HC Deb 30 March 1976 vol 908 cc1094-5
15. Mr. Hannam

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if his Department has made any estimates as to the cost of phasing out parental contributions to the student grant, in conjunction with the abolition of the parental tax allowance on students in full-time higher education.

Mr. Gerry Fowler

The estimated cost for 1974–75 was about?27 million. It would be more now.

Mr. Hannam

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that because of inflation about one-third of all parents are unable or unwilling to make up their contribution to the level of the student grant? As the age of majority is now 18, does the hon. Gentleman not consider it reasonable that all students should receive at least the basic grant?

Mr. Fowler

I must make it clear that I can see no early prospect of abolishing parental contributions. I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman has said. I note that Opposition Members call for a general reduction in public expenditure but constantly make specific proposals for increasing it.

Mr. McNamara

I hope that my hon. Friend will not put all his hon. Friends in that category. Many serious anomalies still arise from parental contributions. A great deal of hardship is suffered by students whose parents are not prepared to meet their full obligations. Hardship is also suffered by parents who have to pay full fees on taxed income.

Mr. Fowler

On more than one occasion, under both this Administration and the previous one—when I believe the right hon. Lady the Leader of the Opposition was Secretary of State for Education and Science—my Department asked local authorities to emphasise to parents the importance of paying their contribution in full.

Mr. Ronald Bell

Will the hon. Gentleman reconsider this matter sympathetically? The criteria upon which it was based have now changed, owing to taxation as well as inflation. Will the hon. Gentleman at least base the parental scale on net income instead of gross income?

Mr. Fowler

No, that would be extremely difficult to do. Taxation matters are for my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Otherwise, we try to take these matter into account in the annual review of students grants. It is now an annual review, instead of being triennial. That is a great improvement. We try to take into account changes in the relative income of parents as well as general inflation.