HC Deb 15 May 1973 vol 856 cc1213-4
1. Mr. Willey

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action she is taking to improve the provision of maintenance allowances for children at school after obtaining the statutory school leaving age.

The Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mrs. Margaret Thatcher)

This is a matter for each local education authority within its discretionary powers.

Mr. Willey

Is the right hon. Lady aware that there are understandable differences between local education authorities but that there are also shocking discrepancies between the provisions made by different authorities? Is she aware, further, that there is a real loss of talented children of poor parents to higher education and that this is sufficiently established for the avoidance of it to be a top priority?

Mrs. Thatcher

There are certain variations, and there are bound to be, where a local education authority has a discretion. Perhaps the number of variations will be reduced with the reorganisation of local education authorities into larger groupings. But in fact these allowances were never intended for those who are of compulsory school age.

Mr. Armstrong

Is the right hon Lady aware that the evidence is that the position of maintenance grants is inadequate in every part of the country and that, until she, as Secretary of State, takes some responsibility for this matter, children who ought to have maintenance allowances and who are now prevented from going on to further and higher education, thereby staying at school longer, will continue to leave school before their potential is achieved?

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not accept that all the maintenance allowances are inadequate, although I accept that there is quite a wide variation. We gave a complete list in a parliamentary answer on 16th June 1972.

Mrs. Kellett-Bowman

May we enlist my right hon. Friend's assistance in trying to persuade the Secretary of State for Social Services that the age for exemption from prescription charges for children be raised to 16 after the school-leaving age has been raised, because this causes considerable hardship? I know that it is not her responsibility, but I should like her help.

Mrs. Thatcher

I will pass on my hon. Friend's message to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.