Higher Education: Lib Dem who refused to vote on rise in fees defends party's action

A senior Liberal Democrat MP who has become the Government's new Advocate for Access to Education said he regretted the coalition's decision to increase tuition fees but said young people needed to "understand the facts".

The party's deputy leader, Simon Hughes, who abstained in the crunch Commons vote, said he was "sorry" fees had jumped to a maximum of 9,000 as the result of a "compromise" with the Tories.

But, he insisted, higher tuition fees had not put university education out of young people's reach.

Labour's Shadow Business Secretary John Denham dismissed Mr Hughes' appointment as a sop to the Lib Dems to sure up the coalition.

Mr Hughes told the BBC Radio 4's World At One he would be "independent of Government", saying he hoped to be "constructively helpful".

He told the programme: "I am not there in a way to sell it, I am there to make sure people understand the facts.

"I wouldn't vote for it because I believed that with the higher rate that could go, in some cases, up to 9,000 a year, that could put people off applying to university. The problem with the system is the perception rather than the reality."

He added: "I am a member of a party that has believed, and still believes, that we should ideally not have tuition fees. That's been our view and it remains the Liberal Democrat view. We didn't win the election, we had to negotiate a coalition with the Conservatives.

"Both other parties had actually signed up to tuition fees so it would have been similar if Labour had been the coalition partner.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg's appointment was dismissed by Mr Denham. He said: "I am afraid it is a terribly cynical piece of window dressing. It's all about trying to keep the Liberal Democrats propping up the Tory Government. It's nothing about the opportunities for young people in this country."