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Baroness Barker: I rise to speak to Amendment No. 134ZA. We recently discussed the inspection of care homes. Here we are again trying to make that most difficult of judgments as to what constitutes inspections that will be effective without being too onerous.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, in relation to his amendments, talked about the use of the word "examine" as opposed to "inspect". I want to argue the contrary case on this amendment. Those of us who work in the field of social services, like those who work in other fields, have a language that is all our own. People gradually become fluent in speaking "social services", and words have particular meanings to us.
The word "examine" in this context carries with it a connotation of physical or medical examination. Therefore, we believe that its use is inappropriate in charging inspectors to go into any premises and carry out what could be a detailed physical examination of a young person. Our amendment has the same intention as that tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, but from a different starting point. We believe that the word "examine" is inappropriate and we want to replace it with the word "inspect".
Lord Bach: In responding to Amendment No. 131, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 132, 133 and 134ZA and to the Government's Amendment No. 134A. Taken together, they address a number of important issues relating to inspection.
Amendment No. 131 ensures that the chief inspector provides proper training for his inspectors before they are expected to carry out their duties as regulators. That is a sensible requirement. It would not be appropriate for untrained, inexperienced inspectors to carry out this important and often sensitive role.
However, provision for the training of inspectors is already included in Part V of the Bill. New Section 79N(3) on page 28 applies paragraph 11 of Schedule 26 to the School Standards and Framework Act to the register of childcare inspectors in the same way as it currently applies to the register of nursery education inspectors. Paragraph 11 requires registered nursery inspectors to have completed a course of training to the satisfaction of the chief inspector before being permitted to conduct an inspection. As this condition will also be required of the new cadre of inspectors, I am pleased to be able to reassure the noble Earl that the objective of his amendment has been achieved.
I turn to Amendment No. 132. I recognise that there may be concerns in some quarters about who might be contracted to carry out Ofsted's inspections. It might be helpful if I make clear that the actual effect of Amendment No. 132 is to prevent the contracting out of the organisation of inspections, not the inspection itself. This is a useful power as it may prove
However, it is important to stress--and I do so--that the Government are concerned to ensure that inspections of both nursery education and childcare are carried out by appropriately qualified persons and the training to which I referred earlier is integral to that. That is why we are introducing new requirements on Ofsted, first, to register early years childcare inspectors and, secondly, to ensure that registered inspectors carry out inspections.
In case there are further concerns about the contracting-out powers, we expect that in the majority of cases the inspectors currently employed by local authorities will carry out those duties and--in response to the noble Earl--to a high standard indeed. However, over time that might change as others such as nursery education inspectors take an interest in the work, which we should welcome. It will remain the case that whoever is charged with carrying out the inspection, he or she will be a registered inspector of a suitably high calibre to fulfil the role. We believe that someone from the voluntary sector could inspect, but only if suitably qualified. I am grateful to the noble Earl for his comments which we shall take away and consider further. Furthermore, there will be transitional arrangements for the transfer of staff, a matter to which we shall no doubt return.
Having completed the inspection process, the regulating authority undertakes to make a full report. It is with regard to the detail of those reporting arrangements that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, tabled Amendment No. 133. We have some sympathy with the general thrust of that amendment and I welcome the opportunity to clarify our intentions.
It is important to ensure that certain sensitive information, including in some cases names and addresses, is not placed in the public domain. That will be particularly so when the publication of such information might in some cases place a child's well-being in doubt.
However, our approach is slightly different from that of the noble Earl. The provision in subsection (2) of new Section 79Q already enables Ofsted to publish reports on providers but to withhold information from the report where appropriate to do so. That might apply, for example, when publishing an inspection report on a childminder and, for child protection reasons, it is considered appropriate not to reveal the provider's identity by publishing his or her name and address. In addition, your Lordships should also be aware that it is routine protocol for Ofsted when completing a report to check matters of factual accuracy with the provider before publication.
We do not believe that that will be necessary, as this amendment seeks to achieve, in order to prevent the publication of names and addresses in every instance. An important part of these reforms is that parents are given access to more, not less, information about the availability and quality of the provision of childcare in their locality. In this context, the Ofsted reports will be rendered meaningless if parents, having identified potentially suitable provision in their area via the register established in new Section 79F(5), cannot assess the quality of its provisions. That is why we consider it proper that there should be discretion in this area, recognising, of course, that a sensible balance must be achieved between protecting children and the provision of information to parents.
Inspection powers and the records which follow from them are the subject matter of Amendment No. 134 tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. It provides an opportunity to explain clearly that this element of the Bill basically carries forward an existing and very important inspection power set out in the Children Act 1989. In brief, this section of the Bill, unamended, sets out what an inspector may do or have regard to upon entering a provider's premises to undertake a routine inspection to report on the welfare and development of children. In addition, it clarifies what the inspector may do, or have regard to on other occasions; for example, on pre- and post-registration checks or unannounced inspections.
As drafted, Amendment No. 134 would undermine this fundamental aspect of the inspection process, removing existing clarity as to the right to interview the care provider and/or give regard to the premises, the relevant records or documentation or the children being cared for.
Given the clear implications for child protection and safety, the Government are concerned for the need to be more specific in this regard than the general power of entry which would result from the amendment. As drafted, the amendment would lay the power wide open to interpretation in relation to routine inspections. Furthermore, the amendment would reduce existing and helpful legal clarity regarding rights of entry to premises for purposes other than the prescribed formal inspection.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, raises a more specific concern in Amendment No. 134ZA, which relates specifically to the children being cared for. Clearly, inspection of children is a particularly important aspect of the current inspection process to ensure both child welfare and child protection, which again should be carried forward into future arrangements. However, where concerns stem from the application of those various powers, I hope that the Committee will be reassured that the Government are of course determined that all powers are appropriately exercised.
But surely that is a matter not for primary legislation but for regulations and standards? I have said before that the Committee knows that the Bill will for the first time introduce national guidance and standards, which we intend to develop in consultation
Having said that, the Government have some concerns similar to those expressed by the noble Baroness. They are related to the detailed wording of the draft Bill which introduces into the regulation process the word "examine", which we believe--here I am attempting to answer the noble Earl, Lord Howe--is an unhelpful and unintended "clinical/medical" term. Following helpful representations from both providers and regulators in this area and from the NSPCC, we have tabled an important amendment in the name of my noble friend: Amendment No. 134A, which seeks to remove the word "examine" and put back the original word, "inspect", as used in Part X of the Children Act 1989. We hope that by addressing that point with a government amendment, we may reassure the Committee on other related concerns discussed today.
Earl Howe: I thank the Minister for the full reply that he gave to all my amendments. I am particularly grateful to him on Amendment No. 131 for pointing me in the direction of paragraph 11 of Schedule 26 to the School Standards and Framework Act, which I believe settles the matter, together with his explanatory remarks. The intention of Amendment No. 132 was purely to probe the Government. I realise that its effect would be to prevent contracting out, which was not in the least my intention. I have every sympathy with the aim of contracting out. I am grateful for the consideration that the Minister said he would give to the points I made about the possible role of the voluntary sector.
In respect of my Amendment No. 132 which deals with the confidentiality of names, I shall read carefully what the Minister has said and consider the matter further between now and Report stage. Finally, I thank him for his remarks in response to my Amendment No. 134, which was again intended purely as a probing amendment. He successfully answered the questions that I raised. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.