24 Oct 2010

Coalition cracks appear over housing benefits cuts

Simon Hughes, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, signals cracks in the coalition as he tells Channel 4 News housing benefit cuts will not get through parliament.

Earlier this week, the government set out its comprehensive spending review (CSR) outlining plans to cut funding for social housing by more than 60 per cent, with new tenants in line to pay higher rents.

The government has defended the vast cut however, as a means to free up funds to build around 150,000 new affordable homes over the next four years.

Yet Mr Hughes told Channel 4 News: “My message to the government is I don’t think you will get parliamentary approval for you current plans. I don’t think there will be a parliamentary majority in the House of Commons for the current plans.”

Mr Hughes said that the proposals would not pass as they are, adding: “I think the government understands that there have to be negotiations”.

He said that as a Liberal Democrat and as an inner city London MP, he is clear that the current proposals are “not the best set of proposals”.

“Whatever the financial constraints there are better ways of doing it and we need to achieve them and I’m making sure the message from me and from many colleagues across the board is being communicated loud and clear to government,” he added.

Mr Hughes also reiterated the Liberal Democrats’ opposition to a rise in university tuition fees, and refused to say that it was even possible for him to break his personal pledge, and vote against a rise in tuition fees.

He revealed that he has meetings scheduled next week with Business Secretary Vince Cable amid ongoing discussions with Nick Clegg and other Lib Dem colleagues to discuss tuition fees.

“There are many colleagues who want to keep to the pledge, which is to limit tuition fees to what they are now,” he added.

His comments came as both Mr Clegg and Mr Cable stoked the debate over tuition fees. Mr Cable said today there was “no prospect” of allowing universities to set unlimited tuition fees, but admitted that the government had not yet finalised its plan.

Meanwhile, Mr Clegg admitted on BBC Radio 4 that he had wrestled with his conscience over the “morally difficult” questions within the spending review.

Speaking of increasing tuition fees, Mr Clegg said: “I have wrestled with this one more than anything else because I made a pledge which I find that I cannot keep. You don’t do that lightly,” he said

Mr Hughes responded that the Lord Browne’s case for fees – including increased fees and variable fees – is not “all” acceptable.

“There are many other things which need to be improved if anything like the package is to be acceptable, so there is not yet agreement between colleagues in government and colleagues on the backbenches, but we are working hard to get as much agreement as possible,” he said.