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Lord Adonis: My Lords, this amendment relates to the minimum free entitlement for three and four year-olds of 12.5 hours a week which, as the noble Baroness said, has been extended from 33 to 38 weeks in all settings. That will mean that children receive the same basic offer regardless of the setting that they attend. In the past, children taking up their free entitlement in maintained settings had typically received a funded place over the school year, which equates to 38 weeks, while those attending settings in the private, voluntary and independent sectors were funded for only 33 weeks. That meant that if you chose a voluntary sector playgroup for your child they would receive 62.5 fewer hours than if they were to go to a school-based provider.

The changes that we have made are not only beneficial for children but strongly beneficial for the providers themselves, especially those in the private, voluntary and independent sectors who will now operate on a level playing field and will receive funding for an equivalent number of hours provided. That will have the effect of offering parents more choice, which I believe is precisely the objective that the noble Baroness seeks to advance. Of course, we have ensured that sufficient additional resources have been factored into local authority funding to cover the costs of a 38-week place for every three and four year-old whose parents wish to access it.

We know that some providers have said that local authorities are not providing sufficient funding to enable them to deliver the flexible free entitlement for three and four year-olds. I should explain that local authorities are funded in exactly the same way for places in all settings; there is no discrimination in funding between different types of provider. All three and four year-olds in an authority are funded from the centre at the same rate. But it is for local authorities to determine the most effective use of resources at local level. To remove that discretion to set the rate at which they fund places in the early years would run counter to the principles of local democracy and decision-making and be at odds with the rest of the education funding system.

However, we make very clear in the code of practice on the provision of free nursery education places for three and four year-olds that local authorities should adopt a principle of equal and transparent funding at local level. The department will take seriously any allegation that a local authority has not had due regard to the code of practice, especially if this results in under-funding of some local providers so that they cannot sustain an extension of the free entitlement without cross-subsidy.

The Government consulted widely last year on the changes to the free entitlement. More than 500 responses were received from a range of providers in the maintained and non-maintained sectors, as well as from local authorities and parents. The noble
 
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Baroness will be reassured that the respondents were supportive of the proposal now being implemented to level the playing field by ensuring that children in all settings would have access to the same basic 38-week entitlement. We do realise, though, that some providers, particularly, although not exclusively, in the first year, may not be able to offer the full 38-week entitlement. We expect local authorities to work with and support providers to extend their services to 38 weeks whenever possible. To this end, we have also made additional capital funding available to them through the general Sure Start grant. This should be particularly helpful to those small sessional providers who might be finding it difficult to secure the facilities to offer free provision over an additional five weeks of the year.

I should stress, though, that the duty to ensure sufficient 38-week places is placed on local authorities, not providers, and that the availability of provision in a local area should be delivered in accordance with parental demand. Therefore, as long as local authorities can provide sufficient 38-week places for those parents who want them, either through individual providers or in collaboration between providers, there should be no need for them to put undue pressure on providers to deliver places only over 38 weeks, when there is also a market among parents for a provision over a lesser period. We also acknowledge that some parents may take an informed decision to choose a provider that is open for fewer than 38 weeks. We have therefore made clear in the code of practice that in these circumstances providers should be funded for the free provision that they deliver. So it is not an all-or-nothing approach for the 38 weeks, even over the medium term.

The Government's longer-term commitment will increase the free entitlement from 12.5 to 15 hours a week, which will take the benefits to children and families a stage further. It will allow parents the flexibility to access the entitlement in a way that responds best to their family circumstances, will be of educational benefit to children and will also give parents greater access to training and the labour market.

That, however, is for the future. So far as the existing changes are concerned, we believe that there is flexibility for parents to make the choices they wish, and that that is properly reflected in support for providers. We believe that parents are the best judges of what is right for them and their children. We have no desire to nationalise either them or the providers, and I hope the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am certainly much happier with it than I was with the reply in Grand Committee. He is right: parents are the best judge of what is right for their children. We have heard, however, that certain local authorities are forcing the extra weeks on their PVI providers. Will the Minister undertake to make sure that if parents do not want the longer hours and providers do not want to provide them, each will
 
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be happy with the other, and that what starts off with choice will not go through compliance and end up with compulsion? If he undertakes to ensure that that is made quite clear, I will happily withdraw the amendment.

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I am very happy to do so.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: My Lords, I thank the Minister. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 11 [Duty to assess childcare provision]:

[Amendments Nos. 14 and 15 not moved.]

Clause 12 [Duty to provide information, advice and assistance]:

Lord Adonis moved Amendments Nos. 16 to 18:


"( ) In prescribing information for the purpose of subsection (2), the Secretary of State must have regard to the needs of the parents of disabled children or young persons for information relating to—
(a) the provision of childcare which is suitable for disabled children, and
(b) other services or facilities, or publications, which may be of particular benefit to the parents of disabled children or young persons or to disabled children or young persons."
Page 7, line 3, leave out "also" and insert ", in addition to providing information which it is required to provide under subsection (2),"
Page 7, line 14, at end insert—
"( ) For the purposes of this section, a child or young person is disabled if he has a disability for the purposes of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (c. 50)."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 13 [Duty to provide information, advice and training to childcare providers]:

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 19:


"(f) persons within paragraphs (a) to (f) of section 18(4) who are providing or intending to provide childcare in their area and who have requested such information, advice and training"

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move Amendment No. 19 and to speak to Amendments Nos. 20 to 23, 29 and 35. These amendments are about the role of grandparents and other relatives of a child who provide care for the child. I have to say that it was a group of amendments that was difficult to draft. I have taken advice, and I hope the amendments I have set down will have the effect I intend them to. If not, and if the Government accept the principle that lies behind them, I shall be perfectly happy if the Minister decides to take them away and reword them. I intend, therefore, mainly to discuss the principle of what I am trying to achieve rather than discussing the detail of the amendments.

I am attempting to create three distinct categories of childcare, so we can give some status to, and some clear understanding of the position of, relatives with
 
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whom the child does not reside but who provide childcare for him or her. The first category I envisage is professional childcare, a category provided for under the Bill and subject to regulation relating to the ratio of carers to children at each age, the training of staff, accommodation, syllabus and so on. As currently, the main purpose of the Bill is to secure the delivery of this kind of childcare in the quantities and of the quality required, and at an acceptable price. Providers and prospective providers will be given information, advice and training by the local authority and will be inspected by Ofsted. Parents will be able to claim tax credits in respect of this kind of childcare.

The second category, at the other end of the spectrum, is childcare provided by parents or others with whom the child is living, to whom one can usefully refer as "surrogate parents". Under the Bill, parents, including surrogate parents, are to be given or have available to them information, advice and training if they ask for it. They will also be able to draw down childcare tax credits to help pay for any professional childcare they decide to use. There is therefore quite a strong indication by Government in the Bill that they intend to support this kind of informal caring activity.

6 pm

The third category is the kinsman—whether it be a grandparent or some other kin—with whom the child does not live but who is providing care for the child. Grandparents are the key example. This category of informal care is extremely popular with parents. Kinship care given by grandparents alone currently represents about 60 per cent of all childcare and is said to save the Exchequer £1 billion a year in terms of lower demand for subsidised professional childcare. Some 82 per cent of children get some of their care from grandparents, and nearly 5 million grandparents each spend at least three days a week caring for their grandchildren.

My amendment does not suggest that grandparents and other kinship carers should be subject to regulations or to inspection. Like the Government, I believe that such a proposal would not be acceptable. Equally, I do not suggest that kinship care of this kind should qualify the parent to draw down childcare tax credit. I happen personally to believe that it probably should, but the political atmosphere is such that it is not feasible to suggest that at this stage. Perhaps we shall have to wait for a more enlightened government to put that through. The group of amendments does provide that grandparents and other kin who are offering this category of childcare are entitled as of right, if they ask for it, to advice, information and training from the local authority, which would enable them with more confidence to do a good job for their child. Such advice, training and support would only be given if asked for. As far as the state is concerned, the cost of providing information, advice and training would be offset by the reduction in professional childcare that would be needed because of better quality kinship care.
 
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Such advice, information and training would also give some status to kinship carers, thus encouraging grandparents and kin to realise that their contribution is both recognised and valued. It might help secure that more grandparents and kin would be willing to take on this work and be proud to do so. That in turn would offer advantages both to the Exchequer and to the child. Some degree of recognition of the contribution that grandparents and kin are making today and could make in the future would be entirely beneficial in terms of the well-being of the child, the parents and the Exchequer.

Briefly, I should like to go through the amendments, because they are quite complex. Amendments Nos. 19, 20 and 21 would provide for an extra subsection in Clause 13(1) which requires a local authority in England to provide information, advice and training to a range of categories of persons. My amendments would extend the range of persons entitled to receive this advantage to all persons in the area who are providing or intend to provide childcare and have requested such information. The amendment would therefore sweep in the parents, grandparents and relatives who are giving care to a child. Clause 18(4) excludes certain categories of people from being providers of childcare and those categories include not only parents but all relatives. My Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 would restrict Clause 18(4) to relatives with whom the child lives, so that non-resident relatives, including grandparents, would be entitled to the help provided for in Clause 13.

Amendment No. 29 would exclude from the requirements to register,

Amendment No. 35 makes the same exclusion for those relatives providing later years' childminding. Therefore, this group of amendments would leave us with three categories of childcare; professional childcare, parents, including surrogate parents, who are provided for elsewhere in the Bill; and relatives, including grandparents, who would fall into a separate third category. They would not be required to register and would not be entitled to provide childcare that qualifies for tax credit, but they would be entitled to information, advice and training, if they request it, from the local authority. I beg to move.


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