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Lord Clement-Jones: I thank the Minister for arranging matters so as to allow me to speak to Amendment No. 129DA. My noble friend Lady Barker will speak to Amendment No. 173B. I am sure that the Minister will rewrite his reply after hearing my arguments.
The amendment is designed to establish how the new clauses regulating the registration of childminding and day care will work. They are designed to establish that inclusion of a registered person on the Section 1 list under the Protection of Children Act 1999, along with other lists and conditions, is not explicitly a pre-condition of registration of childminding and day care services. It is clear from the clauses what events give rise to disqualification. But additional to that, we propose that there is a positive approach of ensuring that certain categories of person are not included and cannot be registered. In a sense, the amendment is designed to elicit whether that is explicitly the case in the Bill. For that reason we have included in the amendment a rather long subsection which seeks to define someone who is not considered suitable right at the very outset for the purpose of registration, so that rather than awaiting disqualification, one never registers these people in the first place.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, will take an interest in Amendment No. 173B, given that he has just spoken about the difference between day care and childminding facilities and schools. This amendment seeks to do precisely the opposite. It seeks to establish whether those in charge of childminding and day care facilities should have the same responsibilities as schools for child protection.
Throughout our debates a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Laming, have spoken very much from the point of view of people who are or have been practitioners. I take a rather pragmatic view of this issue. Although I have not worked in the field of the provision of children's services, I am given to understand by those who do that being aware of children exhibiting signs of having been abused is very common and ordinary within daycare and childminding settings and settings where young children are engaged in play.
In proposing the amendment, it is therefore our intention to find out whether childminders and people in the provision of day care for small children will have the same duty of care and child protection as do schools.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: I wish to ask about "appropriateness". I should explain, rather than declaring an interest, where I come from. I chair a charitable trust connected with Queen Mary and Westfield College, east London. One of the objectives of the trust is to assist in the education of women, which was the role of Westfield College before the merger.
One of the earliest decisions my trust took was to finance a creche for the benefit of the very young children of both staff and students. I was surprised to find that our college was one of the few in London University that did not already have a creche. I ask a question in relation to some of the experiences we had with that and the problem of satisfying the local authority that the facilities fulfilled the requirements. We are talking about "appropriateness", the Minister referred to equipment being suitable for young children. Some of the requirements of the local authority for the establishment of the creche went some way beyond what those responsible for running it considered reasonable in the circumstances. One could have taken the matter to appeal, I suppose, but in the end the trust financed the necessary changes.
One point was that the local authority required the uncovered open area outside to be covered in a specially soft and resilient covering so that, if the poor little people fell over, they did not bruise themselves. One can understand the desire of the regulator constantly to want to guard against every conceivable risk. My feeling is that, if a child falls over and hurts itself, it learns not to do it again. That is part of growing up.
I should be sorry if, as a result of the merger of responsibilities for nursery schools and similar establishments with responsibilities for child minders, one would have the same attitude spilling over into the provision of child minding, requiring child minders to install every conceivable measure for the avoidance of any possible injury to children in their care. It could not be reasonable and if one went too far down that road, one would end up destroying the facility. People would say, "I'm sorry, I can't do this, I can't afford what is necessary". I ask the Minister to give an assurance that the requirements for equipment, premises and the other matters mentioned in the subsection for child minders will be appropriate and proportional to the service provided. That is the kind of thing lying behind the anxieties expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Laming, Lord Clement-Jones and myself on the previous amendment. We have had experience of such high standards being imposed on a creche and we wonder whether that will happen to every child minder in the land. It cannot be in the interests of the children and parents or of the achievement of high standards.
Viscount Bledisloe: I wish to ask a question about Amendment No. 129DA in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. As I understood him, he said that the people listed in paragraphs (a) to (j) are not suitable, but other people may also be unsuitable even though they do not fall into any of those categories. I venture to suggest that, as his amendment is drafted, there is a nasty risk that no one could be held to be unsuitable unless he fell into one of those categories. The list is likely to be construed as exclusive. A person who is unsuitable on general
Lord Clement-Jones: I entirely agree with the noble Viscount. There are defects in the drafting in that respect and we do not wish to curtail other ways in which someone would be not suitable for the purpose of that clause. At this stage, as so often at Committee stage, the amendment is designed to establish a principle.
Lord Laming: I wish to say something in this important debate. There was a time when it was extremely difficult to get child minders to register. There was a great resistance to registration and a feeling among many child minders that, if they registered, then all manner of bureaucratic demands would be made of them, some expensive, as has been described.
The way in which it was possible to persuade childminders to register was through working in partnership with them in ensuring that their talents and experience as parents were used positively and creatively in parenting someone else's child during the time they had that responsibility.
The situation requires not only sensitivity to the issues but also understanding of the position of a child minder, not only in terms of the enormous responsibilities a childminder takes on for someone else's child, but also in terms of the kind of support and help they need.
When it comes to dealing with children who may be thought to be at risk or children who have special needs, working in partnership with childminders requires particular skills. It seems to me that the amendments underline the points already made. I hope that the Minister will view the amendments as a positive contribution to the debate.
Lord Bach: I shall attempt first to deal with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, on his fear that "appropriate" may be so harshly defined that too harsh standards are set. I can give him the assurance that he sought, but we are determined to have national minimum standards and it is important that equipment is appropriate. However, I believe that he need not worry too much about what he fears.
I deal now with Amendment No. 129DA, to which the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, spoke. It refers to the definition of suitability of persons to look after children under the age of eight. The Committee will know that the Bill currently provides a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations about the grounds on which people will be disqualified from being registered. Schedule 2 makes it clear that the grounds may include all matters listed in the amendment. To that extent, it replicates existing regulation-making powers and seeks to stipulate the definition of suitability on the face of the Bill. While regulations will need to cover a wide range of issues to
The issue of which persons are suitable to look after young children is a fundamental part of the revised regime that this Bill will create. It is essential that we ensure that we do not constrain unnecessarily the matters which should be taken into account when day care providers and child minders seek to register to care for young children. We need to have flexibility to respond effectively to new developments which may arise in future for protecting children from harm; for example, new arrangements for identifying and recording those deemed unsuitable to work with children. We believe that the regulation-making power set out in the Bill gives us that flexibility.
It is of crucial importance that a proper balance is struck between safety and unnecessary regulatory burdens on business. We believe that such detail is not appropriate for primary legislation. For example, it will not be necessary to include all the matters listed in the amendment as grounds for disqualification, since the Government intend to introduce legislation in a crime and public protection Bill in this Session to implement the recommendations of the inter-departmental working group on preventing unsuitable people from working with children. When that Bill comes before this House, it will provide that a person who is convicted of one of a number of offences against children (to be specified) is to be banned from working with children. A similar ban will apply to persons who are included on the Department of Health's new list or the Department for Education and Employment's List 99 because they are unsuitable to work with children. By that disqualification the person is banned from becoming a day care provider or child minder. There is therefore no requirement to consider such a person's suitability, which is the test applied to each application for registration.
Amendment No. 173B, which was spoken to with such proficiency by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, draws our attention to a very important and fundamental principle of Children Act regulation: child protection. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving me this opportunity to state the Government's position on this important matter. I hope that noble Lords will be reassured that this Bill already includes powers for us to make regulations to govern the activities of registered persons who act as child minders or provide day care and to impose duties on the chief inspector to have regard to the standards prescribed in regulations. We therefore question the need for a specific reference to such matters as are set out in the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness. We urge that such detail is not appropriate for primary legislation.
I restate the commitment of the Government to consult widely on new national standards for the regulation of day care providers and child minders. Child protection and behaviour management are exactly the kinds of issue on which we want to gain a