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December 5, 2010

UK Parliament to vote on tuition fee rise on Thursday

UK Parliament to vote on tuition fee rise on Thursday

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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Students protesting outside the UK parliament in November.
Image: BillyH.

The controversial plan to raise university tuition fees in England and Wales will be voted on in the House of Commons on Thursday, December 9. The policy has been the cause of protests across the United Kingdom by students, some of which have turned violent. It has also been a source of considerable criticism and political difficulties for the Liberal Democrats and has raised questions as to the long-term viability of the Coalition government.

The new policy on tuition fees will allow universities to double the current tuition fees from £3,290 per year to around £6,000 per year, as well as allowing some universities to get special approval from the Office For Fair Access (OFFA) to raise their fees to £9,000 per year. If passed, the new fee structure will apply starting in the academic year of 2012/2013. The vote on Thursday will only be on the fee rise, with other matters being voted on in the new year following publication of a new higher education white paper.

Vince Cable and Nick Clegg will likely vote for the changes, but how many Lib Dems will join them?
Image: Nick Clegg.

In addition to increasing fees, the policy will increase the payment threshold at which payment is made. It is currently set at £15,000 and will rise to £21,000, but the interest rate will also rise. It is currently 1.5% but will now vary from between 0% and 3% plus inflation (using the Retail Price Index).

The fee increase follows the publication of an independent review by Lord Browne, former chief executive of BP, a process started by Peter Mandelson, the former Business Secretary. Before the election, two main options were mooted for funding reform in higher education: either an increase in tuition fees or a graduate tax. The Browne Review endorsed the former and the findings of the Review form the basis of the government’s policy. The graduate tax was supported by the Liberal Democrats before the election, and in the Labour leadership elections it was supported by Ed Balls and the winner of the leadership election, Ed Milliband.

Conservative members of the Coalition intend to vote for the reform, and the Labour opposition have been vociferous critics of the rise in fees, despite the previous government’s introduction of top-up fees. The Liberal Democratic members of the Coalition have been left in a politically difficult position regarding the fee hike and have been target of much criticism from protesters. Liberal Democrats have opposed the rise in tuition fees: their party manifesto included a commitment to ending tuition fees within six years, and many signed a pledge organised by the National Union of Students to not vote for any increase in tuition fees.

The Coalition agreement allows Liberal Democrats to opt to abstain on votes for a number of policies including tuition fees. Many Liberal Democrats are expected to abstain, and a few MPs have stated that they will vote against it including former party leader Sir Menzies Campbell, and the recently elected party president Tim Farron, as well as a number of Liberal Democrat back-benchers. Liberal Democrat party leaders have said that they will act collectively, but the BBC have said senior Liberal Democrats have admitted in private that government whips will not be able to force all Liberal Democrats to vote for the policy.

On Tuesday, the Liberal Democrats parliamentary party will meet in the Commons to decide on their collective position. If all ministers decide to vote for the policy, it will probably pass, but if only cabinet ministers (and maybe parliamentary private secretaries) vote for the policy, there is considerable risk of it not passing. If the Coalition does not manage to get the policy through Parliament, it will fuel doubts about the continued effectiveness and viability of the government.

How deputy prime minister Nick Clegg and business secretary Vince Cable vote has been of considerable controversy. Although under the Coalition agreement, they are allowed to abstain, suggestions of doing so have prompted criticism. It was suggested last week that Cable may abstain even though as business secretary he is directly responsible for higher education policy, and has been heavily involved in designing the proposals. Cable has said that Liberal Democrat support of the tuition fee changes has allowed them to push it in a more “progressive” direction.

Cable has now decided that he will vote for the policy, and argues that the policy has “a lot of protection for students from low income backgrounds and graduates who have a low income or take time out for family”. He also believes “there’s common consensus that the system we’ve devised is a progressive one”.

“Dr Cable has performed so many U-turns over the issue of university funding that he is spinning on his heels,” said National Union of Students president Aaron Porter. “That may stand him in good stead with the Strictly Come Dancing judges but the electorate will see it differently.”

Former deputy PM John Prescott has joked about Vince Cable’s u-turns on Twitter.
Image: Steve Punter.

Former deputy prime minister John Prescott joked on Twitter that “On tuition fees we’ve noticed Vince Cable’s remarkable transformation in the last few weeks from stalling to Mr In Between”—a reference to a previous attack Prescott made on Gordon Brown as having transformed from “Stalin to Mr Bean“.

On Question Time this week, Liberal Democrat treasury secretary Danny Alexander also confirmed he is prepared to vote for the policy but delegated the question to the meeting of Liberal Democrats on Tuesday.

The politics of the tuition fee debate may also affect the by-election taking place in Oldham East and Saddleworth following the removal of Phil Woolas, where Liberal Democrat and Conservative candidates will both be standing for the first by-election following the formation of the Coalition government.

Opposition to the policy has become the focus for a large number of protests across the country by both current university students, many school pupils and political allies of the student movement.

On the Nov. 10 demonstration, protestors occupied Millbank tower.
Image: Charlie Owen.

On November 10, between 30,000 and 52,000 protesters from across Britain marched through central London in a demonstration organised by the National Union of Students and the University and College Union, which represents teachers and lecturers in further and higher education. At the November 10 protest, a number of people occupied Millbank Tower, an office block which houses the Conservative Party. Fifty people were arrested and fourteen were injured. NUS president Aaron Porter condemned the attack and said it was caused by “those who are here to cause trouble”, and that the actions of a “minority of idiots” shouldn’t “undermine 50,000 who came to make a peaceful protest”.

Following the November 10 march, other protests have taken place across the country including an occupation at the University of Manchester, a sit-in at the John Owens Building in Manchester, and a demonstration at the University of Cambridge. A protest was also run outside the offices of The Guardian where Nick Clegg—who was giving a lecture inside the building—was executed in effigy while students protested “Nick Clegg, shame on you, shame on you for turning blue” (blue is the colour of the Conservative Party).

A graffitied police van in Trafalgar Square at the November 24 demonstration.
Image: yllA.

On November 24, a large number of protests took place across the country including a mass walk-out from universities and schools organised on Facebook, numerous university occupations, and demonstrations in Manchester, Cambridge, Birmingham, Leeds, Brighton and Cardiff, and a well-publicised occupation of University College London.

In London, a protest was planned to march down Whitehall to Parliament, but police held protesters in Trafalgar Square until they eventually broke free and ran around in a game of “cat and mouse” along the side streets around Charing Cross Road, Covent Garden and Picadilly Circus.

Simon Hardy from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts described the police response including the controversial ‘kettling’ of protesters as “absolutely outrageous”. Green MP Caroline Lucas raised the police response including the use of kettling in the House of Commons and stated that it was “neither proportionate, nor, indeed, effective”.

On November 30, protests continued in London culminating in 146 arrests of protesters in Trafalgar Square, and protests in Cardiff, Cambridge, Newcastle, Bath, Leeds, Sheffield, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Belfast, Brighton, Manchester and Bristol. Protesters in Sheffield attempted to invade and occupy Nick Clegg’s constituency office. Occupations of university buildings started or continued at University College London, Newcastle University, Cambridge University and Nottingham University, as well as council buildings in Oxford and Birmingham.

A “day of action” is being planned on December 8, the day before the Commons vote, by the National Union of Students.


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Politics of Liberal Democrat vote
Protests and occupations

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August 27, 2007

Prescott to stand down as UK MP

Prescott to stand down as UK MP – Wikinews, the free news source

Prescott to stand down as UK MP

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Monday, August 27, 2007

John Prescott, former Deputy Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is to stand down as a Member of Parliament after the next general election.

Mr Prescott, 69, who has been MP for the constituency for Hull East for 37 years, made his announcement for at a weekend garden party. Stephen Brady, chairman of the local Labour association said, “John told us he would not be standing again. People paid tribute to his long service. It was an emotional event.”

Prescott, recently took up the post of head of the Parliamentary delegation to the Council of Europe. It is suspected he may enter the House of Lords and has been reported that he sold his memoirs for £300,000.

There has also been speculations over who will replace Prescott as an MP. Amongst the people who have been mentioned are Prescott’s son David Prescott and Chris Leslie, an aide to Prime Minister Gordon Brown.



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December 11, 2005

Major explosions at UK oil depot

Major explosions at UK oil depot – Wikinews, the free news source

Major explosions at UK oil depot

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Sunday, December 11, 2005

Location of Hemel Hempstead within the UK

A shot of the fire taken near the depot

A series of large explosions have occurred close to Hemel Hempstead Hertfordshire, UK. The source of the explosions has been confirmed as the Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal (HOSL), Hemel Hempstead, known locally as the Buncefield complex. Up to 150 fire fighters are reported to be at the scene with 10 fire appliances and 1 specialist foamer.

The first ‘blast’ was heard near Hemel Hempstead on Sunday 11 Dec at 6 am. Further smaller explosions followed at 6:24am , 6:26am, 6:30am. BBC News 24 reported an additional, fourth large explosion. Hertfordshire Police Constabulary are currently treating the explosion as an accident.

Reports say the explosion, which registered 2.4 on the Richter scale, was heard as far away as Oxford, and Whitehall, Central London which is 60km (38 miles) away. Eyewitness statements report that the explosion was heard from at least 160km (100 miles) away and as far away as France and The Netherlands. Pilots reported noticing the blast from the North Sea and the West Country area of the UK. The M1 motorway which runs close by has been closed in both directions near the blast which is causing travel chaos as other roads become congested.

Malcom Stewart, a BBC News24 eyewitness who is a tanker driver for the site has reported that the site supplies several oil companies and is a joint operation between Total UK and Texaco, it is also used by BP, Shell and the British Pipeline association. The complex is not a refinery but a storage facility for refined petroleum awaiting distribution to airports and filling stations. The eyewitness reports that the depot has approximately 20 tanks which can hold about 3 million gallons (11 million litres or 70,000 barrels) each. Another News24 eyewitness has just reported that he has seen at least 5 of these tanks on fire.

Satellite image of Hemel Hempstead fuel explosion showing black smoke from the explosion near London

The depot operates on a 24 hour basis and is split into 2 parts – aviation fuel and domestic fuel. A number of eyewitnesses have reported on UK news that the aviation fuel side appears to be the part of the site that has been affected.

Local authorities were not immediately available for comment but there have been reports of casualties.

Some reports on live television state that, “Several other neighbours said they did see a plane go into the depot.” BBC News 24 were also discussing the idea a possible plane crash as the cause of the explosions. Hertfordshire police have now gone on the record to say that there is no plane involved (BBC News24).

The police have issued a contact number 0800 096 0095 and asked that people do not call the emergency services in Hertfordshire directly unless it is an emergency.

Buncefield Fire, taken from Dunsmore, Bucks – about 20miles away.

In addition to being an oil storage depot, it is a major hub on the UK oil pipeline network with pipelines to Killingholme Lindsey Oil Refinery (LOR), Humberside (10 inch), Merseyside (10 and 12 inch), Coryton on the Thames Estuary (14 inch) and Heathrow (6 and 8 inch) and Gatwick airports radiating from it.

The disaster is believed to be the worst explosion at a petrochemical plant in the UK since the Flixborough disaster of 1974. Hertfordshire’s Chief Fire Officer Roy Wilsher said: “This is possibly the largest incident of its kind in peacetime Europe.”

A firefighting press officer said that they are stock piling foam from neighboring regions for a prolonged attach which they hope will stop the spread of the fire, however, the inferno itself will have to burn out which could take between 24 hours and a few days.

Despite the authorities saying that there is no need to panic buy petrol, filling stations have had above average queues since this morning and some small garages have ran out.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has visited the scene.

Smoke Viewed from St Albans

Damage reports

  • Houses half a mile away have had windows smashed and garage doors blown in.
  • BBC News24 (UK) have reported that a nearby building has been destroyed, it is possible that this may be a building belonging to Geest Limited.
  • BBC News24 eyewitnesses reported that the entire depot complex appears to be on fire with buildings on the nearby industrial estate on fire.
  • Police said at a news conference that 36 people were injured, four of them seriously. Police later revised the numbers to 43 injured, two seriously.
  • A fire service spokesman said that the explosions caused a “fairly major fire at a factory” on the adjoining industrial estate.


Police are discounting the reports of a small plane being heard nearby just before the explosion.

An oil industry specialist reported on BBC News that a vapour leak could have built up to explosive concentrations because of the ground frost in the area keeping vapour concentration at ground level. This would have resulted in a fuel-air explosion[1]. Eyewitnesses report seeing vapour and smelling petrol just before the explosion, leading experts to speculate that there may have been a fuel spillage or vapour leak. A BBC News 24 interview with a petrol tanker driver, who was about to load his tanker at 6am, reported a cloud of mist rolling in from the tank farm area behind the loading bay. All electric lights were turned off and they were ordered to leave the site on foot. As he was doing so a blast blew him off his feet. In another interview a security guard in a nearby office building reported an unusual smell of petrol inside his building before the explosion.


UK Emergency contact number 0800 096 0095

People calling from outside of the UK should call +44 20 7158 0125


Wikipedia has more about this subject:
2005 Hertfordshire Oil Storage Terminal fire

Links to Pictures

External links

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April 26, 2005

Greenpeace protestors put solar panels on British Deputy Prime Minister\’s house

Greenpeace protestors put solar panels on British Deputy Prime Minister’s house

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Greenpeace activists have scaled the house of Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, and then mounted 60 square feet of solar panels on the roof.

The four men and four women were highlighting what they believe is Prescott’s failure to make new houses, for which he has responsibility, more energy efficient.

After putting the solar panels up, they unfurled a large banner which read Oi 2 Jags! Hit targets, not voters.

John Prescott’s wife was alone in the house when the protesters climbed the building. She was reportedly awoken by their noise.

One protester, Laura Yates, 27, said, “The Deputy PM’s got a reputation for straight-talking,” she said from the roof, “but since the election kicked off we’ve heard barely a squeak about climate change from big hitters like him. As long as the average existing British house is responsible for six tonnes of CO2 every year he’s not dealing with the climate crisis. He’s in danger of hitting more voters than climate targets. Whoever wins on May 5th needs to get serious about energy efficiency.”

Speaking from the roof by mobile phone, she told Reuters, “It’s a major contributor to the climate change problem and Prescott could do something about this, particularly with the millions of new homes that are going to be built in Britain over the next years,” she said.

“He’s overseeing this house building programme and he should be ensuring that every one of these new homes is built to zero emissions standards,” she added.

The protesters climbed down at 2.50pm and were promptly arrested by local police for “harassment of a person in a dwelling”. The police then handcuffed them before taking them away in a van. The protesters left the solar panels by the door of the house, offering to come back and install the panels at a later date.

A police officer emphasised to BBC News that the distress of the event had been immense for Mrs Prescott: “It’s not pleasant to be invaded in the privacy of your own home and it is being treated seriously. She’s very distressed but she’s pleased with the happy outcome.”

John Prescott is currently touring the country as part of Labour’s General Election 2005 campaign. Speaking from Gloucester, he told BBC News 24, “It’s now clearly a publicity stunt and it terrorised my wife in the early hours in the morning to see all those men scrambling over the building. [Mrs Prescott] did not know who they were. It’s deplorable and unacceptable even for a publicity stunt.”

The protesters were challenged by the armed police officers who guard Mr Prescott’s home, but reportedly the officers withdrew when they realised it was a peaceful protest.


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