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Dr. Brand: First, I wish to indicate the support of my party for the comments of the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond). The specific importance of treating child minding performed later in the day in the same way as that performed in daylight hours stems from the benefit payments and tax credits that may be available to working families. It seems iniquitous that registered child-minding facilities should be available during the day but not at night, when there is no requirement for child minders to be registered. The resulting unfairness will be hard on shift workers and those who work irregular hours.
I shall not speak to every one of our amendments, because there are rather a lot of them. The Minister will recognise our main amendment because it mirrors exactly a Government amendment that was brought forward in Committee in relation to the registration function in Wales. The initial amendment specified an education inspector for this part of the Bill. After a lot more discussion and consultation in the Principality, it was decided that it would be safer to have the flexibility of having a registrar or a registering authority rather than specifying a particular agency other than the Assembly.
It is too late in the day for us to rehearse a lot of the arguments. Many of my colleagues think that Ofsted is not the right agency for the regulation of child minding and day care--and not only because its track record as an agency suggests that it is not supportive of vulnerable establishments. Given the fear that Ofsted manages to engender in quite large schools, I wonder what effect it will have on vulnerable child minders. However, I will leave that aside.
There is an important philosophical issue here. I see child care and day care as a social care rather than an educational issue. One must be careful not to allow the educational umbrella to spread too wide. Having said that, we clearly lost that argument in the turf wars between the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Employment. One must accept that the Government are intent that Ofsted will carry out this very important work.
I accept that the Government have every right to do that. However, I have some problem as to whether they are wise to put that in the Bill. There is a very interesting example in amendment No. 72. In the past three weeks, the Government have felt it necessary to change in the Bill the title of the person carrying out a particular piece
I invite the Government to think again about whether it is sensible to tie themselves, in primary legislation, to one particular organisation and, indeed, one particular post. It would be extremely difficult. The only sanction that the Government would have if they did not get on with their chief inspector of schools--who may be excellent at inspecting schools but useless at regulating child minding and day care--is to sack the individual, rather than saying, "If we don't get it right, we will transfer your service over to another agency."
At times, we ask the Government to be too prescriptive in their Bills. Their response is that we should not tie their hands but give them the flexibility so that another round of primary legislation is not necessary if they need to change things by regulation. I invite the Government to give themselves the opportunity to revisit a decision that they have made today. I hope, for the sake of the children about whom we are talking, that they do not have to revisit their decision, but it would be a tremendous shame if that could not be done because of a lack of legislative time or parliamentary procedure.
Mr. Hanson: As the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr. Hammond) acknowledged, the Government amendments were tabled in response to representations made to us in the Standing Committee. I hope that shows that we are a listening Government and that co-operation in Committee can serve a valuable and interesting function.
The hon. Gentleman was concerned about a possible misprint. My reading is correct. There is an explanation, and to save time, I shall write to him about the matter. I assure him that the Bill is correct, but, for clarity, I shall write to him.
The main thrust of the hon. Gentleman's amendment is that there should be regulation for child care at all hours, whether at home or elsewhere. The issue is simple; it boils down to whether the Government should deal with such matters, or whether parents should decide which of their friends or neighbours they leave their children with for the evening. Should that be a judgment for the Government or for parents?
As we made clear in Committee, the purpose of the exemption is to avoid the regulation of informal care arrangements. The Government understand that such care is most likely to be provided during the specified hours. Any reduction would only cause more informal arrangements to be caught within the remit of the regulations. I am sure that the Conservatives do not want more opportunities for regulation on matters such as child care. An important principle is involved.
The proposal to lift the exemption would bring within the scope of registration anyone who babysits in their own home in the evening for reward. We held significant discussions of that matter in Committee. It was emphasised that informal arrangements are outside regulation and the Government believe that parents should be responsible for them. Although we accept that there may be some concerns, it would be difficult to regulate such child care--we would be intruding on parents'
Dr. Brand: Before the Minister deals with my amendment, will he address the issue of benefit payments to working parents for child care? Will he discuss that matter with his colleagues in other Departments? If he is saying that child care does not have to be provided by a registered child carer during the specified hours, is it possible for parents to claim tax benefits for unregistered child care? It is vital that we treat workers equally, irrespective of the time of day at which they work.
Mr. Hanson: I shall look into that matter and discuss it with my colleagues. The question is about parental choice at that time of the evening and whether we should intrude by introducing regulation to cover that time. The Government judged that we needed to draw a line and we have done so, as we explained in Committee. However, I shall respond to the hon. Gentleman when I have discussed the matter with the appropriate ministerial colleagues.
As the hon. Gentleman is aware there are differences between England and Wales on these matters; they were well rehearsed in detailed discussions in Committee. The amendment would certainly offer the possibility of removing responsibilities from Ofsted in England. I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that, given Ofsted's track record on taking on new work, he need not be quite so anxious as he appears to be. It is appropriate that such a fundamental decision should be taken through secondary legislation. The matter is important; it is for the House to consider. That is why the provision is in the Bill. We have discussed the arrangements in detail.
Mr. Hanson: No, because I want to finish my point. We had considerable discussion in many sittings in Committee on the roles and responsibilities of Ofsted and on the position in Wales. The Government have made it clear that the Bill will give Ofsted the responsibility for the sector that we are discussing. The matter has been discussed and the changes to be made are a matter for secondary legislation in due course. I urge the hon. Gentleman to reflect on that and to take the opportunity to see how the provision operates. At some point, we can return to it in future.
I have now recovered my wits and the Minister has no need to write to me about the times. I see that the provision is framed in the negative, and I understand that the excluded hours are between 6 pm and 2 am.
I am disappointed that the Minister has not taken the opportunity to remove an illogicality from the Bill. My amendment offered one more lifeline to the Government to try to remove a banana skin and a provision that is
The amendment was an attempt to resolve an obvious anomaly in the Bill, which had been identified and commented on by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee. It is clear that the Government do not wish to take the opportunity to resolve it, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.