My hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon will know that the duties placed on local authorities by that legislation are currently fulfilled through the contracts held by the Education Funding Agency and that local authorities are often not involved. The Ministry of Justice, which funds that arrangement, is clear that the current system is not working, which is why it recently consulted on transformational reforms to how education and support in youth custody should be delivered in future. I have ensured that I have been kept in close contact with Justice Ministers so that the education

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element for children—not only those with SEN, but others in the care system and elsewhere—is being properly considered as part of the review.

Mr Buckland: Will my hon. Friend undertake to ensure that when the Bill goes to the other place a careful eye is kept on clause 69 and that the Ministry of Justice moves in a way that is properly co-ordinated so that we do not end up with the nightmare scenario of those young people simply falling through the gap?

Mr Timpson: I strongly share my hon. Friend’s view. I want to make progress on that, both in my Department and across Government. The commitment I gave him earlier will continue as the Bill moves on and other work is done by the Ministry of Justice on the consultation it has carried out, because it is important that we make as much progress on that as possible at an important stage of development in many of our institutions and within the secure estate.

Clause 69 also plays an important technical function by disapplying duties with the SEN clauses that it would be impractical to deliver while a young offender is in custody. For those reasons, I do not agree that we can simply remove the clause ahead of the significant reforms to education in custody that the Ministry of Justice is considering and the resulting changes that might need to be made to existing legislation. However, I have sought to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for South Swindon and hope that provides him with some confidence as we move forward.

Turning to amendments 71 and 72, tabled by the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West, we are continuing to strengthen our understanding of young people’s post-16 educational outcomes. The Department for Education will be publishing destination data on students with SEN at key stage 4 before the summer break, and later in the year for those at key stage 5. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills already publishes data on participation and attainment in further education by students with SEN aged 19 and over, and that will continue. I do not think that it is necessary to place additional reporting requirements on the further education sector when those data are already being made public. However, as I have said previously, I am sure that she will continue to press that point as the Bill moves on to the other place.

On amendments 73 to 75, we will ensure that any code of practice laid before Parliament has been subject to proper consultation and that Parliament is given the opportunity to scrutinise new or updated versions. Clause 67(2) already ensures that the Secretary of State carries out sensible and proper consultation on the code of practice. We intend to publish a draft code of practice on the Department’s website for public consultation in the autumn of this year and to give ample time for comment, over and above the draft that we provided for the purposes of Committee. If we did not consult appropriately, there would be every reason for this House or the other place to resolve not to approve the code.

The Education Committee considered the careful balance between proper consultation and parliamentary scrutiny and keeping the SEN code of practice up to

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date during pre-legislative scrutiny. The Bill delivers on their recommendation that the draft should be subject to consultation and approved by Parliament using the negative resolution procedure. This brings the code into line with other statutory codes, such as the school admissions code, and enables an appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny.

This debate has continued the good faith that has been a hallmark of the progress of this part of the Bill. Given what I have said, I hope that hon. Members will feel sufficiently assured not to press their amendments.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 9 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 10

Childcare costs scheme: preparatory expenditure

‘The Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs may incur expenditure in preparing for the introduction of a scheme for providing assistance in respect of the costs of childcare.’.—(Elizabeth Truss.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education (Elizabeth Truss): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With this it will be convenient to discuss new clause 6—Staff to child ratios: Ofsted-registered childminder settings—

‘(1) This section applies to Ofsted-registered childminder settings.

(2) The ratio of staff to children under the age of eight must be no less than one to six, where—

(a) a maximum of three children may be young children;

(b) a maximum of one child is under the age of one.

(3) Any care provided by childminders for older children must not adversely affect the care of children receiving early years provision.

(4) If a childminder can demonstrate to parents, carers and inspectors, that the individual needs of all the children are being met, then in addition to the ratio set out in subsection (2), they may also care for—

(a) babies who are siblings of the children referred to in subsection (2), or

(b) their own baby.

(5) If children aged between four and five years only attend the childminding setting outside of normal school hours or the normal school term time, they may be cared for at the same time as three other young children, provided that at no time the ratio of staff to children under the age of eight exceeds one to six.

(6) If a childminder employs an assistant or works with another childminder, each childminder or assistant may care for the number of children permitted by the ratios specified in subsections (2), (4), and (5).

(7) Children may only be left in the sole care of a childminder’s assistant for two hours in a single day.

(8) Childminders must obtain the permission of a child’s parents or carers before that child can be left in the sole care of a childminder’s assistant.

(9) The ratios in subsections (2), (4) and (5) apply to childminders providing overnight care, provided that the children are continuously monitored, which may be through the use of electronic equipment.

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(10) For the purposes of this section a child is—

(a) a “young child” up until 1 September following his or her fifth birthday.

(b) an “older child” after the 1 September following his or her fifth birthday.’.

New clause 7—Staff to child ratios: Ofsted-registered non-domestic childcare settings—

‘(1) This section applies to Ofsted-registered, non-domestic childcare settings.

(2) For children aged under two—

(a) the ratio of staff to children must be no less than one to three;

(b) at least one member of staff must hold a full and relevant level 3 qualification, and must be suitably experienced in working with children under two;

(c) at least half of all other members of staff must hold a full and relevant level 2 qualification;

(d) at least half of all members of staff must have received training in care for babies; and

(e) where there is a dedicated area solely for children under two years old, the member of staff in charge of that area must, in the judgement of their employer, have suitable experience of working with children under two years old.

(3) For children between the ages of two and three—

(a) the ratio of staff to children must be no less than one to four;

(b) at least one member of staff must hold a full and relevant level 3 qualification, and

(c) at least half of all other members of staff must hold a full and relevant level 2 qualification;

(4) Where there is registered early years provision, which operates between 8 am and 4 pm, and a member of staff with Qualified Teacher status, Early Years Professional status or other full and relevant level 6 qualification is working directly with the children, for children aged three and over—

(a) the ratio of staff to children must be no less than one to 13; and

(b) at least one member of staff must hold a full and relevant level 3 qualification.

(5) Where there is registered early years provision, which operates outside the hours of 8 am and 4 pm, and between the hours of 8 am and 4 pm, where a member of staff with Qualified Teacher status, Early Years Professional status or other full and relevant level 6 qualification is not working directly with the children, for children aged three and over—

(a) the ratio of staff to children must be no less than one to eight;

(b) at least one member of staff must hold a full and relevant level 3 qualification, and

(c) at least half of all other staff must hold a full and relevant level 2 qualification;

(6) In independent schools where—

(a) a member of staff with Qualified Teacher status, Early Years Professional status or other full and relevant level 6 qualification;

(b) an instructor; or

(c) a suitably qualified overseas-trained teacher is working directly with the children, for children aged three and over—

(i) for classes where the majority of children will reach the age of five or older within the school year, the ratio of staff to children must be no less than one to 30;

(ii) for all other classes the ratio of staff to children must be no less than one to 13; and

(iii) at least one other member of staff must hold a full and relevant level 3 qualification.

(7) In independent schools where there is—

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(a) no member of staff with Qualified Teacher status, Early Years Professional status or other full and relevant level 6 qualification;

(b) no instructor; or

(c) no suitably qualified overseas-trained teacher working directly with the children, for children aged three and over—

(i) the ratio of staff to children must be no less than one to eight;

(ii) at least one other member of staff must hold a full and relevant level 3 qualification, and

(iii) at least one other member of staff must hold a full and relevant level 2 qualification.

(8) In maintained nursery schools and nursery classes in maintained schools (except reception classes)—

(a) the ratio of staff to children must be no less than one to 13;

(b) at least one member of staff must be a school teacher as defined by subsection 122(3) [Power to prescribe pay and conditions] of the Education Act 2002 and Schedule 2 to the Education (School Teachers’ Qualifications) (England) Regulations 2003; and

(c) at least one other member of staff must hold a full and relevant level 3 qualification.

(9) The Secretary of State may make provision in statutory guidance to—

(a) define qualifications as “full and relevant”; and

(b) define “suitable experience” for those working with children under two.

(10) If HM Chief Inspector of Education is concerned about the quality of provision or the safety and well-being of children in a setting he may impose different ratios.’.

Amendment 76, in clause 73, page 50, line 16, at beginning insert

‘If, after a consultation period of not less than three months, and the publication of a response to the consultation, the Secretary of State is satisfied with the provisions, he may make an order so that’.

Amendment 77, in page 50, line 29, leave out clause 75.

Government amendment 28.

Elizabeth Truss: I wish to speak to new clause 10, which introduces paving legislation to allow Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to begin to set up tax-free child care, and amendment 28, which is a minor and technical amendment relating to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012.

First, I will comment on new clauses 6 and 7. As the House knows, we have proposals, on which we have consulted, for providers with highly qualified staff to be able to operate more flexible staff-to-child ratios, in line with best practice in leading European countries such as France, Holland and Germany. I highlight the fact that these proposals would be entirely optional for nurseries and are about empowering the front line.

The proposals received support from, among others, Sir Martin Narey, formerly of Barnado’s, and Sir Michael Wilshaw of Ofsted. I firmly believe that these flexibilities would allow nurseries to offer more choice of high-quality child care places to parents, invest additional revenue in attracting the best staff, and reduce costs for parents. However, as I made clear on the media this morning, it has not been possible to reach cross-Government agreement, so we are not proceeding with this reform.

That will not stop me working to make affordable, quality child care available to all. I am absolutely committed to this goal.

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Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Elizabeth Truss: This is a matter of pressing need, and we are taking forward the following proposals: introducing early-years educator and early-years teacher qualifications; introducing tax-free child care; ensuring that more money for child care goes to the front line; increasing the supply of childminders through the establishment of childminder agencies; and making it easier for schools to take two-year-olds in their nurseries.

Mr Sheerman: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Elizabeth Truss: The current childcare system is not working for parents. The real cost of child care has risen by 77% in real terms since 2003. Families in England pay some of the highest costs in the world; some spend 27% of net family income on child care. In comparison, parents in France spend just 11% of their income on child care.

Mr Sheerman: Will the hon. Lady give way on that point?

Elizabeth Truss: I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr Sheerman: I hope that the hon. Lady does not think I am trying to be disruptive. I was enjoying what she said, but I want to get to the heart of it. She said that the Government are not proceeding with the other proposals, which should of course have due consideration. At the moment, child care in this country is too expensive, and very many women find it a great burden to be able to afford it as compared with those in other countries, especially in Europe. Will the proposals that she is left with do something about that?

Elizabeth Truss: I completely agree that we have very high child care costs and I will do everything I can, where we can secure cross-Government agreement, to address that. I want to outline some of our proposals.

Mr Graham Stuart: I think there is merit in the work my hon. Friend has done and I pay tribute to her for the effort and energy she has put into it. I am disappointed that it has been brought to a halt. Will she confirm that the Deputy Prime Minister agreed to the proposals initially, only to renege on that agreement later?

4 pm

Elizabeth Truss: I thank my hon. Friend for his point. It is true that the reason we are not proceeding with the proposals is that we have failed to secure cross-Government agreement.

As I have said, the current child care system is not working for parents and the costs are very high.

Mr Stuart: May I confirm my understanding that the Deputy Prime Minister signed up to this but later, for political or other reasons—who knows?—withdrew his support? That is shameful and it could lead to less flexibility in a child care system that lacks quality and is too expensive.

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Elizabeth Truss: I thank my hon. Friend for his point. Other countries in Europe have flexibility and lower costs for child care. We are seeking to replicate some of their other reforms, and that is what I want to address.

One of the issues is that the UK has some of the lowest staff salaries in Europe. Child care workers here earn £6.60 an hour on average, which is barely above the minimum wage. Annual earnings are £13,000, which is well below the averages of £16,000 in France, £20,000 in Denmark and £22,000 in Sweden. We must reform the supply and funding of child care. If we do not, it will remain expensive and parents will struggle to combine work and family or find themselves cobbling together care, which is difficult and inconvenient. I know of some families where parents work alternating shifts to cover their care responsibilities. I want those families to have good alternatives.

Dual-income families are now the norm across the developed world because of our changing society and economy. In Britain, two thirds of mothers go out to work and many fathers also seek to combine family and work life. If we want parents to have good choices, we have to get better value for money for the £5 billion that the Government spend. International comparisons show that we spend the same proportion of GDP on public support for child care and early years as France and more than Germany, yet, as I have said, parents here pay double the cost that parents pay in countries such as France and Germany, and I do not think that that is right.

Mr Sheerman: I would be the last person to volunteer to defend the leader of the Liberal Democrats, but perhaps he was not sure about the overall, holistic analysis of what is going wrong. We pay more, it costs more and early-years carers are paid rubbish salaries, while many settings do not have a graduate in employment, which always lifts the quality. What is the reason for that? There must be one. What do the advisers and researchers suggest?

Elizabeth Truss: There are, of course, various reasons, many of which relate to the history of how child care systems have developed in different countries. France, for example, has a long tradition of the école maternelle, which involves structured, teacher-led learning from an early age. That has been shown to improve outcomes for children, particularly those from the lowest income backgrounds. Our reforms seek to make sure that high quality, highly qualified professionals go into early years, and to try to adjust the differential between early years and primary school salaries. I will come on to that later.

Parents need to know that they can access high-quality care. The research is clear: high-quality early learning experiences boost children’s attainment throughout their education. There are many excellent nurseries that provide stimulating, structured learning opportunities for young children, which help them to prepare for school. However, there is much more to do.

Anyone who works with children needs a wide range of qualities, not all of which can be quantified by degrees or diplomas. However, that does not undermine the case for greater skills and better qualifications. In future, there will be two qualified roles: early years educator and early years teacher. Graduate leaders are already having a positive impact. Almost 12,000 early

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years professionals are trained to deliver high-quality early education and care for pre-school children. Building on that legacy, early years teachers will be specialists in early childhood development who are trained to work with babies and young children. We want to see more crossover between teachers in primary and early years so that there is a continuum of education, rather than two separate silos.

The training programme for early years teachers begins this September. Trainees will have to meet the same requirements as primary school trainee teachers. They must have a degree and will need to pass the English and maths tests. The National College for Teaching and Leadership has consulted on the new teacher standards for early years, which will be published in July.

We are extending the reach of Teach First, which has been successful in bringing talented new people into schools. From this September, it will include teaching three and four-year-olds for the first time. Teach First attracts some of the most talented and ambitious graduates in the country, many of whom might not otherwise have considered working with young children. They can make a big contribution, especially in areas of disadvantage.

We also want to raise the standards of practitioners who do not have degrees. Early years educators will be qualified at level 3. Early education qualifications have been far too diffuse and lacking in rigour, and there are hundreds of existing and historical early years qualifications. We are addressing that failure. The National College for Teaching and Leadership has consulted on new criteria for level 3 qualifications and will publish them shortly. Using those criteria, awarding organisations will develop high-quality qualifications to be introduced in September 2014. The minimum entry standard for the qualifications will be grade C at GCSE in English and maths.

Apprenticeships will offer a high-quality route to becoming an early years educator. They will last 20 months on average and combine employment with study towards recognised qualifications through various routes, including further education colleges.

Andrea Leadsom (South Northamptonshire) (Con): Will the new qualifications, particularly those for early years educators, include training in early infant brain development and the crucial importance for childhood development of a secure early bond?

Elizabeth Truss: I thank my hon. Friend for that contribution. The new qualifications will include the study of early brain development and attachment theory to ensure that early years educators and teachers are up to date with the latest research and practice when they go into the profession fully.

We have just announced a £2 million apprenticeship bursary scheme for apprentice early years educators. Up to 1,000 bursary places will be available to people who aspire to a career in early education. Each bursary will be worth £1,500 and an additional £300 will be available for further training. I am encouraged by the view of David Pomfret, the principal of the college of West Anglia, that the bursaries will make it easier for people to begin a career in early education. The college has seen more people taking up such courses in recent years and we want to encourage more young people into this important profession.

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In addition to improving the supply of early years educators and teachers into child care, we are reforming child care funding. The tax-free child care scheme will provide 2.5 million families with financial support towards their formal child care costs. That is an expansion on the current system and, in the majority of cases, will provide a more generous amount.

Unfortunately, under the current employer-supported child care voucher scheme, which was introduced by the previous Government, the question of who receives support is arbitrary. It is also highly inefficient, with 33% of the total amount being spent on overheads. At present, only 5% of employers offer employer-supported child care, and only a fifth of employees are eligible for it. Those who are self-employed do not have access to it, and whether a parent can or cannot get it is a lottery. Strangely, as more than one parent can claim employer-supported child care, in some cases there are two claimants for one child. That means that the costs for one child could be covered more than for a single parent with several children, and that is neither a sensible nor fair way to continue.

Our new tax-free child care scheme will resolve those anomalies. It will be available to any working family, except where one or both earners pay the additional rate of income tax. It will be on a per-child basis and include the self-employed and those on the national minimum wage. Tax-free child care means that around 2.5 million families will now have access to support. That support will be worth the same as the basic rate of income tax at 20% of costs, making child care costs effectively tax free. It will mean that the average family with two children will receive up to £2,400 each year. Those on lower incomes will continue to have 70% of their child care costs paid through tax credits and, in future, universal credit, and there will be an additional £200 million to help those in receipt of universal credit ensure that work always pays.

We are not introducing the tax-free child care scheme now. The Government have been in discussions with interested parties since the announcement of the scheme, and will launch a formal consultation document shortly. The consultation will last 12 weeks, and the Government will proactively engage with those affected by the changes to discuss the issues. New clause 10 has been tabled to enable HMRC to start developing the scheme. Although we will consult in full on its details, the basic tenets have been set out. To ensure that the scheme is in operation by the autumn 2015 target, work on its foundations must commence now.

Craig Whittaker (Calder Valley) (Con): I thank my hon. Friend for providing information on the tax-free child care system. Will that replace all forms of child care currently in the market? I am thinking particularly of employee benefits for those who receive child care as a benefit through the taxation of companies.

Elizabeth Truss: I thank my hon. Friend for his question and HMRC will consider that issue in its new consultation on this subject.

Much of the work required is based on IT development because we want all parents to be able to access the service online. As with paving legislation before it, the new clause will enable officials to start high-level discussions on IT and other development, and such discussions

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could not take place without the new clause. The provision will not affect HMRC’s current operations or impede the development or scrutiny of the tax-free child care scheme, and there is no immediate cost of the scheme that must be funded.

This is a short and self-explanatory new clause that merely allows the Government to begin preliminary work ahead of the final design of the tax-free child care scheme. The Bill is similar to those used by previous Governments, and takes no greater powers than in those cases. Furthermore, the Government are clear that any changes required in primary legislation will receive appropriate scrutiny. The new clause is minor and technical in nature, and I look for support across the House to enable HMRC to start working on one of the Government’s priorities.

In addition to reforming child care funding we must also increase the supply of quality child care. The number of childminders has almost halved over the past 15 years, limiting parental choice in a flexible affordable form of child care. Many parents want home-based care, especially in a child’s youngest years—I know my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) is a great advocate of that. The Bill enables the introduction of childminder agencies, which I believe will help to increase the number of childminders in the market by removing barriers to entry and offering an alternative to working completely independently. Agencies will drive up quality—they will be required to support the training and development of childminders—and make it easier for parents to access childminders and be assured of high-quality and flexible provision.

Andrea Leadsom: Will children’s centres be encouraged to become childminder agencies? That would link two of the most critical structures available to support parents. Childminders often believe they do not have access to training or to the camaraderie of others in their field, so that could be a perfect combination.

Elizabeth Truss: I agree with my hon. Friend and will mention the types of organisations that could be involved in childminder agencies in due course.

4.15 pm

Childminder agencies will be a one-stop shop, meaning that there will be a simpler process for childminders entering the profession, without the large up-front costs that put many capable people off. We are working closely with childminders and other providers, including those interested in setting up agencies, and with Ofsted, as we develop details of how agencies might operate.

I am delighted to inform the House that the Department has written to more than 60 organisations that have expressed an interest in working with us to trial elements of childminder agencies. There is a mix of organisations, including businesses ranging from nursery chains to individual childminders, and academies, maintained schools, national child care organisations, children’s centres, which my hon. Friend mentioned, and local authorities. The trials will begin later this summer. I will say more in the coming weeks about the organisations taking part and the shape of the trials. Some hon. Members seek assurances on our plans for consultation. I can confirm that,

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following the trials, the Department will consult fully on the key requirements to be placed on childminder agencies in regulations.

Amendment 28 is a technical amendment and introduces a transitional provision to cater for section 85 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 coming into force on or before the day on which the Bill receives Royal Assent. Section 85 is designed to bring about a change across the board in relation to the fines that magistrates courts can impose. The amendment is needed to ensure that section 85 applies to the new offences relating to childminder agencies in schedule 4 as it applies to most other pre-existing offences.

Local authorities have an important role in early education and child care. Local authorities and their local agencies—family information services or Sure Start children’s centres—have a vital part to play in helping families who need support and in championing the interests of children. For example, local authorities have made strong progress on securing early learning for two-year-olds—some 55,000 children are already benefiting from places throughout the country. I am working with the Department of Health to ensure that services are more closely integrated, and that the two-and-a-half-year-old check is in place in 2015, which will help in that regard. We need to ensure that families get the help they need, and that a seamless service is provided by children’s centres, with both the Department for Education and the Department of Health contributing.

I want local authorities to continue to work to attract high-quality providers to their area, and to encourage schools to offer more nursery places and school-based child care. At present, there is a big gap between the proportions of outstanding providers in different local authority areas. As I have said, we are supporting Ofsted with increased funds to increase the number of Her Majesty’s inspectors. Sir Michael Wilshaw has announced his intention to focus more on weaker providers. Ofsted is to trial an improvement programme with nurseries and pre-schools that are not yet “good” in three London boroughs in the next few weeks to show how this approach might work. Local authorities are also empowered to offer support and training. The intention of the clause is to get rid of unnecessary bureaucracy, so that local authorities can focus on these important functions. I want to see a shift from process and bureaucracy to focusing on what matters: outcomes for children.

Clause 75 repeals the bureaucratic requirement to produce a child care sufficiency assessment every three years. Instead, local authorities will report annually to elected Members and parents in a way that meets local circumstances—a move widely supported at consultation. I have recently published new guidance for Sure Start children’s centres, and a consultation on a proposed new funded early education guidance that reflects this approach.

I have set out a range of steps the Government are taking to meet the challenge of high-quality and affordable child care for all families.

Mrs Hodgson: I rise to speak to new clauses 6 and 7 and amendments 76 and 77 in my name and in the name of my hon. Friends. Notwithstanding the welcome announcement the Minister has just made on behalf of

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the Government—at last, I might add—we still wish to proceed with the new clauses as their premise and purpose are still valid.

The Government have got themselves into a complete shambles. With every passing week, it becomes more and more apparent that Ministers do not have a credible plan to tackle the child care crisis they have created. Under this Government, parents are facing a triple whammy: costs are rising faster than wages and even general inflation, with the average cost having risen by almost 20% since 2010; support from the Government for those on tax credits has been cut, meaning that some families are up to £1,500 a year worse off; and there is a real struggle to find places in some areas owing to the cuts in supply-side subsidies and direct provision, such as through children’s centres. Since the election, we have lost almost 900 nurseries and more than 1,500 child minders, and there are 500 fewer Sure Start children’s centres.

It is no wonder, therefore, that the Prime Minister panicked and plucked the Children’s Minister from the Back Benches to implement her ideas without even bothering to check whether they were any good. The main idea to come out of “More great childcare”—increasing the number of children each adult can look after—is the worst one, and we are pleased to hear that it has been dropped. The Minister has been told categorically, most notably by advisers commissioned by her own Department, that it was not a good idea from the start, yet still she persisted with it.

If you will allow me, Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like to place on record what those advisers said. Eva Lloyd from the university of East London was commissioned, along with Professor Helen Penn, by the Department to advise on child care practice from around the world, but her report is still being sat on seven months later. She said:

“The ratio relaxation is unlikely to reduce child care costs, but may well drive down child care quality.”

Professor Cathy Nutbrown, whose excellent report on qualifications in the sector was manipulated by the Government to argue for relaxing ratios, said:

“Current proposals will shake the foundation of quality provision for young children. Watering down ratios regardless of the level of qualifications held by staff, is likely to lead to worse, not ‘great’ childcare, and will undermine intentions to provide quality early learning experiences.”

You might be forgiven for thinking, Mr Deputy Speaker, that child care providers, who in purely economic terms could stand to benefit from these plans, would back them. Well, here is what some of the leading representatives of child care providers have to say.

Neil Leitch from the Pre-School Learning Alliance, whose survey of members found that 94% did not believe they could maintain the quality of their current level of provision if staffing levels were reduced, said:

“We are absolutely appalled by this fixation to alter ratios… This is a recipe for disaster.”

In a separate release last week, he said:

“There is no doubt that relaxing ratios would have lowered the overall quality of childcare in this country. Not only would children have received less one-to-one support from childcare workers, but their well-being would also have been put at serious risk.”

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Alison Seabeck: My hon. Friend is highlighting all the reasons the proposal should not have gone forward, but it seems that it ended up as an internal argument on the Government Benches, rather than being based on the opinion of experts.

Mrs Hodgson: We would rather the Minister had come to the House sooner with a proper statement. In the time available this afternoon, that will not be possible, and obviously the House is not as well attended as it would have been for a statement. It is disappointing, then, that the announcement was not made in a statement to a full House in the usual way.

Craig Whittaker: I fully understand what the hon. Lady is trying to achieve, but are these professionals and new clauses trying to say that the professionals in the sector are not professional or good enough to decide themselves what ratios they deem to be safe, rather than what she deems to be safe?

Mrs Hodgson: No. I will tell the hon. Gentleman what more of the professionals have said, however, and then perhaps he will think on the strangeness of his intervention.

Purnima Tanuku of the National Day Nurseries Association said:

“At the moment there is an option that nurseries can operate a 1:13 ratio for over threes, if a person with a Level Six (degree level) qualification is working directly with the children. However, few nurseries take up this option, largely because it is not practical for one person to meet the needs of 13 children doing the type of activities most nurseries offer.”

That was echoed by private nurseries and managers I have met across the country. They suggested that it can often be a struggle providing quality care when operating at the current ratios. Finally, I will quote June O’Sullivan, chief executive of the London Early Years Foundation, which runs the nursery in the House of Commons:

“It beggars belief that a junior Minister can wreak havoc on a sector that has explained the negative consequences of her actions.”

Obviously the junior Minister has at last come to the House and ditched her plans, which I am sure all the people I have quoted will be pleased to hear. Most important, though, parents will be most pleased to hear today’s announcement.

Alex Cunningham (Stockton North) (Lab): I too welcome this U-turn by the Government today, but I welcome all the more my hon. Friend’s new clauses. Parents in my constituency are actually worried about the safety of their children under the Government’s proposals and are taking that anxiety to work. Some were even considering giving up work, if it had been introduced, which would not have done our economy any good. Would support for the new clauses in fact do our economy good and remove that anxiety from parents?

Mrs Hodgson: I agree, which is why we are proceeding with the new clauses: we need to ensure that parents will never again face such a threat from a Minister who just brings forward a mad idea out of the blue, against all the evidence and without any support from anyone—whether professional, parent or expert—in the country.

Both Mumsnet and Netmums have officially backed the Rewind on Ratios campaign, following widespread anger among parents—anger that the Minister felt the

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full force of when she did a web chat on Mumsnet in February. A recent survey of parents by Bounty found that 80% would not back the changes, even if they led to significantly cheaper child care bills. Of course, that is a big if.

The Department has argued—the Minister did so again in her opening remarks—that the measure could cut costs. The modelling information that the Department was forced to reveal said that it could cut costs by up to 28%, but the modelling done to arrive at that figure was branded by providers as a “work of fiction”. The modelling made wildly unrealistic assumptions of 100% occupancy for 52 weeks of the year, which no nursery ever has—speak to the nurseries and they will say that. It did not account for any breaks, training sickness or holidays for any of the staff. In one model—the one that said that it would save parents up to 28%—staff would not even have been paid any more money, which was supposed to be the whole point of these reforms, as the Minister again said in her opening remarks.

4.30 pm

Busy Bees, which had initially supported the plans before saying it would not be changing its ratios, calculated that it could actually cost parents more if these changes were brought in.

Alison Seabeck: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again but this issue is really important. No consideration seems to have been given to the need to change premises, for example. My granddaughter was in a three-storey property, with babies, largely, at the top. The number of children in care on that floor could not be increased without something significant being done to the building. I do not think that any of those additional costs were considered.

Mrs Hodgson: My hon. Friend makes a very valid point that has been raised with me many times. I know that the Secretary of State is getting a reputation for sloppy research, and I feel that this is another case of policy-based evidence from his Department.

Then, last week, we thought that common sense had prevailed and the plans had been ditched. In fact, the Deputy Prime Minister said as much. In his briefing note to journalists, he set out in black and white the complete lack of support and credible evidence that the Department for Education had for these reforms. This was a cause of great relief for the tens of thousands of parents and childcare professionals who were rightly appalled by the lack of consideration of the needs of young children in these plans. Indeed, given how out of touch with childcare practice in England the Minister appears to be, it is little wonder that, according to her own Department, she has visited just five English nurseries in an official capacity since getting the job, compared with seven settings in France.

I am not sure what those French nurseries were like, but the Minister regularly cites them as exemplars. I am sure she will have seen that the chief executive of the Pre-school Learning Alliance, Neil Leitch, commented last week on his visit to France. He highlighted staff not having the time to identify and support children with special educational needs, nursery age children having

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scheduled toilet breaks and long afternoon naps, and children being made to sit still at desks for so long that tennis balls had to be fixed to their chair legs so that they did not make a noise when they fidgeted. This is not what anyone with an understanding of child development—




He has photographs. They are available on the internet. The Minister is disputing what I am saying. She can look up the pictures, and I am sure that Neil Leitch would be more than happy to meet her to discuss what he saw in France.

This is not what anyone with an understanding of child development would describe as high-quality early education. When we consider how stubbornly the Minister has refused to listen to those experts and child care bodies who repeatedly told her that that is what her plans would mean, it is unsurprising that she has met with the tiny number of organisations who support her many more times than the major sector representatives who disagree.

Craig Whittaker: In view of the fact that the hon. Lady thought my last intervention a little strange, let me put it in a different way. Is she saying that the French system is much more expensive, or does it have higher ratios and so is much more unsafe than our system?

Mrs Hodgson: Yes, the French system is of a lower quality. That comes out in the OECD ratings of its nurseries, which are lower than those of the British system. When people meet French nursery providers, they are often asked about our system. French nursery providers look to emulate our model and cannot understand why we look to emulate their systems. [Interruption.] That is what we are told, but again, I am more than happy to hear evidence to the contrary.

Within 24 hours of the Deputy Prime Minister saying that the policy was dead in the water, both the Leader of the House and the Prime Minister’s spokesperson denied that a decision had been taken. The Department for Education said absolutely nothing for six days. We had to wait six days for a Minister to come to the House and make a formal announcement confirming that the plans are indeed dead in the water. We were grateful to hear that at long last, even though we will not have time to discuss it in detail this afternoon.

Even though the Minister has said today that the plans have been shelved, I do not have confidence that we have seen the last of them. After all, the Government are struggling to meet their target to provide free child care for the 20% most disadvantaged two-year-olds. With just three months before the policy is due to be introduced, a freedom of information survey that I have conducted shows that only 60% of councils have the capacity to provide the places, probably for some of the reasons cited a moment ago by my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Alison Seabeck), who is no longer in her place. The temptation for the Government just to click their fingers and increase the number of two-year-olds that each worker can care for must be great. We should be clear: all they would have to do is change statutory guidance, meaning that Parliament would have no say.

In proposing the new clauses in this group, the Opposition are giving this House a say. We have an opportunity to nip any such future reforms in the bud. We have an opportunity to send the strongest possible message to

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Ministers that this House has listened to the tens of thousands of parents and professionals who have been campaigning against these changes, not to mention the Department’s own experts, and to say that we will not risk the safety of children in child care settings or the quality of the early learning and development they receive by allowing any such plans to go through unchallenged.

Elizabeth Truss: Does that mean that the hon. Lady thinks it was wrong for the previous Government to increase ratios for three and four-year-olds in 2008?

Mrs Hodgson: I was not in the Department or in position in 2008, but if we raised ratios, I am sure it was done after full consultation and with the support and backing of child care professionals, which is the exact opposite to now. That is the key difference, and I am sure that people out there listening to this debate will know whether that is true and whether that case is a fair comparison.

I sincerely hope that today the Deputy Prime Minister will put his MPs where his mouth is and lead his Liberal Democrat Members into the Aye Lobby with Labour when we seek the opinion of the House on these new clauses shortly, to ensure that in future no Secretary of State can force through, against the will of the House, changes such as those that the Minister has now dropped.

Amendment 76 would require the Government to take the novel step of consulting on the formation of childminder agencies before they legislate to create them. I hope that Ministers will learn the lessons from the furore over ratios. I should say from the outset that I do not have a dogmatic objection to childminder agencies, particularly if they are voluntary. What the Government say they want to achieve through such agencies is all very sensible: greater co-operation and peer support for childminders, as well as access to training and help with gaining bursaries. Childminder agencies will also be a single point of contact for parents who might need a mix of child care solutions. These are all good things that make for a vibrant childminder sector, and are all things that local authority childminder networks and family information services should be providing at the moment. That some of them are not is perhaps down to the devastating cuts to the grant that local authorities previously received from the Department for Education to pay for them.

Since the publication of this Bill, the Department has been consulting on removing many of those duties from local authorities—such as providing training and quality improvement support—and this on top of the attempt in clause 75 to remove the duty to publish child care sufficiency reports, which our amendment 77 would block. All this seems to be a clear sign that the Government want local authorities almost completely removed from the child care equation and that agencies are therefore the preferred configuration for childminders.

Given that the Minister has said that there will be no direct funding from the Government for agencies to provide those services, the implication is that there will be a cost to the childminder. That cost will in turn have to be passed on to the parents, because most childminders do not earn the sort of money that would allow them to soak up the kind of membership fee or commission that we might expect an agency to demand. The most recent

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childcare costs survey from the Daycare Trust found that childminder fees were already increasing by an average of more than 5%, year on year.

Of course, as all the parent surveys tell us, cost is a secondary issue to quality, and it is the end of individual inspections by Ofsted that is the most worrying reform. Parents really value the fact that their childminder has proved their effectiveness to Ofsted. A National Childminding Association survey last year found that 80% of parents thought that individual inspections were important, and that 75% might not choose a childminder without the reassurance of an individual inspection. Childminders value the inspections too: 80% felt that moving to an agency model of inspection would have a detrimental effect on their professionalism, and they are obviously concerned that this would put parents off using them as well.

Of course we want more childminders to set up—as I said earlier, we have seen the number drop by more than 1,500 since the election—but we should not be trying to achieve that by passing legislation that has the potential fundamentally to change the market, without first consulting on it and establishing consensus. I would therefore welcome assurances from the Minister that the Government will set up such a consultation before the Bill completes its passage through the other place.

Dan Rogerson: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), as it enables me to clarify these matters from the perspective of the Liberal Democrat Benches. It was also good to see the Chair of the Education Committee, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr Stuart), back in the Chamber, although he is no longer in his place. He led the charge on many of these issues, although I suspect that he might have been getting a bit of gyp from the old leg, as he seemed uncharacteristically bad tempered.

I shall address my remarks to the new clauses and amendments in this group, as you would expect me to do, Mr Deputy Speaker. I pay tribute to the Under-Secretary of State for Education, the hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) for the way in which she has gone into battle over the use of the taxation system to support the provision of child care. She has come up with a whole package of measures, which we will explore in the course of the debate, and it is a great achievement to have secured some cash from the Treasury. I know that colleagues in my party support her in this. She has gone out there and done this, and I pay tribute to her for her achievement. New clause 10, in putting down this marker in the Bill, represents an important step forward in showing the Government’s commitment to supporting parents who want access to good quality child care in order to allow them to go out to work, and to bring up their families in the way they aspire to.

The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West talked about the rising cost of child care, but she could have turned the clock back a bit further to when the previous Government were in power, because those costs rose hugely on their watch as well. This is nothing new; it is a trend that has been going on for some time. I therefore welcome the proposal to set out a framework for investing more public money in supporting the cost of child care for families who need it.

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New clauses 6 and 7, tabled by the hon. Lady, cover an issue that has, as the Minister said, been settled for the time being. This Government now have no plans to alter the ratios. They consulted on the proposal, and those who responded to the consultation were fairly overwhelmingly against it. The Government have responded to that. The Minister clearly believes that there is a case to be made for such an alteration, however, and she will continue to make that case in the run-up to the general election if that remains Conservative party policy, but it is not the policy of the coalition Government to introduce such changes now.

That debate will no doubt continue, but I welcome the fact that, on the basis of the consultation, the Government have chosen not to go ahead with the changes. In today’s statement to the House on GCSE reform, the Chair of the Select Committee praised the Secretary of State for listening to the results of that consultation and being persuaded to take a different tack on some aspects of exam reform. The Secretary of State did it in that case, and the Government have also done it in this case. We should not criticise them for that; listening and taking action based on a consultation is the purpose of a consultation. The debate will continue and we will see whether a further case can be made. For the time being, that does not seem to have been the case. It is not only the sector that was concerned about this; parents were, too. If those two important groups are expressing concern, it is very difficult to move ahead with the policy.

4.45 pm

The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West is seeking to add measures that are entirely unnecessary. There are a number of things that any future Government might propose to do about child care with which we may be unhappy, but as those things are not being proposed, it is utterly pointless to say we have to have a vote on them now. We could have all sorts of amendments to stop things that are not being proposed by the Government—an amendment to prevent child care from taking place outdoors in the rain, for example—but that is pointless.

We all know what this is about. It is about the Opposition, as they are entitled to do—[Interruption.] Absolutely; it is about children, which is why the Government are not doing these things. These amendments, on the other hand, are nothing to do with children. They are about trying to add something to the Bill so the Opposition can claim some kind of victory or try to drive a wedge between the two Government parties. That is what Opposition parties do, so that is absolutely fine, but there is no need to vote for amendments to stop something that the Government are not proposing. I will be disappointing the Opposition Front-Bench team, therefore.

Liberal Democrat policy is clear. We are not convinced that the ratio change is necessary. [Interruption.] Absolutely not; we can support the Government because the Government are not making any change, so the Opposition proposal is unnecessary, as I have just set out.

Amendment 76 seeks to change the clause that enacts schedule 4 to the Childcare Act 2006, a provision that was put in place under the last Labour Government.

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I was therefore intrigued to note that the Labour Opposition have tabled an amendment not to enact something that was originally passed on their watch.

I understand the thinking behind Opposition amendment 77 on the duty on local authorities to provide an assessment of child care places in their locality. Having heard from the Minister about what is being proposed, however, and given the fact that the consultation has found that they would prefer to do it on an annual basis in a less bureaucratic way, I am persuaded that that is unnecessary, too.

We have therefore heard from the Government that there is no proposal to change ratios, which I welcome. They are also putting in the key change, which the Minister has gone out and fought for, of more financial support in coming years for child care, and I welcome that, too. Therefore, I will not support any of the Opposition amendments, but I am happy to support the Government new clauses.

Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op): On new clause 10, the Minister made great play of introducing tax-free child care, but she should be clearer in her closing remarks about what exactly that means, as I fear she is misdescribing something. What she seems to be proposing is that after people have passed through many hoops, including having both parents working and receiving certain levels of income, 20% is paid, which is not tax-free for the higher rate taxpayer. I want her to clarify this point: she talked about those paying additional tax not qualifying, so will she explain what tax threshold this will and will not apply to, so people who might be affected can know about that?

Amazingly, this scheme has managed to unite The Daily Telegraph and the Labour party in criticism. That is some achievement, and I applaud the Minister on it, but it shows that there is a degree of muddle. The scheme is for couples or single parents where both work, but there are many other questions about it—I look forward to the regulations being laid so we can get to the details. What about where one partner was working but is unemployed or sick and unable to work, perhaps for a long period, or is retired, which is not beyond the bounds of possibility? Does the Minister have any plans to extend this as a general policy to parents of over-fives? A chef in my constituency on £15,000 or so a year raised with me the challenges of getting child care out of hours, a situation faced by many people, both with over-fives and with under-fives. I hope that she will give us some indication of her thinking on this matter. Will she tell us when she is planning to lay regulations on this issue, so that we can all be alert in order to tackle that?

On new clauses 6 and 7, I will be generous to the Minister. She said that the fact that she has lost support—perhaps could not corral support across Whitehall—is not stopping her push for “affordable, quality child care available to all.” On that last sentence she and I are united as one, but, sadly, I disagree with her approach. If that really was what was being proposed, I would be a greater supporter of hers, but I am concerned about misrepresentation: little ideas presented as big solutions. We need a longer-term vision about child care provision for our under-fives and our older children, and we must ensure that we see that as an investment in those young

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people and, in particular, in women, in enabling them to work. However, this is not the time to get into that debate.

On childminder agencies, I am not going to get into the issue about ratios, because my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) raised it very effectively. The proposal was never popular. I was even stopped in the street about it in my constituency by parents and carers who were very concerned about it—it was that much of a worry. I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North (Alex Cunningham) said about that worry being something that Ministers need to think about when proposing ideas that have not been agreed properly within their own Government, let alone anywhere else.

I have some concerns about the proposals on agencies for childminders, and I have referred to the parallel with older people’s care, where private agencies came in and reduced the quality of care. That is a legacy of the late Lady Thatcher’s years in government and it has not improved in all that time. I do not want private companies to come in, cream off a profit and cut the income of the childminders, who, in my area, consider themselves as small businesses. The number of childminders has reduced because a lot were on the list for local authorities but were not active, so as soon as that list was tidied up they dropped off it. A number of those to whom that happened were poor quality and did not want to have the scrutiny of Ofsted or any other authority, because they were the “pile ’em high, stack ’em cheap” sort of childminder that the Minister seems to favour.

Hackney childminders, a very professional group, are united about the achievements that they have personally brought about and the benefits for young people in my area, and about the fact that the bad childminders have been run out of town. We do not want to go back to those bad old days. I am a mother of three and I know that I can stand here in the House now only because of my excellent child care. Over the years it has not always been so good, but there are times when one really worries, and one cannot work while worrying about children not being in a safe place.

Andy Sawford (Corby) (Lab/Co-op): My hon. Friend speaks passionately about childminders in Hackney. The Northamptonshire Childminding Association was also clear that it thought that this proposal would reduce quality and increase cost, so that experience is consistent with hers.

Meg Hillier: That is my worry. What exactly is an “agency”? We hear one description from bits of government and other descriptions from some of the organisations outside, including Ofsted. If the Minister is saying, as she has indicated, that some part of this move is about sharing professional experience and providing support to professional colleagues, I can tell her that my childminder network in Hackney does that very effectively in any case, so does it count as an agency? I have suggested that it thinks about setting one up. If it was to work in collaboration with the local authority or with the local Sure Start centres in smaller areas, would it then count as an agency? In the attempts to trial some of the elements, is the Minister being prescriptive or is she allowing 1,000 flowers to bloom? If it is the latter, what is to prevent the bad, rapacious private agencies from

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coming in, taking over, dominating in an area and becoming a local monopoly? There is a real concern about that. Will childminders have to join? The position on that is unclear, so perhaps she will give us some information on it. There is some benefit to professional experience sharing and professional support, but not at the costs that I have outlined. Will the Minister tell the House the timetable for the regulations, which she said would be coming very soon?

I will leave my comments there, but this is an important issue. My constituency is one of the youngest in the country; over a fifth of residents are under 16. I think I speak with some authority on their behalf. For them, the Bill, and these changes, make a very big difference.

Elizabeth Truss: We have had a wide-ranging debate on the various child care issues, but one point that I think we can all agree on is that there is an urgent need for high-quality, affordable child care in this country. At the moment, many working families are struggling to afford their child care, and I can assure the House that the Government are fully committed to improving the situation. Tax-free child care, which is the key policy that we have been promoting in the Bill, will contribute to that.

I would particularly like to thank the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Dan Rogerson) for his very constructive comments, particularly on the point about our tax-free child care scheme. I want to reassure the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) that “tax-free” refers to the 20% that parents will benefit by. The critical point is that it is open to many more families.

I understand the hon. Members want to move on to the next debate so, without further ado, I shall finish.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 10 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 3

Regulation of child performance

‘(1) In section 37 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1963 (Restriction on persons under 16 taking part in public performances, etc.) the words “under the compulsory school leaving age” shall be inserted after the word “child” in subsection (1).

(2) After subsection (2) there shall be inserted—

“(2A) In this section, “Performance” means the planned participation by a child aged under the compulsory school leaving age in a public entertainment production, unless that participation—

(a) involves risks that are no greater than the risks faced by that child in the ordinary course of his life and does not require the child to be absent from school or requires an absence from school of not more than four days in a six month period and such absence is authorised by the school;

(b) involves the child doing that which he would do in any event in the ordinary course of his life; or

(c) involves the creation of audio-visual content where there is an overriding public interest in the child’s participation.”.

(3) Subsection (3)(a) of that section shall be repealed.

(4) After subsection (5) of that section there shall be inserted—

“(5A) Regulations under this section shall provide for the local authority to give reasons for any refusal of a licence under this section and shall specify any mitigating action which would be required to allow a licence to be issued.

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(5B) A refusal of a local authority to grant a licence may be reversed on appeal.”.

(5) Subsection (6) of that section shall be repealed.

(6) After subsection (7) the following shall be inserted—

“(7A) A licence granted by a local authority shall be transferrable to another local authority if the child moves residence from one local authority area to another.”.

(7) Section 38 of the Act (Restriction on licences for performances by children under 14) shall be repealed.

(8) After section 39 of the Act, there shall be inserted—

“39A Presumption that a licence should be issued

(1) There shall be a presumption that a licence shall be issued unless there is identifiable potential harm that cannot be mitigated by any other action.

(2) For the purposes of this section—

(a) “identifiable potential harm” shall be any outcome that acts adversely against the wellbeing of the child;

(b) “mitigated” shall mean such reasonable action that secures the safety of the child from the impact on their wellbeing; and

(c) “wellbeing” includes the physical, mental and emotional condition and interests of the child.

39B Guidance

‘(1) The Secretary of State shall issue guidance to local authorities on the criteria for issuing licences and the conditions which shall apply to them; and this guidance may make different provision for children falling within different age bands applicable to their development age.

(2) Guidance shall include a requirement for the local authority’s decision to be based on an assessment of the risks involved in the child’s participation in the performance.

(3) Guidance shall include the safeguarding arrangements which shall be made in regard to participation in sporting activities; and in drawing up this guidance the Secretary of State shall consult sports governing bodies.

(4) Guidance shall require the local authority, in considering the terms on which a licence is issued, to have regard to the number of days actually worked spread across a particular period.

(5) Guidance shall require local authorities to provide for on-line applications for licences, to deal with all licences in time if submitted at least 10 days before they are to come into effect, or five days in respect of a repeated application.

(6) Guidance shall provide for local authorities to inspect sites where children taking part in performances are to be accommodated, if they will be residing alongside unconnected adults.

(7) Guidance shall provide for local authorities to disregard absence in connection with licensed performances in school records for authorised absences.

(8) Guidance shall provide that local authorities shall require that matrons or chaperones shall operate under standards accepted by the appropriate advisory bodies.

(9) Guidance shall also include the circumstances in which it is appropriate to authorise a body of persons to organise a performance for which licences will not be required by virtue of section 37(3)(b) of this Act, including where the performers are of 13 years or upwards or if the body is an amateur body and has a nominated child protection person who has received appropriate training and is independent of the chaperone.

(10) Guidance under this section shall be laid before Parliament and shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament as if it were contained in a statutory instrument subject to such annulment.”.

(9) Clause 42 of the Act (Licences for children and young persons performing abroad) shall be amended by inserting after subsection (1)—

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“(1A) Licences under section 25 of the principal Act in relation to performances as defined under this Act shall be issued by local authorities rather than as specified in the principal Act.”.

(10) In subsection (2) of that section the words after the word “granted” shall be replaced by the words “regardless of the age of the child”.

(11) In the Children (Performances) Regulations 1968 (SI 1968/1728)—

(a) In Regulation 8 (Medical examinations) in paragraph (2), the words “performance taking place within a period of six months from the date of the said medical examination” shall be replaced by the words “later performance”.

(b) At the end of Regulation 10 (Education) there shall be inserted—

“(6) The child’s parents or guardians must inform the child’s school of any days on which the child will be absent by reason of taking part in performances.”.

(c) In Regulation 12(3) (maximum number of other children a matron shall have charge of), “eleven” shall be replaced by “nine”.

(d) At the end of Regulation 12 (Matrons) there shall be inserted—

“(7) A matron in respect of a performance organised by an amateur body who is unpaid shall not require local authority approval provided that he or she is CRB-checked and is independent of the nominated child protection person.”.

(e) Regulation 17 (Further medical examinations) shall cease to have effect.’.—(Tim Loughton.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 4—Continuing support for former foster children—

‘Section 23C of the Children Act 1989 (continuing functions in respect of former relevant children) is amended by the insertion of the following subsections after subsection (5).

“(5ZA) The assistance given under subsection (4)(c) shall include the continuation of accommodation with the former local authority foster parent, unless—

(a) the former relevant child states that he or she does not wish to continue residing in such accommodation, or

(b) the former local authority foster parent does not wish to continue to provide accommodation, or

(c) it is not reasonably practicable to arrange such accommodation.

(5ZB) ‘Former local authority foster parent’ means a local authority foster parent within the meaning of section 22C(12) with whom the former relevant child, as a looked after child, was placed under section 22C(6)(a) or (b).”.’.

New clause 5—Assessment and support of young carers—

‘(1) Where it appears to a local authority that a child within their area may provide or be about to provide care to an adult or a child who is disabled, the authority must—

(a) assess whether the child has needs for support relating to their caring role (or is likely to have such needs in the future); and

(b) if the child is found to have such needs, set out what those needs are (or are likely to be in the future).

(2) Having carried out an assessment under subsection (1) the authority must meet those needs for support which it considers to be necessary to meet in order to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare.

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(3) Having carried out an assessment under subsection (1), a local authority must also consider whether the adult is or may be eligible for assessment under the Care Act 2013, and if so must ensure such an assessment is carried out unless that adult objects.

(4) Having carried out an assessment under subsection (1) a local authority must consider whether, in the case of a child who is caring for a disabled child, the child being cared for requires an assessment under the Children Act 1989 and if so shall carry out that assessment unless the person with parental responsibility for that child objects.

(5) The Secretary of State shall issue guidance in relation to the duties set out above having consulted with persons whom the Secretary of State considers to be appropriate, the said guidance to be issued under section 7 of the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970.

(6) Any service provided by an authority in the exercise of functions conferred on them under this section may be provided for the family or for any member of the child’s family, and may include—

(a) services to the adult the child is providing care to meet the adult’s needs for care and support; and

(b) services to the adult to enhance their parenting capacity.

If such services are provided with a view to safeguarding and promoting the child’s welfare.’.

New clause 11—General duty of local authorities to co-operate to secure sufficient accommodation for looked after children—

‘(1) The Children Act 1989 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 22G (General duty of local authority to secure sufficient accommodation for looked after children), insert the following new section:

“22H General duty of local authorities to co-operate to secure sufficient accommodation for looked after children

(1) It is the general duty of a local authority to take steps in co-operation with neighbouring local authorities that secure, so far as reasonably practicable, the outcomes in subsections (2) and (3).

(2) The first outcome applies to the children defined in subsection (3) of section 22G in respect of whom the local authority are unable to secure the outcome defined in subsection (2) of that section.

(3) The first outcome is that the local authority is able to secure accommodation for those children that—

(a) is within a neighbouring authority’s area; and

(b) meets the need of those children.

(4) The second outcome applies to the children defined in subsection (3) of section 22G in respect of whom a neighbouring local authority is unable to secure the outcome defined in subsection (2) of that section.

(5) The second outcome is that the local authority is able to secure accommodation for those children that—

(a) is within the authority’s area; and

(b) meets the need of those children.”.’.

New clause 12—General duty of local authority to secure sufficient early help services—

‘(1) It is the general duty of a local authority to take steps that secure, so far as reasonably practicable, the outcome in subsection (2).

(2) The outcome is that the local authority is able to provide the children and young people mentioned in subsection (3) and their families with provision of early help services that—

(a) are within the authority’s area or a neighbouring authority’s area; and

(b) meet the needs of those children and young people and their families.

(3) The children and young people referred to in subsection (2) are those—

11 Jun 2013 : Column 244

(a) who live within the local authority’s area, or

(b) that the local authority is looking after.

(4) In this section—

“early help services” means services to children under 6 and their families, and services to children and young people (of whatever age) and their families early in the emergence of a problem;

“young people” means people under 25.’.

New clause 13—Duty of local safeguarding children boards to undertake serious reviews—

‘(1) Section 14 of the Children Act 2004 (Functions and procedure of Local Safeguarding Children Boards) is amended as follows.

(2) After subsection (2), insert—

“(2A) Functions of review under subsection (2) shall include a duty to undertake serious case reviews at the direction of the Secretary of State.”.’.

New clause 14—Part-time independent educational institutions to have no right to give corporal punishment—

‘(1) Schedule 1 to the Education and Skills Act 2008 (Minor and consequential amendments) is amended as follows.

(2) In sub-paragraph (5) of paragraph 9, insert the following words at the end of inserted subsection (7B):

“except that it applies in relation to this section as if for paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (2) of section 92 of that Act there were substituted the following words “for any amount of time during an academic year, no matter how little”.”.’.

New clause 15—Return from care—

‘(1) The Children Act 1989 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 22C (Ways in which looked after children are to be accommodated and maintained), insert the following new section:

“22CA Return home support services for looked after children returning home to the care of their parents/others with parental responsibility

(1) Whenever a local authority decides that a looked after child should return to the care of its parent, the local authority must assess and monitor the support needs of the child and the parent for as long as is necessary to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare.

(2) If after carrying out an assessment in accordance with subsection (1) above, the local authority decides that the child or the parent has support needs, they must provide a child in care, and, in the case of formerly-accommodated children, offer to provide, ‘return home support services’ to meet the identified support needs for as long as is necessary to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare.

(3) Whenever the local authority provides ‘return home support services’ under subsection (2) above, they must prepare a personal budget if asked to do so by the parent or the child, with a view to the recipient being involved in agreeing and securing those services.”.’.

New clause 16—Provision of further assistance to care leavers up to the age of 25—

‘(1) Section 23CA of the Children Act 1989 (Further assistance to pursue education or training) is amended as follows.

(2) At the end of the section heading insert “or for welfare purposes”.

(3) In subsection (1)(a), at the end, insert “and”.

(4) In subsection (1)(b), omit the last “and”.

(5) Omit subsection (1)(c).

(6) In subsection (4), after “training”, insert “or welfare”.

(7) In subsection (5)(a), omit the last “or”.

(8) In subsection (5)(b), after “training”, insert “or welfare”.

(9) At the end of subsection (5), add the following new paragraphs—

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“(c) providing advice and support in relation to his welfare; or

(d) making a grant in exceptional circumstances to enable him to meet expenses connected with his welfare.”.’.

New clause 17—Amendments to the Health Act 2006—

‘(1) The Health Act 2006 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 8, insert—

“8A Offence of failing to prevent smoking in a private vehicle when children are present

(1) It is the duty of any person who drives a private vehicle to ensure that the vehicle is smoke-free whenever a child or children under the age of 18 are in such vehicle or part of such vehicle.

(2) A person who fails to comply with the duty in subsection (1) commits an offence.

(3) A person convicted of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine of £60.

(4) The Secretary of State may introduce regulations to alter the level of penalty payable under subsection (3).

(5) The Secretary of State shall update all relevant regulations regarding the offence created under subsection (2) within six months of this section coming into force.

(3) In section 79(4)(a), leave out “or 8(7)” and insert “, 8(7), or 8A(4).”.’.

New clause 18—Review of impact of under-occupancy penalty on prospective adopters, prospective special guardians and foster parents—

‘Before the end of one year beginning with the day on which this Act receives Royal Assent, the Secretary of State must—

(a) carry out a review of the impact of the housing under-occupancy penalty on prospective adopters, prospective special guardians and foster parents, and

(b) publish a report of the conclusions of the review.’.

New clause 19—Arrangements to support child witnesses—

‘(1) The Secretary of State shall by order introduce arrangements to establish specialist courts in cases where a child has been sexually abused or harmed, and where the child will be required to give evidence to the court, and to be examined by the court.

(2) Arrangements made by order under subsection (1) above shall include arrangements to appoint intermediaries to support child witnesses in all court cases, and other measures to support child witnesses.’.

New clause 20—Personal, social and health education in maintained schools—

‘(1) In section 84(3) of the Education Act 2002 (curriculum foundation subjects for the first, second and third key stages), after paragraph (g) there is inserted—

“(ga) personal, social and health education”.

(2) In section 85(4) of the Education Act 2002 (curriculum foundation subjects for the fourth key stage), at the end there is inserted “, and

(d) personal, social and health education.”

(3) In section 74(1) of the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which (when brought into force) will substitute a new section 85 in the Education Act 2002, in subsection (4) of that substituted section (foundation subjects for the fourth key stage), at the end there is inserted “, and

(d) personal, social and health education.”

(4) Before section 86 of the Education Act 2002 there is inserted—

“85B Personal, social and health education

(1) For the purposes of this Part, personal, social and health education (“PSHE”) shall include sex and relationship education, including information about same-sex relationships, sexual violence, domestic violence and sexual consent.

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(2) The National Curriculum for England is not required to specify attainment targets or assessment arrangements for PSHE (and section 84(1) has effect accordingly).

(3) The Secretary of State for Education shall set out guidance to schools and colleges to ensure that a coherent approach to personal, social, health and economic education is developed, including between primary and secondary schools.

(4) It is the duty of the governing body and head teacher of any school in which PSHE is provided in pursuance of this Part to secure that guidance issued under subsection (3) is followed and that—

(a) information presented in the course of providing PSHE should be accurate and balanced;

(b) PSHE is taught in a way that is appropriate to the ages of the pupils concerned and to their religious and cultural backgrounds, and reflects a reasonable range of religious, cultural and other perspectives;

(c) PSHE is taught in a way that endeavours to promote equality, celebrate diversity, and emphasise the importance of both rights and responsibilities.

(5) In the exercise of their functions under this Part so far as relating to PSHE, a local authority, governing body or head teacher shall have regard to any guidance issued from time to time by the Secretary of State.”.

(5) Section 403 of the Education Act 1996 (sex education: manner of provision) is amended as set out in subsections (6) to (9).

(6) In subsection (1), for the words from the beginning to “at a maintained school” there is substituted “The governing body or other proprietor of any school to which this section applies, and its head teacher, must take such steps as are reasonably practicable to ensure that sex and relationships education is given to registered pupils at the school and that”.

(7) After that subsection there is inserted—

“(1ZA) The schools to which this section applies are—

(a) maintained schools;

(b) city technology colleges;

(c) city colleges for the technology of the arts;

(d) Academies.

A reference in this section or section 404 to the governing body of a school, in relation to a school within paragraph (b), (c) or (d), shall be read as a reference to the proprietor of the school.”.

(8) In subsection (1A)—

(a) for “when sex education is given to registered pupils at maintained schools” there is substituted “when sex and relationships education is given to registered pupils at schools to which this section applies”;

(b) in paragraph (a), after “, and” there is inserted “learn the nature of civil partnership and the importance of strong and stable relationships.”;

(c) paragraph (b) is omitted.

(9) In subsection (1C), for “sex education” there is substituted “sex and relationships education”,

(10) In section 579 of the Education Act 1996 (general interpretation), in the definition of “sex education” in subsection (1)—

(a) for “sex education” there is substituted “sex and relationships education”;

(b) at the end there is inserted “but does not include education about human reproduction provided as part of any science teaching;”.

(11) For section 405 of the Education Act 1996 there is substituted—

“405 Exemption from sex and relationships education

(1) If a pupil of sufficient maturity in attendance at a school to which section 403 applies requests to be wholly or partly excused from receiving sex and relationships education at the school, the pupil shall be so excused accordingly until the request is withdrawn.

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(2) The Secretary of State must in regulations define “sufficient maturity”.

(3) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (2) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(4) The Secretary of State must lay draft regulations before Parliament before the end of the period of 3 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.”.’.

New clause 22—Information sharing about live births—

‘(1) NHS trusts should make arrangements to share with local authorities records of live births to parents resident in their area, to be used by the local authority for the purposes of identifying and contacting new families through children’s centres and any other early years outreach services it may operate.

(2) The Secretary of State must, within a period of six months of Royal Assent to this Act, bring forward regulations placing consequential requirements on trusts and local authorities in exercising their duty under subsection (1), including, but not limited to—

(a) the format of arrangements made;

(b) the safeguarding of information;

(c) the circumstances in which it would not be appropriate for a trust to provide information to local authorities;

(d) the regularity of data transfers;

(e) timescales within which a local authority must contact new families made known to it; and

(f) any further requirements the Secretary of State deems necessary.

(3) 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.’.

New clause 25—Health bodies: duties with respect to young carers—

‘(1) In exercising their general functions health bodies must—

(a) promote and safeguard the well-being of young carers;

(b) ensure that effective procedures exist to identify patients who are or are about to become carers;

(c) ensure that effective procedures exist to identify patients who it may be reasonably assumed may be receiving care from a child or young person for whom they are responsible;

(d) ensure that appropriate systems exist to ensure that carers receive appropriate information and advice; and

(e) ensure that systems are in place to ensure that the relevant general medical services are rendered to their patients who are young carers, or to the young carers of their patients.

(2) In relation to paragraphs (1)(b), (c) and (d), the Secretary of State may by regulations further provide for the strategies to be developed.’.

New clause 26—Schools: duties with respect to young carers—

‘(1) The appropriate authorities of schools must ensure that, within 12 months of the passing of this Act, they take all reasonable steps to ensure that there is in place a policy which—

(a) identifies young carers within the school; and

(b) makes arrangements for the provision within school of appropriate support to promote the well-being and improve the educational attainment of pupils who are young carers.

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(2) In discharging its duty under subsection (1), where appropriate the authority must—

(a) consult with the family of the child or young person identified, or the young person themselves;

(b) involve the local authority in which the identified pupil is ordinarily resident;

(c) refer the identified pupil to additional services outside the school;

(d) have regard to any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State.

(3) The “appropriate authority” for a school is—

(a) in the case of a maintained school, the governing body;

(b) in the case of an academy, the proprietor;

(c) in the case of a pupil referral unit, the management committee.’.

New clause 27—Further and higher educational institutions: duties with respect to student carers—

‘(1) The responsible body of an institution to which this section applies must, within 12 months of the passing of this Act, identify or make arrangements to identify student carers and have a policy in place on promoting the well-being of student carers.

(2) This section applies to—

(a) a university;

(b) any other institution within the higher education sector;

(c) an institution within the further education sector.

(3) A responsible body is—

(a) in the case of an institution in paragraphs (2)(a) or (b), the governing body;

(b) in the case of a college of further education under the management of a board of management, the board of management;

(c) in the case of any other college of further education, any board of governors of the college or any person responsible for the management of the college, whether or not formally constituted as a governing body or board of governors.

(4) In discharging its duty under subsection (1), where appropriate the authority must—

(a) consult with the family of the child or young person identified, or the young person themselves;

(b) involve the local authority in which the identified pupil is ordinarily resident;

(c) refer the identified student to additional services outside of the institution; and

(d) have regard to any guidance given from time to time by the Secretary of State.’.

Amendment 33, in clause 1, page 1, leave out line 9 and insert—

‘satisfied that C should be placed for adoption—’.

Amendment 34, in clause 2, page 1, line 15, at end insert—

‘(1A) In subsection (4), after paragraph (f) insert—

“(g) the child’s religious persuasion, racial origin and cultural and linguistic background, although this paragraph does not apply to an adoption agency in Wales, to which subsection (5) instead applies.”.’.

Amendment 2, in clause 3, page 2, line 22, at end insert—

‘(1A) The Secretary of State may require local authorities to make arrangements with adoption agencies to compensate them for the cost of recruiting approved prospective adopters.’.

Amendment 29, page 2, line 22, at end insert—

‘(1A) Directions under subsection (1) may not be given before May 2017, being five years after the introduction of adoption scorecards.’.

Amendment 3, page 2, line 32, leave out paragraph (c).

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Government amendments 9 and 16.

Amendment 31, in clause 9, page 9, line 8, at end insert—

‘and section 23B (8A) and monitoring and evaluating the effectiveness of that local authority in discharging its duties under section 23C (4B) and section 23CA and advising them on ways to improve.’.

Amendment 32, page 9, line 11, at end add—

‘(2) In the Children Act 1989, in section 23B after subsection (8) insert—

(8A) The duty of local authorities under subsection (8) to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare, includes in particular a duty to promote the child’s educational achievement.”.’.

Amendment 49, in clause 10, page 9, line 16, at end insert—

‘unless in the view of the court it is unreasonable to do so’.

Amendment 35, in clause 11, page 10, line 10, at end insert—

‘(2B) “Involvement” is any kind of direct or indirect involvement that promotes the welfare of the child. It shall not be taken to mean any particular division of a child’s time.’.

Amendment 50, page 10, line 10, at end insert—

‘(2B) Involvement shall mean, but is not limited to, direct contact with a child by any means including supervised contact, indirect contact with a child by any means including letters or telephone or receiving information about a child from the other parent or a third party.’.

Amendment 51, in clause 12, page 10, line 35, at end add—

‘(5) A child arrangements order that provides for a child to reside with a particular person is to be interpreted as granting rights of custody to that person.’.

Amendment 5, in clause 14, page 13, line 8, after ‘issued’, insert—

‘unless the court considers it necessary in order to safeguard or promote the child’s welfare to permit additional time for the disposing of the application.’.

Amendment 52, page 13, line 8, after ‘issued’, insert—

‘unless in the view of the court it would be in the best interests of the child to set a different timetable’.

Amendment 6, page 13, line 45, at end insert—

‘or, having taken into consideration the safeguarding and promotion of the child’s welfare, following evidence presented to the court relating to a planned programme of intervention, such longer time period as the court deems appropriate.’.

Amendment 36, in clause 15, page 14, line 46, at end insert—

‘(A1) Section 22 of the Children Act 1989 (general duty of local authority in relation to children looked after by them) is amended as follows.

(B1) In subsection (4), after “proposing to look after,”, insert “including when making any fundamental change to the care plan before or after a care order has been made.”.’.

Amendment 7, page 15, line 3, after ‘provisions’, insert ‘and sibling placement arrangements’.

Amendment 8, page 15, line 6, at end insert—

‘unless it deems such consideration necessary in assessing the permanence provisions of the section 31A plan for the child concerned and making the care order, taking into account the circumstances of the application and the safeguarding and promotion of the child’s welfare.’.

Amendment 53, page 15, line 6, at end insert—

‘but may do so when any matter is brought to the court’s attention by the child’s guardian’.

Government amendments 10 to 15.

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Tim Loughton: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for taking up most of the remaining debating time in reading out the list of the remaining new clauses and amendments in the group. It is unfortunate that we have a large group of new clauses and amendments here, covering a very wide variety of important subjects to do with personal, social and health education, foster care continuing support, young carers, care leaver assistants, birth registration, adoption and so on, and yet we are left with barely an hour, particularly for Back Benchers who have not had the opportunity in Committee to point out things that we think are missing from the Bill or things that could be improved. On Second Reading we were time-limited in our contributions, too. I have taken a lot of time in making that point, but it needed to be put on the record.

I will speak as quickly as possible to the nine amendments and new clauses that I have tabled. In doing so, I want to signify my sympathy with new clause 4, tabled by the right hon. Member for Wythenshawe and Sale East (Paul Goggins), on continuing support for foster children, which is important. I know there are various problems with the way in which the amendment has been fashioned. I support new clause 22, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), on birth registration improvements. I have a good deal of sympathy, as I said on Second Reading, with improvements to the Bill to assist young carers, particularly new clause 5.


New clause 3, the lead amendment in the group, is the one I want to speak least about; in the circumstances, I will limit my comments. It relates to the performance regulations, which need to be brought into the 21st century. We did considerable work on that within the Department for Education. They are 50 years out of date. We only had to look at the “Britain’s Got Talent” finals and heats the other day to see that a number of child performers are now taking part in such talent shows. We need to be absolutely assured that children are able to perform—strut their stuff, demonstrate their talents—in a safe way that is appropriate to their growing-up stage, and are not being pushed into it.

In the new clause I have set out in some detail the amendments that need to be made to the regulations, which were drafted in the 1960s. That is the result of a lot of work, done by members of the working group that I reassembled under Sarah Thane, who produced an excellent report at the tail end of the previous Government. Importantly, my new clause 3 also gives a practical and usable definition of “performance”, which the primary legislation fails to do, and really needs to do. I commend it to the Government. Although the consultation seemed to prove inconclusive, there is a clear wish to make sure that child performance regulations are brought up to date. The revelations about Jimmy Savile have only made that more urgent.

New clause 11 is about ensuring the sufficiency of accommodation for children in care. This should be happening already under section 22 of the Children Act 1989, but it is not. Under that Act, we should be prioritising locally sourced accommodation for children in care. A number of working parties were set up last July, in my time in the Department for Education, to look at how we can improve the system. There is a real

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problem when 4,890 looked-after children are housed in children’s homes, 50% of which are concentrated in just three regions: the north-west, the west midlands and the south-east. Some 44% of children in those children’s homes are placed out of their placing area, 28% of them more than 20 miles away from it. The figure for all looked-after children is 12%. Little wonder that so many children—a disproportionate number—run away or go missing from many of these children’s residential homes.

We need to take the opportunity of this legislation to make sure that we have much more robust guidance and instruction for local authorities about placing children much closer to where they come from, if that is possible without affecting their welfare—closer to anchor links with extended family members or friends—and making it possible for them to stay at the same school. It is crazy that we are spending more than £1 billion on placing 9% of the in-care population in children’s residential homes. That is from a total budget of just over £3 billion.

New clause 11 would beef up the regulations for placing authorities. If they do not have economies of scale, they should look to federate with neighbouring authorities, so that they can set up or buy places closer to home—much more smart commissioning is required—rather than spot-purchasing, which makes for costly placements that are often not of the best. Too often, the placements end up in completely inappropriate areas, often in cheaper, coastal properties—my constituency of Worthing is subject to this—where there are serious concerns about the safety of the environment in which children have been placed.

At the beginning of my remarks, I should have declared my interest as set out in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests; I have done so with regard to all my amendments in this group, for safety’s sake.

New clause 12 introduces a sufficiency duty for early help services. This is not a new proposal; it was recommendation 10 in Eileen Munro’s excellent report of 2011. I have structured the new clause to mirror the sufficiency duty for children in care that I have just mentioned. In her recommendation, Eileen Munro said:

“The Government should place a duty on local authorities and statutory partners to secure the sufficient provision of local early help services for children, young people and families.”

The authorities and partners should

“specify the range of professional help available to local children, young people and families…specify how they will identify children who are suffering or likely to suffer…set out the local resourcing of the early help services”


“lead to the identification of the early help that is needed by a particular child”.

The reason for that is clear: preventive services do more to reduce abuse and neglect than reactive services. Co-ordination of services is important to reduce confusion, inefficiency and ineffectiveness in service provision.

We have an Early Intervention Foundation, but we do not have an early intervention grant any more, so it is all the more important that we go ahead as quickly as possible with Eileen Munro’s recommendation 10. It is two years since that recommendation was made. In their response to it, the Government said that they accepted all its principles. It is about time to get on with it, and the new clause would be a practical one in the

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Bill to give a clear indication to local authorities that early help is an important part of caring for vulnerable children. It is a social gain and it will be a financial gain from avoiding the costs when those children get into trouble later on if they are not given the appropriate support and care that they need at an early stage.

New clause 13 is about serious case reviews. The Children Act 1989 introduced a local authority duty to investigate when a child who lives or is found in their area is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm. The guidance produced in 1991 instructed area child protection committees to conduct investigations or part 8 reviews. They were beefed up into serious case reviews after the Laming inquiry and parts of the Children Act in 2004. Again, they were beefed up in the “working together” revisions in 2009, and in June 2010, the new Government required all future serious case reviews to be published in full, subject to various criteria and subject to anonymity and redaction. That was the right thing to do.

The problem, as I warned at the time, is that the Government and the Minister do not have the power to force local safeguarding children boards to commission those reports in the first place. They have the power to force them to publish them once produced, but not the power to commission them in the first place. I am afraid that the figures have borne out my concerns, because between June 2010 and November 2012, some 147 serious case reviews were initiated by local safeguarding children’s boards. In each of the previous two years, the number of serious case reviews was around 130 to 136, so we have effectively halved the number of serious case reviews. Alas, that is not because the number of serious incidents happening has halved. I fear there are still far too many unnecessary deaths and far too much child cruelty happening. But serious case reviews that should have been commissioned have not been.

I very much welcome the announcement last week of the setting up of a serious case review panel. I particularly welcome the inclusion of Nicholas Dann, head of international development at the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, which was an interesting analogy about how accidents/incidents happen and how we learn from them. But we need to disseminate best practice and the lessons of poor practice as well. That body should retain, monitor and approve a list of suitable authors, and make sure that their qualifications are sufficient that they can continue to be commissioned to author serious case reviews. That panel will have the power to challenge local safeguarding boards not initiating SCRs, but it does not have any statutory teeth, and this is the only opportunity we will have to give statutory teeth to the Secretary of State to be able to say, “You must commission a serious case review,” when there is an overwhelming case where an incident qualifies for one.

New clause 14 is a contentious one that I shall speak briefly on. It is traditional for any children’s Bill to have some opportunity to raise the issue of smacking, and I am amazed that no other amendments have been tabled on that subject. I am not suggesting any changes to smacking. I do not support any changes in the way that parents chastise their children, but there is a problem with madrassahs and other supplementary schools. It is a difficult problem that has been left on the back burner. It was addressed by Sir Roger Singleton when he produced a report for the last Government in

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March 2010, entitled “Physical punishment: improving consistency and protection”. Sir Roger was quite clear in the report:

“I am wholly satisfied that the safeguarding protection in relation to physical punishment which children enjoy in full-time schools should be extended to all the other settings where they learn, play, worship and are cared for. A straightforward ban on the smacking of all children engaged in activities outside the context of the family will be easy to understand and send an unambiguous message of what is not permitted to those organisations and settings where doubt exists or latitude is sought.”

His recommendation was:

“The current ban on physical punishment in schools and other children’s settings should be extended to include any form of advice, guidance, teaching, training, instruction, worship, treatment or therapy and to any form of care or supervision which is carried out other than by a parent or member of the child’s own family or household.”

I know this issue is fraught with problems—I battled with it, together with the hon. Member for Brent Central (Sarah Teather), in our time at the Department for Education—but given the clear examples of abuse we have seen in some madrassahs, which have been revealed in television programmes and by investigative journalism, it should not continue to fester on the Secretary of State’s desk. New clause 14 is a probing amendment aimed at getting the subject back on the radar, because it has been more than three years since those clear recommendations were made and nothing has been done about them.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): Do the hon. Gentleman’s proposals relate only to the schools he referred to as madrassahs, or do they also relate to supplementary schools and weekend schools?

Tim Loughton: The new clause is very broad and could effectively cover other supplementary schools, as they are termed. I know that this subject is fraught with problems. No doubt the new clause will not be a satisfactory solution ultimately, but I think it is a working basis on which to take the matter forward, rather than continuing to ignore it.

New clause 15, which has the full support of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, relates to support services for those returning from care. There has been a big focus, rightly, on improving the whole adoption regime. The Government announced a little while ago that £150 million will be taken from what was the early intervention grant to provide adoption support services. It is really important that we have the right degree of support around placements to ensure that they stick.

We hear a lot about adoption support services, improving care homes and better training for foster carers, but 37% of children in care return to their birth parents, and too many of them then return to care after the initial intensive preparation and support because of lack of ongoing support services. In 2012 that affected 10,000 children who returned to the birth parents—treble the number of children who get adopted. We know that that instability, that revolving door going in and out of care, can be really damaging to those vulnerable children. The NSPCC has put together a very credible case. It has totted up the cost of children remaining in the care system against the cost of giving them proper support

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packages back with their families, where that is the most appropriate destination for them and only where it is in their best interests.

New clause 15 merits serious consideration. It would provide the right social outcome for vulnerable children in care, but it would also save an awful lot of money if we get it right. I am sure that the Minister, who has great expertise in and knowledge of dealing with different types of children in the care system, will be supportive. It is also supported by an interesting paper produced last November by the Social Care Institute for Excellence, which said:

“Returning from public care to live with a parent is the most likely ‘permanence option’ but, for maltreated children, the least successful. There are wide variations between local authorities in terms of the resources allocated to decision-making about reunification, and the quality of practice.”

Finally, I have tabled three amendments on adoption. I have mentioned why adoption needs to be a priority. Many good things have happened in the past two and a half years on adoption, and I am very pleased that the Minister is committed to carrying that work on. The number of children given the opportunity to be adopted has been increasing, although numbers alone are not the be-all and end-all; it is the quality of the placements that really matters. The adoption scorecards that were introduced a year ago lay out with full transparency how well an authority is doing compared with other authorities across a whole range of measures. We have the adoption gateway to help recruitment, we are speeding up legal proceedings for children left in limbo, we are bringing in and beefing up fostering for adoption, we have the adoption support services that I mentioned, and many other things are happening. All that amounts to a very serious structural overhaul, and it is beginning to work, so we do not want to go and mess it up. I fear that in this Bill, the Government, with the best intentions, are going too far.

5.15 pm

On the thorny question of assessment and recruitment, many local authorities do not do it well or nearly well enough; many independent adoption agencies do it much better. However, do we really need a blanket power that threatens to take away from every local authority in the country the capacity to recruit, assess and approve the functions of adopters? There should be the underlying threat that the Secretary of State has the power to take away that capacity from individual authorities that just do not “get it”—that continue to fail to improve their adoption support services and therefore fail these vulnerable children.

However, a blanket threat to take away the right from all local authorities will disincentivise them from continuing to improve, and they may well not continue to invest in good recruitment and assessment. The voluntary sector is way off having the capacity to pick up those sorts of activities in the necessary numbers. In amendment 29, I ask for a breathing space—a moratorium of five years before clause 3 is introduced. Amendment 3 would take out the blanket provision, which is not needed at this time. It is a bit of a slap in the face for local authorities, a good number of which, though not nearly enough, are doing a good job and do “get it”. However, the Secretary of State should have the power to take that right away from those which do not.

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My final amendment deals with a very practical point. One of the things holding back independent agencies from recruiting more adopters is that they do not get paid until there is an inter-agency fee when a child is placed with a couple. If we were to pay a bounty fee so that they were paid for their time and effort in training and recruiting every appropriate adopter couple who passed muster, that would enable them to go out and recruit more; many independent adoption agencies do that well. This would be a good, practical measure to recruit more adopters, whom we all know we desperately need. Please let us not throw out the baby with the bathwater.

These are practical measures that would enhance the Bill, and many things that were not included in it. It is a great pity that we have not had more opportunity to debate these matters properly.

Lisa Nandy (Wigan) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), who, like so many Members, is incredibly passionate about these issues and did an enormous amount to shape the Bill in its current form. Many Members here today are deeply frustrated that they have not yet had any opportunity to scrutinise some really important areas of the Bill, and I share their frustration. I will attempt to be as brief as I can so that as many of them can speak as possible while we make sure that we do this Bill and these children justice.

When we scrutinised the Bill on Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and I said that it would come to be characterised as much by what was not in it as what was. That is the motivation behind our new clause 20, which would ensure that sex and relationships education is available to all children across the country. The nation has been shocked by child grooming scandals where young girls have been systematically exploited by older men—often men who they thought were taking care of them.

Research by the Children’s Commissioner has found that far too many young people—boys and girls—do not know what a good relationship looks like. Worryingly, it also found that many of them did not even understand the concept of consent. Our view is that we are failing to equip young people with the knowledge, skills and resilience they need to keep themselves safe. We must do much more to tackle child abuse, but more importantly we must prevent it from happening in the first place.

Young people are increasingly exposed to risks online. We think that the question is not whether we can afford to talk to them about issues as difficult as this, but whether we can afford not to. We think that all children should have the opportunity to access age-appropriate sex and relationships education. In a departmental report on personal, social, health and economic education, young people said that they valued the chance to express views safely and ask questions, and felt that that had improved their relationship with others. We believe that parents should retain the right to withdraw children aged 15 or under because they know their children best, but equally we know that the vast majority of parents would like their children to have access to sex and relationships education. For children whose parents do not talk to them about these issues, this could be critical in keeping them safe, especially given that a third of

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girls say that they have experienced unwanted touching. We are keen for the Government to support our proposed new clause 20.

Amendment 33, which stands in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West, seeks to ensure that we do not put speed before getting it right for children. It would ensure that children are not placed in fostering or adoption placements either before it has been decided that adoption is the plan or, in the Minister’s words, as early as the first week in care. We debated this at length in Committee, so I will not labour the point, but that debate gave me more cause for concern, not less.

It seems to me that placing children in fostering or adoption placements before the local authority has decided that that should be the plan is more disruptive for the child. Conducting an informal matching process, possibly within a week, before placing the child and then considering their wishes and feelings about whether adoption is suitable and the placement is the right one runs the risk of putting more people off adopting, as many Members have pointed out, and of more adoption breakdowns, which plays into children’s biggest fears that this for-ever home may not be the right one. As always, when we talked to children about this, they felt strongly that their views should be heard.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): Will the hon. Lady give way?

Lisa Nandy: I am sorry, but I cannot give way because a number of Back Benchers have sat through this entire debate and are desperate to get in. I wish the hon. Gentleman well in doing so.

In Committee, the Minister said that further statutory guidance would be provided to local authorities that are making this important decision. Although that does not alleviate all my concerns, the guidance will clearly be central to the practical effects of clause 1. Why have we not yet seen a draft of the guidance, and when will we see it?

Amendment 34, which stands in my name, relates to the consideration of ethnicity in adoption placements. The Minister expressed concern in Committee that placing ethnicity on the welfare checklist, as we are suggesting, will put undue weight on it. He said:

“As soon as one tries to specify particular elements of a child’s characteristics in an exhaustive list, one then starts to prioritise one characteristic over another.”––[Official Report, Children and Families Public Bill Committee, 12 March 2013; c. 205.]

I want him to consider briefly that the opposite may be the problem.

The Minister referred to research by Birmingham city council that looked at the experience of prospective adopters. It certainly emerged that a problem with practice—aggressive questioning, for example—and not with legislation had put people off. The research also demonstrated, however, that the majority of adopters—a staggering 90%—had expressed a strong preference to adopt a child with a similar ethnicity and that it was the failure to explore such factors with potential adopters that prevented children from black and minority ethnic backgrounds from being considered. In fact, in the one case in which a social worker did do that, the prospective parents went on to successfully adopt a child with a different ethnicity.

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I reiterate that the amendment would not ensure that children were matched only with prospective adopters with the same background as them. Crucially, however, it would ensure that thoughtful consideration was given to ethnicity so that such factors were explored and we did not put off people from adopting a child who could otherwise find a loving home because they mistakenly thought that they would not be right for that child, which we think is a crying shame.

Amendment 35 is designed to ensure that we do not unwittingly create misconceptions for parents. We agree with the Government, as we said at length in Committee, that it is critical to most children to have an ongoing, good-quality relationship with their mum and dad, but we are concerned about the practical impact of clause 11.

I will not rehearse all the debates that we had in Committee, but the Minister was right to say that he did not want to be too prescriptive about what involvement meant. That is why our amendment would define what involvement is not, in line with the explanatory notes. It is important that that is put in the Bill and that no room is left for doubt, given that there have already been headlines in this country and that misconceptions have been created. I hope that the Minister will accept that amendment.

I do not need to rehearse why new clause 19 is so important, as it would prevent the harrowing and aggressive questioning of young witnesses in court. This morning, we received the welcome announcement that the Government are trialling pre-recorded cross-examination in Leeds, Liverpool and Kingston upon Thames. I am sure that the Minister appreciates the urgency of this matter as more child grooming cases are brought to trial. Will he say when the pilots will start, how they will be evaluated, whether there will be any measures alongside them to prevent the aggressive questioning that we have heard so much about and how soon they will be rolled out?

As I am sure the Minister is aware, the implementation of section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 alone will not be enough to support vulnerable witnesses. New clause 19 also proposes specialist court sittings for children who have been sexually abused, with trained judges and barristers, and the restriction of multiple cross-examinations. Will he say whether there will be a cap on the number of lawyers who may cross-examine a witness? I would be grateful if he could give more information about that.

I tabled new clause 18 notwithstanding our strong opposition to the under-occupation penalty, known to some as the bedroom tax. We are extremely concerned that that policy will put people off taking care of children whom they otherwise would have looked after because of the financial implications. We want to ensure that, at a time when Ministers share our concerns about the acute shortage of foster carers and adopters, we do not make the situation worse. We were struck by the evidence from Adoption UK about the problems for prospective adopters and special guardians, which was provided by Grandparents Plus. We are very concerned that the National Housing Federation estimates that the discretionary housing fund will fall short by £100 million.