HL Deb 02 August 1978 vol 395 cc1298-301

11.25 a.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government, what is the estimated cost of their proposed scheme to give financial support to 16–18 year-olds wanting to continue their education and from what source this money is to be provided.

The MINISTER of STATE, DEPARTMENT of EDUCATION and SCIENCE (Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge)

My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science announced on 12th May, the Government are anxious to have more young people staying on in relevant full-time education, and to this end would be ready in due course to commit themselves to a new statutory system of awards for 16 to 18 year-olds. On this basis, my right honourable friend has been having discussions with the local authorities about the possible form of a new awards scheme. Matters under consideration include questions of timing, eligibility, rates of grant and the way a scheme might be administered and financed. No decisions have yet been taken, and it is not yet possible to give an estimate of the cost of introducing improved arrangements. However, there is a general presumption that any new mandatory system would require considerable support from central Government funds.


My Lords, while thanking the noble Lord for his reply and noting that he says that the Government would be ready to commit themselves—and, therefore, by implication are not yet ready—may I ask him, in the somewhat hypothetical circumstances that that suggests, what is the meaning of his last sentence: that this would require considerable support from central Government funds As the noble Lord will realise, the question I want answered is, what reliance will be placed upon local government funds? Is any assessment of that yet available?


My Lords, I should have thought that the words in the last sentence of my Answer were reasonable English and not very difficult to understand. The answer is that there is a general presumption that any new mandatory system would require considerable support from central Government funds. Clearly, there will be the usual contributory support of one kind or another, which is now being discussed, from local authorities.


My Lords, may I ask the noble Lord to answer the first part of the Question which appears on the Order Paper, which is: What is the total estimated cost?


My Lords, I have answered it by saying that it is quite impossible to give an answer to this question. It really is rather silly, when I reply by saying that negotiations and discussions are going on on this, to expect me to give an answer now when I clearly cannot, even though it is the end of term.

Baroness BACON

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a few local authorities are already preparing pilot schemes in this respect? Am Ito take it from what my noble friend has said that these pilot schemes will be quite in order and within the law? May I also ask my noble friend whether they will receive any grant for them from Government funds?


My Lords, I am aware that much thought has been given to this question by local authorities. Certainly anything that they may do will be within the law, but of course the discussions which my right honourable friend is now having with local authorities are aimed at tying this up, at saying, roughly speaking, on what scale this support will he given—which is the only way in which one can deduce the number of people concerned—and at the question of means testing and all the very difficult parts of the matter which are now under consideration.


My Lords, may I ask a question of my noble twin which 1 hope he will not regard as altogether silly. There used to be a grey area in the area of Government responsibility, precisely in this field of vocational training, between the Department of Employment and the Department of Education and Science. May I ask whether that grey area still exists and whether it continues to produce, as it did when I was responsible for education, a feeling among the young that vocational training is not being given adequate emphasis in the case of particular age groups to which the original Question referred?


My Lords, I am afraid that I am as much out of touch with the young as my noble twin. We are both a long way away from being young, so I cannot answer that question. However, I would say that I am not aware of the grey area which my noble twin experienced in the past. I think that this has been somewhat lightened. I do not believe that there is a problem of the kind to which the noble and learned Lord has referred.


My Lords, when questions have already been asked by people like Hogg and Bacon, I almost dare not step in! May I ask my noble friend not to rely too much on what the local authorities and county councils think, but to make this the direct responsibility of the central Government to take the initiative, because something must be done if the children of ordinary working class families are to receive the benefits of further and higher education?


My Lords, my right honourable friend has already taken the initiative; discussions are in progress at the moment.


My Lords, will my noble friend bear in mind that the point which my noble friend Lord Leather-land has just raised is regarded by many people as one of the most vital issues of the present day? It is a fact that there is no adequate help available for the children of the poorest and the working class of this country, and that consequently they do not benefit from the very education that we designed for them. Would my noble friend bear in mind that it is only direct central Government support that will produce the result we want?


My Lords, I will not only bear it in mind but I have already announced that it is almost certain that any scheme must involve this. I hope that will go some way to satisfy my noble friend Lord Wynne-Jones.


My Lords, while not wishing to be critical of the present scheme, may I ask whether the noble Lord will not agree that the equipment, such as books, at the establishments which these 16 to 18 year-old students are attending is in serious need of renewal and increase rather than that there should be individual grants to the young people concerned?


My Lords, I would not put it quite like that. Any advance on this front must involve the necessary tools, and books are necessary tools.

11.33 a.m.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, as another place is still sitting and has not concluded its debate on the Consolidated Fund (Appropriation) Bill, I must now move that the House do adjourn during pleasure. I gather that the adjournment may be until towards one o'clock, but an announcement will appear on the television annunciators in the usual way. I beg to move.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned during pleasure.

House resumed.