The clause defines the meaning of the phrase “full-time occupation” as at least 20 hours a week. My first question to the Minister is: on what basis was that figure derived? The Government’s consultation paper states that no specific questions were designed to consult on whether 20 hours per week should constitute full-time employment, nor was there even a general question on views of where the threshold should lie. The consultation sheet simply asked whether those who are not in employment for a significant part of the week should participate in full-time education. It would be helpful to know why there was no consultation on the number of hours that constitute full-time work for the purposes of the legislation—why not, for example, 16 hours and 35 hours?
There was specific consultation on whether full-time education should be set at 16 hours per week. Why should 16 hours per week constitute full-time education, when 19 hours per week would not be regarded as full-time employment? Why consult specifically on the definition of full-time education, but not full-time employment? The issue is of real concern to the Association of School and College Leaders, which said the following in its briefing document on the Bill:
“We are concerned that to be ‘relevant’ and therefore covered by the Bill, employment must be for 20 or more hours per week. We do not think that it is right that employers should be able to employ people on half-time contracts and be exempt from the duty to take account of their training needs.”
Martin Ward, the deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said in his evidence to the Committee that
“the figure that we were looking at was more like 16”— that is, hours of work
He went on to add:
“What concerned us about a figure as high as 20 was that the not-so-good employers...might subvert the system by offering a lot of 19.5 hour contracts.”——[Official Report, Education and Skills Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2008; c. 58, Q148.]
The amendment would change the figure from 20 hours to 16 in order to flush out from the Government the reasoning behind the figure of 20, which is a slightly odd one to select, given the prevalence of 16 elsewhere in legislation, particularly social security legislation. For example, 16 hours is the threshold for the working tax credit, so a 17-year-old could, by working 16 hours, qualify for such a credit but not qualify as working full-time for the purposes of the Bill, and therefore find themselves subject to pressure to enter full-time education or training.
Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Michael Foster.]