have been lost.
“There would be a general election, an economic crisis and – probably – a major slump in Lib Dem support.
“Even if the coalition didn’t fall under such circumstances, our ability to influence it would have been diminished and the power of the right wing of the Tory party strengthened.”
He added: "In recent weeks I have found myself in the extremely unpleasant situation of seeking to balance the need to try and avoid higher fee levels (and consequent levels of debt) with the need to seek funding to ensure universities are able to provide a quality education for our students.
“I believe that these proposals meet that criteria and are best for both the people of Bath and the country.”
During the debate, Mr Hames told MPs he had promised his constituents to work towards a fairer system of funding higher education.
“That’s what I have done, and that’s what I will continue to do,” he said.
Tories Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) and James Gray (North Wiltshire) also backed the fees rise.
Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable said he was ‘proud’ of the Government's package, insisting the plan was ‘progressive’ and would “maintain high quality universities in the long term”.
But shadow business secretary John Denham said the fee increase was being driven by the government's decision to have deep cuts to university funding of up to 80 per cent.
Lib Dem MPs have been under intense pressure - after their election pledge to vote against any fee increase.
The proposals to raise fees have triggered a wave of student and school pupil protests, and led to violent scenes outside Westminster.
The package of measures will allow universities to charge up to £9,000 per year, raising the cap from its current level of £3,290.
There is a requirement for universities to protect access for poorer students if they charge more than £6,000 per year.
Students doing three-year courses charged at £6,000 will leave university with about £30,000 of debt - if fees go up to £9,000, debts will be closer to £38,000.
The government would continue to loan students the money for fees. The threshold at which graduates have to start paying their loans back would be raised from £15,000 to £21,000.
If the debt is not cleared 30 years after graduation, it will be wiped out.
The proposals to raise fees would apply to students in England. Welsh students will not pay the higher rate of fees, even at universities in England.
In Scotland there are no tuition fees - and Northern Ireland has still to decide how it will respond to any fee rise in England.
Mr Cable said: “The instrument that we're discussing here is a central part of a policy that is designed to maintain high quality universities in the long-term, tackle the fiscal deficit and provides a more progressive system of graduate contributions based on people's ability to pay.”
“I don't pretend, none of us pretend, that this is an easy subject. Of course it isn't. We have had to make very difficult choices.
“We could have made a decision to drastically cut the number of university students, we could have cut student maintenance, we could have cut the funding to universities without replacing it.
“But instead we have opted for a set of policies that provides a strong base for university funding, which makes a major contribution to reducing the deficit and introducing a significantly more progressive system of graduate payments than we inherited.”
At one point, Speaker John Bercow was forced to intervene telling MPs: “Passions are aroused- that is understood, that is accepted.
“What is not understood by any democrat is that the Secretary of State should not receive a fair hearing.”
Mr Denham said under the new system many graduates would still be paying back their fees by the time their children went to university.
Mr Denham told MPs: “It is the ending of funding for most university degrees. It is a huge burden of debt on graduates. It is an untried, untested and unstable market for students.”
Mr Denham said Labour had introduced top-up fees to add to “record university income”.
But he said: “The Prime Minister's plan, put forward by the Business Secretary, is totally different.
“Fees are being trebled simply to reduce the 80 per cent cut in the funding of university teaching, not to raise extra money.”