Education (Student Support) Regulations 2001
Education Standards Fund (England) Regulations 2001
Financing of Maintained Schools (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2001

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Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington): I have one important question about the draft student support regulations, of which part II of schedule 3 on page 67 states:

    ``For the purposes of sub-paragraph (1)(f) an eligible student shall be regarded as irreconcilably estranged from his parents if, but not only if, he has communicated with neither of them for the period of one year before the beginning of the year for which payments in pursuance of his award fall to be made.''

Does my hon. Friend have any idea how many students who fall within that provision nationally?

5.12 pm

Sir Teddy Taylor: May I congratulate you, Mr. Amess, on the important position that you hold. It will help to ensure that the complex regulations are considered carefully and that proper answers will be given. It is also a great bonus for Southend. I noticed earlier that a wonderful display is being held just along the Corridor of the merits of Southend as a seaside resort. It is appropriate for such a display to be held on the same day as you are chairing the Committee.

Mr. Frank Field (Birkenhead): Basildon was on the way up the stairs.

The Chairman: Order.

Sir Teddy Taylor: I should genuinely appreciate the Minister's advice on some complex technical problems. Five matters in the student regulations mystified me. On page 40, sub-paragraph (g) covers the calculation of a student's income and refers to any

    ``benefit paid by reason of a disability or incapacity to which the eligible student is subject and any war widow's or war widower's pension''.

If someone were receiving benefit because of incapacity, the money from that benefit would have to be used to help with the incapacity. It should not be assessed as part of the total income. There should be exemption for incapacity benefits, because if one student has an income of, say, £5,000 and another has an income of £5,000 plus an incapacity benefit, surely the Minister would accept that the person in receipt of the incapacity benefit would have to be engaged in additional expenditure. Will she consider removing that part of the regulations, because it seems unfair, in particular to disabled people, who do not have the money simply to put into their pockets, but must use it for other expenses.

My second question relates to regulation 40 and is about bankruptcy. It states that, if somebody goes bankrupt for all sorts of reasons, the loan shall not be taken into account. Will the Minister say exactly what that means? If somebody is bankrupt, will the loan and their obligation carry on as before? Will it not disappear with the bankruptcy, because if a person owes a lot of money and is declared bankrupt, surely all their debts should disappear in the same way?

My third question relates to regulation 2(4). Will the Minister give me guidance on the merits and reasons for it? It states:

    ``For the purposes of the Regulations an area which was previously not part of . . . the European Economic Area . . . shall be considered to have always been part of the European Economic Area.''

What the blazes is the point of that? We know that the European Economic Area is a tiny area that includes countries such as Iceland and a strange place called Liechtenstein. What is the purpose of the regulation stating that, even if a country was not in the European economic area, we shall presume that it were? I thought that Parliament was meant to do sensible things and bring forward logical arguments.

One should bear in mind the appalling hardship and terrible time that students have been encountering. I hope that the Minister will not forget that, although my hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) may be taking over from him. I have had three children attend university and, of course, quite rightly, they were not eligible for grants—I had to pay everything. Abolishing grants and introducing loans did not affect me or my children. Those affected are poor children who come from poor homes who, because of a Labour policy that I found impossible to understand, suddenly must pay much money and end up with a debt of about £12,000. I hope that the Minister will remember that, with these complicated regulations, he is building a situation in which children from better-off homes will not have suffered at all, while children coming from homes with hardship will have suffered a great deal. What difference does it make to say that a country that was not in the European Economic Area shall be considered to have always been part of that area? Does that mean that countries joining the EEC shall be considered to have always been in the EEC? I find that difficult to understand.

My fourth point relates to places such as Scotland. In regulation 2(2) on page 5, there is another interesting pretend situation. The regulation states:

    ``For the purposes of these Regulations a person who is ordinarily resident in England and Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man as a result of having moved from another of these areas for the purposes of undertaking his current course . . . shall be considered to be ordinarily resident in the place from which he moved.''

What is the point of that, and of saying that somebody is in a place where he is not? Does that mean that if somebody pops into Scotland for five minutes, they will be considered to have always been resident in Scotland? What are we to do about the situation in Scotland in which people will be nasty to English students and make them pay fees that are not charged to students from Scotland? Is this a device that the Government have introduced to try to pretend that students have lived in Scotland when they have not?

My final point on the regulations relates to page 4, on which there is a list of high-cost countries and higher-cost countries. In the list of high-cost countries, the Republic of Korea is in very black print. However, countries such as Sweden, Luxembourg, Israel, Indonesia and Iceland are not marked in such a way. What is the purpose of the Republic of Korea being printed in very black print, when other countries are not? Is it in a special category, or has there been a printing error? There must be a reason, and our friends in Korea may wonder what that is all about. I hope that the Minister will clarify the matter so that there is no misunderstanding.

Mr. Boswell: It seems very odd to incorporate Korea in the list of high-cost countries—that may be the purpose of the black print—at a time when it has had a very bad time with its economy, and now has this highly implausible redefinition.

Sir Teddy Taylor: My hon. Friend is right because Korea has experienced a multitude of financial problems. I cannot understand why it is called a high-cost country. Perhaps it is marked in black because it is an error—perhaps it should not have been included at all. Will the Minister explain why it has been included?

On higher cost countries, we understand that Switzerland, for example, is doing well because it has not joined the European Community. I am sure that Taiwan is doing well for the same reason. However, why has Denmark been included as a higher cost country? What will be the impact on Denmark? Will the Minister say whether the references to the European Community include the overseas territories of EC countries? As the Minister will probably know, there is a place called Guyana and a place called French Guyana, which is an overseas territory of the European Union. However, there is also a place called British Guyana, which is not part of an overseas territory of the European Union. Will that have the effect of treating differently students from British Guyana and French Guyana? I know that we are not kind to the Commonwealth these days, but if a student from Guyana had to be asked whether he came from British Guyana—in which case he would be picked—that would be very unfair.

I have two brief questions on the education regulations, in which I am sure that you will be interested, Mr. Amess. They include a list of percentages in terms of grant rates dependent on local authority. For reasons that I genuinely cannot understand, some local authorities, such as Plymouth and Torbay, are listed with a rate of 0 per cent., whereas some areas such as Leicestershire are listed with a rate of 100 per cent, which, I am sure, is because of its special practice. There is probably a simple explanation for that. Will the Minister tell me what it is? Will he also tell me why the percentages seem to be low for both Essex and Southend-on-Sea? Essex has 67.5 per cent., but, as the Minister will probably be aware, Essex has a greater teacher shortage in terms of total amount than any county in England, which is alarming. Clearly, it is a big county, and the total amount is not the same measure as a percentage. Southend also has many social problems, and I wonder why those two areas receive such a small amount whereas other areas receive 100 per cent.

Are such grants approved and eligible only if the Government give their approval? It is nice to know that grants are coming around, and I am sure that you and I, Mr. Amess, would be glad if grants were coming to Southend-on-Sea. However, under paragraph 3 of page 3, it seems that no grant is awarded unless the Government approve separately the expenditure involved. I hope that the Minister will clarify the matter. He will be aware of anxiety about the complexity of education spending. I have a feeling that, on reflection, he might prefer simply to give a big grant to each local authority area and let them decide how the money should be allocated, instead of creating such great complexity.

The Minister has kindly introduced many new grants that can be considered where there are terrible social problems such as drugs, under-age pregnancy, illness and injury. However, are we being fair to the schools that get fantastic results and do not have such problems? Southend-on-Sea has four single sex grammar schools—two schools for boys and two for girls—which is probably because it is old-fashioned. Southend-on-Sea, for all kinds of reasons, escaped from the county of Essex, and we thought that we were escaping from the European Union at the same time, but that did not happen. Our four separate schools perform extremely well and do not have the problems to which I referred. However, we do not have the ordinary 3 per cent. to 4 per cent. grammar school system about which there are significant complaints—unusually, about a quarter of children in Southend are eligible to go to grammar schools. The Minister should remember which area of Britain has the best educational results—the answer is not Wales, Scotland or England, but Northern Ireland. Despite its terrible social problems of violence and poverty, it has the best educational results. It has 25 per cent. grammar-school education throughout the system. The Minister may know that Southend's results are way ahead of those of Essex; having 25 per cent. of pupils in grammar schools seems to achieve a great deal. I hope that the Minister will give us some guidance to the effect that, although we are making provision for areas with problems, he will also do something for areas where there is achievement—areas that do not have problems, and where a great deal is achieved for children from poor homes who break through the system to attend those 25 per cent. grammar schools.

I hope that the Minister will comment on those important points, and has the answer to them. I hope that he will consider carefully the complexity of the rather strange student support regulations. A student who tries to work out what he is eligible for by reading through the regulations may say, ``My goodness, I am sharing a flat with a young lady who just happens to be studying something different. Will I be regarded as living with her?'' Such matters will end up in an awful mess. It would be far better to have something simpler, less expensive and less complex.

5.26 pm

 
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