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Lord Jenkin of Roding: Before the noble Lord, Lord Laming, responds to the Minister, I should like to make two points and to ask one question. I shall start with my question. The Minister laid great stress on not only the desirability but the fact that it would be essential that those who have gained great expertise in this field--principally in local authorities--will be those who will take up the staff posts on offer in the early years directorate. Has the Minister any idea of what proportion of those people will come from local government departments other than the social services department? How many will come from the education department of a local authority? My guess is probably very few indeed, because this area has always been seen to be a social services activity.

First, the Minister made a powerful case, which I do not challenge for one moment, of the desirability of setting national standards in this area. If I may say so, much of his speech was directed to an argument that no one who spoke in the preceding debate had addressed. We accept that point as taken for granted. We are concerned why the area of childminding should in future be regarded as an extension of the education responsibilities rather than the welfare responsibilities of an authority.

Secondly, I sometimes feel that it is a pity that Ministers do not have a second pair of eyes in the back of their shoulders. If, when the Minister was speaking, he had seen the reaction of some very experienced noble Lords sitting more behind his right shoulder than behind his left, I believe that he would have advanced his arguments with rather less confidence. Before we finish the debate, I hope that the Minister will give us some indication that he is now prepared to listen to the arguments rather than merely attempt to

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persuade the Committee. This is an important matter and I am deeply unhappy about the way the Government have chosen to move forward.

Lord Bach: I believe there was a question in the comments of the noble Lord. In one regard in particular, let me say that we accept that what has happened under the existing circumstances has not always been a social services responsibility. Around one-third and rising of inspection units are now based in education departments.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: Two-thirds in social services.

Lord Bach: That is so. The noble Lord said that most of my speech was directed towards an argument with which everyone agreed. On reflection, perhaps the noble Lord may accept that part of my speech sought to lay the ground on the matter. However, I was attempting to deal with those elements of the Government's decision that are controversial.

The transfer of staff will be a TUPE transfer. With his great experience in the field of local government, the noble Lord will understand that point. Those currently doing the job will transfer from their current positions as a matter of local authority organisation.

What the noble Lord does not seem able to accept--and this may also be true of other critics--is that the idea that nursery education and childcare can be kept apart somehow and that the one should not touch upon the other is a notion the Government believe to be out of date. The two parts must be brought together. The question then remains of who is best placed to bring them together. We are of the opinion that allowing Ofsted to take responsibility for this task does not in any way detract from the responsibility of ensuring that childcare and child welfare is an essential part of our programme.

While I may not have eyes in the back of my head, I hope that, from where I am standing, I can recognise that real concerns have been expressed about this issue. Of course the Government will continue to listen to those concerns. The noble Lord heard me make that point in my speech, as did the noble Lord, Lord Laming. However, I cannot suggest for a moment that the Government are minded to change their mind on the decision to give Ofsted the responsibility, under the new directorate, to look at this field. However, we shall continue to listen to the arguments.

Lord Laming: I am extremely grateful for the powerful support I have received from the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, who of course has vast experience in this field. I am grateful also to the Minister for his detailed response, even if he does think that I am out of date on this matter.

First, I have no disagreement with the Minister on the need for uniformity and I accept that that is the reason that lies behind the Government's decision to establish a national care standards commission. That will achieve the very uniformity that formed a key plank in the Minister's response.

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Secondly, I should like to make clear that I make no criticism of Ofsted as a body that is suitable for the inspection of education. Furthermore, I do not believe that any other contributors to the debate have doubts about that body. Many of the noble Lord's points about the qualities of Ofsted are not in dispute. The Minister said that Ofsted publishes all its reports. Well, the national care commission will do so as well. Indeed, an amendment to that effect standing in my name was considered earlier in the Committee's consideration of these matters. There is no dispute about the benefits of uniformity and there is certainly no dispute about the need for reports to be published; nor is there any dispute about the need to have good national standards.

However, I regret to say that the Minister has failed to convince me on the need to recognise that care in a childminder's home is quite different from nursery education. There is every reason for having two systems. One should deal with childcare practice and childcare standards. That is what we should expect good parents to provide for a very young child in their own home. That is different from what we expect in nursery education or in other forms of education. It is entirely right that there are two separate systems. As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, rightly said, there is every reason why the two will come together at particular points, as good parents come together with the education system at particular points. However, we should not try to blur the distinction between the two functions; nor should we attempt to weaken good childcare practice at this stage. I believe that this measure, however well intended, will seriously weaken childminding in this country. I have no doubt about the need to improve childminding, but the way to do that is by building on existing practice and doing that through the national care standards commission.

The Minister kindly said that there can be further discussions on this point. I welcome that opportunity for further discussions. I shall approach those discussions having been reinforced in my belief that the Bill is wrong in this regard. While I am happy at this stage to ask the leave of the Committee to withdraw the amendment, I hope very much that we can continue the dialogue elsewhere. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.30 p.m.

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 129B:


    Page 31, line 5, leave out ("and every prescribed person").

The noble Lord said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, in moving Amendments Nos. 129B, 129C and 129D, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 129DA and 173B.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. Is not the correct procedure that the Minister should move the first amendment in the group and not the others? He is speaking to the others.

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I hesitate to intervene but I think that we should get these matters right. If I am right--I believe that I am--I hope that the Minister will accord with that.

Lord Bach: The noble Lord is of course right. I am extremely grateful to him for putting me right. I hope that I do not make that mistake again.

In moving the first of the amendments, I shall speak to the others. I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 129DA and 173B, standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. These amendments together relate to important issues concerning suitability--

Lord Clement-Jones: On a matter of procedure, I understood that the Minister would normally move the lead government amendment, speak to the other government amendments and then we would have the opportunity to speak to our own amendments--not moving them but speaking to them--and that the Minister would respond at the end. If I have that wrong, the noble Lord can correct me.

Lord Bach: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, although I still have at the back of my mind his welcome to me a few minutes ago. I think that I was right to be cautious.

I shall do precisely what the noble Lord said. The purpose of Amendment No. 129B is to remove an unnecessary regulation-making power in relation to the suitability of persons. The power as drafted allows the Secretary of State to prescribe the people--other than the childminder and anyone else looking after the children--who must meet the requirement to be suitable to look after children under the age of eight. This would be a necessary qualification of registration. However, the power was designed particularly to catch proprietors, managers and committee members of day care establishments who may from time to time have occasion to look after children under the age of eight. This has been unnecessarily replicated at what will be new Section 79B(3) of the Children Act 1989 to apply to a childminder's premises and should be removed.

Amendments Nos. 129C and 129D deal with the question of suitability of equipment. These are correcting amendments which seek to clarify that a person is not qualified for registration unless equipment in day care and childminding settings is not only in good condition but is also appropriate. The amendments will improve the Bill and ensure that equipment--for example, toys--is appropriate to the age and ability of the children. That will help to prevent those toys designed for older children--for example, those with very small parts--being made available to babies. I beg to move.


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