moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 7, leave out "reduce inequalities between" and insert "show how it is raising the quality of outcomes of the most disadvantaged"
My Lords, in Grand Committee, I explained that Amendments Nos. 1 and 3 remove the words "reduce inequalities" in subsection (1)(b) and "reduction of inequalities" in subsection (3)(b) of Clause 1, which outlines the duty placed on local authorities. The amendments provide substitute wording with emphasis on raising the quality of outcomes for the most disadvantaged of our young children.
The issue of reducing inequalities between children lies at the heart of the Bill, and yet it raises fundamental questions about what exactly this phrase means, how it will be measured, and how it will be delivered. It goes without question that we would all wish to give every child the very best start in life. That is an aim that I wholeheartedly endorse, particularly in the wake of the Government's failure to meet their target for reducing child poverty. A good start in life not only produces a better result for each child, but is good for their family and society as a whole and, as the Government rightly point out, will, it is hoped, lessen the chances of needing later intervention.
We must support and improve the well-being of children in the broadest sense, but it is vital to place the most vulnerable and disadvantaged at the heart of our deliberations, and to focus resources to meet their needs. We had an interesting debate in Committee in which I highlighted our concern that the terminology in the Bill—to "reduce inequalities"—not only lacks clarity but could lead to levelling down rather than the much needed hand up that these children require. The wording that we propose not only focuses on,
"the quality of outcomes of the most disadvantaged", but requires improvement in those outcomes.
In his response in Grand Committee, the Minister had two main rebuttals. The first was that the amendments could result in a straightforward watering-down of the Bill, arguing that the idea of levelling down would be contrary to the duty to improve the well-being of children in Clause 1. He suggested that it was mind-boggling to try to understand how a local authority could go about reducing the advantages and performance of some compared to others or, as he put it, the more advantaged. The second argument was that we only need look at the abundant evidence of what the Government have done in early years provision since 1997. While I have no desire to cast a shadow over some of the significant achievements of this Government, I respectfully disagree. We need to look only at Sure Start to see that it has not been working as it should have been and still leaves out the neediest, whom, the Minister suggests, the Government's systems have included, a subject to which I shall return in a minute.
I would also like to add a word on resources here, in advance of the debate that we will have on Clause 6. We live in a world of limited resources and, in this case, one where the LGA has grave concerns about its ability to deliver such an ambitious project. Surely in such circumstances it is better to focus what there is on the most vulnerable. The issue must now be viewed in the light of the recent admission by the Prime Minister in his Let's Talk initiative that Sure Start for under-fives and policies for children in care have failed the socially excluded. I am sure that the Minister will be pleased to know that that serves only to strengthen my resolve on the issue. The Prime Minister is reported in the Guardian as saying, of the multi-billion pound Sure Start scheme:
"If we are frank about it, there is a group of people who have been shut out against society's mainstream and we have not yet found a way of bringing them properly in. When we started Sure Start—I was always a bit sceptical that in the end that we could do this—there was an idea it would lift all the boats on a rising tide. It has not worked like that".
That is why we believe that the focus should be on those most disadvantaged. The Prime Minister stated that Sure Start has not worked, and admitted that there need to be "different systems of delivery" and that,
"the hard to reach families, the ones who are shut out of the system . . . are not going to come to places like Sure Start".
His comments not only go against those made in objection to the amendments in Committee, but support our amendments. We really should put the emphasis on the quality of outcomes for the most disadvantaged into the Bill.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 2, 4 and 5. Clause 1 gives the Secretary of State the power to set statutory targets for local authorities relating to,
"the improvement of the well-being of young children".
That links into the questions that I have just raised on how inequalities are to be measured. Amendments Nos. 2 and 4 remove the words regarding targets from Clause 1(3) and (4) and replace them with "establish procedures for assessing". Amendment No. 5 aims to ensure that, in exercising their functions, local authorities do not concentrate on meeting one duty to the detriment of another.
As your Lordships know, this Government are particularly fond of targets, but a wealth of targets can often move the focus away from the root of the problem and make it simply an exercise in numbers. The discussions that we had in Committee highlighted the concern that targets had the potential to have unforeseen consequences. Briefing that we received from the National Children's Bureau summed up fears that,
"targets will distort priorities, create unintended consequences and distract professionals from the real task of meeting children's needs, as they exist, in the round".
The aim of our wording is to replace the idea of central targets with provisions to monitor the performance of local authorities in improving outcomes.
The Government's document, Childcare Bill: Duty to improve well-being and reduce inequalities in outcomes for children up to 5, provides helpful detail as to how they envisage that the proposed targets will work. It also tells us that local authorities' performance in childcare is already subject to inspection and monitoring via Ofsted, the Commission for Social Care Inspection and, most recently, the joint area reviews. All of that is additional to the local authorities' own performance data. In Grand Committee, the Minister did not update the House on the results of the joint area reviews that have taken place since last year. I hope that he will do so in his response today.
The LGA argues that progress on improving outcomes according to the five Every Child Matters outcome measures is exactly what the joint area reviews were established to assess—not based on targets, but a holistic assessment of performance, including self-evaluation and input from children themselves. The duty to improve outcomes in Clause 1 echoes existing duties under Sections 10 and 11 of the Children Act 2004. Assessment and monitoring procedures are already provided for in that Act; thus, the imposition of additional targets seems repetitive and unnecessary.
The Minister argued in Grand Committee that targets were to complement and reinforce the Government's desire for a robust improvement of strategies. Indeed, he said that they were to help early childhood services establish equivalent status within more established local authority services. Whatever the desire, we feel that this is one set of targets too many. After all, as the Minister stated, with the exception of local authorities that are deemed to be excellent, all local authorities are required to prepare and publish their plans for children and young people, setting out their strategies to improve the well-being of children. Does the Minister not agree that that requirement already ensures that these issues have an equivalent status to other duties?
The National Children's Bureau believes that the new targets outlined by the draft statutory guidance regarding the outcomes for children and narrowing the gap between children with the poorest outcomes in the rest of England already exist in another form. Interestingly, it was a matter that we did not discuss in Grand Committee: the Sure Start unit's public service agreement target from the 2004 spending review, which aims to,
"improve children's communication, social and emotional development so that by 2008 50% of children reach a good level of development at the end of the Foundation Stage and reduce inequalities between the level of development achieved by children in the 20% most disadvantaged areas and the rest of England".
I have been led to understand that the base-line sample for the Sure Start PSA is the July 2005 results of the foundation stage profile. This means that there has been no analysis of how that PSA is working as data from July 2006 have, of course, not yet been produced and will not be published until December this year. Why do the Government want to enshrine in law the current PSA and introduce a new PSA target before performance against the existing target has been analysed—particularly in light of the recent admission by the Prime Minister regarding the failures of Sure Start? Can the Minister explain how the old and new PSA targets will differ?
I apologise for taking so long on this matter, but can the Minister say why the draft guidance refers to the "poorest performing young children" while the current PSA refers to "disadvantaged areas"? Can he explain that shift in rhetoric? The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raised questions that merit further answers on how children are to be identified as poorly performing and why that language is used in relation to such young children.
Our third amendment emphasises that one duty should not be achieved at the expense of another. That ties in with the need for an holistic approach to improving outcomes for our youngest children. I thank the Minister for his response on what happens if an authority excels in one area but not in another and on the potential impact of the Secretary of State. He explained that the Secretary of State could intervene in a proportionate manner. Can he confirm that that will be used only as a last resort when all other routes have been tried?
I restate what I said in Committee: by setting targets the Government are undermining the flexibility of local authorities to determine how to meet the needs of young children and parents in their area. That is especially important if they are keen to avoid duplicating the existing provision of the private, voluntary and independent sectors. This is not a numbers game and it most certainly should not be about ticking boxes. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for picking up my point about the shift in rhetoric. We should be talking in this context not about poorly performing children but about children who start off with a disadvantage and the performance of the rest of us to help them to overcome those disadvantages, which is what the Bill sets out to do.
The noble Baroness knows that I am not able to support Amendments Nos. 1 and 3. I said in Grand Committee that we believe that the Government's wording is preferable, and that is what we support. However, in Grand Committee we added our names to Amendments Nos. 2 and 4, from which, by the way, I believe Amendment No. 5 follows. I shall not repeat what the noble Baroness said but it is inappropriate to have legislation to produce a new set of targets when we have not assessed the old ones. It is much more appropriate for local authorities to be assessed, given the multitude of assessment procedures and structures that are already in place to support them, rather than supporting a new set of targets and procedures to assess them. That is not to say that it is not important that they should be assessed but I believe that it is inappropriate to create a new set of targets because, as the noble Baroness rightly said, when there is a system people will work it and somehow get themselves into the numbers game and produce the goods, as it were. That is not necessarily in the best interests of the children in an area. We do not want local authorities to get into the numbers game. We believe that there is a much more appropriate way of expressing in the Bill how they should be assessed.
My Lords, I support Amendments Nos. 1 and 4. The case has been well made on Amendment No. 4—targets have proved to be unsuccessful and, in some cases, highly undesirable.
What exactly do the Government mean by equality in this context? Before we decide on this amendment, we should understand a little more clearly what we are saying. Surely the Government will agree that all children are different. If they do not, the answer is fairly clear; but I suspect that they do agree with that. If children are all different, in what ways and how are we planning to make them more equal? That should be set out. We might be talking about making them socially more equal, giving them equal access to certain facilities or whatever. Then again, what do we mean by "equal"? Do we mean equal to their own potential, to the average potential or—I hope not—to the average potential of the least able? I hope that the Minister can respond to those questions.
My Lords, perhaps the best way of beginning one's remarks in your Lordships' House is to eat humble pie when the Government are at fault, to recognise errors and to seek to correct them immediately. I immediately state that we do not stand by the phrase "poorly performing children". We believe that that is infelicitous wording and will look to change it to see that phraseology that we regard as straightforwardly pejorative is not used.
I shall deal with two other specifically factual queries for which I have answers. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, asked whether the current PSA targets will be put into law. We do not intend that to happen. We are reviewing how statutory targets should be set, and we do not intend to use the same form for those targets as is used for the current PSA.
The noble Baroness also asked what progress is being made with the joint area reviews. I am very sorry that I did not have the information to hand to be able to reply in Grand Committee. Fifteen joint area reviews have been completed so far. These have shown a mix of grades from grade 3, good, to grade 2, adequate, down to grade 1, which is inadequate. Four of the 15 authorities—Herefordshire, Staffordshire, Stoke-on-Trent and Bristol—have had services rated at grade 1, inadequate. Each joint area review includes recommendations to improve services to which authorities must publish an action plan in response. Of course, we will be particularly anxious to pursue those recommendations in the case of authorities whose services have been ranked as unsatisfactory—that is, at grade 1. I think that that reinforces the point that I made in Grand Committee. It is essential that the Government have the capacity to act in seeing that local authorities take their responsibilities seriously when independent inspectors rate their services as inadequate.
Amendment No. 1 concerns narrowing inequalities. The noble Baroness said in Grand Committee, and repeated again this afternoon, that the test required by the words "reduce inequalities" could be met "grotesquely"—that was the word that she used in Grand Committee—with no improvement at all in the opportunities for the least advantaged if the opportunities for the more fortunate were reduced. The noble Baroness immediately swept aside the fact that I made a full response to that by setting out the importance that the Government attach to raising standards and the level of provision for all children. I will repeat it now, because what we are saying in the Bill in this context is important. There is no point in creating a kind of scare that we could engage in grotesque means of achieving an objective if there is no evidence whatever that that particularly grotesque fear has any chance of being realised. The Government's record since 1997 is one of substantial investment in universal provision for all families with children under the age of five, and I shall go through what we have done to reinforce my point.
First, the value of child benefit—the main benefit that all parents receive for their children—has gone up by 26 per cent in real terms since 1997, and total government expenditure on child benefit is now approaching £10 billion a year. In 1997, most women were entitled to just 14 weeks' maternity leave. That has now more than tripled to 52 weeks' leave for most and, from April 2007, all employed mothers will be entitled to 52 weeks' leave. In 1997, women who qualified received just 18 weeks' statutory maternity pay. We have since upped that to 26 weeks' pay for all employed women and, from next April, it will be 39 weeks' pay. That increase alone is worth around £1,400 to each working mother. As the House knows, our ambition is to raise the level still further to a full year's pay by the end of this Parliament.
We have also significantly raised the level of payment. In 1997, the flat rate for statutory maternity pay was £55.60. We have now nearly doubled that to £106, and it is shortly to rise again to £108.85. In this financial year, the Government will be spending £1.4 billion on statutory maternity pay and maternity allowance, which goes to all mothers, irrespective of their income and family circumstances.
In 2003, we also introduced a brand new entitlement for employed fathers to take two weeks' leave with statutory paternity pay. Again, that had not been available previously; we introduced it as a completely new and universal entitlement. We have done the same in respect of adoption leave and pay. There has also been a huge increase in support for families, up to a considerable level of the income scale, through the introduction of the new tax credit regime. Again, although that is not completely universal, it has covered a very large proportion of the population.
Specifically in respect of nursery provision for three and four year-olds, in 1997 there was no national scheme of provision for three year-olds and only a patchy scheme of provision for four year-olds. There is now universal entitlement to nursery or equivalent provision for all parents of three and four year-olds, which is very largely taken up, and we have extended the number of hours for which that is available. Perhaps I may give an indication of the scale of commitment that the state has been making to all families in this respect. In 1997, state funding for nursery provision was £600 million a year in respect of free entitlement. That has now risen to £2.9 billion, nearly a 500 per cent increase. I therefore do not believe that we can be accused in any way of neglecting the generality of parents and their needs in framing the new duties under the Bill.
If there is not an issue about the Government seeking to level down, which emphatically there is not—we are emphatically seeking to level up—we then move on to the issue of how we close the gap between the least fortunate and the more fortunate. We regard that as a very important priority. In Grand Committee on
"We are about raising standards for all and, if we can, closing the gap between the least fortunate in their accidents of birth, culture and family prosperity".—[Official Report, 19/4/06; col. GC 477.]
That may underpin the difference between us on the amendments. I was very glad to have the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in this respect. Not only do we want to set this as an attainable objective; we want to provide a very strong imperative for local authorities in how they act in this area by having in the Bill the requirement to narrow gaps in attainment, which will have that effect.
The research is very clear. The research by Leon Feinstein shows that there is a very close correlation between outcomes at an early age and later in life. Of the cases that he studied, there was a striking relationship between early test scores at 22 months, 42 months and five years and later achievement at A-level or better. Importantly, analysis of the highest and lowest achieving groups showed that the gap evident at age 22 months became ever wider as the months and the years went by. The noble Baroness will be familiar with the Effective Provision of Pre-School Education project, which concluded:
"Disadvantaged children . . . benefit significantly from good quality pre-school experiences", especially where they are with,
"a mixture of children from different social backgrounds", which is precisely what we are seeking to achieve in the extension of comprehensive provision for children under five. The EPPE study also concluded that early education,
"experience, compared to none, enhances children's development".
On entry to a reception class, the difference in those having attended two years of quality early education and those not is between four and six months' development. That powerfully reinforces the case for a concentration of effort on families who are least advantaged.
At present, we set out our approach to reducing inequality by concentrating attention in the Sure Start programme on the 30 per cent most deprived Super Output Areas—that is, areas identified through the index of multiple deprivation, a sophisticated tool which measures a wide range of factors including income, employment, health, education and skills, housing and services, crime and the living environment. We chose these precisely defined areas of particular deprivation as an important starting point—I stress "starting point"—in our drive to reduce inequalities, targeting the integrated services of Sure Start children's centres in these areas. This is, however, only a starting point, which is precisely what the Prime Minister meant in his remarks last month—that we have a good deal more to do because we are still in the very early stages of developing under-fives provision. We certainly do not regard ourselves as having yet achieved our objective of eradicating the circumstances of disadvantage that afflict too many families, particularly those at the bottom of the income scale.
At present, for example, some 25 per cent of young children from deprived backgrounds do not live in the 30 per cent most deprived Super Output Areas. More importantly, barriers to achievement are not limited to social and economic causes. Special educational needs, health, English as a foreign language and other issues of that kind all have a role to play. Under the Bill we wish to develop a new framework, so that instead of authorities having to concentrate exclusively on children from the most disadvantaged areas, they must reduce inequalities by improving outcomes for the young children most at risk of achieving poor outcomes at large.
Our intention was set out in the outline statutory guidance placed before the House before the Easter Recess. In fulfilling their statutory duty to reduce inequalities, we expect local authorities to identify the characteristics of young children who have the poorest outcomes in the foundation stage profile, and to identify the factors preventing them achieving their full potential. We have no intention of labelling or stigmatising particular groups of young children; rather, we intend to recognise and address the issues hindering them and children in similar circumstances. With this information about the barriers to achievement in their area, local authorities can decide how best to target their resources at the groups most at risk of low achievement.
The causes of multiple deprivation in the most disadvantaged areas will, I am sure, remain important, but we want authorities to tackle the barriers to achievement which are most appropriate to their area and its particular circumstances. The outline guidance that I made available to the House suggested what some of these might be, and it will be for local authorities to determine the factors most relevant to them.
I turn now to Amendments Nos. 2 and 4, on statutory targets, and the noble Baroness's concerns about those targets. As I explained in Grand Committee, targets would be based on the foundation stage profile and its successor under the Bill, the early years foundation stage profile. This is a wide-ranging assessment of young children's achievements that has been developed in conjunction with many early-years practitioners and is very widely respected. I also made that available to noble Lords in Grand Committee.
Since 2003, the foundation stage profile has been recorded for every child at the end of the summer term in their "reception year", the year in which they have their fifth birthday. This information is passed to local authorities, who use it to assess the impact of their work with settings and identify aspects of provision that need further improvement. It is certainly not a large step to suggest that targets at local authority level for improvements in foundation stage outcomes should be the next stage. Authorities are already challenged by strategic advisers over their performance in the foundation stage, and are asked to consider how they can contribute to the Government's PSA target on improving foundation stage outcomes and narrowing gaps. Setting statutory targets for foundation stage performance is the next step in challenging authorities to secure good outcomes for the children in their area.
As I stressed in Grand Committee, we will seek to agree these targets with local authorities. In Grand Committee, I made available a draft outline of the statutory guidance on the duty to improve well-being and to reduce inequalities in outcome for children up to the age of five. Paragraph 20 of that guidance is explicit that there should be a proper process of consultation with local authorities. It states that,
"if the Secretary of State proposes to set targets which differ from any proposed by the local authority, she must give an account of her reasons and allow at least one month for the authority to make further representations".
There is a proper process in train to ensure that we proceed, so far as possible, by agreement.
The Local Government Association, which I know has been making representations to both noble Baronesses, made clear its concern over statutory targets at an early stage. However, its fears are not shared in the feedback we have received from local authority early years specialists themselves, those who are most closely engaged. As the House may know, we have established a group—the Childcare Implementation Project—which specifically consults early years practitioners in 12 local authorities. It has supported our suggestion of statutory targets for the foundation stage, believing that this will raise the status of early childhood services within their authorities. That is precisely the point I made in Grand Committee. Early years practitioners themselves do not wish to see the attainment of improved outcomes for under-fives as a lesser priority for authorities than is the case, for example, for attainment in schools.
As I said, the foundation stage develops essential skills in young children, particularly social interaction, communication and such prerequisites of literacy and numeracy as counting and phonics, as well as physical development, creativity and exploration of the world. The foundation stage has the potential to open up a huge world of opportunities for young children regardless of their background. Conversely, failure to develop these key skills in the early years will make subsequent education much harder to access, increasing the likelihood of poor achievement. Without a good start, children are all too likely to fall behind their peers and face an ongoing battle to achieve the same outcomes as their contemporaries. It is precisely because we want to give such priority to achieving improvements in this area—an objective shared on all sides of the House—that it is appropriate for local authorities to set targets in this area.
Amendment No. 5 seeks to ensure that the two duties in Clause 1—the duty to improve the well-being of young children in their area and the duty to reduce inequalities between young children in their area in the matters set out in the following subsection—could not be met at the expense of each other, which I know has been a concern of the noble Baronesses. We believe that the objective which the noble Baroness has set out is fully met by the wording of the Bill and the ingenious use of the word "and". If the noble Baroness looks at Clause 1, she will see that it sets out the two duties and links them with the word "and". It states that an English local authority must,
"improve the well-being of young children in their area, and . . . reduce inequalities between young children in their area".
There is no "or" there. There is no way that a local authority could legitimately interpret its general duties under Clause 1 to give it an opportunity to meet one at the expense of the other. The legal requirements set out in that clause are explicit.
I am delighted to be able to end by giving such complete satisfaction—I hope—to the noble Baroness. I hope, on that basis, that she might feel able to withdraw her other amendments as well.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may return to his discussion of the word "equality". Is he not falling into the trap that I have so often heard fallen into by Front Benches on both sides of the House, of assuming that the wording that we are being asked to agree this afternoon applies only to this Government, and that therefore their historic performance and the probability of their future performance is a sufficient criterion for our accepting a form of wording which is imprecise? We are making the law of the land that will apply to future Governments.
My Lords, I understand the point that the noble Lord is making. However, in Grand Committee—indeed, in the remarks that the noble Baroness herself cited—I pointed to the unimaginable scenario in which a Government could set about making poorer outcomes for the generality of children. I simply could not conceive how a Government, even a Government of a political persuasion which one did not support, could go about doing that in a real life situation. I went on to elaborate on the position of this Government, who are bringing forward this legislation, which made it abundantly clear that the actual policy of this Government has been to extend provision for parents and children across all classes and all parts of the community. Indeed, we have invested literally billions of pounds in additional support for parents on a universal basis. I hope that that gives the noble Lord the assurance he seeks.
My Lords, I think that the wording is accurate. I do not think that there is a problem of inaccuracy. We are talking about the general duties under Clause 1. The concern was whether the hypothetical situation which the noble Baroness raised—that a local authority could reduce inequalities between young people in its area by depressing the outcomes of most children as against those of the most deprived—was a realistic scenario. As I have contended in these remarks and those in Grand Committee, I believe that that is a wholly unrealistic scenario.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his full reply and for eating humble pie; I hope it did not taste too horrible. I am pleased to know that the rhetoric will change. I was also pleased to hear what he said about the PSA targets and his explanation of the joint area reviews. I would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for supporting us on the target side. We are very concerned that practitioners are not so busy ticking boxes that it detracts from their vocational work and that we do not place too large a burden on local authorities. It would be awfully nice if we had a target to ditch some of the targets.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for his support on the first group of amendments. I thought long and hard about separating out those two groups of amendments but felt that there were certain themes which made it easier for the Minister to reply to both at the same time rather than having to be repetitive when replying on targets.
I am very pleased about the word "and", but I do not think that that in anyway detracts from what the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was saying—that there really is uncertainly about what "reduce inequalities" means. Recently, I spoke to a group of councillors and they were not at all sure what it was that they had to do and how it would be measured. Reducing inequalities must take into account a whole host of things outside their duty for childcare: housing, parental involvement, work and the economy. It is open to interpretation and may not be easy to interpret in future. We should concentrate resources on those most in need. It is vital that support for our most disadvantaged is at the heart of our endeavours. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 14, which is grouped.
The Government have been supportive of listening to young children, as they have demonstrated by funding organisations to conduct research and development projects. They should now cement that commitment into law. A commitment to listening to the views of young children is yet to be enshrined in law, and the Bill gives us an excellent opportunity to do that for the first time.
The Minister expressed great sympathy with the view that the voice of the child is extremely important from top to bottom of the childcare system, which is why I have brought the amendments back today. I want to give him the opportunity to give us any further reassurances that he is able about the Government's intentions beyond Report.
The amendments would place a duty on local authorities to take reasonable steps to ensure that the views of young children are incorporated into the design, delivery and evaluation of services. If the Government have been able strategically to use the voices of young children to influence the development of national policy in the form of the early years foundation stage, there is no reason why local authorities should not also be encouraged by legislation to demonstrate that same commitment to involving children from birth in how the authorities undertake their responsibilities.
The early years foundation stage document states:
"EYFS requires those who plan and deliver early years provision to put children first; to listen to them and their parents; to observe what they can do; and to make them the most important influence on planning, observational assessment, routine and staffing".
That should be echoed for local authorities, so that the Bill, when eventually enacted, requires children to be listened to from the beginning to the end of the system and requires those who plan and deliver provision to put them first and to listen to them and their parents.
Children Now has published its participation charter, which states:
"Children who are very young, disabled or who have special educational needs have the same right to participate as other children. Services and organisations should be proactive in engaging them, as well as those who are socially or economically disadvantaged, excluded or discriminated against on any basis".
In Grand Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, pointed out to us that that is not easy. Listening to young children must be done with great care and expertise. Interpreting and feeding back what they say to the authorities requires a very high level of professionalism. That is not a bad thing.
The current wording of the Bill ensures that local authorities are limited to taking all reasonable steps to consult the list of groups, to which I want to add young children. That could be reinforced in guidance along with examples of good practice. In Grand Committee, we heard examples of where young children had been listened to and great light had been shed on things that were going on in the nursery through the eyes of the children which the practitioners, expert though they were, had not noticed.
The additional duty of listening to young children is unlikely to be at any significant added cost, because it is fundamental best practice for early years practitioners, which is what the Bill is trying to achieve anyway. Anecdotal evidence from the workforce has also shown us that implementing a listening culture has made workers in the early childhood field more motivated and therefore more likely to stay in their jobs. That, of course, is what we want—a more sustainable workforce that is likely to be of a higher quality for young children and their families because the workers stay in their jobs long enough to really get to know the children and the families and to deliver a good service to them.
Finally, the omission of young children does not sit well with the UK's obligations under Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child or with the outcome of the contribution made by children to society under the Children Act 2004—the Government's own landmark legislation on children. Given that the Government must report next year on how they are adhering to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, placing the voice of the child in the Bill would be a very good way of demonstrating this Government's commitment to children's rights.
In our previous debate, the Minister was at pains to talk about the importance of putting the principle of reducing inequalities into the Bill. I think he is quite right. Involving the voice of the child at every stage of planning services for their care and early education is another principle that should be enshrined in this legislation, and I hope that the Minister will either accept the amendments or assure the House, which I know feels very strongly about it, that he intends to table his own amendment either at Third Reading or in another place. I beg to move.
My Lords, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, when she quoted me was not suggesting that I do not think young children should be in the Bill, because I was the person who produced examples of very young children who were consulted quite successfully. I think they were good examples.
I do think that there are real advantages to including young children, whether in the Bill—there may be reasons why the Government do not wish to do that—or certainly in guidance, where authorities can develop their programmes of involving young children. That has a real spin-off in a wider sense in that it is of benefit to our democracy. As soon as you start encouraging young children and young people to engage in decisions about their world and themselves, they learn two things: the first is that they might be successful in changing things; the second is that you cannot change everything, and that sometimes you are disappointed. The sooner you learn that, the more likely you are to engage in democracy at a later stage. Therefore, I would be delighted if this was in the Bill, but I would be even more encouraged if it were in guidance.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has made a very strong case in support of the voice of the child. One cannot disagree that, when designing services, it makes sense to include as many views as possible. In the case of childcare, those will be the views of the children who are placed in it. Indeed, we all know how pertinent, coherent and cogent the views of young children, let alone older children, can be. I can see the difficulties on both sides of the argument about the inclusion in legislation of young children. There is always a fine balance to be made in consulting and burdening children with decisions beyond their years. However, anecdotal evidence has shown that implementing a listening culture in services has made workers in childcare more motivated, thereby promoting a more stable workforce and a higher provision of quality in childcare.
Throughout the documentation provided in support of the Bill, the Government have supported the right of a child's voice to be heard, and have committed themselves to listening actively to their views. I welcome this as, indeed, I welcome the Minister's sympathy for the call for this commitment to be included in the Bill. I do hope that he will be able to give the undertaking that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is seeking, and that this issue will be resolved on Third Reading.
My Lords, we had an excellent debate on this issue in Grand Committee when I said that we were extremely sympathetic to the objective that the noble Baroness seeks to achieve. I pointed out that from the beginning a key feature of the Every Child Matters agenda has been consultation with children who are affected. The original Green Paper in 2003 said:
"Real service improvement is only attainable through involving children and young people and listening to their views".
That has also been demonstrated in the creation of the Children's Commissioner whose role is to give a national voice to all children and young people, especially the disadvantaged and the vulnerable.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, mentioned guidance, which has an important part to play. The current Sure Start children's centre practice guidance published in November 2005 emphasises the importance of involving and consulting everyone who is benefiting, or could benefit, from a children's centre, in particular parents and children themselves as well as those delivering services to families. The guidance goes on to explain how recent projects have shown how children under the age of five can be consulted effectively about the provision of services that they receive through, for example, the use of painting, music, cameras and story telling. It then gives a case study from the Coram Family children's centre, with the address of the website where further specialist guidance is available.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said in Grand Committee and repeated today, valuable work is being undertaken in the voluntary sector to produce good practice guidance on consulting with children from organisations which have extensive experience in that area, particularly The Children's Society, Mencap, the Thomas Coram Foundation and the National Children's Bureau. However, this is mainly based on consulting children about day-to-day matters in childcare settings; for example, what they would like to eat or drink, when they should go outside or when they need a rest. It may include other matters about how the organisation of the setting impacts on them, but it would be unusual to go beyond issues of immediate concern to young children themselves, which I believe is the issue that we are for the most part talking about.
We have given a clear assurance that the statutory guidance supporting the outcomes duty, under Clauses 1 to 5, will carry forward the commitment to listen to children. The issue is also a key feature of the early years foundation stage, which will emphasise the importance of professionals listening to all young children in their care and is in line with the current routine approach to early learning. Indeed, we have already rolled out nationally training on the Coram Listening to Young Children: a participatory approach materials, specifically to encourage early years practitioners to seek and act on children's views.
But, as I explained in Grand Committee, while the views of children aged under five are important and essential to service delivery, our difficulty with Amendment No. 6 is that it would place a duty on local authorities to consult young children about the strategic planning of services. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, just mentioned, there are practical difficulties in engaging this age group in meaningful formal consultation on issues such as where children's centres should be located or whether parents are able to use the type of childcare that they prefer.
My officials have met with the National Children's Bureau and have explained why an amendment in this form cannot be accepted. We have given a commitment to work with it between now and Third Reading to see whether we can find a form of words that avoids the difficulties of the current amendment, while providing a meaningful proposition that meets the aims that we all share in terms of consultation with children under the age of five. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness will allow us time for that further work and will withdraw Amendment No. 6.
Amendment No. 14 would place in the Bill a list of groups that local authorities must consult when carrying out their assessment duty under Clause 11. Let me stress again that we are agreed on the objective that she wishes to achieve. It is right and proper that key groups are consulted and involved. I can give a firm commitment that we will address that issue in the secondary legislation and guidance which will follow the Bill.
The policy paper on the childcare sufficiency assessment duty, which we made available to Members of this House before Easter, makes a clear commitment that local authorities will conduct a thorough analysis of the childcare market in their area, identifying demand and matching that against supply in order to ascertain where there may be gaps and how these can be filled. Regulations and statutory guidance will set out what local authorities will need to do in order to achieve that. We have given a clear commitment that local authorities will have to consult parents, carers, children of all ages, providers, employers and local organisations to ensure that provision meets their needs. I hope that that provides suitable reassurance of our commitment to this cause.
However, we are concerned that local authorities should have a duty to consult widely. We wish to pursue that matter in secondary legislation so that we have a full and complete list of people covered in that guidance. The list in Amendment No. 14 is a partial one. Most obviously it does not include children from the ages of five to 14 or disabled children up to the age of 18, and it also does not mention stakeholders such as employers or schools.
We have given commitments in regard to particular groups that will definitely be specified in regulations, but the full list, which will be more extensive than the indications we have given so far, will be developed in partnership with local authorities and other stakeholders and will take into account views expressed during the consultation on the regulations— including, I should stress, the views expressed by the noble Baroness in this debate and in the debates in Grand Committee. In the light of those reassurances, I hope she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. In responding, perhaps I may first assure the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, that I did not intend to give the impression that I thought she was against consulting children. I was just pointing out that she reminded us that this is not a straightforward matter and that it will require highly trained professionals if it is to be done properly and in a meaningful way.
The Minister referred to the guidance for Sure Start and children's centres. That is all well and good, but we need the voice of the child to be specified for everyone—for local authorities and for all settings other than Sure Start. The early years foundation stage is, of course, related to the day-to-day interactions between children and their care, but Clause 3 refers to the planning of early years provision and, as I mentioned in Grand Committee, I think young people can make a meaningful contribution to such matters. They could, for example, say that they do not want to have to walk through threatening areas in order to get to their childcare; that they do not want to have to go too far from their homes; that they want their parents to be able to choose when to access childcare and so on. I think it is perfectly reasonable to ask young children, in general terms, their views on that kind of thing.
For those reasons, I very much welcome the Minister's commitment to continuing to work with the National Children's Bureau up to Third Reading to consider whether appropriate wording can be found to replace the wording in my Amendment No. 6. I thank him very much for that.
As to Amendment No. 14, I accept that it is only a partial list. I thank the Minister for his reassurance that a full and comprehensive list, along with guidance about how it should be implemented, will be introduced. That is a most satisfactory response and I am most grateful to him for it. For those reasons, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, the amendment seeks to insert a few, carefully chosen words at the start of Clause 6(1), which outlines the new statutory duties on local authorities to secure the provision of sufficient childcare to meet the requirements of parents in their areas.
At Second Reading and throughout Grand Committee, Members on all sides of your Lordships' House raised concerns regarding the resources to support the ambitions of the Government in this Bill. The Minister has informed us that by 2007–08 spending on early years provision and childcare will reach £1.8 billion, which is almost double the 2004–05 figure and presents an average real annual increase of 24 per cent.
A breakdown of this spending for early learning and childcare is as follows: £1.8 billion on Sure Start centres for 2007–08; £250 million on the transformation fund over two years, 2006-08; and £840 million over 2003-08 on extended services in schools. Of course we recognise that there is not an endless pot of gold. However, for the Government to ask local authorities to achieve so much is not realistic or fair. For example, the proposed funding for Sure Start breaks down to roughly £250 per child—not a huge amount, and not much at all when compared with the figure of just under £2,500 per child which was given in the first generous allocations between 1999 and 2002, and £1,300 per child, which was being spent in 2004.
The Explanatory Notes say:
"The proposed duties on local authorities in England will be financed within the resources which have already been made available to them for childcare and early childhood services".
The LGA has raised serious concerns and said that there is a question around whether the dedicated resources will be sufficient to carry out these duties effectively and in the manner that the Government envision. The LGA also raises concerns about the future sustainability of these resources and the Government's commitment to building on the gains being made.
The charity 4Children has estimated that in delivering the Government's own commitments, it is much more likely that funds in the region of £13 billion will be required by 2010-11. This is a doubling of the existing total government investment, including maternity support, early education, Sure Start and the childcare element of the working tax credit.
The Government tell us that the new duties in the Bill involve no new spending pressures on local authorities. Yet children's groups and the LGA have all stressed that, without extra investment, meeting these duties will result in making childcare even less affordable to parents or place additional and unacceptable pressures on council tax bills, particularly as some significant elements of the childcare strategy, where delivery is planned for 2008-10 are, I understand, as yet unfunded. I beg to move.
My Lords, we on these Benches have considerable sympathy with the argument of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris. For far too long, the Government have been wishing extra duties and responsibilities of one sort or another upon local authorities, without also willing the resources to meet them. As the noble Baroness rightly said, the Explanatory Notes suggest that no new spending pressures will be put on local authorities, but it is in fact very clear that new pressures will arise and that the Bill contains new responsibilities. Although substantial extra resources have been given to local authorities to run the Sure Start programme, most of them are tied up and dedicated to the Sure Start programme, which is advancing very fast. While we are delighted to see that happening, it is also an extremely expensive programme.
My Lords, I have spent a lifetime trying to deliver services in the statutory and voluntary sectors. When I read the Childcare Bill initially, I was excited by it. I was totally sceptical about the Explanatory Notes saying that it would have no impact on the financial needs of local authorities. I cannot square the needs that are expressed in terms of the provision that we are hoping to make with that phrase. Therefore, I add my concern to that expressed by the two noble Baronesses.
It is quite clear that the Government have put huge resources and commitment into childcare, and on that I congratulate them and stand with them. But there is a conundrum here, as there is in a number of services; you have only to look at the health service and the issues surrounding it. As you pour money into services, the demand for qualifications, training and better quality care becomes apparent. For a long time, my noble friend and colleague Lord Listowel has pressed the issue of training in this sector. I felt that I must raise it under this amendment as I could not see where else to do so. This is the conundrum. We still have one of the lowest levels of qualification for childcare workers in Europe. To improve that will require funding over and above what seems possible.
I do not feel critical of the Government generally in this; it is a reality about the public purse. But I do hope that the expectation will not be set in the outside world that every family will, by right, have a childcare place and then for that reality not to be provided and the local authority social worker or care worker being the one who actually has to take the rap for not being able to deliver the services on the ground.
My Lords, we accept, as King Lear told us a long time ago, that,
"nothing will come of nothing", and unless there are resources it will not be possible to deliver any of these services on the ground. However, significant additional resources have been put into the system in respect of under-fives provision, about which I will have a little more to say in a moment. I do not believe that we stand guilty of not seeking to provide very substantial additional funds to meet the need to provide additional services. We have put our money behind our commitments in this area.
"An English local authority must secure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the provision of childcare (whether or not by them) is sufficient to meet the requirements of parents in their area who require childcare in order to enable them . . . to take up, or remain in, work, or . . . to undertake education or training".
I stress the opening words:
"An English local authority must secure, so far as is reasonably practicable".
The requirement is qualified by the words,
"so far as is reasonably practicable", which has the effect of enabling local authorities to consider—as indeed they must—their own resources when determining how or whether to secure particular childcare. The current drafting gives local authorities a proper discretion to balance their duties with their resources, but it does not give them a right to take no action at all to fulfil a childcare duty. I would have thought that that would be as the House would wish the position to be.
Local authorities' effective use of the resources available to them will of course be the key to the successful implementation of their duties, and the resources available are considerable. By next year, 2007–08, Sure Start spending will reach close to £1.8 billion a year, almost double the figure in 2004–05. As I said earlier, the resources available in respect of the commitment to free nursery provision for three and four year-olds has risen by 500 per cent since 1997. As part of the £1.8 billion, we have allocated funding to local authorities through the general Sure Start grant over the financial years 2006–07 and 2007–08 to help them prepare for the new duties placed on them in the Bill.
I also stress that local authorities have a strong track record in developing and managing the childcare markets. This builds on their pivotal position with regard to children's services under the Children Act 2004. Local authorities welcome the leading role that they are now playing. They recognise that they are much better placed than central government to understand and respond to local needs. The new duty in the Bill underpins that work and draws it together more strategically, formalising arrangements.
The total resources available for childcare in a local area are in any case significantly greater than just those of the local authority on its own. The noble Baroness referred earlier to the Prime Minister's remarks on
"We need to make full use of the voluntary and third sector, some of whom have greater expertise than the organs of government do".
I thought that the noble Baroness would welcome those words because they so clearly mirror what she has been saying to us all the way through these debates and which I have strongly been supporting.
Of course, the contribution made by those who support the voluntary and third sector is over and above the resources made available by the local authority. So the total resources available for childcare in a local area are significantly greater than just those of the local authority on its own.
Therefore, in view of the fact that we have already qualified the duty in Clause 6 to make it a duty to secure childcare so far as is reasonably practicable, I hope that the noble Baroness will not feel the need to press this amendment. If she added the additional words that she suggests, it would be possible for a local authority to do nothing whatever to improve the provision of under-five services in its area, and I do not think that that is something that she would wish to see.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for contributing to a very useful debate. I am sorry that I did not propose this amendment in Grand Committee, although I mentioned several times the pressures that local authorities thought that they would find themselves under. I hope that the Minister will recognise that I acknowledged when I moved the amendment the significant sums that the Government have invested in childcare. I thank him for his reply and very much welcome his remarks on the voluntary sector.
There are some big issues here, however. Without resources, will "reasonably practicable" mean minimal? We must be very careful about that. I understand that if I pressed the amendment to a vote, which I am not going to do, it would mean that some local authorities could do nothing. That is not in anyone's best interests. But it is very important that we do not set local authorities up to fail and equally important that we do not let them get away with doing the minimum. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, was absolutely right—as is the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, who is very keen on training. The whole of child development depends on services of high quality, which will depend on training. That is something that must happen.
I end by saying that the Government's favourite think tank, the IPPR, has a paper out today called Equal Access? Affordable and appropriate childcare for every child, which also says that without significant additional investment, the Government will be unable to ensure equal access to affordable, appropriate and high quality childcare and early years service. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, we return to the much debated question of quality. The amendment inserts the additional words,
We debated in Committee how the term "quality" is noticeably lacking from the Bill. Yet research has shown that,
"it is the quality of early years care that has a direct link to the child's well being and achievement of outcomes".
It is a continuous process, and quality assurance accreditation is playing an increasing role in the private, voluntary and independent sector, despite Ofsted's failure to take such schemes into account in its inspections.
We are committed to providing high quality, affordable, flexible and sustainable childcare choices and we need that quality assurance so that parents will feel safe in the knowledge that their children will be well cared for. It has to be affordable, because we currently have the most expensive childcare in Europe, with a typical nursery place costing one-third of average earnings. It has to be accessible, not only in costs terms but because childcare needs to be flexible and sustainable, offering real choice to parents.
"improving quality, accessibility and affordability . . . are at the heart of the Government's drive to improve early years and childcare services. All three are crucial to building and sustaining a childcare market that not only is responsive to the needs of parents, but also continues to improve the outcomes for children".—[Official Report, 19/4/06; col. GC 536.]
We debated exactly what "quality" means at great length in Grand Committee, and I do not propose to rehearse the arguments here today. Suffice it to say that I hope the regulations cover some of the areas we covered, such as parental involvement, ethos, suitability and training. I also hope that thorough training on attachment, which again we discussed at length, will be considered where very young children are catered for, and that inspectors will have a good working knowledge of this area.
Talking of inspectors, I ask the Government to seriously consider exploring with Ofsted how they can take quality assurance schemes into account. However, we feel that the best way to signal that quality counts is to cement this commitment on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, my amendments in this group are Amendments No. 10, which relates to workless households, and Nos. 11 and 15, which relate to quality and suitability.
Amendment No. 10 would add to the duty of local authorities to have regard to childcare provision for workless households, subject to adequate resources being available. I accept that the Government's main focus in the Bill, as clearly outlined by the Minister in Grand Committee, is providing childcare so that parents can go out to work and take the family out of poverty. That is all well and good, but my main focus is on the child's best interests. In that case, you have to remember that the children of workless households can also benefit greatly from good quality childcare. Indeed, given the stresses and strains of life in such households, they may well benefit more than other children.
If some parents either choose to stay at home or have heavy caring commitments to either a disabled child or an elderly relative, it is not right that the other children in the household should lose out by not having their needs catered for. Government Amendments Nos. 16 to 18 emphasise the needs of disabled children, but other children in the same households are often very disadvantaged, and if their parents do not go to work, the Bill ignores them.
Addressing the needs of such families is very cost-effective. We know that having a break from child caring can improve parents' mental health. That could save costs on the NHS. Access to appropriate childcare is a cost-effective form of support, and may prevent the family reaching crisis point, possibly resulting in a residential placement. Having the opportunity to associate with their peers is vital to the development of children's social skills, as evinced by the EPPE project and other studies. If the Government want to reduce inequalities—the prime objective of the Bill—they should start with the children of workless households.
Amendments Nos. 11 to 15 would introduce the word "quality" into the duty in different ways. My Amendment No. 11 was No. 28 in Committee, and somehow the word "must" in Amendment No. 28 has become "may" in No. 11 today. That is a mistake, and I am not quite sure how it happened. My intention is that local authorities must have a duty to have regard to quality.
Amendment No. 11 also introduces the concept of suitability for the communities in the area. I will not repeat the arguments I made in Committee about the need for settings to have regard to the child's cultural needs and his ethnic persona. Part of the objective of good quality early years learning is to help the child develop his sense of self, and to interpret the world around him in relation to that self. If the child has no role models among the staff, or the setting takes no regard of his particular culture or persona, that is not in the best interests of that child.
In this country we have many cultural communities: White, Black, Arabic, Travellers, Jewish and eastern European, and many different religions. It is vital that settings make the effort to recruit and train staff from all these local communities, or, if that fails, that they at least have regard to the child's needs in that respect.
I hope that the Minister will have regard to the strong feelings of the House on quality. All the studies show that good quality childcare benefits children, and bad quality childcare harms them. The Government have shown their commitment to the right kind of care in many ways, including the development of the early years foundation stage. It seems more than surprising, therefore, that the word "quality" is absent from the Bill. There is a strong feeling in the House that it should be included somewhere in the Bill, as a matter of principle. Guidance is not good enough. As we said earlier, the Bill should contain reference to the principles underpinning the legislation. The word "quality" is another of those underpinning principles, which is why we have returned to it on Report. I hope that the Minister has moved on a bit about this since Grand Committee and can reassure us further.
My Lords, before speaking to Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 in my name, I express my shared concerns about quality. The Minister referred to the EPPE research, which focused principally on the over-threes. The NICHD research in the United States, which looked at the under-threes, found that there was a significant increase in aggressiveness among children who had prolonged exposure at a very young age to poor quality childcare. Those are the three main factors.
Professor Melhuish is one of those charged by the Government with evaluating the Sure Start programme. In his estimation, the American research underestimates the impact of poor quality childcare on the development of the youngest children. Certainly, from the point of view of the work of the Oxford Parent Infant Project, I would think that there will be considerable concern about poor quality childcare for the under-threes. Having said that, I recognise the benefit of good quality childcare to many children, especially the over-threes. I strongly support what the Government are doing with their childcare workforce development programme, which is welcome. One might not wish to be starting from where we are, but the Government are trying hard to move forward on the agenda of improving the workforce.
Amendment No. 31 deals with the closure of settings in regulations for the purpose of staff development. That might be once a month, in an evening for two hours, to permit staff non-contact time to discuss with their team the children's welfare. Amendment No. 32 permits regulation on staff supervision, which would permit regular, individual, one-to-one mentoring of staff by senior practitioners. I thank the Minister for the interest that he has shown in my concerns in this area and for the opportunity to discuss this with him outwith the Chamber. The purpose of speaking to the amendments is to allow him the opportunity to place on record the assurances that he gave me earlier.
Why is support for staff development important? First, we have in earlier discussions recognised that the key person approach is fundamental to the emotional well-being of under-threes and is important to older children in these settings. It is well recognised that good supervision of staff is important for the proper implementation of that key person approach. Unfortunately, many staff entering these settings may carry with them baggage from their own childhood. They may have experienced neglect or other difficulties, and there is always the danger, as anyone experienced in this area will tell you, that they may play out some of those earlier experiences on the children that they care for now. Good support to such staff is important in preventing that happening.
Such mentoring support and supervised staff work discussion groups are probably the best training that staff can receive because it is all targeted on their experience and on reflection with a senior practitioner about what they do day to day. There is no risk of irrelevant training.
There is also an important economic benefit. In a setting with 60 places for children, the staff costs might be £250,000 per annum. There is a high rate—about 10 per cent per annum—of staff absences through sickness in the sector. There is plenty of evidence that good supervision and support for staff can significantly reduce such absences. If it were to halve their number, that would be a saving of £12,500 per annum, which could then be used to pay for that proper staff support.
Across the social care world, individual mentoring of staff or a staff team discussing the welfare of their children together is absolutely normal and expected. I was grateful to the Minister for the assurances that he gave me on the matter. How will he make clear the importance of staff in the early years foundation stage having that time away from the children for individual supervision or staff team discussions? The Government's transformation fund is their special investment in the training of staff to bring them up to a higher level. Can he assure the House that in the guidance on the fund's expenditure it will be clear that, for instance, staff might be given time and a half to attend work discussion groups and the monthly staff meeting, which takes place after work, and that such continued professional development will be accredited, so that the funding can be used for that important part of the support of staff? Finally, is the Minister considering how Ofsted might be encouraged to look at staff development and support? It does not currently and it might well need additional resources to do so, but it might be helpful if it did. The Commission for Social Care Inspection inspects in that area in its work in, for instance, children's homes.
I recently spoke with a clearly troubled young woman who was going to start a career in childcare. That is a common experience for those involved in working with vulnerable young people; young people who have experienced neglect often wish to go into the social care world or to work in caring for children. They can bring a special commitment and insight to that work, but definitely need to be well supervised and supported if they are to be successful—to thrive in their work and to give good care to the children. I look forward to the Minister's response.
My Lords, will the funding by and to local authorities be on a sufficiently long-term basis to attract staff to this job as a career—to offer them a sufficiently long contract to make it interesting for them to settle in, learn the job properly, and have a spirit and atmosphere of teamwork within the group? If not, we shall get short-term staff who will not be the best people.
My Lords, I support my noble friend on Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 to Clause 43. I simply want to ask a question that the Minister may or may not be able to answer at the moment. When discussing such training, people often say, "Will it mean that there are fewer hours available for staff to interact with children? There are not enough staff already to cover the hours with children". That was said of teachers some time ago in the education system. We are now in the same system and, as we look for closer relationships, I wonder whether the Minister has made any comparison between teachers and early years staff, and how Baker days, training budgets and staff supervision programmes in education for teachers might be some example for early years workers.
My Lords, noble Lords have been concerned that the duty in Clause 6 could somehow lead to a dilution of quality in childcare provision. There is no intention whatever to dilute quality. Indeed, all the measures that we have in place on childcare seek to improve the quality of provision generally. On the sustainability of funding, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I cannot give a commitment on the precise levels of funding that we or a future government would provide in spending reviews. However, we will certainly not be reducing the baseline outlays that have already been made available for the core under-fives provision. I think that that gives local authorities and providers for the under-fives capacity to recruit on a long-term basis. That course is essential to underpinning quality.
As I explained in Committee, provisions and levers are in place to ensure that the quality of childcare is not compromised. These include the early years foundation stage which will set out a single framework for high-quality childcare from birth up to age five. The consultation on EYFS, which was published after the Grand Committee and which I have made available to noble Lords, sets out clearly the quality standards that we expect providers to meet and against which Ofsted will inspect. For provision for children over the age of five, the Ofsted childcare register will also require providers to meet specific quality standards, including staff qualification levels and adult-to-child ratio requirements.
Putting such a requirement in Clause 6 would not only duplicate the existing role of Ofsted—a duplication which would be undesirable—but return us to the position before Ofsted took on the role of childcare inspection in 2001, when each local authority made its own judgments on quality and standards were not consistent across the country. We have taken this approach precisely to ensure uniform national standards through the early years foundation stage and through Ofsted—the national inspectorates' duty to inspect—rather than leaving it to the discretion of 150 separate local authorities nationwide.
In addition, the assessment of sufficiency of childcare that local authorities will be required to carry out under Clause 11 will not only assess parents' requirements regarding the quantity of childcare but also look at the quality of that childcare. The regulations and guidance underpinning the duty in Clause 11 will make clear that local authorities must consider the types and features of the childcare that parents require. The link in Clause 6 to parents' need for childcare that is eligible for tax credits also reinforces the local authority's responsibility to secure sufficient availability of quality childcare, because only childcare that adheres to the standards for registration by Ofsted will be eligible for tax credits.
Amendment No. 15 seeks to require local authorities to have regard to quality when undertaking the assessment process. Some weeks ago I circulated to the House a policy paper on the duty to assess the childcare market which makes clear that local authorities will have to assess parents' requirements for childcare and compare that to the current availability and suitability of childcare in order to identify the gaps that need to be filled.
On the subject of quality, I entirely accept all that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said about the vital importance of high-quality and continuous training of those in the under-fives workforce. His Amendment No. 31 seeks to give the Secretary of State power to require all childcare settings to close on a regular basis for protected time for staff development. His second amendment would give the Secretary of State power to require that all staff in childcare settings have staff development opportunities. We are extremely sympathetic to the objectives of both amendments. In particular, we would seek to ensure through all that we are doing that the second objective is met—that staff in childcare settings have development opportunities. Staff are the key factor to ensuring that children's experience is of the highest quality. I therefore entirely share the noble Earl's ambition to secure clear opportunities and time for staff development and adequate supervision.
We share the amendment's objective of having professionals working together and being able to develop their practice together—the amendment's aim in providing for the closure of settings. We strongly share that objective, which is set out in The Early Years Foundation Stage. For example, one of the requirements, on page 13 of the document, is that:
"Providers must be proactive in developing effective partnerships not only with parents, but with other carers, settings, and practitioners important to the child".
Elsewhere, the document states:
"Schedules, routines and activities must flow with the child's needs, with practitioners planning for individual children using sensitive observational assessment".
So it will not be possible to deliver EYFS effectively without practitioners spending time together to reflect on both the progress being made and the needs of individual children. Good settings make time for this routinely, including the Thomas Coram Centre—the noble Earl brought its director to see me—and all settings will have to meet these requirements. As I explained to the noble Earl when we met, we intend that the guidance that we put out, including a CD-ROM that we are developing for the benefit of leavers from under-fives settings, will set out the best practice available in this area so that all settings can learn from it.
When Ofsted inspects, it also has to make an assessment of the quality of the leadership and management of a setting and how that contributes to outcomes for children. Clause 50(1)(d) explicitly states that this will be carried forward into the new system, requiring reports to include information on,
"the quality of leadership and management in connection with the early years provision".
When Ofsted inspects provision, it talks extensively to the practitioners present and the manager, and these conversations include the subjects of supervision and support—for instance, what the manager does in order to help staff to improve. That will be part of the Ofsted process as well.
When we come to develop the EYFS materials that we put out to early years settings, we will want to make references to the supervision of staff and training, and we will seek to ensure that they are in place. However, it may not be appropriate to use a simple measure of non-contact times. As I believe the noble Earl recognises, that could be one of several good-practice ways of meeting the needs of staff. He knows, because we discussed this in the context of the Thomas Coram Centre, that a very long process of preparation and consultation took place in that centre before it established its arrangements for staff training, including—I thought that this was telling—the provision of crèche facilities so that parents of children were not left with no provision whatever when the main professional staff were engaged in professional development. The noble Earl accepted that it is important that those arrangements are in place so that the provision of development opportunities for staff is not at the expense of parents, who, of course, these settings exist to serve.
I mentioned the transformation fund in our earlier debates but this is the first time that it has been mentioned on Report; it appeared continuously in Grand Committee and I am sure that it will make many more appearances in future discussions. From that fund, the £250 million that is available between 2006 and 2008 is a key part of our policy to raise the quality of provision. Elements of the fund may—I stress this in response to the noble Earl—certainly be used to support development time. The quality premium of £5,000 per setting per year is to be awarded to full daycare settings employing or recruiting graduate level professional leaders. At least half of this is to be spent on continuous professional development for all staff in such settings, with a particular focus on preparing for the early years foundation stage. That fund, too, will help to support professional development.
I should stress that settings will be free to use that funding as they wish so long as it meets overall staff development aims. That may well include, for example, paying staff who attend meetings set aside for staff development after normal working hours. We are clear that decisions on how to spend the quality premium must be left to local discretion.
I turn to Amendments Nos. 8 and 12. Clause 13 gives local authorities duties and powers to provide information, advice and training to childcare businesses, to help them to be of high quality and sustainable. The statutory guidance that we publish under that clause will reinforce those points and will remind local authorities that it will often be more cost-effective to sustain existing provision than to launch a new provider, and it will also help quality standards to be reached.
On the subject of accessibility, in Committee the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, raised some specific concerns on the issue of transport. I understand that for many families, particularly those in rural communities, transport and accessibility are crucial factors in deciding whether to use childcare. In meeting their duties under Clauses 6 and 11, local authorities will have to consider, and put in place, the most effective ways of securing childcare. They will have the flexibility to provide transport—for example, a village bus to take families to providers—if they feel that that is the most appropriate way of meeting local needs. I make it absolutely clear that if childcare is not accessible, that is not sufficient under the terms of the Bill and, as such, local authorities will not be fulfilling their legal duties.
I turn, finally, to the issue of affordability, which I know has been a key concern of noble Lords on all sides of the House. Putting the word "affordable" into the Bill could be interpreted in a number of different ways and would mean different things to different families. Many factors need to be taken into account when assessing affordability. These can include family income levels, the age of the child, different work patterns and personal preferences, as well as the costs to providers of running sustainable childcare businesses, and those factors will vary according to local circumstances.
I am sure that the way we have set out the duty in Clause 6, requiring local authorities to secure sufficient childcare which is eligible under the childcare element of the working tax credit, addresses the issue of affordability consistently across the country. In 2005–06, the level of investment in the childcare element of the working tax credit was more than £2.4 million a day, benefiting 356,000 families. Tax credit levels increased again this year, which means that the maximum proportion of childcare costs that parents can claim back has risen from 70 per cent to 80 per cent.
In addition to subsidising the cost of childcare through tax credits, this Government also provide 12.5 hours a week of free early education and care for all three and four year-olds, irrespective of the employment or financial status of their parents. There are, of course, areas such as London where the cost of childcare is particularly high. That is why we are undertaking a pilot programme with the London Development Agency and the Greater London Authority to deliver an additional 10,000 childcare places for families on lower incomes.
Amendment No. 10 would require local authorities to have specific regard to workless households when considering the sufficiency of childcare provision within their area—a concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. As my noble friend Lady Crawley made clear during Grand Committee, high-quality childcare can make an important and valuable contribution to improving the outcomes for all children, including those in workless households. Although we entirely sympathise with the intentions behind this amendment, we believe that we are already doing a great deal to improve the outcomes of children in workless households. Given all the pressures of costs and the other duties that we are placing on local authorities, we do not believe that this would be an appropriate new duty to impose on them.
Perhaps I may quickly summarise the steps we have taken that will benefit workless households. First, there is the existing duty to secure sufficient free nursery provision, to which I have already referred. All three and four years-olds are entitled to that provision, regardless of whether their parents are employed. Secondly, the introduction of the early years foundation stage will deliver high-quality integrated education and care in early years provision for all young children.
Thirdly, the childcare duty already includes the need to secure sufficient childcare to enable parents to "take up work"; it does not relate only to those who are employed. For many workless households—particularly those headed by lone parents—the availability of suitable affordable childcare makes a key difference in the decision on whether to return to work, but this is covered in the current wording of the Bill.
Fourthly, in assessing demand for childcare, local authorities will need to look at the complete picture. In order to identify gaps in childcare that are obstacles to employment, authorities will be under a duty to consult parents as part of their assessment of the market in their area—a duty which will be set out in regulations under Clause 11. Statutory guidance will make it clear that it will be vital to include unemployed parents as part of the consultation on how local authorities will meet their duties under Clause 11.
Where there are gaps in provision that local authorities believe they should seek to fill, including gaps in provision of childcare for workless households, Clause 8 provides local authorities with all the powers necessary to support childcare provision in any way that may be needed to fill those gaps regardless of whether they relate to workless families or other families. I hope I have provided sufficient reassurance to the noble Baroness and that she may feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, we have had another interesting debate on quality, although not as long as an earlier one. I accept what the Minister said about affordability but shall return to the matter in Amendment No. 13 on accessibility. I understand that if childcare is not accessible it is not sufficient, and that is fine. In relation to quality, I really am perplexed. The Minister says that the Government have no intention of diluting quality, that there are levers to ensure that quality is not compromised and that local authorities in their provision of sufficient childcare will have to look at quality. I am therefore at a loss to understand why quality cannot be on the face of the Bill. I hope that the Minister will consider this issue between now and Third Reading and that he may be able to find a means of putting it on the face of the Bill, otherwise he may find there is a coalition on quality, suitability and training. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, Clause 6, as we have already discussed, places an obligation on local authorities to secure sufficient childcare places to meet the requirements of the Bill. The amendment inserts into subsection (1) the words,
"and is likely to remain sufficient".
The amendment seeks to highlight the need for sustainability in childcare provision and therefore for stability. The concept of sustainability, much like the term "quality", is notably lacking from the Bill.
There is much overlap between the individual issues to which we return today. There can be no doubt that adequate finance, quality and sustainability all influence each other in turn. What is sufficient now will change over time. Childcare—indeed family life—is dynamic. Within the arc of one's career there are many fluctuations in family life as children change and grow. For childcare to be sustainable, we need to try to account for those changes and for changing trends. During passage of the Work and Families Bill we welcomed the Government's extension of paid maternity leave and statutory maternity pay, but that, alongside the debate over the age at which to send children to nurseries, will have an impact on the sector.
The Government have said that local authorities must account for that change, but they have not convinced us how that will be achieved. We are particularly sceptical when current government figures suggest that three childcare places are closing for every five that open. We are told that local authorities must take account of the childcare needs of the local community, but can the Minister clarify what definition of "community" local authorities will use when assessing sufficiency? Will it be the residential community or the day-time community, including people who come in from other areas to work? Will it be based on ward boundary lines, or will it be based on a set number of people? Will local authority planners be involved in the decision?
There are genuine concerns within the private, voluntary and independent sectors about sustainability, which remains a serious issue. Last year, 18,000 places were lost in the private, voluntary and independent sectors and the number is accelerating. As it costs roughly £1.5 million to set up a 100-place nursery, that is like nailing £250 million to a palette and setting fire to it.
I shall share with your Lordships a few examples of where sustainability does not seem to have been considered. A Sure Start placement in Reading has been opened with 500 childcare places, yet there are only 300 children in the area who fit the required criteria. In East Anglia, a 70-plus-place neighbourhood nursery, hoping to achieve children's centre status, opened in the middle of last year. Despite the opening of this new setting, another children's centre, which will also offer full day-care facilities, is reportedly planned for development within 150 metres of the existing nursery's front door. It is further reported that another four centres will be developed within the surrounding area.
I am afraid that such examples only support the fears of the private, voluntary and independent sector that demand and sustainability studies are not high on the public providers' agenda, and that some are merely responding to the tasks set by central government, playing a numbers game. What happens to private, voluntary and independent providers in these situations? Occupancy may drop, or simply not mature, due to competition from the public sector. More often than not, there is a drain on the workforce. It used to take two years to fill a nursery to 90 per cent occupancy. Now it takes three to four years to reach 75 per cent occupancy—if you are lucky—which is often too little to make the provision viable. So you have an unhappy workforce and, subsequently, unhappy children. There is also an inevitable closure and reduction in choice of different provision in that area. That goes against the Government's stated aims of working with the sector to maintain market diversity, enabling parents' choice and flexibility, and stability in the choice they make.
There is also the question of how the Government are going to encourage use of the placements provided. The sustainability of childcare must be looked at in the round, another point well made by the IPPR report out today. It is all very well creating these places but not, as the Prime Minister admitted the other day, if they are failing to reach the very people they have been set up to help because of a failure of joined-up government.
The amendment will help to focus the local authorities' minds on sustainability rather than just a number-crunching exercise for the Government. The only way we can protect real choice and diversity is by supporting the role of the private, voluntary and independent sector, and not trying to fit it into a box that the Government make for it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I come at this from the point of view of the child. Every time a setting closes, a child is unsettled; in fact, a lot of children are unsettled. They must then start making relationships with a new set of staff in a new, unfamiliar place. Such needs are particularly difficult for children with problems such as autistic spectrum disorder.
We need a whole heap of common sense, such as was obviously completely absent in the planning of the examples just given by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton. It is not unreasonable to expect a local authority to pay attention to the location and quantity of provision, to competition between settings and whether one is duplicating the other. They should not encourage the opening of too many places too near others, as long as the existing provision is of suitable quality. Obviously, there are some provisions that are not good quality which should go to the wall; that is only right. But when you have perfectly good ones competing with each other and neither is viable, somebody must bring some common sense into it. That should probably be the local authority.
My Lords, I thought that, in terms of the local authority having a responsibility for strategic planning in the development of childcare places, this was one of the things that the Bill was going to put right. Indeed, in Grand Committee I raised my concerns about schools not being part of that strategic planning and therefore being able to develop services on their campuses outside and causing this kind of difficulty. I had all sorts of reassurances from the Minister on that and I look to the future to hope that that works through.
I speak as an ex-director of social services so I know about the temptation to provide your own services. It can be extraordinarily difficult for the voluntary sector in an area where something grand like a children's centre is planned. Some services will close and there will be turnover. I am sure the Minister will tell us in his reply that that happens and that there are some services which are not of the quality that we would wish. It is crucial that the local authority takes that strategic planning very much to heart. I would be interested to know how Ofsted, or whoever is going to take over the responsibility for the Commission for Social Care Inspection, will look at that broader programme of services on the ground and ensure that it meets the needs of children, as outlined so ably by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley.
My Lords, when the noble Baroness moved the same amendment in Grand Committee, she raised three particular concerns, which she has reiterated this afternoon. First, given rapidly changing demographics, especially in relation to working patterns, there might be an expectation that local authorities would become—and she used a graphic phrase—"crystal ball gazers".
Secondly, the noble Baroness was concerned that overheads and financial pressures differed between the public, private and voluntary sectors and that a level playing field might not be operating, making the sustainability for private, voluntary and independent providers more difficult. Finally, she was concerned that new, heavily subsidised childcare might be created at the expense of existing good quality provision, which again she has reiterated with particular reference to the case of Reading local authority. I am afraid that I have not come equipped with briefing on Reading, although I will note carefully what she says about it in Hansard and reply to her with any knowledge we have about the specific instance. Indeed, I might even invite the local authority to comment on what she has said. Since she has made remarks about its policy in this area, it is important that it should address any concerns.
I will deal with each of these issues in turn. First, on the issue of future changes in demographics and working patterns, I stress that we do not expect local authorities to become "crystal ball gazers", in the sense of having their eyes ever fixed on changes in the future and not firmly rooted in trying to provide for the present. However, we expect them, and we think that this is reasonable, through the assessment duty in Clause 11, to consult at least every three years—so they do not have to peer into the crystal ball that frequently—with the local community, which we define as local parents, prospective parents and childcare providers as well as employers, to establish not only the current availability and requirements for childcare, but also likely future requirements.
That does not require them to make assumptions by themselves. It simply requires them, through the assessment process, to talk to people in their local area to find out which factors are likely to impact on the future demand for childcare. This could reasonably, for example, include talking to employers to find out whether they intend to expand their businesses and recruit additional staff over the following years, and talking to parents to establish what childcare they intend to use, or think they might wish to use, in the future. The authority would also be expected to take into account other demographic information such as substantial local plans to build new housing. Often that may simply involve one part of a local authority talking to another to ascertain what its development plans are in a wider sense in its area and therefore to adjust its plans in respect of childcare accordingly.
I cannot stress enough that the private and voluntary sectors are crucial to maintaining a diverse childcare market that is responsive to the needs of children. We wish to see their role properly respected by local authorities and, indeed, at every available opportunity. A few moments ago I cited the words of the Prime Minister, who could not have been clearer on the subject. I note that the statistics from our surveys of local authorities show that 58 per cent of childcare provision in children's centres is provided by the PVI sector, and that 82 per cent of children's centres have contracts with the voluntary sector. So there is no evidence of any widespread discrimination against the private, voluntary and independent sectors. On the contrary, all the evidence shows that local authorities of all political persuasions are seeking to engage with good quality private, voluntary and independent providers as a matter of course.
In respect of nursery settings for three and four year-olds, there is also a very healthy diversity of provision. National data show that just over 20 per cent of four year-olds and 57 per cent of three year-olds take up provision from private, voluntary and independent providers. Overall, in 81 local authorities—which comprise 54 per cent of those local authorities for which we have returns—50 per cent or more of three year-olds take up their free entitlement in a private, voluntary or independent setting. So the evidence on the role of the private, voluntary and independent sectors is good.
We recognise that closures have been an issue. This has been a very rapidly expanding market in recent years and it would be surprising if there had not been a high turnover as a large number of new providers seek to enter the childcare market. I am glad to be able to tell the House that closure rates are today lower than at any time since June 2003. Since last March, both total closures and the closure rate of childcare places have fallen in each quarter.
Our guidance on private, voluntary and independent providers could not be clearer. The code of practice on the provision of free nursery education places for three and four year-olds, which I have previously circulated to noble Lords, states on page 19:
"Local authorities should fund both maintained and PVI sector providers delivering the free entitlement fairly, transparently and equitably".
I stress those words: fairly, transparently and equitably. It also states at paragraph 10.5 on page 27 that local authorities should work in partnership with providers to,
"ensure that parents have a choice from a range of maintained and non-maintained providers and ensure that parents have the information they need to make choices that enable them to balance work and family commitments while feeling confident in the quality of their provision".
So we have fully recognised the role of the PVI sector in this area. We have backed it up with the strongest possible guidance to local authorities. We stand ready to consider particular cases where that is not being honoured. If any pattern of local authorities discriminating against private, voluntary or independent providers were to emerge, we would not hesitate to consider what further steps needed to be taken. However, at the moment, all the evidence that we have is of strong and constructive partnerships between local authorities and the private, voluntary and independent sectors. Frankly, local authorities would be mad to act otherwise as so much high quality provision is already in the private, voluntary and independent sectors and we believe that the concerns that animate the amendment have been met. I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and noble Baronesses for their support. The Minister says that things are good in the PVI sector. On the Government's own figures, only 24 per cent of PVI providers are making a surplus. If we turn that the other way round, 76 per cent of them are making a loss. That is a timebomb waiting to go off.
Childcare centres can be set up without proper business plans or appraisal. They are given a huge amount of grant up-front from the New Opportunities Fund that is not available to them later. The PVI sector is seriously concerned. One leader in the market, a lifelong Labour voter, said to me, "Trish, the sector is going bust. If the Government want the private and voluntary sector out of childcare, they should say so". Such providers are not made to feel any better when they read that Margaret Hodge said that if nurseries do not become children's centres, they will die.
It is not about the Government having the PVI sector working where they want them to; it is about proper partnership. The Government should look at the 163,000 spare places, many of them in good, high quality settings, before they consider building brand spanking new buildings. I have to say that it would be much easier to achieve a strong and constructive partnership if the amendment were accepted. Therefore, I would like to test the will of the House.
My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 12, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 16 to 18 and 25 to 28.
This group of government amendments deals specifically with the issue of services for disabled children and young people. It follows intensive discussions with noble Lords on all sides of the House. I pay particular tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, who throughout has taken a deep interest in the issue of how we provide for disabled children. My noble friend Lord Carter has also played a significant part and was present in the meetings with the noble Lord, Lord Rix. I also pay tribute to Mencap, which provided a significant input into the discussions.
We all share the same objective of providing disabled children and their families with the best possible support and advice, and we want to ensure that all disabled children and young people have the same opportunities as their peers to achieve and enjoy. The fact that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, is not in his place today is the best possible testament to the fact that the Government must have got this right. There is no one who would have been quicker to appear in the House if he thought that these amendments did not meet his objective and I am very glad, therefore, not to see the noble Lord in his place today.
We know that the age to which the childcare duty continues for disabled children has been of particular concern to noble Lords. It is because we are committed to improving the life chances of disabled children by helping to lift them out of poverty that we have looked again at whether or not it would be appropriate to increase to 18 the age to which the childcare duty runs for such children and we have decided so to do. These amendments make this possible.
Noble Lords reading the Marshalled List may wonder why the government amendment does not simply substitute the age 18 for 16. The reason is that we have been advised that the best way to express the policy intention is to amend Clause 6(5) so that the childcare duty, except in relation to disabled children, does not apply to children after
I turn to Amendments Nos. 16, 17 and 18. It was always the Government's intention to ensure through regulations that information on services, facilities and publications of benefit to parents of disabled children would be made available. Placing the requirement on the face of the Bill will give greater permanence and clarity to the information needs of parents of disabled children. It will also emphasise to local authorities the importance of providing this more specialised information.
Amendment No. 16 will ensure that the needs of parents of disabled children are specifically included in the regulations supporting the information duty in the Bill. The amendment places a duty on the Secretary of State to have regard to the needs of the parents of disabled children when making regulations setting out the information to be provided by local authorities. Such information would relate to childcare which is suitable for disabled children and other services, as well as facilities and publications which may be of particular benefit to disabled children, young persons and their parents.
Amendment No. 17 is a consequential amendment to ensure that local authorities are clear that they must provide the information set out in subsection (2) before considering the provision of additional information. Amendment No. 18 defines the term "disabled" for the purposes of Clause 12.
With the agreement of the Welsh Assembly Government, we are also tabling Amendments Nos. 25 to 28, which mirror the effect of the amendments I have described.
I believe that the amendments meet the wishes of the House and I beg to move.
My Lords, this will be an extremely brief speech, just to thank my noble friend the Minister on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and myself. We had a useful meeting with the Minister and his colleague, Beverley Hughes, and he has done all the things we asked him to do. We thought it would be easier simply to insert "18" in the Bill, but we understand the drafting point and the way in which the provision has to be worded. I presume that any guidance notes will explain exactly why that has been done. Thank you very much.
My Lords, I am giving my noble friend Lord Rix, who has just arrived in the Chamber, a moment to gather himself because he might want to comment. This is something we all agree on absolutely. Cross-Bench Members are supposed to hold individual views, but we all welcome this.
My Lords, I do apologise—I simply could not get the lift, so I have been raving around on the second floor. I thank the Minister very much indeed for the amendments, which all at Mencap and, I am sure, all organisations concerned with disabled children will welcome with gratitude. I am slightly out of breath, but I can assure noble Lords that my thanks and those of all my colleagues are warm-hearted and sincere.
My Lords, I am simply doing what I believe all Ministers do from this Dispatch Box. I regarded the arrival of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, with trepidation; just before he arrived, I said that the fact that he was not here must be a sign that he was completely content with our position. I am glad that when he rose, it was not to say that there were further issues we needed to get right before he could support the amendment. I am very grateful for all that has been said on all sides of the House and am glad to be able to meet the wishes of the House in this important matter.
moved Amendment No. 13:
Page 5, line 6, at end insert—
"( ) Regulations under this section must allow for private, voluntary and independent providers of childcare to provide childcare free of charge for between—
(a) two and a half or three hours per day at the choosing of that provider, and
(b) thirty-three or thirty-eight weeks per year at the choosing of that provider."
My Lords, I decided to retable this amendment because when I looked again at the Grand Committee debate, I felt that the Minister's response did not fully address the concerns raised—indeed, he fuelled them.
The amendment would insert a new subsection into Clause 7 to specify on the face of the Bill that regulations outlining the prescribed description in subsection (1) regarding a local authority's duty to secure early years provision free of charge must allow for a degree of flexibility and choice for the PVI sector regarding the number of hours and total weeks they may provide as a minimum free entitlement. Paragraph (a) addresses the number of hours a day to be provided and paragraph (b) the number of weeks.
The aim of the amendment is to discuss the interests of real parental choice, the diversity of childcare provision, and to explore the details between free places and subsidised places.
From April this year, as a result of the 10-year strategy and following the publication of the DfES code of practice for grant funding of nursery education for three and four year-olds, some local authorities have required private, voluntary and independent providers to extend the minimum free entitlement from 33 to 38 weeks. Other local authorities are providing flexibility and not enforcing 38 weeks, as long as parents are informed that some childcare providers may offer up to 38 weeks and that funding would be pro rata.
However, growing pressure is being placed on providers to extend the number of weeks; clearly, the current flexibility is temporary. PVIs would like the choice of how many weeks of nursery provision they offer above the statutory 33 weeks. They argue convincingly that that will provide diversity and real choice for parents who may wish to balance their work and family lives differently and not require such long childcare hours to their children because they want their children to spend more time with their families.
In Grand Committee, I explained that many childcare settings simply cannot extend the weeks of provision because they rent premises on a fixed basis, share the community centre with other organisations and activities or because of staffing issues. From April 2007, the minimum free entitlement will be extended to 15 hours per week—namely, it will rise from the two current 2.5 hours per day to three hours per day. At the moment, many nurseries already provide three hours, but they offer the additional half hour for a top-up fee that reflects the cost dependent on the area. For many providers, it is only possible for them to offer the 2.5 hour daily, grant-funded sessions free and maintain a high quality of care because they subsidise these free sessions with the top-up fees from parents for three-hour sessions. Many providers fear that once the free entitlement is extended, without the flexibility of choice, they will not be able to subsidise grant-funded sessions and, as a consequence, many sessional settings will no longer be sustainable and will have to close. The result of that is that there will not be sufficient high-quality places for three and four year-olds—the exact opposite of what the Government claim they want to achieve.
In his reply, the Minister only confirmed that fear when he read out paragraph 5.9 of the code of practice which stated:
"The Department recognises that some providers are not open for 38 weeks and may not be able to offer the full entitlement, particularly in the first year".
I missed that phrase "in the first year" when the Minister replied in Grand Committee. I would hate him to think that I do not hang on his every word, but I missed that bit. This is only for one year and this year of transition will not address the fundamental problem that we need to maintain the choice of nurseries in terms of hours and weeks of operation and so provide real choice of parents. The Montessori Foundation has called this extension of hours a threat to the actual existence of small community-based nurseries.
The Minister also said that if providers could not find appropriate premises they could simply move into the all-singing, all-dancing children's centres. I am afraid that that smacks of choice and diversity, but, as I said on the last amendment, only on the Government's terms. They should not be forced to move if they do not want to, particularly in light of recent statistics that call into question the wisdom of placing very young children in group care for long hours.
I quickly raise a third issue. It has come to my attention that the DfES is sending questionnaires to nursery providers regarding costs focusing on day care providers. One nursery has informed me that it estimates that it will be £25,000 adrift in costs with these new provisions. Why did the department not carry out the survey before suggesting the implementation of such plans? I know that this is only one example, but it strikes right at the heart of the problem. Local authorities will have powers to ensure that all providers do not charge a top-up for places funded by the nursery education grant. However, there have been no guarantees that the level of NEG funding will cover the cost of providing a good-quality early years experience. We believe that parents should have a real choice of the setting that they wish to send their children to, a real choice in the hours of childcare that they want and the choice to pay a top-up fee should they be confident that that will provide them with a good-quality childcare place. I hope that the Minister will undertake to reconsider this issue and I beg to move.
My Lords, this amendment relates to the minimum free entitlement for three and four year-olds of 12.5 hours a week which, as the noble Baroness said, has been extended from 33 to 38 weeks in all settings. That will mean that children receive the same basic offer regardless of the setting that they attend. In the past, children taking up their free entitlement in maintained settings had typically received a funded place over the school year, which equates to 38 weeks, while those attending settings in the private, voluntary and independent sectors were funded for only 33 weeks. That meant that if you chose a voluntary sector playgroup for your child they would receive 62.5 fewer hours than if they were to go to a school-based provider.
The changes that we have made are not only beneficial for children but strongly beneficial for the providers themselves, especially those in the private, voluntary and independent sectors who will now operate on a level playing field and will receive funding for an equivalent number of hours provided. That will have the effect of offering parents more choice, which I believe is precisely the objective that the noble Baroness seeks to advance. Of course, we have ensured that sufficient additional resources have been factored into local authority funding to cover the costs of a 38-week place for every three and four year-old whose parents wish to access it.
We know that some providers have said that local authorities are not providing sufficient funding to enable them to deliver the flexible free entitlement for three and four year-olds. I should explain that local authorities are funded in exactly the same way for places in all settings; there is no discrimination in funding between different types of provider. All three and four year-olds in an authority are funded from the centre at the same rate. But it is for local authorities to determine the most effective use of resources at local level. To remove that discretion to set the rate at which they fund places in the early years would run counter to the principles of local democracy and decision-making and be at odds with the rest of the education funding system.
However, we make very clear in the code of practice on the provision of free nursery education places for three and four year-olds that local authorities should adopt a principle of equal and transparent funding at local level. The department will take seriously any allegation that a local authority has not had due regard to the code of practice, especially if this results in under-funding of some local providers so that they cannot sustain an extension of the free entitlement without cross-subsidy.
The Government consulted widely last year on the changes to the free entitlement. More than 500 responses were received from a range of providers in the maintained and non-maintained sectors, as well as from local authorities and parents. The noble Baroness will be reassured that the respondents were supportive of the proposal now being implemented to level the playing field by ensuring that children in all settings would have access to the same basic 38-week entitlement. We do realise, though, that some providers, particularly, although not exclusively, in the first year, may not be able to offer the full 38-week entitlement. We expect local authorities to work with and support providers to extend their services to 38 weeks whenever possible. To this end, we have also made additional capital funding available to them through the general Sure Start grant. This should be particularly helpful to those small sessional providers who might be finding it difficult to secure the facilities to offer free provision over an additional five weeks of the year.
I should stress, though, that the duty to ensure sufficient 38-week places is placed on local authorities, not providers, and that the availability of provision in a local area should be delivered in accordance with parental demand. Therefore, as long as local authorities can provide sufficient 38-week places for those parents who want them, either through individual providers or in collaboration between providers, there should be no need for them to put undue pressure on providers to deliver places only over 38 weeks, when there is also a market among parents for a provision over a lesser period. We also acknowledge that some parents may take an informed decision to choose a provider that is open for fewer than 38 weeks. We have therefore made clear in the code of practice that in these circumstances providers should be funded for the free provision that they deliver. So it is not an all-or-nothing approach for the 38 weeks, even over the medium term.
The Government's longer-term commitment will increase the free entitlement from 12.5 to 15 hours a week, which will take the benefits to children and families a stage further. It will allow parents the flexibility to access the entitlement in a way that responds best to their family circumstances, will be of educational benefit to children and will also give parents greater access to training and the labour market.
That, however, is for the future. So far as the existing changes are concerned, we believe that there is flexibility for parents to make the choices they wish, and that that is properly reflected in support for providers. We believe that parents are the best judges of what is right for them and their children. We have no desire to nationalise either them or the providers, and I hope the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am certainly much happier with it than I was with the reply in Grand Committee. He is right: parents are the best judge of what is right for their children. We have heard, however, that certain local authorities are forcing the extra weeks on their PVI providers. Will the Minister undertake to make sure that if parents do not want the longer hours and providers do not want to provide them, each will be happy with the other, and that what starts off with choice will not go through compliance and end up with compulsion? If he undertakes to ensure that that is made quite clear, I will happily withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendments Nos. 16 to 18:
Page 7, line 2, at end insert—
"( ) In prescribing information for the purpose of subsection (2), the Secretary of State must have regard to the needs of the parents of disabled children or young persons for information relating to—
(a) the provision of childcare which is suitable for disabled children, and
(b) other services or facilities, or publications, which may be of particular benefit to the parents of disabled children or young persons or to disabled children or young persons."
Page 7, line 3, leave out "also" and insert ", in addition to providing information which it is required to provide under subsection (2),"
Page 7, line 14, at end insert—
"( ) For the purposes of this section, a child or young person is disabled if he has a disability for the purposes of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (c. 50)."
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 13 [Duty to provide information, advice and training to childcare providers]:
My Lords, I rise to move Amendment No. 19 and to speak to Amendments Nos. 20 to 23, 29 and 35. These amendments are about the role of grandparents and other relatives of a child who provide care for the child. I have to say that it was a group of amendments that was difficult to draft. I have taken advice, and I hope the amendments I have set down will have the effect I intend them to. If not, and if the Government accept the principle that lies behind them, I shall be perfectly happy if the Minister decides to take them away and reword them. I intend, therefore, mainly to discuss the principle of what I am trying to achieve rather than discussing the detail of the amendments.
I am attempting to create three distinct categories of childcare, so we can give some status to, and some clear understanding of the position of, relatives with whom the child does not reside but who provide childcare for him or her. The first category I envisage is professional childcare, a category provided for under the Bill and subject to regulation relating to the ratio of carers to children at each age, the training of staff, accommodation, syllabus and so on. As currently, the main purpose of the Bill is to secure the delivery of this kind of childcare in the quantities and of the quality required, and at an acceptable price. Providers and prospective providers will be given information, advice and training by the local authority and will be inspected by Ofsted. Parents will be able to claim tax credits in respect of this kind of childcare.
The second category, at the other end of the spectrum, is childcare provided by parents or others with whom the child is living, to whom one can usefully refer as "surrogate parents". Under the Bill, parents, including surrogate parents, are to be given or have available to them information, advice and training if they ask for it. They will also be able to draw down childcare tax credits to help pay for any professional childcare they decide to use. There is therefore quite a strong indication by Government in the Bill that they intend to support this kind of informal caring activity.
The third category is the kinsman—whether it be a grandparent or some other kin—with whom the child does not live but who is providing care for the child. Grandparents are the key example. This category of informal care is extremely popular with parents. Kinship care given by grandparents alone currently represents about 60 per cent of all childcare and is said to save the Exchequer £1 billion a year in terms of lower demand for subsidised professional childcare. Some 82 per cent of children get some of their care from grandparents, and nearly 5 million grandparents each spend at least three days a week caring for their grandchildren.
My amendment does not suggest that grandparents and other kinship carers should be subject to regulations or to inspection. Like the Government, I believe that such a proposal would not be acceptable. Equally, I do not suggest that kinship care of this kind should qualify the parent to draw down childcare tax credit. I happen personally to believe that it probably should, but the political atmosphere is such that it is not feasible to suggest that at this stage. Perhaps we shall have to wait for a more enlightened government to put that through. The group of amendments does provide that grandparents and other kin who are offering this category of childcare are entitled as of right, if they ask for it, to advice, information and training from the local authority, which would enable them with more confidence to do a good job for their child. Such advice, training and support would only be given if asked for. As far as the state is concerned, the cost of providing information, advice and training would be offset by the reduction in professional childcare that would be needed because of better quality kinship care.
Such advice, information and training would also give some status to kinship carers, thus encouraging grandparents and kin to realise that their contribution is both recognised and valued. It might help secure that more grandparents and kin would be willing to take on this work and be proud to do so. That in turn would offer advantages both to the Exchequer and to the child. Some degree of recognition of the contribution that grandparents and kin are making today and could make in the future would be entirely beneficial in terms of the well-being of the child, the parents and the Exchequer.
Briefly, I should like to go through the amendments, because they are quite complex. Amendments Nos. 19, 20 and 21 would provide for an extra subsection in Clause 13(1) which requires a local authority in England to provide information, advice and training to a range of categories of persons. My amendments would extend the range of persons entitled to receive this advantage to all persons in the area who are providing or intend to provide childcare and have requested such information. The amendment would therefore sweep in the parents, grandparents and relatives who are giving care to a child. Clause 18(4) excludes certain categories of people from being providers of childcare and those categories include not only parents but all relatives. My Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 would restrict Clause 18(4) to relatives with whom the child lives, so that non-resident relatives, including grandparents, would be entitled to the help provided for in Clause 13.
Amendment No. 29 would exclude from the requirements to register,
"any relative of the child who is providing early years' child minding for that child".
Amendment No. 35 makes the same exclusion for those relatives providing later years' childminding. Therefore, this group of amendments would leave us with three categories of childcare; professional childcare, parents, including surrogate parents, who are provided for elsewhere in the Bill; and relatives, including grandparents, who would fall into a separate third category. They would not be required to register and would not be entitled to provide childcare that qualifies for tax credit, but they would be entitled to information, advice and training, if they request it, from the local authority. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for his introduction to the amendments, which pick up on important themes raised in Committee. Especially having looked after my own mother, I am a passionate advocate of the vital role that the extended family, particularly grandparents, plays in bringing up and looking after other family members, both young and old. I was particularly moved at Second Reading by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, who talked about the struggle of grandparents bringing up the children of their drug-dependent children. The significant support that the extended family can give young children was highlighted by our debates on the Children and Adoption Bill.
There can be no doubt that kinship care is an often overlooked issue that deserves more attention. I am incredibly sympathetic to the notions behind these amendments, and we on these Benches want to take the time to look at the idea in much more detail. However, what assessment has the department made of kinship care? How does it intend to recognise its value, particularly the role of grandparents, in helping to tackle so many issues that concern us regarding children and families today?
My Lords, as I said in Grand Committee, we also believe that grandparents can provide a valuable caring, nurturing and loving situation for young people when parents have to be elsewhere for work, training or even leisure. It is a good idea that they have information, training and advice services available, and we support that so long as it does not involve a great spending commitment. Frankly, I do not think that it would. They could certainly receive the information available to other people and perhaps join groups and courses taking place anyway, so that is not likely to have a great cost. The number of grandparents who will want to take up a lot of advice from the staff of Children Information Services is probably few, but it is good that they should see that they are valued by having such services available to them. It is also good that those who are keen to find out more about child development and how best to look after their grandchildren are able to access that information and so improve what they can do for them. We support the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, as long as there is no large spending commitment.
My Lords, I too am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for raising the issue, simply because it puts on record the huge amount that families, particularly grandparents, do for children. I recognise the difficulty that there might be in placing that in legislation and have something of a qualm about it, because it starts to be a bit "nanny state" if we have absolutely everyone in the legislation. However, I am sure that the noble Lord's intention is that the quality of care that we manage to give children is improved. If the giving of information and training could be extended where possible to families—some local authorities open some of their training courses to families—without huge cost, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, we would all be encouraged.
My Lords, I also welcome my noble friend's amendments, particularly because it has been made clear to me that, if children taken into public care or at risk of being so are cared for by one of their extended family, a positive outcome is significantly more likely than if they enter full foster care. However, often the extended family does not receive the support that a foster carer would; that concern has been expressed to me.
My Lords, we have had an interesting debate again on the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, on kinship care. I very much recognise the care with which he has tabled the amendments and put them into the three categories. I declare an interest as an enthusiastic grandmother, who can be found most Fridays in a certain park in London with a very lively 20 month-old grandson.
Before I deal with the specific issues raised by this group of amendments, I wish to acknowledge and praise the hard work and commitment shown by the many thousands of relatives who undertake caring responsibilities, in particular grandparents. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, mentioned the percentage of relatives who carry out that caring work, and it is very much the cement in the system. I commend the Grandparents' Association and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for their tireless campaigning to ensure that grandparents and other relatives get the recognition and support that they deserve.
Perhaps it would be helpful to set out the current position regarding relatives who provide childcare. As I said in Committee, the definition of childcare in Clause 18 is purely for the purposes of this Bill. It is not a comprehensive definition and it certainly does not prevent anyone else from caring for a child. There is nothing to stop a relative caring for a child, either formally or informally. Indeed, if they care for unrelated children as well, they can also be either registered childminders or approved child carers, provided that they meet the required standards. This is the case now and will continue to be the case once this legislation comes into effect.
These amendments, taken together, have a number of effects. They would bring relatives into the Clause 6 sufficiency duty. This means that, by definition, local authorities would be under a legal duty to take care by relatives into account when securing sufficient childcare. That is not necessary, as the assessment process will already give local authorities an understanding of how much informal childcare is being provided, and that will have an impact on their subsequent plans to secure sufficiency of formal care.
My understanding is that the noble Lord's intentions are, first, to ensure that anyone who cares for a child, whether through local authority fostering arrangements or private fostering arrangements, or, indeed, relatives or parents themselves, has the appropriate support and training to provide childcare and, secondly, to allow relatives voluntarily to register with the Ofsted childcare register, enabling parents to claim tax credits to help with the cost of that care. However, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, has now explained that he is not interested in the area of tax credits.
My Lords, perhaps I may correct the noble Baroness. I should be very interested indeed if we could get tax credits. I just did not think that there was any hope of doing so.
My Lords, I have to say that there is not a meeting of minds between him and the Government on that issue.
While I sympathise with the aims of these amendments, I do not feel that they are appropriate. First, I shall deal with the effect on the duty in Clause 13 to secure information, advice and training for providers. As I explained in Committee, local authorities already have general powers in Section 2(1)(b) of the Local Government Act 2000 that enable them to do anything which they consider is likely to achieve the promotion or improvement of the social or economic well-being of their area. So, local government is already able to provide support and assistance. That includes providing information, advice or training to help family members or other carers who look after children.
In addition, there are specific provisions for those fostering children—noble Lords have raised this matter—either privately or through the local authority. In the case of fostering that takes place through the local authority, private fostering agencies or voluntary organisations, standard 21 of our fostering services national minimum standards of 2000 already requires these organisations to develop strategies to work with and support carers. I hope that that gives some comfort to the noble Earl, who raised the issue. Those strategies should include arrangements for training and development, information and advice and assistance in dealing with other relevant services, such as health and education.
I accept that, for relatives who are providing informal childcare, this does not equate to an entitlement to information, advice and training, which is being sought in the amendments. However, given that the services that we expect local authorities to secure under Clause 13 are mainly around business support and sustainability and registration processes, I do not think that it would be appropriate to require local authorities to provide such services to kinship carers.
Local authorities are also able to use their Section 17 money—from the Children Act 1989—to provide services or assistance to support any child who is deemed to be in need. This is already happening in Kent, for instance, where the local authority uses Section 17 funding to help grandparents to undertake caring responsibilities.
There has been some misapprehension about what we mean when we refer to parents. The Bill states that "parent" includes anyone who has parental responsibility for a child and anyone who has care of a child. I know that there is concern among noble Lords and those in the voluntary sector that this definition of parents does not include relatives who informally look after a child for longer periods. Let me make it absolutely clear that the services described in Part 1—the early childhood services, the childcare duty, the duty to assess childcare requirements and the information duty—will all be applicable to anyone who has full-time care of a child in place of that child's parents.
As I made clear in Committee, our aim is to improve the outcomes and life chances of children, regardless of their family arrangements. That is why the duties set out in Clauses 1 to 4—to improve outcomes and to secure integrated early childhood services—apply to all children and their carers.
A good example of services reaching out to extended family members is the grandparents' group in the Nunsthorpe and Bradley Sure Start Children's Centre. The group meets on a weekly basis in the community room of the children's centre and has an average attendance of between 10 and 15 grandparents—both grandfathers and grandmothers. The group often invites outside speakers to talk about topics such as diabetes and other health-related matters. Due to demand, the group also has a joint coffee morning every month with the younger parents who use the centre. This helps to integrate the groups and allows centre staff to meet three or four generations of the same family at once, giving every opportunity for important messages to be heard. Staff working at the centre have found that in order to influence mums it can be helpful to filter key information to grandparents and vice versa.
Additionally, in assessing the childcare market, local authorities will have to take relatives into account in two ways. They will do so, first, by assessing how much childcare is provided by relatives so that they can gain a more balanced picture of their local childcare market and, secondly, where a relative is the primary carer of a child in place of that child's parents, by assessing that relative's requirements for childcare in the same way that they would for the natural parent. Equally, anyone who has care of a child will be able to expect that the local authority will, so far as is reasonably practicable, secure sufficient childcare to enable them to work or train.
For clarification, that means that granny, grand-dad, aunt or uncle will be able to expect the same service from their local authority as a natural parent if they are looking after a child on a settled basis. Our guidance to local authorities on all these services will reinforce this message. This commitment to include everyone who has parental or care responsibilities is already evident in our recently published Respect Action Plan, which commits £70 million to support all parents and carers.
In the light of my assurances to the House that relatives and foster carers will be able to have the same expectations as natural parents if they are caring for a child, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for those remarks. I am not absolutely sure that her brief is right about Clause 6, although I will look at the matter again. I think that Clause 6 was drawn in by my original amendment but in the new amendments we sought not to do so. I should like to check that point. Indeed, the noble Baroness made many complex points which I shall have to go back to. I was trying to find some quotations while she was speaking but I wanted to listen to what she was saying. I shall have to read what she said, and perhaps it would be possible for me to have a meeting with her between now and the next stage of the Bill.
The noble Baroness gave some extraordinarily important and useful information about what is being done and what is available to parents who are giving full-time care to a child—in other words, those with whom the child is residing. I find a lot of comfort in what she said, but that still does not do anything for what she described as the relatives providing informal care. I should like to pursue the idea that they should have some further help.
The noble Baroness mentioned Section 2(1) of the Local Government Act. I can only tell her that at the annual general meeting of the Grandparents' Association, which I attended last Monday, there was a hollow laugh when I read out the section of the Official Report in which the noble Lord referred to that Act. There is a big difference between what local authorities are entitled to do and what they actually do. I cannot blame them: they want to spend their money as efficiently as they can and they will spend it on the things that they must do rather than on the things that they might do. I am keen to create a situation in which they must do something for the non-resident relatives.
On the basis of those remarks, and in the hope that I can discuss matters with the Minister in the next week or two, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 25:
Page 11, line 31, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
"(5) Except in relation to a disabled child, this section does not apply in relation to childcare for a child on or after the 1st September next following the date on which he attains the age of 14."
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 27 [Duty to provide information, advice and assistance]:
moved Amendments Nos. 26 to 28:
Page 13, line 13, at end insert—
"( ) In prescribing information for the purpose of subsection (2), the Assembly must have regard to the needs of the parents of disabled children or young persons for information relating to—
(a) the provision of childcare which is suitable for disabled children, and
(b) other services or facilities, or publications, which may be of particular benefit to the parents of disabled children or young persons or to disabled children or young persons."
Page 13, line 14, leave out "also" and insert ", in addition to providing information which it is required to provide under subsection (2),"
Page 13, line 25, at end insert—
"( ) For the purposes of this section, a child or young person is disabled if he has a disability for the purposes of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (c. 50)."
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 33 [Requirement to register: early years childminders]:
[Amendment No. 29 not moved.]
Clause 41 [The learning and development requirements]:
My Lords, Amendment No. 30 stands in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Massey of Darwen, Lady Morris of Bolton and Lady Walmsley.
I had come to consider that under the Every Child Matters agenda, the childcare policies of this Government were truly focused on the child—not on structures or professionals but on the needs of the children themselves—and that the consequent structures, language, work and training of professionals would be wrapped around those needs and the development of each unique child. I have moments of doubt.
The debate about Clause 41 and the word "taught" is important because it reinforces my concern that our children are part of the Government's success plan based on concepts of external success and rigour which have little to do with the individual fulfilment of each child as a unique person and each child's, dare I use the word, happiness.
In seeking to change "be taught to" into "support the learning and development of" we are joined by the Early Childhood Forum of the National Children's Bureau. Along with members of the forum, who represent a wide spectrum of children's agencies, I believe that the inclusion of the word "taught" in relation to children from birth to age five is totally inappropriate.
It is difficult to understand why the Government have such difficulty with this point. The early years foundation stage document, currently out for consultation, is encouraging. Throughout the descriptions of each learning and development area in the early years foundation stage the words "support" and "encouragement" are used rather than the word "taught". We all know that children develop at different rates. I believe that the Minister, at the moment, has cause to understand that at first hand. In a Commons debate, the Minister in another place acknowledged that:
"We propose to remove that overlap by having one coherent phase in the early years foundation stage through which children will move at their own pace. It is meant to be a stage-related framework through which children will progress according to how quickly they reach certain stages. It is not an age-related framework".—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee D, 13/12/05; col. 225.]
We know that age-related frameworks relate to those age relationships in schools where there certainly is a taught age-related framework.
For that reason the age grids were removed, but that appears to be undermined by the use of an age-related guide in section 3.2. That causes a double problem. Less secure practitioners may then use that guide in a tick-box sense while practitioners with a sound understanding of child development will simply not need it. There should be much greater emphasis on free play and child development, the key factors that should underpin all work with young children.
The sense of the agenda being education-driven has been reinforced by the limited inclusion of the birth to three framework. Only a fraction of that framework has been incorporated into the early years foundation. The Every Child Matters agenda will fail if we do not give enough attention to those most formative years. That is why I have been so encouraged by the Childcare Bill, as it emphasises what we all know from all the research: it is the formative years that matter. Will the Minister indicate why the aspects of development, "a strong child", "a skilful communicator", "a competent learner" and "a healthy child", have not been given a more prominent role in the early years foundation stage so that the sector can be steered towards focusing on the child and not on specific areas of experience, such areas as are more likely to be taught?
In the Children Act 2004, the legislative descriptor of one of the five outcomes is education, training and recreation. The language of the childcare sector, and indeed of children if one listens to them—I gather that the Minister has plenty of time to do that—is enjoy and achieve. Some argued hard for such words to be in that Act. I remember the fervour of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. However, that argument is not about a word but a whole ethos, a whole attitude to children; it is about excellent childcare; it is about whole development; and it is about fun, play, achievement and a good life. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond positively. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children, which has discussed this Bill at some length.
In supporting the amendment, I thank the Minister and the Minister for Children, Beverley Hughes, for the time they have spent considering the appropriateness of "taught" as it applies to young children. I hope for some eventual movement on that. The use of "taught" and "learning and development" were also discussed at some length in another place. I understand that the Minister and the Minister for Children want to ensure rigour in the approach to pre-school education. I cannot agree that the word "taught" in the Bill is the right way to go about it, however.
I said in Committee that "taught" implies to professionals and parents a formal system of education entirely inappropriate to young children. The Early Childhood Forum and member organisations have some serious concerns, and will be responding to the early years foundation stage document, currently out for consultation. Early years practitioners—I was one, once—want to support young children's development and learning, as the amendment states, rather than "teaching", which implies instruction.
I gave the example in Committee of young children and artwork. In art, children have materials to draw and paint, and their imaginations take over. No good practitioner would say "This is how you draw a house"; that is teaching: instruction. Perhaps the Minister could reassure us that there will be, in the final early years foundation stage document, a consistent definition of "teaching"—I will come on to that in a minute—a more extensive section on child development and the important role of free play, a more prominent focus on the "birth to three" aspects, and a reference to the early support programme as guidance for working with young disabled children.
I shall not go into detail, but there are two definitions of what "teaching" might mean in the early years foundation stage document; one in paragraph 3.6 on effective practice, and one in the glossary. There may eventually be some room for manoeuvre on this. There should be a much greater emphasis on child development, as it underpins all work with young children. As regards Birth to Three Matters, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, I, too, wonder why the aspects of development—"a strong child", "a skilful communicator", a "competent learner" and "a healthy child"—have not been given a more prominent role. It is excellent that these considerations have been made about young disabled people, and I thank the Minister for that.
In short, this is a simple but sensible amendment, which would clarify the approach to development of young children and their learning. I beg to move.
My Lords, anyone who listened to "The Learning Curve" on Radio 4 in the past two weeks will have been struck by the difference between the approach to childcare in Sweden and that in the UK. In Sweden, there is no formal curriculum, and children play, socialise and learn to become well integrated young people.
Childhood is so precious, we should do everything we can to preserve its spark and spontaneity. I listened to what the Minister and the Minister for Children, Beverley Hughes, said when we met last week. We took the opportunity to discuss with Bernadette Duffy and Ruth Pimentel the early years foundation stage. I understand why the Ministers wanted us to talk to them: they were professional, approachable, charming and full of enthusiasm. We are lucky to have such people working with our young children. However, I genuinely believe that all they wish to accomplish will not crumble if this amendment is accepted. The word "taught" is too prescriptive and gives the wrong impression. I fully support its removal from the Bill.
My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. The word "taught" indicates to some a didactic practice that is quite inappropriate for young children. The Minister had a bit of fun with me in Grand Committee, saying that I wanted more teachers yet I wanted to remove the word "taught", and that perhaps I wanted to re-name teachers. As I think I said to him, I want to re-name them early years specialist teachers. Those early years specialist teachers know that "taught" is completely the wrong word. In fact, such highly trained people should be leading learning in early years settings, not just children's learning but also that of the other professionals in the setting, particularly those with fewer qualifications than they have. That is the approach we all want to see and what I hope the Minister will accept in this amendment.
My Lords, I thought the significant part of what the noble Baroness has just said is that, although she proposes to re-name these professionals, she still wishes to retain the word "teachers". She wishes them to be called early years specialist "teachers". I latch on to that word because the reason my right honourable friend the Minister for Children is so concerned about this issue is precisely to underpin the professional status of those who engage in this sector of our children's workforce to ensure that it has the proper professional recognition it deserves. The word "taught" already appears in statute; the 2002 Act already uses the phrase in respect of three to five year-olds. We are simply re-enacting that provision word for word and extending it across the under-fives age range. It is not a new provision, and it has not had the deleterious consequences feared.
There is nothing that the Government like less—I personally dislike to do it—than to disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, let alone my noble friend Lady Massey. I do so with all humility because I completely share the objectives they wish to see encompassed. My response is in two parts. We are certainly happy to look again at the consultation on the early years foundation stage and the incorporation of the Birth to Three Matters objectives and materials, referred to both by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, and my noble friend.
The early years foundation stage document, which is out to consultation, is precisely that, a consultation document. We welcome all views submitted on that, and are very content to look at it to see how it can more accurately reflect the approach set out in Birth to Three Matters, if there are concerns that it does not sufficiently do so. In the early years foundation stage consultation, the draft areas of learning and development include all the Birth to Three Matters materials, from development matters, from Look, Listen, Note and from the practice sections of Birth to Three Matters. But we are always alive to the advantages of seeking to improve our documentation, and we will certainly look at that.
On the word "taught", I do not believe we are as far apart as one might think from listening to this debate and that in the Grand Committee. On page 134, the glossary in the early years foundation stage consultation document defines teaching very clearly:
"The role of the practitioner includes establishing relationships with children and their parents, planning the learning environment and curriculum, supporting and extending children's play, development and learning, and assessing children's achievements and planning their next steps".
The word "teaching" is used to include all those aspects of their role, including, I stress,
"supporting and extending children's play".
That is set out at length on pages 23 to 24. My noble friend suggested that there might be some inconsistency. We do not believe that there is any inconsistency in the definitions; it is simply that pages 23 and 24 set out at greater length what practices we expect early years practitioners to take forward. On page 23 it says:
"Teaching means systematically helping children to learn so that they are helped to make connections in their learning and are actively led forward, as well as helped to reflect on what they have already learnt".
"Teaching has many aspects, including planning and creating a learning environment; organising time and material resources; interacting, questioning and responding to questions; working with and observing children; assessing and recording children's progress and sharing knowledge gained with other practitioners and parents".
That is all in fulfilment of the principles underpinning the early years foundation stage, which are set out at the beginning of the document. It states that the principles should include the recognition that learning through play and the development of imagination and creativity is a shared endeavour, some of it led by the child and some of it by an effective practitioner. There is a substantial section in that document on the importance of learning through play and play-based activities and of nurturing the creativity of children.
That is the context in which early years professionals will interpret the wording of the Bill. We believe that the objectives set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, and my noble friend Lady Massey are met.
We have already met the Early Childhood Forum and had helpful discussions with it on the issue. Now that the early years foundation stage consultation document has been published, the forum is keen to focus the debate on the content of that document and get the detailed requirements right. So are we. It has raised a number of areas for further work, such as a more extensive section on child development, the important role of free play and giving Birth to Three Matters aspects more prominence. As I said, we are happy to provide assurances that we will seriously consider those issues in developing the framework further.
I should add that we will also be producing a CD-ROM to support delivery at the early years foundation stage. Those issues will be addressed more fully in that, including the central importance of play in the development of children.
The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, referred to Bernadette Duffy, the head of the Thomas Coram family centre in Camden and an outstanding early years practitioner. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, brought her to see me so that we could discuss precisely such issues and wider issues about training of the early years workforce. In correspondence with us, Bernadette Duffy said:
"all children learn and develop in different ways and the Early Years Foundation Stage will be crucial in ensuring that individual needs are met. Part of this will include teaching children, helping them to learn—but it's quite an insult to early years practitioners, all of whom already teach children, to assume that it will be rigid, formal or dull . . . it's widely understood that parents are their children's first teachers, from birth, and we often hear parents say that they've taught their children 3 more words, or taught them to walk. One definition of teach is to show by example and it is this definition that we use in the early years. Not instructing in a formal rigid way but engaging and interacting with children, introducing them to new ideas and encouraging their well being. The definition of 'teaching' in the draft EYFS just continues that theme".
Those are not my words; they are the words of an outstanding early years practitioner with whom we have worked closely in this area. It is precisely for those reasons—to sustain the professional status of those who work in this area, but to do so in the context of the early years foundation stage, which we have published, and which I have cited at length—that we believe that our position is entirely reasonable and I hope that the noble Baroness will not feel that she must press the amendment.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses who have taken part in this short debate. What has really startled me in the Minister's response is the suggestion that early years practitioners will gain status only if they gain the status of teachers. That underlines what the whole debate is about. It is about the value of those who work in social care and are prepared to be accepted as such. I have never suggested that any of those people are rigid or formal. Indeed, I know the Coram centre well and I think that it works on wonderful lines; I praise it.
It is a pity that those workers will have to comply with the Government and feel that they are professional only if they are teachers. We have only to return to the beginning of our debate this afternoon to know how important language is. If the phrase "poorly performing children" can emanate from the department, that underlines for me how important it is that we get the language right now. For me, "taught" is a very different ethos from "development" and "learning". For that reason, I regret that I feel that I must test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I have to inform the House that in the first Division today the numbers voting Content were 147, not 148 as announced. Therefore there was an equality of votes, with 147 in each Lobby. In accordance with Standing Order 57, which provides that no proposal to amend a Bill in the form in which it is before the House shall be agreed to unless there is a majority in favour of such an amendment, I declare Amendment No. 9 disagreed to.
My Lords, we come to Clause 46, which concerns exemptions from the early years foundation stage. The purpose of the Amendments Nos. 33 and 34 is to probe further the exemptions from that stage, both for providers of education—Amendment No. 33—and for particular young children—Amendment No. 34.
These exemptions have already been discussed at considerable length in debate in the other place and in Grand Committee in this House. In response to amendments that we brought forward on the previous occasion, the Minister made it clear that exemptions were exceptional. But he also said:
"Without the clause"—
"we believe there would be a legitimate concern that we were imposing an inflexible one-size-fits-all framework on families from all types of backgrounds and all types of religious and other beliefs, with no potential for taking account of an individual or local exceptional circumstance".
The Minister reiterated what had been said in the other place—namely, that for providers any exemptions or modifications would be exceptional and for a very limited period to allow a provider to improve standards and meet full requirements.
As regards individual children, he made it clear that, again, opt-outs would be allowed only in exceptional circumstances but that,
"it is difficult to foresee every circumstance that might arise".
"Our intention is . . . to produce sensible legislation with an appropriate degree of flexibility to enable settings to respond to exceptional circumstances".—[Official Report, 4/5/06; col. GC 343.]
In relation to the individual child, he made it clear that this would apply only at the request of parents and would not open a gateway for providers to bar, for example, children with disabilities.
On Amendment No. 33, which relates to providers of early years education, the Minister made it clear that the exception would apply only for a strictly limited period of time. While we do not want to see small local providers being forced to close, there must be a very clear message to local authorities that provision in their areas should meet quality requirements. In particular, given that the early years foundation stage will not come into force until September 2008, there should be plenty of time for local authorities and providers to plan for transition. Can the Minister therefore give us assurances that a clear message will be given to all providers that unless, like the Steiner schools, they negotiate a special exemption from some parts of the early years foundation stage to meet their educational philosophy, they will be expected to be delivering the early years foundation stage from September 2008? Will he also assure us that exemptions will be time-limited and will not, in general, be given to settings which establish themselves as providers after September 2008?
On Amendment No. 34, which relates to individuals and specific individual children, my noble friend Lady Walmsley responded to the Minister that if exemptions in relation to individual children were to be made only in response to specific requests from parents, why did the Bill not say so? The Minister at that stage promised to consider the point further. I do not believe that he has written to my noble friend about the issue, and we should be grateful to know whether he has had any further thoughts on it. It seems logical that such a restriction should be on the face of the Bill if it is meant. Indeed, our new amendment suggests precisely that change. In particular, we are looking for assurances from the Minister that exceptions in relation to individual children will come only in response to a proactive request by the parent or the person with parental responsibility and not just when there has been parental consent; that the early years foundation stage is being developed to be fully inclusive and that Clause 46(2) cannot be used as a backdoor escape route for exemption on the grounds of disability, special educational needs or English as a foreign language; and that the use of exemptions, for providers and individuals, will be monitored to make sure that they do not disproportionately affect one particular type of child. I beg to move.
My Lords, the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp of Guildford, are of great concern to the NCB and the Early Childhood Forum, which do not want these provisions in the Bill. I have sympathy with that view; a parent's wish must be considered, especially in the early years of a child's life. But I also understand what the Government are trying to do. Providers need to come to terms with complex issues that they may not have been involved with before. I hope that the Minister will reiterate his assurances regarding the regulations and full consultation.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, has raised important issues and I am glad again to put it on the record that we envisage that these powers will be used only rarely and in exceptional circumstances. In response to the concerns raised in Grand Committee under Clause 46(1), I should make it clear that the power to exempt will not be used to allow providers to drag their feet in meeting the requirements of the early years foundation stage. It will certainly not act as a get-out clause for providers who simply do not wish to provide quality early years provision. It will provide flexibility to exempt, in exceptional circumstances and for a certain period, providers that face genuine initial challenges in delivering new requirements.
I can also reassure the noble Baroness that exemptions under Clause 46(1) will not be used to allow newly registered providers to fail to meet or deliver the early years foundation stage requirements. From April 2008, it will be a requirement, on registering as a provider of childcare for children from birth to five, to demonstrate an ability to deliver the early years foundation stage and to be able to meet the early years foundation stage requirements in their entirety. I hope that those assurances meet the first points raised by the noble Baroness.
Turning to Amendment No. 34, we completely understand the concerns that a child might be exempted inappropriately. Clause 46(2) states:
"Regulations may enable an early years provider, in prescribed circumstances".
I am happy to put on record that, when we make those regulations, we will make clear that parental consent is acquired before any exemption or modification can be applied.
The noble Baroness went a stage further in asking whether such consent should be only in respect of specific requests that parents have made. I will look further at that issue. We had not thought about it in those terms—about who initiates the process. I will reply to her about that because we need to address that perfectly valid point. I can assure her that the regulations that are laid under Clause 46(2) will ensure that parental consent is acquired before any exemption or modification can be applied. We will also make explicit in those regulations that it will not be acceptable for children to be exempted on the grounds of their special educational needs or disability or because they are learning English as an additional language. The early years foundation stage is more than sufficiently flexible to accommodate all those considerations without the need for an exemption. Exemptions will be in the sorts of cases that I set out at greater length in Grand Committee. On the basis of those assurances, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendments.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his positive response, particularly in relation to Amendment No. 33. We are satisfied with his assurances on that amendment. I would be grateful if he would look at Amendment No. 34 a little further because, as he will recognise, there is a difference. Parents may be pushed to give their consent by the provider because the provider is not particularly happy to provide a service for the child. They may be pushed into a situation in which they give their consent perhaps not having proactively asked for it. We are anxious that the exemption should be made only when the parents have proactively asked for one. We do not want to encourage parents to exempt their children, but there will be some occasions when, for one reason or another, they wish to do so.
The other point that the Minister did not respond to is the question of the monitoring of these exemptions. Since they are putting considerable emphasis on exemptions being exceptional, I take it that, over the course of time, they will be monitored. Perhaps the Minister might write to me on that issue. With those assurances I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 36:
Page 51, line 25, at end insert—
"( ) No information collected under this section may be kept for longer than one year after the child has left early years provisions."
My Lords, I retabled these amendments as we did not have time to discuss them in Grand Committee and I warn your Lordships that they will be like wading through treacle. I will try to get through them as quickly as I can. They question the Government on the details and intentions regarding Clause 99 and subsequently touch on similar provisions made by Clause 101 regarding the provision of information in Wales and the transitory provisions in Clause 100.
These clauses were added as new clauses in the final stages of the Bill in the other place and have as such received little scrutiny, particularly as our colleagues in the other place had little warning of their appearance and thus little time to prepare to address them in the guillotined debating time. The debate did however highlight significant concerns about the wide-reaching nature of the provisions.
I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for providing information during Committee regarding these clauses, as promised in the other House, which came to us over the Easter Recess. I am sure that that will help to inform the debate that we are about to have.
The Explanatory Notes tell us that Clause 99,
"regulations to make provision requiring all registered early years providers, and school-based providers who are exempted from registration requirements by clause 34(2), to provide individual child information to the Secretary of State or any prescribed person. The intention is to prescribe local authorities . . . The clause also makes provision for the disclosure of individual child information by the Secretary of State, an information collator and other persons holding individual child information. An information collator is an organisation collating data on behalf of the Government".
My Amendment No. 36 would ensure that individual child data under this clause may not be kept for longer than one year after the child has left early years provision. Amendment No. 37 aims at protecting the rights of the individual by preventing the transfer of information to other countries that do not have adequate protection for the rights and freedoms of the data subject. These two amendments address concerns regarding data collection and the use of that data with regard to the human rights legislation and the Data Protection Act. Amendment No. 38 is a sunrise clause, preventing regulations being made under the clause until the trials of the index-sharing database have been completed and reported on.
The NCB, the All-Party Group on Children and the Early Childhood Forum have all asked for clarification on these new clauses. While I understand the reasons for which the DfES would like the data collected, it does raise many unanswered questions. They, like us, would like to know in advance exactly who the Government will prescribe to collect and share this individual data and an exact list of the data that is permitted to be collected. The Minister's note expanded a little on the fact that it will be local authorities and relevant schools, but did not shed much light on the information collators working on behalf of the Government regarding data processing. For example, will this include the workers on the national identity register and the ID cards scheme, on which we had long debates in this House? After all, they could in the words of the Minister for Children, Beverley Hughes, fall under,
"anyone who has the right to collate information on behalf of Government".—[Hansard, Commons, 9/3/06; col. 978.]
I believe that the link with the NIR is important in both practice and principle—first, because in the other place there was debate about whether medical records would be included as part of the individual data collected. We believe that they should not be so. In fact, we fought on this issue, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in the debates on what became the Children Act 2004, and it is a safeguard that we believe should be upheld. Can the Minister confirm whether medical records will be held under the proposed system? Then again, we were told that medical records would not be held on the NIR, yet the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office is now on record as saying that they will be if the two systems link up. This is a significant point.
Not only that, but the Written Statement of
On the issue of who is handling the information, will the Minister confirm what training they will have and what checks they will undergo? Will they all be subject to CRB checks and undergo safeguard training? It is vital that we do not unwittingly provide a resource of children's whereabouts to paedophiles.
Will the Minister make a commitment that the regulations will adhere to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 16 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which provide for the protection of privacy? We welcome the provisions in the clause that prohibit the publishing of any information received by or under it in any form that includes the name of the child or children to whom it relates. But what steps will be taken to ensure that the child in question may not be identified by other associations in the information provided? Indeed, what protection will be provided of the list of names behind the numbers?
That is part of the reason why I believe the information should not be kept beyond a year after the child finishes their involvement in the early years foundation stage. In fact, why should it? The local authority will no longer need to check its entitlement regarding free places once the child has left. I hope the Minister can also clarify in detail—and if he cannot do so tonight, I am more than happy for him to write to me and other noble Lords—that the powers under this clause will adhere to the eight data protection principles under the Data Protection Act, which state that personal data must be kept no longer than necessary, kept up to date, processed fairly and lawfully, be adequate, be relevant for purpose but not excessive, kept safe and secure and processed only for lawful and specified purposes and in accordance with the data subject's rights. Importantly, it should not be transferred to other countries that do not have the same level of protection.
The last point is the reason for Amendment No. 37. I am hoping the Minister can clarify if information collected under these clauses could be shared under the data-sharing agreements we have with other countries in the EU or the USA, and, if so, if this is with or without the individual's permission.
If, as the data protection allows, a parent or child would like to access any information kept on them, what is the process by which they could apply and challenge any inaccuracies in the relevant file? Can the Minister provide us with a clear and detailed definition of what "child information" is likely to amount to? One of the Government's aims for this data is to support local authorities in the fulfilment of their duties to improve children's outcomes. What data will be needed for that? I remind your Lordships of the debate we had on league tables, when we discussed Clause 41 in Grand Committee.
The Government's other reasoning behind the collection of individual child data is that it is essential to ensure that funding for children receiving early years provision is properly allocated. This is a laudable and sensible aim. Will the Minister provide the House with the current estimates on the double counting that goes on at the moment with regard to free entitlement, and the amount of money involved? How will the data collection work, for example, for children whose parents are separated or divorced, and therefore may spend different periods of time in different local authority areas, receiving childcare in each? Who will get the free entitlement, and how will it be worked out?
Finally, I turn to Amendment No. 38. I thank the Minister for his clear note on the differences between the information-sharing index database and the proposed information collection under these clauses. I agree that one is intended primarily to be a tool for practitioners working together and the other is for data collection at a strategic level. While the information may be used in different ways, the practicalities, such as the testing of data collection and the current accuracy, quality and feasibility of collecting and managing the data, are issues that are shared across both proposed information-gathering systems.
The information-sharing index trial, as the Minister informed us on
"enable us to assess how disparities in the way in which data sources record each item can most efficiently be overcome, so that data from different sources on the same child can be brought together or matched accordingly".
This issue will be relevant in both schemes as different local authorities collect and store different sets of data in varying ways. Both sets of regulations will require local authorities to comply with the request of the Secretary of State,
"to supply, from their existing sources systems, basic child information".—[Hansard, 20/03/06; col. 81.]
Both regulations aim to provide safeguards against the collection and processing of disproportionate amounts of information, and we have been told that they will include stringent security and safeguarding measures.
These practicalities are the same for both proposed systems. I therefore suggest that rather than try to implement full-scale data collection under these clauses at the same time as trials for the SI scheme, the Government should wait for the outcomes of the trial and then use the practical lessons learnt before collecting information under the Bill. This would save time, money and duplicated effort on both systems. Surely the SI trial will only aid with what paragraph 18 in the paper on this issue describes as the "next steps", in that the department needs to carry out analysis of how to collect information from all registered early years providers and how that can be done with minimal burden to local authorities and individual providers. To my mind, these are issues that the Government should be clearer on before asking us to pass enabling legislation. In effect, we are signing a blank page, as we do not know the exact details of what we are enabling.
Briefly on the Welsh issue, I would like to know whether there will be a joined-up approach for families that use provisions in both Wales and England. Who will be responsible for co-ordinating that information, and how will that work? The proposed Welsh foundation stage may cover a different age range of three to seven years rather than the nought to five years proposed here.
I thank your Lordships very much for showing patience in listening to the long-winded reasoning behind my amendments. The length that I have had to take only goes to show the number of unanswered questions and concerns that remain. This Government do not have a particularly good track record in the use of databases and data collection, and I would hate these provisions to add to that. I beg to move.
My Lords, if the Government thought that by putting these provisions right at the end of the Bill they would escape serious scrutiny, they had obviously reckoned without the assiduousness of the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, who now inherits the crown for such assiduousness from her two illustrious colleagues who had the education brief and who are deceased.
As Liberals, we on these Benches are constitutionally opposed to keeping lots of information about people, particularly if they do not know what it is, who has it, whether it is correct, whether it is being passed on and to whom, and so on. I am rather worried about these provisions, and I would certainly like to have replies to the many questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, which I do not intend to repeat. The whole thing strikes me as a sort of baby national identity register and a precursor of a baby ID card—a BID card. Perhaps it should be made in China out of green plastic and play a little tune when you pick it up. Perhaps we should have an individual tune for each child.
Seriously though, this is information about children, and we have no assurances yet about who will get it, what it will be used for or whether it can be passed on to other countries. I hope that the Minister can answer all the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, and perhaps more.
My Lords, I cannot undertake to answer all the noble Baroness's questions now, not least because I was not even capable of writing them all down given the speed at which she read them all out. If I do not know what the questions are sufficiently to answer them, I hope that she will forgive me, but I have answers to a number of them and will send her a full letter that I hope will leave not one of them unanswered. I shall personally ensure that we seek to meet all her points. I appreciate the genuine passion that she brings to the issue. I want to see a surveillance state created through a way in which material is collected that will infringe individual civil liberties no more than her or the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. Our sole purpose in drafting Clause 99 is to enhance the quality of the provision that we are capable of making for children; it is not in any way to infringe individual human rights.
I shall deal with some of the specific questions that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, asked. Will parental consent be required before information is held by a provider and collected under the new power? As the information is being disclosed under a statutory duty, formal parental consent is not required. However, providers will need to send out a fair processing notice to inform parents of which information about the child will be collected, why, and how it will be used.
Why is there a problem with double counting? We know from the central, pupil-led data-collection exercises that some children are recorded twice. That can happen when children move school and are not removed from their old school's records, for example. It can happen with early years providers too; in the absence of pupil-led data, we do not know how prevalent it is among them. But there is a further issue in respect of early years providers. For example, it is possible for a three year-old child to attend two settings, which does not happen in schools, and be properly recorded at each. In the absence of individual child-level data of the kind that we can collect under Clause 99, it would be possible for that child to be funded for more than five sessions.
How do we plan to include those handling Clause 99 information under the vetting procedures in the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill, which some of us have had long and detailed experience of debating in recent weeks? We intend to move yet another amendment to that Bill to capture those with access to the information collected under Clauses 99 to 101 of this Bill in the category of controlled activity in relation to children. Those who have been debating that know what "controlled activity" means; I will not detain the House to explain it to other noble Lords, but it meets the concern that the noble Baroness has raised. We also intend to issue guidance under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Bill to the effect that a person who falls within the category must be checked against the children's barred list. That will mean that all those with access to individual child-level information collected under these provisions, whether they be local authority staff, central government staff or staff in an information collator, will need to have a check against that list carried out.
Are we explicitly ruling out the collection of information on medical records? We have no intention of collecting medical records under the power. I state that clearly for the record. The regulations will not make provision for medical records to be provided. Providers would in any case be unlikely to hold medical records. This Bill will allow only the collection of information held by registered providers. It will not enable us to collect information from other bodies.
We will carry out a full consultation and impact assessment on how the information-collection provisions will work in practice and what information we will want to collect from providers. However, it is likely to include similar information to that already collected through PLASC, such as child's name, date of birth, address, gender and ethnicity, and hours of attendance, type of setting and foundation-stage profile data, which are currently collected at an aggregate level through other surveys. The provisions will simplify and improve current data-collection processes, reducing burdens on local authorities.
It is extremely important that individual-level information collected under the clauses is properly used and protected. A number of safeguards are already in place to ensure that that happens. Clause 99(7) expressly prohibits the publication of information in a form that names individual children. All persons involved in the collection and analysis of data, including the central departments, local authorities and any other prescribed persons, will be bound by the requirements set out in the Data Protection Acts. The handling of the information will therefore have to comply with the eight principles of good practice, as is required. That includes principle 5, that data will not be kept longer than necessary, and principle 8, that they will not be transferred to countries outside the European economic area unless the country has adequate protection for the individual.
Amendment No. 36 would prevent any person holding information collected under this provision keeping that information for more than a year. We do not support this amendment because we believe it would severely restrict the potential benefits that information collected under this clause could bring, particularly in informing local and central government policies on improving outcomes and reducing inequalities. It would, for example, prevent local authorities from analysing the longer-term impact of different types of early years provision on particular groups of children, especially those with poor outcomes. We therefore do not wish to accept the amendment. However, I can reassure the noble Baroness that the implementation of these powers will comply fully with the Data Protection Act obligation to ensure that data are not kept any longer than necessary.
Amendment No. 37 deals with the transfer of information to other countries. I assure noble Lords that it is not the Government's intention to share this information with countries outside the UK. However, should there be a good reason to make information available to other countries—for example, to research international comparisons—the information would not be in a form that would include the names of individuals. Within the UK, however, given that Clause 99 relates to England only, there may be circumstances in which it would be sensible to share information—for example, when a family moves between an English and a Scottish or Welsh authority, or a family lives in England but takes up early years provision across the border in Wales or in Scotland. Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are all covered by the Data Protection Act requirements in their use and release of such information.
The Data Protection Act also includes the following specific provision:
"Personal data shall not be transferred to a country or territory outside the European Economic Area unless that country or territory ensures an adequate level of protection for the rights and freedoms of data subjects in relation to the processing of personal data".
We would, of course, ensure compliance with that provision.
Finally, on Amendment No. 38, we are in complete agreement with the noble Baroness that there must be a proper relationship between the provisions of the Bill and the information-sharing index. I am glad that I can reassure the noble Baronesses that the information-sharing index trials are due to finish this summer, well in advance of the commencement of the relevant provisions in the Bill. There is therefore no need to put the restriction suggested by the noble Baroness on the face of the Bill, that one cannot start until the other is completed.
It may be helpful if I clarify the distinctions between the information-sharing index and the provisions in the Bill. A key aim of the new data collection provisions set out in Clauses 99 to 101 is to ensure the availability of accurate child-level information on children receiving the free entitlement to early years provision in private, voluntary and independent sector settings. The provisions will also allow data to be collected and used at a strategic level in local authorities and in central government, providing an overview of how services are being used across a local authority. By contrast, the information-sharing index is intended to be a tool to help practitioners work together better to meet children's needs and address problems at an early stage, sharing information at ground level. There are two fundamentally different purposes and we see no gain in bringing them together in any respect.
Some common information will be held for both purposes and we are taking that into account in planning how information will be collected from providers. However, while there is overlap in some of the basic data held under both powers, it will be used in quite different ways. The information-sharing index will be used by individual practitioners involved in providing services for individual children, whereas data collected under Clause 99, although collected from records about individual children, will be used as a total set of data by managers and policy planners at strategic levels in local authorities and central government to allocate funding, plan delivery, monitor performance and inform research and policy development for the future. The individual-level data will not be made available to practitioners or to anyone else. For these purposes, the identity of each child is irrelevant for the purposes of the information provided under Clause 99 beyond the need to be able to allocate an identifier which will allow data from different sources to be collated and analysed; for example to identify individual children using more than one early years provider.
In summary, I hope I have reassured the noble Baroness that appropriate safeguards are in place to ensure that the information provided under Clause 99 is used properly. I know that I have answered only a fraction of her questions and I will answer the remainder in writing.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response and look forward to receiving answers to all my detailed questions. He said that the Government have no intention of keeping medical records. However, I should have been much happier if he had said, "This will not happen". I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for her support. I can think of no greater compliment than to be awarded the mantle of Lady Blatch. As for the BID cards, they are a very good idea. However, if each child had their own tune, we would be able to identify who they were. So we could not do that.
I shall not try the patience of your Lordships' House any further—we have spent a lot of time on this already—other than to say that, like the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, my philosophy remains the same. I just do not like all this collection of information on our children. We run the risk that they will be the most recorded and watched of all our citizens. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 39:
Page 60, line 2, at end insert—
"Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 (c. 42)
Adoption Act 1976
Functions continuing to be exercisable by virtue of any transitional or saving provision made by or under the Adoption and Children Act 2002.""
My Lords, this amendment and those grouped with it are minor drafting amendments. Amendment No. 39 is a technical amendment to reinstate, as local authority social services functions, certain functions relating to the keeping of adoption records. The amendment corrects an unintended consequence of a commencement order for the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which in effect removed these functions from the list of social services functions in Schedule 1 to the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970—a dropped stitch, as the civil servant put it.
Local authorities' functions in respect of these records remain in place but they are no longer social services functions within the meaning of the 1970 Act. This has a knock-on effect on, for example, the powers of the Commission for Social Care Inspection to inspect local authorities' discharge of their functions under the 1983 regulations.
Amendment No. 39 reinstates the position as it was before the commencement of the 2002 Act at the end of December 2005. The amendment reinstates a reference to the Adoption Act 1976 in Schedule 1 to the 1970 Act so that surviving functions under the 1976 Act are social services functions. Amendments Nos. 43 and 44 make consequential amendments to Clauses 109 and 110 to bring Amendment No. 39 into effect from the date of Royal Assent.
Amendments Nos. 40, 41 and 42 correct the drafting in Schedule 3. Schedule 3 lists repeals to previous Acts and should reflect Schedule 2 amendments that remove wording from other Acts. The three repeals listed were accidentally left out of Schedule 3 and these amendments correct this drafting. I hope that noble Lords will agree that these small but important amendments can be made to the Bill. I beg to move.
moved Amendments Nos. 40 to 42:
Page 70, line 12, column 2 at beginning insert—
|"In the heading of Part 10A omit "England and"."|
Page 70, line 23, column 2 leave out "In Schedule 9A, paragraph 8(1)" and insert—
In Schedule 9A—(a) in paragraph 1(1)(c), the words "the Secretary of State or", and—(b) paragraph 8(1)."
Page 70, line 31, column 2 at end insert—
(za) paragraph 2(1)(a);"
On Question, amendments agreed to.
Clause 109 [Commencement]:
moved Amendment No. 43:
Page 56, line 2, leave out subsection (1) and insert—
"(1) The following provisions come into force on the day on which this Act is passed— this section, sections 104 to 108, sections 110 and 111, and paragraph A1 of Schedule 2 (and section 103(1) so far as relating to that paragraph)."
On Question, amendment agreed to.
Clause 110 [The appropriate authority by whom commencement order is made]:
moved Amendment No. 44:
Page 56, line 22, after "Schedule" insert "to which section 109(2) applies"
On Question, amendment agreed to.
My Lords, perhaps I may point out that, as the Unstarred Question of the noble Baroness, Lady Neuberger, is now the last business today, the time limit will be 90 not 60 minutes and the limit for Back-Bench contributions is therefore increased to 10 minutes.