HC Deb 13 November 1973 vol 864 cc232-3
12. Mr. Thomas Cox

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science when she expects to announce her future policy regarding students' grants.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

My right hon. Friend hopes to announce in the spring the revised rates of grant to take effect from the academic year 1974–75.

Mr. Cox

I note that reply, but is the hon. Gentleman aware of the urgency of the matter bearing in mind that the present-day value of student grants has been seriously eroded by inflation and that many students now have to rely upon the generosity of their parents? Is he further aware of the real urgency of the need to remove the discrimination which now exists against married women students and the way in which their grant is assessed? Can he assure us that all those matters will receive close attention?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I was aware of the urgency of the matter months ago. That was why my right hon. Friend appointed a working party to go into a number of matters, including the rise in the cost of living and various points which the NUS wished to raise. I have said that I shall consider sympathetically the question of the married woman's grant. My right hon. Friend has increased the grant by £20. That was the first increase since the Labour Party froze the grant in 1968 at the 1965 level.

Mr. Winterton

In the review which the Department is carrying out into student grants, what consideration has been given to the parental contribution and to the matter of discretionary grants?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Both those matters are being carefully considered and I hope that the report on them will shortly be ready. My right hon. Friend has raised the level of disposable income for starting parental contributions, and that has helped many students. We should like to do something more about it, but it is extremely expensive. To abolish the parental contribution altogether would cost £60 million.

Mr. Ewing

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that at every Scottish university, with one exception, the intake of students this year is much lower than last year and in previous years, and that this situation is likely to continue for many years? Will he accept that the inadequacy of the grants is an important factor in the number of students at any university?

Mr. St. John-Stevas

I am concerned that students, who make a valuable contribution to our society, should get a fair deal, and within the budgetary limits with which we are faced we shall do our best for them.