HC Deb 09 July 1998 vol 315 cc1230-1
10. Mr. Tony Clarke (Northampton, South)

What steps he plans to take to ensure the safety of children in child care facilities. [48097]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Alan Howarth)

The welfare of children under the age of eight in day care facilities is protected by statute under the Children Act 1989. This Department and the Department of Health jointly published a consultation paper on 27 March which poses a range of questions about the future regulation of early education and day care.

Mr. Clarke

Is the Minister aware that only one in three child care workers are subject to police checks and that this is due largely to inconsistencies among local authorities? Some local authorities check only their staff while others check their staff and those in the voluntary sector. In light of the Government's planned increase in child care provision, will the Minister ensure that there is greater consistency and access to police checks, thus affording more protection to our children?

Mr. Howarth

The safety and welfare of children is paramount among our concerns. We shall focus on it continuously in the expansion of child care that we are determined to bring about. Part X of the Children Act 1989 requires local authorities to register and inspect day care settings and child minders and, in that context, to satisfy themselves that a person is fit to care for young children. Many local authorities use police checks, but that is not at present a statutory requirement. That is a key issue in our consultation.

11. Miss Anne Begg (Aberdeen, South)

What arrangements he intends to introduce for the delivery of the national child care strategy at local level. [48098]

The Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. David Blunkett)

Local child care partnerships—forums in Scotland—will be established and built on in every area of the country. They will enable us to use the £12 million that we have allocated this year to establish the structures for the development of the child care strategy of the future, building on the Green Paper "Meeting the Childcare Challenge".

Miss Begg

I am sure that my right hon. Friend will agree that there is still great variation in both the quality and level of child care, depending on the locality in which one lives. In my own constituency, a play group will not be meeting next year because it failed to find suitable accommodation. What was lacking was co-ordination to make sure that all the different aspects of child care that make up a child care strategy were in place in a locality. May I urge my right hon. Friend to ensure that such co-ordination is present in each locality, to make sure that the different elements required to make up a full strategy are in place?

Mr. Blunkett

The local partnerships will ensure not only that there is co-ordination, but that we do a thorough audit of what already exists; that we put in resources to save projects that are viable and popular but are currently threatened; that we build on those by expanding those partnerships to incorporate new child care facilities, including the voluntary and private sector; and that we prepare for the introduction of the working families tax credit child care disregard, which will make it possible for millions more parents to take advantage of satisfactory, high-quality, properly inspected child care—[Interruption.]—in a way that has never before been possible in the United Kingdom and was never even thought of by the Conservative Members who are currently barracking me.