Business Secretary Vince Cable has said he would vote for a rise in university tuition fees.
Mr Cable, who is responsible as Business Secretary for getting the fees package through Parliament, had previously indicated he might join his Liberal Democrat colleagues in abstaining in the key vote next Thursday.
But he told his local newspaper the Richmond and Twickenham Times that he had reconsidered his position and now had “no doubt” he should vote in favour of the controversial policy. The Twickenham MP said: “Obviously I have a duty as a minister to vote for my own policy – and that is what will happen.”
Liberal Democrats have come under intense pressure from students over the fees policy, which could see annual charges in some universities almost treble to £9,000. The party promised in its manifesto to abolish tuition fees, and senior figures including leader Nick Clegg signed a pledge to vote against any increase.
The party was forced to call off its London conference this weekend after students threatened to protest outside.
In interviews earlier this week, Mr Cable said his “personal instinct” was to back the fees package in the Commons. But he said he was “happy to go along with” a mass Lib Dem abstention if all the party’s MPs agreed to it.
He told the Richmond and Twickenham Times he made this offer as an “olive branch” for colleagues who were “finding this difficult”. Mr Cable added: “There is a dilemma. I’m very clear I regard the policy as right and as a member of the Cabinet I am collectively responsible for the policy. There is no doubt that is what I should do.”
Mr Cable said the policy included protections for students from low-income backgrounds to ensure they are not excluded from higher education. It was a “myth” that all universities would charge £9,000 a year for tuition, and the maximum for most would be £6,000, he said.
“There is no reason why this new system, or revised system, should stop anybody going to university who wants to go and is qualified,” said Mr Cable. “Students should be careful not to listen to the more alarmist warnings of the protesters and just recognise that for the vast majority of people who go to university it is good for them, it increases their chances of getting a good job and it’s still a good option.”
A Liberal Democrat spokesman said no decision had yet been made on how the party’s other MPs and ministers – including the Deputy Prime Minister Mr Clegg – will vote.