§ 2. Mr. Sheerman
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science if he will alter the procedure for the payment of mandatory award cheques payable to undergraduates in the light of the long delays being experienced by students.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Dr. Rhodes Boyson)
The procedure for the payment of mandatory award cheques is a matter for the local education authority concerned: The awards regulations enable any payments due to be made at such time as the authority considers appropriate and also allow provisional payments to be made pending the final calculation of the grant.
§ Mr. Sheerman
Is the Minister aware that there is a rundown in the payment of grants and that severe hardship is occurring to many of the student body in universities such as Leeds university, where 550 students received their grants very late in the day? Is he further aware that that is enormous hardship for students when they first come to university, and that it seriously affects their studies? Is it the public expenditure cuts, bringing reduced staff in local government, that is the cause of the grants not being paid? Or is it the same business that happened with pensions, in that a delay will gain some advantage for the Government?
§ Dr. Boyson
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman raised that question. I have a document from Leeds university union about late payment. My Department is beginning discussions with local authorities about the delay. At least one third of those affected had their payments delayed by more than a fortnight. That is an intolerable position for students. It has nothing to do with the current position but has been happening for many years. If the hon. Gentleman turns to page 12 of the document he will see that all seven of the best paying authorities are Conservative-controlled authorities. I trust that, after we have seen local authorities, and possibly sent out a circular letter later this year, more local authorities will pay promptly on the first day of term than are doing so at present.
§ Mr. Marlow
Will my hon. Friend look at the total system for grants, awards and parental contributions for students, especially those for adults over the age of 18, so that we can do away with parental contribution and have a system of loans—
§ Mrs. Ann Taylor
Will the Minister tell us a little more about these consultations with local authorities? It is unfair to say that the problem is the same as it has been in previous years. Local authorities are under more pressure at the moment and therefore many more students are in the position outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield, East (Mr. Sheerman). It is not students who have applied late for their grant who are finding 305 difficulties but those students who put in their applications in time. Will the Minister say with what degree of urgency his Department will be tackling the problem?
§ Dr. Boyson
If one is to engage in consultation, one does not announce beforehand what the result of the consultation is expected to be. We shall see the local authorities. We issued the information concerning the grants this year nine days earlier than was done by the previous Labour Government. The regulations were issued two months earlier than they were issued by the previous Labour Government. It has nothing to do with staff. There is not one reference to indicate that the degree of delay has increased over the last year. It has been a continuing problem, and the hon. Lady can rest assured that we shall tackle it.