Childcare Bill

– in the House of Lords at 3:17 pm on 26th June 2006.

Alert me about debates like this

Votes in this debate

Read a third time.

Clause 3 [Specific duties of local authority in relation to early childhood services]:

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools) 3:19 pm, 26th June 2006

moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 3, line 13, at end insert—

"(4A) In discharging their duties under this section, an English local authority must have regard to such information about the views of young children as is available to the local authority and appears to them to be relevant to the discharge of those duties."

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, this government amendment requires local authorities to have regard to information about the views of young children when carrying out their duties under Clause 3 to develop early childhood services. We debated this issue at length in Grand Committee and again on Report. The Government have listened to the arguments of many noble Lords on all sides of the House, but particularly to those of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who has taken a keen interest in this matter. We are completely at one on the objective to promote the voice of the child. I am delighted that we have been able to frame a suitable amendment for noble Lords' consideration.

As I made clear in Grand Committee and on Report, the Government are committed to ensuring that the voices of even our youngest children are heard and are taken into account. It has always been our intention that statutory guidance should carry forward and build on the precedent already set by the current children's centre practice guidance, which sets out ways to explore what young children really think about their settings.

The amendment enables us to go further. As the House knows, our concern was to do this in a workable way. I am pleased to say that, following discussions between my department and the National Children's Bureau, we believe that with this amendment we have found an effective way forward. The amendment requires local authorities to have regard to information about the views of young children where that is relevant in carrying out their duties under Clause 3. It will encompass all aspects of the design, delivery and development of early childhood services. However, by drafting the requirement in this way, we avoid the risk that local authorities will be compelled to try to engage young children on matters where meaningful consultation is simply not possible.

I believe that this amendment strikes the right balance. We all know how easy it is for adults to make faulty assumptions about what is important to young children and what they feel. However, we also recognise that young children are much less likely to be able to understand and have views about the implications of strategic planning decisions—for example, how Jobcentre Plus or NHS services can most effectively be integrated within the delivery of early childhood services across the whole local authority area.

In seeking to ascertain the views of young children, local authorities may undertake their own surveys or research, or they may use existing mechanisms—for example, the Listening as a way of life series of leaflets published by the NCB on behalf of Sure Start. Other voluntary organisations also have significant experience in this area and will be able to help to take this forward. I hope that the House will welcome this amendment, which is very much a response to our earlier debates on the Bill. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Education & Children), Education & Skills

My Lords, certainly for my part—and, I hope, on behalf of all noble Lords who have been pressing for this—I thank the Minister for listening and for his lengthy consultations with the NCB. The amendment will serve everyone's purpose and will not put unreasonable duties on local authorities. I very much welcome his confirmation that local authorities will be able to do their own research, rather than just relying on research done by other people, and his commendation of the Listening as a way of life practice developed by the NCB for Sure Start.

I hope that the guidance will encourage local authorities to realise that there are very few areas where it would be inappropriate to consult even very young children. If they try it, they will find that they like it and that it is a very worthwhile exercise. I thank the Minister for this. It will make a big difference to the way in which local authorities view consulting young people.

Photo of Baroness Massey of Darwen Baroness Massey of Darwen Labour

My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for his assiduity in securing this amendment and for listening so well to all the concerns. I very much welcome the amendment. It will please a great number of people, including the very many children's organisations that have worked over many years in support of the voice of the child and the views of young people. The Government have established a good reputation for encouraging listening to young people. For example, the views of young people were paramount in Every Child Matters, which has ended up being a very good document that will be useful to us all for years. Listening to the voice of the child and the young person strengthens legislation, policy and all our work with children. Again, I thank the Minister for taking that into account.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Children), Health, Shadow Minister (Women), Trade & Industry

My Lords, from these Benches I, too, thank the Minister for his introduction to the amendment and for his commitment to work towards this following our excellent debates at all stages of the Bill. I am happy that the Government have worked with the National Children's Bureau towards the inclusion of the voice of the child in the Bill. We all agree that there is a fine balance between consulting children and burdening them with decisions beyond their years, but in this amendment we believe that the Government have struck the right one.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, I certainly join everyone else in congratulating the Government on having responded so effectively. However, can the Minister give me a little reassurance on a question that I asked last week: will the same powers regarding children be available in the Education and Inspections Bill?

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, in a Delphic passage of my Second Reading speech on the Education and Inspections Bill, I said that issues would be raised by this amendment for that Bill. I meant that, and we are considering the implications. However, the issue is not entirely straightforward. For example, almost all secondary schools and an increasing proportion of primary schools have schools councils, a development that we thoroughly welcome and to which we have given strong encouragement, including in the Education Act 2002. Geoff Whitty, director of the Institute of Education at the University of London, is conducting a review of how we can develop further our guidance in respect of schools councils, so there are other issues which need to be considered that are distinct from those related to provision for the under-fives. However, I recognise that we need to consider the implications of one Bill for the other, and we will do so.

On that basis, I seem to have managed to unite the House at least at the beginning of our proceedings. I hope that that continues throughout our consideration of the later amendments.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 6 [Duty to secure sufficient childcare for working parents]:

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Education & Children), Education & Skills

moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 4, line 22, at end insert—

"( ) must have regard to the quality of childcare provision and its suitability for the communities living in their area, and"

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Education & Children), Education & Skills

My Lords, during the deliberations on this Bill in this House and in another place, we have all agreed that quality is a very important issue. EPPE research has, along with all the other reputable researchers, found incontrovertible evidence that quality childcare is in the child's best interests; poor-quality childcare is not and can even do harm. Several noble Lords tabled a range of amendments seeking to include the word "quality" among the duties being laid on local authorities by this Bill. Clause 6 provides a duty on local authorities to secure sufficient childcare for working parents, and Amendment No. 2 would add to that, so that in doing so local authorities would have to have regard to the quality of childcare provision and its suitability for the communities in their area.

On 12 June, in responding to a similar amendment of mine, and to those of other noble Lords, the Minister confirmed in many of his comments that the Government are seeking to improve quality by ensuring that,

"provisions and levers are in place to ensure that the quality of childcare is not compromised".

He referred to the early years foundation stage, which,

"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".—[Hansard, 12/6/06; col. 39.]

I salute all this, but it seems to cut out the local authority. Clause 11 puts a duty on local authorities to assess childcare provision and, while it does not mention the word "quality", the Minister made it clear at col. 40 that the guidance will require them to assess the quality as well as the quantity of provision. One might think that this assessment should actually come first in the Bill, since you must do an assessment before you are able to see where there are gaps, and then carry out your duty to secure sufficient childcare if there are any gaps in provision.

The Minister relies heavily on Ofsted inspections as a guardian of quality. However, I believe that around 90 per cent of early years settings achieve "satisfactory" or better in their inspection. This must tell us that there is a range of quality above the level of satisfactory. If local authorities have a duty to secure in their areas provision that has "quality" in its description, that must be a driver for them to seek ever better provision. There is a flaw in the logic that requires Ofsted to inspect quality without putting a duty on local authorities to secure it.

The Minister said that my earlier amendment,

"would not only duplicate the existing role of Ofsted . . . 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 around the country".—[Hansard, 12/6/06; col. 39.]

But I am not seeking to remove the duties of Ofsted in this respect, so there is no way that I am seeking to return to the situation before it took over its role. Nor am I seeking to duplicate its role. The Minister cannot have it both ways. I cannot both duplicate it and take it away in one fell swoop.

Instead, I am seeking to ensure that the local authority makes some judgment about the quality of settings in its area during the process of making its assessment of sufficiency. In doing so, it will take into account the views of Ofsted on each of its local settings. It will look at the Ofsted reports. A few of them may not be satisfactory; some of them will be just satisfactory; and some of them will be excellent. Should not the local authority, armed with that information, be seeking to make all of them excellent? Should it not also be consulting parents and children as well as staff in making its own assessment? You cannot ask a local authority to assess quality during its sufficiency survey and then not put a duty on it to secure quality in all the local provision.

The Minister relied on the link between Clauses 6 and 11 and said that,

"only childcare that adheres to the standards for registration by Ofsted will be eligible for tax credits".—[Hansard, 12/6/06; col. 40.]

But not all parents will receive tax credits and the Minister has assured us that provision must also be made for unemployed families. So that argument is not valid, either.

I shall say only a few words about the second part of my amendment. There are many different localities in our country, some of which have a particular ethnic or cultural group represented heavily within them. Children need to have their culture considered in the provision of childcare; that is very important as regards their sense of self. I believe that recognising that on the face of the Bill as an important duty for local authorities will send out the right message to all our communities. Quality is the key to this country moving forward in childcare provision—we all believe that. I believe that as a matter of principle it should be put on the face of the Bill and not only in guidance. It is that important. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Children), Health, Shadow Minister (Women), Trade & Industry 3:30 pm, 26th June 2006

My Lords, I support the amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, we have had long and detailed debates on quality throughout the passage of the Bill. Gillian Pugh, in the book Contemporary Issues in the Early Years, states that the issue of quality has been discussed in every book on early childhood services during the past decade and has to be seen as a complex process rather than a tidy set of outcomes.

However, just because something is complex does not mean that we should shy away from it. In Grand Committee, I attempted to define a measure of quality by referring to a 2004 National Audit Office report that identified the following indicators of quality: adult/child interaction that is responsive, affectionate and readily available; well trained staff who are committed to their work with children; facilities that are safe and sanitary and accessible to parents; ratios and group sizes that allow staff to interact appropriately with children; supervision that maintains consistency; and staff development that ensures continuity, stability and improving quality. In addition, of course, we have Ofsted, which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has covered in detail.

But, whatever measure is used, I find it quite extraordinary that a Government who are always talking about high-quality childcare fail to put the word "quality" anywhere on the face of the Bill. The amendment would do much to allay the fear of many that the provision of sufficient and appropriate childcare by local authorities is in danger of becoming a tick-box activity.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, we are completely at one with the two noble Baronesses on the importance of quality childcare. In fact, the Bill makes explicit provision for that; the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, is quite wrong to suggest that it does not. Clauses 25, 50 and 61 all specifically mention the word "quality" and the structure of the early years foundation stage has quality running all the way through it, so it is not correct to say that quality is not central to what we are seeking to achieve.

Our argument against this amendment, which is why we will continue to resist it, is that there is no point in having one quality regime in place only to duplicate it and have another quality regime running alongside. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, must have misunderstood me when she said that I was seeking to argue on the one hand that there was duplication and on the other that we were taking the role away from Ofsted. I was not for a moment suggesting that we should take the role away from Ofsted; it will stay with Ofsted. That role was given to Ofsted and taken away from local authorities, which had their own separate quality regimes until a few years ago. Therefore, if it stays with Ofsted, it will by definition be duplicated under the amendment.

I am particularly surprised that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, supports the amendment, because we believe that it will impose two quality regimes on providers, which will place a big set of new, additional burdens on them, particularly on private and voluntary sector providers, who may be less well equipped to meet additional burdens than state providers. Yet the noble Baroness says all the time that she is concerned about the degree of burden and the cost of enforcement obligations that we are placing on these providers. We cannot have it both ways. Either we want only the level of bureaucracy and red tape that is essential to maintain quality, or we go down the road of putting superfluous and duplicated obligations on providers, which will add to red tape. Once they are aware of it—they are not aware of it at the moment but they will become only too well aware of it if this regime is put in place—substantial concern will be aroused among the very private and voluntary sector providers about which the noble Baroness claims to be concerned.

So far as quality is concerned, Part 3 of the Bill sets out the requirement on providers caring for children under the age of five to deliver the early years foundation stage. The Early Years Foundation Stage, the consultation document which I have circulated to noble Lords, sets out very clearly the quality standards that we expect all providers to meet and that Ofsted will inspect against. Its opening words in paragraph 1 say that,

"the framework aims to increase coherence, provide a flexible approach to care and learning and raise quality throughout the Early Years Sector".

Ofsted's duties could not be clearer in respect of quality in the Bill. Clause 31 says:

"The Chief Inspector has the general duty of keeping the Secretary of State informed about . . . the quality and standards of regulated early years provision in England".

Clause 50 states that individual reports on early years provision must include a,

"report in writing on . . . the quality and standards of the early years provision", and Clause 61 states that, in respect of reports regarding later years provision,

"the Chief Inspector may make a report in writing", on matters that he considers appropriate, including "the quality and standards" of that provision. Quality is mentioned throughout the Bill directly in those clauses and in the early years foundation stage, which has its force under the Bill.

For provision for children over the age of five, the Ofsted childcare register will also require providers to meet specific quality standards, including qualification levels and adult-to-child ratio requirements. For providers not required to register, the requirements for receiving income from tax credits and the Ofsted endorsement which parents recognise and value will be major incentives in encouraging registration and quality.

In respect of tax credits, Clause 6 requires local authorities to have particular regard to the need to secure sufficient childcare that is eligible for the childcare element of the working tax credit. Childcare will be eligible for tax credits only if it is operating to the standards set by Ofsted. Ofsted will be able to inspect all such provision to ensure that it is meeting those required standards. Furthermore, Clause 13 gives local authorities the powers and duties to provide information, advice and training to any providers or potential providers to help them to improve the quality of their care and meet the set requirements. This will include training on how to deliver the early years foundation stage, health and safety information and advice on how to ensure that care is accessible and inclusive. So if a provider is not delivering the high-quality care that parents expect, the local authority will be able to help them to improve.

Similarly, with reference to the second half of the noble Baroness's amendment, if quality means suitability, Clauses 6 and 11 work together to ensure that the childcare needs of parents are understood and assessed and that action is then taken to meet those needs. By assessing the market through their Clause 11 duty, local authorities will be able to gain a good understanding of the standard of local childcare provision and the views and satisfaction of local parents. They will then be able to use this information to plan and secure sufficient childcare that responds to the needs of parents. As I said repeatedly in Grand Committee and on Report, care will not be deemed sufficient to meet the needs of parents if it is not suitable. By this, we mean suitable for all who need it in a locality, including black and minority ethnic families, disabled children, lower-income families or those who live in rural areas.

We have considered this amendment very carefully, but there is no avoiding the fact that putting this duty on local authorities would inevitably require local authorities to assess the quality of provision, which could well lead to a duplication of the existing role of Ofsted. Worse, it could lead to two different inspection regimes operating on the same providers, which could particularly adversely affect the independent and voluntary sectors. Therefore, we do not feel able to accept the amendment.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Education & Children), Education & Skills

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Can I just clarify one thing? I understood him to say at the beginning of his remarks that my amendment would take away the role of Ofsted. I hope that he is clear about my understanding of that.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Education & Children), Education & Skills

My Lords, I think that on Report the Minister said both, but let us leave that aside for the moment.

The suggestion that local authorities can assess the quantity of childcare without assessing the quality verges on the ridiculous. Without this amendment, the local authorities could do something as simple as saying, "In street A we have 100 places, in street B we have another 100 places, and in street C we have another 100 places, so the total is 300 places"—it could be just a totting-up exercise or a number-crunching exercise. At the very least, the local authority would have to check that each early years setting has a satisfactory Ofsted report. I hope that putting the word "quality" into the Bill, as I am trying to do today, would mean that the local authority would do a good deal more than that—but at the very least, it would have to do that.

The Minister mentioned the private and voluntary sector, which is very much behind this amendment. People from the sector are very anxious that local authorities should understand the need for quality and are very distressed that Ofsted is not to look at the quality assurance programmes that many of them have in place. These are very much the drivers of ongoing improvement in the early years sector.

The word "quality" may appear in some of the later clauses, but it is vital that the concept is more than implicit in all parts of the Bill, especially where we refer to local authorities' duties. It seems inconceivable that local authorities could carry out the duty to assess sufficient childcare without taking quality into consideration. It is very difficult to understand why the Minister does not feel able to accept this amendment, knowing the commitment that he has to improving childcare in this country and the commitment that the Government have put behind it in the form of money. For those reasons, I must test the opinion of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 2) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 117; Not-Contents, 121.

M

Regarding Quality in Early Years and Childcare. I have been an assessor for a government accredited Quality Assurance scheme...

Submitted by Michael Gasper Continue reading

Division number 1 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Childcare Bill

Aye: 115 Members of the House of Lords

No: 119 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 7 [Duty to secure prescribed early years provision free of charge]:

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Children), Health, Shadow Minister (Women), Trade & Industry 3:54 pm, 26th June 2006

moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 5, line 6, at end insert—

"( ) Regulations under this section must allow for private, voluntary and independent providers of childcare to provide 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."

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Children), Health, Shadow Minister (Women), Trade & Industry

My Lords, as I explained in Committee and on Report, this amendment inserts a new subsection into Clause 7 to allow for a degree of flexibility and choice for the private, voluntary and independent sectors 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.

I hope noble Lords will not mind, as this is Third Reading, but I think it important to go right back to the beginning and explain the situation so that we know where we are on the amendment. Originally, free entitlement to nursery provision for three and four year-olds was two and a half hours a day or 12 and a half hours a week for 33 weeks. From April this year, the number has increased to 38 weeks. From April 2007, the minimum free entitlement will be extended to 15 hours a week—three hours a day—with an objective of providing 20 hours a week free by 2010. That free provision is paid for by the nursery grant, but it is widely recognised by the industry that the grant goes nowhere near covering its costs, especially in the south of England, and the situation will only get worse with the extension of free provision.

To help bridge the gap between the money received from the Government and the reality of providing good, high-quality care, it is almost universal practice for providers already to offer three hours a day of care, with two and a half hours free, and then to charge a top-up fee for the extra half hour, which goes some way to covering costs. From April 2007, that will not be allowed, and although providers will receive extra nursery grant for the extra half hour, it will not be enough. Half an hour may not seem a great deal of time, but there are a lot of half hours in 38 weeks.

I explained on Report that some local authorities were requiring private, voluntary and independent providers to extend their weeks from 33 to 38, while others were not enforcing that as long as parents were aware that they were entitled to 38 and that it was available with other providers. I pointed out, and the Minister accepted, that it would be impossible for some providers to extend their number of weeks because of the different types of premises they occupy, often sharing the facilities with other organisations. However, the pressure to conform is increasing.

I was therefore most encouraged when the Minister said:

"The duty to ensure sufficient 38-week places is a duty placed on local authorities, not providers, and 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".

He went on to say:

"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".—[Hansard, 12/6/06; col. 57.]

I was most grateful to the Minister for clarifying that on Report. However, following Report, it became clear to me that although the issue of the number of weeks may have been addressed, the biggest anxiety still remained—the increase in free hours per day from two and a half to three. I had a meeting with the Minister, for which I am most grateful, following which, last Thursday evening, representatives from Montessori met officials from the DfES to discuss the issue. It is a shame that because of our debate on child poverty, which was delayed by a Statement, the Minister did not have the chance to be there. I welcome the fact that the Government are prepared to listen on this issue, although I am not sure that they are hearing the implications of what is being said. The truth is that if small PVI nurseries lose the ability to charge top-up fees and have a degree of flexibility on the increase in the number of hours and weeks proposed for free entitlement, the service that they provide will not be sustainable.

The Government's own figures show that 94 per cent of daycare providers are in the PVI sector. Surely we should nurture that resource, not squeeze and threaten it. But, in a typical case in south London, in a school which has always opened its doors to special needs children, the income from the grant does not even cover the basic staff costs of the nursery school. Rent, insurance, taxation, school equipment, food and drink, transport and trips, administration, accountancy, legal expenses and all profit—some of which is negative for the provider—are all paid out of the top-up fees. Without top-up fees, a precious educational resource will either close or go private and leave partnerships with local authorities. What does that do for parental choice in childcare?

I understand that the message from the meeting was that there was no option but a total extension of free entitlement across the board. But why? If Sure Start centres are to be opened up across the country, they will provide the free entitlement. Why cannot the PVI sector provide the free entitlement and charge the top-up for the rest, as long as it is made clear to parents that there is a choice between the two options? I believe it was also suggested at the meeting that perhaps some way could be found to sustain nurseries that would be hit in such a way. But how would they be sustained—with more public money? Is that not just an extension of the state rather than the proposed working with the private, voluntary and independent sector?

From the new figures I have seen, I am not sure that the department will be so willing to cover the shortfalls in the system that will only increase without top-up fees. I have seen figures that range from £25,000 to £95,000 a year for each setting. I welcome the fact that the department's officials have asked for detailed statistics and have said they will consider the issue. But surely that is doing things the wrong way round. This situation should have been investigated when designing the free entitlement extension, not after the fact or after the Bill.

We have welcomed the Bill in principle and yet many of its details are causing great concern. At a time when morale in the sector should be high, Montessori and other providers are reporting that it is low across the country. Although Montessori brought this issue to our attention and is leading the argument, it is by no means alone. Barbara Isaacs, the head of Montessori in the UK, in a letter to the Minister which was copied to me, asked for local authorities to be able to relax the enforcement of the new system, to allow top-up fees to continue and to allow the nursery grant to be paid on a pro-rated basis depending on the hours and weeks of delivery, which is what our amendment would deliver. She ended her letter with a passionate plea. She said:

"Montessori never sought to standardise or regulate the learning of a young child; she would have utterly recoiled from that philosophy. Montessori taught us to celebrate and enable variety. Please do not let teachers and thousands of children in Montessori schools down by failing to listen to this cry for help and understanding in this, our centenary year".

I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Education & Children), Education & Skills 4:00 pm, 26th June 2006

My Lords, this is a matter of the sustainability of some private and voluntary settings. I have visited more than one setting where the staff have been very distressed about a situation which is already affecting them whereby some families want the full provision now, but cannot afford the top-up fees, and the nurseries are letting them use the facility at their own expense. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, has just clearly explained, the grant does not fully cover the costs.

So long as all children who are entitled to the full provision are able to obtain it somewhere in the local authority area or somewhere appropriate if their parents require it, I see no reason why we should not allow this level of flexibility in order to sustain some very worthwhile settings. I hope that the Minister will think again about this.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, I was very surprised by the noble Baroness's contribution because I thought that she would join us in not wanting to see a two-tier system where there were some settings that people could go to only if they could afford to pay a substantial fee. We are seeking to ensure that free provision is free provision. If we enable this essentially wrecking amendment to be made to the Bill, we will have a two-tier system where the free provision of 15 hours a week, 38 weeks of the year is available to some parents who are able to pay a fee but not to those who are unable to pay where a fee is imposed for some elements of that free provision. We on this side of the House stick by our commitment that the provision should be free.

We are working with the private and voluntary sectors to deal with all the issues that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, raised, but we see a fundamental point of principle here. We have given a commitment that the provision should be free for up to 15 hours a week, 38 weeks of the year in settings which offer that level of provision. But we are not prepared to see a dual regime of free provision in some settings and top-up fees in others, which may be precisely the settings which are most relevant and accessible to parents who cannot afford to pay the fees. So I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, who I thought was with us on this issue, does not allow charging to be introduced into the Bill, as we believe that that would go to the heart of the regime for an increased free entitlement for all parents in the country.

We recognise that there is a duty on the state to see that this system is properly funded. We have put a substantial sum of money into extending the provision to 38 weeks a year, and we have given a firm commitment in the comprehensive spending review that we will look at how we raise it to 15 hours a week. That will be done over a number of years; this is not, in any case, an immediate reform. The Pathfinder authorities are also looking at precisely this issue of sustainability.

If we allow two different regimes to be established, let us be absolutely clear that we will not be talking about a free entitlement to provision for 15 hours a week, 38 weeks of the year but about a two-tier system whereby the wealthy will be able to get into some settings and the free entitlement will be restricted to other settings. That would go against the fundamental principle of what we have been seeking to achieve—that is, a substantial and increased level of universal provision. We do not find that an acceptable situation, so we will continue to resist the amendment.

None the less, it is a matter for providers to decide what they charge for hours outside the free entitlement. There is nothing to stop a provider deciding to charge over and above that free entitlement and, once this regime is fully in place, it will be entirely free to do so over the 38 weeks and over the 15 hours. Providers that offer some element of the entitlement that we are describing as free must be prepared to offer it all if they are open for the 15 hours a week, 38 weeks of the year.

There is no requirement on providers to do that—they are entirely free to operate outside the state-subsidised system. If they wish to go entirely private, they can do so, but they cannot claim to offer a free entitlement when in fact they are offering only part of it and are therefore disadvantaging the very parents who are most vulnerable, who will not be able to pay the fees and who may well be faced in their localities with providers that will not offer the 38 weeks and the 15 hours but will do so only if parents are prepared to pay what could be, in many cases, a substantial fee.

We are absolutely at one with the need for flexibility in allowing suppliers to open for fewer than 38 hours a week, particularly at the beginning of the phased introduction of the longer entitlement. We are certainly prepared to accept flexibility. We are also working on the Pathfinder projects at the moment, and it will be a number of years before we get to the full 15 hours in any event. However, we do not think that it is acceptable to put in legislation a two-tier system that enables charges to be introduced. That goes to the heart and principle of the Bill—which is that there should be an increased universal free entitlement to under-fives provision.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, I hope the Minister can answer a question for me at this rather late stage. As I understand it, this extra half hour will be made available to the very children who need it most and made available free. As I understand the amendment, it is very much to ensure that all these schools do not go out of business because of the huge cost, which can be paid for by those who can afford it.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, we have been working with Montessori and others to analyse costs. It is not our view that those businesses would go out of business. It is a matter of conjecture what will happen in a number of years when we see the available funding and this entitlement extended. However, if we allowed this regime to take effect, parents would definitely be faced in some circumstances with fees—possibly substantial fees—in order to access part of the entitlement that, in the Bill, is regarded as free for other settings. We do not regard that as an acceptable situation. It could lead to a situation in which the only setting in an area available for the very children about whom the noble Baroness was talking was one that charged fees for this additional provision. That would have the effect of closing that provision to the very children who need it most.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Children), Health, Shadow Minister (Women), Trade & Industry

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply; the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for her remarks; and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, for clarifying matters. This is most emphatically not about a two-tier system and it is not a wrecking amendment. The Minister said that nothing would stop these settings charging outside the free entitlement, but that is what is happening now. They give not only the free entitlement of two and a half hours but three hours. That allows them to have the very children whom the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, were talking about. They do not want to operate outside the system. They want to be part of the system. I do not think that the Government realise how much they have affected the dynamics of the childcare market, or to what extent a sector that until 1999 was relatively stable is now uncertain.

The Minister says that the Government are working with people in the sector and that it will be able to cope. Perhaps I may, without giving away the name of the lady or the nursery, quote an e-mail that is a plea for help and advice. She says:

"I have a Montessori School in the Midlands. We have been running for 11 years and ever since the introduction of Nursery grants, we have charged the children the difference between our fees and the nursery grant. Today I have had a very strong letter from the Education Department of our council stating that we are absolutely NOT allowed, directly or indirectly to charge the children anything for 5 two and a half hour sessions. They have threatened the auditors to come in next year, if they think we are charging anything. The way things are financially, our income next term would only be enough to pay the rent and 1 staff's wages. Basically, we would have to close in 3 weeks time, if we do not charge. I am writing in desperation to ask if you are aware of any solution to this problem".

If the Government really believe in choice and diversity of provision, they cannot stand by and enact legislation that will achieve the exact opposite. I do not doubt for one moment the Government's good intentions. However, we are dealing here with the law of unintended consequences. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, after hearing the Minister's remarks, will not support me in a vote, but I would like to think that I had done my best for people who have been providing childcare for 100 years. It might just concentrate the mind of the Government a little more. I should therefore like to test the will of the House.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 114; Not-Contents, 126.

Division number 2 Private Parking: Ports and Trading Estates — Childcare Bill

Aye: 112 Members of the House of Lords

No: 124 Members of the House of Lords

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Nos: A-Z by last name

Tellers

Resolved in the negative, and Motion disagreed to accordingly.

Clause 13 [Duty to provide information, advice and training to childcare providers]:

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench 4:25 pm, 26th June 2006

moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 8, line 6, at end insert—

"( ) An English local authority must, in accordance with regulations, make information, advice and training available on request to persons who provide or intend to provide on a regular basis care for a child who is a grandchild or other close relative and who is not resident with them."

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, what I seek from the Government is some modest support for grandparents and other close relatives, with whom a child does not live but who regularly provide childcare for him or intend to do so. Approximately 5 million grandparents today regularly provide some childcare for their grandchild at no cost to the state. Many make big sacrifices to free themselves to do this work. Some parents contribute to the costs, some cannot.

Information, advice and training made available to grandparents could have several outcomes which would promote the Government's Every Child Matters agenda. For example, it would encourage some grandparents whose parenting skills are a bit rusty to take a refresher course. For those grandparents who sadly have never had the opportunity to learn the skills of parenting, it could break into that dreaded cycle of disadvantage and inappropriate parenting in some families. If good grandparental care is available, it is likely to reduce the demand for professional care, which is much more expensive for the state to provide.

On Report, in response to my amendments, the noble Baroness disclosed that information, advice and training to be offered to childcare providers under Clause 13(1) is to be restricted by regulations to relate only or mainly to,

"business support and sustainability and registration".—[Official Report, 12/6/06; col. 63.].

If that is correct, it is depressing. I have to say that that report in Hansard is slightly at variance with what the noble Lord said this afternoon about the intention of regulations in Clause 13(1). It is incredibly difficult to make a useful contribution to a Bill of this sort without the regulations before us. We do not know what it is all about.

Can it really be true that resources are to be diverted to giving child carers and future carers business advice but not helping them to do the job itself—the job of caring for the nation's children? However that may be, it does not affect my amendment as there is no reason that the information, advice and training given to grandparents under Clause 13(1)(a) should be governed by the same regulations as those for professional childcare. Regulations relating to Clause 13(1)(a) concerning grandparents could provide for grandparents to be given the services they need and deserve.

Concern has been expressed by the opposition parties about the possible cost of the amendment to local authorities. I believe that the amendment involves no irrevocable commitment to expenditure because the regulations could provide that all or part of the cost could be recovered from those who use the services.

The Government expressed on Report their admiration and respect for the often selfless care carried out by grandparents caring regularly for their grandchildren. The approximately 5 million grandparents who provide such care will be watching the response to this debate to see whether the Government really mean what they say. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Howarth of Breckland Baroness Howarth of Breckland Crossbench 4:30 pm, 26th June 2006

My Lords, as the unlikely founder of the Grandparents' Association, and along with the members of the all-party group, I support the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I shall of course wait until I hear what the Minister has to say in reply, but one issue is all-round costs and resources. I know of literally hundreds of families where grandparents look after their grandchildren. Very few of them are likely to avail themselves of local authority services. Most of them are extended families, which, despite all myths to the contrary, still exist in this country. We know that from the amount of care that is given. However, there are a few which may very well need help, support and training. Indeed, I would hope that those families, which are often known to social services, would be encouraged to accept that help, support and training.

I hope that that is what the Minister will say in reply. If so, I will be happy. But if grandparents cannot receive help when they need it, I shall be duly disappointed.

Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench

My Lords, perhaps inadvertently, I acted in a John the Baptist role to the amendment, because I asked the Minister about extra help that could be given to grandparents. Although I support the view in the amendment, I am especially concerned that those grandparents or other relatives who could be of tremendous help in keeping children within a family setting, which everyone wants, have access to other forms of help to enable them to do the job.

For example, for someone who was getting lame, arrangements could be made for the children to be picked up, taken to school and brought back. I am not suggesting that that should necessarily be a huge charge on the local authority. That might be in combination with the activity of volunteers and so on. From all that I have heard from parents and others concerned, such practical help would enable many more relatives to take the active part that we all think would be better for the family unit than to have foster care, however good. I very much hope that that will be taken into account.

Photo of The Earl of Listowel The Earl of Listowel Crossbench

My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. If I may, I remind the Minister of the speech welcomed by the whole House during last week's debate on child poverty made by his colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, when she said that many poorer families do not trust local authorities to provide care for their children but trust the grandparents. Everything that can be done to support grandparents in minding children would, in her mind, help children out of poverty and allow mothers into work.

I was unable to attend the debate on the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, about parents who are regularly intoxicated, but there is concern about substance-misusing parents. Perhaps the amendment offers another opportunity better to support those grandparents who have a child who is suffering from those problems and who need to take in the grandchild.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Children), Health, Shadow Minister (Women), Trade & Industry

My Lords, as I have said in all our debates, I am a passionate advocate of the vital role of the extended family, particularly of grandparents, in bringing up and looking after family members, both young and old. Kinship care is probably one of the oldest forms of childcare, making up about 70 per cent of informal childcare. Again, in a number of debates, I have shared and listened to views from other noble Lords about the success of kinship care where children would otherwise have gone into social services care. These children often have complex needs, but the help and support of their grandparents can prevent them becoming looked-after children in the care system. This only supports the call by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for information to be provided to the extended family in support of its role, particularly in childcare.

We on these Benches are very sympathetic to the idea of kinship care, and we are taking the time to consider it in more detail. I have already told the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that we will not be able to support him if he presses his amendment to a vote because we feel that there would be a spending implication, albeit a small one. I do hope, however, that the Minister will be able to give the assurance that the noble Lord is seeking.

Photo of Baroness Walmsley Baroness Walmsley Spokesperson in the Lords (Education & Children), Education & Skills

My Lords, like the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, I, too, had in mind the Question asked earlier today by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, about the families in which the parents are either alcoholics or drug addicts. In many of those cases, the grandparents will have the burden of looking after the children. Yet they will not be considered to be the primary carers and will therefore not have the rights to training, information and advice that the primary carer with the parenting role would have.

On the other hand, I am also very aware that many grandparents say that children are very different today and that things were different in their day. Many grandparents, faced with the job of looking after one of today's young people for extended periods, would greatly benefit from hearing from experts about the latest thinking on child development and how children have to face a very different world today from the one the grandparents faced when they were growing up or when they brought up their own children. There are many advantages to allowing grandparents to have access to the help, advice and information that is available to other people in the role of a parent.

This is a very modest amendment in the direction in which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, would really like to go eventually. It would not preclude the local authorities from making a modest charge for these services if there was an additional financial burden. I really do not think there is anything in it that would prevent them making such a charge. I see no major spending commitment in an amendment such as this one, so I really do commend it to the Minister.

Photo of Baroness Crawley Baroness Crawley Government Whip, Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I have listened very carefully to noble Lords who have spoken. There is a great deal of support for many of the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I have also listened very carefully at different stages of the Bill to the noble Lord promoting this amendment or versions of it. Although I still do not agree that Clause 13 should be amended—its focus is on formal childcare and the needs of formal providers—I hope that I can further assure him and other noble Lords on Clauses 1 and 12, which I believe go some way to meeting concerns.

The amendment would significantly widen the scope of Clause 13 and the duty contained in it. The clause updates an existing duty on local authorities to provide information, advice and training to childcare providers. The information, advice and training that we intend local authorities to provide will be centred around the delivery of the early years foundation stage, Ofsted registration, child protection and general business advice. As I explained on Report, it is the Government's clear view that it would not be appropriate to require local authorities to secure these services for those who care for children to whom they are related. This amendment extends significantly the scope of duty under Clause 13. Where grandparents or other relatives look after children, local authorities would have to provide information, advice and training on a wide range of parenting and care issues. Furthermore, they would have to provide it on request. I do not dispute that these are important issues, but it is not the purpose of Clause 13.

On relatives being able to access appropriate information about local services and facilities, I confirm again that no one with a role in helping to bring up a child would be turned away by local information services. Under Clause 12, local authorities are able to provide information to anyone whom they consider appropriate and must provide it to anyone who has care of a child on a settled basis, whether related or not. Under Clause 12, a person would be able to obtain information on where parenting classes are held or what information is available for grandparents.

Similarly, local authorities will take into account family carers in fulfilling the Clause 1 duties to improve the well-being of young children. So, under Clause 1, parenting classes would be open to grandparents who would be able to access those classes and therefore update their parenting skills, which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was talking about. Perhaps some grandparents may feel that there is a need for that because they do not have the confidence that they would like. I can guarantee to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that the statutory guidance on Clauses 1 and 12 will highlight the specific needs of grandparents and other close relatives involved in caring for children.

There is nothing to stop relatives having access to the same training and advice services that will be available to formal childcare providers under Clause 13. We expect local authorities to secure training and advice services for childcare providers who may, in turn, be charged a reasonable fee for such services. Relatives who wish to take advantage will be able to purchase, for example, first aid training or training in the early years foundation stage. But, given that the services in Clause 13 will focus on the needs of formal childcare providers, such as business support, registration requirements and compliance with other statutory obligations, it really is not relevant to secure these services for relatives providing informal care. As has been said, that would significantly broaden financial expectations on local authorities.

I have previously made it clear that I am very sympathetic to the needs of kinship carers, particularly grandparents. This Government already provide support for families through our strengthening families grant, which currently funds 51 projects at a value of £3 million, part of which funds a project with the Family Rights Group which aims to provide information, advice and support for all family and friends carers and those working with such carers, by updating guidance for grandparents raising their grandchildren, enhancing the grandparent carers' webpage, and developing a family and friends carers network. As I outlined at the Report stage, we have committed £70 million through our Respect Action Plan to support parents and all carers in parenting roles. This will help to fund parenting classes and establish the new national parenting academy. These services will not be limited to parents, but will be available to anyone who has care of a child.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said on Report that she would support relatives having access to information, advice and training as long as it did not involve a great spending commitment. Let me inform her that, because of its scope, this amendment would involve a substantial spending commitment. The requirement that information, advice and training should be made available on request would also place significant expectations on local authorities for which it would be difficult for them to plan in view of the uncertainties about the demand.

As I have made clear, we value the vital role played by relatives, especially grandparents, in caring for children. However, given my assurances on statutory guidance, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Northbourne Lord Northbourne Crossbench

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in support of the amendment, and I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness for what she has said. She is doing her best to be helpful within the financial constraints implicit in the amendment as she sees it. It would waste the time of the House to divide on this; indeed, I do not wish to do so in the light of the assurances I have been given. I shall go through them carefully and, if I may, I shall arrange for those representing grandparents such as the Grandparents' Association to work with her department to produce a guide in order to help grandparents access the various facilities. I was particularly interested to learn that parenting classes can be available to grandparents, which I had not realised. I also look forward to seeing the statutory guidelines on Clauses 1 and 12 referred to by the noble Baroness. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 73 [Procedure for taking certain steps]:

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 6, 7 and 8. These are minor and drafting changes. Amendments Nos. 5 to 7 correct the drafting in Clause 73 to make it absolutely clear that the provisions in subsections (5) and (7) regarding the registration or deregistration of provision refer to the recipient of a notice from Her Majesty's Chief Inspector.

Amendment No. 8 is a wonderful drafting correction on which to end our proceedings. It relates to Schedule 2, which amends the Education Act 1996 by correcting the wording to refer to a nursery in "England or Wales" rather than in "England and Wales", as the Bill now states. It became apparent that very few nurseries would fulfil that requirement. I am glad that our final act in respect of this Bill is to ensure that "England or Wales" will satisfactorily meet those provisions. I beg to move.

Photo of Baroness Morris of Bolton Baroness Morris of Bolton Deputy Chief Whip, Whips, Shadow Minister, Education, Shadow Minister (Children), Health, Shadow Minister (Women), Trade & Industry

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his letter in advance of these amendments. We are satisfied that they are minor, technical drafting changes, as well as geographical amendments. I know that I am not supposed to say so, but I wish the Bill well. We will watch its progress and no doubt press the Minister if it does not do well. I thank him and his Bill team for all their time and patience.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

moved Amendments Nos. 6 and 7:

Page 39, line 26, leave out "person" and insert "recipient"

Page 39, line 27, leave out "person" and insert "recipient"

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Schedule 2 [Minor and consequential amendments]:

Photo of Lord Adonis Lord Adonis Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Schools)

My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. I know that I am not supposed to say anything either, but I cannot resist thanking noble Lords on all sides of the House for the enormous help they have given us in improving the Bill. It is now an excellent measure that I think will be pathbreaking in terms of children's services. We are very grateful to noble Lords for their work.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Adonis.)

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.