BRITAIN’S parliament early this morning approved the plan to increase fees paid by university students despite a rebellion by members of the coalition government.
The lower house of parliament approved the plan by a majority of 21 votes, indicating that several members of the ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition had failed to back it. The bill was passed by 323 votes to 302.
Protesters had earlier clashed with police outside parliament in central London during the debate.
Police with riot shields and batons pushed angry student protesters away from Parliament Square yesterday as lawmakers debated the controversial plan to triple university tuition fees in England.
Thousands of students held demonstrations and sit-ins throughout the country, heaping pressure on the government to reverse course.
Small groups of protesters threw flares, billiard balls and paint bombs outside parliament, and officers, some on horses, rushed to reinforce the security cordon. Police said 13 protesters and four officers were injured in the fracas, while seven people were arrested.
The scuffles broke out after students marched through central London and converged on the square, waving placards and chanting “education is not for sale” to cap weeks of nationwide protests to pressure lawmakers to reverse course.
The tuition vote posed a crucial test for both the Conservative’s governing coalition with the Liberal Democrats and the government’s austerity plans to reduce Britain’s budget deficit.
The vote put Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and other Liberal Democrat leaders in an awkward spot. Liberal Democrats signed a pre-election pledge to oppose any such tuition hike, and have reserved the right to abstain in the vote even though they are part of the governing coalition proposing the change.
Those protesting in central London were particularly incensed by what seems like a broken pledge by Clegg’s party.
“I’m here because the Liberal Democrats broke their promise,” said 19-year-old Kings College student Shivan David from London’s Trafalgar Square.
“I don’t think education should be free but I do think that tripling fees doesn’t make any sense. We are paying more for less.”
Inside the House of Commons and to the jeers from the opposition lawmakers, Business Secretary Vince Cable insisted that the new tuition plans were “progressive,” as a heated debate began.
While some Liberal Democrats – and even a few members of Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party – declared their opposition, the increase still passed.