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Helen Goodman: The hon. Gentleman said that there were many areas with spare capacity. Does he have any sense of which areas those are, and if they are in the same places where there is a shortage of child care places? It is an interesting notion.

Tim Loughton: That is a good point. If one looks at the survey that the National Day Nurseries Association has conducted among a large sample of its members, many of the vacancies are in areas where new providers, heavily subsidised at the front end, are coming in. That cannot make sense and that is why partnership and co-
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operation, as well as some of the conditions placed on local authorities in determining whether there is a sufficiency of supply, are vital to the Bill. We want more assurances from the Government on that.

The hon. Member for Caernarfon (Hywel Williams) characteristically went on at length and in detail about the problems of providing child care in rural areas and, not for the first time, talked about the shortage of Welsh-medium child care. If he is on the Committee scrutinising the Bill, we may find ourselves talking about those subjects at length, as we have on previous occasions. The hon. Gentleman, in common with many other hon. Members, also talked about the extended family, and he made a good point about the need for some sort of intermediate category between formal and informal child care. There is certainly some merit in that.

The hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs. Moon) mentioned the problems of child care that affect us all across the country, in particular those relating to disability and the extra costs associated with that. She spoke highly of the Genesis project—a Sure Start project—in her own constituency.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett) said that the Bill represents a positive way forward. He referred to costs and factors relating to special needs that hold back many women from returning to the work force, but he rightly said that choice has to be an important part of the Bill. The one-size-fits-all model is inappropriate. He spoke about the high cost of child care places, assuming it is possible to find them, in London and also mentioned the importance of children being encouraged and enjoying their development at an early age as opposed to being formally taught. He cleverly managed to sneak in a reference to his in-laws, Peggy and Ron Smith, as we approach Christmas. I am sure that he will be relying on them for cover during the Christmas holidays—and not least for a present, too. I shall perhaps mention my in-laws later.

The hon. Member for City of Durham (Dr. Blackman-Woods) made an interesting contribution about employment patterns, using some of the Office for National Statistics data. She was the only hon. Member to refer in detail to the need to close gaps and to tackle inequality, which is an important aspect of the Bill. She then said that we need to rely on targets to achieve that, which is where we may part company. There are many ways of reducing inequality and we believe that it should start with levelling up rather than levelling down. We will want some assurances about that when we come to debate the detail in Committee.

The hon. Lady also referred to the inspection regime, which is necessary to measure quality. We can tick as many boxes as we like and increase the numbers by as many as we like, but quality is crucial. If they are not quality child care places, we are not doing any service for the children who need them and their parents. The hon. Lady also mentioned the pet Sure Start project in her constituency. It was all going so well until she lapsed into a little partisanship. To mention what happened eight and a half years is no longer sufficient; we have to go back about 34 years to refer implicitly to "Margaret Thatcher, milk snatcher"—all those years ago.
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Finally, we had a late entry from the hon. Member for Burnley (Kitty Ussher), who made a very good contribution about breaking the link between income and opportunity and raised a fair point about the need to give choices to a wider range of people. That is what the Bill should be all about.

As I said, we have had a good debate and, to reiterate the opening comments of my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs. May), we welcome the Bill and will support it, just as we have welcomed previous child care measures. I was involved in the Children and Adoption Bill and the Children Act 2004. Indeed, we worked together across the House to improve the legislation as it went through its Committee and later stages. I hope that the same will be true of this Bill—that we have a good, well-informed and constructive debate in Committee.

Affordable and quality child care is a subject that is at last coming of age in Westminster politics and, given the significant proportion of our constituents who are affected, that is long overdue. Ahead of the last election, it was interesting that when we produced a manifesto solely on the subject of child care, it generated considerable interest among the Government, such that the Prime Minister had to come forward at that stage and produce his own thoughts on child care. All parties recognise the importance of getting child care right. That has many implications for children, parents, child care providers and children's voluntary organisations now, but, more importantly, getting it right now will have enormous implications for the future social, educational and career development of those children as they grow up.

It is interesting that the under-fives are the only part of the population that is projected to grow by 2012—[Interruption.]—by some 4 per cent. to 2.9 million children. It is clearly the sector of population that we should focus most on while the rest of the population shrinks—[Interruption.]—in numbers, not in size: ho, ho. I am trying to raise the level of the debate a little. As a recent report from the US National Academy of Sciences found:

The Bill should be subject to detailed scrutiny, and we welcome the Government's intention to allow, as I understand it, three weeks in Committee without knives, so we can properly study those proposals that require the most detailed examination. A common complaint across the House has been the lack of detail at this stage. I, for one on the Conservative Benches, have form for criticising legislation that leaves too many of the detailed considerations to secondary regulation and codes of conduct, which are all too often not produced until well after a Bill has passed all its parliamentary stages. I therefore ask the Minister whether the Government will make draft copies of their proposed regulations available during the passage of the Bill either through this House or in the other place, as that would greatly assist our deliberations.

The general principles that we should apply to the scrutiny of the Bill are as follows. First, the measures should maximise parental choice. Whether a parent chooses to send his or her child to a state-run nursery,
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a voluntary-sector nursery, an independent provider, an extended family member or to leave the child at home if possible, they should not be hampered—and certainly not financially disadvantaged—in doing so. They should choose whatever course of action they believe is most suitable for their own children. As the Pre-School Learning Alliance put it:

The second criterion is one of quality over quantity. It would be detrimental if, in expanding the accessibility of child care places, quality was compromised so that the development of children at crucial early years was prejudiced by inappropriate levels of care from inappropriately qualified providers. Inappropriate day care could make children more likely to suffer from emotional problems. Do the skilled work force exist or will they exist in the next few years in order to provide the quality of care that we are all agreed that we need?

Thirdly, we will judge the Bill on the degree of accessibility provided on a level playing field. There is concern that the Government intend to increase provision through working tax credits only, thereby supporting parents into work. Obviously, we need to help the most disadvantaged families—the result of poverty, disability or whatever—most of all, but many non-working families would benefit from access to additional child care help yet that funding arrangement will not apply to them. Lack of affordable child care is a problem for all parents across all social scales. In any case, the take-up of the tax credit is relatively low with only about 300,000 families currently accessing the child care element of the working tax credit. We need some answers about who else will be able to access the new child care places.

The fourth criterion that we will apply to the Bill is simplicity and transparency. Child tax credit is notoriously complex and bureaucratic and any new arrangements for funding child care should avoid bureaucratic procedures for providers and parents—a point made in the briefing note from the National Union of Teachers.

Fifthly, we need to achieve the right balance. What is the right child care balance between care, education and play; and what is the right balance between family care and paid professional care away from home? The Bill is centred almost entirely on the non-maternal care of young children by paid employees.

Sixthly, another criterion that we shall apply in scrutinising the Bill is one of sustainability. It is no good creating new, heavily subsidised child care places only to knock out perfectly good-quality existing ones. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead mentioned, for every two new places that have been created, one has been lost.

The concern is that the advantageous models of capital cost will be paid up front, through various neighbourhood nursery schemes, for child care that is not viable in a financial sense, so that when the funding runs out after three or five years, those schemes' viability will be questionable, even though they have knocked out much of the competition. We need competition, but we need it on a level playing field that is fair to all; indeed such criticisms have been made in the past. So there are many questions that we want the Government to address this evening and during the Bill's later stages.
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Does the Minister genuinely believe that these aims can be achieved without extra funding? The Local Government Association is concerned that extra funding is simply not going to be attached to this Bill, at a time when children's services departments throughout the country are greatly stretched and undergoing significant reorganisation, largely as a result of the Children Act 2004 and the Adoption and Children Act 2002. They are rightly creating new children's services departments and directors of children's services, and new structures for child protection and for greater co-operation between, and working with, all interested parties. Can the Minister be sure that in pushing forward the measures in this Bill, those departments will not suffer from a lack of funding, and from a lack of ability to pay the attention that they must continue to pay to elements of recent legislation that they are still trying to absorb?

According to the interdepartmental child care review, the child care work force needs to expand by some 8 per cent. every year to meet Government targets on child care growth. We need reassurance from the Minister, given the slightly disappointing child care work force strategy that was published in the spring, that the Government are on course to produce those skilled people. Turning to the difference between care and education, and the early years foundation stages innovations, the National Union of Teachers pointed out that there are no initial teacher training courses appropriate for the learning and development needs of children aged from birth to three. Concern has also been expressed about the many other responsibilities placed on local authority children's services departments, which are still absorbing and adapting to recent legislation, as I said.

Can the Minister give us some idea of how we define the Bill's reference to reducing inequalities? Will the definition be very broad? How on earth do we define the various contributions made to society? It was difficult enough to define that in the Children Act 2004; it will surely be much more difficult to define in dealing with children between the age of birth and five. What will be the precise duty relationship between local authorities and their partners? Here, there appears to be some discrepancy with the requirements for co-operation contained in the 2004 Act. What targets are to be prescribed by the Secretary of State, and can we be assured that they will be based on quality outcomes, rather than on the ticking of quantitative boxes? How does all this relate to looked-after children? There is of course a potential conflict of interest when the local authority is facilitator and provider of early-years child care, as well as corporate parent. So we have a number of questions concerning the outcomes for looked-after children.

On the duty to secure sufficient child care for working parents, as outlined in part 2 of the Bill, what does "sufficient" mean? What are the penalties if a local authority is deemed not to have provided sufficient child care? How does a parent complain or exercise their rights if there is insufficient means of child care in their area? Will there be an appeals process for providers if a local authority does not genuinely secure a mixed economy, or encourage proper partnership with all providers?
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Turnover of staff could also give rise to the questions of quality and continuity. What measures exist to encourage continuous improvement in quality once the initial targets have been met? How will central Government and local authorities most effectively provide guidance to parents on how to judge what factors will best benefit their children's learning that cannot come from parents themselves? How is affordability to be determined? The Bill leaves that issue hanging in the air.

The sustainability criteria in this Bill are important. The National Day Nurseries Association has warned:

Occupancy levels in many NDNA nurseries are dropping, having declined in the past year from 82 per cent. to an average of 76 per cent. They are in danger of becoming unsustainable. According to Laing and Buisson, an occupancy level of 90 per cent. is required to guarantee sustainability. What assessment has the Minister made of current spare capacity in the sector?

If schools provide child care for three and four-year-olds, private and voluntary providers will be left to cater for one and two-year-olds. That is an unsustainable model, given the high staff ratios required for under-threes. It is therefore essential that Sure Start children's centre programmes build on existing child care provision, rather than duplicate it. An NDNA survey revealed the following:

is in danger of

Other respondents to the survey said that the majority, 71 per cent.,

Chapter 2 of part 3 of the Bill, which deals with the requirements to be met by early-years providers, will doubtless lead to some fireworks in Committee. We have major concerns about this issue. The provision has been described as standard assessment tests for embryos. Perhaps the point is encompassed in the use of the word "taught" in clause 41(2)(b), as has been mentioned. The Daycare Trust points out the following:

The trust has also referred to this as

As the Minister knows, the first two years of a child's life are crucial. The way that they develop, and are helped to develop, has a major impact on how they turn out. The wiring of the brain is a physical development—
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the joining together of neural pathways that takes place between birth and the age of two. At between the ages of six months and 18 months, the "social" part of the brain grows; it is not there at birth. The growth, or lack of it, depends on positive stimulus from an attentive and loving care giver. The satisfactory development of the brain almost entirely depends on the quality of attachment achieved during the first two years. That is basic attachment theory, but the point is that those first two years are very different from the following three. Yet the Bill does not differentiate between the first two years and later years. We need to pay some attention to that point.

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