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Hughes 'sorry' over fees compromise

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 now 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 shore 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."

But he defended his position, having abstained in the Commons vote on tuition fees.

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."