HL Deb 21 June 1989 vol 509 cc261-96

5.26 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden rose to call attention to the case for action to be taken to improve child care facilities and the care of the elderly in the community to enable more women to join the workforce should they wish to do so; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity of opening today's debate on an important subject about which I know many noble Lords are also concerned. As my starting point I should like to take the Government's White Paper, Employment for the 1990s. Noble Lords will be aware that I am not at all enthusiastic about the White Paper, particularly about some of its conclusions. However, there is a paragraph with which I concur. At page 8, paragraph 1.8 states: The number of women in the labour force will increase. Two-thirds of labour force growth between 1983 and 1987 was made up of married women, and by 1995 the projected increase in the size of the female labour force is some three-quarters of a million, over 80 per cent. of the total. Employers must recognise that women can no longer be treated as second-class workers. They will need women employees, and must recognise both their career ambitions and domestic responsibilities. This will involve broadening company training policies, much more flexibility of work and hours and job-sharing, to facilitate the employment of women with families and help adapt to their needs".

It must be said that the White Paper does not follow up that paragraph with anything indicating that the Government believe in public provision of support services. We still live in a society where most of the caring of children and the elderly is done by women. Poor child care facilities are the main reason why women are forced into part-time, low-wage jobs. However, when their labour power has been needed employers and government can act quickly. During the last war from 1939 to 1945 provision of child care facilities grew rapidly. In 1940 there were 14 state nurseries. Within three years there were 1,345 offering places for more than 60,000 children. That is twice today's number. However, as soon as the war ended it was not felt necessary to keep women at work and in large part the nurseries were closed.

As the White Paper makes clear, demographic trends suggest that we may be moving into a situation in which once again women are necessary and vital in the workforce. But it does not look as though child care provision will be adequate unless firm steps are taken and, in particular, unless the Government decide to take a greater part in ensuring such provision. At present, less than 10 per cent. of under-fives attend a local authority nursery or school and the majority of those only benefit from part-time provision with just 4 per cent. of three and four year-olds in full-time local authority nurseries.

Women who want child care facilities often have to pay quite highly for them. There are now more private than local authority nurseries. Sometimes as much as £80 per week is charged for a place. In the main, as a recent report shows, day care is provided by relatives and child minders. There are currently about 100 workplace nurseries in the UK, mainly in the public sector, such as hospitals, local authorities and colleges. Only 20 private companies provide workplace nurseries.

Moreover, I should like to raise an issue here which has been raised many times before in your Lordships' House. As regards workplace nurseries, under current government policy such provision is regarded as a perk and tax is levied accordingly. That applies to any employee earning £8,500 or more per annum which is hardly a high salary nowadays. The Government persist in their attitude despite opposition from the Trades Union Congress, the Institute of Personnel Management and a number of Peers from all sides of this House.

It should be said that in contrast other countries in the EC, notably France, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, offer parents special tax advantages as well as help with child care costs. Of course, there were once tax allowances in the UK. Those disappeared with the introduction of child benefit. That is no bad thing except that the value of child benefit has been eroded because of the Government's policy of freezing it. Again, that is an issue repeatedly raised in this House and is likely to be raised again on the debate in Committee on the Social Security Bill. However, I cannot talk about child care provision in the UK without making a reference to it. It is an important element in child care policy.

Apart from relatives, there is a substantial reliance in the UK, as I have already said, on child minders. Those are defined in the Nurseries and Child-Minders Regulation Act 1948 as any person who for reward looks after children under the age of five for more than two hours a day. Most child minders provide care throughout the year. It is known that there are a number of illegal unregistered child minders. It has been estimated that about 20 per cent. of child minders are not registered. Although the majority of women are compelled to use child minders if they do not have relatives, their express preference is for nursery provision. The UK report to the European Commission called Caring for Children found that while 80 per cent. of parents at work used child minders, only 3 per cent. believed that to be the best provision.

Local authorities are empowered to provide day care services under the National Health Service Act. However, provision varies enormously from place to place. A recent survey conducted by the Independent newspaper showed that while 85.6 per cent. of three and four year-olds in Salford had a pre-school place, only 8.2 per cent. in West Sussex had that benefit. Overall, the top 24 providers were Labour-controlled—so much for some of the criticisms often unjustly leveled at Labour-controlled local authorities.

As it is, the UK has less publicly-funded child care services than any other EC country except Portugal. Here are some interesting figures. West Germany has 60 per cent. of children aged 3 to 5 in publicly-funded child care while France has 95 per cent.; the Netherlands has 50 per cent., Italy has 88 per cent., Ireland has 52 per cent., the UK has 44 per cent. and Portugal has 25 per cent.

The attitude of the Government has been made clear on a number of occasions. In response to a Question for Written Answer in the other place the Minister stated: Our view is that it is for the parents who go out to work to decide how best to care for their children. If they want or need help in this task they should make the appropriate arrangements and meet the costs. Our objective is that there should be a range of day care services so that parents can make a choice. Public provision by local authorities should concentrate on the particular needs of children from families with health or social difficulties".—[Official Report, Commons, 12/7/88; col. 150.]

Of course, it is a laudable objective that parents should have a choice. However, the reference to public provision appears to limit that only to problem families. No one disputes that such families should be assisted but that should not rule out provision for families who although they cannot be classified as problem nevertheless need child care facilities.

The absence of such facilities bears of course most heavily on women. A recent report produced by the European Commission entitled Child care and Equality of Opportunity found that throughout the EC women bear the main responsibility and the cost of having a child. In the UK it has been calculated that having children can cost a woman up to half her lifetime's potential earnings. On the other hand, men tend to maintain their wages when they have children. Women may be forced to leave the workforce altogether, at least temporarily. When they return they will have lost their place on the career ladder.

Furthermore, pension entitlement based on number of years worked will also suffer. That is why it is such a pity that this Government decided to alter the State Earnings Related Pension Scheme (SERPS) by removing the provision which calculated pension entitlement on the best 20 years' earnings uprated. Private personal pensions are not likely to offer women with a chequered work pattern a better deal. When they return to work, women may have to take part in part-time employment in order to cope with domestic responsibilities. In the UK, which has 40 per cent. of all part-time workers in the EC, 80 per cent. of part-time workers earn less than the Council of Europe's decency threshold of £3.25 per hour. Many are not covered for basic employment rights. The report to which I have already alluded concludes that on the evidence: the conditions under which men and women supply their labour to the labour market are not equal and this inequality is neither inherent nor inevitable but is socially determined. Wage rates and occupational position are not determined purely by market forces but by the social costs of reproduction which are unequally distributed … Lack of power within the market place reinforces powerlessness within the home and in the political arena which in turn, feeds back into the labour market".

There would appear to be a clear correlation between the participation of women in the labour force and the availability of child care. For example, in Denmark where the level of child care provision is high, 75 per cent. of mothers of young children are employed whereas in the UK, which has a low figure of child care provision, it is 28 per cent. The coming demographic changes and the prediction that by the end of the century 80 per cent. of the growth of the workforce will be made up of women underlines the importance of ensuring that employers give assistance to employees with domestic responsibilities.

That point is made strongly in the White Paper. However, not many appear to have come to terms with that need. Despite evidence that good maternity provision can play a role in helping employers to retain women workers, most firms only offer the minimum statutory maternity benefit. A survey recently undertaken of facilities provided by 120 employers showed that only one in five provided more than minimum maternity provision. Only four organisations in that sample provided child care facilities for employees. Six organisations had introduced career break schemes.

Here, I should say that a number of banks and insurance companies have been at the forefront of such provision. Those schemes are very valuable to employers as well as employees. They enable the employer to retain trained employees. They enable the employees to keep in touch during the period of leave, normally up to five years, and thus avoid the damaging break in service which otherwise hampers career development.

Of course, while of particular value to women, these schemes are unisex; that is, open also to male employees. Indeed, there would now appear to be a growing tendency which I welcome, particularly in EC countries, for men to take more of a share in the care of children. Therefore, it is unfortunate that the UK Government should persist in blocking the EC directive on parental leave and leave for family reasons. It is to be hoped that the Government would reconsider their attitude in that regard.

To summarise on child care, we could do a great deal more. The care that is available is often inadequate, expensive, or both. Local authorities do not, with some notable exceptions, provide facilities at an adequate level. There is inadequate public funding. Too few employers heed the Government's injuctions to make assistance available to employees with domestic responsibilities. It is not a matter that can be left to fragmented private and voluntary provision. Unless provision is made, many women who might otherwise contribute to the economy will be prevented from doing so, even though they themselves may wish to do so. Training, which is expensive, will be wasted. Women themselves will fail to achieve fully equity despite UK and Community law.

The second part of the Motion deals with care of the elderly in the Community. I was moved to include this in the Motion after I went to a meeting to talk to a group of women about the Equal Opportunities Commission, of which I was a member for six years, and equality law. I talked about the need for child care facilities. At the end of the meeting one woman approached me and said, "That is all very well. I really do sympathise with younger women with children. Of course they ought to have proper facilities. But look at me"—the woman was in her late 40s— "I have a mother who needs constant care. I cannot leave her. Sometimes it nearly drives me crazy. I would love to work outside the home. I would like a break occasionally but I cannot even manage that. So what about women like me?" What indeed? There are many women in that position.

The Equal Opportunities Commission estimates that there are around 1.25 million informal carers in Britain. The Carers' Association estimates the figure at even higher than that. Incidentally, I pay tribute to the work undertaken by a number of voluntary organisations in this field and, in particular, to the Carers' Association, the president of which is the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. The demand for informal care is likely to increase even without any change in policy direction. The population aged over 65 has risen from 1.5 million to 7.5 million since 1900. By the year 2000, 38 per cent. of the elderly population will be aged over 75 compared with 25 per cent. at the turn of the century. Many of those elderly people will require care.

Between the ages of 35 and 64 roughly half of all women can expect at some time to give help to elderly or infirm persons. That is the period of life when women expect to be most active economically. In addition to the direct costs of caring for someone in the home, the woman who is doing the caring will almost certainly experience loss of income. There may well be a need to change to part-time work, involving a reduction in status and career prospects. That may result in the loss of employment-related benefits such as pension entitlement, to which I referred earlier. In recent years there has been emphasis on care in the community rather than institutional care. There is no doubt that many elderly and infirm people would prefer to be cared for in their own homes and by people whom they know. However, the cost is likely to be borne by the women who do the caring.

Concern about community care policy led the Government to ask Sir Roy Griffiths to conduct a review. As we know, the Griffiths Report was published in March of last year. Key recommendations were that there should be a Minister of State responsible for community care. Further, an enhanced role was envisaged for local authorities so that they would be enabled to identify and assess individual needs including the needs of informal carers. The report also said that local authorities should be enabled to assess the need for residential care and ensure that the costs of caring were met if people could not pay. Clearly much more is needed in the way of resources. Care in the community should not be seen as a cheap option. If it is, informal carers, mostly women, will pay the price for it.

Carers can sometimes become quite desperately harassed by the demands made upon them by elderly and often difficult relatives. I received a letter this morning from the Alzheimers Disease Society. I was surprised to learn that there are an estimated 750,000 sufferers from this disease and other dementias. The society is extremely concerned at the lack of support services for carers who are looking after such people at home.

The Government have still not said what they intend to do about the Griffiths Report, although according to newspaper reports this morning they are apparently reaching some conclusions and we may expect to hear what they propose to do. The report does not provide the full answer but it would at least, if the recommendations were put into operation, provide some alleviation of the desperate problems faced by many carers. My Lords, I beg to move my Motion for Papers.

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, for her excellent speech. We are all accustomed to hearing very well-informed speeches from the noble Baroness, and she has certainly not disappointed us today. Indeed, she has perhaps overstepped the mark in that she has said everything that I wanted to say. However, I shall do my best to take perhaps a different line.

We must surely all be aware that in the foreseeable future this country will be short of employable people. The number of children now at school and who will fill the enlarging gaps in our workforce is now dwindling at an alarming rate. This means that the employers will have to pull out all the stops to entice young people to work for them. It also means that the Government will have to encourage young people to fill the vacancies. I fear that the Government are at present not giving sufficient encouragement to young people.

This Motion deals primarily with child care facilities. It also mentions care of the elderly, but I shall not deal with that part as the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, with her wide experience, is dealing with those problems in her speech. Similarly, my noble friend Lady Faithfull will be dealing with the excellent idea put forward by the National Child Minding Association.

Although my maternal instincts persuade me that during a child's formative years the mother should have the responsibility for bringing up her baby, we now living in—and, I hope, passing through—a particularly difficult age in family life. An increasing number of girls—by that I mean aged under 18—are having children. They are often left on their own with no support from the father. However helpful the welfare state tries to be in providing the essentials of life for the single mother, the strains of coping (often at a young, immature age) are great indeed. In my view that is where the enticements offered by employers are of vital importance.

Many large employers provide crèches for pre-nursery school age. Other employers encourage their employees to work part-time, to suit the employees. Other employers stagger the working times. Among those who do that is the hospital service which seems to go out of its way to encourage nurses back to their chosen career. Yet other employers offer to pay part of the child minder's fees which, as the noble Baroness told us, can be very large indeed. There are now very many more nursery schools, and these must be encouraged, both in the private and local authority sectors.

When a child reaches the age of five years, it may well be difficult for working mother to be at the school gates on time to see her child home; but that is important to both parent and child. Both the employers and the schools must be asked to make it possible for the mother to keep her times flexible. I entirely agree with those who say that the parent-child relationship should be paramount, and that the upbringing of the child is vital to its future.

I shall be brief now. We wish to encourage, as I believe we must, the young parent who wishes to return to work after having one or more children. The employers and the state will have to do much more than they are doing at the moment to encourage them.

5.50 p.m.

Earl Russell

My Lords, I too wish to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, for introducing this important topic. I also join in congratulating her on a very well informed and clearly argued speech. Perhaps I may cap the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve. I too found that the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, said most of what I wanted to say. The noble Baroness, Lady Macleod, said the rest. That puts me in a certain amount of difficulty.

But it allows me to engage in a certain amount of general reflection. Were the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, here, he would doubtless say that I was ranging wide of the field. I assure my noble kinsman that I intend to tie it down strictly to the words of the Motion in front of us. When looking at the social security system, I admit that from time to time I become concerned at the amount that it costs, which is very considerable. I do not see a way to reduce that by a process of cutting. Where the loss of £1 a week is such a painfully large proportion of a person's income, the pain caused is usually altogether disproportionate to the amount saved. It is very difficult to provide a Benthamite justification for that kind of cutting.

What we really need to be looking at is what the demographers call our dependency ratio; namely, how many of us are supporting how many? That is the area to which the noble Baroness has drawn our attention. We have a situation of an increased and increasing proportion of the population who are retired, and a more rapidly increasing proportion of the population who are over the age of 80. We also have a falling proportion of teenagers entering the labour market. In this situation, if we are to keep up our workforce to a point where our dependency ratio remains economically manageable, it is vital that women should have the opportunity, without let or hindrance, of entering the labour market. I am delighted that the noble Baroness included in her Motion the words, should they wish to do so". That is a vital liberal point.

The combining of family life and work is difficult enough already without external pressure. We should be thinking of creating opportunity and not of directing. It is because the Motion does that, among many other things, that I welcome it so strongly. It becomes more difficult with the increasing mobility of labour. I have seen this situation among graduate students in the United States. A married couple discusses earnestly whether they can accept a situation where he is offered a job at Harvard and she a job in Los Angeles. It is a further effect of this situation that the couple increasingly find, through mobility, that they become cut off from grandparents. Grandparents can provide a vitally important part both in giving the children experience and in relieving the parents. This absence of grandparents so often caused by mobility, puts even more strain on the provision of child care. That makes it even more vitally important.

At the other extreme we can also consider greater flexibility regarding the retiring age. The word is "flexibility'. I am not speaking about raising or lowering a compulsory retiring age, but about giving people the opportunity to work if they are fit, able and willing to do so. I recall one case, and the right reverend Prelate may know to whom I allude. An Oxford Professor of ecclesiastical history was appointed when there was no retiring age. His colleagues arranged a dinner to celebrate his 85th birthday. It was clearly intended as a hint. The professor began his speech in reply by saying, "Gentlemen, I am a modest but not a retiring man". He died in harness at the age of 92.

I see no useful purpose in stopping such people working. I also agree very strongly with what the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, said about caring. "Care in the Community" is an excellent slogan but it raises the question of who cares for the community? I have seen plenty of people worn out by caring. For a very short period I once myself gave housing to a paranoid schizophrenic. Even after that short period I knew something of what that exhaustion means. There must be support and means of giving the carers relief even if it is only just a few hours. They must be given time to go off and breathe. That is an important aspect.

I come back to what I consider to be the central thrust of this debate; namely, the question of allowing women to enter the labour force. It raises economic problems which are perhaps illustrated by all those costings that one reads from time to time of the value of a wife. Almost invariably and most persuasively those costings add up to a great deal more than the whole of her husband's income. In free market principles, I believe that there may be some conclusions to be drawn from that; but I am not exactly sure what they are. They need thinking through. There is a great deal to be done regarding child care. I have deliberately decided to take a self-denying ordinance and not to plug today any amendments that I might be debating tomorrow. We shall have plenty of time to return to those.

Throughout the area of child care there is the problem of funding. I was looking at a recent remark made by Sue Owen of the National Childminding Association. She said: Local authorities are already approaching breaking point. The Children Bill does no provide for any additional funding to pay for inspection and support". It is an uncomfortably familiar story. The issue of funding is one to which we keep returning. We cannot get away from it. I also agree strongly with what the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, said concerning the taxing of workplace nurseries. That seems to be typical, shortsighted Treasury thinking, particularly since the Treasury, by great effort, is depriving itself of potential revenue from the earnings that those people might achieve were their children satisfactorily cared for. The Treasury is really the Old Man of Thermopylae of the body politic, and it needs to be put in its place from time to time. We should be thinking instead of tax allowances for the cost of childcare rather than taxing it as a perk as though it were a form of income. Children need to be cared for.

I am reminded from time to time of my great grandfather's remark in 1831 that the disposal of the Tuscans and the Molynese, as if they were so many firkins of butter, is really somewhat too profligate. Sometimes one hears childcare discussed by Treasury thinkers very much in that spirit. I deplore it. Where we find a quite different and much more imaginative spirit is if we consider what is on the menu when we take a diet of Brussels. I have come to the conclusion that the cuisine Flamand really has a good deal to be said for it.

I have been reading today a 1983 EC directive which is still held up by the opposition of what the EC coyly describe as "certain member states". I find that a very attractive document. The notion of parental leave that can be taken by either parent is one that I find extremely attractive. It is one that I should have been very glad indeed to take advantage of. Apart from the advantages to the mother and the child, it is an advantage to the father to be able to get to know the child properly during the first few weeks. However, one cannot do that without doing some work. I like the notion of leave for family reasons. It is proposed that there should be 10 days a year, to cover those terrible days when nobody can take you to the hospital. There must be some arrangement for those situations.

I have been looking at this year's report of the child care network. It is an imaginative document. It is not awfully happy with us. Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands are the worst countries it has looked at. An EC Commissioner recently remarked on this subject: The Community is not some sort of expensive restaurant which allows diners to choose a la carte what they want from the menu and leave the rest behind". Here we have genuinely imaginative thinking, just the kind of thing we seem to be missing. When I think about a diet of Brussels, I realise that there are in this country a good many hungry sheep who, if they could have that diet, would be a good deal better fed than they are now.

6.1 p.m.

Lady Kinloss

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, for raising this important subject for debate. A recent survey carried out for Manchester City Council found that nine out of 10 mothers thought that the council should provide more child care facilities so that mothers who wished could return to work. One problem encountered by mothers is that they have to pay tax. As the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, has already mentioned, if their child care is provided by their employer and they earn more than £8,500 a year, they cannot claim that back. Child care is expensive if it is good. Therefore, of necessity, the mother has to be well paid, or financially she does not gain. No one can expect the Government or voluntary organisations to run child care single-handedly, but a combination of both should lead to better facilities.

The National Childminding Association finds that many businesses are interested in establishing day-care schemes for the children of their employees. The Government support this. However, some companies are, I understand, keen that there should be standardised legislation containing clear criteria on quality of care as a solid foundation on which they can build. Most particularly, however, the current tax on employer supported child care is a brake on more business initiatives. This is a pity as a scheme for businesses to provide day-care schemes is a good one.

One very good idea that has just emerged is child care cheques. On 14th June, the National Childminding Association, in conjunction with Mercer Fraser, launched a scheme of child care cheques. It heralds a major advance in the provision of quality child care. Child care cheques are paid by the employer to the employee to help cover all or part of the cost of child care to enable the employee to remain in or take up employment. One point of importance is that cheques can be redeemed only with child minders who are accredited to the National Childminding Association and registered with local authorities. As the need approaches for more women in the workforce in the 1990s, so the need for good child minding care is essential. The chairman of the Equal Opportunities Commission sees child care as a perk of the future.

In the area of day care for young children there is no standardisation of resources around the country. Equally, for the care of older children, the National Out of School Alliance is already concerned about low standards of care, and also of premises in many out of school schemes. A removal of the registration of such schemes for children over eight, as is suggested in the Children Bill, will serve only to worsen the position in terms of available resources. In June 1988 the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children submitted evidence to the Select Committee on Education and Science into provision for under-fives. The NSPC register of research for 1977–86 revealed a number of trends, in particular that under-fives continue to represent the majority of failure to thrive, of neglect and at risk cases. This underlines the value of provision for under-fives. The NSPCC feels that abused children may derive special benefit from intervention or support from outside the home.

The National Out of School Alliance is the only national organisation supporting and initiating care and play schemes for children over five before and after school and in the school holidays. It is concerned at the new Government clauses to the Children Bill which remove over-eights from registration legislation. This means that local authorities will have no duty to register or monitor standards for after school and holiday schemes for children over eight. This is very worrying, especially in cities. Last Thursday the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, asked a supplementary question on the subject of crack. At col. 1519 he asked whether the Minister was aware that television pictures, especially in New York, have shown children selling crack to other children. In view of the fear of this terrible drug coming to Britain in greater quantities than it already is, surely it is vital that provision is made for the older children.

There are several reasons why day care for children over five is as important as day care for those under five. One reason is the sad growth of one parent families. I understand that one family in eight is now headed by a lone parent. Another reason is the need for a safe place for children to be cared for when parents are unable to be present. Studies show that more than 20 per cent. of five to 10 year-olds are left alone during school holidays, and 15 per cent. are left alone after school. The National Out of School Alliance feels that there is a variety of reasons why children over the age of eight and up to the age of 14 remain vulnerable. Children in this age group are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse, as has been shown by statistics from the NSPCC and others. They are also more prone to accidents it the streets and in the home. As the law stands at present, no child under 12 may be left alone with an open fire, which I imagine to mean a coal fire. This law surely needs to be updated. Today there are electric fires, gas fires and paraffin heaters, all of which are a potential danger to a child. Should not the age of the child be raised to 14 rather than 12? Will the Minister bring this question to the Government's notice?

With an ageing population, the care of the elderly in the community is a concern to all of us. As has been pointed out to me, many of the carers are not young themselves and see life passing by without the opportunity to return to work or get out of the house and do some other form of voluntary work if that is what they wish. In rural areas the difficulty is increased by the problem very often of small populations spread over a larger area. The migration into towns and cities of young people seeking work and the migration into the countryside of pre-retired and retired people has in many areas caused quite a dramatic change in the age structure of local populations. In very remote rural areas many of the large voluntary advice agencies do not operate. This can lead to people not always knowing what help is available. It is estimated that 58 per cent. of all carers have physical or mental problems or emotional problems from caring, especially in remote areas.

The National Federation of Women's Institutes is looking into the problems of child care and nursery provision for children in rural areas. In Hampshire the Rural Community Council is carrying out research into the availability of child care facilities to allow mothers who so wish to return to work. The problems of child care in rural areas is obviously more difficult than in urban areas. The Women's Institute also does valuable work in keeping an eye on the elderly who can no longer get to its meetings. It also helps with meals-on-wheels.

Child care provision could come from voluntary groups, local authorities or the private sector. We need to ensure that it is all well regulated and of high quality. Effectively, the only way that this can happen is if the Government take the lead, draw on the expertise and experience of the voluntary sector which already exists and encourage the private sector to co-operate.

6.10 p.m.

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, I followed the noble Lady, as always, with close attention. However, I am sure that she will forgive me if I move on to other ground. I rise with even more than my usual diffidence. I was told just before I came into the House that I had completely misunderstood the Motion. If that proves to be so in the view of the House, and someone cares to move a Motion that I no longer be heard on the grounds of irrelevance, I shall not take it amiss. I can only hope that the Motion will not be carried; but we shall have to see what happens.

I was so eager, as I always am, to support the noble Baroness that when I saw the reference in the Motion to community care for the elderly I jumped at the chance to participate in the debate. I then prepared some remarks on the subject which will no doubt, fit in with the general discussion. Another reason for my diffidence has occurred within the last few days. When I last spoke on this subject, I followed the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. On that occasion she made a striking speech when initiating the debate on the infirm and elderly. I boasted, if I may put it this way, that I was the only person taking part who was aged over 80. However, that qualification has now been challenged by virtue of a letter which appeared in yesterday's edition of The Times. It is a long letter from two gentlemen, one of whom is a Member of this House. It is headed "Unfit to govern after 80?" These two writers have become very worked up about the whole Chinese business. It has upset them so much that they say: is it not time for all governments"— including ours, no doubt— to set up machinery, so that when leaders attain (say) their 80th birthday they automatically relinquish the fullest powers which go with responsible representatives of the people? That would rule out, at any rate, a certain number of Members of this House. One of the authors of the letter is, I believe, an eminent Liberal. It may be that he has forgotten that Mr. Gladstone formed his last Cabinet when he was 83 years of age.

However, leaving that issue aside, I ask the House how much we would have lost if the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, had been banned 10 years ago under this rule. Indeed, we have only to think of all the valuable contributions he has made. Therefore I am pleased to be absolutely silenced by these eminent gentlemen who wrote to The Times.

I should like to quote from one or two speakers who spoke during the debate initiated by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I shall pass over the admirable contributions made by my own party colleagues, and others. But I should like to quote some remarks made by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. I am sure that she has apologised to the Minister for her absence. However, she told me that she hopes to be present in the House later. As was mentioned earlier by my noble friend Lady Turner, she speaks with special authority on the subject of carers. She is president of the National Carers' Association. I am not sure when the word "Carers" came into being. It is not perhaps a very attractive word; but I think it is probably the best one available. On that occasion the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, was very blunt in her account of the present situation. She said that good community care at the moment, except in a few cases, is a mockery. She said that it does not exist. Well, so spoke the president of the National Carers' Association, and surely she ought to be listened to.

The truth of the matter is that most of us by this time would agree that the whole idea of community care came into existence as what seemed to be an easy alternative. The phrase, "an easy alternative" means an alternative to keeping large numbers of people in institutions. Indeed, everyone agreed that these people should be taken out of the institutions and it was just assumed that something called community care would take care of them.

The concept of community care is full of ambiguities. It is of course true that all of us in a sense, as members of the community, have some responsibility for all these disadvantaged people, or for people who need help. On the other hand, when we talk about community care we mean in practice something which is carried out at the sharp end, so to speak, by carers. In that same debate the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, summed the matter up when she said, among other things, that she wanted to raise the issue of the need for more carers, more support for existing carers and appropriate education for them. She also emphasised the need for more facilities to meet the varying needs of the elderly and the families and friends who care for them.

That pinpoints, as you might say, the issues with regard to carers. However, I should like to reflect for a few minutes on the subject of carers which I hope will be linked to what the noble Baroness had in mind. When we think of carers we can of course include people who care for others in the home. I quite agree with those who say that that is at least as friendless as any other form of care. Indeed, I would not say that I was capable of any form of care. However, I think that I would be more capable of caring for someone in a community as part of a team than I would be if living at home with a sick relative with no one to turn to. I think that I would be quite hopeless in that situation. Moreover, that is probably true, if I may say so, of quite a few of the male Members of this House. I am not for a moment underestimating the need for such care in the home, but in these few remarks I am talking primarily about community care in the sense of the kind of care which is provided in one sort of community centre or another.

A week or so ago I visited a splendid old persons' centre run by that marvellous organisation, Age Concern. There I saw, among other activities, ladies from 60 to 90 performing vigorous exercises; indeed, at least one of them was in her eighties and claimed to be older than me, and that is saying something. Nevertheless, these ladies between the ages of 60 and 90 were performing vigorous physical exercises. They had been working up to the event for almost a year. It was now the summer term and there they were going at it for an hour in a way which would have done credit to any Member of this House, however young. That is one form of care for the elderly; namely, keep fit classes.

I then asked about the gentlemen, because there was only one man present—although, in theory, the centre was open to both sexes. He seemed rather somnolent. Indeed, I am no sure whether he woke up to the proceedings at all. I was told that the men come for lunch, but after that not much is seen of them. Noble Lords can draw whatever conclusions they wish from that example. I know it is argued that women live longer than men and we have been told by the noble Baroness, Lady Parkes, that they are more vigorous than men. The fact of the matter is that anyone can go to a keep fit class. But, in the one that I visited recently the only active people present were women. However, no one can doubt the dedication of the carers, the members of staff, who were looking after those people. It must be said, however, that in that instance they were dealing with fairly vigorous people.

A few days later I visited a hospice for the dying. I understand that we shall be discussing this issue within the next few days in connection with an amendment tabled by the noble Duke, the Duke of Norfolk. There was of course tremendous dedication in that hospice. People were there for about three weeks before they died. Obviously that is a different sort of care. I asked one of the devoted staff how she coped with the situation of dealing with dying people day after day. She answered under 3 headings. I suppose that she had been asked the question before; but she certainly knew what she thought about the matter. She said that in the first place she was one of a team and that she offered this care, shared the suffering and tried to alleviate the suffering as much as possible. She said that when she shared their suffering she did not do so as an individual; she did so as part of a team. As I said earlier, in that respect she is more fortunate than someone caring for a stricken person in the home.

Secondly, she said that she needed respite. That was a word used by the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, in the earlier debate; and, indeed, it was used by many other speakers in today's debate. She said that it was impossible to provide this care continuously without a break of some kind. She could continue day after day, month after month and even year after year; but she always needed a regular respite. Of course that means that someone has to organise things or provide the resources so as to enable such respite to be given.

Thirdly, she said—and she was a religious lady—that at the end of the day she offered the work which she had done to God and said, "This is no doubt insufficient; I leave you to do the rest." I am not saying that a government can cope directly with the last of those aspects. They can cope with the first two. The Government could make it possible for carers to have far more support. I am sure that is where the present Government, and no doubt previous governments, have failed.

On the last occasion I made what I suppose would have to be called a party speech in the sense that I was critical of the Government. I said—and I believe it—that the Government are trying to cope with the elderly on the cheap. I repeat that. I do not want to kick a man when he is down. Still less do I want to kick a woman when she is down; and so I shall not say anything nasty about the Government tonight.

I shall quote one or two figures which should be borne in mind that have been passed to me by Age Concern. The Family Policy Study Centre has estimated the value of care provided by informal carers as between £15 billion and £24 billion a year. The invalid care allowance is currently £26.20. It is poor compensation. It is not available to carers earning more than £12 a week. In other words, great stinginess is shown towards carers. The noble Lord can hardly put that right this evening, but I hope that he will tell his colleagues that there is a strong feeling that greater generosity is needed. I said generosity, but perhaps I should call it justice.

I gave the noble Lord notice of another aspect that I wished to mention; but he has hardly had the time to look into it deeply. When I visited that fine centre the other day, not all the people were doing PT. Some of them were playing bingo, which is much more restful. They were all apparently able-bodied. It was impossible for a disabled person to make his way into the centre because it was not built for that purpose. I am not sure whether someone on a couple of sticks would have fitted in very well. There is a problem. I hope that the noble Lord will consider the question although he will not have had time to look into it. Even in their more generous moments, how do the Government see the future of the disabled elderly? I am not talking of people who are so disabled that they are in a home. I am talking about when they can be taken to a centre as some are at present. There are centres where the disabled mix with other people. What guidance can the Government give about the disabled elderly?

I shall end on a different note. I wish to emphasise that I agree with the general thrust of what the noble Baroness said. I speak as an ardent feminist. I am a complete feminist in everything except abortion, if that is a feminist cause. I almost always support the noble Baroness.

6.23 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, for initiating the debate, and for introducing it so well. I am always delighted to follow the noble Earl, Lord Longford, because he is one of those brave men who always speak in a women's debate. I am delighted that the noble Earl, Lord Russell, has joined him because all the other Back-Bench speakers are women, which is a shame. Apart from those summing up, 25 per cent. of the speakers are men.

This is an interesting and apt subject for us to be discussing, because earlier this year the Secretary of State for Employment, Mr. Norman Fowler, urged women to seize the job opportunities waiting around the corner; and John Patten, as we have all read in the newspapers, has been charged with getting women back to work and seeing what can be done on that issue. He is chairman of the ministerial group on women's issues. He has indicated that the 1990s will be a decade in which childcare will form a substantial part of a package for working women. The important point was that he said that it would be more important than health insurance, mortgages or company cars.

Company cars are the big issue. Men and women alike are entitled to have a company car and pay tax on the benefit of that company car. They do not pay the full value of the cost of the company car but merely the assessed value, according to the size of the car. There are scales. On the other hand, women who have a workplace nursery facility are taxed on the total cost per child. There is no parallel with the company car. I believe it is as important. I see that John Patten has also indicated how important it will be. Why is there no parallel between the tax on a company car and the tax on the benefit of a workplace nursery? The Inland Revenue cannot say that there is no precedent to follow. There is a precedent. That is a good parallel.

I am not sure that workplace nurseries are the complete answer. I went to speak at a women's conference in Yokohama last year. It was one of the items that we discussed widely there. It was agreed that if where a person worked was in easy reach of home then a workplace nursery was suitable. Anyone who has seen the Underground system in Tokyo realises that it is even worse than London Transport. There are officials pushing one on to trains. It is not suitable to have to take one or more small children on public transport and to travel any great distance at peak hour to a nursery. A crèche within easy reach is in many cases much more suitable than a workplace nursery. Similar tax arrangements or benefits should be offered to women who use such a facility rather than only those attached to the workplace.

I understand that the average cost is now about £5,000 per child per creche place. It is an expensive benefit on which women are taxed. If they are earning only a little above £8,500, they have to pay a terribly large slice of additional tax out of their income.

The position of the elderly is different. The only point in the wording of the Motion with which I might have taken issue is that it refers to "join the workforce". I believe that it should be to join and rejoin the workforce. In many cases someone who has given up work to have a child or care for an elderly relative may wish to go back to work. They may need to go back to work to earn an income.

With regard to the elderly, I came across an interesting case a few weeks ago. It relates to a neighbour of mine aged 90. She lives on her own and copes marvellously well. She could just as easily have a daughter with her or someone who wanted to go back to work. To maintain herself alone during the day, she needs easy access to a telephone so that people can telephone her and she can telephone out. Her one difficulty is mobility. If the telephone rings, she takes a long time to walk to the telephone, and by the time she gets to it the person may have given up ringing.

I telephoned British Telecom to ask what could be done. Before I telephoned, my neighbour had telephoned. She told me that she could not get anywhere at all. I then suggested to a friend of mine that she telephoned British Telecom. She did not get anywhere. Being an Australian and rather disbelieving, I said that there must be an answer and that they must be getting on to the wrong department. I went through everyone at British Telecom. Its staff will run round and fit anything one wants, if one knows what one wants. I asked whether they had anyone who could act as an adviser t o an elderly or disabled person who could assess the situation of the 90 year-old lady in order to see what should be done. I was told that there was no one. I said that I could not believe that. I know that the gas and electricity authorities have special advisers who will visit and show one what to do and what to fit in order to make life easier if one is disabled, ill or unable to reach things.

To me it was staggering that there was no assistance with telecommunications, which is perhaps one of the lifelines to people left at home during the day. Anyone leaving an elderly relative who could cope quite well at home might wish to be reassured that they were all right by being able to phone them, or by having them able to phone and say that they were all right. It seemed amazing to me that there was no assistance. I asked who was responsible for that and they said, "Oh, we think you should have your local social services round to do that". The social services are very willing to come; but they are not experts on telecommunications. It seems to me that there is a need for some liaison there. Fortunately, we eventually solved the problem. We found a solution, a way round it. But we had to do it ourselves. It seems wrong to me for it not to be easier for people to obtain advice on the problem.

While on this subject of British Telecom, I feel that the survey carried out about a year ago on women's willingness to take managerial posts was interesting. There was a great reluctance on the part of women. About 35 per cent. said that they would not consider taking on managerial responsibilities because their commitments to child care or for elderly relatives was so great that they could not really afford promotion unless better social facilities and help were available to enable them to combine their commitments at home and at work.

Child minders have been mentioned. I was most interested in what the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, said about the check that could only be carried out on the properly registered child minders. When I was chairman of the social services committee locally, one of our greatest problems was the illegal child minder who was neither checked nor assessed in any way. No one knew whether or not the safety standards existed. It seems to me that the system whereby the money can only be used if it goes to a child minder who has been checked and approved is very good. I was pleased to hear about it.

Another minor point on the taxation issue is that, as noble Lords know, there will be separate taxation for men and women from 1990. One of the provisions is that allowances will be transferable between husband and wife. That is quite a significant point. It means that the woman who chooses to stay at home, and who may be making a financial sacrifice to do so will at least have some provision in tax terms to help her. The other provision which I am suggesting would help the woman who wishes to return to work. I think that both sections of society should be assisted.

Child illness is a great problem for the working mother. If a child is ill unexpectedly, or possibly has an infectious disease, he will not be accepted at a nursery, and the mother immediately has to miss work or make arrangements for a relative or someone else to stay with the child. That is a real problem.

The other considerable problem is school holidays. Very few employers can merely employ someone seasonally during school terms. Again, the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, raised the point about care after and during school. I believe that it is essential that ways should be developed of keeping children occupied and safe, as well as doing interesting new activities which broaden their education during the school holidays. It is not fair for a working mother to be faced with the worry, "Where is my child when I am at work?" As regards the child sent home unexpectedly from school, a number of schools have told me that they find it safer to keep the child at school because of the danger of sending him home to an empty house.

There are many other points which I should have liked to cover but I do not have the time. For example, the situation of war widows. I shall bring that up under the social security Bill because I should like them to receive a better deal. Many of them are elderly and a lot could be done to help them, particularly in terms of the housing benefit.

I have been asked by women elected to local government to raise another point. They feel it is very important for more women to be elected not only to local authorities but to Parliament. In the past the provision was that a woman who either had to employ someone to look after small children or to care for an elderly relative could claim an allowance. For example, magistrates can now claim an allowance for that, but at present it is not allowed for most women. Therefore it goes against women who have such responsibilities and deprives them in many cases of the opportunity to be elected. I gave my noble friend notice that I intended to raise that point because I believe that the more women are elected to different bodies, the more help will be provided regarding the subject of the debate. That is why it is relevant to bring it in here.

6.35 p.m.

Baroness Blackstone

My Lords, like other speakers in the debate, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden for introducing the debate on a subject of central importance to us all, not just to women, not just to mothers but also to fathers; not just to daughters but also to sons; not just to employees but also to employers.

Social policies can no longer rely on the unpaid labour of millions of women caring for those sections of the population who are unable to care for themselves. Women, like men, wish to contribute to the wider society by taking their place in the world of work outside the home as well as inside it. Only by doing so can women achieve fulfilment in their lives as well as the measure of economic independence which all of them deserve.

To deny them this opportunity is socially unjust. To asume that they do not want it is completely false, based on an old-fashioned and reactionary view of gender differences which is totally out of tune with the world of the 1980s. But not only is denying women the opportunity to have jobs discriminatory and unfair, it is also economically wasteful. Women have qualifications and skills which the economy cannot afford to ignore. This is already apparent. As my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden has already said, it will become even more apparent in the next decade as the number of young people entering the labour force declines steeply. Labour shortages will certainly emerge unless we employ the maximum number of women possible. So there are issues of principle about the need for greater equality between the sexes and issues of a pragmatic kind about the future needs of the labour market.

I wish in particular to focus on the needs of women with young children and the need for massive improvements in day care provision for their children. Neither day nurseries providing all-day year round care, nor nursery education providing care and education during the school day and term time have expanded as they needed to, to meet new needs and new demands. Indeed, the growth of publicly-funded day nurseries has been absolutely minimal since 1979. The number of places in nursery schools and nursery classes is far below the target that Mrs. Thatcher herself set for them when she was Secretary of State for Education in the early 1970s. She has presided over a government which have done nothing to help local education authorities expand in this area. Was she wrong in the 1970s to be in favour of such expansion and right now, to be opposed to it, or at the very least indifferent to it? Or was she right then but wrong now? She cannot have been right in both periods. Unlike my noble friend, Lord Longford, I think that she deserves a kick, even when she is down, and the electorate obviously thinks so too. Meanwhile, during a period when the UK has stood still, other European countries have made huge improvements in the extent of their provision. Some countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark were well behind us in the early 1970s and they are now far ahead. France and Belgium have had nursery provision for well over 80 per cent. of three and four year-old children for many years, as well as providing for a much higher proportion of younger children than is the case in the UK.

Not only are there more places available in most European countries with a higher proportion of the age group being catered for, but the provision is often also much more closely geared to the needs of mothers with jobs. A part-time nursery place in a primary school for two to three hours either in the morning or the afternoon is not much help to a woman working full-time. Of course it is better than nothing, but she will have to make complicated arrangements for the rest of the day and for the school holidays, as the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, has already said. In future child care provision must involve a combination of good nursery education and care to cover the hours of the working day. It is essential that both the elements of education and of care are properly covered.

There are a variety of ways of doing this. I must say that I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, on workplace nurseries. They do not seem to me to be the solution for most working parents. However, there are a number of other ways. First, the number of local authority day nurseries which, as I have already said, has remained pathetically few, should be expanded, focusing particularly on the needs of mothers with under-fives. All day nurseries must involve good quality education at this vital period of learning in children's lives. That means that some of them, although they are not directly run by local education authorities, ought to be getting good advice from the education authorities or employing teachers.

Secondly, there could be more full-time places in local authority nursery schools and classes. We have, I believe, moved much too much in the direction of converting what used to be full-time places in these classes into part-time provision. Thirdly, there could be an extended school day between 3.30 and 5.30 or 6 for those children whose mothers have full-time jobs. Finally, we might make more use of registered child minders as a back-up to nursery classes provided by the local education authorities. What I have in mind is a system in which women with three or four year-old children who do not want to work, perhaps because they have a much younger child, would look after another three or four year-old for a small payment in the school holidays and at the end of the school day. Informal arrangements of this kind are sometimes made but parents would be greatly helped if a system of this kind were set up based round the local school, and certainly all child minding should involve registration to prevent possible neglect or abuse.

The problem of adequate child care does not stop when children start compulsory education at the age of five. Again there are the school holidays to cater for, and the gap between the end of the school day and the end of the working day. Some progressive authorities such as the ILEA, which regrettably the Government have decided to abolish, have had quite extensive networks of play centres in the schools during the holidays and, to a lesser extent, after school. But much more of this kind needs to be done all over the country. Perhaps the Minister replying on behalf of the Government could say a bit about how we are going to catch up with our Community partners with respect to child care generally.

Single parents are particularly badly affected by the failure to make available adequate child care. I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, said about young single mothers. Of course single mothers are in all age groups. We may lament the high rate of marriage breakdown and subsequent divorce, but it is a fact of life, and we cannot turn our backs on it. There are many women struggling to bring up their children on their own. Few of them want to be dependent on the state if that can be avoided. They prefer to earn their living and support their children themselves.

Moreover, for their psychological welfare (which also has spin-offs for their children's psychological welfare) they need contact with the adult world and some time away from the constant demands made by small children. Anyone who has lived on their own, taking sole responsibility for children under five for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, will know just how stressful this can be and how easy it can be to become depressed in these circumstances. A job can give a single mother both the material and the psychological resources to cope better with bringing up children by themselves.

I should like now to turn briefly to the elderly, where once again women bear the brunt of the demands that this makes on families. The fact that there are now far more very old people than in the past, the fact that many of them are mentally infirm as well as physically frail, means that as a society we must invest more in providing publicly-funded facilities to help them. I have mentioned the strains involved in caring for young children. Women at home caring without respite and without support from others for senile elderly parents may be under even greater stress, as my noble friend Lord Longford implied.

Far more women in their fifties are now in full-time jobs than in the past. As a society we should not expect them to give up their employment to care for their elderly relatives. Nor can we afford to lose their skills and experience. Some very old people need full-time residential care. But many others can stay in their own homes as long as community facilities such as home helps and day centres are available.

Facilities of this kind can make the crucial difference. Without them their daughters may have to abandon their jobs; with them they can continue working, and provide some care at the weekends and in the evening. Such facilities are also of enormous importance from the point of view of the elderly themselves. How many times have we heard old people saying, "I don't want to be a burden on my children"? And who can blame them? I can think of few things that would make me more unhappy in my old age than my daughter being forced to give up her career in order to care for me.

We have a huge budget surplus. Can we not use some of it to improve the provision of care for the very young and the very old? Both groups will benefit directly. Young children need pre-school education to learn to cope with social life outside their homes and to benefit intellectually. The elderly need support and also company to reduce loneliness so that they can remain in their own homes for as long as possible.

Women have for far too long been exploited as unpaid carers. Few men would make the sacrifices that they have made. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, I must express some regret on how few male Members of your Lordships' House have participated in this debate, and I should like to reassure my noble friend Lord Longford that he need not have felt in the least bit diffident. I am sure that all noble Baronesses present here will have welcomed his contribution. If only there were a few more male feminists in your Lordships' House.

In the coming years women will be needed more than ever before in the labour market. We must make a commitment to decent public services so that their skills can be used. We cannot simply rely on ad hoc private arrangements. We must also do this to improve the quality of life of the old, the young and of women themselves. For too long this Government have neglected these most important goals. My Lords, it is high time that at last they took some action.

6.48 p.m.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, we again thank the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, for initiating this debate today; it is both timely and important. As the eighth speaker I have to say that everything that I was going to say has been said, but I propose to say it all again. I propose to do so because it will show that we are all thinking along the same lines and that we all consider the matter to be important.

May I first concentrate, as others have done, on the child-care facilities which will enable more women to join the workforce. As other noble Lords have said, due to the fall in the birth rate in the 1960s and 1970s there will be in the region of a million fewer young people to fill job vacancies. To fill this gap Her Majesty's Government are calling for women to enter the workforce. It is perhaps a sad reflection on our society that the care of children of working mothers shows signs of at last becoming a serious issue, not for the sake of the children but for the sake of getting working mothers into the workforce.

Having said that, I must be fair and pay tribute to Her Majesty's Government, first, for the Children Bill now being considered in the other place and, secondly—as my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes said—for setting up a Ministerial Group on Women's Issues. The group will consider the provision of child care facilities to enable women to go out to work.

Under Part I of the Children Bill the interests of the child are paramount. For the sake of this nation it is to be hoped that in the campaign to attract women into the workforce at all levels the care of children will be regarded as paramount as regards their physical, emotional and educational development.

As has been said, Mr. John Patten at the Home Office is chairman of the ministerial group. The group includes representation from the Department of Health, the Department of Education, the Department of Employment, the Department of the Environment, the Department of Trade and Industry, the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Offices, and many others. Never before has a small child brought together all the ministries to work out a policy.

In the press release of 11th April 1989 Mr. Patten said; The family is central to national life, but we must make sure the best possible help is available for women who choose to work", and that their children are cared for by the method of their choice.

I understand that a five point plan was issued by this great ministerial group. The group recommended amendments to the Children Bill. This was dealt with in Committee in another place. As I understand the position, the Children Bill now includes a provision that child care facilities, both child minding and group care, should be registered and that there should be a follow-up visit to the facilities once a year. That is good news. I am bound to ask my noble friend the Minister: what standards will be established for the physical, emotional and educational care of children? I imagine that there will be regulations, guidance and a code of conduct in this area. It is certainly important that that should be so.

One is also bound to ask whether Her Majesty's Government have calculated the resource implications. Local authorities could not, by any stretch of the imagination, undertake the registration of child minders and group nurseries, of pre-school play groups and other facilities without further resources. Furthermore, the inspectorate of the Department of Health will bear a heavier burden in its inspectorial duties. I dare to suggest that some voluntary organisations will also require financial topping up.

The five point plan also includes a proposal: To encourage the providers of childcare and employers to consider the need for a voluntary accreditation scheme which would provide information about the availability of childcare facilities". In that connection I congratulate the National Childminding Association for its initiative, in conjunction with Mercer Fraser, in setting up a scheme of child care cheques which can be transferred in exchange for qualified child minding. The scheme has been fully explained by the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss.

The third point in the plan concerns the use of school premises for out of school activities, both during school terms and in school holidays. Here again, other noble Lords have pointed out that while we press for better facilities for the under-fives is of no help to the working woman—whatever work she does—if there are no facilities for children returning from school to an empty home or during the school holidays. Those can be dreary times for a child. I understand from the police that an enormous number of children commit offences, not out of any ill will but simply for something to do. Also, a number of children find themselves in awkward situations and meet people it would be better for them not to meet.

Perhaps I may ask what action has been taken on that five point plan. The press release of 11th April 1989 indicated that action would be taken. I apologise to my noble friend the Minister for not having given him notice of the question. However, I should be very grateful if I might know the answer. Perhaps he could write to me later.

Work is being done by the organisation Child Care Now, to which 22 organisations are affiliated, to obtain better quality child care facilities which are affordable to the working woman. The Pre-School Playgroups Association also works towards that end, as does the under-five unit at the National Children's Bureau. I should like to know what action has been taken by the committee chaired by Timothy Raison on the education of children under five.

Both in Europe and in this country there is growing awareness of the needs of children. As was pointed out by the noble Baroness, Europe is far ahead of us in the funding of facilities for children. While in this country much good work is being done the European countries seem to have a much better partnership between government, statutory and voluntary organisations.

The research carried out by the National Children's Bureau in the national cohort showed the deep and lasting effect on children of loving care and skills and knowledge directed to their emotional, physical and educational upbringing. In this emerging pattern of development in relation to the needs of working mothers, a consortium must be developed between families, employers, statutory and voluntary organisations and the Government for the care of children of all ages. I say, as I said earlier, that it must be remembered that the needs of the child are paramount.

I had not intended to speak on the second part of the Motion of the noble Baroness. However, yesterday in the debate on the Schizophrenia After-care Bill I asked my noble friend the Minister when the Griffiths Report was to be published. He said, "Very soon". I hardly dare to think that he was right. It was astonishing to read that at last, after so many months, there it was in The Times this morning. However, as has been said before, we still do not know the details of the administration of the Griffiths Report. Community care is good; it is right for so many people who wish for it. However, it is expensive. Like other facilities it will need resources. The debate today has concentrated on two issues: the needs of children and the elderly and the resources required for both those services.

7 p.m.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I have a problem in taking part in this important debate introduced so excellently by my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden. My problem is that this is a subject on which I have views. I am well aware that there is nothing more dangerous than taking part in a debate in which one has views. One of my views is that I take strong exception—although I know the spirit in which the remark was made—to describing this as a women's debate. I see it as no more a women's debate than I see the Electricity Bill—in which the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, and I take part day in and day out—as a men's debate.

I do not see those issues as women's issues. I see them, as my noble noble friend Lady Blackstone has pointed out, as issues for all of us. It is a matter that has intrigued me for a great deal of my adult life. When we view the enormous extent to which women are discriminated against in our society, what has always puzzled me is the need, not for an explanation of why women tolerate it, but why men tolerate it. I have no explanation to offer, but I certainly argue that it is at least as important a matter for men as for anyone else.

However, having said that, I am not naive. I am perfectly well aware that the kind of problems that we are debating are problems that women are expected to solve, and that the kind of burdens that we are debating are burdens that women are expected to carry. If we are to achieve what most of us want to achieve—to improve matters—I would still argue that women would carry a disproportionate burden and play an excessive role in dealing with both the young and the old. The role of policy is to improve matters. I for one should like to believe that I would live to see the day of true equality but, to repeat my words, I think that that is possibly a trifle naive.

I am about to do essentially what the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, has done; namely, to repeat a number of remarks and say how much I agree with them. But there are a couple of remarks made by the two noble Lords who have taken part in the debate with which I disagree. They are to do with retirement. I believe that the old have to give up at some point and let the young have a chance. I do not believe that it is oppressive to the old to suggest that, at about the age of 80, there is an opportunity to step back. One can moan continuously from then—

The Earl of Longford

My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt my noble friend. I assume that one day he will be 80. He looks healthy enough, so I assume that he will make that age. When he gets there, does he mean to give up his attendance in the House?

Lord Peston

No, my Lords, my point was not to do with talking. I assume that the older one gets, the more one has the right to complain about the young. My point was to do rather more with acting. The remark concerned the phrase "unfit to govern". But I go further than that in referring to the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, because nothing would be more disastrous than to allow elderly professors to stay on even longer. I should regard the idea of introducing flexible retirement for professors as catastrophic. However, those are the only slightly acerbic remarks that I intend to make.

I wish to concentrate on a number of principles, particularly the principles that should guide public policy. In so doing, I must quote from a document that I regard as, on the whole, rather Right-wing—the so-called Social Charter from the European Community. The Government have moved so far to the Right that they regard it as Left-wing. I find that a very odd interpretation. However, the Social Charter contains a rather forthright statement that I should very much like to endorse. In paragraph 21, it states: Equal treatment for men and women shall be guaranteed". That is my belief. I should like to believe that one day that will happen. The document goes on to say: Equal opportunities for men and women shall be developed and to that effect action shall be intensified to ensure the implementation of the principle of equality between men and women in matters of remuneration, access to employment, social protection, education and vocational training and career development". Those seem to me to be good statements of principle and I think that they can guide us in what we wish to see happen.

How are we to achieve those aims? First, I think that we should agree that there is a role for the Government here. As noble Lords will see in a moment, we disagree about the scale of that role. But I believe that this is not a matter that can simply be left to the market or to the private sector. I shall have a few words to say about that, but it seems to me that there is a role for government. We shall see that government role in two ways.

Those of us on this side of the House will see that government role in terms of at least encouraging, if not guaranteeing, equitable treatment of men and women and of giving some leadership in that regard. But, since that desire for something nearer to equality and equity is supposed to be out of fashion these days, there is another case to be made; namely, that the kind of policies that have been referred to in this field, whether they are at the nursery school and child care end or at the care of the elderly end, are highly productive. The case for nursery schooling in particular has been demonstrated time and again not merely in terms of encouraging women to return to the labour force—that is what the debate is about—but in terms of enormous productivity in later education and, in my view—the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, made that point—in terms of the better social behaviour of children.

However, my own view is that assisting carers who help the elderly via tax concessions and other such means is also highly productive. My interpretation—I too await the response to the Griffiths Report in this respect—is that it is an efficient way to deal with the treatment of the elderly, the infirm and—as my noble friend Lady Turner mentioned when she referred to the excellent letter that she received from the Alzheimers Disease Society—the very mentally frail elderly. In so far as we can encourage carers to help us—they cannot solve those problems entirely—that is the most efficient way of doing so.

It therefore seems to me that the Government could reasonably provide tax concessions at both ends of the spectrum. On the general tax treatment question—here I again follow the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes—it has always puzzled me as to why the provision of creches and other such facilities in the firm are treated as a taxable benefit. Apart from the point made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, that women in the workforce pay taxes on the income that they earn—as the Treasury takes a slightly Gladstonian view by judging everything by the state of the revenue, it should encourage that—surely one could argue on perfectly sound economic grounds that the provision of creches is one of the costs of going to work. It should not be included in income; it should be set against income as an allowable cost. I should like to see a tax reform whereby one can set the costs of that sort of thing against income before tax is levied. In other words, I take exactly the opposite view to the Inland Revenue in that matter.

That enables me to make a fundamental point that has been implicit in what has been said. My noble friend Lady Turner referred to joining the workforce, but, with due respect to her, that is a misuse of language. The woman in the home is part of the workforce; she just happens to be part of the unpaid workforce. The Motion should read, "to enable women to join the paid workforce", but there is no difference between us as to whether it should be "join" or "rejoin" the paid workforce. That is an important matter. We must realise that it is not a matter of women of leisure somehow being encouraged to do a little work for a change. It is a matter of women who work extremely hard being able to improve and vary their lives by taking part in paid work for a change. I therefore argue the case for improved tax treatment and for tax concessions of all sorts.

I do not know whether the noble Lord has any material on the subject but another way that the Government could help is to show that they themselves are a first-class employer in this area. I wonder about the extent to which creches are available in Whitehall. It is a little while since we have been in power—a fact that is always being rammed home to us—but certainly in my day I do not recall there being any creches in the government departments with which I was familiar.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes

My Lords, perhaps I may say that there has been a lot of publicity recently about a Treasury creche which is now operating.

Lord Peston

My Lords, I am delighted to hear that. When I was a junior economist in the Treasury I was also a young father and I should have liked my children near moaning away during the course of the day. The Treasury creche at least shows that the Treasury is a first-class employer. Indeed, I should like to hear more on that subject.

I understand that the public service itself is increasingly trying to introduce flexibility and take a more progressive view with regard to promotion. However, I believe that the Government have a duty to be a first-class employer in this area.

Reference has been made to the ministerial steering group on women's issues. The noble Baronesses, Lady Gardner and Lady Faithfull, referred to it. Obviously they are both full of hope about this group. I hope that I am wrong in being rather cynical about it. For the moment it seems to include everything—every kind of sympathy and talk. It has everything but stops short of actually doing something. However, I shall wait and see. It may well be that in due course it will actually lead to some action from the Minister, as it were. In particular, I do not want to be told that this is a matter that can be left simply to encouraging the private sector.

There was a superb document published in May by the Department of Employment, I think. It is called The Labour Market Quarterly Report. I say perfectly sincerely that this is an excellent document about the labour market. It is full of enormously interesting factual material on the labour market and in particular it brings out the enormous importance of women in the labour force over the next 20 years. That is all very well described. There is a great deal said about the need for employers to take action of various kinds but there is literally nothing said about what the Government might do. I find that omission very worrying. However, for the moment, I shall hold back and wait for Mr. Patten's eventual report from his group.

Someone—and particularly a professorial someone—who has views can talk about matters of this kind for a very long time, but we are all anxious to hear the noble Lord's reply. Let me therefore reiterate my two main points. Firstly, this is overwhelmingly a subject that concerns us all. It is very much a subject that has to be served continuously through time and which takes a long time. In particular it is not a subject that can be left just to the workings of the market. It is not a subject about which it can be said that we can rely on economic forces and need nothing else. Indeed, my great fear is that we may use women in the labour force a great deal more. We may simply opt for economic solutions to our problems and as a result create a great many more social problems which our successors will have to solve.

7.13 p.m.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I should hate to enter into the argument between the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and his noble friend behind him concerning age. I certainly think that the noble Earl, Lord Longford, is by reason of age fit for government if possibly not by reason of his political affiliations. The noble Earl said that he spoke as the oldest Member taking part in the debate; I speak as the youngest. I hope that that does not disqualify me.

I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, was unable to take part in the debate, but I understand that she had an important meeting to attend. I am sure that we have all missed a great deal by not hearing her speak this evening. Like all noble Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, for introducing this debate. It has been a very good debate, and I hope that I can be of some help as I sum up. I have quite a few points to make and we have a little more time than was first thought; but I shall try not to speak for too long.

The noble Baroness has drawn attention tonight to those carers, particularly women, who would wish to pursue some form of employment or self-employment or who wish to practise a profession but are unable to do so because of the need to care for a child or elderly person. I have every sympathy with the difficult position in which such people may find themselves. The Government want everyone, whatever their personal circumstances, to have the greatest possible freedom to order their lives.

In an ideal world it would be a matter for personal choice whether someone withdrew from the employment field to care for a child or some other dependent relative or whether they went out to work in what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, described as "paid work" rather than doing unpaid work at home. In practical terms, that must mean at least that informal carers should be involved in decisions about care, along with the dependent persons themselves if they are capable of doing so. The noble Baroness raised the subject of informal carers and quite rightly paid tribute to them. The Government are mindful of the vital role that they play and acknowledge the importance of ensuring that information and support are provided to address their particular needs. Respite and other forms of support can also be provided by local authorities and voluntary organisations, whose valuable contribution I acknowledge.

We have mounted studies, including a major piece of work being done at York University, to gather more comprehensive data about carers. We are making grants of over £1 million a year to voluntary organisations concerned with the interests of carers. We shall continue to examine the role, contribution and, above all, the needs of carers and bear them firmly in mind as we carry forward our community policies.

In outlining the Government's position on women caring for children or elderly dependants at home and their paid employment I should like to dwell briefly on our policies and services for children and elderly people and on our policies for the employment of women.

The Government believe that basically responsibility for the provision of care must rest with the individual and his or her immediate family.

For the vast majority of children the best people to decide on what is best for them and the family as a whole are the parents, who should make suitable arrangements if they want or need help with their upbringing. Similarly many elderly people and those caring for them prefer to make their own arrangements for care, and an increasing number are able to do that.

The Government's role then is strictly an enabling one. Our main concern is the overall direction of policy, deciding the level of resources to be made available to statutory authorities and providing for the planning of services and the spread of good practice by publicising new and innovatory projects. Responsibility for the provisions of health and social services rests with the statutory authorities although, as we all know, an increasing range of services is now being provided by the private sector. Nor must we forget the work of voluntary agencies which have done so much for so many years.

Our view is that the overall pattern of provision must be left to local decision-making with local authorities, health authorities, voluntary organisations, the private sector, parents and carers as well as employers, all involved. We do not specify the level or the type of services to be provided in any locality. This must reflect local needs and circumstances and the overall level of resources available.

My noble friends Lady Gardner and Lady Faithfull mentioned the Ministerial Group on Women's Issues. There are many issues affecting women which cross departmental boundaries. In 1986 the Government set up the Ministerial Group on Women's Issues to act as a forum where interested departments could discuss them. The group began to examine day care services for young children and their relationship to equal opportunities and women's job prospects. The group is paying particular attention to ways in which employers and voluntary bodies could help the development of services which both support the family and give greater choice of service to those women who wished to work.

Women are already making a crucial contribution to our economic wealth. There are 11 million women who are economically active. I am talking obviously about those who are economically active. We accept that those who are at home looking after persons as informal carers are also active, if not economically. Those 11 million represent 43 per cent. of the civilian labour force. We already have a higher proportion of women working than any other EC country, with the exception of Denmark. Many women have benefited from the more flexible working patterns which have developed in the new technologically based and service industries. Women are helping to create new jobs. A quarter of the self-employed are now women. Over a third of entrants to the enterprise allowance scheme are women. Women are also choosing new careers in increasing numbers. In medicine, dentistry and the health service, half the students are women; and the same applies in law and accountancy. Increasingly in engineering women are occupying a greater share of the jobs.

If working patterns are to help people with family responsibilities we believe that employers should take the lead in conjunction with the unions. As an employer the Government have adopted a very positive approach to enable women in the Civil Service to meet their family responsibilities and have a proper career.

The noble Lord, Lord Peston, asked whether things had improved since his days in the Civil Service. Perhaps I may briefly mention five steps that the Government have taken to help their employees to combine careers and families. We now offer a career break scheme which provides staff with up to five years' leave for domestic reasons. There are opportunities for part-time working or job sharing. Twenty holiday play schemes are now up and running. More are in the pipeline. Some departments are considering setting up day nurseries as a service to retain experienced staff. All departments offer flexible working hours. This helps staff to combine work and family. As my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes added, the Treasury also offer a crèche. I cannot speak for my department because I did not ask, but I shall find out and let the noble Lord know.

Lord Peston

My Lords, it would be quite typical for the Department of Health not to have a crèche. However, that is by the way. It would be worth asking whether Ministers, and not only civil servants, are allowed to use it if it ever becomes available.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I should be very pleased to use it if we had one. I have an infant son of one year. I am sure that if my wife were in London, she would find it most convenient to be able to leave him here. I shall find out whether the Department of Health has a creche and I shall let the noble Lord know.

I am glad to say that a number of companies are also setting a good example. Esso, BP Group, ICI, IBM and the leading banks have all introduced schemes to allow women to interrupt their careers in order to have children and to bring them up during their early years. Rank Xerox have seized on new technology to expand opportunities for people to work at home.

We are firmly against a rigid, prescriptive approach. This would put employers in a straitjacket and threaten jobs. But we warmly welcome the voluntary introduction by employers of other measures such as parental leave and help with child care to attract women returners. The Government are spreading this message at every opportunity.

So much for women and work, my Lords. I should now like to turn to the question of the children. For pre-school age children most people accept that from the age of about three their social, emotional and cognitive development is helped by taking part in some form of group activity with other children and adults. Before that age it often helps if the parent and the child meet other parents and children at, say, a parent and toddler group, toy library or playbus. This gives the parent a chance to meet other people in the same situation, and gives his or her child a chance to extend his or her play experience. For school-age children, after school and holiday play schemes can be a useful and enjoyable service. They can prevent a child coming to harm or becoming delinquent, as one noble Baroness mentioned. They can also help children develop interests and skills. The Government want to see a range of good quality day care services in each area so that parents can choose the one which best meets their and their children's needs. Over the years this country has developed a mixture of provision. It can be provided by the local authority, by individuals such as child minders, by voluntary groups, by private enterprise or by employers. This diverse set of providers is a strength and we want to see it grow and flourish. We do believe it is a proper use of public funds to set up state run day nurseries, after-school schemes and so on for everyone who wants them.

At central government level we are improving legislation on day care services. The Children Bill contains clauses which make clear the role of the local authority as provider of services, as the regulator of private and voluntary services and as the overseer of the range of day care services. When the Bill has received Royal Assent we shall be issuing new guidance to local authorities, and we are continuing to support 11 national voluntary organisations active in the under-fives and after- school field because they make a vital contribution to the diversity and quality of service.

In the under-fives field there has been steady growth in recent years. In 1987 there were 1,800 day nurseries compared with 1,400 five years earlier in 1982, with most of the increase being in the private and voluntary sector. In 1987 there were 68,000 child minders compared with 44,000 in 1982—a remarkable increase. In the last few months there has been growing interest from employers and the private sector in this area and we expect this will lead not only to more provision but also to greater variety, which I mentioned earlier. We welcome this and I should like to take this opportunity to commend the National Childminding Association for its work with Mercer Fraser in developing the child care cheque scheme—which was mentioned by the noble Lady, Lady Kinloss and my noble friend Lady Faithfull—which I hope and expect will be taken up by employers who want to provide some form of day care for their employees but consider a workplace nursery not the best or right solution.

I should now like to turn to support for elderly people. I am happy to be able to say that levels of community support have never been higher. There are now the full time equivalents of more than 52,000 home helps and 15,000 district nurses. In 1987 over 45 million meals were provided by local authorities. All this provision has generally responded to demographic pressure of the rapidly increasing number of elderly people. As we all know, the numbers of 85 year-olds are set to double between 1981 and 2011 to something over 1 million.

However, much remains to be done. The sum of money devoted to community support is enormous. At the present year local authorities are expected to spend £3,592 million on personal social services, 40 per cent. on services mainly used by elderly people. Within the National Health Service expenditure on community health services is now running at some £1,400 million a year. It is vital that we get the most out of these resources. The Social Services Inspectorate has been carrying out a programme of studies into the home help services provided by local authorities and the way they are changing from the housework and shopping service (home help) to home care. That is a service able to provide personal care and emotional support. Two recent reports by the inspectorate, Managing Policy Change in Home Help Services and Managing to Care, contain much that will help authorities to reshape their services and strengthen their management so that they can meet the challenge of the expanding need for care.

One important fact in the availability of services is the availability of trained staff. In the present financial year and in 1988–89 we made over £10 million a year available to support new local authority initiatives in providing training for those working with elderly people. We are also closely watching the progress of the development by the Care Sector Consortium of a national vocational qualification for care assistants.

Health authorities are responsible for the recruitment and employment of community nursing and support staff. We are monitoring their progress towards long and short-term manpower planning through the regional review process and also taking steps centrally which should lead to improvement in the recruitment and retention of nurses.

The question of tax relief was raised by my noble kinsman Lord Russell, the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, and my noble friend Lady Gardner, who compared it with tax relief on company cars. We recognise that historically company cars have been undertaxed. The tax on company cars was increased in the past two Budgets. I cannot speak for the future as it is a matter for my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, the Government are aware of that anomaly.

To give parents tax relief on child care costs would be inconsistent with the Government's wider policy of looking critically at special tax reliefs, broadening the tax base and achieving reductions in basic rates. It would be expensive: we estimate that it would cost £350 million to give relief to parents who already go out to work, and it would be badly targeted. A quarter of families with children pay no tax and so would not be helped.

I turn to deal with questions raised by various noble Lords including the noble Baronesses, Lady Blackstone and Lady Turner, and my noble friend Lady Faithfull. They raised the question of the United Kingdom's position on child care and education participation compared with other European Community member states. We do not accept that it is the case that the UK is near or at the bottom. Taking all forms of education and care together, the participation rate for three and four year-olds is over 85 per cent. and may be higher. That figure places us near the top of the EC league.

My noble kinsman Lord Russell and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, asked about the EC draft directive on parental leave. The Government have opposed that directive because we believe that the prescriptive approach is too rigid. The imposition of statutory requirements could affect competitiveness and not meet the needs of all employees. A flexible voluntary approach which meets the needs of both employer and employee is far preferable.

The noble Lady, Lady Kinloss, asked about the age limit for registration of day care services with local authorities. The Government believe that the age limit of eight, proposed in the Children Bill now in another place, is about right. We thought at first that regulation by local authorities should be limited to private and voluntary day care services for the under-fives. However, we have been persuaded that it should be raised. We need to strike a balance between ensuring that services for children who have just started school are regulated—obviously that is a reassurance for parents—and between stifling enterprise and initiative in the development of services for older children.

The noble Earl, Lord Longford, asked about day centres for frail, elderly people. The Government recognise the important part that day care can play in supporting elderly people in the community and in offering relief to carers. Since 1978 regular attendances at day hospital have risen by about 20 per cent. The number of places in local authority day centres is up by 16 per cent. Day care covers a wide range of facilities and we wish to encourage the statutory authorities and voluntary organisations which provide them to make the best use of them. We asked the Centre for Policy on Ageing to carry out a study on day care. We are now considering its report and shall take that into account as we develop our community care policies.

My noble friend Lady Gardner asked about telephones for elderly people. I was surprised to hear of the difficulty which she had with British Telecom when trying to obtain help and special facilities for a disabled elderly person, because I understand that it has special equipment for such people. In recent years there have been rapid advances in telephone technology, and dispersed alarm systems have been devised which can provide elderly people with support and reassurance. Ideally, such systems should form part of a package of community care measures, including mobile wardens, and social services and housing authorities have powers to provide them.

My noble friend Lady Faithfull asked about action to be taken on the five point plan and the ministerial group on women's issues. A shadow group of government officials is taking forward the detail of the five point plan and will be reporting that to the ministerial group as the work progresses.

Other speakers tonight have pointed out that we need to get more women into the workforce at a time when the burdens of informal care which so often fall on women are increasing and the population of women of working age is falling.

I recognise that we cannot have our cake and eat it. We need to have regard to both the wishes of women to take their place as part of the workforce and the need to provide formally or informally for the care of children and dependent adults. This balancing act will be successful only if those responsible for community support carefully assess the needs of their community, both present and future, and plan services accordingly, and if employers take all possible steps to help those women who wish to combine work and responsibility for care.

I should like to end my remarks by commenting on Sir Roy Griffiths' Report. It was mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and my noble friend Lady Faithfull. I cannot comment on press reports or speculation in today's newspaper. Consumer choice and service planning are both among the recommendations of Sir Roy Griffiths' review of community care. As every Member of this House will know, the Government are giving careful consideration to the complex issues raised by the Griffiths' Report. Although I cannot tonight give any indication as to the proposals we shall be bringing forward as a result of this consideration, I think I can go so far as to say, as I have on probably too many occasions, that the process is nearly complete and that we may expect an announcement before too long. The Government's aim is to promote the development of cost-effective community services and a flexible attitude in employers. We hope thereby to address the concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, and all those who have spoken this evening.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I hope that the noble Baroness will allow me to intervene a moment. I am disappointed because, although I gave the Minister a text about local government, he has not replied to that point. I wonder whether he has overlooked it?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am sorry, I had a note which I must have flicked over accidentally. Local authorities have adequate powers to make provision for councillors to receive such assistance. It is up to each local authority to decide what is appropriate in the local circumstances. Noble Lords may have noticed recent reports of substantial payments being made for babysitting arrangements for a councillor in inner London.

7.40 p.m.

Baroness Turner of Camden

My Lords, I should like to begin by thanking all noble Lords who have participated in this very interesting and well-informed debate. I should like to reinforce what has been said by a number of noble Lords that this is really not a women's debate at all. I am sorry that more noble Lords did not participate but I am very grateful to those who did because I believe that they had a lot to contribute.

Perhaps I may just single out the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, because she made reference to the way in which the Motion was phrased. I absolutely agree with her. Had I thought about that, I should have said "rejoin" the workforce. I also agree with my noble friend Lord Peston when he referred to unpaid work done at home. This Motion was designed for discussion about enabling women to join the workforce outside the home. As we have heard from a number of noble Lords this evening, that is very important. I believe that my noble friend Lady Blackstone referred to the isolation that women often feel if they are confined at home looking after very small children or elderly relatives and how that isolation breaks down if they have the opportunity of rejoining, even on a part-time basis, a workforce ouside the home which brings them into contact with other people and generally widens their social involvement. Of course, I am sure that that is all to the good.

As regards the Minister's response, in some respects I found that rather disappointing. On these Benches it is the view that there should be a great deal more publicly-funded provision for child care, whereas the impression I received from the Minister was that the Government's role is strictly enabling—and I wrote down what he said as he spoke—and it did not seem to me that the Government intended to participate further than that. I believe that we should have a great deal more in the way of public resources available if appropriate and adequate support services are to be provided both in respect of care of the elderly and children.

On the latter point, I favour a large expansion of local authority provision. Unfortunately, many local authorities have strictly limited resources and are therefore unable to provide resources in the way which I believe is necessary.

I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, when she says that not everybody finds that workplace nurseries are appropriate. Of course, that is absolutely right. For example, a woman who works in the City can hardly bring her child into work in the rush hour and put him in a crèche in the Prudential offices in Holborn, even if such provision were available. However, we need a range of facilities available. There again, I agree with what has been said about the child minder. I believe that child minding fulfils some need but I should like to see more emphasis on registration to ensure that the child minding provided conforms with appropriate health and safety and welfare standards. As I said in my opening remarks, at present a large number of child-minding arrangements are unregistered.

I really do not agree at all with the Minister's response on the directive on parental leave. As I understand it, he said that it was felt that that was best left to voluntary arrangements. As someone who was once concerned in negotiating with employers, and certainly in negotiations raising with employers the need to improve facilities for female workers in particular and making arrangements for child care and so on, my experience has been that unless there is a lead from the Government nothing will happen. There will be no voluntary arrangements in that respect. I believe that that is regarded in this country as wildly innovative and unless there is pressure from government sources, which would come about if the Government ceased to block the directive, I do not believe that we can expect to see any development in that area.

I should like to see the Government supporting the EC directive on parental leave. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, made reference to that. He said that that was an imaginative document and he is absolutely right in that. If we want to see more men taking part in the care of children, as I am sure we do, that seems to me to be one way in which it might be achieved. I was very pleased to hear that the Treasury provides créche and I hope that in due course other departments will follow suit if they have not already done so.

I should like to conclude by saying that this has been a very interesting debate. I believe that this is a subject to which we shall return because there is clearly a great deal to be said about it. It will be a matter for continuing concern because of the demographic problems which we face and because of the need to ensure that there is adequate care for people who need it, such as the elderly and infirm, and also because of the need to ensure that we look after our children properly for all sorts of reasons, not merely to enable women to join or rejoin the workforce. For social reasons we need to ensure that children are properly cared for in their early years. Again, I thank all noble Lords who participated in the debate. My Lords, I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

House adjourned at fourteen minutes before eight o'clock.