HC Deb 11 December 1973 vol 866 cc177-9
7. Mr. Armstrong

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will formulate proposals for providing adequate maintenance grants to enable schoolchildren over 15 years of age to continue their education in school without economic hardship; and if she will make a statement.

Mr. Raison

My right hon. Friend does not propose to change the system under which the award of education maintenance allowances has always been confined to children over compulsory school age.

Mr. Armstrong

Is the Minister aware that the refusal of his Department to extend maintenance grants to those who are now at school because of the raising of the school leaving age—with which I fully agree—is causing real hardship? Will he institute another working party, like the 1957 one, to ensure parity between area and area throughout the country and to bring the grants into line with present-day costs?

Mr. Raison

My Department believes that discretionary awards make sense, because local circumstances vary and local authorities are the people best placed to judge them. I remind the hon. Gentleman that a number of benefits are available to these children, including family allowances and child tax allowances.

Mr. Cockeram

Does the Minister note the different tone of the Opposition on this occasion, now that we have raised the school leaving age, compared with their attitude when they failed to do so?

Mr. Raison

My hon. Friend has made a fair point.

Mr. Molloy

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that his answer this afternoon, refusing the request of my hon. Friend, will only add to the suspicion of people that the interest of the Department in State education is declining? Is he not really saying, "Do not be worried about maintenance grants. Do not be worried about State education. Make a few more sacrifices and send your children to private schools"? But if wives ask their husbands to put in wage claims so as to be able to send their children to private schools, the husbands run the risk of going to gaol.

Mr. Raison

There is no reason at all for the hon Gentleman's assertions.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

Will the Minister seek to persuade his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services to extend free prescriptions up to the age of 16, without a means test?

Mr. Raison

I have no doubt that my hon. Friend's observation will be noted by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.