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Lord Northbourne: My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may return to his discussion of the word "equality". Is he not falling into the trap that I have so often heard fallen into by Front Benches on both sides of the House, of assuming that the wording that we are being asked to agree this
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afternoon applies only to this Government, and that therefore their historic performance and the probability of their future performance is a sufficient criterion for our accepting a form of wording which is imprecise? We are making the law of the land that will apply to future Governments.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I understand the point that the noble Lord is making. However, in Grand Committee—indeed, in the remarks that the noble Baroness herself cited—I pointed to the unimaginable scenario in which a Government could set about making poorer outcomes for the generality of children. I simply could not conceive how a Government, even a Government of a political persuasion which one did not support, could go about doing that in a real life situation. I went on to elaborate on the position of this Government, who are bringing forward this legislation, which made it abundantly clear that the actual policy of this Government has been to extend provision for parents and children across all classes and all parts of the community. Indeed, we have invested literally billions of pounds in additional support for parents on a universal basis. I hope that that gives the noble Lord the assurance he seeks.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, it is not a question of emphasis. Can we have a form of wording that is accurate and describes what we all mean, rather than one which is vague?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I think that the wording is accurate. I do not think that there is a problem of inaccuracy. We are talking about the general duties under Clause 1. The concern was whether the hypothetical situation which the noble Baroness raised—that a local authority could reduce inequalities between young people in its area by depressing the outcomes of most children as against those of the most deprived—was a realistic scenario. As I have contended in these remarks and those in Grand Committee, I believe that that is a wholly unrealistic scenario.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, with respect, I remind noble Lords that we are on Report.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his full reply and for eating humble pie; I hope it did not taste too horrible. I am pleased to know that the rhetoric will change. I was also pleased to hear what he said about the PSA targets and his explanation of the joint area reviews. I would like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for supporting us on the target side. We are very concerned that practitioners are not so busy ticking boxes that it detracts from their vocational work and that we do not place too large a burden on local authorities. It would be awfully nice if we had a target to ditch some of the targets.

I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for his support on the first group of amendments. I thought long and hard about separating out those
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two groups of amendments but felt that there were certain themes which made it easier for the Minister to reply to both at the same time rather than having to be repetitive when replying on targets.

I am very pleased about the word "and", but I do not think that that in anyway detracts from what the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was saying—that there really is uncertainly about what "reduce inequalities" means. Recently, I spoke to a group of councillors and they were not at all sure what it was that they had to do and how it would be measured. Reducing inequalities must take into account a whole host of things outside their duty for childcare: housing, parental involvement, work and the economy. It is open to interpretation and may not be easy to interpret in future. We should concentrate resources on those most in need. It is vital that support for our most disadvantaged is at the heart of our endeavours. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 2 to 5 not moved.]

4 pm

Clause 3 [Specific duties of local authority in relation to early childhood services]:

Baroness Walmsley moved Amendment No. 6:

"(d) young children"

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 14, which is grouped.

The Government have been supportive of listening to young children, as they have demonstrated by funding organisations to conduct research and development projects. They should now cement that commitment into law. A commitment to listening to the views of young children is yet to be enshrined in law, and the Bill gives us an excellent opportunity to do that for the first time.

The Minister expressed great sympathy with the view that the voice of the child is extremely important from top to bottom of the childcare system, which is why I have brought the amendments back today. I want to give him the opportunity to give us any further reassurances that he is able about the Government's intentions beyond Report.

The amendments would place a duty on local authorities to take reasonable steps to ensure that the views of young children are incorporated into the design, delivery and evaluation of services. If the Government have been able strategically to use the voices of young children to influence the development of national policy in the form of the early years foundation stage, there is no reason why local authorities should not also be encouraged by legislation to demonstrate that same commitment to involving children from birth in how the authorities undertake their responsibilities.

The early years foundation stage document states:
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That should be echoed for local authorities, so that the Bill, when eventually enacted, requires children to be listened to from the beginning to the end of the system and requires those who plan and deliver provision to put them first and to listen to them and their parents.

Children Now has published its participation charter, which states:

In Grand Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, pointed out to us that that is not easy. Listening to young children must be done with great care and expertise. Interpreting and feeding back what they say to the authorities requires a very high level of professionalism. That is not a bad thing.

The current wording of the Bill ensures that local authorities are limited to taking all reasonable steps to consult the list of groups, to which I want to add young children. That could be reinforced in guidance along with examples of good practice. In Grand Committee, we heard examples of where young children had been listened to and great light had been shed on things that were going on in the nursery through the eyes of the children which the practitioners, expert though they were, had not noticed.

The additional duty of listening to young children is unlikely to be at any significant added cost, because it is fundamental best practice for early years practitioners, which is what the Bill is trying to achieve anyway. Anecdotal evidence from the workforce has also shown us that implementing a listening culture has made workers in the early childhood field more motivated and therefore more likely to stay in their jobs. That, of course, is what we want—a more sustainable workforce that is likely to be of a higher quality for young children and their families because the workers stay in their jobs long enough to really get to know the children and the families and to deliver a good service to them.

Finally, the omission of young children does not sit well with the UK's obligations under Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child or with the outcome of the contribution made by children to society under the Children Act 2004—the Government's own landmark legislation on children. Given that the Government must report next year on how they are adhering to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, placing the voice of the child in the Bill would be a very good way of demonstrating this Government's commitment to children's rights.

In our previous debate, the Minister was at pains to talk about the importance of putting the principle of reducing inequalities into the Bill. I think he is quite right. Involving the voice of the child at every stage of
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planning services for their care and early education is another principle that should be enshrined in this legislation, and I hope that the Minister will either accept the amendments or assure the House, which I know feels very strongly about it, that he intends to table his own amendment either at Third Reading or in another place. I beg to move.

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