HC Deb 26 June 1973 vol 858 cc1302-3
11. Mr. Judd

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether she will make a statement on the latest developments in her correspondence with student bodies concerning the ending of discretionary grants and improving grants for married women.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

My right hon. Friend has told the National Union of Students that discretionary awards are now the subject of consultation between the Department and the local authority associations; and that the whole basis of the married women's grant will be examined in the forthcoming triennial review.

Mr. Judd

I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware of the very deep feeling in the student community about the problems surrounding discretionary grants? Can he assure the House that as he goes into consultations with the local authorities about discretionary grants the Government have a completely open mind on the issue?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

In spite of the guidance that has already been given by the Department, I am aware of variations in practice, which do not always appear to be justified. In accordance with a recommendation of the Expenditure Committee on further and higher education, I am exploring with the local authority associations whether stronger and more detailed guidance should be given.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Does my hon. Friend agree that this is a very difficult subject which is causing a great deal of disquiet among students? Is it not time for the abolition of discretionary grants?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Their total abolition would involve an astronomical sum, running into hundreds of millions of pounds. But I am willing to discuss the whole question of discretionary grants with representatives of the National Union of Students if they agree to discussions opening on the triennial review, as I hope they will.

Mrs. Castle

How can the right hon. Lady possibly justify penalising women students just because they marry? Will the hon. Gentleman tell his right hon. Friend that women totally reject the concept of dependency and demand to be treated as individuals in their own right on an equal basis, whether they are married or single?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

With the complete support of my right hon. Friend, I have already said in the House that when the next review opens we shall consider the anomalous position of the married women's grant. Perhaps it is fair to point out that the anomaly was created in 1968 by the Labour Government when they pegged this rate of women's grant at the 1965 rate and other rates of grant were allowed to go up. The right hon. Lady must accept her share of responsibility for this anomalous situation.

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