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John Bercow: As always, I am listening to the hon. Gentleman's speech with great interest. He posits the scenario of market failure. I cannot resist the conclusion that, in so doing, he is hearing voices against which he is arguing, but those voices are not ours on the Conservative Benches. Put simply, does he accept that, in addition to market failure—I do not disagree with him about that—there is such a thing as Government failure and that that is more likely to manifest itself in circumstances of monopoly?

Edward Miliband: I take the point that Governments can fail as well as markets, but I slightly take issue with the hon. Gentleman's intervention—I should say, in our mutual admiration society, that I have the highest respect for him, too—because I am afraid that what we hear from Opposition Members is not simply a desire for competition and for the private and voluntary sector not to be put out of business, but a gut problem about the state extending its role in this area. They have not really come to terms with that. I should probably
 
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exclude the hon. Gentleman from that category, because he tends to have much more enlightened views on these matters than other of his hon. Friends.

Annette Brooke: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the thrust of the Bill is to make the local authority the commissioner? I am not sure that I entirely see the state reaching out. Areas such as mine are totally dependent on a partnership, because there just would not be enough child care without harnessing the best of the private and voluntary sector. I suspect that the situation is patchy across the country. One cannot make a single statement about it.

Edward Miliband: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for her intervention. I completely agree that we are talking about a new role for the state. The state is the commissioner. Of course there needs to be a mixed economy of provision—I said that at the outset—involving the private sector and the voluntary sector, but I urge her to recognise that there is a big change in the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland pointed out, it has never been set out in statute that a local authority, or indeed any agency of Government, has a responsibility for ensuring sufficient child care. That is a significant step forward and change. Indeed, I come to clause 6, the relevant clause. This is an important crossing of the rubicon in terms of the state's responsibility for child care provision, from which it will be difficult, I hope, for any Government to resile.

The problem is that parents have never until now had an accountable body to which they can turn. Local democratically elected representatives are the right people to carry out that function. Local authorities have access to information on the ground and are best placed to audit and plan provision. They are also best placed to ensure coherence and efficiency of provision in respect of schools.

There are two key questions about how the duty of sufficiency will work and to whom it will apply. I have made it clear that I believe in a mixed economy of provision, and this answers a point that the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) asked another hon. Member earlier because clause 8 makes it clear that we will maintain a mixed economy of provision: child minders, nurseries and other provision, provided by the voluntary sector and the private sector, as well as the state.

The hon. Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd), who is not in his place, raised the concern that the Daycare Trust and others have about the position of non-working parents, and about specifying that duty only for the parents on the child care element of the working tax credit and that that might be too modest. With the kindest respect to Opposition Members, they cannot have it both ways. They cannot say that the problem with the Bill is that it places enormous upward pressure on council tax bills and then say that it does not go far enough in extending provision.

This is a sensible and modest first step. It covers parents going a long way up the income scale. Working hand in hand with the increased limits and the increased proportion of costs payable under the child care tax credit, it will make an important difference. We will have time to assess the duty as it beds down, after it comes into force in April 2008.
 
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I am pleased also that, significantly, the Bill extends the duty to those undertaking education and training preparatory to work. It would be helpful if the Minister clarified how that will work. I am conscious, from talking to people in my constituency, that funding in this area tends to be quite patchy, and I know that it is not covered by the child care tax credit.

John Bercow: Uncharacteristically, the hon. Gentleman has identified a logical lacuna in his own argument, and in the process was a little unfair on my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Hurd). I put it to the hon. Gentleman that it is perfectly possible for us, without inconsistency, to raise the issue of the cost on the one hand, and possible implications for council tax bills, and to identify on the other hand our concern that parents who are not working will not get the full benefit that they deserve. The issue is who pays for that.

Edward Miliband: I suppose that there is a difference of opinion. I have not had the experience of being in opposition as a Member of Parliament—[Interruption]—and I do not plan to experience that for some years hence, but I would have thought that coherence was an important aim for a member of the Opposition. The problem that the hon. Gentleman highlights about the position of non-working parents is answered in part by Sure Start, which makes services available to them. If he is saying that full-time day care should be provided for non-working parents, that may be a step further down the road. I do not think that there are resources available at this point to do that. That was the only point that I was making. I hope that it was not a lacuna and that if it was, he will explain precisely why afterwards.

I want to highlight the issue of quality, to which I referred earlier. It is a great irony that teachers of the over-fives require all kinds of qualifications—there is cross-party consensus on that—while care and education for the under-fives, who are more fragile and vulnerable, and for whom supervision is arguably even more important, have not been seen as a profession in the same way. I therefore welcome clause 13 and its new duty to provide information, advice and training to providers. That is part of the greater professionalisation of the work force envisaged in the 10-year plan which is essential to give parents the confidence of high quality, and which will work in combination with Ofsted inspection and the new transformation fund to improve quality.

The Bill has many other positive aspects but, as I have made clear, the central and important step forward is the fact that, 60 years after Beveridge, we are making the provision of child care into a proper and legitimate duty of Government. That is more than a commitment to resources. In the 19th century, primary education for all was accepted as a responsibility of Government; in the 20th century, secondary education for all was accepted as the responsibility of Government. The Bill recognises that at the start of the 21st century we are embarking—I emphasise the word "embarking"—on a journey down a road on which pre-school provision for all will become a clear responsibility of Government. Labour Members can easily accept that, because we think that
 
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Government, working alongside the private and voluntary sector, can help to expand freedom and will not necessarily stifle individuals.

That was said by Göran Persson, the Prime Minister of Sweden. Nowhere is it more true than in child care. That is the ethos at the heart of the Bill. I am glad that the Opposition support the Bill, but the warning to them is that if they will the ends—better child care—they had better support the means, and abandon their previous commitment to reducing public expenditure as a proportion of national income. As both leadership candidates remain committed to a smaller state we can already see contradictions emerging in their position, which we will expose over the coming months. In the meantime, I commend the Bill to the House.

6.42 pm

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband), who gave a finely argued speech that will probably do no harm at all to his widely advertised prospects. He and the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) both posited that social Darwinism had produced a certain type of education in the 19th century and another type in the 20th. At the dawn of the 21st century, everything is to the good and it all represents progress. The hon. Lady cited the Education Act 1870. The majority of the Welsh working class were literate long before then, having been taught at Griffith Jones Llanddowror circulating schools and Robert Jones Rhoslan circulating schools in the early 19th century. It is pertinent to our debate that those schools were provided without state funding and without any help from the private sector. The state was indifferent, and the private sector did not think that there was any money to be made from teaching the ignorant Welsh how to read.

I welcome the Bill on behalf of Plaid Cymru, and I am glad that part 2 addresses issues particular to Wales. I should like mainly to address the question of rurality, which I have already raised in interventions, as well as issues relating to the Welsh language and the inequalities in child care that arise from those factors. They are largely matters for the Welsh Assembly, but they are relevant to our debate, because part 2 makes particular reference to Wales. The provision of proper child care is important, especially in rural Wales and deep rural Wales, but my argument is pertinent to child care in deep rural parts of England, and other hon. Members may wish to speak about such issues.

Rural parts of Wales have particularly low rates of economic activity and a greater incidence of seasonal and part-time work, as well as casualised work. In some areas, a higher percentage of the work force is female, and the population receives lower wages. All those factors are relevant to consideration of the effect of child care on economic activity, on wages and prosperity, because parents with care responsibilities are much more likely to qualify for child care tax credits. The criteria for such credits are the same in both rural and urban areas, but they are more difficult to meet in rural areas, where there is a lower provision of good child care and where employer-provided child care is almost non-
 
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existent, especially in my constituency. There is therefore greater dependence on informal child care, mainly provided by relatives.

The same regulations apply to the registration of child minders in both rural and other areas, although the circumstances are different as many relatives who provide care do not wish to be registered. Those matters are problematic in rural areas, where there is a corrosive conjunction of low wages, job insecurity, long travel distances and low child care provision, which leads to inequalities within those areas and to gross inequalities between them and urban areas. Child care in the medium of Welsh is difficult to find in both rural and urban areas. At the weekend, I was in Cardiff for the game—I was glad to see Wales beat Australia—and I had a chat with a new mother who was trying to access Welsh-medium child care for her nine-week-old son in central urban Cardiff. She had been told, however, that it was now too late—she should have put his name down before the first scan. She thought that it would be easier to get him into Eton than to access good-quality registered Welsh language child care in the middle of Cardiff. Again, that may be a matter for the Welsh Assembly.

Clauses 22 to 30 are specific to Wales. Many of those clauses replicate the English provisions, but their detailed application is left to the Welsh Assembly. There are practical reasons for doing so, as education, economic development, health and social services are devolved matters. As a member of Plaid Cymru, I cannot understand why the Welsh Assembly or even the Welsh Assembly Government cannot deal with the entire matter, as it is largely non-controversial. However, that may become the case if the Government's proposals on the Welsh Assembly Government's powers are passed. There are, however, important differences between the provisions for England and those for Wales, including the provision for child care in the medium of Welsh.

For too long, the provision of child care has been considered part of family or education policy, or as a women's issue, rather than as a central feature of economic policy. It is such a feature in Wales because of the lower rate of economic activity and the difficulty of accessing child care to enable families to gain a decent income. The fact that it has not been considered so goes some way towards explaining the poor state of provision, which has been marginalised. Historically, low priority has been given to child care, and it compares badly with provision in other countries. The hon. Member for Bishop Auckland mentioned Scandinavia, and various Scandinavian countries immediately spring to mind.

On the detail of part 2, clause 22, as I mentioned, makes particular reference to child care involving the use of Welsh. Clause 23 refers to less restrictive circumstances for local authorities to provide that child care themselves, so that there might be direct provision where it is very scarce. That is highly relevant, given the arguments that I have already made. Clause 26 gives the power to require local authorities to assess child care provision, but that power will lie with the Assembly, as will the terms of the required assessments. I find all those features entirely acceptable.

The provision of child care in rural areas and through the medium of Welsh are the main themes of my remarks. I refer to some research that I commissioned in
 
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2004, entitled "Gofal o Fath Gwahanol"—"A Different Kind of Care", which is an examination of child care in deep rural areas. If any hon. Members are interested, I have copies available. The research showed some unsurprising facts: that self-employment was very high in rural areas—50 per cent. higher in rural areas of Wales than in the rest of Wales, and that 83 per cent. of people in deep rural areas have some knowledge of the Welsh language, compared with 28 per cent. in Wales as a whole. Here we have particular features of requirements for child care, which are specific to deep rural areas.

The research also showed that lack of child care was a problem for 40 per cent. of women in rural areas, and that was particularly the case in respect of Welsh-medium child care. In those areas, part-time work was more prevalent, more people had second jobs, sub-minimum wage work was twice as prevalent, there was more dependence on cars, distances to work and to child care were greater, and there was a lower take-up of benefits. All these features conspire to make it more difficult for people with child care responsibilities—predominantly women, of course—to access child care in order to find the work that the Government are so keen for them to take up. In many ways these difficulties are structural in nature. It is impossible to shorten the distances between far-flung communities, but one can take action to ameliorate the effects of that.

I mentioned the lower take-up of benefits. The research shows that that is partly because of a cultural perception surrounding poverty—it is not acceptable to own up to being poor—and also because of a culture of sturdy independence from the state, which is laudable. That was found not only in my research, but in the Rowntree research published on 2000.

The research that I commissioned was largely participant observation—talking to children and to parents from a local school and a local community from Tremadog and Blaenau Ffestiniog. As I said earlier, there were tremendous problems. There was very little formal provision paid for by the private sector and very little provision from the public sector. But the pertinent point is that families did not see informal and formal care as being proxies of each other. They put them in different categories. They did not think, "Now we will use informal care, and if we have the money and the opportunity, we will use formal care," because they saw them as different things. They considered informal care by families as vastly preferable. They preferred the quality of informal care, a finding that also emerged from research by the Daycare Trust.

People preferred to receive care from family members whom they knew, trusted and loved. The care was provided because of family ties and the love of grandparents for their grandchildren. The grandparents were not looking for registration or for a wage. They were not looking for that sort of payment, but they were looking for an acknowledgement of the cost involved. There is some cost, though it is not great.


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