There are three main reasons why. One is to maximise compliance. It is absolutely clear that the voluntary code has already failed in some instances. Many Members will be aware of the cases of Tesco and BlackBerry, which are very big providers. The key factor in both those examples was that the providers themselves and the whole industry knew what was going on, but nobody said anything about it, and Ofcom was none the wiser because it has no powers. We are entitled to conclude from those failures that we cannot trust the industry to regulate itself effectively.

Secondly, we need independent regulation. It cannot be right that, under the current voluntary arrangements, each company itself decides how it will classify what is adult content—so different companies can make different decisions about the same content—and which system of age-verification it will adopt. That means not only that there is significant variation in the age-verification process between companies but that the system adopted is weak.

For example, the big ISPs have refused to apply the age-verification process at the point when someone is trying to access the adult content; they will apply it only at the point when someone wants to open an account. They say that they will send an e-mail to the account holder when someone is trying to gain access but, of course, parents are not looking at those e-mails every second of the day. I wonder why the industry is allowed to adopt much weaker measures in relation to children than, say, the gambling industry.

The third reason is enforcement. Without statutory regulation, there is no effective enforcement. As a number of people have said today, these are child protection measures and ought to be backed by powers of enforcement vested in a public body such as Ofcom to protect consumers, and in particular children, in the same way—here I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland—as offline child protection measures.

Later in the Bill, the Government have announced welcome additional measures to protect children from smoking by banning the proxy purchasing of cigarettes and the selling of e-cigarettes to children. The Government are not saying that people can decide for themselves whether a prospective purchaser of those products is a child; the onus will be on retailers to find out whether those children are under age and, if they provide to children, they will be prosecuted. I think that we need the same approach to these online products. I hope that noble Lords will support the amendment, which is very much needed.

Baroness Northover (LD): My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for tabling this amendment and for noble Lords’ cogent argument. I am aware that the amendment is drawn from the noble Baroness’s Private Member’s Bill, which received its Second Reading on 6 December. I thank her for the tributes that she paid to the Government for the progress that has been made.

I have read the proceedings of that Second Reading debate and, out of interest, I read the debate about the internet in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Lane-Fox, on 16 January. It is interesting to contrast them. Those two debates show both the downside and

28 Jan 2014 : Column 1164

the upside of the internet, but they both show how utterly astonishing is the speed of change. That is a point we need to bear clearly in mind.

The debate on the Bill of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, was passionate, committed and informed. We all agree, as my noble friend Lord Gardiner, made clear, on our huge concern for the issues that we are discussing. The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and my noble friend Lady Benjamin have made very clear the dangerous implications of exposure to inappropriate online material. We share the common objective to make sure that children and young people are as safe as possible when they are operating online. To answer the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, we support the principles of the amendment, rather than its measures, as she put it.

I read with great interest the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to the debate on that Bill on 6 December. Responding for the Labour Front Bench, he showed great sympathy, as one would expect, for what the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, was arguing, but he noted,

“it needs more thinking”,

and especially,

“to make it fit for purpose and to guard against unintended consequences”.—[

Official Report

, 6/12/13, col. 532.]

He rightly put his finger on our shared desire to counter the risks of the internet, and the difficulty of ensuring that we do so effectively.

My noble friend Lord Lucas has pointed out some of the technological changes which already pose challenges to the way the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has drawn up her proposals. This field is moving fast, and new social media emerge all the time. It is for that reason that we believe that the best way forward is to challenge the industry, which knows this field best, to engage and to take responsibility. I emphasise strongly that we do not rule out legislation, but right now we believe that the approach that we are taking is likely to be the most effective. An industry-led, self-regulatory approach will have most impact, allow greatest flexibility for innovation and is likely to be faster than any regulatory measures. Legislation can rarely adapt and change quickly enough to respond to the constantly evolving online environment.

8.15 pm

We also need to bear in mind the global nature of this industry. That is why it is vital that the industry engages. Self-regulation allows a broad range of interested parties to participate and, due to the global nature of the internet, is the best way for organisations to secure agreement. We remain committed to this. It is already working well, with good progress being made to develop internet safety measures, as noble Lords have referred to.

Others are looking at what we are doing here in the UK. According to the Family Online Safety Institute, the UK is a global net exporter of internet safety best practice. Ernie Allen, the president and CEO of the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children in the United States, a leading global movement to protect children from sexual exploitation, said that, when it comes to protecting children online,

“There is no question that the UK is well ahead of the rest of the world on this complex, difficult issue”.

28 Jan 2014 : Column 1165

To develop effective measures to keep children safe online, to which we are all committed, the Government continue to work closely with the industry through the UK Council for Child Internet Safety. This brings together representatives from industry, manufacturers, charities, academia, social media, parents’ groups and Government. It is through the council and its partnership-working model that voluntary and self-regulatory measures have been developed to ensure children are safer online. It is essential to engage industry so that the solutions developed are fleet, flexible and fully responsive to the rapid rate of technological change. Technological solutions are one aspect of a wider remedy which includes education and awareness for parents and children, and building children’s resilience, as we heard in our earlier debates.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, calls for default filtering of adult content, requiring users to opt in with internet service providers and mobile operators to receive this content. We understand the intention behind this provision. I assure the noble Baroness that this is being secured. The vast majority of mobile customers are already covered by default-on filters, as she noted. The Government are working with the mobile sector to ensure that all customers are protected in this way. Between them, the four largest operators cover in the region of 85% of the UK’s 82 million or so mobile connections. Three of the four operators already provide filters. The fourth, which we understand has about 9 million mobile connections, has committed to change to default-on in 2014.

In December, my noble friend Lord Gardiner spoke about the four largest internet service providers, which together cover just under 90% of the home broadband market, and the commitment they had given in relation to the implementation of family-friendly network-level parental control filters. This commitment means that all new customers will be prompted to make a choice about the application of filters. Importantly, filters will be pre-selected so that, in those homes where parents do not engage, they would be applied. I am pleased to update noble Lords that three of the four ISPs have now met these commitments and Virgin Media will be doing so shortly. Additionally, through this year, they will have contacted all of their existing customers to invite them to set the filters too.

Importantly, these filters will be easy to use and will give parents the choice about the content coming into their home. For example, parents in a household with younger children may wish to place greater restrictions on content than parents in households with teenagers. This is important because we believe, in line with the advice from experts, that engaging parents is also critical in ensuring that children are kept safe. Tanya Byron said in her 2008 report Safer Children in a Digital World that:

“At a public swimming pool we have gates, put up signs, have lifeguards and shallow ends, but we also teach children how to swim”.

That surely remains true today. We certainly would not want default filters to allow parents to disengage. We want to make sure that parents are provided with the tools to keep their children safe.

28 Jan 2014 : Column 1166

To ensure that parents are engaged and aware of the risks that their children face when online, and are confident in dealing with them, we have asked the four major ISPs to use their marketing expertise to reach customers to raise awareness. The ISPs have committed to running a three-year, large-scale awareness campaign, with a budget of £20 million for the first year, to inform parents about internet safety. This campaign will be launched in the coming months. Of course, we are also taking action on educating children and young people on the risks that they face online. As was mentioned in the earlier debates, as part of our reforms to the national curriculum, e-safety will be taught from September this year as part of the computing curriculum to all four key stages—that is, pupils from the age of five to 16.

We have just had in-depth debates on PSHE and SRE, and I shall not repeat all the arguments that were made. However, there were actions there on internet safety and many other areas, and I thank noble Lords for their tributes on the actions being taken. We also welcome the new supplementary guidance which is being developed by the PSHE Association, the Sex Education Forum and Brook. This guidance will address changes in technology and legislation since 2000, in particular by seeking to equip teachers to help protect children and young people from inappropriate online content and from online bullying, harassment and exploitation. In addition, the Sex Education Forum has produced guidance on the best way for teachers to tackle the dangers associated with online pornography.

The noble Baroness, Lady Howe, also calls for an enhanced role for Ofcom to regulate the standards of filtering. She and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, are right to emphasise the importance of Ofcom. The noble and learned Lord made a clear case for Ofcom’s ability to address this area. In his speech on internet safety last July, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister asked Ofcom to report on parental awareness and their take-up and confidence in the tools available to them to keep their children safe. I am pleased to say that the first of these reports was published on 15 January and will be used as a baseline against which to measure the impact of the internet safety measures being rolled out this year, so we will see what progress is being made. One of the most illuminating findings was about those parents who did not have parental controls installed. One in eight said that it was because they were not aware that they existed or did not know how to install them. Clearly, we need to see an improvement on that in the next report.

I hope that noble Lords will agree that the Government, in working with the industry, are seeking very hard to make the internet a safer place for children and young people and that encouraging progress has been made in this arena. Again, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, for her comments on that. Indeed, since the Second Reading of her Bill, three of the four major ISPs are now offering filtering tools to new customers and the final one will do so imminently, Ofcom has produced the first of its reports and will be producing the next in the spring and work continues to ensure that all mobile networks

28 Jan 2014 : Column 1167

are offering filters. In addition, the major ISPs are making great progress on their parental awareness campaign.

We are far from complacent and will continue to push forward to make further progress. I know that this is an area about which we are all extremely concerned. I reiterate: we have always said that, if the industry does not go far enough or move quickly enough on this important issue, we would not hesitate to look at legislative options. But the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, highlighted the complexity of this. The most effective way to do this is to make sure that the industry engages, and I am sure that the industry will hear what noble Lords have said. For the reasons that I have given, I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for taking part in this debate. There were some excellent contributions. Of course, I have listened with great care to what the Minister has said. As I said earlier, I recognise and welcome the progress that has been made in relation to self-regulation. I do not question its reality—good progress has been made. I simply suggested that we now need to build on it, making good some of its weaknesses by adopting a statutory approach, underpinned with robust age verification.

Self-regulation, for example, provides no means of dealing with the likes of Andrews and Arnold where default filters are concerned. Its closed loop system does not provide for proper age verification and the mobile phone code all too often—and at very real cost to children—has not been respected. If we believe that child protection is really important—and I have every belief that your Lordships believe just that—we must introduce robust statutory measures to help prevent children accessing this material.

We have debated these issues on many occasions and need to come to some resolution. On that basis, I wish to test the opinion of the House and very much hope that noble Lords will join me in the Content Lobby.

8.27 pm

Division on Amendment 53ZAAB

Contents 118; Not-Contents 153.

Amendment 53ZAAB disagreed.

Division No.  4


Aberdare, L.

Adams of Craigielea, B.

Alton of Liverpool, L.

Andrews, B.

Bach, L.

Bassam of Brighton, L.

Beecham, L.

Benjamin, B.

Best, L.

Bew, L.

Borrie, L.

Brookman, L.

Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, L.

Browne of Belmont, L.

Campbell-Savours, L.

Clark of Windermere, L.

Corston, B.

Craigavon, V.

Crawley, B.

Davies of Coity, L.

Dear, L.

28 Jan 2014 : Column 1168

Desai, L.

Eames, L.

Elder, L.

Elystan-Morgan, L.

Falkland, V.

Farrington of Ribbleton, B.

Filkin, L.

Finlay of Llandaff, B.

Ford, B.

Framlingham, L.

Gale, B.

Gardner of Parkes, B.

Glasman, L.

Goschen, V.

Gould of Potternewton, B.

Greenway, L.

Grey-Thompson, B.

Hamilton of Epsom, L.

Hanworth, V.

Harris of Haringey, L.

Haworth, L.

Hayter of Kentish Town, B.

Healy of Primrose Hill, B.

Henig, B.

Hollis of Heigham, B.

Hope of Craighead, L.

Howarth of Breckland, B. [Teller]

Howarth of Newport, L.

Howe of Aberavon, L.

Howe of Idlicote, B.

Howells of St Davids, B.

Hughes of Stretford, B.

Hughes of Woodside, L.

Jay of Ewelme, L.

Jones of Moulsecoomb, B.

Jones of Whitchurch, B.

Jones, L.

Kennedy of Cradley, B.

Kilclooney, L.

Kirkhill, L.

Knight of Weymouth, L.

Layard, L.

Lea of Crondall, L.

Lister of Burtersett, B.

Listowel, E.

Luce, L.

Lyell, L.

McAvoy, L.

McDonagh, B.

McIntosh of Hudnall, B.

MacKenzie of Culkein, L.

McKenzie of Luton, L.

Maginnis of Drumglass, L.

Mallalieu, B.

Mar, C.

Martin of Springburn, L.

Massey of Darwen, B.

Morgan of Drefelin, B.

Morgan of Ely, B.

Morgan, L.

Morris of Handsworth, L.

Morris of Yardley, B.

Morrow, L.

Nicholson of Winterbourne, B.

Nye, B.

O'Loan, B.

O'Neill of Bengarve, B.

O'Neill of Clackmannan, L.

Pannick, L. [Teller]

Patel, L.

Pearson of Rannoch, L.

Pitkeathley, B.

Ramsbotham, L.

Rea, L.

Rosser, L.

St Albans, Bp.

Scott of Foscote, L.

Smith of Basildon, B.

Stern, B.

Stevenson of Balmacara, L.

Stoddart of Swindon, L.

Sutherland of Houndwood, L.

Symons of Vernham Dean, B.

Thornton, B.

Tonge, B.

Trees, L.

Tunnicliffe, L.

Uddin, B.

Wall of New Barnet, B.

Walpole, L.

Warnock, B.

Watson of Invergowrie, L.

Whitaker, B.

Wigley, L.

Wilkins, B.

Winston, L.

Young of Norwood Green, L.


Addington, L.

Ahmad of Wimbledon, L.

Allan of Hallam, L.

Anelay of St Johns, B. [Teller]

Arran, E.

Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon, L.

Ashton of Hyde, L.

Astor of Hever, L.

Attlee, E.

Balfe, L.

Barker, B.

Bates, L.

Blencathra, L.

Bourne of Aberystwyth, L.

Bridgeman, V.

Brougham and Vaux, L.

Burnett, L.

Cameron of Dillington, L.

Carrington of Fulham, L.

Cathcart, E.

Chidgey, L.

Clement-Jones, L.

Coe, L.

Colwyn, L.

Cope of Berkeley, L.

Courtown, E.

Crathorne, L.

Crickhowell, L.

De Mauley, L.

Deighton, L.

Dixon-Smith, L.

Dundee, E.

Eaton, B.

Eccles of Moulton, B.

Eccles, V.

Faulks, L.

Fink, L.

Finkelstein, L.

Flight, L.

Fookes, B.

Freud, L.

Garden of Frognal, B.

Gardiner of Kimble, L.

German, L.

Gold, L.

Goodlad, L.

Grade of Yarmouth, L.

Grender, B.

Hamwee, B.

28 Jan 2014 : Column 1169

Harris of Peckham, L.

Henley, L.

Heyhoe Flint, B.

Hill of Oareford, L.

Hodgson of Abinger, B.

Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, L.

Home, E.

Hooper, B.

Horam, L.

Howard of Rising, L.

Howe, E.

Howell of Guildford, L.

Humphreys, B.

Hunt of Wirral, L.

Hussain, L.

Hussein-Ece, B.

Inglewood, L.

James of Blackheath, L.

Jenkin of Kennington, B.

Jenkin of Roding, L.

Jolly, B.

King of Bridgwater, L.

Kirkham, L.

Kirkwood of Kirkhope, L.

Lang of Monkton, L.

Leigh of Hurley, L.

Lester of Herne Hill, L.

Lexden, L.

Lindsay, E.

Lingfield, L.

Linklater of Butterstone, B.

Liverpool, E.

Livingston of Parkhead, L.

Lucas, L.

Luke, L.

McNally, L.

Maddock, B.

Manzoor, B.

Mar and Kellie, E.

Marks of Henley-on-Thames, L.

Miller of Hendon, B.

Moore of Lower Marsh, L.

Morris of Bolton, B.

Moynihan, L.

Nash, L.

Newby, L. [Teller]

Newlove, B.

Northover, B.

Norton of Louth, L.

Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, L.

O'Cathain, B.

Oppenheim-Barnes, B.

Paddick, L.

Perry of Southwark, B.

Phillips of Sudbury, L.

Popat, L.

Powell of Bayswater, L.

Purvis of Tweed, L.

Randerson, B.

Razzall, L.

Risby, L.

Roberts of Llandudno, L.

Rogan, L.

Roper, L.

Sassoon, L.

Scott of Needham Market, B.

Seccombe, B.

Selkirk of Douglas, L.

Shackleton of Belgravia, B.

Sharp of Guildford, B.

Sheikh, L.

Shephard of Northwold, B.

Sherbourne of Didsbury, L.

Shipley, L.

Shutt of Greetland, L.

Spicer, L.

Stedman-Scott, B.

Steel of Aikwood, L.

Stephen, L.

Stewartby, L.

Stoneham of Droxford, L.

Storey, L.

Stowell of Beeston, B.

Suttie, B.

Taylor of Goss Moor, L.

Taylor of Holbeach, L.

Tebbit, L.

Thomas of Gresford, L.

Trenchard, V.

Trimble, L.

Tyler of Enfield, B.

Tyler, L.

Ullswater, V.

Verma, B.

Wakeham, L.

Wallace of Saltaire, L.

Wallace of Tankerness, L.

Walmsley, B.

Warsi, B.

Wei, L.

Wilcox, B.

Williams of Trafford, B.

Willis of Knaresborough, L.

Younger of Leckie, V.

8.37 pm

Schedule 4: Childminder agencies: amendments

Amendment 53ZAB

Moved by Baroness Hughes of Stretford

53ZAB: Schedule 4, page 171, line 15, after “agency” insert “, or any individual childminder registered at the agency,”

Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 53ZAC standing in my name and I shall speak in support of Amendment 53A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and others.

There are government measures in this Bill that allow for the establishment of childminder agencies. These are organisations that in future will be responsible for the registration, support and inspection of individual

28 Jan 2014 : Column 1170

childminders who register with an agency. We had an extensive debate in Grand Committee, especially about the proposal that Ofsted would no longer inspect all individual childminders registered with an agency but instead inspect the agency’s procedures and a sample of individual childminders.

Since Grand Committee the Minister has sent me a helpful letter outlining the experience in Canada as well as some background on two of the agency pilots. I shall not rehearse the arguments that we made in Grand Committee and I have taken on board the comments that the Minister made in his letter. However, I still feel that moving away from universal inspection for every childminder at some point needs stronger safeguards than there are in the Bill. That is the purpose of our two amendments. They do not seek to frustrate the Government’s purpose in any way. They are about safeguards.

Amendment 53ZAB would give the chief inspector the power to inspect any individual childminder at any time—that is, any childminder registered with an agency in addition to the inspection of the agency, or the sample for which the Bill provides. This is a permissive amendment, not a prescriptive one. It simply means that if the inspector has any concerns about a childminder or agency, the inspector can go in and inspect that childminder at any time. Amendment 53ZAC would also ensure that over a period of time to be prescribed in regulation every childminder would at some point be inspected by Ofsted.

The reasons we need these extra safeguards for parents are twofold. First, we cannot and should not rely on Ofsted’s inspections of the agencies and their procedures to assure us and, more importantly, parents that every agency is conducting thorough and valid inspections of its childminders. Ofsted’s inspections of agencies will be desktop and paper-based. They will be about process and will be the kind of inspection that saw Ofsted rate Haringey’s children’s social care services good when baby Peter Connelly was killed. It is crucial that the validity of the agency’s judgments is tested by direct inspections of childminders by Ofsted, not just by inspection of a sample of childminders. Secondly, every childminder needs to know that even if they are registered with an agency, Ofsted can and will inspect them at some point over time. These two together are the minimum safeguards necessary to ensure, first, that agencies are more likely to inspect properly the childminders who are registered with them and, secondly, that childminders maintain good standards. Otherwise it is not impossible that a childminder registered with a not-very-thorough agency who happens to escape inspection through the Ofsted sampling process may allow standards to fall to poor or dangerous levels with potentially serious consequences for children. These are important amendments. They are predominantly permissive. They do not frustrate the Government but they do build in some extra safeguards for parents.

I also support Amendment 53A and the related government amendments which incorporate the inspection of agencies’ quality assurance mechanisms by Ofsted and require it to report on them. That seems to be something that Ofsted should be doing anyway, and if it needs to be spelt out in legislation, I certainly do not oppose that. I beg to move.

28 Jan 2014 : Column 1171

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, for supporting my Amendment 53A. I have considerable sympathy with her views about the need for childminders to be inspected. However, I think that if Ofsted has concerns, inspectors can inspect any childminder. My amendment focuses on quality. It seeks to introduce a requirement for Ofsted to inspect a childminding agency in respect of the quality of the care offered by the childminders registered with that agency. I noticed that in Schedule 4 there is no mention of this among all the references to the standard of services offered by childminders and the quality of leadership and management. It occurred to me that the most important matter is the quality of the child’s experience and that of its parents. However, that was not clear in Schedule 4 as originally drafted—hence my amendment.

Here I thank the Minister for agreeing with me on the principle that the issue of quality should be made explicit in the legislation, and for laying a series of government amendments to secure that. As he knows, I have my reservations about childminder agencies. I am prepared to give them a chance to prove themselves, but I will base my eventual judgment not on the services provided to the childminders but on whether they are successful in attracting more high-quality childminders into the sector and whether they provide childcare in the places, at the times and of the quality that parents want at a price they can afford.

I await my noble friend’s reply to this debate and welcome his amendments 53AA, 53AB, 53AC and 53AD, which will make it unnecessary for me to move mine.

8.45 pm

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I am very much in sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, in her wish to ensure quality in childminding. That is something that we all endorse and I feel a considerable amount of concern that childminders vary very much in the quality of what they offer and in the integrity of their offering to young children. However, I cannot see how Ofsted could conceivably provide this level of inspection. It would be a huge task. The inspectors who work for Ofsted already number in the thousands rather than the hundreds, and this would escalate matters beyond the possibility of quality in Ofsted itself.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and I have shared concerns about quality in Ofsted over the years—and the more its numbers increase, the more evident that concern becomes. I cannot do the sums, but to require inspections of childminders would require another thousand or more inspectors to be taken on by Ofsted. Concern about the quality of what they could offer would escalate. Although I am in sympathy with the spirit behind these amendments, I cannot support them.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I am prompted by the amendment of the noble Lady, Baroness Walmsley, to draw your Lordships’ attention again to the widespread concerns about the adequacy of funding for the two year-old and three year-old entitlement. This is a long-standing concern. If it is so important that we

28 Jan 2014 : Column 1172

have high-quality early years care, certainly the Government and the taxpayer should fund it properly. I apologise that I did not take the opportunity to raise this with the Childcare Minister, Liz Truss, when I last saw her. If it is possible during the passage of the Bill to discuss children’s centres with her, I will certainly take the opportunity to raise the question.

Lord Nash: My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hughes and Lady Jones, and my noble friends Lady Walmsley, Lady Tyler, Lady Sharp and Lord Storey for raising these important issues and bringing their experience to this matter.

The purpose of the Ofsted inspection of a childminder agency is to hold it to account for the quality of care its childminders provide, in order to deliver the best outcomes for children. Last week, Ofsted published its consultation on childminder agency inspections. This set out its proposals to ensure that Ofsted regulation of agencies will support quality improvement and will be centred on the needs of young children and their parents.

A key feature of the childminder agency model is that it is the agency rather than Ofsted that is responsible for the monitoring and quality assurance of the childminders who are registered with it. As part of the inspection of an agency, the Bill already gives Ofsted the power to inspect the individual childminders who are registered with an agency. Ofsted plans to use this to undertake sample inspections of childminders registered with agencies, which is comparable to the arrangements that already exist for Ofsted inspection of voluntary adoption agencies and independent fostering agencies.

We want to empower agencies to improve childminder quality. Requiring direct Ofsted inspection of agency-registered childminders could weaken the incentive for agencies to be responsible for improving the quality of childminders registered with them. We intend that agencies will help remove some of the burdens that childminders currently face. We do not want to complicate the quality assurance regime for agency childminders by making them subject to two separate inspections by both the agency and Ofsted.

However, Ofsted will retain its existing powers of entry to any registered childcare premises to determine whether providers are complying with requirements imposed by the Childcare Act 2006. Therefore, if there are concerns about an agency-registered childminder, Ofsted will have the power to go in and investigate, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley said. Indeed, we envisage that childminders registered with agencies will have much more contact, including more frequent home visits, than childminders currently have with Ofsted. Under the current Ofsted arrangements, a childcare provider might have to wait up to four years between inspections.

I am sympathetic to the concerns of my noble friend Lady Walmsley about the scope of Ofsted inspection of agencies, and how such inspections relate to the quality of care and education offered to children. Ofsted intends that inspection reports of agencies will consider how a childminder agency can assure itself of the quality of its registered childminders. While this was always our policy intent, I can see, for the avoidance of doubt and to make it absolutely explicit, that it

28 Jan 2014 : Column 1173

would be helpful to reflect this in the Bill. I have therefore brought forward an amendment to place a requirement for this in the Bill. The amendment will require Ofsted to report on the effectiveness of a childminder agency’s arrangements for assuring itself of the quality of its registered childminders, and of the quality of experience offered to children. I hope that this gives my noble friend the reassurance she sought, and I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and thank other noble Lords who contributed to the debate. I will briefly make two points. First, inspection of voluntary adoption agencies is directly comparable to the inspection of childminder agencies in the sense that with the former, the situation of the child in an adoptive situation is much more open and is scrutinised by a wide range of people. When a child is placed for adoption, the suitability of adoptive parents who have been selected and prepared by the agency is ultimately overseen by the court and will have been seen by many other professionals concerned with the child’s welfare. When young children are in a childminding situation—and we are talking about very young children—nobody, apart from the childminder, sees what goes on there day to day. It is a very closed situation.

That is why I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, because this is one of the most important situations, which should be subjected to the highest level of inspection that we can possibly muster. Things can happen in that situation, and the quality of what is provided can be poor. That is more likely to be an issue in areas where childminders are in short supply and where children are disadvantaged in a range of other ways. Therefore, it is of great concern that we may be going in a direction in which there is less scrutiny of the situations of very young children in a childminding situation than of almost any other area of children’s social care and children’s services.

However, I note the Minister’s responses. I am also concerned that what may be driving this, as the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, said, is that Ofsted feels that it cannot manage this. The level of resource is driving the policy; we are not being clear about what we should be trying to achieve for young children by way of inspection and ensuring quality. That remains of great concern to me for the reasons I have outlined, but I accept that the Government will not move from their position at the moment, and therefore I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 53ZAB withdrawn.

Amendment 53ZAC not moved.

Amendment 53A not moved.

Amendments 53AA to 53AD

Moved by Lord Nash

53AA: Schedule 4, page 171, line 35, leave out “and”

53AB: Schedule 4, page 171, line 37, at end insert “, and

(c) the effectiveness of the arrangements of the early years childminder agency for assuring itself of the quality of the care and education provided by the early years providers registered with it.”

28 Jan 2014 : Column 1174

53AC: Schedule 4, page 178, line 44, leave out “and”

53AD: Schedule 4, page 179, line 2, at end insert “, and

(c) the effectiveness of the arrangements of the later years childminder agency for assuring itself of the quality of the care and education provided by the later years providers registered with it.”

Amendments 53AA to 53AD agreed.

Clause 76: Repeal of local authority's duty to assess sufficiency of childcare provision

Amendment 53B

Moved by Baroness Tyler of Enfield

53B: Clause 76, page 52, line 25, at end insert—

“( ) The Secretary of State must, within four years of the coming into force of subsection (1), conduct a review of the impact of removal of section 11 of the Childcare Act 2006 on the sufficiency of childcare in England.

( ) The Secretary of State must—

(a) lay a copy of the report before Parliament, and

(b) publish the report in such a manner as they think fit.”

Baroness Tyler of Enfield: My Lords, this amendment relates to Clause 76, which seeks to remove the duty on local authorities to assess the sufficiency of childcare in their area—a requirement established under Section 11 of the Childcare Act 2006. In short, my amendment would introduce a review of the impact of repealing Section 11 on the sufficiency of childcare in England, to take place within four years and to be publicly reported.

In Grand Committee, considerable concern about Clause 76 was expressed by noble Lords across the Room. It was felt that removing the requirement for local authorities to assess the sufficiency of childcare in their area was a risky proposal. It has the potential to damage the capacity of local authorities to meet their duty to provide sufficient childcare for working parents, which, of course, is our end goal. We discussed at length the value of producing the sufficiency reports, and I do not wish to rehearse those arguments here. I shall simply say that, in a nutshell, the main argument was that producing these reports ensures that local authorities gather comprehensive data on the levels of childcare provision in their area, and that is vital for identifying gaps in the market and responding accordingly. It was also argued that local authorities are able to build a detailed picture of the availability of childcare for different age groups, taking account of changing demographics—in particular, for children with disabilities and special educational needs. Finally, it was argued that childcare sufficiency reports are an important mechanism for accountability.

Since then, there have been helpful discussions with Ministers and officials, and I am grateful for those. The Government have continued to argue in favour of repeal. We have been told that the current sufficiency reports are unduly time-consuming and resource-consuming, and that their removal will allow greater flexibility for local authorities in how they assess their childcare markets. In essence, we have been told that simplifying the reporting procedure would allow local

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authorities to get on with the real job of providing childcare. Of course, that sounds persuasive and no one, least of all me, wants to argue in favour of added and unnecessary bureaucracy. However, I feel that there is good reason to be sceptical here. The concern remains that, freed from their assessment duties, local authorities will give a lower priority to securing sufficient childcare and, indeed, allocate fewer resources to it exactly when we cannot afford for that to happen.

Your Lordships’ House does not need to be reminded by me that our childcare market is far from perfect. There are gaps in provision across the board—a point made abundantly clear when this House debated childcare on 9 January. Then, we heard, for example, about the Family and Childcare Trust’s Childcare Costs Survey 2013, which revealed that just 20% of local authorities believe that there is sufficient childcare in their area for children under two. Equally worrying is that only 9% of local authorities reported having sufficient childcare for parents working atypical hours, and that only 14% thought that they had enough for disabled children in their locality.

To allay those concerns, my amendment proposes a review within four years, and this seems to me a good way forward. I feel that the advantage of a review should be clear. First, it would allow the Government to establish concretely the impact of repealing Section 11, most pertinently how the ability of local authorities to understand long-term trends in childcare and secure sufficient childcare for working parents has been affected. The definition of “sufficient” is broad here: it refers not just to the quantity of childcare places but to the adequacy and availability of provision for older children, children with special needs or disabilities and those whose parents do not work conventional hours.

Moreover, in my book, “sufficiency” also includes quality, so any review should also seek to determine whether and how the quality of childcare provision has been affected. I am sure the Minister will agree that it will be important to have a detailed understanding of the childcare market at a time when the Government, very much to their credit, are increasing the number of free hours of entitlement for two year-olds. Finally, should any failings be uncovered by the review, we will be well placed to take timely action, whether this involves strengthening the statutory guidance or returning to legislation.

To conclude, naturally it is my hope that neither the quantity of childcare nor its quality will be affected if Section 11 is repealed. The measure we are proposing here is simply a safeguard—an opportunity to ensure that our legislative actions do not have unintended consequences. Finally, it would provide the desired reassurance that the Government’s commitment to childcare remains undimmed.

It is a modest amendment and I hope that the Minister feels able to accept it. I beg to move.

9 pm

Baroness Hughes of Stretford: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 53C, which is also in this group and which would leave out Clause 76 from the Bill. Clause 76 would repeal the duty, under Section 11 of the Childcare Act 2006, of local authorities to undertake

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and publish regular assessments of the sufficiency of childcare in their area. This would, effectively, neutralise the general duty under Section 6 of that Act to ensure that there is sufficient childcare for working parents.

In Grand Committee, we rehearsed the reasons why this is very short-sighted and I regret that the Minister has not listened to those arguments. In his letter to me about this, the noble Lord simply reiterated his position without taking into account any of the points we made. I will not rehearse them all but I will set out the main arguments. First, the Government’s consultation, on which this proposal was based, was inadequate: its findings were inconclusive and, at best, one-sided. Contrary to the Government’s claim, the consultation did not show support for removing the Section 11 duty, but rather for the need for revised guidance and a real effort by the Government to help all local authorities implement the duty as well as the best already are doing.

As I said in Grand Committee, I agree that some action is necessary. There are shortages of childcare in many areas and in relation to specific needs such as parents working unsocial hours or those with disabled children. Although some local authorities are doing very well, many are not. They are all using different definitions and methodologies, they have different action plans or poor action plans, and so on. However this could, and should, be addressed, not by repealing the duty itself but by revising the guidance, developing a consistent measure of childcare demand and a framework for action plans which the five-year review in 2009 showed was necessary.

The Government may say they have revised the guidance but they have not done so in a way that addresses those issues. They have reduced 70 pages of guidance, which I agree is far too long and bureaucratic, to fewer than two pages of sketchy and vague requirements. This sends a clear message to local authorities that this important duty does not matter to the Government any more. Repealing Clause 76 would drive a coach and horses through the sufficiency duty itself, as the position in Scotland demonstrates. There is no duty there, just statutory guidance similar to that which the Government are now proposing for England. In Scotland, one-third of the authorities do not collect adequate data. Scotland has only half of the proportion of private and voluntary providers because they do not work to stimulate the market and promote new childcare providers in the way the best English authorities have done.

A much better alternative would be to replace the three-year assessment with an annual one; improve the guidance by simplifying it and include some frameworks for consistent supply and demand measures. Local authorities should be required to produce action plans and their performance against those plans should be monitored. This is not rocket science: it is the way performance is driven up.

Finally, on Clause 76, will the Minister explain why the Government are neutralising the sufficiency duty in childcare at the same time as they are bringing in a new sufficiency duty in the Care Bill in respect of adult social care? I asked this question in Grand Committee but did not get an answer. It would be

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good to have one now. I hope the Government will listen, even at this late hour. In the event that they do not, I hope they will accept the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler. At least with a review and monitoring we would be able to assess the impact of the changes and look at them again if they end up having the consequences which I fear.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I am very grateful to noble Lords for their contributions on this important issue. There is consensus across the House about the importance of making sure that parents have access to good quality, affordable childcare, as we heard during the debate introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, earlier this month. Changes in demographics and in parents’ behaviour mean that this continues to be an important issue. It is important we see the reform of the statutory assessment duty that we are discussing here in this wider context. I hope that noble Lords will allow me to set that out.

The most important thing for ensuring sufficient childcare is to create the right conditions for growth in supply to happen in every part of the childcare market. To that end, the Government are making it easier for schools to increase their age range to take two year-olds and to offer childcare out of school hours. We are relaxing planning rules so that nurseries can expand more easily. The aim is that childminder agencies will make it simpler for people to become childminders, provide training and support, and help parents to access home-based care. Local authorities also will have a very important part to play. They are under statutory duties to ensure that eligible children can access the funded early education entitlement and to ensure that sufficient childcare is available in their areas.

My noble friend Lady Tyler is right that we need an effective means of holding authorities to account for their performance against these statutory duties. In its current form, however, we believe that the sufficiency assessment duty that we are debating is not the most effective way to do this. We remain convinced that it is better for local authorities to be held to account locally for the delivery of their sufficiency duty, and we want parents and council members to have regular information in a helpful format about the sufficiency of childcare in their area.

The childcare sufficiency assessment process does not currently meet these objectives. It seems that the two noble Baronesses who have spoken agree with that. It is too long and technical to be useful to parents and, as it is produced only every three years, it will usually be out of date. Instead, we propose to repeal the duty on local authorities to publish a sufficiency assessment every three years. In its place our statutory guidance already sets out that local authorities should prepare and publish an annual report on the sufficiency of childcare, giving parents more frequent information which is more focused on what they need to know. I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, said about an annual assessment. This change has been welcomed, including by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, in terms of it being annual, and these proposals were supported by the majority of respondents to the

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public consultation. More than 60% of respondents agreed with the repeal of Section 11, with only 10% saying they were not in support of it.

In order to support parents and the public to hold authorities to account, which in many ways is the crux of what both noble Baronesses are saying, I can commit that the Government will explore how we can present data in the clearest and most effective way. We will, for example, continue to monitor parents’ perception of the availability of childcare regionally through the biennial parent surveys.

Turning to the specific issues raised by my noble friend Lady Tyler about assessing the impact of this repeal, we agree entirely with the spirit of her proposal. The Government keep a watching brief on the impact of everything that they do and we are sure that childcare will continue to be high up the political list of priorities. We would support any post-legislative scrutiny of this undertaken by Parliament. There is also the extremely important point about the difficulty that parents who work irregular hours can have in accessing childcare. I can commit that the Government will include this point within revised statutory guidance.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, asked a specific point and I am waiting for inspiration which has not yet come to me. I had hoped that it would come while I was speaking. She asked about differences between the provision here and in terms of social care.

Baroness Hughes of Stretford: The noble Baroness may like to write.

Baroness Northover: That is incredibly kind of the noble Baroness. If inspiration does not come, I will be very happy to take her up on that and to write to her. I now hope that my noble friend is willing to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her reply, and also the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, for contributing to this short debate. I welcome many of the things my noble friend has said in response, particularly that the Government will explore how they can share some of the data in the clearest and most effective ways. It is very important that the Government keep a watching brief on assessing the impact of repealing this duty. I particularly welcome the commitment given to post-legislative scrutiny, which is important, and also the focus that was placed on irregular hours. I understand that I may hope to see that in the strengthened statutory guidance. That will be very helpful.

I admit to some disappointment that there will not be the formal review that I have called for; however I hope that the Government will continue to monitor the sufficiency of childcare. I hope that this House will also continue to monitor that sufficiency, through debates, through Questions and the other vehicles open to it. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 53B withdrawn.

Amendment 53C not moved.

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Amendment 54

Moved by Baroness Walmsley

54: After Clause 78, insert the following new Clause—

“No right to give corporal punishment: part-time educational institutions

In the Education Act 1996, at the end of section 548(7B) (no right to give corporal punishment), insert “except that it applies in relation to this section as if for paragraphs (a) and (b) of section 92(2) of that Act there were substituted the following words “for any amount of time during an academic year, no matter how little””.”

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 54, which seeks to close a loophole in the law about corporal punishment in places of part-time education. In rejecting this amendment in Committee, my noble friend the Minister said, regarding physical punishment in madrassahs that,

“individuals have been charged, convicted and imprisoned for physically assaulting children in these settings. I therefore hope that this clarifies that the law already exists to protect children from violence in these settings”.—[

Official Report

, 18/11/13; col. GC 335.]

I am afraid this does not help, because the law does not protect children from frequent, painful or risky assaults in these settings and others. Teachers in part-time education, like parents, are entitled to use the defence of “reasonable punishment” under Section 58 of the Children Act 2004, for common assaults inflicted for the purpose of punishing misbehaviour. A common assault may not leave a bruise, but the definition does not include blows that risk injury—like a boxed ear—or cause a lot of pain, or humiliation, or that are inflicted multiple times.

My noble friend also said that the department was working with faith organisations,

“to develop a voluntary code of practice”,

but of course the difficulty about voluntary measures is that they are voluntary, not compulsory. As I said at the time, voluntary measures would not do for,

“the primary school round the corner”. —[

Official Report

, 18/11/13; cols. GC 335-37.]

The Department for Education celebrates excellent safeguarding measures in some areas but they are not universally applied. For example, in September 2012, after a madrassah teacher was convicted of child cruelty, the Lancashire chief prosecutor told the BBC:

“When we talk about three successful prosecutions in the last year in the North West and probably a dozen nationally, we’re talking about literally the tip of the iceberg. In order to meet the demand, schools are being set up left right and centre. There is no Ofsted, no inspection regime, they’re reliant entirely on a particular committee enforcing standards, ensuring discipline is correctly maintained. And if they are not up to the job, there’s nothing to prevent children being harmed pretty much on a daily basis”.

The Muslim Institute estimates there are upwards of 5,000 madrassahs in this country, and we do not know how many Sunday schools may operate the same sort of abuses. The department cannot seriously suggest that the voluntary code will be adopted and followed by all of them. I am pleased to say that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State has publicly stated he does not support the use of physical punishment. So it is incomprehensible to me why these

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part-time schools, the most unmonitored and uninspected, are exempted from an otherwise universal ban on an unacceptable practice.

There has been a suggestion that prohibiting physical punishment in madrassahs would “interfere with local discretion” or fetter child-protection professionals. Nothing could be further from the truth. A clear law would assist both those working in the schools and those responsible for child protection, bringing clarity to the situation that the chief prosecutor describes.

9.15 pm

Recently, the Government accepted that part-time settings are exempt. Here is an extract from the Government’s draft periodic report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which is out for consultation:

“Corporal punishment

The UN Committee recommended that the State Party should: (a) prohibit all corporal punishment in the family across the UK; (b) ensure that corporal punishment is explicitly prohibited in schools and all other institutions and forms of alternative care”.

I will not deal at this point with corporal punishment in the home—that is a debate for another day—but the draft report goes on to say:

“Nearly all schools in England and Wales and all schools in Scotland are banned by law from using any form of corporal punishment. Northern Ireland has introduced legislation, under which the defence of reasonable chastisement will only be available in the lowest level of charge for common assault. A small number of unregistered independent settings, providing part-time education, are not covered by this ban, but the law already exists to protect children from violence in whatever setting it may occur. Physical punishment has also been banned in child minding, other early years provision, local authority foster care and children’s homes, either by statute or through codes of conduct”.

Here is a clear acceptance that there is a gap in the law, yet the Government suggest that,

“the law already exists to protect children from violence in whatever setting it may occur”.

If that law were adequate, why have successive Governments found it necessary explicitly to ban corporal punishment in full-time schools, early years settings, children’s homes and foster care? The answer is that it is necessary for us to be quite explicit that corporal punishment must not be used in part-time settings too. That is what the amendment seeks to do. The fact that the Government refuse to implement a ban sends out a message that it is okay to beat children and put them in the hen position.

I also remind your Lordships, as I did in Committee, that in the Education and Skills Act 2008, Parliament has already expressed its view that this loophole should be closed, but the matter was never implemented. It is time that it was. I beg to move.

Lord Storey (LD): I want to say a few words in support of my noble friend Lady Walmsley and praise her for the huge amount of work that she has done on this issue. She has raised it on many occasions and feels, correctly, that it should not be ducked. I cannot understand why it would. I know that there is a fear from some quarters that this could be the thin end of the wedge and that we would then be telling adults and parents in their own homes that they should not be allowed to hit children, which I actually agree with, but this is not about that: it is about children in education settings. It cannot be right that children

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in part-time education settings can be subject to corporal punishment. Before long, we can imagine an occasion—I hope it will not happen—where there is some sort of child abuse or protection issue. Everyone will be up in arms and questioning why on earth we allowed this to happen.

When we met people to talk about this issue, there did not seem to be a lack of willingness, but their answer was, “I cannot see how we are going to get it to work”. I cannot believe that with all our collective knowledge and skills we cannot find some way of ensuring that this dreadful practice is prohibited in this country. If other countries—perhaps more enlightened ones—are able to ban corporal punishment in part-time education establishments, why the heck cannot we in this country, which has a proud record of protection of children from abuses? I hope that the Government in their reply might come some way to agreeing that we will look again at this and if we can find a way of moving forward, we certainly will.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I thank my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lord Storey for raising this very important issue. We have a great deal of sympathy for what they are saying. The Government are absolutely committed to the protection of children. I understand their concerns: nothing is more important than making sure that our young people are protected and safe from harm. Clearly, children will not easily learn in such circumstances. Assault of children is against the law in whatever setting it takes place. The real issue that we all want to address is how to prevent the unacceptable, and already unlawful, treatment of children. We believe the best way to do this is to support people in their communities to address these issues and uphold the law.

Everyone in society has a responsibility to make sure that children are safe from violence, abuse and neglect. Our job is to enable parents and communities to exercise that responsibility. We must address the culture that allows unlawful treatment of children to be viewed as acceptable or—and which may more often be the issue—that makes people reluctant to report, question or challenge it.

We have a strategy that aims to address this issue in all types of supplementary settings. As my noble friend Lady Walmsley has noted—though not with favour—we are working with a range of interests to develop a voluntary code of practice for supplementary schools. We believe that signing up to the code will mean that providers will establish robust policies in areas such as safeguarding and governance arrangements to help protect children and young people from harm. I hope that she will feel that it is a move in the right direction, even if it is not as much as she would like to see.

The code will send a clear message about the expected standards that all settings should meet. It will enable and empower parents to make informed choices about the provision of supplementary teaching for their children. Through targeted communications, we will inform parents about the code and encourage them to refer to it when selecting suitable provision for their child. Providers who sign up to the code will also naturally want to inform parents about it, to highlight

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the good practice they have adopted. We want to give parents the tools to make informed choices about the right provision for their child and to know what to do and whom to go to if they have any concerns.

We will be consulting on the draft code this spring. We will place a copy of the consultation document in the Library and would welcome comments from noble Lords. In particular, I hope that my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lord Storey will take a very good look at this consultation document and feed their ideas into it. I assure noble Lords that we will review the effectiveness of the voluntary code over time. It will need some time to embed, but we believe that it will have a significant and lasting impact in changing culture, although we will review its effectiveness.

We all know that there is an issue to be addressed. There are different ways this could be approached, but we feel that the proposed new clause is not the best way to achieve the change we want. It seeks to amend other provisions, which themselves have not been commenced. If we were to commence the relevant provisions, including the regulatory regime for part-time institutions, that would require the Department for Education to register a large number of part-time education institutions, with all the complexity involved. More importantly, commencing these provisions would be unlikely to capture a wider range of settings, including those where there may be real cause for concern. Most supplementary schools are unlikely to qualify as independent educational institutions, so they would be unaffected by this change.

The real issue is not the technical difficulty that implementing this amendment would cause. The real issue is cultural: changing the culture which allows physical punishment of children to go unquestioned and unchallenged must be the right way forward. That is why we are focusing on this. I hope that my noble friends will engage with this next change and encourage my noble friend Lady Walmsley to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her reply and my noble friend Lord Storey for his support. I hope that my noble friend does not think that I am against the work in the community trying to change the culture; of course I am very much in favour of that, and I am sure that we will both engage in developing the code of practice.

Are the Government willing to publish a list of those settings that refuse to sign up to the code? Can my noble friend answer that?

Baroness Northover: That is a very interesting idea, and I will write to my noble friend.

Baroness Walmsley: I thank my noble friend for that. I did not really think that she would be able to answer that at this moment.

It is highly desirable that we shine sunlight on these issues and on those settings that do not sign up to the code. I should also be very keen, when the time comes, to know how the Government intend to ensure that parents are informed that the code exists and told how

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to find out whether the setting to which they propose to send their child signs up to it, how it is monitored, and so on and so forth. Those things are very important.

I still feel that we need a level playing field between part-time centres of education and maintained schools, foster carers, and so on, because I do not think that cultural change was considered to be enough when we tried to eliminate those schoolteachers—usually schoolmasters, I have to say—who were terribly keen on wielding the cane. We did not rely just on cultural change there; we changed the law. It may very well be necessary to do that in the end, but I am obviously willing to give a voluntary code of practice a chance. I will certainly engage with the Government in developing it. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 54 withdrawn.

Amendment 55

Moved by The Earl of Listowel

55: After Clause 79, insert the following new Clause—

“Part 4AChildren’s centres

Birth registration pilot scheme

Local authorities must establish a pilot scheme to trial the registration of births within children’s centres, and evaluate the effectiveness of the scheme to—

(a) identify and contact new families; and

(b) enable children’s centres to reach more families, in particular those with children under the age of two, or who the local authority consider—

(i) hard to reach, or

(ii) vulnerable.”

The Earl of Listowel: I shall speak also to Amendment 56 standing in my name. The first amendment introduces a requirement on local authorities to pilot birth registration at a children’s centre in the area; and the second strengthens duties to share information with children’s centres.

I was most grateful for the Minister’s encouraging and helpful response in Committee to both the amendments. Since then, we have had the welcome report from the Education Select Committee in the other place on children’s centres, and news of the Government’s work to stabilise fragile families. I am grateful to 4Children, Barnardo’s and Action for Children for arranging a meeting last week with representatives of those interested in children’s centres, including the head of Public Health England and Jean Gross, who has recently published a report on data sharing to which the Minister referred in Committee.

Since Committee, I have been recalling visits I have made to children’s centres and conversations with parents where they have told me that their mental health might have prevented them parenting their children were it not for the support they received from staff and parents at a children’s centre. The most disturbing aspect I have noted in visiting vulnerable families is often their sense of isolation, which plays havoc with their ability to parent or even to look after themselves.

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I begin with the words of a mother, who said:

“I went down to the registry office to register the birth of my daughter Charlotte. Registering the birth is one of the first trips you do as a new parent. In the early days it can be very stressful getting ready to go out in order to make an appointment. The registry office I went to was very cold and unwelcoming. My daughter was crying and I felt like I was being a nuisance to the people working there. During my appointment my daughter was still crying so I asked if they minded if I fed her. The response was, ‘If you must’. I felt very awkward.

Registering the birth of your child is meant to be a positive experience, but I found it incredibly stressful, so much so that with my next two children my husband went on his own. I think going to a children’s centre would be a fantastic idea. They are set up for parents and children. You wouldn’t be made to feel bad if your child was crying. In fact the staff would probably help you out, offer to hold him, and so on”.

In the light of what this woman said, I very much regret that I have not been more effective in persuading the Government to legislate for birth registration pilots in local authorities.

9.30 pm

I note the comments of the Commons Education Select Committee, and its recommendation that birth registration in children’s centres should not become a new obligation on local authorities. However, I underline that my amendment is a duty only to pilot, not to provide such a service everywhere. My concern is that local authorities are overburdened. For too many, children’s centres are not a top priority. I doubt that we shall see the progress necessary unless some obligation is put on them. I hope that the Government may be prepared to keep an open mind and review the matter over time. I should be grateful if the Minister would be good enough to write to me in July and advise me what progress has been made in expanding birth registration in children’s centres.

With regard to data sharing, it was chilling to attend a meeting of experts on children’s centres and to discover that some of those who should know did not know that sharing of information with children’s centres on live births was a recommendation under statutory guidance, and so an obligation. This is important because it allows children’s centres to send a card to the new family congratulating them on the birth of their new child and inviting them to visit the centre. It is therefore very important information. Some local authorities were proud to say that they asked each mother individually whether her information could be shared, when in fact this was unnecessary. Under guidance, they are quite free to share it.

It was good to meet and hear from Jean Gross at this meeting. She has recently published a report on information sharing. That was published after the Education Select Committee report, which did, however, refer to it. While her main concern was not with guidance and regulation, but with workforce capacity to share information, the Education Select Committee did have concerns about local authorities sharing information on children in need and in situations of domestic violence. I should therefore be grateful to the Minister if she could advise me of the Government’s response to these concerns from the Education Select Committee.

Finally, both these concerns, about effective information sharing and birth registration, might be to a large degree resolved if all relevant agencies gave children’s

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centres and the early years adequate priority. Listening to the experts last week, it became clear that we shall see such problems resolved only if local authorities, clinical commissioning groups, health and well-being boards, police and crime commissioners and schools consistently give priority to early years and children’s centres. I should therefore be grateful to hear from the Minister about the Government’s plan to ensure that early years and children’s centres are central to the strategies of each of these bodies.

I apologise to her for giving so little notice of my questions, and for not pressing this question in the break between Committee and today, but I should be most grateful if the Minister would consider meeting with me—inviting the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, Andrea Leadsom MP, Graham Allen MP and a representative of the Commons Education Select Committee—so that we can learn from her how the Government plan to ensure that children’s centres will become consistently central to the strategies of local authorities, the health service and schools.

To conclude, I commend the Commons Education Select Committee report to your Lordships and to the Minister. Its recommendations on children’s centres are most helpful, and I hope that the Government may choose to implement them. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his amendment. Children’s centres provide an important service for children and families and have a vital role to play in supporting outcomes for children and their parents, particularly the most vulnerable, who may be in the greatest need of help. I certainly recall registering with pleasure my own children. I also found that my own birth was registered by my father on the same day that he bought a bucket. I am not sure whether this was for my nappies or, much more likely, for his dairy calves but I think it was the latter. That would have been the much more important reason for his visit out, as he tended to avoid towns.

As I highlighted to noble Lords during Grand Committee, local authorities can already make children’s centres one of the places where parents can register the birth of their child. We know that some local authorities, such as Manchester City Council, are already doing so and we welcome that. We are also aware of other areas using new and creative ways to register births. For example, in Salford, in addition to local registry offices, birth registration takes place in a dedicated office at a local library building. In the Liverpool and Nottingham City Council areas, registration can take place at the local hospital by appointment. As your Lordships can see, birth registration is taking place at a host of innovative places with the aim of making it straightforward for parents, in the way that the noble Earl indicated. The services are designed to work effectively for the local community.

However, local authorities need flexibility in determining where to locate registration facilities to meet the needs of the community which they serve. We do not agree that we should compel all authorities to establish a pilot scheme but we do agree that more could be done to gather evidence to demonstrate

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whether the environment in which parents register their child could help to increase positive outcomes for children and families. It would be helpful to know whether integrating birth registration within children’s centres helps local authorities to reach greater numbers of vulnerable children. The department will look for ways to gather examples and use our existing communications channels to disseminate the findings.

On information-sharing, we very much agree with the noble Earl about the importance of professionals working together to identify families who are in need of support, and to offer them that support. We are already doing this through the department’s statutory guidance for children’s centres, which is clear that health services and local authorities should share information. Current legislation and guidance makes it clear that information can already be shared where there are local agreements and processes in place to meet the legal requirements about confidentiality, consent and security of information. As I have mentioned before, the Department of Health will liaise with NHS England and other partners to promote the sharing of live birth data and explore the practical issues involved in providing regular, timely updates of bulk data on live births to local authorities.

My noble friend Lord Nash provided an update on information-sharing in his letter to Peers on 11 December. We can resend that to the noble Earl if he would like to see it. We agree with much of Jean Gross’s analysis: that some of the biggest barriers to information-sharing are linked to professional practice and culture. There is a need to break down these barriers; again, in Committee I went into a number of those areas.

My honourable friend Liz Truss met Councillor David Simmonds at the Local Government Association on 23 January to discuss local government concerns with the registration of births at children’s centres. She will be writing to lead members for children in all local authorities regarding early years education, the important role that children’s centres have in delivering services to families and the value of better integration and information-sharing.

The noble Earl asked about birth registration pilots. We will be happy to write to him in the summer to report back on what the Government have done to raise awareness of birth registration within children’s centres and share some further case studies on that. He also asked about the Select Committee report, which my honourable friend Liz Truss is currently carefully considering. She will be responding soon but I can confirm that the department is keen to ensure that local areas share information as effectively as possible.

The noble Earl asked about a meeting. We would of course be happy to facilitate such a meeting and I would be happy to join it and see what further progress can be made against the important issues that he raises. I hope that on the basis of that and the work that is going on, he will be content to withdraw his amendment.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her careful and encouraging reply. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment 55 withdrawn.

Amendment 56 not moved.

Amendment 57

Moved by Baroness Walmsley

57: After Clause 79, insert the following new Clause—

“Part 4AProtection of children

Actions due to a belief of possession by spirits

(1) Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1993 (cruelty to persons under sixteen) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1) omit the words “and has responsibility for any child or young person under that age,” and for the word “him” substitute “any child or young person under that age”.

(3) In subsection (2), after paragraph (b) insert—

“(c) in subsection (1) the meaning of “ill-treats” includes the communication by word or by action a belief that the child is possessed by evil spirits or has supernatural harmful powers—

(i) to the child concerned, or

(ii) to anyone connected to that child.””

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I return to this amendment about a form of child abuse, about which we had a very useful discussion in Committee and, following that, a very helpful exchange of correspondence with my noble friend Lady Northover, the Minister.

The purpose of this amendment is to fill two gaps in the law protecting children: first, to make clear that alleging that a child is possessed or has supernatural evil powers constitutes emotional abuse of the child; and, secondly, to ensure that people not directly responsible for a child are liable for child cruelty offences.

In Committee, and in her follow-up letter, my noble friend Lady Northover confirmed that making an allegation of this nature is child abuse. This confirmation is welcome and important and will be supported by those working in child protection. Children accused of possession or supernatural evil are almost always already vulnerable in some respect—outsiders, orphaned, ill, disabled, trafficked et cetera—and as a result of an allegation, they may well go on to suffer serious physical or social abuse. Yet it is the allegation itself that can inflict the most devastating emotional trauma on the child. AFRUCA has a number of case studies which, because of the late hour, I will not go into.

However, this is not understood by those making such allegations. A pastor or relative or member of the congregation who declares a child is possessed or is a witch may genuinely believe this to be the case and see it as their duty to take appropriate action. So we have a situation where an abusive practice, like FGM or forced marriage, is being perpetrated in ignorance of the fact that it is abuse. But here the gap in the law is more extreme. Offences already existed that criminalised FGM and forced marriage; for example, the offences of assault, rape and false imprisonment. Yet, government wisely saw that a more specific law was needed. In this case there are no laws criminalising accusations of demonic possession or evil powers in a child, so again a more specific law is needed.

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My noble friend suggested in the last debate and in her letter that there were laws that could be used to prosecute those making allegations. She agrees that the main law on offences of child cruelty under Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 does not cover people who are not parents or acting in loco parentis, such as pastors or relatives. She proposed, however, that the Public Order Act, Protection from Harassment Act or the Serious Crime Act might be used against these people instead.

Unfortunately, this is wishful thinking. In practice no prosecutor would agree to a wholly speculative prosecution under these provisions against someone—for example, a pastor—who has alleged that a child is possessed or is supernaturally evil. For a start, if the pastor was told that he had perpetrated child abuse he could quite reasonably reply, “Says who?”. Government guidance on this issue addresses abuse arising as a result of an allegation of spirit possession, not the allegation itself.

More importantly, under all the provisions cited by my noble friend Lady Northover, the child would be required to give evidence that he or she feared violence or was alarmed or distressed as a result of the allegation. This is precisely the scenario this amendment seeks to avoid. The whole point is to protect children from the trauma of knowing that they are believed to be possessed by a devil or are supernaturally evil. If this amendment was adopted it would be possible to charge the accuser without involving the child at any point. I think that is highly desirable.

As importantly, the purpose of this amendment is prevention—preventing both the allegations and any subsequent abuse. None of the laws cited can have that effect because they do not specify the offence.

The Minister and others such as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, have made reference to projects and working parties on child safety and spirit possession in which most of the participants were of the view that changes in the law were unnecessary. However, these views were based on a misapprehension of the law. No one picked up on the fact that neither the Children Act in civil law nor Section 1 in criminal law covers third parties, so the participants were told that a law was not necessary because, “This is already emotional abuse under child abuse laws”. That is wrong. In any event, the focus was on the abuse that followed from the allegation, not the allegation itself.

9.45 pm

Thirdly, there was an objection that the law could not criminalise witch branding because of the harmless meaning of “witch”, which this amendment very carefully avoids. Lastly, some of the participants believed in malevolent supernatural forces and were naturally anxious that their beliefs might be made unlawful, which, again, this amendment avoids—we have been very careful to avoid that.

In truth, this tricky issue has been ducked until now, not least perhaps because belief in demonic possession is held in major mainstream religions as well as small African churches. The amendment is not about challenging those beliefs; it is saying that the child must not be harmed as a result of those beliefs. So, for example, there could be a private service for the

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delivery of a child believed to be possessed, so long as neither the child nor anyone connected to them knew about it.

To refuse to accept this amendment would be implicitly to endorse a situation in which all forms of child abuse were unlawful except this one. I beg to move.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I deeply respect the tenacity with which the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, has followed through this issue. I found some of her arguments rather convoluted and difficult to follow today, but that could just be that the hour is late and by now my brain is rather addled. However, I still contend that the current child protection framework, which identifies physical, sexual and emotional abuse and neglect, provides an effective framework for assessing situations where children have been accused of witchcraft and spirit possession.

Abuse can occur in these situations as a consequence of parental behaviour towards the child and through the response by church leaders in performing acts of deliverance that inflict harm on the child. As I have said before, and I declare an interest as someone who chaired a working party for Trust for London, I have met these children and engaged with some of the pastors, so I understand the issue. However, we also know, and the noble Baroness herself pointed this out, that belief in spirit possession and witchcraft is widespread among many African communities, and current knowledge indicates that the incidence of abuse linked to these beliefs is low. These beliefs occupy a broad spectrum and range, from the harmless to the seriously harmful. When it is the latter, the child protection framework should be applied through recognition, assessment and intervention.

Where the noble Baroness and I might well share a platform is in tackling the real issue here: the lack of training across this area, which is extremely complex. We have to remember that Christians believe some pretty strange things; in my community in the north of England, “He’s got the devil in him” was something that was said quite often. That is quite different from a child being accused of being a witch, ostracised from the family, made to behave in a particular way, taken before a congregation and pointed out and scapegoated. Those are quite clearly issues of abuse but they are not always understood by those working in the field.

As part of the group that worked with the then Trust for London, we explored these issues and the range of abusive behaviour, and that was paralleled by a government group that was set up to look at the issue at the same time. I do not know if the noble Baroness knows what has happened to that group, or whether it has simply disappeared and is no longer continuing.

It is clear to all involved that promoting child safeguarding and well-being is far more effective for engaging communities and churches than a narrow focus on witchcraft and spirit possession. My experience, working with a number of these community groups, has led to improvements in wider child protection, including through changed practice and disclosures. I hope that the noble Baroness will continue to press the

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cause of awareness and training, but I cannot stand with her in having legislation that identifies witchcraft in this way; it is a far more complex issue.

Baroness Benjamin: My Lords, I support this amendment. It has the best interest of the child at its heart and is targeted to raise awareness among those in our communities who may not realise the psychological, mental and traumatic long-term damage that they are inflicting upon the child. This issue was brought to my attention many years ago and sadly it continues today. I dearly hope that the Government will accept this amendment, as it is necessary to protect our children. If not, I hope that the Government agree at least to work with communities to make it clear that these acts are child abuse and will not be tolerated. The sooner that this takes place the better.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lady Walmsley for continuing to press the case with regard to these children, even if there are differences of view between us as to how this is best tackled. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, for her helpful contribution in Committee in bringing to our attention the Trust for London report on the issue, and she has contributed again from her wide and deep experience. I also thank my noble friend Lady Benjamin for her contribution.

Since this amendment was debated in Committee, my noble friend Lady Walmsley has in correspondence helpfully explained in detail some of the issues that concern her. I hope that I have been able to put her mind at ease on some, if not all, of them and I am grateful to her for the opportunity to explain the position. We share her commitment to safeguarding children from this and all other forms of abuse. A belief system can never justify the abuse of a child. We need to ensure that children are not subjected to abuse, or left vulnerable to potential abuse, because someone alleges that the child is possessed.

The Government believe that the current law is sufficient for this purpose: it provides adequate protection to children from the type of abuse that this amendment is trying to prevent. I will come to that in more detail in a moment. I set out much of the legislative framework during our debate in Committee. I shall not repeat those details again, but I reiterate that while the existing legislation does not specifically mention communication of a belief that a child is possessed by spirits, the current offence of child cruelty already captures conduct likely to cause a child unnecessary suffering or injury to health. Where the conduct could not be covered by the offence of child cruelty, it could be caught by other criminal offences, depending on the circumstances of the case.

I hope that my noble friend Lady Walmsley will be pleased that since Committee, to get further clarity on the guidance, officials discussed the issues around witch branding with the Crown Prosecution Service, which makes any decision on whether a prosecution should be pursued. The CPS was able to provide a copy of guidance for prosecutors that the service produced some time ago. That guidance, a copy of which I have sent to my noble friend, illustrates the

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legislation and offences that could be considered in different circumstances. We believe that it covered all situations where a child might face potential harm, including those where the perpetrators of potential harm are third parties, such as rogue pastors.

Our approach needs to ensure that the scope of the current legislation is better understood to enable it to work as it should. To do this we must raise awareness among the relevant communities and faith groups. We must provide support and guidance to practitioners to help them understand what behaviours could constitute a criminal offence. Department officials are working with the National Working Group on Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief, and will be discussing with it further how best to disseminate information on this issue to the relevant communities and groups. We understand that some members of the working group are also considering revising the 2007 guidance on this issue and we are grateful to the group members for this. They are the experts, and they have the links to the relevant communities. We are happy to support the development of the new guidance.

When bringing the CPS guidance to the attention of group members, officials took the opportunity to address any potential misunderstanding about which people are covered by some of the legislation. Some members of the working group felt that there had been confusion about whether the 1933 Act could apply to anyone other than parents or those in a parental role, as my noble friend Lady Walmsley said. Officials have now made it clear that while third parties, such as rogue pastors, could not be prosecuted under the 1933 Act, they are covered by other legislation, as set out in the CPS guidance.

Any person whose words or behaviour cause severe alarm and distress to a child could be prosecuted for an offence under Sections 4 or 4A of the Public Order Act 1986. There are other elements. Those responsible can extend beyond those with parental responsibility. For example, they can include babysitters or teachers while they have care of the child.

My noble friend Lady Walmsley will be extremely familiar with Blackstone’s Statutes on Criminal Law because it probably accompanies her noble husband everywhere. It covers this in B2.136 on page 283 on child cruelty. It states that other persons such as babysitters or teachers may also have a responsibility while a child or young person is their care. It is covered. I hope that my noble friend is reassured by that. I am sure that she will agree that, as pointed out by the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, it is culture that needs to change. We need to tackle that, and schools can play an important role in protecting children from a range of risks. We are working with other government departments and representatives of head and teacher unions to develop processes to raise awareness among staff and pupils of safeguarding risks such as these. Of course, there is a range of other areas in which we are working to try to tackle this. I hope that my noble friend is sufficiently reassured and will withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Walmsley: I thank the Minister for her reply and other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate. I am quite unapologetic about bringing this

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back again because we have made some progress. We have now had clarification on two points: first, that telling a child that it is possessed by evil spirits is child abuse and, secondly, that this range of laws can apply not just to people with parental responsibility but to others as well. I have some reservations because, accepting that this is quite a small, albeit serious and important, problem, nobody has ever been charged with any of the offences in the long list that my noble friend attached to her letter. These offences could possibly be used, but they have not been.

I of course support all the work being done in the community and absolutely agree that a cultural change is required, but it was an important group of people from the community who came to me and asked me to table this amendment and get this debate for a second time because they feel that it is very important to clarify in law that you should not even tell a child that they are possessed, let alone do anything physical about it. That is what people from the community itself believe.

It is quite clear that I have not persuaded my noble friend, but I thank her because we have had made some progress and cleared up a few issues along the way. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 57 withdrawn.

10 pm

Amendment 57ZA

Moved by Baroness Pitkeathley

57ZA: After Clause 79, insert the following new Clause—

“Amendments to the Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995

(1) The Carers (Recognition and Services) Act 1995 is amended as follows.

(2) Section 1(2)(b) is repealed.

(3) After section 1(2) insert—

“(2A) Subject to subsection (3), in any case where it appears to the local authority that a person with parental responsibility for a disabled child (“the carer”) may have needs for support (whether currently or in the future) the authority must—

(a) assess whether the carer does have needs for support (or is likely to do so in the future),

(b) where the carer has such needs, (or is likely to in the future), take the results of that assessment into account in making their decision as to whether the needs of the disabled child call for the provision of any services.””

Baroness Pitkeathley (Lab): My Lords, I will speak also to Amendments 57ZB and 57ZC.

The Care Bill currently being debated in another place is making major changes to adult social care law. We have already put those changes through this House. It brings forward important and welcome new rights for adults caring for other adults. This Bill already strengthens the rights of young carers. These new rights will make it easier for other carers to have the impact of caring on them in their care assessment and to receive support services. I commend the Government most heartily and sincerely for the progress that we have made on this issue. However, as I said when it was discussed in Committee, these changes leave parent carers of disabled children as the only group of carers

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who will be left with the lesser rights to assessment and support provided in old legislation that will be largely superseded by the new Bills.

The purpose of these amendments is to bring the rights of parents of disabled children into line with the rights of other carers and ensure that they are consolidated into primary legislation where they can be better understood and used. Amendments 57ZA and 57ZB update the existing law that gives parents of disabled children under 18 the right to have a carer’s assessment that looks at the impact of caring on them—the parent carers. It updates and aligns these rights with the changes being brought forward in the Care Bill for adult carers of adults, and in this Bill for young carers. Amendment 57ZC replicates the new duty to promote well-being that is being introduced through the Care Bill in relation to adult carers of adults, and applies this same duty to parents caring for disabled children.

As a result of the Government’s changes, parents of disabled children will be the only group of carers with lesser rights to assessment and support, as the rights of other adult carers and young carers are consolidated and strengthened. Their rights will be left in rump legislation as the rest of the Carers Acts are repealed. These amendments are supported by the Law Commission and the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

I know that the aim of the Government’s legislative reform is to produce a clearer, consolidated social care system that is easier for professionals and individuals to use. However, I must point out that this aim will not be realised without consolidation and enhancement of parent carer rights. Without this, frontline professionals will have to navigate complex legislation in order to assess and provide support to those caring for children. There is little or no guidance in place to support social workers to use the existing rights for carers to receive assessments, currently sitting in three different Acts, each taken through Parliament by Back-Benchers with cross-party support. I was one of those Back-Benchers on a couple of occasions.

A lack of guidance and understanding by children’s social services already means that parents of disabled children find it hard to have their needs as carers recognised. Parent carers are being passed between adult and children’s services and are falling through the cracks. I was most grateful to the Minister for agreeing to meet last week with the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, myself and several parent carers and representatives of Carers UK. He was able to hear at first hand about—and understand—their current difficulties and duties. These and other parent carers whom I have met simply do not understand why they are not subject to the same rights as others. They told the Minister this in no uncertain terms. I very much hope that he will either agree to these amendments or agree to bring something back at Third Reading.

I turn briefly to the need for a well-being duty for parent carers. The Care Bill introduces a new statutory principle that embeds the promotion of well-being as the driving force underpinning the provision of care and support. This new principle is widely welcomed. I cannot overemphasise how strongly this has been welcomed and how important it is. The well-being

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duty in the Care Bill does not, however, apply to parent carers. Unless we put it in here, it will not apply to them at all. They face different challenges to other parents, but they have often struggled to establish rights as individuals on a par with other carers, and they are at particular risk of having their own rights as individuals overlooked. Too often they are seen only as parents, and their needs as carers are not identified or supported.

At this late hour I will not give many of the examples that I planned to give. However, I will end with the words of a particular parent carer, who said that a carer’s assessment,

“would help me loads, I feel very alone with massive pressure on my shoulders, I desperately need a key worker for my son, and a lot more time for me before I crack up … I lost my job because I was taking too much time away from work … caring has caused me nothing but sadness and loss of all dignity”.

I hope that we will be able to have a positive response from the Minister, and I beg to move.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab): My Lords, I am pleased to support these amendments, to which I added my name. My noble friend mentioned that the Joint Committee on Human Rights has supported her amendment, and as a member of that committee I wanted to say a bit about what it said in its report on the Care Bill, which was published this week.

The committee expressed its dissatisfaction with the Government’s response to it on this issue, and recommended that the Government bring forward an amendment, either to this Bill or to the Care Bill, to give parent carers of disabled children an equivalent right to a needs assessment for support. The committee acknowledged the existing provisions, but stated that,

“they do not equate to a clear and single duty in law which requires a local authority to carry out a needs assessment of parent carers of disabled children and to meet the eligible needs of such parent carers”.

My noble friend gave an example of the effect this can have on parent carers, who do such a hard job already. Their job is made that much harder by the lack of clarity about the law and what they are entitled to.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights quoted from what the Minister said in Grand Committee:

“We are clear that any change to the Children Act 1989 to assess the needs of parent carers separately would change fundamentally the principles of the Act and risk the needs of the children becoming second to those of their parent. Recent serious case reviews for Daniel Pelka and Keanu Williams have shown starkly what can happen when the needs of parents are put ahead of those of the child. Our approach to legislation and statutory guidance is that the needs of the individual child are paramount”.—[Official Report, 20/11/13; col. GC 479.]

The committee said:

“While we are clear that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in all actions concerning children, we do not consider the references to cases of child abuse and neglect to be appropriate in the context of discussing the rights of parent carers of disabled children to a needs assessment for support”.

I have to say that I was shocked when the Minister said that in Grand Committee. The JCHR went on to say:

“Children’s rights are not in conflict with parents’ rights in this regard. Indeed, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognises that a child is not isolated from his or her family”.

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Speaking about the UN convention, a UNICEF global study of independent human rights institutions for children spelled this out:

“An important aspect of the convention is that it does not consider the child as an isolated individual. Instead, it situates the child as a member of a family and community, recognizing his or her need for support to develop and thrive. Action to realize the rights of children can thus be envisaged as taking place within and through a triangular set of relations involving the state, parents (and/or guardians) and child”.

These amendments embody the spirit of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and I very much hope that the Minister will be able either to accept them or to bring forward alternative amendments on Third Reading.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield: My Lords, the hour is late, so I will speak briefly in support of these amendments. I pay tribute to the tireless work of the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley.

As has been said, through other parts of the Bill, the new right to assessment and support that have been introduced for young carers is wonderful. It was also my privilege to look at the detailed scrutiny of the Care Bill. Again, the new right to assessment and support for adult carers is a landmark piece of legislation of which we can all be proud. As has been set out, the one group that falls between the stools are parent carers—generally parents who look after disabled children.

I, too, had the privilege last week of attending the meeting with the Minister. It was a very poignant meeting at which we heard three parent carers explain what life was like for them. One, I particularly remember, was looking after not one but three disabled children. She explained how she simply never had a minute for herself. She said that she was grateful for the support that she got in respite care for her children, but that she would be lucky to have the time to pop into the supermarket on the way home before having to go and collect the children or do something for one of her other children.

My final point concerns why I think that well-being is so important. What is often forgotten is the impact on the personal and family relationships of parents who look after disabled children. I felt that this was underlined very well in an excellent report in 2011 from Contact a Family. This showed the mental health problems that parent carers were having, including anxiety, depression and breakdown. They had to see their GP because they felt that their well-being was so poor, and they often had medication or had to see a counsellor. There was also an impact on their marriage, often with a breakdown in the relationship.

For all those reasons—I would love to say more but there simply is not time—I strongly hope that the Minister will be able to say something sympathetic in response to these amendments.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, if I had got my timing right, my name would have been added to this amendment. I regret that something as important as this is being rushed at this late hour. This is a crucial bit of our social care that has become unscrambled because of the way that we have split adults’ and children’s social care.

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Of course, in a Bill on children, when we are looking at children’s issues, the welfare of the child must almost always be paramount, but that is true throughout the legislation that we look at, and it would have been true if this issue had been looked at in the Care Bill. However, the Minister will remember that in the discussions on the Care Bill it was felt that this was a children’s issue and therefore better dealt with in the Children and Families Bill. Again, the split has meant that this matter has not been properly dealt with, and therefore I hope that the Minister can pick it up and deal with it properly now.

Anyone who has worked with families as a family social worker for many years will know that, unless you pay attention to the needs of parents, you can in no way help their children. It is the parent who is going to make the difference to the child by providing the care. If they have a life of their own and feel cared for themselves, they will give better care to the disabled child whom they have to manage day in and day out. Having met those families, the Minister will know the toll that that has on the humanity of these people, never mind everything else. It is very difficult to continue loving and caring for your children when the stress you experience is so high and the level of support you receive is so low.

I do not think that it is beyond the wit of the officials and the Minister to think this through, just as the issue of young carers has been thought through, to get a much better package that ensures that parent carers form part of a total assessment and that the assessment is not split down the middle because we just happen to split services down the middle. The whole issue needs to be looked at as a total package in a holistic way, and a proper plan should be made for the whole family and not just bits of it. In that way, we will have much more success both for the children and, most certainly, for the adults who give their lives day in and day out to caring for their children. If that does not happen, the children will end up either in respite care or in the care of the local authority, and that will cost the nation a great deal more.

Lord Nash: My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Pitkeathley and Lady Lister, for tabling these amendments and for sharing their significant expertise on the issues concerning carers.

Following the debate in Grand Committee, I was pleased to be able to meet the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, and my noble friend Lady Tyler just before the Christmas Recess to discuss their concerns further. Since then, there has been a very productive series of meetings between my officials and representatives of parent carers and local authorities to discuss the evidence and options for reform. As the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, said, she and I also had a further meeting last week with my noble friend Lady Tyler and representatives of parent carers. The meeting was extremely informative and moving and I would like to thank Caroline, Sarah and Sherann for taking the time to share their experiences with me and officials.

10.15 pm

We cannot underestimate the contribution parent carers make. I recognise that many parent carers of disabled children face particular challenges and we

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must do all we can to provide them with the support they need. Putting parents and families in control is at the centre of the SEN reforms we have discussed extensively in your Lordships’ House over the last few months. Without parents and parent carer forums the new system will not deliver for children and young people in the way we hope. I recognise that and know that we must support them just as they support their families.

The noble Baroness, Lady Lister, quoted some words of mine in Committee. Before I go further, I want to apologise for any offence inadvertently caused in Committee in my response to the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. I said in my response:

“Recent serious case reviews … have shown starkly what can happen when the needs of parents are put ahead of those of the child”,

and that we must avoid any changes that,

“risk the needs of the children becoming second to those of their parent”.—[

Official Report

, 20/11/13; col. GC 479.]

I said this because parents and disabled children receive support and are assessed under the same legislation as other children in need and their families. That of course does not mean that we equate such parents with those who have harmed their children and I apologise if anything I said suggested that this might be the case.

However, the principle that the needs of the child are paramount is essential in Section 17 of the Children Act 1989. We must not do anything that confuses that principle for any child, but in assessing a child’s needs social workers are required to look at the needs of their family. An assessment under Section 17 of the Children Act 1989 should look at parental capacity to cope and the services which can be offered to parent carers, and should lead to that support. Just as it should under the Care Bill for adults caring for adults, such support might include: respite in temporary foster care for the child, direct payments, or access to support from a local carers’ centre.

Parent carers have told me that sometimes their needs are not assessed or the support is not being offered. It is clear that in many areas existing legislation is not being implemented as effectively as it should be and there is a need for greater clarity about the rights of parent carers and the ways they can be supported. I have also spoken with the Chief Social Worker for children, who has emphasised the support that should be provided to parent carers under the existing legislative framework provided by the Children Act 1989.

Following the recent discussions with representatives of parent carers and local authorities, I recognise a strong case has been made for consolidating existing legislation on parent carers into the Children Act 1989. Putting all the relevant legislation in one place may help to ensure parent carers are better able to understand it and local practitioners are able to implement it effectively. We have also heard powerful arguments in favour of streamlining the legislation to take a more consistent approach, for example by removing the requirement that the carer must be providing, or intending to provide,

“a substantial amount of care on a regular basis”,

in order to be assessed.

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I welcome the intent behind the noble Baroness’s amendment. I also recognise there is work to do to ensure that guidance sets out clearly the legislative framework and how services should work together to support families. My officials will be working with representatives of parent carers and local authorities to consider changes to statutory guidance that are needed. We have listened carefully to the arguments being advanced by all those involved, including parent carers themselves. In the light of this and pending ongoing discussions with noble Lords and parent carer representatives, I wish to bring forward an amendment at Third Reading. In view of these ongoing discussions and my undertaking, I hope the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Pitkeathley: My Lords, I thank all noble Baronesses who have spoken at this late hour but most of all I thank the Minister not only for his apology, which will mean a great deal to many parent carers, and for putting it on the public record but also for the interest that he and his officials have taken in this issue, and for his undertaking to bring back issues about consolidation or streamlining at Third Reading, to which I greatly look forward. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 57ZA withdrawn.

Amendments 57ZB and 57ZC not moved.

Amendment 57A

Moved by Lord Nash

57A: Before Clause 80, insert the following new Clause—

“Extension of licensing of child performances to children under 14

Section 38 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1963 (licences for performances by children under 14 not to be granted except for certain dramatic or musical performances) is repealed.”

Lord Nash: My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 57A, 64A and 65C, which deal with child performance licensing. I thank my noble friend Lady Benjamin for raising this issue in Grand Committee and for pressing it with such conviction. Her passion and commitment to support children to participate in the creative arts is inspirational. Before Christmas I had the great pleasure of a meeting with my noble friend Lady Benjamin and representatives of the Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television. We discussed how to remove barriers that restrict children’s opportunities, without diminishing the important safeguards currently in place for child performers. Many children grow up to have careers in our cultural industries, which are of real economic significance, and are recognised and admired throughout the world. Some children simply enjoy performing and they want to have fun. Taking part in a performance can increase their confidence and help them develop transferable skills, such as teamwork and communication.

We all agree that children must be able to access performance opportunities and should not be prevented from doing so by outdated rules or excessive red tape. It is essential that those who put on performances with children take steps to keep them safe and ensure their well-being. We all know that paperwork does not

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protect children. We must refocus the performance licensing system on its true purpose, which is to safeguard children in performances, not stifle their opportunities.

I am pleased to say that we have found a way forward and we plan several actions to improve the system. First, Amendment 57A will insert a new clause in the Bill to repeal Section 38 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1963. That repeal would remove restrictions on the circumstances in which a local authority can issue a performance licence to a child under the age of 14. Currently, a local authority can issue a licence to a child under the age of 14 only where the licence is for acting or dancing in a ballet and the part can be taken only by a child, or where the nature of the child’s part is wholly or mainly musical and either the nature of the overall performance is also wholly or mainly musical or the performance consists only of opera and ballet. Amendments 64A and 65C are consequential amendments relating to the commencement, and the extent, of the repeal.

Outside the Bill, we are taking forward changes to the regulations. We will remove the requirement for medical certificates; remove unnecessary restrictions on the types of activities that children can do each day; and streamline and align the hours that children can take part in different types of performance so that there is consistency between them. In addition to the changes we plan to make to legislation, work is in hand to improve consistency of approach in local administration of child performance licensing. The Department for Education is working with a range of partners, including the local authority sector, professional and amateur theatre groups, the broadcasting sector and casting agencies, to support the development of best practice guidance. We are also working with the Local Government Association to ensure that this work will have resonance and applicability across the local authority licensing sector.

We believe that the combination of actions we are taking will make a huge difference, while ensuring that we get the balance right between increasing opportunities for children and protecting them from undue risks. Our actions should lead to increased opportunities for children to take part in performances, without reducing important protections to keep them safe when they do. I hope that noble Lords will be pleased with our plans and proposed amendments, and the positive impact that they will have for young people. I beg to move.

Baroness Benjamin (LD): My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister from the bottom of my heart for inserting these new clauses in the Bill, as they are a positive move forward. They will not only improve child protection but also provide equal opportunities for children across the country through primary legislation, and enable them to take part in all aspects of the new media environment they now live in. They will also address any postcode lottery issues, which will be welcomed by children who in the past were subjected to rejection and disappointment through no fault of their own, but at the whim of local authorities and outdated regulations.

The amendment also deals with the complex restrictions in the hours that children can perform, which is also most welcome, as it will create a level playing field.

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Yes, this is truly great news. It is very positive that the Government will revisit a number of other conditions through secondary legislation, and to learn that my amendments not adopted in the Bill will be dealt with under best practice through guidance for local authorities currently being developed by the GLA. However, I would like to emphasise to the Minister that PACT and the industry coalition I have been working with are open to working further with the Government on improving the approach to risk assessment by local authorities, to make the approach more consistent across the UK, and I hope this offer will be taken up.

All in all, broadcasters, producers, theatres and those across the creative industries will be delighted with these amendments. On their behalf, and on behalf of all those working with and employing children, I would once again like to thank the Minister and his team for all their hard work, commitment and consideration. I am also grateful to all the noble Lords who have supported me on these amendments. It shows how this House, no matter how late the hour, can work together to achieve progress, and how we can make a positive difference to the lives of others, so thank you.

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara (Lab): My Lords, in Committee we were pleased to support the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, in seeking to update the legislation applying to child performance. As has just been made clear in the exchanges that preceded my speech, this is something that has been long overdue since 1963. Clearly the world of television and film performances has been transformed since then, and it is good that the Government are bringing forward their own amendment on this point, so that the legislation can properly reflect the full range of opportunities available to young people today, while at the same time building in the necessary safeguards that will protect them from exploitation, or physical or mental harm.

It is good to hear that Section 38 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1963 has been repealed, and that, in parallel, the paperwork that has normally been required, and which was often variable across the country, is going to be streamlined. This is, all in all, a very satisfactory solution. We all heard the pleasure that was expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. I would like to think I could join her in that; however, I would not be able to do it in such a professional and powerful way. Nevertheless, I thank the Minister.

Lord Nash: I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lady Benjamin and to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for their comments, but my noble friend made her case so powerfully and clearly that, frankly, it was not a very difficult decision. The changes are entirely a tribute to her passion and determination on this subject. I strongly encourage noble Lords to support these changes.

Amendment 57A agreed.

Consideration on Report adjourned.

European Union (Approvals) Bill [HL]

Returned from the Commons

The Bill was returned from the Commons agreed to.

House adjourned at 10.29 pm.