HC Deb 10 April 1973 vol 854 cc1126-9
18. Mr. Molloy

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress she has made in her consideration of representations submitted to her on student maintenance grants; and if she will now make a further statement.

23. Mr. Stallard

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will now make a further statement on the National Union of Students' claim for increases in maintenance grants.

35. Mr. McNamara

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will now make a further statement on her consideration of representations made to her on student maintenance grants.

Mrs. Thatcher

I have no statement to make at present.

Mr. Molloy

Is the right hon. Lady aware that such a casual reply to such an important question will be viewed with grave dismay by the universities? Is she further aware that from vice-chancellors downwards all staff, as well as the students, now realise that the poverty level of students' grants and ever-increasing prices are having a grievous effect on their desire to study and a deleterious effect throughout our universities? Will the right hon. Lady consider the matter?

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not accept the last part of the hon. Gentleman's question. There will be a small increase in September, because this is the last year of the triennium and, therefore, we have about a 4½ per cent. increase still to come. I am still considering the matter further, but I have no statement to make today.

Mr. Stallard

I realise that the very mention of students immediately raises the blood pressure of many of the Secretary of State's right hon. and hon. Friends, so I appreciate some of her difficulties. Will she say whether it is true that local education authorities are picking up more by way of parental contributions than her Department budgeted for when fixing the present level of student grants? Does not the right hon. Lady consider that that fact and the fact mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) provide sufficient grounds for her to review and increase the present level of grants?

Mrs. Thatcher

I cannot accept the first part of the hon. Gentleman's question. In view of what the present Government have done to help to increase the number of people attending universities and to increase the polytechnic and further education building programmes, I scarcely think that it could be said that they were anything other than in great favour of students. The other point, about parental contribution, is one upon which I have received representations, and these are being considered along with the point about the increase in grants.

Mr. John E. B. Hill

As the National Union of Students has now taken as part of its settled policy the making of non-advanced work in further education a subject for mandatory awards, will my right hon. Friend give an indication of what the cost might be?

Mrs. Thatcher

It would be very difficult to tell, but I do not think there is any question of making every award mandatory along the lines which, I understand from reports, the National Union of Students required. There are two different points: one is about making all awards mandatory; the other is about making awards for certain courses equal to mandatory awards. They are rather different.

Mr. McNamara

Regarding the examination which she is to make of this matter, will the right hon. Lady say whether she will do away with the terrible discrimination against married women students, and in particular the younger married women students, who are subject to two means tests, first on the husband's possible income and, secondly, on the parents' possible income? Is not this particular form of discrimination grossly unfair and will not it encourage people to live in sin?

Mrs. Thatcher

The question of the grant for the married woman student is a matter for the next triennium. We are now coming to the last year of the present triennium. The hon. Gentleman is wrong perhaps about many things, but about one thing certainly. The married woman student whose husband is not a student does not have his income means-tested.

Mr. Redmond

Will my right hon. Friend bear in mind that, although many students have totally alienated themselves from public sympathy by their behaviour, there are many decent students who are getting seriously into debt and that this is really hindering their studies when they are anxious to do well at university?

Mrs. Thatcher

I agree with my hon. Friend that we should not judge the great body of students by the reported behaviour of one or two. I shall certainly take into account the point made by my hon. Friend.

Mr. Moyle

Why are the Government so perverse? Where groups of workers do not want to have anything to do with the Government's £1 plus 4 per cent. formula, the Government try to force it upon them, but where it would be of help to students, the Government withhold it from them. How can the right hon. Lady justify someone buying a £40,000 house and receiving further aid from the Government and the Government withholding everything from students receiving a few pounds a week?

Mrs. Thatcher

The hon. Gentleman is fundamentally wrong in equating remuneration with grants.