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House of Lords

Tuesday, 11th July 1995.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.

Medical Students: Financial Needs

Lord Walton of Detchant asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in the light of financial hardship being experienced by medical and dental students, they will make available to them enhanced loans during their clinical training.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley): My Lords, the Government have no plans to increase student loans for medical students. An extra allowance is payable, as part of the mandatory award, to students who attend their courses for longer in the academic year than normal. We know of no compelling reasons why medical and dental students should be treated more favourably than other students on long courses.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, perhaps I may couple my thanks to the Minister for that Answer with congratulations to him on his new appointment, as expressed yesterday by the noble Lord, Lord Quirk. However, I find the Minister's Answer disappointing. I hope that he will be able to think again in the light of the fact that medical, dental and veterinary students work long hours for 48 to 50 weeks a year in their clinical courses and therefore have no opportunity to supplement their grants by part-time employment. Is the Minister aware that although graduates in the medical and dental professions cannot aspire to the levels of income now being commanded by certain captains of industry, it is nevertheless unlikely that they would have any difficulty in repaying an enhanced loan?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I agree with the second part of the noble Lord's question. Such students would obviously have no problems in repaying any loan, but there would still be a cost to Her Majesty's Government and such costs have to be taken into consideration by my right honourable friend when she allocates resources in the department. Quite frankly, my right honourable friend does not see this as a priority. On the first part of the noble Lord's question, I can assure him that, as I made clear in my original Answer, an extra allowance is payable to students whose courses last for more than 30 weeks a year. In the case of a student whose course lasts for 45 or 46 weeks of the year and who studies in London and away from home, that could amount to an extra £1,650 a year. That is a not inconsiderable sum on top of the other grants and loans that are available.

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Baroness Robson of Kiddington: My Lords, can the Minister explain the reasoning behind the fact that in the first and second years of clinical studies a student is entitled to £1,375 as a loan but in the third year, for some inconceivable reason, that sum is reduced to £1,005? What is the reasoning behind that reduction?

Lord Henley: My Lords, the reasoning is that for the first two or however many years, the loan covers the whole year, whereas in the final year it does not cover the whole year, but only nine months.

Baroness Park of Monmouth: My Lords, I begin by welcoming my noble friend to his new position and congratulating him on it. However, is he aware that from November 1994 the chairman of the British Medical Association, Dr. Macara, was repeatedly urging the former Under-Secretary of State, my honourable friend Mr. Tim Boswell, to recognise the special needs and urgent problems of medical students but that his proposal that the Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary of State should meet the representatives of medical students was refused and that nothing was done to address their problem? Does my noble friend further agree that, given the serious drop-out rate for medical students and the consequent need to employ foreign doctors, it is both unacceptable and unwise to refuse to listen to such legitimate concerns? May we have an assurance that the Government will listen now and act?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I appreciate my noble friend's concern but these matters were pretty fully explored in correspondence between my right honourable friend and my honourable friend the former Minister for Further and Higher Education and I do not think that any useful purpose would be served by a subsequent meeting. If my noble friend wishes, I can place that correspondence in the Library of the House.

Baroness Lockwood: My Lords, does the Minister recollect that when the Select Committee on Science and Technology reported to this House on priorities in the National Health Service, it was concerned about the withdrawal of funding for intercalated Bachelor of Science degrees for medical students? Can the Minister say whether the Government have reinstated some of the bursaries for such degrees? If they have not done so, do they accept that that is one of the important reasons why medical students should be treated differently from university students on ordinary three or four-year courses?

Lord Henley: My Lords, where the intercalated year is an integral part of the medical degree course, it forms part of the course for awards purposes and payments made under the appropriate regulations. Where it is optional, students have instead to seek discretionary support, principally from the Medical Research Council but also from their own local education authorities. Therefore, it is a matter for their LEAs. Discretionary support for an intercalated year will not affect a student's entitlement to mandatory support for other periods of study on his medical course.

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Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, perhaps I may join the chorus of those who congratulate the Minister on his new appointment and wish him well in it. Will he tell the House exactly what legislative action would be required to give power to the Student Loan Company to increase by agreed amounts loans available to medical, dental and veterinary students? Would it not be—to use a famous phrase—a price worth paying to achieve parity for that valuable category of students?

Lord Henley: My Lords, we are not talking about achieving parity. Medical and dental students are treated now in the same way as other students. I made it clear that we do not see their needs as being more pressing than those of others, and so we do not see a case for devoting extra resources to them. Nor do we see a case for expanding, at considerable cost, the level of grants to all students on long courses.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, since we might have a minute, while I thank the Minister for that reply, will he answer the question that I asked and tell us what legislative action would be required to give powers to the Student Loan Company to increase its grants?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I shall have to write to the noble Lord as to whether we need primary or secondary legislation or whether it is something within the gift of my right honourable friend. The simple point I was making—clearly, I thought—was that we do not see a case for extending grants to that one class of students or, for that matter, any students doing long courses.

Lord Renton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in some parts of the country there is a serious shortage of dentists and that some of those who are practising have very long waiting lists? Therefore, in giving further thought to the matter will he ensure that enough dental students are forthcoming?

Lord Henley: My Lords, I shall look at that case, which goes somewhat wide of my responsibilities. I do not believe that arrangements for grants and loans to medical and dental students have led to more drop-outs of medical and dental students. It is not the fault of the grant system that there are not enough dental or medical students.

Earl Russell: My Lords, may I, as one whose concern with student hardship is well known to the Minister, ask him to accept that this is an altogether different and more serious case? Most students now spend as long in the labour market as they do in their studies. These cannot; they are therefore much more hard up.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I appreciate that in their clinical years medical students cannot take time off to find other jobs. They therefore qualify for an extra allowance which, as I made clear, in the case of London students staying away from home can amount to an extra £1,650 a year, which is a not inconsiderable sum in addition to the loans and grants of which they are already in receipt.

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British Fishing Fleet: Discards

2.47 p.m.

The Earl of Onslow asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have figures for discards by the British fishing fleet of (a) undersized fish and (b) fish banned from being caught.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay): My Lords, the marine laboratory at Aberdeen has collected discard data from the mid-1970s. The data are published in aggregate form through the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea and guide its advisory committee on fishery management when reporting to the European Commission and others. Its advice allows total allowable catches to be set after due allowance has been made for fish mortality and discarding.

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