Mr. Clappison : I shall speak to the amendments tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends and on student support in general, particularly the way in which the variable fee structure is being introduced by the Government and the effect that it will have on many families.
I am concerned about the impact on middle and lower-middle income families and those with modest levels of income. Students from those families will be adversely affected by the proposals. I want to take a little timenot too longto consider the detail of what the Government propose to do to families on a wide range of incomes. In the previous debate, we spent some time discussing how to encourage students from non-traditional backgrounds into higher education. I do not believe that background should determine whether someone goes into higher education; that should depend upon academic ability.
The last thing that I want is for someone from what is described as a non-traditional background with the appropriate level of ability to be deterred from going into higher education by the disincentive of the prospect of a mountain of debt for years to come. Labour Members will have to recognise that many students from non-traditional backgrounds are precisely those students from the levels of income that will be adversely affected by the proposals and find themselves faced with just that dilemma.
Yes, it is right that under the Government's proposals there will be help for families on lower incomes. There is help now. But to benefit from the help that the Government are offering in future, students must come from families with very modest incomes indeed. There is help for the poor, but it is fair and accurate to say that it is help for the very poorest. Those who come from families with incomes just a little above that level will lose out. I invite Labour Members to pay a little more attention
I should like Labour Members to pay attention to the thresholds at which help is available for students under the Government's proposals, because it is a material factor in this debate that has not yet been sufficiently addressed. When hon. Members hear the Government talk of help and promises for the future, they must rememberto echo the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis)that, today, students from families with joint incomes of £20,970 pay nothing at all. All of their fees are remitted. It is only above that level that they start to pay fees. To be fair to the Government, it must also be borne in mind that at present fees are paid up front, but in future they will be paid upon graduation, and I make that distinction. However, taking that into account, it is appropriate to look at the comparison between the help that is available now and the help that will be available in future, and the very much higher costs that students will have to pay as a result of the £3,000 fee.
The Government have talked a lot about the full higher education grant and getting that into the hands of students. It is right that that help will be there, butI will give way to the Minister if he wishes to confirm thisthe threshold for the full higher education grant is £15,970, substantially below the present level at which fees are remitted altogether. Between those two amounts there will be help, but it is on a sliding scale and it will diminish. That means that unless university bursaries fully compensate students, which they are not required to do under the Government's proposals, students from families with joint incomes of between £15,970 and £20,970 will pay for the cost of their education for the first time, unless university bursaries are given to help to bring them up to the full amount.
Even more serious than that, because help is now available below £20,970, in future, beyond a new threshold of £22,270, support for students under the Government's proposals falls off a cliff edge. The
To take one exampleit is apposite because it comes from the Government's own document on the grant systemunder the present system, a student from a family with a joint income of £25,000which might comprise a manual worker with a wife who works part-time, and they would soon reach that income levelwill over three years pay £1,500 for that student's education. That is an up-front figure; it is the current total figure for three years. As soon as the new system of tuition fees is introduced, a student from a family with a £25,000 income will paythis is the net figure, taking help into account£6,300 on graduation, which is a more than fourfold increase. [Interruption.] It is on graduation, but in comparison with the current £1,500, a payment of £6,300 on graduation is not a very good deal. As the Liberal Democrat spokesman mentioned, anyone putting the money in the bank would have to find a pretty wonderful rate of interest to help them.
Mr. Lepper: I thank the hon. Gentleman for remembering that I attempted to intervene on him. He suggested that very few people would benefit from the student support system that the Government are introducing. The figures that I have from the Library suggest that 40.86 per cent. of families with youngsters in my constituency will qualify for the full grant, while some 77.67 per cent. will qualify for a full or partial grant. Has he done similar research in respect of his constituency, and does he agree that the figures that I have quoted are by no means negligible?
Mr. Clappison: The hon. Gentleman needs to look at the help that is now availableI hope that I have made this point sufficiently well; I may not have made it clearly enoughas compared with the debts that will be incurred later. The figures that I have given are net figures. I know that a £25,000 joint income in the south of England in a commuter-belt constituency just outside London is modest indeed. Families at that income level are struggling to house themselves and pay for the cost of living. Students from such families are far from coming from well-off backgrounds.
Hugh Bayley (City of York) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman says that he would like more generous repayment terms than the Government are offering in the Bill. May I remind him that the last Conservative manifesto said:
Mr. Clappison: As I said, the present position is that families on just above £20,000 do not pay anything at all. With all respect to the hon. Gentleman, I do not think that going back over previous manifestos is the strongest suit for the Labour party today.
Dr. Alan Whitehead (Southampton, Test) (Lab): I think that, perhaps slightly unintentionally, the hon. Gentleman misled the House in his claims about what students get at the moment over the course of their student careers. They are remitted £1,125 a year, but under the new arrangements they will receive a maximum of £3,000 up front a year. He rightly said that that still requires the payment of some debt, but has he taken into account the fact that that debt will deteriorate in relative value over a period, whereas the up-front money is valued at current rates? I am sure that he has taken that into account in his calculations, as it makes a 40 per cent. difference in his figures.
Mr. Clappison: My calculations were based on a written answer given to me by the Minister, who told me that, under the present arrangements, there is a fee remission of £656 from the student each year. Aggregating the balance produces a figure of £1,500 over three years. The other figure that I used came from the Government's own document seeking to illustrate the position under its proposals. It said that for a family with a joint income of £25,000, there would be a grant for fees in future of £900. Over three years, that amounts to £2,700, but the cost of the education is £3,000 each year, which amounts to £9,000, so on the Government's own figures provided in written answers, the final total is £6,300. The fee system is there for everybody to see, and it costs more than four times as much as the current system. It is a fair point that that sum will be repaid in the future rather than its being an upfront fee, but I have taken account of that. Any Labour Member who tries to persuade a student that paying £6,300 in three years' time is better than paying £1,500 now has a promising future career on daytime television selling debt consolidation.