HC Deb 15 February 1990 vol 167 cc540-52
Mr. John Hannam (Exeter)

I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 3, line 34, at end insert (d) make alternative arrangements to ensure that no part of the maintenance loan is used towards the educational costs which may be incurred by both a student's disability and the demands of a course as defined under Schedule 1 to this Act.

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to consider amendment No. 8, in page 3, line 40, at end add ( ) make alternative arrangements for the repayments of loans by disabled persons which take particular account of their disposable income.

Mr. Hannam

It is good to see you back in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. Your replacement was not quite so attractive. I hope not to take up too much of the time of the House. I thought that I might take five minutes for every hour that I have been waiting to speak.

These two amendments follow a very helpful meeting that the all-party disablement group had in the autumn with my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. Attending that meeting were people from various organisations representing students with disabilities, the Royal National Institute for the Blind and the Royal National Institute for the Deaf. They presented to my hon. Friend details of the problems that disabled students face as they pursue higher education. Not only do those students have to cover the extra costs relating to their disability while they are at college; the extra costs continue after they have completed their studies, and right into their earning careers.

At this stage, I consider these to be probing amendments. They deal with those two matters. Although they may not be correct technically, they give us a chance to hear what my hon. Friend has been doing in the review that he promised when he met us and during the Committee stage. The first amendment would enable the Secretary of State to make separate arrangements to cover the extra costs of disabled students—first, by increasing the maximum amount of the disabled students allowance, and by improving its operation; and, secondly, by setting up a fourth access fund for disabled students.

The latter I regard as a very important proposal. The present disabled students allowance is means-tested, so the maximum of £760 is available only to those who are in receipt of full maintenance grant. It is subject to a range of anomalies. There are different regulations for different age groups, and local benefit officers lack detailed knowledge of the regulations.

We want from the Minister a clear commitment that the helpful assurances that he gave at our meeting in November and in Committee will result in alternative arrangements being made so that disabled students will not have to take out higher loans to finance the extra expenses that arise solely from their disability. One could give a range of examples, but communication aids are the most obvious—sign interpreters, note-takers, what are called versabrailles for the blind and partially sighted, and all sorts of other aids and adaptations that disabled students need.

There is clear evidence that some costs that disabled students have to bear solely as a result of their disability are not being met. The proposed loans system would simply exacerbate those difficulties. It could result in disabled students having to take out higher loans to pay back costs that are not met by the disabled students allowance. That would act as a disincentive to disabled people contemplating entering higher education. The Royal National Institute for the Deaf gave the example of a student who paid £1,302 from her own pocket for an interpreter to ensure that she had the same information as her hearing peers at college. Visually impaired students incur expense in reading and note-taking, such as the assistance of a sighted reader or an electronic braille machine, which can cost about £5,000. A reader can cost £40 a month.

Those sound rather extreme examples—disability organisations are not saying that all disabled students face such high additional costs—but they illustrate the need for a flexible system. In Committee, my hon. Friend the Minister acknowledged that the costs of some disabled students were in excess of the disabled students allowance. he said that he was reviewing the disabled students allowance and that the Government recognise that many disabled students face additional costs."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 7 January 1990; c. 222.] He said that he hoped to make a statement before the Bill was completed.

The amendments allow me the opportunity to ask some questions. First, can the Minister make a statement on the outcome of his review of arrangements for disabled students? If not, when can we expect one? Secondly, will he guarantee that the new arrangements will come into force at the same time as the loans scheme? Thirdly, will he give a guarantee that the disabled students allowance will not be frozen when grants are frozen and loans introduced? Will he give an assurance that he is issuing revised guidance to local education authorities on the administration of the allowance to enable lump payments and to ensure that the LEAs will use the allowance to pay for human and technical support? Will he give an assurance that the maximum level of the disabled students allowance will be raised substantially to ensure that the few students who need much larger amounts, such as those whom I have already detailed, will receive them?

In Committee, the Minister gave no formal commitment to access funds, although he said that he still had an open mind. If we are to encourage more disabled students to participate in higher education, there needs to be a guarantee that their disability educational costs will be met fully or met more adequately. The disability access fund would guarantee the availability of help for extra communications costs and other expenses.

Amendment No. 8 ensures that disability costs are fully taken into account when loans are repaid, so that the loans system does not discourage disabled people from participating in higher education.

The amount of real disposable income available to most disabled graduates can be much less than that available to their able-bodied peers. Many disabled people must meet extra disability-related daily living costs from their own pockets. They will therefore have less disposable income to repay loans. The take-home pay of one disabled graduate who works part-time as an access officer for a city council is £104 a week. From that, she must pay £20 a week for personal care. She would have to have care costs of more than £270 a month before the independent living fund could make a payment.

The costs of disability can clearly make large inroads into an individual's income. If graduates must repay student loans at rates set according to their earnings rather than their disposable resources, disabled people will almost certainly experience considerable hardship.

Responses to questions that I have recently tabled show that the Department does not hold information centrally on the average incomes of disabled graduates compared with able-bodied graduates. That point was not fully taken on board in Committee. The Minister said that low-income disabled graduates would be protected by the 85 per cent. threshold. However, that misses the point about disability costs. A disabled graduate could be earning 86 per cent. of the national average income—and therefore not be eligible for reduced repayment—but may, after paying the extra costs that disabled people incur week by week, have a reduced income of about 75 per cent. of the national average, which is outside the reduction in or non-repayment of the loan. Also, with the current level of the disabled students allowance, many disabled students already leave higher education with debts to repay because of the extra costs they have incurred while studying.

1.45 am

In conclusion, unless some different arrangements are made, disabled students could find themselves in the position of owing more money than their able-bodied peers at university because they have to borrow to meet their disability-related problems. They then come out and have fewer resources from which to repay the loan because they have to meet the cost of disability from their income after graduation. Furthermore, they have greater difficulty finding part-time work while at university and obtaining full-time employment when they graduate.

I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the interest and awareness about these problems that he has shown in our meetings. I know that he is looking very carefully into them and I hope that he will be able to respond constructively tonight to these probing amendments which have come from the various disability organisations. I hope that he can tell the House that he will bring forward suitable Government amendments when the Bill proceeds to the other place.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

In supporting these amendments, I do not intend to detain the House for any length of time. The hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) has outlined very clearly the concerns of the various disability organisations which have spoken to the all-party group for the disabled and, indeed, lobbied many hon. Members on this issue.

Many of us feel very strongly on this point. The Government have not conceded very much during the progress of the Bill. If there is anywhere where they ought to make concessions, it is in this area. We know of the special difficulties which disabled students face. Some of these are the very basic ones of access to buildings, finding suitable accommodation and travel to and from the campus and on campus. All that involves expenditure. The blind and the deaf need to obtain special equipment, as has been pointed out, to ensure that they can participate fully in the courses available. Sometimes they need the assistance of a care attendant, and we must remember that care attendants are now liable for payment of the community charge, at whatever level it may be set; that is an additional cost.

As has been said, the earnings potential of disabled graduates is often substantially reduced because of the difficulty of ensuring that they have equality of employment opportunities. It would be a terrible indictment of society if disabled students had to face the possibility of extra borrowing and having to find money from a lower wage to repay it.

The severe disablement allowance has also been referred to. Many people recognise this as totally inadequate; I ask the Under-Secretary to look carefully at the regional disparities that exist in the rulings on eligibility, because this is a major cause of concern. Those involved in the assessment of this award seem unable to decide what the real criteria are. Individuals with similar disabilities are treated differently in different parts of the country, not just for this benefit but in the allocation, for example, of income support. It is important that we have an equal spread throughout the country.

I echo the hope already expressed that we shall hear tonight a positive statement from the Department that special consideration will be given to these matters. I think that the case has been more than adequately made by the organisations involved. In particular, we should like to know whether a fourth access fund will be made available. Such a concession would help many people and give them the encouragement which is so essential.

It is not enough to pay lip service to the integration of the disabled into our society and our education system: we have to show willingness, and if that willingness involves money, I think that this is an area in which the Government should be prepared to concede extra funding.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

I want to detain the House for a moment to support the excellent speech of the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam), in which he set out the reasons why he and his colleagues in the all-party disability group have seen fit to make their representations to the Government. He set out the case at some length and with eloquence. The House is right to spend some time on these important amendments, so that it can satisfy itself that the Government have considered this important problem. Alternative arrangements must be made for people with disabilities, and this is the Government's only opportunity in the context of the new loans scheme.

If one accepts that loans are to be introduced, and if that is the will of the House—although it will not be for want of the Opposition trying to stop the scheme—surely all hon. Members must agree that disabled students should not have to devote any part of the loan to the additional costs of disability in the course of their educational work. That must be a principle with which we all agree. If that is the case, the only way in which the Government can ensure that such students are treated equally with ordinary students is by making some provision to meet the extra costs. Positive financial discrimination is essential if such students are to be put on an equal footing with their fellow students in their lecture rooms and classrooms.

Most people are beginning to think that the idea of meeting the extra costs of disability is the appropriate way to deal with disability as a whole. In the context of education, it is easy to quantify the costs for those who are deaf or blind. The hon. Member for Exeter set out perfectly sensibly the additional costs that are incurred for note-takers, and in providing sign language, interpretation facilities and braille machines. All those costs are easy to ascertain and to quantify. They are substantial costs to the individuals. The Government should consider the new technologies which are available. Recent developments make it possible for students to cope with most disabilities if the costs can be met, although they are often significant.

It has already been pointed out that, after graduation, disabled graduates often have a lower earning capacity than their peers, and there is certainly no guarantee of employment. The disincentive that exists at present under the student grants system will be exacerbated in future.

Although the cost for the disabled student is individually high, the collective provision, in whatever form the Government chose, would not be prohibitive. The proportion of the student population who are disabled is relatively small, so common, collective provision with sensible schemes, which the Government could introduce, would not mean a tremendous additional Treasury bill.

Let us examine the schemes available in other countries. The Scandinavian countries lead the way in exempting disabled students from their loan systems, as such students are given grants. In Sweden, for example, interpreters are provided as a matter of course. In West Germany and America, there are schemes for disabled students. I am told that in Australia counsellors assess the additional needs of disabled students and schemes are put in hand. So there are precedents in other parts of the world to which the Government could turn if they were minded and had the political will to introduce assistance.

The disabled student's allowance, which was also referred to by the hon. Member for Exeter, is totally inadequate. It is means-tested, and the conditions operated by various local education authorities vary. Even if the full allowance is given, £765 per annum does not begin to meet the costs that some disabled students face. It flies in the face of the panoply of Government policy announced recently in the document, "The Way Ahead—Benefits for Disabled People".

The Minister for the Disabled and the Department of Social Security went out of their way to try to persuade the House that they were seriously tackling physical and other access, transport, housing and so on, yet this educational measure, if we are not careful and if we do not get it right, will deny access to disabled students. If the Government do not bring forward schemes that measure up to the problem, disabled students will be denied access to further education because of the financial penalties.

Can the Minister tell us what consultations have taken place with the pressure groups and lobby groups which do such sterling work on behalf of those who are disabled? If the Government had gone through the same consultation process that my colleagues and I carried out, they would have been well seized of the urgent need for positive financial discrimination.

We support amendment No. 4, in so far as it relates to special arrangements for disabled students. If the Government are not prepared to make special arrangements to ensure that disabled students do not stiffer, amendment No. 8, which would make special provision for repayment by disabled graduates, is essential to give any guarantee that in future those who are disabled and who study in our universities and colleages get a fair deal.

Mr. Malcolm Bruce (Gordon)

I have a personal reason for intervening in the debate. The amendments are extremely important, and I hope that the Government will consider them seriously.

I wish to speak on behalf of the deaf, in my capacity as a vice-president of the National Deaf Children's Society and as the parent of a deaf daughter, aged 13. Through the society, I have had much contact with people who are deaf and who aspire to further education. Many have not attempted to pursue the possibility because they cannot afford or even get the support that they need. I also know of people who had secured entry to university courses, dropping out, after taking up their places, because they could not get the support that they needed and the grant was totally inadequate.

That is the position under the existing regulations. If we are to move to a loans scheme, under which additional burdens will be imposed, even more deaf and disabled people will not aspire to further education. If they manage to get that far, they are likely to drop out. That is not in anybody's interest, and the House should not allow it to happen.

We should go further than the amendments propose, leaving aside the fact that we do not like the Bill in any case. I have taken some time to study the position in the United States. The rights and assertiveness of deaf people there are more advanced than in the United Kingdom, where deaf people get one of the worst deals in the developed world. They have to fight for advancement of treatment.

The position in the United States is due to the passage of a law through Congress giving disabled people rights of access to college, university and further education courses. The deaf community saw that law as an opportunity to advance its interests. It is interesting to note that, when the Bill went through Congress, the debates were about ramps, wide doors, wheelchair access and so on—about the physical access of the physically disabled people.

Once it had become law, the deaf community realised that it could be exploited to their advantage. The consequence was that they could bring test cases to require colleges, universities and institutes of further and higher education in the United States to provide the necessary support facilities for deaf people at their expense.

2 am

I am working on a Bill, which I hope will have all-party support, to introduce such a right for deaf people in the United Kingdom. It would give them access to higher education and training and support that they need. The amendments have a much more specific and immediate scope. The hon. Member for Exeter moved them ably and with a great deal of clear factual support.

If profoundly deaf people are to pursue a course at university, or college, or even a training course, many of them require the support of note takers, sign language interpreters, lip speakers, radio hearing aids or other such aids. It is immediately apparent that those needs cannot be met even out of the existing facility and that they should not be a burden to deaf people, who should not have to take out a mortgage to pay for their education. If they do, it is understandable that deaf people will not pursue a course, because they will not want to take on that burden.

As the hon. Member for Exeter said, the consequence would be that they would arrive at the end of the course more indebted than those who are not disabled, yet disadvantaged in securing the higher earning jobs. The least that we should do is ensure that we do not introduce a Bill that makes deaf people's difficulties worse. Unless the amendment is accepted, that will be the direct consequence.

As the hon. Member for Exeter said, if the Government cannot accept the technical nature of the amendment, they must accept its spirit. Otherwise, they will make disabled people much worse off than they are now. Even this Government cannot do that knowingly. They cannot say that they did not know, because we have told them tonight.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

The hour is late and time is at a premium so I shall be brief.

The amendments are of the utmost importance to disabled students and well-deserving of a firm expression of commitment from this Front-Bench. They merit the support, if necessary in the Lobbies tonight, of everyone who understands their importance. Students with disabilities try so very hard to triumph over handicap and should not be let down by the House.

Amendment No. 4 would require Ministers to meet the extra costs of disabled students in higher education. They can be substantial, especially when they involve personal assistance, not least communication assistance for students who are deaf. Recent parliamentary replies show that only a handful of people now receive the disabled students allowance. Yet voluntary organisations are flooded with requests for help which they are unable to meet.

As a trustee of the Snowdon Awards Scheme, an admirable charity which distributes some £50,000 a year to disabled students in need of financial help to complete their courses, I ask the Secretary of State to consult Lord Snowdon so that he can learn at first hand about the statutorily unmet needs that arise. Ministers have suggested that charities can meet all such needs, but they are overwhelmed by current demand. The Snowdon Awards Scheme can meet less than half the sums requested and the Royal National Institute for the Deaf is in the same position. It is certainly the case that charities are willing to do what they can to help, but they are unequal to the task of providing a comprehensive system of funding. In Standing Committee it was stated for the Government that Ministers were "reviewing the position" with respect to the disability allowance. I hope that the Minister replying tonight will give a definite undertaking both to increase the maximum and to ensure that all local education authorities operate the scheme with humanity and understanding.

Research undertaken by the Royal National Institute for the Deaf into loans systems in other countries shows that three of the nine with such systems exempt disabled students and that all of them provide communication support for deaf students. In several countries, the level of communication support is very high and sign language interpreters are available to deaf students as of right whenever required. This means that deaf students enter higher education, as far as possible, with the same opportunities as hearing students and can compete on equal terms. Here in the United Kingdom, by contrast, handicap is piled on handicap in that deaf students, among others who are severely disabled, have to run up extra bills during their studies. That is the position now, even before the introduction of the loans scheme.

Peter Large, who is known to and respected by hon. Members on both sides of the House, has expressed his worries about the prospects for its disabled victims when the loans scheme begins to bite. He says Some disabled people enter higher education to expand their intellect and interests and nothing more. Others hope that qualifications will enhance their employment prospects, but later discover that they cannot find paid work. We are worried that these disabled students will find it difficult to secure a loan and impossible to pay one off. They will be doubly handicapped and suffer double despair.

Sadly, all too many disabled graduates fail to find work or succeed in finding only low-paid employment. The recent reports on disability in Great Britain from the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys provide a damning picture of the ineffectiveness of the Government's employment services. They show that only 31 per cent. of all disabled adults of working age are actually working. That compares with 69 per cent. of the population as a whole. The ratio for men is even worse—33 per cent. compared with 78 per cent.

These findings shout the need for the amendments, and the Government's own record in terms of jobs offered to disabled people is among the worst of all employers. How many does the Department of Education and Science employ? is the Secretaryof State aware that the earnings of disabled people who do find work are substantially lower than those of non-disabled employees?

The Secretary of State may say that unemployed graduates or those on very low pay will not be required to repay the loan, but amendment No. 8 addresses the fact that even many disabled people in better financial circumstances have to spend all their disposable incomes on the extra costs arising from their disabilities.

The Government's recent document "The Way Ahead", published on 10 January, gives no hope at all to the severely disabled young people with whom the amendments are concerned. A total misunderstanding of the OPCS research has led Ministers to claim that the attendance allowance and the mobility allowance exceed disabled people's extra costs. Nothing could be further from the truth as the independent living fund has so amply demonstrated. Unless the loan repayment arrangements take account of the actual expenses of each graduate, Ministers will be guilty of robbing severely disabled young people of the essential help that they need to live their lives as full and equal members of the community.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) on the amendments and my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) who worked with him in tabling them.

What we now seek is a firm indication that the Government accept the case that we have argued for these amendments. If it is not forthcoming, I hope very much that the amendments will be pressed to a Division.

Mr. Jackson

I appreciate the courteous but firm way in which all hon. Members have put their views, and the all-party meetings that I have had with people who are concerned about the disabled, as the Government are. We are sympathetic to the needs and circumstances of students and graduates with disabilities and want to ensure that they are not unfairly treated.

I shall review the position of students with disabilities and the student support arrangements. They will continue to be eligible for income support and housing benefit. Therefore, they should not generally need access fund assistance with housing costs or as a result of inability to work during the long vacation, because their needs will be covered by the social security system.

Disabled students will also be eligible for help from those access funds, where appropriate, in individual cases. That will be a matter of discretion for the higher education institutions. I note what has been said by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Hannam) and by the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing). We shall consider the suggestion that there should be a special access fund.

Disabled students who are eligible for disabled benefits will continue to receive them. They will also continue to be eligible for the disabled students allowance which is specifically intended to help meet the extra costs necessarily incurred in attending a course.

There is assistance for disabled students from the disabled students allowance, social security benefits, disability benefits, the access funds and—in addition to all that, not replacing it as with other students—the top-up loan. Some institutions make additional equipment arid other resources available to disabled students, as do some local education authorities. One should never forget to mention the valuable assistance from charitable and other voluntary organisations.

I turn to amendment No. 4. We do not want to prevent disabled students from using the loan facility if they choose to do so to meet educational costs, however they might be defined, related to their disability. In practice, it would be hard to prevent them from doing so, because a person's budget is a single budget, no matter what different sources of funding go into it.

The Government are looking at the representations that have been made in support of changes to the level and operation of the disabled students allowance, which is payable with the mandatory grant. We are also looking carefully at the evidence submitted to us by the various groups supporting the interests of those with disabilities to see whether a case can be made for alternative provision for the repayment of the loans.

In relation to both those matters, I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter that I am not yet in a position to make a statement, but I am happy to reaffirm what was said earlier, that we intend to do so before the Bill completes its passage through Parliament.

If any further action for disabled people is needed, beyond the disabled students allowance and the loan deferment provisions, either now or in the future, the right method is to do so through the regulations that we are able to make under the 1962 Act and under this Bill. We have the flexibility, because the House has voted with us, to enable us to do that.

However, I stress again that the Government are sympathetic to the needs and circumstances of disabled students and graduates. We want to ensure that they are not unfairly treated. It is important to retain flexibility. We are open to persuasion and are demonstrating that approach by looking carefully at the representations that we have received. We have undertaken to monitor the impact of the operation of the student loans scheme. Therefore, if the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment——

Mr. Alfred Morris

Am I right in thinking that the Minister is giving a commitment tonight that the Government will amend the Bill in the way that has been recommended from hon. Members on both sides of the House?

Mr. Jackson

We are still considering the position sympathetically. I am not yet in a position to make a statement, but the Government will certainly do so before the Bill completes its passage.

Mr. Hannam

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for his assurance that this is a serious matter, worthy of consideration by the Government, which will result in a statement being made during the Bill's passage. In the light of that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Order for Third Reading read.

2.14 am
Mr. MacGregor

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill has had a thorough consideration in the House and that consideration has shown that it is a fair and sensible way of increasing resources for students, reducing the burden on parents and taxpayers and ensuring, as is the Government's aim, that we have increased numbers of students in higher education. Therefore, I hope that the Bill will receive the approval of the House.

2.15 am
Mr. Straw

The hour is late. We have had substantial consideration of the Bill today. The measure is worse now than it was on Second Reading on 5 December. It is a bad Bill, badly drafted and an affront to the House in the arbitrary powers that it gives the Secretary of State, but above all it is a bad deal for the student, for the taxpayer and for higher education. We shall oppose its Third Reading in the Lobby tonight.

2.16 am
Mr. Simon Hughes

The Bill is a dangerous step for education. It is unprecedented, because Britain has never gone from a system of grants to one either totally or partly of loans. The legislation that introduced mandatory grants in 1962 is no precedent.

Throughout, the Bill has been an engine with no train. The Government tried to couple the banks as carriages. That very nearly derailed the train. They are trying to couple the universities as carriages, but it is clear that they are still far apart.

There have been only two minor amendments to the schedules in Committee and there has been only one undertaking to consider one of the subjects that has been raised on Report.

The arguments for keeping grants as opposed to introducing loans have been overwhelmingly made. The burden of proof is on those who wish to change the system to make out their case. The obligation is on them to show that education access will be increased rather than diminished, but they have not done so. This is an enormous risk and an enormous gamble.

It can be argued that the Government are as isolated at home on this issue as the Prime Minister is isolated abroad on the issue of sanctions. Some Conservative Members are as unhappy with the Bill as they are with the Prime Minister's policy on South Africa.

The Government said that the Bill would produce more resources, but they did not say that those resources would come not from the taxpayer but from the students. They said that students would be better off, but having a larger debt is a funny way of being better off. The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State have willingly entered into debate, but debate without listening to the responses that they have received is hardly responsible debate.

We do not believe in arguing for rich students to do better at the expense of those who are already poor. We do not believe in arguing for advantage for those who already have advantage if at the same time we have a scheme that will be a disincentive to those who find it most difficult to get into higher education. We do not believe that everybody needs to be on longer courses, but we do believe that those who are required to be on longer courses should not be discriminated against by virtue of that fact.

My right hon. and hon. Friends and I believe that education needs investment, non-discrimination, and above all in Britain in 1990, nothing that will prejudice its extension to those who find it most difficult to obtain. My right hon. and hon. Friends representing constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales, and right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House representing Northern Ireland constituencies, made it clear that the Bill is enormously unpopular. It is unpopular among the tens of thousands of students who protested today, their parents, vice-chancellors and principals, and heads of institutions—all of whom also made it clear to the Government how unpopular the scheme is. Arguments adduced over the few weeks that the Bill has been debated also made that clear.

In Committee, we came within two votes of defeating the Government, and tonight we came within 43 votes of doing so with an amendment to postpone the scheme's implementation. At only one stage this evening did the Government have a majority of more than 60, yet they have an overall majority in the House of more than 100.

The Government have been forewarned of the trouble that still lies ahead for them in getting the Bill on to the statute book. The Prime Minister began her ministerial career in education, in a job that won for her the label "Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher". She will end her career, and take with her the Secretary of State, as "Margaret Thatcher, grant snatcher".

The burden of proof of the need for a change from grants to loans is on the Government. They have failed to discharge that burden of proof. They are risking the educational futures of thousands of people, which is a risk that no Government should be prepared to take. That is why my right hon. and hon. Friends and I urge right hon. and hon. Members in all parts of the House to join us in voting against the Third Reading of this iniquitous Bill.

Mr. Jackson

There is common agreement that we should expand higher education, and the Government are committed to doing so. We demonstrated that by announcing in the Autumn Statement additional funding of £750 million over the next three years. We expect that the participation rate for 18-year-olds will rise from 16 per cent. to 19 per cent. in the near future. However, with growing student numbers, we cannot for ever commit increasing amounts of taxpayers' money to paying for students' living costs. Nor can we expect parents to meet ever-higher parental contributions.

Loans allow us to reconcile conflicting pressures. They mean more money in students' pockets and less of a burden on taxpayers and parents. In international terms, loans are a perfectly ordinary element in student support.

On two previous occasions, I have been unable to complete an anecdote, but I take the opportunity to do so now. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Walden), who started us on this long and glorious path, visited Sweden in the course of the studies that lay behind the proposals. He asked the Swedish Education Minister why Sweden, as a model of social democracy, had operated for 30 years a student loans system far less generous than any scheme that the British Government could hope to operate. The Minister explained that they did not believe in taking money through the tax system from the less well-off to give to better-off people, and that loans improved students' motivation and commitment.

That is the testimony from Sweden. Every country around the world that operates a student support system based on loans testifies to its benefits. That will be true of Britain, too. Loans will be good for all concerned. They will provide more resources for students, and reduce the burden on the taxpayer and on parents.

Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time:—

The House divided: Ayes 100, Noes 49.

Division No. 82] [2.24 am
Alexander, Richard Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Currie, Mrs Edwina
Amos, Alan Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)
Arbuthnot, James Davis, David (Boothferry)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Day, Stephen
Ashby, David Devlin, Tim
Atkinson, David Durant, Tony
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Emery, Sir Peter
Batiste, Spencer Fallon, Michael
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Favell, Tony
Boscawen, Hon Robert Fenner, Dame Peggy
Boswell, Tim Fishburn, John Dudley
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Forth, Eric
Bowis, John French, Douglas
Brazier, Julian Gale, Roger
Bright, Graham Garel-Jones, Tristan
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Gill, Christopher
Burt, Alistair Goodlad, Alastair
Butterfill, John Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Gow, Ian
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Gregory, Conal
Carrington, Matthew Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E')
Carttiss, Michael Ground, Patrick
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hague, William
Chapman, Sydney Hanley, Jeremy
Chope, Christopher Hannam, John
Conway, Derek Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Hayward, Robert
Hordern, Sir Peter Pawsey, James
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Renton, Rt Hon Tim
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Shaw, David (Dover)
Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne) Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Hunter, Andrew Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Jack, Michael Stern, Michael
Jackson, Robert Stevens, Lewis
Janman, Tim Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Jessel, Toby Summerson, Hugo
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Taylor, Ian (Esher)
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Thurnham, Peter
Knapman, Roger Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Walden, George
Lawrence, Ivan Waller, Gary
Lightbown, David Watts, John
Lilley, Peter Wells, Bowen
Lord, Michael Wheeler, Sir John
MacGregor, Rt Hon John Widdecombe, Ann
Maclean, David Wood, Timothy
Malins, Humfrey Younger, Rt Hon George
Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Needham, Richard Tellers for the Ayes:
Norris, Steve Mr. Stephen Dorrell and Mr. Tom Sackville.
Patnick, Irvine
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Meale, Alan
Beggs, Roy Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Beith, A. J. Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Paisley, Rev Ian
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Pike, Peter L.
Canavan, Dennis Quin, Ms Joyce
Carlile, Alex (Mont'g) Redmond, Martin
Clay, Bob Ross, William (Londonderry E)
Cousins, Jim Rowlands, Ted
Cryer, Bob Sedgemore, Brian
Cunliffe, Lawrence Skinner, Dennis
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Flannery, Martin Spearing, Nigel
Foster, Derek Steel, Rt Hon Sir David
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Stott, Roger
Hughes, Simon (Southwark) Straw, Jack
Kennedy, Charles Wallace, James
Kilfedder, James Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Kirkwood, Archy Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Lamond, James Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Livsey, Richard Wise, Mrs Audrey
McCrea, Rev William
McGrady, Eddie Tellers for the Noes:
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Mr. Frank Haynes and Mr. Robert Wareing.
McWilliam, John
Mallon, Seamus

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.

Forward to