New Clause 2 — Childcare

Part of Welfare Reform Bill (Programme) (No. 2) – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 13th June 2011.

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Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) 8:15 pm, 13th June 2011

We have had an interesting debate, and I welcome the Minister’s concession on the affirmative procedure for the initial version of some of the key regulations that will be introduced under the Bill. I would have liked him to go further, but I welcome the extent to which he has changed the Government’s position and welcome the amendments he has tabled to effect that change.

Unfortunately, the Minister gave us nothing else that I can welcome. It is an extraordinary failure on the part of Ministers that we do not yet have Government proposals on child care, free school meals or concessions on prescriptions. The Minister said that it did not matter, because there were still two and a half years to go before universal credit was introduced, but actually it is only two and a quarter years now—it was two and a half years three months ago, but they failed to come up with their policy proposals and three months have passed. It is not simply an academic issue, because even if all the policies had been clear two and a half years in advance, it would have been a stretch to get the IT in place by October 2013. As it is, the Government have not decided on those key parts of the policy, and I suggest that there is now no chance that it will be ready. However, that is a discussion for another day.

Charlie Elphicke accused the children’s charities of throwing rocks at the Government. It is out of order to make that criticism of Barnardo’s, Citizens Advice and the Children’s Society. Let me quote their letter:

“We welcome the removal of the hours rule”— they welcome the provision that the hon. Gentleman supports—

“but the evidence shows it is not possible to do this. . . within the current budget without a significant negative impact on work incentives for those working longer hours.”

That is not throwing rocks but simply setting out obvious home truths, of which the Government need to take account.