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School Maintenance Grants

Volume 33: debated on Tuesday 7 December 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what representations he has received on the subject of school maintenance grants for 16 to 18-year-olds; and if he will make a statement.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has received a number of representations favouring the introduction of a scheme of financial support for 16 to 19-year-olds in full-time education. Those have been considered, but the Government's position remains as indicated in my reply to a question from the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) on 9 November.

Is the Minister aware that the Labour Party's policy, which presumably will be in the manifesto—

I have the support of my hon. Friend on this—will provide £20 a week for all those who want to stay on in education between the ages of 16 and 18? Is not that important when taken against a background of 1 million youngsters on the dole, when tax relief is handed out for those who go to public schools, when money is handed out from the taxpayer for those who receive direct grants—

Order. Will the Minister not answer any question that was asked after I stood in my place?

The hon. Gentleman may be referring to a document that was published yesterday called "Education after 18". As I was not sent a copy, I read of it in the press and I saw that the hon. Member for Bedwellty (Mr. Kinnock) had refused to make any estimate of the cost. In it was included what the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is asking about. I only say that it is typical of the aspirations of a party without responsibility and with little chance of ever getting it.

Does the Minister accept that maintaining an 18-year-old is little different from maintaining a 16-year-old?

The anomalies between those in full-time education after the age of 16 and those who are not is a matter for concern. However, I reassure the hon. Gentleman by saying, first, that those over the age of 16 in full-time education are increasing, which must be good, and, secondly, that the costs are very high.

Is the Minister aware that, in his usual innumerate way, he even got wrong the number and name of the Labour Party's policy document? Is he aware that in the document "Learning for Life—16 to 19 Education", the Opposition are pledged to introduce educational maintenance allowances and that they will so do? Will he further tell the House, with 3½ million unemployed and with over 600,000 young people under 20 unemployed, if he cannot accept the case for EMAs now, at what level of unemployment he will do so?

The cost would be about £400 million. If we had an additional £400 million to put into education today, we should find other priorities on which to spend it.