Clause 5

Education and Skills Bill – in a Public Bill Committee on 7th February 2008.

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Full-time occupation

Amendment proposed [5 February]: No. 10, in clause 5, page 2, line 41, leave out ‘20’ and insert ‘16’.—[Mr. Gibb.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

What a pleasure it is to be here this morning at this fine hour, with you in the Chair, Mr. Bayley.

To remind the Committee, the amendment is intended to draw out the Government’s reasoning for setting the level for full-time occupation at 20 hours a week. I hope that the Committee would agree that the level should be set such that, taken together with one day a week in training, it would occupy the young person for a significant period. Crucially, it should also be set above the level that would reasonably be seen to constitute part-time employment, which young people should legitimately be able to do in conjunction with full-time education or training, without additional duties falling on either them or their employers. I know that the duties that fall on employers are a particular concern of the Committee’s, and we have discussed them at some length in previous sittings and with the witnesses.

We are confident that 20 hours a week is the right threshold to set for allowing part-time participation. It is a level that, at the moment, would capture most young people who work as their main activity, without catching most of those who work part time. Well over 90 per cent. of those young people who say that they work full time as their main activity work for more than 20 hours a week. Some 93 per cent. of those who say that they work part time while studying full time work for 20 hours a week or fewer. In contrast, if we drew the line at 16 hours a week, we would catch about 15 per cent. of those who study full time and work part time. We believe that that indicates that we have found the correct balance, with the proposed level being consistent with most young people’s experience. With one day a week in training, work plus training would occupy at least four days of a young person’s week,  meeting our test of a significant period of time. A lower threshold would increase the potential burden on employers.

Photo of Angela Watkinson Angela Watkinson Opposition Whip (Commons)

As the Minister was speaking, it occurred to me how young people on incapacity benefit might be affected. The maximum they are allowed to work in a week without affecting their benefit is 16 hours. Perhaps some provision should be made for that.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I am aware that there is some logic to proposing a threshold of 16 hours’ work a week, for consistency with benefits arrangements. That is why we tested it to see whether there would be a significant extra potential burden on young people and employers for those people who legitimately study part time while in employment full time. As I do not have a detailed answer to whether we need to make an adjustment with regard to incapacity benefit, I will reflect on the question.

Photo of John Hayes John Hayes Shadow Minister (14-19 Reform and Apprenticeships)

While the Minister is in a reflective mode, further to the intervention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Upminster, it might be useful if the Committee had a feel for the number of young people with that benefits interface. Presumably, that was taken into account in the modelling. He has given us the numbers who will be affected if the level is changed to 16 hours, which is helpful, but we are not certain what proportion would have the interface with benefits, with the considerations that spring from that, that my hon. Friend highlighted.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I shall think about that matter further. If it was later in the day and I was not full of cold, I might be able instantly to work out the logic in relation to the benefits system, but sadly it eludes me at the moment.

The principle is clear that we need to set the level so that it is not too burdensome for either young people or employers. As we have set it, we do not believe that there will be a significant impact on the youth labour market. If it were set lower, we would be less confident that that would be the case. I know that this is a subject of some concern to the Committee.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I want to clarify one point regarding the burden. If I understand the Minister’s argument correctly, he is saying that if we set the number of hours that constituted full-time work at 16 hours a week, 15 per cent. of young people who work part time would still be considered to be working part time, but 85 per cent. would be considered to be working full time. The consequence of being regarded as working full time is that it would be less burdensome for the individual because he would be required to engage in education or training for only one day a week, whereas if he were regarded as working part time, he would be under a requirement to engage in full-time education.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

That may be so, but many more employers would have to go through what I do not regard as being exceptionally onerous duties in checking the arrangements  for their employees to fulfil their duties. Those burdens would be put on them, and I know that the hon. Gentleman is exercised about that. [ Interruption. ] Unless significant information comes to me—no, it has not—in the light of my reasoning, I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I am reassured by the Minister’s argument. I would be interested if he were in due course to respond to the questions of my hon. Friends the Members for Upminster and for South Holland and The Deepings about the interface between the duties in the Bill and the incapacity benefit system.

The Minister has made some very persuasive arguments about the fact that, if the amendment were accepted, 85 per cent. of young people engaged in part-time work would find themselves categorised as working full time, which would have consequences for the employer and for the availability of part-time work for young people. That is a valuable and necessary income source for many young people who are engaged in full-time education.

I mentioned in another debate that I sat in on a Teach First interview session at Canary Wharf. One of the young graduates who were being interviewed mentioned in passing—not as a selling point—that she was holding down four part-time jobs while studying for her postgraduate certificate in education. That makes one realise the efforts that some young people go to in order to gain qualifications. In the light of the Minister’s very persuasive arguments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Hugh Bayley Hugh Bayley NATO Parliamentary Assembly UK Delegation

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendment No. 133.

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

These are technical amendments that make clearer the interpretation of “normal weekly working hours” in the clause, removing potential legal ambiguity.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 133, in clause 5, page 3, line 23, at end insert—

‘( ) Section 234 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 (c. 18) (construction of references to normal working hours where employee entitled to overtime pay) applies for the purposes of the definition of “normal weekly working hours” in subsection (4) as it applies for the purposes of that Act.’.—[Jim Knight.]

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

Photo of Nick Gibb Nick Gibb Shadow Minister (Education) (Schools)

I ask the Minister to confirm that the clause will allow volunteering and that under clause 5(2)(b), which refers to working

“otherwise than for reward”,

will ensure that those engaged in full-time volunteering will be regarded as fully employed for purposes of the Bill. V, the charity that was set up in 2006 following the Russell commission report into volunteering, has raised  the issue. V believes that the provision enables volunteering to take place, but will the Minister confirm that for the avoidance of doubt? The charity states:

“It goes without saying that volunteering must be a freely chosen activity and the system must therefore be flexible so that young people can move between options as appropriate (for example, leave a volunteering placement and enter into full-time employment without penalty).”

Will he also confirm that young people who are engaged in volunteering will have to fulfil the training obligations under the Bill at the same time? Is it correct, as was said in a previous debate that, as a volunteer overseas would be a non-resident, he or she would not be covered by the duties in the Bill?

Photo of Jim Knight Jim Knight Minister of State (Schools and Learners), Department for Children, Schools and Families, Minister of State (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (Schools and Learners)

I am happy to confirm that the hon. Gentleman’s understanding of our intention is entirely correct, as is his understanding of the provision’s effect. We will, by regulation, define that it is entirely appropriate for young people affected by the duties under the Bill to be engaged in full-time volunteering as long as they are also engaged in relevant training or education. It is undoubtedly the case, by virtue of clause 1 whereby

“This Part applies to any person who is resident in England”,

that someone who is not resident in England is not affected by the Bill. On that basis, I hope that members of the Committee will accept the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.