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John Bercow: The hon. Gentleman mentioned grandparents providing care for people in their own family. Earlier in the debate, the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) said that one way to reduce regulation would be to increase the number of highly qualified people. Does the hon. Gentleman agree
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that because of their life experience, grandparents might be very well qualified to provide child care not just within the family, but well beyond it?

Hywel Williams: The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely pertinent point. It is interesting that the grandparents did not see themselves in any way as professional carers and were not looking for registration, which would allow the care-giving parents to apply for tax credits. It was not that sort of system. The parents and grandparents did not see the informal care provided by grandparents and formal care provided by the paid-for system or by the state as proxies of each other. We are looking at different animals.

There should be some recognition of such informal child care. It might not be a matter of recognising grandparents as child-minders providing commercial child care in their homes and being assessed by inspectors, but there is a strong case for some sort of intermediate category offering some recognition. That is what parents want. When we asked parents what they thought about making payments to close family members for care, they said they would like to give some recognition. They did not want to employ their parents or their parents-in-law. They would make payments in kind, and they saw that there was a certain cost involved in such payments. We are, of course, talking about low-wage families. That is one of the reasons why I believe there should be an intermediate category between informal and formal care.

The Secretary of State referred to the fact that tax credits are not cash limited. If they are applied for and people succeed, they are paid. Other budgets have a cash limit. Some of the assessments that we made of the potential benefits for constituencies are quite startling. In my constituency, Caernarfon, the tax credits claimed were £600,000 per year in 2004. Should informal care be recognised, that sum would go up to £750,000. That is the order of change involved—about 25 per cent. However, should all care provided by informal carers be recognised at the highest rate, the sum would be £5.6 million. That is a huge amount of value that parents and grandparents put into the economic system, and it is unrecognised. I am not arguing for £5.6 million or anything close to it, but the work that grandparents put in should be recognised in some way.

Echoing the hon. Member for Doncaster, North, there is an argument in terms of efficiency. Nobody has made the point that we depend a great deal on older women to do the caring. As the economy changes and there is more pressure on older women who have not yet retired to return to work, the number of women available to undertake informal not-paid-for caring will inevitable decrease, so that source of care is a diminishing resource.

I shall deal briefly with provision through the medium of Welsh, which as I recognised earlier, is a matter more for the Welsh Assembly. Provision through the medium of Welsh is in some cases non-existent, and in some cases under great pressure. In general, it is grossly inadequate and leads to the very inequality that the Bill is intended to combat.
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There is an absolute need for that provision. As an adult I speak English fairly well, although I speak Welsh much better, but many children under three and four do not speak English. In my constituency, about 75 per cent. of the population speak Welsh, and about 90 per cent. of under-fives speak Welsh and no English in their family, yet the overwhelming majority of the small amount of child care is not available through the medium of Welsh. Clearly something is going seriously wrong, so I hope that my remarks are noted in the Welsh Assembly and that suitable action is taken as soon as possible. There is a crisis and there could be great dangers for small children being cared for in that situation.

Some of the issues that I raised are for the Welsh Assembly Government, while some are for the Treasury, in respect of legislation and the payment of child minders, especially in rural areas where neither paid-for nor voluntary provision is available. In large measure, we should be guided by what parents, grandparents and, most obviously, children, want. From the research that I commissioned, it was clear that children love being with their grandparents. I shall not trouble the House with lengthy quotations, but one nine-year-old made some charming and engaging remarks. He said:

He said all that in Welsh—apart from "Scooby Doo-2".

We should be guided by what parents, grandparents and children want, and we should guard against overdependence on a market model that has not succeeded in many deep rural areas. Through the Welsh Assembly Government, we should be looking for much-extended provision in Wales.

7.2 pm

Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): As a Welsh Member, it is with pleasure that I carry on the Welsh theme from the hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams). Listening to various speakers in the debate—the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), my hon. Friends the Members for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble), for Stockport (Ann Coffey), for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) and for Doncaster, North (Edward Miliband), the hon. Members for Wycombe (Mr. Goodman), for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke) and for Reading, East (Mr. Wilson), followed by two speakers from Wales—it is clear that across the country we are united, which is fairly unique in the House, in seeing the Bill as critically important for children. It is their futures, their care and their experience that we are debating. We are deciding how they are to be valued, protected, nurtured and supported. Those issues must be central to all our child care provision.

We are united in agreeing that the Bill is important to parents. There has been agreement that the chance to take up education and training is important for parents. There has been a recognition that child care gives many parents with mental health problems or depression the opportunity to take a break—a point made by the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole. Child care is important for people who need to raise the economic status of their family and, by having two working parents, to tackle the poverty and deprivation that they face.
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The hon. Member for Reading, East noted the importance of the Bill to employers. We must recognise that it is impossible for a company to fulfil its potential for growth and quality unless its work force are able to pursue extended education and training and can give a commitment to work, without anxiety about the safety and security of their children.

This week, I read an amazing statement in The Observer magazine. Billy Killington, a 61-year-old porter at Covent Garden said:

Racism has not disappeared, but Billy was recognising that the world has moved a long way from when racist attitudes were the accepted norm. Similarly, employers are waking up to the fact that addressing child care and work-life balance issues is critical to keeping a loyal, skilled and experienced work force. They are beginning to see that child care responsibilities are no longer a barrier to employing women. I thus look forward to hearing a future Billy voicing a belief that had become equally rooted in our society—that we would have to be mad not to see flexible, quality child care as critical to the future of children, marriages, employers and Governments. We have started some of that debate today and we should feel intensely proud of that.

The Bill is important for government at every level. In Britain, we have the highest employment rate ever and the longest period of uninterrupted growth in modern history. Growth and stability are enjoyed by the majority, not just a few get-rich-quick kids in the City. If we are to build a modern Britain, prepared to face the economic challenges from China, India and America, we need to invest in a society where every citizen matters and where work pays and people are equipped with the skills and support they need to engage fully with our challenging and changing world. That means providing the quality child care that Members have talked about many times today: meeting the needs of parents, children, employers and Government.

Like other Members, I particularly welcome aspects of the Bill. I welcome the responsibilities placed on local authorities, especially to provide child care for working parents on low incomes; to promote the provision of child care generally; to target child care for parents with disabled children; and to inform, advise and assist parents and prospective parents. The lady to whom the hon. Member for Caernarfon referred would thus be able to book her child into the appropriate Welsh language play scheme the minute she found out the result of her pregnancy test.

Thanks to the Government's management of the economy, people in my Bridgend constituency are generally more affluent, more socially and geographically mobile and better educated. Probably only one other Member has read The Western Mail today. A front-page article tells us that the Welsh economy is approaching a boom period, with indicators of continued expansion. That bodes well for my constituency, despite unemployment of a mere 3.8 per cent., with 1,500 people registered unemployed, 800 of whom are women. We have 18,000 women working: 83 per cent. are working between 10 and 44 hours a week, and 44 per cent. work between 35 and 44 hours. There are 6,900 families receiving child and working tax
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credits, which has helped many of them out of poverty and into work. I have to admit, however, that the wrap-round, sustainable and affordable child care that is essential if we are to compete for jobs in the promised boom period and face the future as a modern, progressive area is not as widely available as I want.

We have been helped by such things as the excellent Sure Start programme at North Cornelly, which has made a huge difference to local families. Cornelly children's centre is a bilingual, integrated centre, which opened last April, although the formal opening will not take place until next year. The head teacher told me that it had made a huge difference to the community. From the baby club for newborn infants, mother and toddler groups, playgroups and the two nursery classes, children have the opportunity for stimulation and education from birth until they join mainstream schooling. Classes also operate to encourage parenting skills and to equip parents for a return to the workplace. The centre will officially open in March 2006, but parents and staff are all agreed that that new resource is already making an impact in an area of social and economic need. Like people in the rest of my constituency, that head teacher will welcome the roll out of Sure Start centres in other communities.

Three common denominators face all parents when they are looking for child care, the first of which is finding it. We have acknowledged today that we must expand provision. That is why the Bill has been introduced—to encourage the growth and development of child care. The second denominator is funding, which, again, has been covered extensively in the debate. There is also the fact that, once one's children are of a certain age, ensuring that the care is acceptable to them can become complex. The parent may want to keep their child in child care, under the supervision and support that they like, but that may not be necessarily what the child wants.

In Bridgend, we have the Genesis project, which promises a new beginning for parents and children. The project will enable 700 parents to overcome barriers in learning new skills or returning to work. It also aims to create 900 additional child care places in two and a half years.

For the older children whom I mentioned earlier, we have 17 before and after school clubs, which support parents who work the traditional 9 to 5 hours. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey) talked about the importance of providing child care that support those who work shift patterns. I appreciate the importance of that. Covering Kenfig Hill, Pyle and North Cornelly in my constituency, the wonderful KPCY project, standing for Kenfig Pyle community youth, helps those parents who face the nightmare of finding child care and support outside the 9 to 5 provision. The scheme was recently named as the national lottery's most inspirational project working with young people in the UK. It provides a secure and safe environment—the sort of environment parents dream of.

There are 700 registered members at KPCY, who call in at different times depending on their interests and needs. The majority of those in the project are eight to 16-year-olds, including those at risk, or who have become disaffected and hard to engage. Since its opening, there has been a 60 per cent. cut in crime.
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However, that project is due to close in January because, despite the hard work of parents and staff at KPCY, it cannot raise the funds to continue the core funding that will be critical once the project loses its national lottery funding.

We had a meeting at which the local police constable talked to politicians and community leaders about how critical it was that KPCY did not close. She spoke movingly of Helena Porobich, the local lady who set the project up after her child died as a result of a drugs overdose.

The police constable went in one day to see how things were going at the project. She saw Helena go over to a child who had come in, opened his bag, got his school books out and was starting to look at his homework. Helena said, "Have you eaten yet?" The child replied, "No, mum's in work." Helena said, "Well, you're not doing that homework with an empty belly." She went into the kitchen and cooked that child a meal.

That is the sort of flexibility that the hon. Member for Buckingham (John Bercow) talked about. That is the sort of flexibility that I have in my constituency and that I am about to lose. I am particularly pleased about the power for local authorities to assist and to make arrangements for the provision of child care. My local authority currently puts no core funding into KPCY. I hope that the Bill will encourage that sort of funding to be made available.

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