HC Deb 14 November 1989 vol 160 cc177-8
12. Mr. Strang

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what proportion of the letters he has received about student loans have agreed in principle with his proposals.

Mr. Jackson

Letters have expressed a variety of views on different aspects of our proposals. Many support the underlying principle that students in higher education should contribute to their costs.

Mr. Strang

Has the Minister seen the survey by Dr. Burnhill of Edinburgh university which suggests that for every student from a professional middle-class home who will be deterred by a system of student loans, five students from manual working-class homes will be discouraged? Is not that the experience of Sweden? Should not we be taking action to increase the number of students from working-class homes who, go on to higher education, rather than the opposite?

Mr. Jackson

I entirely agree, but that is not the experience of student loan schemes overseas. That experience shows that such schemes are compatible with higher rates of participation by students from working-class backgrounds than we have achieved in 30 years of the most generous grants system in the world.

Mr. Rhodes James

How does the Minister equate the Government's proposals with the 1987 Conservative manifesto?

Mr. Jackson

I have no doubt that the Government's proposals are readily reconcilable with those in the Conservative manifesto, which said that there should be an expansion of higher education. This is a means of assisting with that. We should remember the words of the Robbins report in 1960 which said that the arguments of justice in distribution and of the advantage of increasing individual responsibility pointed towards the eventual introduction of student loans.

Mr. Straw

Can the Minister explain why there is an item on the tapes now that the Government have agreed a system with the banks regarding the student loan scheme? Why has no statement been made to the House today? Is the Minister aware that the banks themselves are now disowning the scheme? Lord Alexander of Weedon, chairman of the National Westminster bank has just written to me on behalf of NatWest to say: We are in no sense promoting or supporting the introduction of the legislation on student loans". Will the Minister comment on the fact that NatWest has now abandoned its support for the scheme?

Mr. Jackson

All the way through, our discussions have been punctuated by speculation about the attitude of the banks. Let us wait to see what it will be.