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Student Grants (Parental Contributions)

Volume 115: debated on Tuesday 28 April 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what guidance his Department offers as to the level of parental contributions expected from studens awarded maintenance grants.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science
(Mr. George Walden)

Parental contributions are assessed in accordance with the mandatory awards regulations. The scale of contributions is published early in the previous academic year and information about parental contributions is included in guidance which is published annually and is freely available.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that reply. However, does he agree that the booklet of guidance to which he referred defines the grant as the sum needed for the basic maintenance requirement of a student? Neither he nor our right hon. Friend the Secretary of State have disputed the evidence given by officials to the Select Committee that the total grant is now insufficient to meet the needs of a student. Surely it is misleading to imply that if parents are assessed for a contribution, that contribution together with such grant as is paid would be sufficient to meet a student's needs. Is that not unfair, both to the student and to the parent? Will my hon. Friend ensure that the next issue of the booklet of guidance makes the position much clearer?

The Government have never claimed that the amount provided in grants is sufficient to meet all student needs. We have claimed on a number of occasions, quite rightly, that it must represent a balance between those needs and what the taxpayer can reasonably be called upon to pay for. My hon. Friend makes a fair point. The booklet is revised every year, and the wording is being re-examined.

As the Minister has admitted that the total level of grant is not sufficient to meet a student's needs, from where does a student with poor parents get the rest of the money?

The hon. Gentleman is clearly not very familiar with the grant system—

—because pupils with poor parents are the pupils who have the highest level of grant. Whether or not pupils have poor parents, they are able to use their spare time in holidays to earn other income. If we believed that the present system was fully satisfactory we would not be carrying out a review, the purpose of which is to improve the position of all students.

Since my hon. Friend last answered questions in the House, has there been any greater clarity attained or confusion reduced among the so-called alliance parties on the matter of student loans?

I am now perfectly clear about the alliance's position. There are two policies. The first policy is that of the right hon. Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen), who is in favour of loans. The second policy is that of a more abstract entity that is known as the alliance, which claims to be against student loans. I should like to take this opportunity to commend the position of the right hon. Member for Devonport, who has a habit of reminding people of the importance of probity in politics. I am sure that the whole House will join me in commending the stand that he is taking on principle and not retracting the speech that he made on 14 February 1986 in favour of student loans.