Next week I have the rare opportunity to propose a piece of legislation known as a Ten Minute Rule Bill.
I get ten minutes to state my argument for a new law or a change to the law. Another MP can oppose it for a further ten minutes, after which there is a vote. If my motion is passed the Bill will be printed on the Order Paper and may eventually be debated by Parliament. It thus has the potential to become law.
But appearances are deceptive. A few Ten Minute Rule Bills have made it on to the statute book. But in reality they are an excellent way to focus public attention on important issues. That is exactly what I intend to do.
At my Jobs Fair last March, a friend who works at a jobs club in Hereford pointed out to me a serious inconsistency in the way the benefits system treats young people.
If a 16-19 year old stays in education, their family can continue to claim Child Benefit and Tax Credits for them. But if that same young person takes up an apprenticeship instead, they are counted as being in work and their family can no longer claim benefits on their behalf.
Apprenticeships clearly ARE work, but as the apprentice minimum wage is just £2.73 per hour, the youngest and most poorly paid apprentices will often be earning less than their family could receive in benefits for them. The obvious concern is that this could put off young people from the poorest families from becoming apprentices.
This Government has gone to great lengths to try to make sure that being in work always pays better than claiming benefits. And the number of people starting apprenticeships has risen massively in the last five years. Between 2010 and 2014 there were 4,210 apprenticeships started in my constituency of Hereford and South Herefordshire, compared with 2,340 between 2006 and 2010--a huge increase.
That is great news. But I believe that this figure would be even higher if the families of the youngest and poorest apprentices could continue to claim benefits for them.
Ten Minute Rule Bills rarely become legislation themselves. But I will be using my Bill as a way to fight for Ministers to take the issue up. This is an injustice that affects the least well-off in our society, and we need to get it fixed.