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Mr. Francois: Will the Minister give way?

Dr. Moonie: Very briefly.

Mr. Francois: The Minister said that if there was a gap in capability, we would keep capability running. If that applies to submarines, why does it not apply to Sea Harriers?

Dr. Moonie: Again, I suppose that the reason is the balance of risk, and we must consider the balance of risk when making decisions such as this. We three Ministers—four if I include Lord Bach—are not perverse people who sit down and say "Just how are we going to cock up the armed forces today?". I apologise for the language, Mr. Deputy Speaker. In fact, we act on the advice of some very senior people, and I have yet to leave a meeting with the feeling that that advice has been wrong. We must not assume that upgrades will succeed; they may fail, and

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that is the great problem with the Sea Harrier. We might end up spending a great deal of extra money without having an aircraft available.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline, West (Rachel Squire) rightly pointed out that we need equipment that works. I assure her that any defence Minister would heartily agree. She gave the example of Bowman, which, as everyone knows, has a long and sorry history but now appears to be on target—a very challenging target. I acknowledge that that was welcomed by the hon. Member for Aldershot (Mr. Howarth). We have introduced personal role radios. We have shown that we can be flexible and make very little of procurement of this kind, provided that we are sensible and seek upgrades in the future. That will enable all capability requirements to be met very satisfactorily.

Like my hon. Friend, I pay tribute to the first-class facilities at Rosyth. Let me say in passing that a branch of the Defence Diversification Agency is located there, and is paying off very well in terms of interaction with local companies, technology exchange being its function.

I was interested by what my hon. Friend said about the Babcock facilities in Australia and New Zealand for the repair of HMS Nottingham. We have not yet reached a decision, but I am sure that we are keeping Babcock in mind. I noted her concern about the future of the yard. Let me stress that it has proved itself to be extremely competitive, which should stand it in good stead when it is competing for work.

My hon. Friend drew attention to the particular difficulties of making quick decisions about the cancelling of equipment that does not work and will not work. Long lead times apply to much of the equipment that we need. When a lot of capital has been invested and a project has been worked on for a long time, cancellation is very difficult to stop. I know that, because I had to cancel projects myself when I worked in the pharmaceutical industry.

I do not need to spend much time on the A400M. As Members know, the problem is having to wait for a signature from the Germans, but we are convinced that it will come and that the programme will be finished on time. The German election is in September, and I do not think it will be delayed much beyond that.

I think the points made about St. Athan by my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) were answered by my right hon. Friend the Minister of State. If they were not, I shall be happy to deal with them.

I have answered questions about Royal Ordnance in some detail in other Adjournment debates. We cannot discuss such matters as the level of stocks that we keep, because that is an operational matter, but I can say that we keep adequate levels to maintain any foreseeable operation. We are convinced that in different circumstances British Aerospace would be able to resupply.

There is also the matter of developing insensitive munitions. New products are more difficult to introduce, but I pay tribute to the concern—

It being Ten o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.

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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to delegated legislation.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Tax Credits

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Question agreed to.



10 pm

Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South): I beg leave to present a petition organised by the Simply Holistic Endometriosis trust, a charity working to help women who suffer from endometriosis. It has been signed by more than 3,000 people.

The petition was presented to me, in my role as chair of the all-party endometriosis group, by Diane Carlton, the chair of the SHE trust, during the recent lobby of Parliament held to raise awareness of endometriosis, which affects 2 million women in the UK. At present, there is very little public awareness of this devastating disease, and there is not enough funding available to raise knowledge among the medical community to improve early diagnosis.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

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National Childcare Strategy

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Angela Smith.]

10.1 pm

Caroline Flint (Don Valley): I begin by declaring an interest, as I am chair of the all-party childcare group. Before I entered Parliament, I was chair of the national campaign Working for Childcare, which used to be known as the workplace nurseries campaign. I was involved in that for 10 years.

I have been trying to secure this Adjournment debate for some months, and I wondered whether my pitch had been spoiled by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor's wonderful statement this week on the comprehensive spending review. My scream of delight was apparently audible to a number of people when my right hon. Friend spoke of a radical extension of the national child care strategy in England.

Why is child care important? It has a key role to play in the delivery of wider Government policy ends. The child care issue is about giving children a good start in life, helping to tackle child poverty, raising educational attainment and promoting better health. It is about helping parents into work, study and training. It is about meeting our welfare-to-work targets and helping with the family-friendly issue of work-life balance, which will increasingly become crucial to this country's economy and social life. The issue is also about raising qualifications and—importantly—raising family income.

The question of child care goes wider than the family unit, however that unit is comprised. Whether two parents are involved or one, the child care issue is about supporting neighbourhood renewal and community development. It is also about tackling crime and creating healthy communities. Without child care, policies in those areas will not succeed.

The national child care strategy was launched in 1998. It is the first such strategy ever to be undertaken by any Government, and I am proud, as a Labour MP, that it was a Labour Government who delivered on that. The aim was to create more affordable, quality child care, backed by significant new investment.

There is no doubt that investment was put in, but some of the progress has been mixed. In terms of accessibility, there are now part-time nursery education places for all four-year-olds and, by 2004, there will be such places for all three-year-olds. However, they are part time, whereas working parents need the help provided by wrap-around care.

The neighbourhood child care initiative aims to create 900 new nurseries in the most disadvantaged areas by 2004, along with more child minding and out-of-school places. However, progress in developing new nurseries that will be sustainable once funding runs out has been slow. There has been a growth in private day nurseries in response to a growing demand—58 per cent. of women with children under five now work—and out-of-school clubs, funded by the new opportunities fund, but there has been a fall in the number of child minders and pre-school playgroups. There are still significant gaps for parents with children under three.

In terms of affordability, the child care tax credit is providing help with the cost of child care to 160,000 families. The average award is about £39 a week, and

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eligible families must find at least 30 per cent. of child care costs. Childcare fees went up by 10 per cent. in the last year, and a typical nursery place costs £6,200 a year. Some families, particularly lone parents who work less than 16 hours a week or use informal child care such as a grandmother or other family member, are not eligible.

Ofsted took over the regulation of child care in September 2001 to provide consistent national standards. I do not think that anyone would disagree with that. However, the transition has held up registration and inspection of new providers at a time of growth.

The inter-departmental review of the national child care strategy that the Government started at Christmas was both wise and warranted. We have seen some of the results this week. The review recognised that although so much has been achieved, it is sensible of any Government to review their policies to see where the gaps are and how they could be filled.

The child care market is failing families and society. The market alone will not deliver affordable services to the majority of families without significant new investment on the supply side. Demand-side measures have not succeeded in creating new child care services. Funding and delivery mechanisms have often been criticised as too complex. There are too many unco-ordinated programmes with too many different short-term funding streams and, despite all the wonderful work that they do, expectations of what can be delivered by early-years development and child care partnerships are often unrealistic. Some 150,000 new staff are needed to expand services by 2004, but recruitment and retention are hampered by low pay, poor training and limited opportunities.

The review of child care has been addressing some of these problems. I have included some of them in the review, as have other organisations. I am sure that Ministers involved in these issues have raised these problems as well. I am pleased and proud to say that the Chancellor's statement this week—much of which I am sure was linked to that review—was another step forward in the nation's child care and family agenda. This Government are the first ever to have a national child care strategy. It was particularly welcome after 18 barren years of Tory rule.

This week the Chancellor announced the doubling of the child care budget to £1.5 billion by 2006, guaranteeing a nursery place for every three and four-year-old; 400,000 new sure start places; 250,000 new child care places; greater support for voluntary partnerships, which often underpin much of the growth at a local level; and a £200 million children's fund. In addition, 300,000 children will have access to children's centres. I congratulate the Daycare Trust, which has been pushing forward the agenda of children's centres.

As a Member of Parliament, a child care campaigner and a parent, I believe that one problem is how we make the services that we provide visible and obvious to those who want to access them. If there has been a problem with the growth of services so far, it is how parents find the services they need. Parents do not fall into nice neat categories, all with children under five. They can have a baby, a toddler, an eight-year-old and a teenager. Anything that the Government can do to make it easier for them to know where to go for their child care, advice

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and health needs is to be welcomed. The children's centres will operate as a catalyst to bring these services together so that parents have greater access.

The Government have listened to the problems faced in driving forward an agenda that has a role in different Departments. That is why I welcome the integrated budget, which will bring together child care, early-years learning and sure start. As a member of the Denaby and Conisbrough sure start, one of the trailblazers, it was obvious to me from the outset that sure start was not merely about health issues. I am proud that my local sure start scheme sees child care as part of the whole shape of its provision. More schemes are coming on-stream in Doncaster. We have a full-time day nursery as well as creche facilities and a pre-school toddlers group.

I know that sure start is meant to cater for pre-school children, but some of the parents have older kids. Furthermore, in our community, unless we can engage some of the older children in what we are doing, they may take against us. They may make the building to which they cannot have access a target for petty vandalism. Our primary aim is to serve families with pre-school children, but we also want to engage with older children and with other young people in the community. I am pleased that those initiatives have come together. That is a sign that the Government are listening.

I am also pleased that a new unit will be established in the civil service to drive forward child care policy. Such a unit is crucial to give advice to Ministers and to give an overview so that it can drive the agenda forward. It is definitely needed.

I am a member of the local Doncaster early-years development and child care partnership which does much good work. During the past few years, I have been happy to speak to partnership groups at conferences organised by the Department for Education and Skills and the Daycare Trust.

I was also glad to hear from the announcement that local authorities will be expected to have a greater role in delivering the targets that we need. That is right. Although there may be local authority representatives in the partnerships, authorities sometimes do not seem to know how to proceed and may leave things to the partnership. They have a key role in the community, not only as one of the largest employers but as an important agent for local change and delivery.

The child care review clearly had some influence on the comprehensive spending review statement this week. I understand that the review will be published in the autumn. Will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions confirm that? Will we have an opportunity to discuss the review in the House?

I want to raise a few points that we should consider when drawing up future strategy and development. We need to flag up the fact that child care is as much an economic agent as a social provision. For some time, I have been putting questions about the role of regional development agencies and other bodies that have a remit to deliver economic regeneration and employment.

I know that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry agrees that those agencies should realise that child care is as important a part of the

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infrastructure for a newly growing economy as the transport that gets people to work. Childcare is as much a part of the supply chain as the providers of materials to factories or businesses or the catering firms who supply the restaurant facilities. It is an important part of the whole picture.

If we want to reinvent ourselves in my region of Yorkshire and Humberside—certainly, in respect of objective 1 in South Yorkshire—what better way is there than to say, "Come to South Yorkshire where you will find one of the best environments to raise your children, with the right services and the right jobs to support your work-life balance"?

I offer two local examples. Finningley is an RAF base in my constituency which we hope will become a regional airport in the future. My hon. Friend the Minister is nodding because Peel Holdings also runs Speke airport, which she knows well. Despite the fact that we do not yet have the go-ahead for the airport, almost 70 companies are working on the brownfield site. I am pleased to say that we also have a full-time day nursery.

However, I am not pleased to say that when the developers of the site sought help from several agencies for start-up for the nursery provider and for refurbishment costs, they were fobbed off and told, "You don't fit into this priority because you are not creating employment".

I do not quite see how providing childcare jobs is not creating employment, or how sustaining people in employment through providing child care cannot count.

Another problem was that because the brownfield site was not in a deprived community—as defined under the heading "deprived communities" in terms of funding—those involved were told that they could not access the funding. That was the case despite the fact that, just down the road, is a defined "deprived community", which would be the obvious source of much of the employment for the brownfield site. That issue must be looked at; brownfield sites sometimes are in deprived communities, but sometimes they are not. However, if jobs can be provided for people from such communities, I do not see why child care cannot be funded.

The problems are not insurmountable. The problem is the mindset of those who work in economic regeneration, who see child care as a rather soft issue, rather than a crucial plank—as I see it—in our regeneration policies.

Another example is the transport interchange for Doncaster, for which we were pleased to get Government support. I have been working for a number of years to get an understanding from the developers and others that if we are bringing together the train and bus stations in Doncaster, it would be a wonderful opportunity to create nursery provision near the site for those parents who might be commuting into Doncaster. That would be just like the facilities at Brighton and at Victoria, and a shoppers' creche could be provided for consumers. I am pleased to say that, only last week, the developers said that they were committed to making that happen.

Is there a possibility that when the Government give the green light to very big infrastructure projects involving communities and creating employment, we could ask how they fit in with providing child care or other support to workers or consumers, whether they are public transport passengers or shoppers at a development? The Government can ask the question to see the answers that flow from it.

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We must do a lot more in terms of engaging employers. Some employers have done fantastic work; others are not sure how to get involved. That is where the RDAs, the trade unions, employers and chambers of commerce could be encouraged to play more of a role. Only one in 10 employers helps their staff with child care; only 5 per cent. of workplaces offer nursery places; only 5 per cent. of employers help towards child care costs.

I want to raise a problem affecting low-income communities, and lone parents in particular; the use of informal child care. Despite everything, 50 per cent. of child care is informal. It is unregistered and can involve shift parenting, or the use of a family friend or other relative. We should look at the impact of that on the take-up of other services and at whether we should address this by bridging the gap between informal and formal care with some support.

Will my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary look at the scheme in Northern Ireland that is run under the new deal programme for lone parents there—I know that that is a devolved function—in which lone parents on training or a work placement are allowed vouchers or money to be provided for registered child care and informal child care, if that is provided by a very close relative, usually the grandmother?

Another scheme that I would bring to my hon. Friend's attention is run by Nottinghamshire county council where, again, for a limited period and in specific circumstances—I stress that these are targeted schemes—some financial support is provided for families, some lone-parent, some two-parent, to enable them to engage in training or a work placement. Parents, particularly lone parents, who may be working less than 16 hours week and are not covered by the Government tax credits also receive help. It is worth looking into these schemes because some of our most needy families, through no fault of their own, might be missing a trick in terms of the Government not supporting them. I do not see that as a permanent measure, but we could consider it as part of our new deal for lone parents and support for low-income families.

Finally, we have done an awful lot, and we should be proud of it. Given the different ways that we are delivering in England and how the issue is dealt with in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, it should be clear to families throughout Britain that a Labour Government have spearheaded this agenda and made it such an exciting part of our work today in rebuilding our communities. In 10 years, I should like our targeted support to spread out like the ripples when a pebble is thrown into a pond, so that every family can recognise in different ways that Labour has delivered for families, whatever their status, background or needs.

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