HC Deb 15 May 1973 vol 856 cc1217-22
6. Mr. Dalyell

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent representations she has had from the Committee of Vice-Chancellors on student grants.

28. Mr. Eadie

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will make a statement on her recent discussions concerning student grants and allowances which she held with interested bodies.

Mrs. Thatcher

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland and I have now considered the representations from the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and other interested parties, and we have decided that from 1st September next the main rates of grant originally fixed for 1973–74 at an amount up to £20 higher than the current rates will be increased by a further £20. This means that the annual rate of grant for students at London and Oxbridge living away from home, now £480, will become £520. The corresponding figures for students at other universities, now £445, will become £485. In addition, to help parents at the lower end of the income scale, the starting point for parental contributions will be raised from £1,100 residual income to £1,500 and parents with residual incomes of £1,500 to just below £2,000 will pay less than they do at present. With permission, I will circulate details in the OFFICIAL REPORT.

Mr. Dalyell

This is obviously a major announcement. If, in the context of pensions, the right hon. Lady's Cabinet colleagues boast of the principle of an annual uprating, should there not be an annual uprating for students too? Is it because old people are generally thought to be popular and perhaps students are generally thought to be unpopular?

Mrs. Thatcher

I do not think it has anything to do with that. Hitherto, student grants have been determined on a triennial basis. We operated that procedure last time. This is an interim settlement. We shall soon be starting the next triennial round.

Sir Gilbert Longden

Is my right hon. Friend aware that this announcement will give some satisfaction to the student body, about which I have been pressing for a long time? May I ask whether there has been any result from the inquiry into the costs of halls of residence which was being undertaken by the University Grants Committee?

Mrs. Thatcher

I have not yet had any results of that inquiry from the University Grants Committee.

Mr. Eadie

Any announcement by the right hon. Lady that there should be an increase in allowances must be welcomed, but it is doubtful whether it is enough. Does she agree that it must have become a regular occurrence for the Department to be getting letters from Members of Parliament about complaints made by students of the financial difficulties they are having regarding grants and allowances? Does she think it proper that the only advice that can be given to Members of Parliament is that students should apply for social security and supplementary allowances? Does she think that this is the solution to the problem?

Mrs. Thatcher

I have just announced a considerable increase in student grants and a considerable advantage to parents at the lower end of the income scale regarding the contribution they would otherwise have to make for their student children. I hope that both these matters will be very welcome.

Mr. Selwyn Gummer

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the most important part of her announcement is the change in the parental contribution scale? Is she aware that the Federation of Conservative Students has pressed for it for some time and will be delighted that she has done it? In percentage terms, may I ask what her announcement means for the student who is not at Oxbridge?

Mrs. Thatcher

Between 1970 and 1973 there has been an increase in student grants from £380 to £485, which is 27.6 per cent. over the three years.

Mr. Moyle

Does the right hon. Lady agree that any satisfaction afforded to the students will be minimal since the announcement that she has made does not meet their original claim, and that this is important for people on very low incomes because they suffer unduly from increases in food prices which eat away a substantial amount of the grant? Is she also aware that the Opposition are dissatisfied that she has taken no steps to abolish the discrimination regarding married women students, for which the NUS has been asking, and that she has made no attempt to reconcile the discretionary award with a mandatory award situation?

Mrs. Thatcher

The hon. Gentleman has put three supplementary points. I have just announced an increase of 9 per cent. this year for students not at Oxbridge. That is a considerable increase. The 9 per cent. increase this year makes a total of 27.6 per cent. over the three years. The grant for a married woman living in the matrimonial home will also go up by £20 a year—the first increase since 1965.

Sir Harmar Nicholls

May I ask my right hon. Friend not to be put off by the Opposition's sour response? It is clear that she has faced this problem in a sensible and practical fashion with the result that she has taken this point from their armoury of abuse.

Mrs. Thatcher

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I am particularly aware that the help on the parental income scale will be extremely valuable. In all, the minimum has been raised by £600 in the space of two years.

Mr. Mark Hughes

May I ask the right hon. Lady to tell the House whether there has been any change in the age limit for parental income disregard, which causes a great deal of difficulty where students who are well over 21 are still having their parents' income taken into account?

Secondly, may I ask her to answer the question posed by my hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, North (Mr. Moyle) about the problem of discretionary as opposed to mandatory grants?

Mrs. Thatcher

This is an interim settlement. There have been no fundamental changes in discretionary awards or in age limits.

Mr. Marten

What is the total estimated cost of this increase?

Mrs. Thatcher

About £10 million in a year.

Following are the details:

Residual Income Present contribution Revised contribution
£ £ £
1,100 30 Nil
1,200 40 Nil
1,300 50 Nil
1,400 60 Nil
1,500 70 30
1,600 80 50
1,700 100 70
1,800 110 90
1,900 120 110
2,000 130 130
2,500 180 180
3,000 230 230
3,500 280 280
4,000 330 330
Continues at the rate of £1 for every complete £10 of income.
Rates previously agreed New rate
1972–73 1973–74 1973–74
£ £ £
London University and other establishments of higher and further education in the London area, and the universities of Oxford and Cambridge 480 500 520
Elsewhere 445 465 485
At home 355 370 390
Maintenance for study abroad 480 500 520
Married women living in their husband's home 275 275 295
College of education students (England and Wales) in residence 200 210 220
1. The rates for postgraduate students already agreed for 1973-74 will also be increased by £20.
2. The rates for student members of religious orders in England and Wales will be increased by £10.
16. Mr. Selwyn Gammer

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if she will issue advice to local authorities faced with parents who refuse to sign grant forms for children wishing to go to university.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

No specific advice has been given with regard to signing forms. My Department wrote to all local education authorities on 27th September 1968 asking them to ensure that parents who were required to make a contribution to their student son or daughter were reminded of their responsibility for making up the grant to the full amount of the total maintenance figure.

Mr. Gummer

Is my hon. Friend aware that some students find that their parents will not sign the grant form and are unable to receive the grant? Will my hon. Friend and his right hon. Friend ensure that local authorities are as helpful as possible in such cases so that students are not excluded from university by parents who do not wish them to go?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Yes. I have considerable sympathy with students whose parents refuse to make a declaration of their income. I undertake to do what I can to help to achieve equity in these rare but difficult cases.

Mr. R. C. Mitchell

The Minister said that he would undertake to do what he can. What can he do?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I think that local education authorities, when they meet cases which are strictly within the rules, try to be as helpful as possible in finding a way to meet the need. In that respect, I think that the advice of the

Department and the attitude of Ministers can be of help.