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Mr. Laws: As a matter of interest, if the Government said that they were not expecting any behavioural effects from these two changes, would the hon. Gentleman still think the measures worthwhile in their own right?
Rob Marris: I certainly would and I thought that I had said so. This training is a social good in terms of respect and dignity for young people who undergo it and receive some form of social recognition through money, which for many people, particularly young people, is a good way of getting recognition. Some young people who do not change their behaviour will be better off as a result. There will be significant advantages if there is changed behaviour in the direction that most of us would expectthat is, more, rather than fewer young people undergoing training.
Before I move on to my final remarks, I want to make some miscellaneous points. I am delighted that the Government published a regulatory impact assessment, and the partial one on top of it, so that we have some figures. They may not be as full as some Members would like, but they were published in time for the debate. I am particularly pleased to see the indicative draft regulations, which I am sure that the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), who ducked out of the Chamber briefly, dashed out to read with his usual thoroughness. They are but two pages, so they are a quick read. Regulation 2 defines "approved training" as:
I confess that I do not know the exact details of those programmes, but I am pleased that in this case the Treasury managed to produce some draft regulations for Second Reading. Would that every Department did that in time for Second Readings of Bills that contain references to regulations that will be made after their passage.
Mr. Bercow: I am in a generous mood. May I tell the hon. Gentleman that, although ordinarily I am struck principally by the opacity of secondary legislation, and by the fact that it tends to raise more questions than it answers, this set of draft regulations is truly a model of clarity and of brevity?
I have a couple more miscellaneous points with which I think that the hon. Member for Buckingham, who is somewhat pedanticstrangely, I too am sometimes accused of being sowill sympathise. Clause 6(2) starts with a conjunction"But". That is a horrible piece of journalese, and I hope that the Committee will change it. Conjunctions such as "because" and "although" are acceptable words with which to start a sentence, but "but" is not.
I think that that should read: "This Act may be cited as the Child and Qualifying Young Persons Benefit Act 2005." That is not pedantry. There is a problem with the Bill, as I read it, and the approach of the Government, as I read it. The goals are simple, but the ways of getting there are complex, as the hon. Member for Chichester pointed out. I am not sure that the Bill adequately addresses the question of independence for young people. We have to bear it in mind that, since about 1971, the age of majority has been 18. As I understand it, the education maintenance allowance, which was piloted in Wolverhampton, has been successful throughout the country. Year 12 participation increased by 5.9 per cent and year 13 participation by 4.1 per cent. in the EMA pilot areas. It is paid to the student and that is a mark of independence. Many students who are doing A-levels in a traditional sixth form in year 13 will be 18. I understand that they get the money directly, although I am prepared to be corrected because of the complexity of the matter. That gives the individual independence.
Similarly, the minimum training allowance is paid to the trainee. Conversely, child benefitor child and qualifying young person's benefitwill be paid through the parent or guardian. If so, 18 and 19-year-olds, one and two years into their adulthood, will remain locked in, not only through means-testing but because of who receives the giroor automated credit transfer, as it probably is nowadays. Who will get the money? Will the young people get it in their own name and right or will it be refracted through their parents or guardians? As I understand the Bill, the latter will apply. That is a step backwards and I shall highlight the point, and the way in which some young people feel, by referring to my experience, albeit not directly of the subject of our debate.
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As some hon. Members know, I emigrated to Canada when I was 18. I was born and raised in Wolverhampton and I wanted to see the wider world. I have been back in Wolverhampton for many years and am very happy there, but I emigrated to Canada, where the federal age of majority was 18. Thus, at 18, with a scholarship for university, I could go there so I went and I had a great time. I was at the university of British Columbia, which, as some hon. Members know, is a distinguished institution, and I picked up a couple of degrees there. However, in British Columbia, the age of majority was 19 and a driving licence could be obtained at 16, 17 or 18 only if a parent or guardian co-signed the application form. I had a United Kingdom driving licence, but it had to be transferred to the provincial jurisdiction in Canada. One could not get one's driving licence without parental consent until the age of 19. That was the age of majority in the provincial jurisdiction for road traffic matters, which, under confederation, were in the power of the province. Hon. Members will not be surprised to know that I was darned if, having emigrated at 18 and being totally financially independent of my parents, I would seek their permission to get a driving licence. I therefore had to wait several months until I was 19 to take a driving test.
Rob Marris: I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman believes that my comments are irrelevant. I am trying to make a point about young people's feelings by referring to mine at the age of 18 about being perceived as appendages of their parents when they are adults. The Bill appears to perpetuate that and make the position worse. Whereas the minimum training allowance is paid to the individual trainee, the replacement young person's child benefit will be refracted through a parent or guardian, thereby lessening the young person's independence. That is the relevance of my comments. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman if I did not make it entirely clear. I wanted to make a point about the Bill's structure and the way in which the expanded child benefit, which I greatly welcome, will be assessed and paid. I should like the Government to tackle that.
Mr. David Laws (Yeovil) (LD): We join the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) in welcoming the Bill, especially two specific provisions: first, extending child benefit and the child tax credit to unwaged trainees and, secondly, allowing young people who reach the age of 19 and are on a course to continue on it with the benefits that they received previously. We believe that both changes are sensible and we support the broad thrust of the Government's strategy to try to ensure a coherent, simple and helpful system of support for young people.
The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) mentioned one reason for the Bill: to ensure a fair and level playing field between young people in training and those in formal education. That is sensible and clearly reflects some of the changes that the Department for Education and Skills is currently considering. The Bill has to be viewed against the background of the Government's attempts, for
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example, through the education maintenance allowance, to encourage young people to develop their skills and to help those young people who would otherwise be under pressure to leave education and training and go straight to work. We welcome the opportunity for those people to continue in education and training.
The hon. Member for Chichester made several points about the Treasury's involvement, on which it is worth commenting at the outset. We welcome the strategic interest that the Treasury has shown since 1997 in economic and social issues. The Red Books have got larger over the years. Although those of us who read them note their increasing cost and length, we also note the broad strategic economic and social set of objectives that the Government present, steered by the Treasury, either because of the Granita dinner or for some other reason. It is important for any Government to have a set of broad economic and social objectives. They should be pursued by some part of Governmentthe Treasury or perhaps the Cabinet Office in future. The Cabinet Office would have to do a reasonably good job to co-ordinate them and create a sense of coherence in the way that the Treasury has done since 1997.
Those relatively complimentary comments come with a reservation that, although the Treasury has a useful co-ordinating role, I am not sure whether it is sensible for it to be seen to lead on matters that would normally be the domain of individual Departments. No doubt all hon. Members who speak in the debate, including from the Front Benches, will be well briefed, but many of the detailed and substantive provisions in the Bill are matters more for the Departments for Education and Skills and for Work and Pensions. The measure would benefit from not only their involvement but their leading on the issues. It would also benefit from the Treasury playing not only its part in the broad strategic direction of Government policy but a policing role for large amounts of public expenditure. The costs may be clear but the benefits are not.
The Bill is small and uncontentious but important. First, it deals with two substantive matters that affect approximately 160,000 young people. It is a worthwhile measure for that reason. Secondly, it is clearly part of a much broader and longer-term strategy to simplify and rationalise the system of support for children, young people and young adults. The hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West made the sensible point that having 19, 20 and 21-year-olds on child benefit appears bizarre and eccentric. I suspect that when people outside the House realise the position, they will find it eccentric. It will lead to even more confusion of the sort to which the hon. Member for Chichester referred. That is amplified by the sketch and graph in the paper that the Government issued in March 2004 and that attempts to set out in visual form the existing systems of support for young people. It is extremely challenging. I hope that the Government will take the opportunity in the longer term to rationalise and simplify support for young people. I hope that, in future, we will not have to rely on child benefit as the means of support for young people who have clearly entered their adult years.
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