Clause 1 - Persons for whom child benefit may be claimed: Great Britain

Child Benefit Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 18 January 2005.

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Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West 2:30, 18 January 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 9, after '16', insert 'or'.

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 2, in clause 2, page 2, line 9, after '16', insert 'or'.

No. 3, in clause 6, page 2, line 37, leave out 'But, subject to that', and insert 'Nevertheless'.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I welcome you to the Chair, Miss Begg, and the Paymaster General to the Committee. I think that this is the fifth Treasury Bill Committee on which I have served with her, and it is the first such Committee on which I have served under your chairmanship, Miss Begg. I also welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (James Purnell) to what I think is the first Bill Committee in which he has appeared as a Minister.

The first two amendments are essentially the same. One relates to the provision in clause 1 on Great Britain; the second relates to clause 2 on Northern Ireland. The idea of amendments Nos. 1 and 2 is to make it clear that three, not two, limbs are encompassed in clause 1(2) and clause 2(2).

Amendment No. 3 concerns an issue to which I referred on Second Reading. A clause or, indeed, a sentence should not begin with the word ''but''; that is not a suitable conjunction with which to start a sentence. I suggest in the amendment the word ''nevertheless''. I do not know whether that achieves the objective in drafting terms, but no doubt the Paymaster General will tell me whether it is suitable.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

The hon. Gentleman raised some of those points on Second Reading and we commend him for his thorough examination of the Bill's grammar. He may recall that I jokingly suggested that in view of   his assiduity in these matters, he might find that he had, in effect, volunteered to serve on the Committee. Today's experience shows that that prediction was probably accurate. I do not think that any great issues of principle are at stake, but I would nevertheless be interested to hear the Paymaster General's response on those points of drafting and grammar, not least because this is the fifth such Committee on which she has served with the hon. Gentleman and I am interested to know whether such issues have cropped up before.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

There are many ways in which my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) demonstrates his parliamentary abilities and talents. For example, in all Standing Committees on which he serves he reads the Bill very closely and, where he can, he suggests helpful amendments. I am grateful that he has been able to do that in this Committee. So I shall start with the good news. We accept amendments Nos. 1 and 2. He can now notch up yet another contribution to primary legislation.

On Second Reading, my hon. Friend gave two options for replacing the word ''but'': ''nevertheless'' and ''however''. I wish that he had used ''however'' in amendment No. 3. Let me explain why. My hon. Friend was concerned about the heinous crime of starting a sentence with the word ''but''. Advice has been sought from parliamentary draftsmen. I looked up ''nevertheless'' in the dictionary to see why it was different and there was much discussion on this.

In the draftsman's opinion substituting the word ''nevertheless'' for the phrase ''But, subject to that'' was wrong as it changed the meaning of the clause. In his view the amendment would detract from the ability to make regulations under subsection (1) before 10 April 2006. If my hon. Friend decides that he wants to pursue this, it has to read ''However, subject to that'' for it to be in order.

I made inquiries and manuscript amendments are not possible. By the time I had finally settled this, it was too late to table an amendment. I really cannot accept ''nevertheless''. If he feels that strongly he can table an amendment with ''however'' on Report. I will happily concede to that. My hon. Friend has made his point very ably to ensure that legislation, wherever possible, does not contain sentences starting with ''but''.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

The Paymaster General has generously, and interestingly, supplied a good deal of information about the advice that she has been given by parliamentary draftsmen on a specific amendment in a specific clause. Would she be prepared to commit to provide similar information on any amendments that we table on this or subsequent Bills?

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

Indeed, if there is a comment from parliamentary draftsmen on the phrasing of amendments, it is my practice in Finance Bills, where this normally occurs, to explain that advice. That rarely occurs, but I am happy to ensure that that continues to be done in future. As a principle in the past—I remember this well from being in opposition—   parliamentary draftsmen's opinion was only used and disclosed when it was absolutely necessary, not as a means of avoiding doing something that could otherwise be undertaken. It has certainly been my practice as a Minister only to use it in that way.

While I am on my feet, I wonder whether I may say a few words on clause 1 as it would be amended, should my hon. Friend's amendment be carried. The Bill is solely meant to define those young people to whom child benefit is payable. It is short and straightforward. None the less, it is a significant milestone in the Government's commitment to remove the financial barriers for young people who stay in education or training after they have reached the age of 16.

As we discussed on Second Reading, the Government's ambition is opportunity for all. That means making sure that all young people have the support and incentives that they need to reach the age of 19 ready for higher education or skilled employment. The Bill, and essentially clause 1, strengthens those choices. The Bill primarily enables measures and the substance of the reform to be set out in regulations, which we have already talked about. That is why they were published in advance, and as I have mentioned, the hon. Member for Buckingham was charitable enough on Second Reading to say that they were

''a model of clarity and of brevity''—[Official Report, 12 January 2005; Vol. 429, c. 335].

The regulations introduce no changes to the conditions that apply to those young people who elect to follow full-time education. They will be treated as a qualifying young person if they follow a course at a college or school which is not advanced education, or where on average, during normal term-time, at least 12 hours a week are spent receiving tuition, undertaking practical work or supervised study, or taking exams. The regulations will also introduce a simplification of the present arrangements governing the period of uncertainty following the end of compulsory education and progression into full-time education, training or employment. They allow a person to be treated as a qualifying young person until the end of August following their 16th birthday.

The most significant changes introduced by the regulations concern unwaged trainees and the age cut-off point. In the Budget last year, the Government announced their intention to extend child benefit and child tax credit to unwaged trainees, those in Government-arranged training and 19-year-olds finishing their courses. That followed consultation on the best way to proceed.

The proposal to extend financial support to new groups of learners was widely welcomed, and a range of views about how best that could be achieved was expressed in consultation, the responses to which have been published. We also circulated the regulations in draft and the regulatory impact assessment to key stakeholders in October last year. Those set out in more detail our intended approach. The general view   was that the extension should be as comprehensive as possible. That is an understandable perspective from organisations representing the interests of marginalised young people.

In my consideration of the extension, I was mindful of two unintended consequences of reform. First, we should not create an incentive for young people to take gap years during their education rather than afterwards. Secondly, employers should not be given an incentive to provide unwaged training over waged training. The age cut-off, extending up to a final cut-off at 20 rather than 21, was a cautious response stimulated by the lack of hard facts in that area.

The policy intention is to give young people a little extra time to finish a course, not to dramatically alter the patterns of post-16 participation. With little data about the possible impact of extending to 21, I thought it more appropriate to extend to 20 and then monitor the impact of the extension, with a commitment to keep the age limit under review, which of course I will do.

Our inability accurately to predict the behavioural effects explains why we have estimated only a £10 million differential in costs between those two options. We know that that is an underestimate, but only when we have more evidence of those behavioural effects will we be able to estimate the true costs. That is the advantage of taking the regulatory route to make powers, so that we will be able to respond more readily to changes in expectations and behaviour.

The risk about employers' behaviour exists already. The devolved organisations should manage the market for training in their area and their contracts with employers. In my considerations, I listened to the Learning and Skills Council in England, which prefers naming specific programmes for learning, as it believes that that would make it easier for it to manage the progression from unwaged to waged training. Naming programmes for training in regulations was also thought to have the advantage of clarifying those regulations and making them transparent. I have listened to the voluntary sector, and have named all the programmes of Government-sponsored training in the UK that will have unwaged trainees on them in April 2006. That covers almost 80,000 unwaged trainees in total.

The Government set the long-term vision.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 2:45, 18 January 2005

I am grateful to the Paymaster General for amplifying the comments that she made on the Floor of the House. That amplification is extremely useful. She will recall an earlier debate in which I pressed her and the Economic Secretary to say whether the regulations would not cover a certain category of unwaged trainees because those trainees are not on Government-sponsored schemes. I am not sure how many such individuals there may be or what types of scheme they may be on. If the Paymaster General cannot give me a precise figure or estimate, can she at least touch on the position of those individuals?

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

The Government are in precisely that position. As I suggested, many of those whom we consulted would have preferred us to include all   unwaged trainees. Our problem was definition, scope, knowing where everyone was and being able to estimate the costs and possible effects. That is not to say that we do not still have to find a way of developing this work. This measure is a sort of safety shot, and is a first step towards venturing into this area. That is why, frankly, I decided to stretch what information I had to limit the measure to the Government-sponsored schemes. This matter is not closed; I simply could not credibly adopt the position suggested by some hon. Members. Some Members may believe that the position at which I have arrived is incredible, but I believed that I had to draw the line there, given the information available to me. I could not, in all honesty, have drawn on the pilots and the research from the education maintenance allowances because they did not offer the same arrangements.

This is a substantial area. The review sets out several steps to be taken over some time. We need to discuss those steps, and I was about to allude to them very briefly.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

The Paymaster General has generously acknowledged that, in response to the Government's consultation paper, several respondents said that they would prefer a much more general inclusion. I shall not read out all those representations now; they are in the consultation paper. Does she accept that there is some confusion about the plethora of support available to young people and how complicated that support is? If she wants to go down this route, is she prepared to take reasonable steps to publicise exactly that list, so that people who are trying to decide their options can be more aware of the choices available to them, and where they will and will not be able to receive financial support? I suspect that if one stopped most young people in the street and asked them whether a particular course qualified for this support, they would not know much about it.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

With respect, the proposed arrangements are modest and very clear. Several hon. Members referred on Second Reading to the report on financial independence for 16 to 19-year-olds, which contains a flow chart—I cannot remember on which page—that attempts to show all the different ways in which legislation has had an impact, particularly on that group, over the years. I should say that the chart is the result of my asking for that information, perfectly openly, as a Minister. I sat down with young people and tried to draw a chart. In the end, Centrepoint very helpfully invested considerable time in doing that.

When one follows one flow of information, one can see what the policy objective was and at whom it was targeted. The problem, however, was that when one looked at the totality, one found that it was highly complex. Therefore, the commitment set out in the long-term proposals, towards which we must try to move incrementally, was to a coherent system of support for 16 to 19-year-olds engaged in the approved activity—training, work or courses at college or school. On the basis of consultation, we need carefully   to consider which activities outside Government-supported training schemes we would need to include. The Bill is the first step in implementing that long-term vision.

The young people and representative organisations that I met made clear time and again their feelings about the little, niggling rule that meant that someone on a level 2 qualification—they may have had only six months left of, say, a two-year course when the cut-off came at 19—was forced off the course because of their family circumstances, leaving them in huge difficulties as regards where to go afterwards. Having consulted—particularly those organisations and those young people, who gave their time and worked tirelessly—I thought that we at least needed to put something on the table, and the Bill is the modest first step towards dealing with the issue.

The issue is not simple and straightforward. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the report, he will see how work by other Departments interacts. In the case of the Department for Work and Pensions, there is the operation of income support and the estrangement rules, which go back a long way. The changes for 16 to 19-year-olds come from what were called the Fowler reviews, which took place under the Conservative Government when they removed income support to that age range. The interaction of such things makes for a difficult mix when it comes to getting the steps right. However, the objective must be—for the reasons that I gave on Second Reading, with which the hon. Gentleman will agree—to get as many of our 16 to 19-year-olds in training and education and pursuing qualifications, and the Bill is the first step on that path.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

The Paymaster General has been giving a thoughtful response. The Bill is an interim measure, and we shall probably debate some of the reasons for that later this afternoon, as well as how such an approach measures up against going for one big reform in one go—an issue that came up on Second Reading, and which, I suspect, we shall reprise at least briefly. Does she accept, however, that if we are to have an interim measure, as she believes that we should, the fact that there are so many complexities in the system—there was almost universal agreement about that on Second Reading—makes it incumbent on the Government to define that measure as clearly as possible and to publicise those courses that will qualify? While the interim measure pertained, pending a long-term reform, young people would then know exactly what their entitlement was. That is the point that I am seeking to get across.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

Yes, I accept that point. The hon. Gentleman might inadvertently be doing the young men and women in this age group a disservice. The arrangements said perfectly straightforwardly that certain arrangements applied if someone was in education, but not if they were in training or waged training. Clearly, that was not fair, and it has now been put right. If he were to say that this area is somewhat complex and to ask whether it would benefit from a single, coherent system of support for 16 to 19-year-olds, I would agree that that is the objective. That is the   objective that we have set ourselves. That is what we are working towards with the Department for Education and Skills and the DWP, but we need to take those steps reasonably.

I do not think that there would be quite such a big fuss if it were not for the fact that we are having to use primary legislation, but why do we have to do so? The Bill is making only modest changes. They will help, but they are not a long-term solution. We are having to use primary legislation because the original was primary legislation; primary legislation is needed to amend primary legislation. Using the Bill to give us a regulatory power will enable us to proceed along those steps.

Many of those steps will be taken by DFES and DWP, but child benefit is a Treasury matter and it therefore falls to a Treasury Minister to deal with it. It also happens that I was asked to co-ordinate the final development of the 16 to 19 year review, because child tax credits do something a little different from child benefit.

The change is an important milestone. It will make a big difference. However, I have not suggested to those who were consulted or the young people who made representations that this is it. The longer-term challenge for a coherent system will require us to look at a lot of things. One interesting matter that was discussed by the consulted bodies and young people is the notion of dependence—or independence: it is not quite that clear-cut. It is more about the interdependence of the young and their parents or carers, and at what point things move from one to the other. We need to recognise that idea and develop policies sensitive to it.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General 3:00, 18 January 2005

There is another reason for using primary legislation; it is that we are having to deal with one tiny bit that cannot be done by regulation. However, we might equally well say that far too many parts of our legislative system can be altered by regulation, and that far too much secondary legislation is used in our governmental system.

The Paymaster General talked about her objective, her end point, her vision; indeed, table 4.1 on page 35 of ''Supporting young people to achieve'' sets out that vision. I have not seen any clear statement of the timetable along which we are to move—assuming that Labour win the next election, and I am sure that we shall change some of these provisions if we win next time. What is her timetable for implementing the provision? When will we arrive at the point when table 4.1 is implemented?

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

On the hon. Gentleman's point about when it is appropriate to have regulations—yes, if I was sitting on the Opposition Benches, I would argue a slightly different point, because that is what Oppositions do.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

It is time to practise.  

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

I am not planning to practise being in opposition: I did not like it. It is much better to be in government, as the hon. Gentleman appreciates.

It is a sensible subject for discussion, and hon. Members should always probe on when we should regulate and what procedures we should use. The hon. Gentleman has made the point before that, because we did things a certain way in the past, it is necessarily time to revisit the subject. I do not happen to think that that is the case now, but it is a good debating point.

As for progress on development, further consultations have been coming in about progress on the work set out to be undertaken by DFES and DWP, and timetables have been taken forward by their Ministers. I intend to respond to those consultations, if I can, with an indication of implementation in the Budget this year, as it is necessary that that is tied in with the curriculum reforms for those who are 14 to 19; those also deal with time periods beyond 2010. We touched on that on Second Reading.

I am trying not to do exactly what the hon. Gentleman suggests I should not do. When I know that something else is on the table and that there will be a response, I will do my best to make sure that it dovetails with the provisions. The 2005 Budget is when I aim to make the appropriate response and give a suggestion of the forward agenda.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I thank my right hon. Friend for her gracious and helpful words, particularly on amendments Nos. 1 and 2. However, there is always a sting in the tail, and, in this case, it concerns amendment No. 3, which I think was worth putting forward, although I shall not press it.

Amendment agreed to.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

I beg to move amendment No. 5, in clause 1, page 1, line 19, at end insert


(c) has commenced a course of full-time education or approved training before attaining the age of 19 years, and

(d) has not attained the aged of 21 years.'.

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment No. 6, in clause 1, page 1, line 19, at end insert

( ) has commenced a course of full-time education or approved training before attaining the age of 20 years.'.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

These are essentially probing amendments. We are seeking to tease out further information from the Government on why they have set the age limits in the Bill exactly as they have done. Amendment No. 5 seeks to raise debate on the prospect of increasing the cut-off for payment of child benefit from the age of 20, as is proposed in the Bill and the attendant draft regulations, to 21. Amendment No. 6 would allow a qualifying young person to begin a course that qualifies up until their 20th birthday, as opposed to their 19th birthday, as is proposed in the Bill.

There is, admittedly, a difficulty with that, in that whenever a line is drawn for the payment of any type of benefit, there is always likely to be someone who   falls just on the other side of the line who will potentially lose out. As has been picked up on by the Library briefing note on the Bill, the consultation paper acknowledged that difficulty. Under the heading, ''Cuts off on the young person's 21st birthday'', it said, at paragraph 3.31:

''While age cut offs create anomalies, it is necessary to have one for those cases in which a young person does not or cannot reach their learning goal or the next level of qualification within a reasonable period. The proposed absolute cut off would cover those exceptional circumstances.''

We should remember that the Bill is intended as an interim measure pending more radical change. Incidentally, we welcome the Government's announcement that we may get a further chapter on this issue in the Budget; no doubt we will return to the matter under the clauses relating to commencement. Nevertheless, as the Paymaster General has said, the changes proposed today still leave residual problems. To quote from the Barnardo's briefing paper, which accompanied Second Reading,

''from our own experience we know that there are young people who, because of their life circumstances, do not access training until later and require a longer period of training before they are fully ready to move into employment.

One such example would be our Dr B's training project in Yorkshire which provides supported training for young people with learning difficulties. Many of these young people remain in education until they are 18 and therefore start their training at a later age. In 2002/02 fifteen young people over 21 were still in training in this one project. If the Child Benefit and Tax Credit extensions are not to apply to them—and we acknowledge the incongruity of 'Child' benefits for 21 year olds—then we would wish to see some other sort of continuing financial support for this group of young people.''

The Government's wonderfully entitled ''Child Benefit Bill Supplementary Partial Regulatory Impact Assessment'', the title of which led to some mild amusement on Second Reading, was published alongside the draft regulations last week. It states that the additional cost of raising the cut-off from 19 to 20, as now proposed, amounts to some £65 million per annum—an estimated £45 million in year one—whereas expanding it by a further year to 21 might cost only a further £10 million beyond that, with the additional one year cost also estimated at £10 million. Although it is obviously necessary to spend additional public money to gain the benefit of an extra year, it is worth our while to air the possibility this afternoon.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I am following the hon. Gentleman's words with interest. In terms of what he read from the supplementary partial regulatory impact assessment, paragraph 26 states that the expected cost would be £75 million, £55 million in the first year, but it qualifies that. It states:

''If there were no behavioural change associated with the extension to age 21, then we would expect the cost of this to be £75m (£55m in the first year)''.

Has he considered what behavioural changes might follow should his amendment be adopted and become part of the legislation?

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point. The latest regulatory impact assessment includes a model by which the Government have come to some of their estimates. As in all such   cases, the answer at the bottom of the sum depends on some of the assumptions that are put into the model. If those assumptions are changed, the final number will change as well.

On the Government's model, there would be an additional cost of some £10 million. I am simply trying to probe the Government as to why they are prepared to spend £65 million, but not to go to £75 million. Perhaps the Paymaster General will give me an indication as to how the decision was taken. She alluded to the matter in her general remarks on the clause, but I should like to press her specifically on that point.

Similarly, let me say to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West before he flicks manfully through the regulatory impact assessment again, that I do not think that—unless I missed it—there is a financial estimate in the latest RIA of the additional cost of raising the age of qualification for commencement from 19 to 20. If it is there and I missed it, I apologise, but I do not think that it is there. Therefore, may I ask the Paymaster General whether she has any estimate—bearing in mind her general point that there is a lack of data in the area, so I know that it is not easy to give them—of the additional cost of raising the age from 19 to 20?

As the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West has picked up, these are probing amendments. However, they are designed, partly in response to representations that we have received from outside bodies, to try to flesh out the Government's thinking. Perhaps the Paymaster General could respond to those two questions in due course.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

This was one of the most important issues that arose on Second Reading. Therefore I am pleased that the hon. Member for Rayleigh has tabled what he describes as probing amendments. He quoted the Barnardo's report that was submitted to us before Second Reading. That raises the important fact that a large group of young people, often disaffected, do not necessarily fit easily into the benefit and educational assumptions that are made by Governments, which tend to suit the majority of young people who pass through the educational and training systems.

It is important for any Government, particularly one concerned about social exclusion, to ensure that the benefit and training systems are sufficiently flexible to allow that group of young people, many of whom are needy, to be properly provided for. We must take care that we do not close off to them avenues through which they might develop their skills and talents and which might lead to more beneficial opportunities than those that would otherwise be open to them. That could ensure that they are usefully in training—and in work, in future—rather than being alienated from society and possibly involved in crime; certainly not in employment.

The Paymaster General helpfully gave us some additional reasons why she is not keen to extend the age cut-off beyond that which is in the Bill. They are good. 

The behavioural effects of the existing change proposed by the Government are uncertain, but we do not want greatly to incentivise a lot of the young people who would not fall into the Barnardo's category to stay on still later in their training courses at large public expense. Also, as the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West said on Second Reading, we do not want large numbers of young people aged 19 and 20 to rely on a benefit that is intended essentially for children and dependants, not people who would be considered as adults.

The Paymaster General has given us two powerful reasons not to go beyond the Bill, but the hon. Gentleman, Barnardo's and others have raised legitimate concerns. I hope that the Paymaster General will underline the commitment, which I think she gave earlier, to keep the issue under review and ensure that this matter is dealt with specifically in the Government's response to the consultation, so that although child benefit may not be extended to include individuals in education at the age of 20, there might be some other child support mechanism that could do so. We look forward to hearing some of the announcements about the way forward in the Budget. Providing that the way forward is not delayed for too long, the path that the Paymaster General suggested is sensible.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury) 3:15, 18 January 2005

I shall return briefly to the point that the hon. Gentleman made about why the benefit stops at 20. I shall treat these as probing amendments, so I will not make the normal response about why they do not work, because that is not necessary. Instead, I shall respond to the comments from the hon. Members for Rayleigh and for Yeovil (Mr. Laws).

As I said in my opening remarks, the decision on a final age cut-off of 20, rather than 21, was a cautious response stimulated by the lack of facts in this sphere. The policy intention is to give young people a little extra time to finish their course, not dramatically to alter the patterns of post-16 participation. There were not enough data on the possible impact of extending the benefit to 21 to justify that, so I thought it more appropriate to go for 20, because many of the representations were about the few months past 19 and I did not think it would be sensible to make the age 19 and a half, or leave the benefit in place until the course finished. It is easier to go for an age cut-off. The answer to the hon. Gentleman's question on the cost of going to 20 is no. We have the round figures of the total cost.

Our inability to predict the behavioural effects accurately explains why we estimated only a £10 million differential cost between the two options. In our view that is probably an underestimate, but we will know that only when we have more evidence of the behavioural effects and the true cost, hence the need to keep it under review. I stress that this measure deals with a short period when somebody is engaged on a course and we are told that they are unable to complete it.

The wider question that the hon. Gentleman will be asking is, ''What financial support is available for those over 20 who may still be in full-time, non-advanced education?'' That depends on the young person's circumstances and the learning routes that they take. In England, the new adult learning grants have been introduced on a trial basis. For the first time, there will be adults in further education who will be eligible for guaranteed funding to help them to meet the costs of learning. That is consistent with the priorities set out in the skills strategy for the investment of public funds. The means-tested grants provide up to £30 a week and follow the educational maintenance allowance formula, although not exactly. The adult learning grants are available to full-time learners studying for their first full level 2 qualification, and to young adults studying for their first full-time level 3 qualification in the 19 learning and skills council pilot areas.

On the point about financial independence and the long-term strategy, which I believe the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr. Tyrie) raised on Second Reading, it is entirely right to ask what is the appropriate mechanism or tool. The hon. Gentleman sought an assurance from me that we did not see child benefit, which is designed for another purpose, as the tool. My hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West also raised the matter.

I cannot stress enough that the proposal will fill a small gap that occurs now; it puts something on the table that clearly shows the direction we are taking. However, we are not saying that child benefit or tax credits can be stretched up the age range to deal with every eventuality. The review takes a much more fundamental look at the coherent finance available in the age range, and ensures that the appropriate skills and education for young people inform their choices rather than whether they will be paid more in a certain place, or whether their parents or carers will be penalised financially.

As for the question ''Why 20?'', it was because that was the best evidence available. As the hon. Member for Rayleigh will have seen from the submissions, the problem was that of equality between education and unwaged training, of ensuring that people are not forced into taking their second choice—an inappropriate college course—because their parents or carers cannot face the financial pressures, when they would rather do unwaged training. We are implementing a modest proposal which we will, of course, keep under review. 

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I appreciate that my right hon. Friend is not a DFES or DWP Minister, but a Treasury Minister. However, will she elucidate on whether it would be possible for a 19-year-old in a pilot area to get both the extended child benefit that will be available under the Bill, via their parents, and an adult learning grant. Is there a mechanism that would stop that double claiming?

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

There will have to be a mechanism for stopping multiple claims in the pilot areas or we will not be able to achieve our objective of providing the most appropriate form of financial support. One of the frustrations that all hon. Members find when they discuss matters with their constituents is that people have a problem that affects their son or daughter now, and they want it solved now. Telling constituents that we must quantify the matter, run a pilot and understand how it fits in with everything else is frustrating for them. However, had that been done in the past, we might not be in the position we are in now. The learning and skills councils in the pilot areas will have to manage the issue. As a result, it will be for us to look at the evidence and decide the way forward.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Obviously one of the Government's concerns is the cost of all the extensions and entitlements. Is one potential way of funding them in the future to means-test child benefit? Are the Government including that in their review?

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

It is always difficult for Ministers to predict what other Ministers may do, particularly in the distant future, but child benefit will remain undisturbed for those specific requirements. As for evidence, I do not know the answer. The hon. Gentleman has been pressing me on that point, as have others. For ages 19 and over, is child benefit the appropriate tool, or should there be something else? If the hon. Gentleman is asking me whether I am planning to tax child benefit in the future, or to make it means-tested in some way, then the answer is that I do not have that intention.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

I thank the Paymaster General for her thoughtful response to our questions. As it transpired, some of her staff had obviously been doing their homework after we had tabled our amendments, and she effectively sought to answer them in part in her opening remarks when she was talking to clause 1.

Our purpose in tabling these amendments was to tease out some of the Government's thinking. I hope we have succeeded. The Paymaster General has provided us with a rationale for what the Government want to do. She mentioned adult learning grants, and I thank her for that additional information. I realise that she attempted to quantify the issue, and again I may have missed it, but I do not think she answered my specific question regarding the Government's estimate of raising to 20 the age at which one could qualify. [Interruption.] It is being indicated to me that they were not able to answer that question. If at some point they are able to come up with an answer, we would appreciate receiving it in writing. I appreciate that the   Paymaster General did her best with the information she had available, but the question is legitimate, and it would be useful to have it answered at some point.

We on these Benches also note with interest the Paymaster General's response regarding the potential means-testing of child benefit. She gave a carefully worded reply in which she implied that it would not happen in the short term, but she did not entirely rule it out for ever.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

On a point of order, Miss Begg, I did not say that at all. I gave a statement with regard to my period as a Minister, and clarified the point. The hon. Gentleman is being mischievous. I have avoided making any comment about what the Conservative party has been saying for the past two days about what it would do, and about how everything we have been discussing would be totally destroyed by its Budget proposals. I do not expect the hon. Gentleman to engage in such mischief.

Photo of Anne Begg Anne Begg Labour, Aberdeen South

That is not a matter for the Chair, but I think the Paymaster General has made her point.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

Procedurally, I could almost take the Paymaster General's remarks as a kind of offered intervention. Perish the thought, Miss Begg, that an Opposition spokesman should even dare to be mischievous in Committee. What would happen to parliamentary democracy if such procedures were allowed to pertain?

Nevertheless, as one would expect with a Minister of her experience, she obviously chose her words carefully, and I think those words may bear some further scrutiny. I think our amendment has achieved its aim in probing the Government's thinking. Therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General 3:30, 18 January 2005

This is the key clause, so this is as good a place as any to make a couple of brief points. I will not rehearse what was said on Second Reading, but the plain fact is that deep concern must remain that the Government have not thought through the measure clearly and do not know what the costs or benefits will be or who the beneficiaries will be. Despite a lot of planning, survey work and estimates of the effects on behaviour are not in place.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

The hon. Gentleman will correct me if I am wrong, which I may be, but I suspect that he voted for military action in Iraq. Such factors as he has just delineated about uncertainty could have been outlined, and were outlined, at that point. However, one cannot foretell the future.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

As it happens, I opposed the war in Iraq. I voted for the motion that the case for war had not been made. I will not go further down that path, although it is an interesting subject. The hon.   Gentleman's general point is that we live in an uncertain world. I think that he was trying to draw an analogy, which, if I may say so, was probably not the best available to him at that moment, particularly in view of my voting record on the war.

One must ask oneself if all the reasonable steps have been taken to discover what the effects on behaviour might be. The answer is clearly no. As far as I know, no survey work has been done on what the impact will be. I would think that it was relatively straightforward to do some survey work to establish what the effects on behaviour might be and to publish it.

I will not prolong my introductory remarks, despite the intervention. Committee members should take it as preamble that I believe that there is and should be deep concern about the scale of the costs, and about who the beneficiaries will be and how many there will be. The whole purpose of scrutinising the Government is to establish whether they have worked out whether spending an extra pound here and there will deliver something worth while per extra person benefited. We do not know the answer.

Whenever the Paymaster General is asked a remotely awkward question, she always says, ''This is only an interim measure. We want to do something now.'' That is a reasonable response. However, she is asking us to accept what is quite a significant change, if one takes it in conjunction with the regulations, on the basis that it is an interim measure that we will have only for a short while, that we will then have a Budget that will alter it quite a bit, and that the long-term vision will be implemented shortly thereafter if the Government win the next election.

We should assess the measure in the light of what the long-term vision is. I am not going to go into any more detail, because that would not be in order, but it is important to bear it in mind that the Paymaster General has referred many times to the long-term vision as a way of justifying this interim measure.

Table 4.1 of the consultation paper states, under the heading, ''Living with parents'':

''Support paid to the family, dependent on household income with threshold applied to young person's income''.

That is, of course, bureaucratese—a point that relates very much to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and by the hon. Member for Yeovil when he first raised the issue. Doing my best to try to understand what that means, I believe that it means means-testing, which is the only reasonable conclusion that one can draw from that passage on the long-term vision. What exactly is it means-testing? That is slightly more difficult to discover, but I believe that it means means-testing household income by proxy based on the young person's income. In other words, if a household contains a young person collecting child benefit or whatever the income might be, that may affect the assessment—the means-testing—of the household income.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, especially in the light of my earlier intervention, to which he graciously responded. Is it not the case that   we are talking about the means-testing of young persons to find out whether they are financially dependent on their parents, in a household? For example, if Wayne Rooney lived under his parents' roof but left professional football and went on a training course with the money that I imagine he has in the bank, despite his alleged spending, it would be strange to say that he was financially dependent on his parents and that they should therefore receive the qualifying person's child benefit on his behalf. The means-testing is of the young person to see whether that young person is financially dependent on the parents, to whom the child benefit would be paid.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

The hon. Gentleman is digging a rather deeper hole. He suggests not what I suggested, which was that the means-testing would take place by the back door, but that it will be means-testing by the front door. If he is saying that he thinks that his party should means-test child benefit, I am grateful to him for making that clear. I am sure that that will accelerate the speed at which he acquires a red box.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

On a point of order, Miss Begg. I did not say that I believed in means-testing child benefit.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

That was not a point of order—at least I could not detect one, but then I am not in the Chair.

There was a clear statement that the Government intend to means-test child benefit. When the Paymaster General was asked for a denial, he said that they did not have that intention at that time, or words to effect. I remember that when I worked in the Treasury we were told, ''Whatever you do on such matters, use the same sentence each time. Don't vary the words.'' The words used to be, ''We have no plans to change X''.

As an analogy, when I asked the Prime Minister on the Floor of the House whether the Government had any intention of assisting the United States in military action in Iran, he said, ''We have no plans to do so''. Six other hon. Members asked him the same question in different ways and he kept on saying, ''We have no plans to do so''. We have heard today that the Government have no intention to means-test child benefit, which concerns me.

Dawn Primarolo rose—

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

I am not giving way because I am about to end my remarks.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

I smell an election in the air and I can feel the hon. Gentleman working himself up to something. We will not be means-testing child benefit. That is the end of the matter. The hon. Gentleman is not going to get a quotation that he can use in a campaign.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

I am grateful for that clarification. For the first time, we have had some clarity from the Paymaster General, although when she was asked   about the issue she said that Ministers change. That was another heavily qualifying comment, so even if Labour wins the election, we may—who knows?—have a Minister who changes his mind.

Also, in response to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh made, the Paymaster General said that child benefit would be left undisturbed for its specific requirements, not that the Government would not means-test child benefit—and so on.

I said that I would be brief, but I have taken three or four interventions, which have led me to speak for rather longer than I intended. I have only one general point to make, which is that table 4.1 does not amount to ''setting out the vision''. Frankly, it is extremely scrappy, and inasmuch as it amounts to a vision, it is extremely ill thought through. It was almost certainly drafted by an official, and Ministers have not read it carefully enough before allowing it to be printed. I cannot believe that any Minister would have allowed the passage that I read out, which so clearly alludes to a form of means-testing, to be included in a document in the run-up to an election. The Paymaster General assured me that means-testing is not the Government's intention and we will hold them to that assurance if they get the chance to show that they are not going to means-test child benefit.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Labour, Wolverhampton South West

I did not intend to speak in the stand part debate but, with the greatest of respect to the hon. Member for Chichester, he did not understand what I was saying earlier. I hope that I can clarify things for him and the Committee, although he may still disagree with me.

Section 114 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 relates to ''persons maintaining dependence''. Child and qualifying young persons benefit will be paid to those on whom a young person is financially dependent. Those people will usually, but not always, be the parents—they may be guardians, but for the sake of simplicity I shall refer to them as parents—and they will have to demonstrate that they are financially maintaining said dependent young person.

I used the extreme example of Wayne Rooney, although I know nothing about his personal finances other than what is reported in the newspapers. It would be difficult for the parents of a very wealthy 18 or 19-year-old to demonstrate that they should receive—to use my phrase—extended child benefit for over-17s, and to say that they are maintaining a millionaire. In that sense alone, one could talk of means-testing. That touches on the issue that I was raising, but the Committee will be pleased to know that I will not rehearse it in detail.

The problem, as was alluded to by the hon. Member for Yeovil, is the question of the extended nature of childhood. Under this Bill, we would be paying something called ''child benefit'' to adults aged 18 or 19. I have reservations about that concept, and that is why I am pleased that my right hon. Friend said that the matter will be kept under review and that the packages in the Bill are interim measures.

Photo of David Laws David Laws Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I want to return to two points that we discussed during this debate. First—I have raised this issue a number of times but am not trying to be particularly difficult—I hope that the Paymaster General will not mind me returning to the 80,000 individuals who will be the unwaged trainees entitled to child benefit and child tax credit.

I am unclear whether a large group of unwaged trainees may not be covered by the Bill because they are not on Government-supported training programmes. If I were a spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills team or the Department for Work and Pensions team, I would probably have a better understanding of who the unwaged trainees are.

I appreciate the Paymaster General's point that there may not be adequate data to indicate the number of people on those types of training programmes. I wonder whether she would consider—perhaps this could be in the form of a note if the information is not available here and the Paymaster General has to go back to colleagues in other Departments—giving us a better understanding of who these unwaged trainees are likely to be. Are these people who are on programmes that are not Government or Government-approved programmes, or are they likely to be predominantly working for individual businesses and employers on an unwaged basis, on some type of formal or informal training?

This is an important point because, first, we need to know how many unwaged trainees are not going to be included in these provisions. The hon. Member for Rayleigh raised the question of whether young people would actually understand their entitlements in this area. They will probably not, if we do not understand how many unwaged trainees are not included.

Secondly, I understand the Paymaster General's concern about the potential abuse if there is a transference of individuals from waged trainees to unwaged trainees in order to exploit new benefit rules. We need to know more about these people, and I would be interested to know whether the Paymaster General has any idea of the numbers involved, and whether she can specify the types of people we are talking about. That is a very important issue, and I do not know the answers to any of those questions. I am therefore genuinely looking for enlightenment.

Because it obviously stretches the terms of our debate, I want to touch only generally on the comments that the Paymaster General has made about the means-testing of child benefit, and the proposals in   the Government's consultation paper ''Supporting young people to achieve'', issued in March 2004, that the hon. Member for Chichester referred to earlier.

The Paymaster General gave us a kind of cast-iron guarantee a few minutes ago that the Government were not going to extend means-testing to child benefit. We know from long experience how careful Treasury Ministers under this Chancellor of the Exchequer are about making any commitments. We also know that all Ministers of all parties, including former Conservative Ministers, are careful about the terms in which they frame their commitments. I wonder whether I can probe a little further into what she meant by saying that she would not extend means-testing to child benefit.

Presumably, under the Government's long-term vision, child benefit may disappear altogether for a particular category of young people who currently receive it—that is the older young people. It may called something else, such as ''young people financial support'', ''children's financial support'', or ''educational financial support''. Perhaps that, and not something called child benefit, will be means-tested. That is how I read paragraphs 4.14 and 4.17 of the consultation paper, which touch on the issue of household income, and how that would be assessed. They clearly say:

''The Government will adopt a consistent approach to income testing wherever possible.''

They talk about the targeting of the educational maintenance allowance in the context of that. The section on young persons' income in paragraph 4.17 clearly says that

''the Government proposes to consider an income threshold so that young people with individual income over that threshold are treated as independent, but other young people do not face a disincentive to supplement their income through part-time work.''

In spite of the Paymaster General's attempt to be very helpful and nail this one, there is a real possibility that the Government are moving towards a system that may or may not be justified of means-testing support for young people at and above the age of 16. If she really wants to nail this possibility, so that it does not appear on the posters of the Conservative party and others that will appear across the country over the next few months. [Interruption.] I include the Liberal Democrats. We do not have many posters but we could put it on a few of them. The Paymaster General may therefore want to nail not only the means-testing of child benefit, but the means-testing of support for young people over the age of 16.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury) 3:45, 18 January 2005

In my remarks on clause stand part, I shall resist the temptation to come back to the issue of child benefit. I would not want to cause any more mischief than I have already, but I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester for picking up on it so quickly and driving the point home. So we have given that a good go.

In addition, I was very interested by the Paymaster General's remarks about likely announcements in the Budget. I would have attempted to pursue that now,   but if the Chairman of the Committee is content, it seems the logical place to do that is under clause 6 when we debate commencement and the timings of the Bill. There are points to be made about that, but that is probably a more suitable place to do it.

I now wish to raise two points on clause stand part. The first is about the so-called ''missing million''. I gave notice on Second Reading that I wanted to press the Government further in Committee on what the Bill is likely to do for these people. They can be defined as the more than 1 million young people who are not in employment, education or training. I am seeking to keep my word on that, not least because the Economic Secretary did not really address the points that I had raised in my winding-up speech when he made his on Second Reading. We gave fair notice to the Government that we would return to the issue.

The consultation document, ''Supporting young people to achieve: towards a new deal for skills'', touched on exactly that point at paragraph 3.32. I admit that that document goes back to last March. It said:

''Recent evidence on the NEET group''— as it is usually referred to—

''points to a subset of young people who are currently untouched by the Government's interventions to raise post-16 participation. They are living at home with their parents, not engaged in active search for education, training and employment and have no interaction with the state. The Connexions service is remitted to track young people, but young people have no incentive to engage with services or to actively seek work or training.''

The latest figures relating to that group show that, for the quarter August to October 2004, the number of under-25s unemployed and not in education rose by 36,000, and the number economically inactive and not in education rose by 5,000. That is a combined increase of 41,000, giving an overall total of 1,118,000, which represents one sixth of young people under 25. They are often referred to as the lost generation.

It is still not clear what the Bill, a relatively minor measure, will do to help to address the problem of that scale in our society. Will the Government furnish us with additional information this afternoon about how the Bill will specifically deal with that increasingly pressing problem? Will they, for instance, provide us with an estimate of the number of additional young people whom they believe will be enticed into unwaged training as a result of the Bill's introduction? It would be helpful to have that information.

Secondly, I want to talk briefly about the potential for the paying of benefit to young people individually, rather than via the people who are responsible for them. I appreciate that the Bill deals with payment made in that way, but I want to touch on the alternative, not least because it was raised on Second Reading by several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West, who gave an artful description of driving licences as he tried to press home his point.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

It certainly does.

''We believe that the definition of a 'qualifying young person' set out in the Child Benefit Bill should include provision for young people living independently.''

In addition, Barnardo's, in its briefing note, pointed out that young people can sometimes in effect be estranged from their parents even when they are living at home. Its note summed the situation up rather well:

''Many young people will have to continue to pay board from any income of their own regardless of additional family income. There are significant numbers of young people who are not 'estranged' in that they do not live separately from their families or carers, but who may be 'estranged' in terms of their relationships within those families.''

Have the Government considered the possibility, in certain limited circumstances, of paying the benefit directly to qualifying young persons? The Paymaster General may wish to argue that that method of payment does not apply to child benefit, but it would at least be interesting to know the Government's rationale in response to that question, because this is a complex area of legislation and we would like to tease out the Government's thinking. I could say more, but my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester has to leave in a little while and is keen to hear the Paymaster General's reply, so I shall curtail my remarks at this point.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

When we started considering the Bill this afternoon, I erroneously thought that the hon. Members for Chichester and for Yeovil would engage in a debate. I realise that the hon. Member for Chichester had a long morning on another Bill today, and he must have decided to return to election mode. It is a shame that he does not direct his comments more to the Bill and the consultation than to the points that he might like to make in press releases. Let us be clear and go through the position slowly so that he understands exactly what it is.

There are no plans to means-test child benefit. On 31 May 2001 the Chancellor stated:

''Millions of families can be absolutely reassured that not only will child benefit not be taxed it will remain universal, but in the [next] parliament it will rise in line with prices.''

Every single promise has been kept. I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman wants to issue a challenge on child benefit. His Government made several attempts to undermine it and to take it into means-testing, which it was for the purposes of income support. We broke that link. They froze it for three years and reduced its value whereas we have increased it by 20 per cent. and rising.

The point about the consultation, which again did not fit with the political point that he or the hon. Member for Yeovil wanted to make, is how one defines independence. The consultation also deals with income and hours and will be reported on in the Budget. At what point is a young person independent and when are they still dependent on their carers or their parents? That is the point of the Bill, not the   mischief that the Opposition are trying to get up to with regard to child benefit. I hope that finally puts that issue to rest. The hon. Member for Chichester can squirm and try to get round this as much as he likes, but he is not doing any service to what is in the reports and the serious question of financial independence for 16 to 19-year-olds that those outside the House have asked us to address as parliamentarians.

The hon. Member for Yeovil, with a little bit of a sting in the tail, comes back to the 80,000 unwaged trainees. Whether he has me in front of him or a Department for Education and Skills Minister, he will get the same reply. There are no figures for unwaged trainees outside the Government schemes because they are small groups and there is at present no central mechanism for collecting information about training, who delivers it and what is going on the voluntary sector. There is nothing devious here. It is a fact of life. If the hon. Gentleman is so worried about it, I do not know why he did not raise this before instead or waiting for this Bill.

We then come to the alleged missing millions. First, the hon. Member for Rayleigh is talking about under-25s not 16 to 19-year-olds. Let us give him some facts that compare with the performance of his Government. The United Kingdom has the lowest youth unemployment rate at 11.8 per cent of any major European country apart from Germany, which has a rate of 9.9 per cent. The figure of 1 million is misleading because it considers only full-time education in total. Over 90 per cent. of 16 to 17-year-olds and nearly 90 per cent. of 18 to 24-year-olds are in education, training or employment.

The real measure of the Government's success is the impact on long-term youth unemployment, which we inherited from his Administration in 1997. In October 2004, only 38,600 18 to 25-year-olds were, regrettably, claiming the jobseeker's allowance for more than six months compared with 163,300 in the spring of 1997 under the Conservative Government. There are now just over 6,300 18 to 25-year-olds who have been claiming the JSA for more than 12 months, compared with nearly 40,000 18 to 25-year-olds in Germany claiming the equivalent for more than 12 months. On that basis, the Government are making steady progress all the time.

The hon. Gentleman touches on what is commonly known as the NEET group, consisting of the most vulnerable. If he cares to read the financial review for 16 to 19-year-olds, he will see the complexity of the challenges of dealing with those vulnerable men and women and the steps that the Government are taking to deliver, jointly across a number of Departments. Instead of trying to pretend that the Bill does it all, or that they can see some devious move ahead by this Government, Opposition Members should look at what is before them in the context of the wider picture and go back to where they started, which was to agree with the Bill and work with the Government to take it forward. 

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General 4:00, 18 January 2005

I only intend to make one brief response, which is that the Paymaster General has gone into hyper-election mode, accusing Opposition Members of being devious. She really just needs to read the words of her own document, which she clearly did not do before it was published. It refers to:

''Support paid to the family, dependent on household income with threshold applied to young person's income.''

Any reasonable person reading that would conclude that, somewhere or other, some means-testing is going on. That is all I referred to; the Paymaster General said that sounds like electioneering. It sounds to me like means-testing, and it will sound like means-testing to any reasonable person. She has now given us a categorical, cast-iron assurance, but it still leaves on the record her longer-term policy, which appears to point in a different direction.

Photo of Mark Francois Mark Francois Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

We appear to have had a more lively debate this afternoon than we had anticipated, which is healthy. Will the Paymaster General respond to the point I made during the clause stand part debate, when I asked her about whether consideration had been given in principle to paying child benefit, in certain circumstances, directly to the young persons involved, where there may be some problem? I do not think she covered that, and I should be grateful if she could.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

Yes, this was raised by Centrepoint, and it was considered to be completely inappropriate. Child benefit is not designed for that reason, or for the reasons given by hon. Gentlemen. It proved to be impossible. The primary legislation states that child benefit is paid to a parent or carer, not to the child, so there is no way that that could be ordered. After careful reflection and discussion with Centrepoint, it was agreed that we should proceed on the question of financial independence, and whether there were other methods of achieving it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.