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The Deputy Chairman of Committees: Perhaps it would be appropriate at this stage, since Amendment
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No. 17 is in this group, for me to say that were it to be agreed to, it would pre-empt Amendments Nos. 18 to 22.
The Earl of Listowel: I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 17 and 23. I have great sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, saidit would have an effect similar to Amendment No. 17, under which Clause 6 would place a duty on local authorities to secure sufficient childcare for all parents. Should we be discriminating against parents who choose as their work, not salaried employment, but rearing their children? Should we be in effect discriminating against the children of such parents, reducing their opportunity for access to the benefit of good-quality childcare?
It is crucial that we do nothing that might in any way undermine parents' commitment to their children. It is parents' commitment to their children that grows into a mutually reinforcing attachmentadult to child, and child to adult. That allows parents to make the sacrifices that they do for their children, and children also to sacrifice some of their desires. We are at a time when parents have every reason to lack confidence in their parenting capacity. They may not have grown up with a father, families are increasingly fragmented, and generations grow up with less awareness of other generations. It is no wonder that parents who have been given parenting orders have so often welcomed the imposed support with such alacrity. If the state implies to parents that it can do a better job of rearing their children than they themselves can, some parents will take the hint.
We must recognise that in many families children experience neglect, but our first approach must be to support those families, not to infantilise the parents by taking on the parental responsibilities ourselves. Neither Denmark nor Sweden, which are exemplars in childcare, discriminates against parents who choose the work of bringing up their children; neither should we. Of course one respects Her Majesty's Government's efforts to take children out of poverty, but overzealous pursuit of that aim should not be allowed unwittingly to compromise the commitment of some parents to their children. I may sound too harsh, but the drive to take children out of poverty, which is so worthy, has to some extent eclipsed the need to support parents in their choices about whether they spend much of their time caring for their children or allow somebody else to do that job.
Yesterday a mother who was 16 when she gave birth to her child received an award for how she approached the media about her situation and that of other teenage mothers. On receiving her trophy, she made the following point: "Don't push young people back into education immediately their child is born". A lack of sensitivity in seeking to do the best for young peoplegetting them into education or adults into workmay be unwittingly compromising their choice of commitment to their child.
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I am speaking too long again; I apologise. Briefly, Amendment No. 23 would prioritise parents who are actively engaged in a pre-school playgroup. My knowledge of these groups is slight and second hand, and I look forward to any comment my noble friend Lady Howe may have on their work. However, I understand that pre-school playgroups normally involve parents in the day-to-day care of the children and the running of the institution. Such day-to-day involvement may allow parents to develop their parenting capacity through formal supervision and education. They are likely further to develop their parenting capacity through informal means such as observing early years workers and parents at play with children. Actively participating parents who are supported in learning about the care of their own and other children may choose to become members of the childcare workforce.
Furthermore, these parents may benefit by developing a network of contacts in the setting, which may help them to find employment. I hope that the Minister will consider how the work of parents in these settings might be better recognised, perhaps in this clause.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 20 and 61, in my name, to support Amendment No. 17, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and to comment on the rest of the group.
Amendments Nos. 20 and 61 would ensure that in both England and Wales a local authority must secureand I use that phrase again"so far as is reasonably practicable" childcare provision sufficient to meet the requirements of parents in their area to enable them to take up or remain in unpaid voluntary activity as well as work.
On 9 March, we debated in the Chamber the importance of the voluntary sector to society. We do not have time to go over everything that was said, but the debate highlighted the many good causes and organisations, big and small, political and non-political, that people help to support, and which more often than not tend to do the job better than statutory organisations. While unpaid, that significant form of work is, none the less, work. We feel that it should be included when a local authority is assessing its area's childcare provision. Failure to do so could see a decline in services on which many local people depend and rely and effectively be a kick in the teeth to many voluntary activities, not least activities involving children, such as local football teams, after-school clubs or play groups.
Amendments Nos. 15, 18, 19 and 21 make a few simple changes to emphasise the need to consider the childcare requirements of families as a whole. This covers many of the points we made in earlier debates on our Amendments Nos. 2 and 10 regarding the importance not only of parents and their influence on the well-being of a child but also of the extended family, particularly for the most disadvantaged children and where there is only one parent in the family. As such, I warmly support those amendments.
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I have a slight concern that Amendment No. 22, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, as worded and positioned could be read as suggesting that parents in the area may need childcare to improve the well-being of their child, and that they are not capable of ensuring the well-being of their children on their own. Admittedly, some may not be, but we cannot suggest that this should be a generalisation.
Amendment No. 29 raises childcare provision for non-working families, while Amendment No. 23, proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, aims to encourage and support the involvement of parents in pre-school playgroups. He said that he had no knowledge of them. I do. My children went to an excellent playgroup run by Mrs Curly. I agree with him that that would offer the parent a chance to develop skills and a network of contacts which are perhaps likely to ease their path back into work, or they may see that as work they want to undertake themselves. Thus, it covers both parental involvement and non-working families.
The question of childcare for non-working parents is importanthaving children of my own, I believe that being a parent is a full-time job in itself, thus it may come down to our definition of "work". The National Children's Bureau and the Early Childhood Forum have highlighted that childcare is not a phenomenon needed by working parents alone. All children benefit from interaction with their peers, which helps cognitive and social development. Full-time parents also benefit from a well earned break and a chance to relax.
Amendment No. 17, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is very important. When we spoke in the Easter Recess, the noble Earl explained his reasoning. I thought that no one could take exception to an amendment whose purpose is to avoid unintentional undermining of parents' commitment to their children. He said that it would be most unhelpful for parents to feel that they were not equally valued for their work in caring for their children. On 15 October 2003, in an interview with the Daily Telegraph, Patricia Hewitt said:
"If I look back over the last six years I do think that we have given the impression that we think all mothers should be out to work, preferably full time as soon as their children are a few months old . . . We have got to move to a position where as a society and as a Government we recognise and we value the unpaid work that people do within their families".
Lord Northbourne: I support my noble friend Lord Listowel's Amendment No. 17. There is a danger that we are demotivating and disempowering parents, which I shall talk about at greater length. That will not, I fear, be today, with regard to my Amendment No. 56, which deals with the status of kinship care. I will suggest that we must stop talking about care by professionals as if it was care, and care by the family as if it was something other than care. Families also provide care. We need two kinds of care and to expend
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our energies partly on professional care and partly on supporting families in the kind of care that they provide.
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