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Column 779Stevens, Lewis
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Twinn, Dr Ian
Waddington, Rt Hon David
Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Winterton, Mrs Ann
Young, Sir George (Acton)
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory and Mr. Greg Knight.
Nil Tellers for the Noes
Nil Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. Michael Welsh and
Mr. Dennis Skinner.
Question accordingly agreed to .
Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill .
Mr. James Paice (Cambridgeshire, South-East) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I served in Committee and listened to all the proceedings on Report. I was under the impression that the Bill had wide support across the House and that all parties wanted to see the Bill on the statute book. Is it in order for a tiny group of hon. Members, who have taken no part in the proceedings in Committee or on the Floor of the House, to delay the Bill for some Machiavellian purposes of their own, which are unknown to me?
Mr. Michael Welsh (Doncaster, North) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I ask for your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. There are a number of issues involved in the next group of amendments. Hon. Members may desire to vote on each. Shall we have the prerogative to vote on each amendment so that those who desire to vote on a particular amendment will be allowed to do so?
--(1) Every local authority, together with the appropriate local education authority, shall prepare a plan which shall
(a) ensure the development of day care and education facilities for all children under five who require them ; and
(b) include provision for children aged between five and fourteen before and after school hours and during school holidays. (2) Every local authority, together with the appropriate local education authority, shall review child care provision within its locality every three years. Such a review shall include
(a) the training needs of persons working with children (
(b) the requirement for child-care provision in the area. (3) In assessing the requirement for child care under 2(b) above, the authority shall have regard to the wishes of parents in its area.
Column 780(4) Every review prepared under subsection (2) above shall be published, and shall be submitted to the Secretary of State, who shall publish a response to the review within three months of the date on which he receives it.
(5) In the course any plan or undertaking any review under this section, the local authority shall consult--
(a) existing voluntary providers of nurseries and playgroups ; (
(b) existing childminders ;
(c) the local Health Authority ;
(d) enployers ;
(e) relevant trade unions ;.'.-- [Ms. Armstrong.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
--(1) The Secretary of State, shall issue a code of practice to be used by local authorities when deciding whether to register an applicant for registration under section (Child minding and day care for young children : registration), which shall include standards which should be met in the provision of care.
(2) The Secretary of State shall not issue any code of practice under section (1) above unless--
(a) he has consulted appropriate voluntary and statutory organisations on its provisions ; and
(b) a draft of it has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.'.
New clause 4-- Childminding and day care for young children registration --
(1) A local authority may refuse to register an applicant for registration under this Act if the care to be provided by that person when looking after any child as a childminder, or persons who provide day care for children on premises within that area, is in the opinion of the authority, likely to be seriously inadequate having regards to the needs of the children concerned.
(2) In assessing the adequacy of care for the purpose of this section, regard shall be had to the Code of Practice set out in this Act.'.
Government new clause 25-- Orders pending appeals in cases about care or supervision orders .
Government amendment No. 388.
Amendment No. 30, in page 61, line 32, at end insert
(e) require him to take out public liability insurance for his work as a childminder.
(f) require him to attend a local authority approved course of pre- registration training.'.
Government amendment No. 484.
Amendment No. 31, in page 62, line 39, leave out seriously'. Government amendment No. 130.
Amendment No. 33, in page 64, line 23, leave out
at least once every year'
at least once every three months'.
Amendment No. 480, in page 64, line 23, leave out year' and insert six months'.
Amendment No. 27, in page 121, leave out lines 31 and 32. Amendment No. 29, in page 123, leave out lines 35 to 43. Amendment No. 361, in page 123, line 40, leave out
and requiring him to pay to them such fee as may be prescribed'. Amendment No. 360, in page 123, line 40, at end insert
However the local authority may waive fees in such cases as it deems necessary and any prescribed fee shall not exceed £10 per annum'.
Column 781them about which we heard earlier. The Government are missing a major opportunity here, despite all the rhetoric that we have heard from Ministers in the past few months. The issue of registration and regulation of day care facilities is central to the protection of children and the Government have missed an incredible opportunity. New clause 2 sets out a broad framework for the way in which we should like to see registration carried out. I say from the beginning that there are significant omissions from the new clause. One is that there is no mention of any idea of charging for registration--an aspect with which I shall deal later in my speech.
I am anxious that the Government and the House should recognise that the Opposition believe that the registration and regulation of day care is a public responsibility and should, therefore, be an aspect of public policy and public spending. New clause 2, if adopted, would be one of the most important clauses in this important Bill. It calls for a regular public local authority review and a response by the Secretary of State to that review which will involve all the people concerned with child care provision. The new clause demonstrates the importance that the Opposition see for the future of child care and leads us to debate the entire provision of child care in our society.
People inside and outside the House see child care as one of the essential political issues of the next few years. It is the most important issue to women between 20 and 35 and is at the top of their political agenda. We know from their representations that many of them are worried about the level of quality that may prevail without good regulation of child care. We also know that they have little confidence in the manner in which the Government have addressed the issue.
This clause more than any other demonstrates the need for a new Labour Government to introduce child care regulations. We shall propose new legislation because we believe that central Government have a responsibility to all the nation's children, not just to those children who come before a court or who come within the Government's definition of children in need.
Since the Committee stage, Opposition Members who were critical of the Government's inadequate approach to child care have been joined by some important allies. I hardly dare quote one of them as I do not often see that organ of the press as an ally. On Thursday, the Daily Mail said that it had carried out a survey which had found that Britain had the worst child care services in Europe. That is important evidence. I hope that the Government will take note of that newspaper's findings, as they keep telling us that many of their supporters read it. Until the publication of that article, I had believed that Britain had only the second worst child care services in Europe.
The Government must realise that the crisis in child care will not go away. With the measures in the Bill it will only get worse. The clause providing for a local authority review is inadequate in a number of ways. That is hardly surprising, as it was placed in the Bill late in the Committee stage. In subsequent contacts with local authorities, I have not been able to find anyone who was consulted about the nature of that additional duty before the Government's new clause was tabled. Consulting everyone involved in child care is a central role that the Government should undertake, but they have chosen to ignore the consensus about what is needed.
Column 782Two vital additions in new clause 2 raise the subject of the national crisis in child care provision and the Government's abdication of responsibility. First, subsection (2)(b) lays a duty on local authorities and local education authorities to review the requirements for child care in their areas. It is vital for a local authority to know and understand the needs in its area. Secondly, subsection (4) requires the Secretary of State to publish a response to all those reviews within three months. It is not surprising that the Government have no wish to have an analysis of the need for child care. I suspect that they are frightened of what they would find if they tried to assess the need properly.
It is not surprising that a Government who have shown no inclination to take any responsibility for child care make no mention of their obligations. Their attitudes to their responsibility for child care make no mention of their obligations. Their attitudes to their responsibility towards child care are best summed up in the words of the Home Office Minister who chairs the ministerial group on women's issues. He summed up his view of Government responsibility by saying :
"I don't think that the State should step in to help the working mother unless her life has collapsed."
The Government will only help with child care when a mother's life has collapsed. The message for mothers is that when they are on their knees they can go to the Government for help and the Government will consider giving it. The leak about child benefit confirms the worries people have about the extent of the Government's real concern for the children of Britain.
The Government's attitude towards helping women return to work comes at a time when the rest of Europe is gearing up their work forces for the single market in 1992. I assure the House that Governments in other European countries are interested in helping mothers to return to work before their lives collapse. The social dimension of the market in other European nations is causing Governments to recognise their responsibilities to child care. The European Commissioner Madam Papandreou has commented on the woeful record of this country in providing child care. Like other national Governments, she recognises how our national economy will be undermined by the Government's failure to take on the responsibility outlined in the new clause.
The Bill begins with a clause that the Opposition wholeheartedly support, which declares that the welfare of the child shall be paramount. The Opposition strongly support that. We believe that the same duty laid on courts in clause 1 should be laid on the Secretary of State in this section of the Bill with regard to child care. New clause 2 raises three important issues of detail which are missing from the existing clause 17. Our new clause lays the duty for carrying out the review jointly with the local authority and the local education authority. It also lays the duty to ascertain the needs of the locality on the two authorities. That may seem technical and minor. However, new clause 2 applies to Scotland.
In Scotland the authority with responsibility for half the children in Scotland has already co-ordinated child care under the local education authority. It would be nonsense if one of the very few authorities to have co-ordinated and integrated child care were to be in
Column 783difficulty. Many of the London authorities have made
representations that under the reorganisation of education they want to place child care within the local education authority. We want to ensure that they can do that as they have recognised their responsibilities.
When the Select Committee on Social Services reported earlier this year, it recognised the importance of close co-operation. It stated :
"From our visits we have concluded that where there is a will to work together significant progress can be made in co-ordination and we reiterate that there are no easy answers to improving co-ordination. We therefore suggest the current progress towards the establishment of joint sub- committees in local authorities." Co-ordination and integration are central to the future opportunities of children in child care and it is important that the Bill offers the framework that enables and supports that rather than frustrating it.
The next issue concerns consultation with voluntary bodies. The Opposition have constantly stressed the importance of co-ordinating statutory, voluntary and private child care provision. This new clause is no exception. Given the importance of the voluntary sector, it is necessary for the primary legislation to specify the fact that consultations will take place and that there will be central involvement. The reality of child care is that, as parents desperately look for the best situation for their child, they must frequently put together a patchwork of provision. If anything happens, the patchwork comes apart, so co-ordination is essential.