Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I did not vote on the amendment in relation to fees because, as I have just explained, I do not believe that it is possible to separate the fees issue from the maintenance issue. As my noble friend Lady Blatch said, it is the package that is important.

2 Mar 1998 : Column 1000

It is interesting how responsible and perceptive the students are who come to visit various noble Lords, including myself, on this issue. The National Union of Students talked in public about fees. I understood that it had agreed with the Government that it would not oppose the removal of maintenance grants. Of course, when it did that, it did not know the extent to which that would happen and that there would be a charge for fees. It felt therefore that it could only discuss fees. But student associations which do not belong to the National Union of Students have been extremely frank. They explained that they are worried about maintenance charges.

The Edinburgh Association of Students said that its concern was not for well-off students, but for people who were "at the end of the bus queue". It quoted the figures mentioned by my noble friend and explained that poor students would lose much more than better-off students under this deal. The association was greatly concerned about that and was worried about its less well-off members. I felt that that was extremely laudable and assured the association that I would convey those feelings to the House.

Other students in associations which are not members of the National Union of Students have also been able to talk about the matter publicly--St. Andrews and Warwick to name but two. I received a great many letters, as I am sure did other noble Lords. Students understand the problems of maintenance. It is a real difficulty for them and the House must look carefully at the amendment. From the students' point of view it is probably the most important amendment we will look at today, and I shall support it.

Baroness Young: My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Blatch, who set out the arguments so well. One of the curious aspects of the Bill is that, when we look at the funding--the combination of the tuition fees, the removal of the maintenance grants and the importance of the parental contribution added together--on the figures that I have seen, in a number of cases it is the poorer students who will end up paying the most. I cannot believe that that could possibly be intended and hope that, if the Government will not accept the amendment, they will undertake to take a long hard look at the matter.

The key to the whole curious mixture of figures is probably the parental contribution. It is arguable that some parents will not pay it, but the assumption is that they will. It is therefore a serious and important matter. It is important for poorer students, but we should be under no illusions that students as a whole are extremely worried about it. I speak not only in my capacity as chancellor of Greenwich University, which has a number of poor students, and certainly students who are doing part-time and sandwich courses in order to obtain their degrees (one admires enormously the effort that they put in), but I know that I speak also on behalf of the university when I say how concerned the students are about this combination of moneys that they will have to pay. We delude ourselves if we imagine that they do not understand it. In fact, students are perfectly intelligent and quite able to do the sums.

2 Mar 1998 : Column 1001

Like many other noble Lords, I received a great many letters from student unions expressing different views. But the most tragic case is that of the student left with tuition fees to pay, no maintenance grant and parents who are unwilling to contribute their parental contribution. Those students will be the worst off of all. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will look again at my noble friend's amendment.

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, in supporting the amendment perhaps I may briefly reiterate the point that this does not arise from a proposal of the Dearing Committee. Dearing did not propose that both tuition fees of £1,000 and a total abolition of the maintenance grant should be introduced. There is an element of injustice that the two provisions should be brought in simultaneously by the Government. I do not understand why the Government have done that. It seems to place a great burden upon students and was not a provision proposed by the Dearing Committee. For those reasons and others that we have already heard, I support the amendment.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I too favour the principle underlying the amendment, but there is one problem to which I should perhaps draw attention.

If we were to accept the amendment under subsection (a),

    "the maximum amount of any loan made available to that student is no greater than half the prescribed cost of maintenance",

and so forth, it does not take account of the recommendation of Dearing which followed that of the National Commission on Education, which I had the privilege of chairing. That was to the effect that the loan should be able to take account not just of the contribution to maintenance, but should also cover the contribution to the fees. I therefore ask the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, whether that would rule out the student being capable of taking out a loan which would cover the fee contribution as well as half the cost of maintenance. That is an important and fundamental point.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, I have two reasons for speaking shortly now. First, because my noble friend Lord Renfrew most eloquently stated exactly the reasons why I support the amendment. Secondly, I do not want to be accused of making a Second Reading speech, which I would be if I spoke on anything except maintenance.

In passing, I say to the noble Baroness that I hope she will not rely too much, in the course of the remainder of these proceedings, on that worn out, shabby excuse which is used by every government in difficulties and comes ill from a government that produced a Bill such as this. I hope that the amendment will be accepted.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I have two interests to declare. First, I am chair of the Further Education Funding Council--a direct interest. Secondly, I have a more general interest in that for several years before the last election I was shadow spokesperson on

2 Mar 1998 : Column 1002

further and higher education in the other place. Consequently, these issues have exercised my mind as much as they have Members of this House.

Let me say why the amendment should be rejected. First, we should recognise that students, in making their representations, valued the fact that the proposals from the Government brought two significant advantages. Despite the fact that any student contribution is bound to be regretted. None of us believe that we would not be in favour of giving full support to every student in the land if we could afford to do so and if we could expand our educational opportunities on that basis. But, as we know, for several decades that has not been the case. That is why the expansion of higher education under the previous government led to the Education (Student Loans) Bill.

I recall, with regard to that Bill, the suggestion at the time that there would be a slow introduction of the loans element alongside the maintenance grants. If the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, is suggesting that the Government are acting with indecent haste, will she recall the fact that the previous government went from a 0 per cent. contribution by students to 50 per cent. in the space of three years? It is true that the amendment suggests that what the Opposition believe is "so far and no further". There was no understanding of gradualness at that time, but a recognition that the resources necessary for higher education must involve a contribution by the students. How rapid was the contribution? Students had to repay within five years.

Under these proposals students pay over a lifetime of earning on a contingent basis. The arguments have been well rehearsed in the House. I have to say to the Opposition that it is not the case that the National Union of Students or the student bodies are critical of those dimensions of the development with regard to the policy. Tuition fees are something else. But the important part with regard to the tuition fees is that this is exactly the area where they are made contingent on parental income, reflecting the fact that the Government are making it abundantly clear that young people from the more deprived homes will not be faced with a tuition fee. That is where the element of discrimination and support for students from the less well-off homes cuts in.

I maintain that this amendment would turn back the clock to a position which was rejected before the last general election. It was rejected not just during the election by the nation which clearly had before it the fact that, if my party formed a government, the issue with regard to maintenance grants in favour of long-term student loans would be altered; and students themselves had rejected that former model. What is the real way in which we can guarantee fairness and opportunity to our students in higher education?--by taking the single most constructive action the Government have taken and which they were able to take only on the basis of their proposals with regard to tuition fees and maintenance support. It is by raising the cap on student numbers and

2 Mar 1998 : Column 1003

increasing the resources available to higher education so that we can create more places. Without that, there is no way in which we can provide equity in this country.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page