I, too, welcome the Minister to his new post and wish him well in these somewhat troubled times.
Will the hon. Gentleman consider extending the investigation to part-time students? Is he aware that it is my experience, which includes representations made to me by the parents of part-time students, that many students attending colleges and the Open university are suffering severe financial hardship? Is he further aware that many of them are looking after children or members of their families and that many of them are unemployed or in poorly paid part-time jobs? The Government should look into the plight of part-time students on the basis that, if we are talking about expanding education, people other than full-time students are involved.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks.
The survey is being carried out broadly on the same basis as before, in relation to full-time students, although we have slightly widened it in some respects. The issue of part-time students is separate. I have heard what the hon. Gentleman said, but I must remind him that other sources of income, such as employment or even social security benefits are open on occasion to part-time students. Part-time students involve a separate consideration and should not be confused with the current study.
I also welcome the Minister to his new post and can assure him that he was always extremely fluent behind the scenes. I suggest that one way of getting funds to students as money in their pockets would be to press ahead with making the membership of the students union voluntary. I see no reason why the students at my local university should pay £16,000 for a rent strike and £45,000 for sabbaticals and various other things that they may not wish to have.
I know my hon. Friend of old and I am very grateful for her personal remarks. I shall take most carefully into account the suggestion she has made, but it may be for another occasion.
In the spirit of welcome for the Minister, may I ask him if his survey will include the case of Neil Bennett, a mature student of Witney, Oxfordshire, whose details I have already sent to the Department? Mr. Bennett faces the imminent decision between continuing to study for his degree and losing his home and furniture, for which he has worked eight years, and abandoning his studies, returning to the dole and keeping his home. How can students be expected to work and study under pressures of that kind?
Certain numbers of students always suffer hardship. Indeed, I have two student daughters, one of whom graduated this morning, so I have some personal advisers on student hardship. If the hon. Gentleman has submitted a particular case to the Department, I can assure him that it will be fully and carefully considered.
Does my hon. Friend realise that when I was at university, which was only a very short while ago, I and my colleagues had to take out loans from banks such as Lloyds and Barclays at very high interest rates? Does he not realise how much I would have welcomed the opportunity to take out student loans issued by the Government at low rates of interest?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. His problem is different from mine; it just seems to me that it was only a short time ago that I was at university. Certainly, at that time, finance was expensive. Student loans are excellent value for money, because there is no interest other than the rate of inflation, and that is very low at the moment. Many students have used those loans when they have needed and chosen to.