Students

Part of Orders of the Day — Local Government Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:30 pm on 19th April 1988.

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Photo of Jim Cousins Jim Cousins , Newcastle upon Tyne Central 7:30 pm, 19th April 1988

Unless important amendments are made to this part of the Bill, there will be a dangerous breakdown of communications between the Government and a particularly important generation. There are over 20,000 students in my city of Newcastle upon Tyne, and 3,500 of them may or may not be covered by student exemptions. We do not yet know the precise definition of a student. The draft Scottish regulations that are to be discussed tomorrow do not fully cover many of the uncertainties about the definition of a student. That will put university, polytechnic and college of further education administrations in great difficulties.

We are also creating very important divisions between one category of young person and another. Student nurses work alongside medical students and postgraduate science students, many of whom earn additional money by demonstrations and part-time lecturing. Student nurses will deeply resent student exemptions, and it will create a further disincentive to their recruitment. It is a mistake to assume that that disincentive will be confined to student nurses in London. The greatest fall in student nurse intake in any area prior to the introduction of this system, which will act as a further disincentive to student nurse recruitment, is to be found in the north. I expect that the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) would agree to extend what he said to student midwives and student health visitors who will encounter exactly the same kind of difficulties.

I hope that the Government will seriously consider the points that have been raised and that they will relieve university and college administrations of having to tread an extremely onerous, difficult and trouble-strewn path by not implementing new clause 13 and by not introducing exemptions for one section of a key age group while forcing other sections of that key age group to depend on a rebate system that already has its curiosities. If we are to believe the letters, leaks or whatever we may call them about the future of the rebate system, there will be even greater curiosities.

Whatever the outcome of the vote, I hope that the Government will further consider these matters: otherwise we shall end up with a deeply divided generation and a crisis of confidence between the Government and the student community. Administration and certification uncertainties will be added to the uncertainties about the future of student grants and loans. Furthermore, the survey that was announced this morning carries an implicit threat to the future integrity of student unions.