Students Protest In London(England) On Fee
Violence flares at Westminster as MPs debate fee rises
BBC’s Philip Herd: “The horses’ hooves were causing sparks as they charged”
Student demonstrators are clashing with police in Westminster as MPs debate plans to raise tuition fees in England to £9,000 a year.
Scotland Yard says three police officers have been hurt and one has a serious neck injury.
Protesters who had forced their way into Parliament Square pressed against police lines and threw missiles.
Riot police are lined up behind metal barriers surrounding the Houses of Parliament.
The London Ambulance Service says 19 people have been treated for injuries – six have been taken to hospital.
There were clashes as protesters – some throwing missiles – fought to break through police lines.
The police now say they are containing protesters on the square. Seven people have been arrested and a container is on fire.
In violent scenes, the BBC’s Mark Georgiou says there have been injuries to both police and protesters near to Westminster Abbey.
The Metropolitan Police say there have been attacks using “flares, sticks, snooker balls and paint balls”.
Students from around the UK gathered in London for a day of protests and a rally – with police expecting about 20,000 demonstrators.
Inside the House of Commons, Business Secretary Vince Cable told MPs the fee plans were fair and would maintain the quality of universities.
The coalition government is facing its first major backbench rebellion in the votes – which are expected to be taken from 1715 GMT.
It is expected that more than a dozen Liberal Democrat MPs will not support the government – including the party’s deputy leader Simon Hughes.
Two Lib Dem ministerial aides, Mike Crockart and Jenny Willott, are to resign their posts as a ministerial aide because they intend to vote against the fee increase.
Opening a noisy debate in the Commons, Mr Cable said the fees plan would “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”.
Liberal Democrat MPs have been under intense pressure – after their election pledge to vote against any fee increase.
Party leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who has become a target for student anger, said that all Lib Dem ministers will vote in favor of the plan to raise fees.
But Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes has said he will abstain or even rebel against the government.
Mr Hughes said that the “level of fee increase… may have a significant disincentive effect on youngsters going to university”.
Mr Clegg’s own party’s youth wing has also held last-ditch talks to persuade Lib Dem MPs to vote against the fee rise.
In the debate, Conservative MP Andrew Percy has also spoken against the fee increase.
Shadow business secretary John Denham said the fee increase was being driven by the government’s decision to have deep cuts to university funding.
“Even if they had just cut universities the way they are cutting other public services, students would be facing fees of no more than £4,000,” he told the BBC.
“This is a choice they have made and they don’t have to make it.”
The package of measures would see fees rising to an upper limit of £9,000 per year – with requirements for universities to protect access for poorer students if they charge more than £6,000 per year.
The proposals to raise fees have triggered a wave of student and school pupil protests, with a march last month leading to an attack on the Conservative headquarters in Mill bank.
Dozens of universities have been occupied by students – with students in five more universities occupying buildings this week.
For the first time, there have also been occupations of schools by pupils.
Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students, urged MPs to “do the honorable thing and vote down these damaging proposals”.
“Students are now descending on Westminster to ensure that promises to voters are kept and they are not sold down the river,” said Mr Porter.