HC Deb 14 March 1968 vol 760 cc1596-9
21. Mr. van Straubenzee

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether, in view of the recent economy measures, he will request the Advisory Panel on Grants to review the level of student grants earlier than 1971.

The Minister of State, Department of Education and Science (Mrs. Shirley Williams)

The timing of the next review of student grants will depend on the economic situation.

Mr. van Straubenzee

As the hon. Lady has had to take part in this very drastic decision before any figures are announced arbitrarily to reduce by 50 per cent. any recommended increase, would not be a reasonable quid pro quo to say that a firm request to the Advisory Panel on Grants will be made before 1971? Is not that a reasonable request to make?

Mrs. Williams

The normal space between reviews is approximately three years. I would repeat that until we can see how the economic situation develops, it would be impossible for me to give a pledge of one kind or another.

Mr. Lomas

Can the Minister do anything in the meantime to ensure that the parental contribution is paid, because, where it is not paid, it causes hardship?

Mrs. Williams

I certainly take my hon. Friend's point. This is one of the matters which we are considering along with other points put before us by the students' organisations.

Sir E. Boyle

Would the hon. Lady agree that in considering this question she must have regard not only to the economic situation, but to the increase of halls of residence and refectory charges and also the increase in the cost of books, which may hit students severely during the period ahead?

Mrs. Williams

On the first point, the right hon. Gentleman will realise that the universities are concerned to try to keep the level of hostel prices down as low as possible, and discussions are being held to that effect.

On the second point, this is not within the control of the Government or, for that matter, of the universities. However, I take the right hon. Gentleman's point.

30. Mr. Edward M. Taylor

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received regarding the proposed cut in the increase of students' grants; and what reply he has sent.

Mr. Gordon Walker

I have received representations from student organisations, and from a number of individuals. I have made it clear that the decision must stand to limit to half the total of the increases recommended by the Advisory Panel; but that I am very willing to consider any proposals for adjustments to the grant structure, provided that they do not increase the total sum to be made available.

Mr. Taylor

When will these consultations take place? Will the right hon. Gentleman be prepared to consider the possibility of a variable grant, to take in higher costs of living in certain areas?

Mr. Gordon Walker

Does the hon. Gentleman mean variable geographical grants?

Mr. Taylor


Mr. Gordon Walker

That would be very difficult. It has not been put to me. but I shall consider anything that is. Now that the Report is in my hands, I shall be consulting the various bodies and organisations concerned, including the student organisations.

Mr. Hannan

May I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that many of us on these benches believe that university students have been fairly and adequately treated under present circumstances?—[HON. MEMBERS "Speak for yourself."]—I am stating my view. It is high time that under-priveleged children referred to in Plowden and Newsom received some attention. We regret that the school-leaving age was not raised.

Mr. Gordon Walker

I, too, regret that the school-leaving age was not raised. We are not neglecting the children in the kind of school to which my hon. Friend is referring.

With regard to the first part of my hon. Friend's question, I think everyone will agree that students alone cannot be exempt from some contribution to making devaluation work. They cannot be wholly exempt.

Sir E. Boyle

In view of the likely cost increases this year, does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a strong case for a special inquiry now, before 1971, and, secondly, that at the very least he ought to look with urgency at the income scale for the assessment of parental contributions?

Mr. Gordon Walker

With regard to the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, I am doing this. There is a strong case for it. There is a case for an earlier than three-year review, but I cannot commit myself to this. It must depend on the general economic developments, and the priorities in education on which we may decide. I agree, however, that there is a case for this.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

Will my right hon. Friend, when looking at this matter, pay particular attention to the problem of older students, particularly those with families?

Mr. Gordon Walker

I will look at it to see whether we can make arrangements within the total sum to deal with that problem. I am prepared to do what I can to meet proven cases of hardship within the total scale, and there is some hardship in the case to which my hon. Friend refers.

Mr. David Steel

Can the right hon. Gentleman say whether he will set a date for the restoration of the cut, and, secondly, whether he has abandoned the principle of ever implementing the Anderson Committee's Report on the matter?

Mr. Gordon Walker

I cannot set a date. Directly we have more money available for education, we will have to settle our priorities. This will be among them. We have not totally abandoned the principle of anything.

Mr. Orme

Is my right hon. Friend aware that these cuts will bring hardship, particularly to such people as those of my constituents, with children, who are in the lower income groups? Is he aware that many of us deplore these cuts, which will only bring difficulties to the educational system which we hope to improve?

Mr. Gordon Walker

There are no cuts. There will be an increase in September for every student getting a grant, which means practically all of them. I agree that the failure to increase it by the amount expected will produce some cases of hardship, and I am preparing to consider these. I am consulting various organisations, including the students, about the best way of doing this within the sums which I have available.