HC Deb 22 February 1983 vol 37 cc798-9
Ql. Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

asked the Prime Minister what plans Her Majesty's Government have to increase financial assistance to pupils remaining at school after they are 16 years old.

The Prime Minister (Mrs. Magaret Thatcher)

We have no such plans at present.

Mr. Bennett

Will the Prime Minister take this opportunity to congratulate all state schools on the excellent job that they do and dissuade her ministerial colleagues from continuing to attack them with policies such as the voucher scheme? Will she persuade her Ministers to put all their energies into extending opportunities of choice for 16-year-olds who would like to stay on in sixth forms but who do not have the financial means to do so?

The Prime Minister

I am always congratulating those who are doing an excellent job and I am happy to respond to the hon. Gentleman's invitation. As to the Child Poverty Action Group, to which I believe the hon. Gentleman was referring, its scheme would cost £500 million a year. Most of that would be spent on those who would stay on in education anyway. There has been a significant increase in recent years in the number of 16-year-olds who are staying on in education, which is very good news.

Mr. Peter Bottomley

Will my right hon. Friend consider examining whether the pattern of financial assistance for those of school-leaving age and above is what she believes to be rational? Will she come forward with Proposals —preferably after she has had success at the next election—for a more rational scheme than the present one?

The Prime Minister

We have considered the scheme and the varying grants that are available across the board. It is not easy to make changes without introducing more anomalies. That is the problem.

Mr. Hardy

Will the Prime Minister consider the fact that, in this year of grace, we are spending more on locking up young people than on providing for their further training and employment?

The Prime Minister

We are spending a large amount on providng for their further training and employment. As the hon. Gentleman knows, a new scheme will be introduced in September, which will cost about £2 billion, for training young people. We would hope that by the age of 16 young people will either stay on in education, have a job, or have some training, so that unemployment is not an option.

Mr. Fry

Is my right hon. Friend aware that it pays some 16-year-olds who have left school, and for whom places are available at work centres, to stay at home because the cost of transport to the centres has to be taken from their supplementary benefit payments? Will she ask her right hon. Friends to consider removing this disincentive so that more of our 16-year-olds may spend their time on worthwhile employment rather than sit at home doing nothing?

The Prime Minister

Yes. I shall do that, but I believe that special travelling allowances are provided for journeys to some skill centres.

Mr. Foot

Will the right hon. Lady be kind enough to confirm to us that it is a £2 billion scheme? We are gratified to learn that she is moving in the direction that we have been advocating. I hope that she will confirm the figure here and now. We shall certainly welcome it and show our usual generosity in doing so.

The Prime Minister

The amount has not been increased. The scheme will cost a great deal over a long period.

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