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Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, when she quoted me was not suggesting that I do not think young children should be in the Bill, because I was the person who produced examples of very young children who were consulted quite successfully. I think they were good examples.

I do think that there are real advantages to including young children, whether in the Bill—there may be reasons why the Government do not wish to do that—or certainly in guidance, where authorities can develop their programmes of involving young children. That has a real spin-off in a wider sense in that it is of benefit to our democracy. As soon as you start encouraging young children and young people to engage in decisions about their world and themselves, they learn two things: the first is that they might be successful in changing things; the second is that you cannot change everything, and that sometimes you are disappointed. The sooner you learn that, the more likely you are to engage in democracy at a later stage. Therefore, I would be delighted if this was in the Bill, but I would be even more encouraged if it were in guidance.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has made a very strong case in support of the voice of the child. One cannot disagree that, when designing services, it makes sense to include as many views as possible. In the case of childcare, those will be the views of the children who are placed in it. Indeed, we all know how pertinent, coherent and cogent the views of young children, let alone older children, can be. I can see the difficulties on both sides of the argument about the inclusion in legislation of young children. There is always a fine balance to be made in consulting and burdening children with decisions beyond their years. However, anecdotal evidence has shown that implementing a listening culture in services has made workers in childcare more motivated, thereby promoting a more stable workforce and a higher provision of quality in childcare.

Throughout the documentation provided in support of the Bill, the Government have supported the right of a child's voice to be heard, and have committed themselves to listening actively to their views. I welcome this as, indeed, I welcome the Minister's sympathy for the call for this commitment to be included in the Bill. I do hope that he will be able
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to give the undertaking that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, is seeking, and that this issue will be resolved on Third Reading.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, we had an excellent debate on this issue in Grand Committee when I said that we were extremely sympathetic to the objective that the noble Baroness seeks to achieve. I pointed out that from the beginning a key feature of the Every Child Matters agenda has been consultation with children who are affected. The original Green Paper in 2003 said:

That has also been demonstrated in the creation of the Children's Commissioner whose role is to give a national voice to all children and young people, especially the disadvantaged and the vulnerable.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, mentioned guidance, which has an important part to play. The current Sure Start children's centre practice guidance published in November 2005 emphasises the importance of involving and consulting everyone who is benefiting, or could benefit, from a children's centre, in particular parents and children themselves as well as those delivering services to families. The guidance goes on to explain how recent projects have shown how children under the age of five can be consulted effectively about the provision of services that they receive through, for example, the use of painting, music, cameras and story telling. It then gives a case study from the Coram Family children's centre, with the address of the website where further specialist guidance is available.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, said in Grand Committee and repeated today, valuable work is being undertaken in the voluntary sector to produce good practice guidance on consulting with children from organisations which have extensive experience in that area, particularly The Children's Society, Mencap, the Thomas Coram Foundation and the National Children's Bureau. However, this is mainly based on consulting children about day-to-day matters in childcare settings; for example, what they would like to eat or drink, when they should go outside or when they need a rest. It may include other matters about how the organisation of the setting impacts on them, but it would be unusual to go beyond issues of immediate concern to young children themselves, which I believe is the issue that we are for the most part talking about.

We have given a clear assurance that the statutory guidance supporting the outcomes duty, under Clauses 1 to 5, will carry forward the commitment to listen to children. The issue is also a key feature of the early years foundation stage, which will emphasise the importance of professionals listening to all young children in their care and is in line with the current routine approach to early learning. Indeed, we have already rolled out nationally training on the Coram Listening to Young Children: a participatory approach materials, specifically to encourage early years practitioners to seek and act on children's views.
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But, as I explained in Grand Committee, while the views of children aged under five are important and essential to service delivery, our difficulty with Amendment No. 6 is that it would place a duty on local authorities to consult young children about the strategic planning of services. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, just mentioned, there are practical difficulties in engaging this age group in meaningful formal consultation on issues such as where children's centres should be located or whether parents are able to use the type of childcare that they prefer.

My officials have met with the National Children's Bureau and have explained why an amendment in this form cannot be accepted. We have given a commitment to work with it between now and Third Reading to see whether we can find a form of words that avoids the difficulties of the current amendment, while providing a meaningful proposition that meets the aims that we all share in terms of consultation with children under the age of five. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness will allow us time for that further work and will withdraw Amendment No. 6.

Amendment No. 14 would place in the Bill a list of groups that local authorities must consult when carrying out their assessment duty under Clause 11. Let me stress again that we are agreed on the objective that she wishes to achieve. It is right and proper that key groups are consulted and involved. I can give a firm commitment that we will address that issue in the secondary legislation and guidance which will follow the Bill.

The policy paper on the childcare sufficiency assessment duty, which we made available to Members of this House before Easter, makes a clear commitment that local authorities will conduct a thorough analysis of the childcare market in their area, identifying demand and matching that against supply in order to ascertain where there may be gaps and how these can be filled. Regulations and statutory guidance will set out what local authorities will need to do in order to achieve that. We have given a clear commitment that local authorities will have to consult parents, carers, children of all ages, providers, employers and local organisations to ensure that provision meets their needs. I hope that that provides suitable reassurance of our commitment to this cause.

However, we are concerned that local authorities should have a duty to consult widely. We wish to pursue that matter in secondary legislation so that we have a full and complete list of people covered in that guidance. The list in Amendment No. 14 is a partial one. Most obviously it does not include children from the ages of five to 14 or disabled children up to the age of 18, and it also does not mention stakeholders such as employers or schools.

We have given commitments in regard to particular groups that will definitely be specified in regulations, but the full list, which will be more extensive than the indications we have given so far, will be developed in partnership with local authorities and other stakeholders and will take into account views expressed during the consultation on the regulations—
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including, I should stress, the views expressed by the noble Baroness in this debate and in the debates in Grand Committee. In the light of those reassurances, I hope she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

4.15 pm

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. In responding, perhaps I may first assure the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, that I did not intend to give the impression that I thought she was against consulting children. I was just pointing out that she reminded us that this is not a straightforward matter and that it will require highly trained professionals if it is to be done properly and in a meaningful way.

The Minister referred to the guidance for Sure Start and children's centres. That is all well and good, but we need the voice of the child to be specified for everyone—for local authorities and for all settings other than Sure Start. The early years foundation stage is, of course, related to the day-to-day interactions between children and their care, but Clause 3 refers to the planning of early years provision and, as I mentioned in Grand Committee, I think young people can make a meaningful contribution to such matters. They could, for example, say that they do not want to have to walk through threatening areas in order to get to their childcare; that they do not want to have to go too far from their homes; that they want their parents to be able to choose when to access childcare and so on. I think it is perfectly reasonable to ask young children, in general terms, their views on that kind of thing.

For those reasons, I very much welcome the Minister's commitment to continuing to work with the National Children's Bureau up to Third Reading to consider whether appropriate wording can be found to replace the wording in my Amendment No. 6. I thank him very much for that.

As to Amendment No. 14, I accept that it is only a partial list. I thank the Minister for his reassurance that a full and comprehensive list, along with guidance about how it should be implemented, will be introduced. That is a most satisfactory response and I am most grateful to him for it. For those reasons, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 6 [Duty to secure sufficient childcare for working parents]:

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