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'any person, authority or agency (referred to in this Part as the Registrar) prescribed by the Secretary of State, and reference to the Registrar's area are references to England.'.
'Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in England'.
Mr. Hammond: I hope that all the Welsh Members present will not leave the Chamber, because the regulations that we are debating apply in both England and Wales, and there are some important issues to be addressed.
I should like, first, to deal with the Government amendments in this group--amendments Nos. 68, 69, 70 and 71--which were tabled to address issues raised by the Opposition in Committee. My notes say that I should express gratitude to the Government for doing that. However, as I have already done that several times today, I am beginning to wonder whether the Government should not be expressing gratitude to us for tidying up the sloppy drafting of their legislation for them. Either way, we have worked together to ensure that the Bill is tidier, more explicit and, we hope, better than when we started.
Amendment No. 45 seeks to delete clause 78(8). Clause 78 is a long and complex clause introducing a number of new sections into the Children Act 1989. The amendment would remove subsection (8) of the proposed new section 79A to the 1989 Act.
The proposed new section provides for the registration of child minders, who are defined by the Bill as people who look after children in their own homes--that is, the home of the person minding the children. It specifically excludes people who come to the parents' home to look after their children--in other words, nannies, babysitters and so on. So far so good--but on the basis that it is the intention not to interfere with what the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), described as certain informal arrangements, subsection (8) excludes any child minding between the hours of 6 pm and 2 am. Those hours are disregarded in determining whether or not a person is required to be registered as a child minder under the Bill.
I probed the matter in Committee and the Under-Secretary replied to the points that I raised. I am sorry that she is not here this evening. I am sure that the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, who seems to be a multi-purpose Minister, practising joined-up government by dealing with child minding as well as Welsh affairs, will be well briefed on what the hon. Lady said in Committee.
If a child is looked after between 9 am and 5 pm, that must be regulated child minding. The person who looks after the child has to be registered; the premises in which they do the looking after have to be inspected and they have to meet requirements governing the suitability of the premises and anyone who may be there--husbands, boy friends, lodgers or whoever. If a child is looked after in the same place between 6 pm and 2 am, however, the person doing the looking after is not required to be registered. The premises are not required to be inspected and there are no requirements as to the suitability of other people who may be on the premises.
I am not an expert on child abuse, but it is pretty much common sense that a child being looked after in someone else's home is likely to be at more risk during the evening than during the day. The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but the evidence points to alcohol being a factor in the physical abuse of children. I would guess that the sort of people who might be undesirable to have around when young children are being looked after by a child minder are more likely to be present in the evening than during the day. I can see no justification beyond expediency for the exclusion that the Bill proposes.
I am not sure that I am entirely comfortable with the Bill's regime for regulating child minding. The question of exclusion of care in the parents' home strikes me as an anomaly, but I accept that practical difficulties mean that the line has to be drawn somewhere. However, regulations require some consistency, and proposed new section 79(8) must go. The message that it sends out is that places where middle-class parents who work conventional nine-to-five hours leave their children must be regulated, to reassure those parents. In contrast, parents who work evening shifts and who have to leave their children with child minders between 6 and 10 pm--
Mr. Hammond: No, the hon. Gentleman is wrong. It is now 2.16 am. Under the Bill, we would fall within the regulated period of time. However, if the hon. Gentleman were to collect his child at 1.58 am, the person looking after the child would not be required to register as a child minder. That is absurd. Parents working shifts need people to look after their children in the evenings. They will find that those people are not required, under the Bill, to be registered and regulated.
That is a clear anomaly. It is based on nothing more substantial than the personal experience of the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment, who told the Committee that she used to leave her children with a neighbour--a revelation that made hon. Members in the Committee feel uncomfortable, regardless of party. The hon. Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) had something to say about the proposal on behalf of parents working shifts.
The distinction is absurd and unacceptable. It rests on expediency alone and creates an unacceptably uneven playing field between children cared for at different times of day. It would mean that arrangements for children cared for by child minders at the times of most risk would be unregulated, whereas those governing children cared for in the mornings and afternoons would be regulated.