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10 Downing St Briefing - Hutton & Tuition Fees

PRESS BRIEFING: 11AM TUESDAY 27 JANUARY 2004

TUITION FEES

Asked for further detail about reports that the Government was planning to set up a Commission to look again at tuition fees in a year's time, the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) referred journalists to the Department for Education for further information. He took the opportunity to underline that there had been no changes to the Bill - nor negotiations on changes to the Bill - since last night, there had been no changes to the principles contained in the Bill and there was no extra money other than that which had already been highlighted. It was also a statement of the obvious that if a review recommended substantial changes, then new legislation would need to be drawn up. However, that was only 'if', and would not happen until 2009/10 in any event.

Asked the Prime Minister's thoughts on Nick Brown's decision to support the Government this evening, the PMOS said that he was not going to comment on individual MPs because what they did was entirely a matter for them. Obviously the Government wanted to win the vote because we believed the measures were right for both universities and students. Asked how much of a role the Chancellor had played in Mr Brown's decision, the PMOS repeated that he had no intention of commenting on the actions of individual MPs. What they chose to do was a matter for them. Asked if the Prime Minister was 'embarrassed' that the Chancellor had undermined him by reigning in a close ally, the PMOS said that the question was essentially the same as the one that had been asked a minute ago. His answer had not changed since then.

Asked to confirm reports that the Prime Minister had had a meeting this morning with the Chancellor and the Deputy Prime Minister about 'conversations' that would persuade rebels to support the Government, the PMOS said he had no intention of getting drawn into speculation about who had spoken to whom and when. For example, he had seen a report suggesting that the Prime Minister would be attending the NEC today, which he had no plans to do. It went without saying that senior members of the Government remained in touch with each other about this issue, as you would expect. Asked if the Prime Minister would be at the House of Commons today, the PMOS said yes. He would be on the frontbench for the Education Secretary's Opening Statement. Asked if the Prime Minister would be meeting MPs, the PMOS said that that was a matter for the Prime Minister. It was important for people to understand that there had been no further negotiations on the Bill since last night.

Asked if the Government would consider further negotiation on the Bill if the Commission recommended a review of all the principles contained within it, the PMOS reiterated the point that there had been no changes to the principles on which the Bill was based. Asked repeatedly to explain why the rebellion looked as though it was beginning to collapse if nothing had changed, the PMOS declined the invitation to get drawn into a running commentary on how individual MPs were choosing to vote this evening. The situation remained as it was. The important point was that there had been no changes to the Bill - nor any further negotiations on changes to the Bill - since last night. Pressed repeatedly as to whether there had been any negotiation about the review since last night, the PMOS underlined that there had been no negotiations on the Bill. End of story. Asked if any discussions had taken place since last night, the PMOS said that discussions and conversations were, of course, continuing between the leading players. However, they remained private.

HUTTON REPORT

Asked if he was expecting to receive a personal copy of the Hutton Report, the PMOS said that we had absolutely no intention of providing a running commentary on Hutton-related processology matters. He advised journalists to focus on the content of the Report, not the process surrounding it. Asked when the Prime Minister would make his Statement to the Commons tomorrow, the PMOS said that it would be after Lord Hutton's Statement, so probably at around 2pm.

ENDS

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