It is for each local education authority to determine its own policies and expenditure on discretionary awards in the light of local needs and priorities. In the financial year 1990–91, the latest year for which figures are available, authorities in England spent £216 million on discretionary awards. Details of next year's funding settlement for local authorities will be announced later this year.
Does the Minister agree that the restrictions on local authorities' resources are making it increasingly difficult for them to offer a proper service on discretionary awards, particularly to mature students? What advice would he give to one of my constituents, a mature working class student, who struggled for five years to obtain an excellent law degree only to find himself without financial resources for the Law Society's final course? Does he agree that, in the light of mounting concern about the white, male, middle-class, Oxbridge-educated, legal profession, it is high time that the Government made the final fourth year of the Law Society's course eligible for a mandatory grant and made available the resources for that?
That is heavy dose of special pleading from the hon. Lady. The resources available to local authorities under the education standard spending assessment are generous and will continue to be so. In the past full year for which figures are available, that sum was expanded by 7·4 per cent. and well-run local authorities should be able to finance an adequate level of discretionary awards within that sum.
Is my hon. Friend aware that there is also considerable concern in Gloucestershire about the lack of money available for discretionary awards? That is in no small way due to the appalling way in which Liberal councillors in Gloucestershire have managed the county council's finances, not least in trying to buy votes in the Cheltenham area before the last general election. But the more sensible councillors in Gloucestershire county council feel that the standard spending assessment for education may have been slewed against Gloucestershire when compared with those of Oxfordshire and Devon. Will my hon. Friend undertake to keep the matter under review?
I shall always keep important matters of that kind under review, especially when they are raised by my hon. Friend who has highlighted a typical example of Liberal mismanagement of local government. I have had direct experience of that in the London borough of Sutton, and I entirely agree with him.
Let me remind the Minister—even if it touches a raw nerve on the Conservative Benches—that those who are not white, male or middle class constitute the majority in this country. It is not "special pleading" to suggest that discretionary grants form a vital part of financial support for many people who would not otherwise have access to education. I hope that the Minister understands that.
Is the Minister aware that nearly two thirds of local authorities have cut or frozen discretionary awards for the current financial year? That means that many people who should be able to take advantage of such awards are unable to do so. What does the Minister intend to do about it? Will the Government provide a proper settlement for local authorities, and ensure that discretionary awards are available?