HC Deb 22 May 1996 vol 278 cc289-90
15. Mr. Michael Brown

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Employment what plans she has to alter the school leaving age. [29108]

Mr. Paice


Mr. Brown

Does my hon. Friend agree that the interests of children in my constituency of Cleethorpes who stay on at school after 16 will be severely harmed if the parental right to child benefit is removed?

Mr. Paice

My hon. Friend follows other colleagues in pointing out the absurdity of the Labour party's recent proposal. Under this Government, if a young person of 16 decides to stay on at school to do a two-year A-level course, the parents continue to receive child benefit, which means about £1,000 going into the family household budget. Labour proposes to confiscate about £1,000 from every A-level student's family. How does Labour equate that with improving opportunities for young people?

Mr. Ian McCartney

The Government are trying to reduce through the back door the school leaving age for tens of thousands of young children to as young as 13. Will the Minister confirm that his Department and the Department of Health have written to every employers' organisation in Britain, asking them to agree to a change in the law that would allow employers to employ children as young as 13 in place of adults for up to 20 hours per week during term time? That is despite the fact that, only four weeks ago, a company in the Prime Minister's constituency was fined £12,500 for employing children under the age of 14 in a factory. Will the Minister give a commitment to withdraw this slave labour proposal and ensure that children as young as 13 remain in school and are not employed by unscrupulous employers for £1 an hour or less?

Mr. Paice

There is no proposal whatsoever that children should be taken out of school as slave labour, or for any of the other ridiculous assumptions that the hon. Gentleman made. The Government propose in a consultation document to float the idea that young children aged from 14 could spend up to one day a week either in the workplace or a further education college. [Interruption.] I am surprised that Opposition Members are barracking me, because there is very little difference between our proposal and what appears in Labour's own policy document, "Aiming Higher", which states: Those who are significantly disaffected with the school system should be offered the opportunity to follow part of their studies in FE colleges". That is precisely along the lines that we are proposing.

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