§ 5.49 p.m.
§ Lord Burlison
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
§ Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Burlison.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Lord Methuen) in the Chair.]
Lord Clement-Jones moved Amendment No. 128ZA:
Page 30, leave out lines 14 to 22.
§ The noble Lord said: Perhaps I may, first, welcome the Minister to Part V of the Bill, as we proceed not at a huge but I hope reasonable pace. In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 173A. Both amendments relate to exemptions under Clause 68 of the Bill.
§ Amendment No. 128ZA relates effectively to nannies. There are up to 100,000 nannies working in the UK, but there is no statutory requirement for a nanny or an au pair to have any training or specific qualifications. Nannies and au pairs are the only child carers not to face some mandatory form of registration. Child minders and day-care facilities will be registered and inspected by the new branch of Ofsted.
§ New Clause 79A of the Children Act, which will be inserted by this Bill, excludes nannies, except where they look after the children of more than two families, and au pairs from the provisions of the Care Standards Bill. In our view, and in that of a number of voluntary organisations in the field, it is unacceptable that this Bill will improve the standards of only some forms of childcare but not of others. Children need protection 1020 in all its forms. This Bill provides an ideal opportunity to extend regulation to nannies and au pairs to safeguard children in these settings. We do not accept the Government's current argument that such regulation would be bureaucratically impossible.
§ Amendment No. 173A is designed to establish whether the current exemption for independent schools under paragraph 1(1)(d) of Schedule 2 will continue to apply. This currently allows any institution registered as an independent school with more than five children aged over five and which employs a qualified teacher not to be subject to regulations and guidance under the Children Act 1989 and under the proposals contained in this Bill. There is concern that such a loophole would potentially allow deregistered day-care facilities to set themselves up as independent schools, employ a qualified teacher and take on a large number of children under the age of five without having to follow regulations and guidance.
§ I believe that the department has indicated that an amendment may be tabled to allow for separate regulations on independent schools which would close the loophole. It has also indicated that HMI inspections of independent schools with children under five already ensure that such schools follow current regulations and guidance; and, indeed, that they will be served a notice if they do not. In addition, I understand that a consultation exercise is planned for the spring on independent schools and that this issue will be consulted upon as part of that wider process. I look forward to hearing the Minister's elucidation in that respect. I beg to move.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
I should like to commend the Government for sticking to their guns on the question of the au pair. This is not always a straightforward relationship. I should perhaps declare an interest here and say that my wife employed a number of very satisfactory au pairs, but with differing degrees of experience. It is an essentially personal relationship; it is an extension of the family. In the ordinary au pair situation, the au pair, who is almost always a girl—but not necessarily—lives with the family, eats with the family and has an understanding as to how much of her time is to be spent looking after the children and how much is available for doing courses (often English-language courses) or for other activities.
If the Government take the view that to try to regulate this activity is unacceptably bureaucratic, I can only reiterate, "Hear, hear!" If ever there were a case of proportionality, this is it. There are a few unfortunate cases, which always seem to attract newspaper headlines because there is something newsworthy about the au pair relationship. However, they represent a tiny number of the totality of families who have found the au pair arrangement eminently satisfactory. I strongly resist any suggestion that there should now be an entirely new extension of childcare requiring the registration, and all the rest of the paraphernalia, of au pairs. If I may put it this way, I hope that the Government will stick to their guns and 1021 not be beguiled by what I am sure will be a very eloquent case made by some of the interest groups and, indeed, by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones.
§ Lord Bach
Perhaps I may, first, thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for welcoming me to this Committee. I say that with some reservation because I know that noble Lords on both the Front and Back-Benches are expects in the field. Therefore, I approach the matter with some caution. Nevertheless, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his kind words.
In responding to the noble Lord's amendments, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 128A tabled in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. I dc so because all three amendments in this group deal with providers exempted from the requirement to register as either child minders or day-care providers tinder the new Part XA to the Children Act.
The effect of Amendment No. 128ZA would be to bring childcare provided in the parents' home under the regulation or Ofsted, or the assembly, while Amendment No. 173A would bring in any day care provided by independent schools. The Government fully understand the concerns which lie behind these amendments, although we take a different approach to tackling them. It may be helpful to the Committee if I set out briefly our plans in respect of these important issues.
As regards Amendment No. 128ZA, the Government believe that care provided in the parents' home, such as that provided by nannies, baby sitters and au pairs, should not be subject to regulation in the same way as that provided by professional child minders, nurseries, playgroups, crèches, and so on. We have sought—and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, may get some satisfaction from this—a less bureaucratic approach, which, nevertheless, strengthens safeguards for children looked after in the home.
Yesterday, the Minister for Employment and Equal Opportunities, Margaret Hodge, announced that the new guidance for nanny agencies of the Department for Education and Employment will be published in the spring of this year. The guidance will underpin the revised regulations governing all employment agencies to be issued by the Department of Trade and Industry. The guidance will include advice on areas such as identity checks and verification of a candidate's right to work; further detailed advice about checking work histories, qualifications and references; advice about interviewing candidates; and placing candidates with suitable employers.
The Department for Education and Employment has worked closely with nanny agencies to draft a code of practice which will form the basis of the new guidance. I am sure that it will provide parents and agencies with the help that they need to minimise the risk of children being cared for by unsuitable nannies. In addition, last year the department, in collaboration with the Daycare Trust and the National Early Years Network, issued Need a Nanny, a guide for parents 1022 giving the advice and information that they need to check the background and suitability of a nanny before offering employment.
We believe that there are practical problems to the regulation of nannies or the establishment of a register. For example, it would be very difficult to determine what constitutes a "good" nanny. Who would decide—and on what basis—whether someone was removed from a register? Would that be decided on the basis of the parents' word alone? Nannies can move from post to post quite regularly. It would be extremely difficult to keep a register up to date. We do not believe that it would be in anyone's interests to have a register that did not work and which may lull parents into a false sense of security. We believe in short that unless a register works it is better not to have a register at all.
I turn now to Amendment No. 173A in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. We share the concern that provision of day care in independent schools is not regulated to the same prescribed standards as other day care providers. That is why we have taken a power in the new Schedule 9A in Schedule 2 to this Bill to prescribe circumstances in which the exemption will not apply.
We recognise that some may wish to see the exemption done away with in this Bill. However, we believe that in the first instance it is appropriate to consult the independent schools sector on this issue. As part of a wider review of the regulation of independent schools, the department is to carry out a consultation exercise this year. The consultation will seek views on strengthening the existing requirements for day care in independent schools to bring them into line with those required in other settings. The department will make proposals following the outcome of that exercise and until that process is complete it would not be sensible or right simply to remove the exemption.
I turn now to the Government's Amendment No. 128A. This amendment relates to the exemption from regulation of informal evening baby-sitting arrangements provided away from the parents' home. It is necessary because, as drafted, the current wording would unintentionally exempt much professional after-school care provision from regulation.
We believe that it is important to ensure that informal arrangements such as evening baby-sitting are exempt from regulation and that we avoid unnecessary regulatory burdens whenever that is possible. However, it is not our intention to exempt from regulation professional arrangements for after-school care—a form of care which, as the Committee will know, is vital to so many working parents.
The amendment is therefore essentially a correction which restructures current wording to prevent the existing two-hour disregard in new Section 79A(7) being "added" to the evening baby-sitting exemption over two days, thereby extending the total exemption period from 4 p.m. on day one until 2 a.m. on day two. 1023 In simple language the net effect would be to restrict the baby-sitting exemption from 6 p.m. until 2 a.m. instead of 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
§ 6 p.m.
§ Lord Clement-Jones
I thank the Minister for his considered response. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, I cannot say that I have experience of employing nannies or au pairs. Indeed I cannot comment on his statement that only a small number of problems arise with au pairs or nannies and that essentially they are regarded as part of the family. However, I am concerned about the quality of care that they provide. If they are considered to be members of a family and enjoy a huge amount of trust, that is precisely where problems may arise. I appreciate the Minister saying that he accepted the concerns that have been expressed even if the way that he mentioned of dealing with those concerns was rather different from what has been suggested by others. I was grateful to the Minister for setting out how he believes the safeguards are being strengthened in terms of the new guidance for nanny agencies which is shortly to be issued.
I believe that the best way to deal with the amendment is to consider that guidance in detail. I hope that it will be issued as the Bill progresses through this Chamber and possibly before Report stage. That would be helpful. Then one would be able to judge whether the regulation of nanny agencies will be tightened up in the way that the Minister suggested. I accept that practical problems arise when one deals with nannies and au pairs in individual households. However, it is important to find some means to ensure that standards in this area are maintained and improved.
I also thank the Minister for his response to Amendment No. 173A to new Schedule 9A. I very much hope that the consultation will be designed to be completed to enable time to be given—in this Chamber or in another place—to consider its conclusions and to table suitable amendments to the Bill, if that is considered appropriate. If, following the consultation, conclusions were reached that a different kind of exemption would be appropriate, it would be unfortunate not then to be able to amend the Bill. That would represent a missed opportunity. I am not sure what future opportunity could easily be found to amend the legislation if we miss the opportunity to do so as the Bill progresses through Parliament. I hope that the consultation will be speedily completed. The Minister mentioned the spring but I do not know whether he can give us a further indication as to when the consultation might be completed. The Minister does not indicate any knowledge of that. I shall withdraw the amendment but look forward to further information on that point at a future date. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.1024
Lord Bach moved Amendment No, 128A:
Page 30, line 38, leave out from ("any") to ("is") in line 39 and insert ("day on which he does not act as a child minder at any time between 2 am and 6 pm").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 129 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]
Lord Laming moved Amendment No. 129A:
Page 30, line 42, leave out from ("is") to end of line 45 and insert ("the National Care Standards Commission").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment relates to new Section 79B on page 30 of the Bill. I hope that I may be permitted to remind the Committee that the Bill is entitled the Care Standards Bill. It seems to me that the title of the Bill is entirely correct in that for the most part its aim is to strengthen the quality, reliability and effectiveness of care—mainly social care—in this country. It is not an education Bill. This is the only section of the Bill which refers to education. In my view it sticks out like a sore thumb. There is no reason given for this unexpected and, what seems to me, irrational change.
§ This is a serious matter; it is about the care standards experienced by many thousands of very young children. When parents leave their children with a child minder, often for many hours of the week, they need to have confidence not only that the child minder has been properly registered but also that the standard of child care practice is of a good quality. Some very young children spend most of their waking hours in the care of child minders. Therefore over the years the Department of Health has gone to great lengths to establish good guidance on child care practice, reinforced by legislation and regulation, and monitored through an agreed process of inspection.
§ I have no doubt, however, that the system of inspection and regulation of child minders can be improved, and would be improved, by the work and experience of the national care standards commission which the Bill establishes. I hope that the Committee will excuse some unparliamentary language when I say that frankly it seems to me just plain "daft" now to transfer this task of regulation and inspection to the Chief Inspector of Schools. I can see no relationship between the task of regulating and inspecting child minding and that of the Chief Inspector of Schools.
§ In order to emphasise that child minding is about social care and about good child care practice, and certainly not about education, I remind the Committee that it is not unusual for a social services department to reach an agreement with a parent of a young child who may be at risk that the child should be placed with a child minder. There are in this country some quite exceptional child minders who not only contribute to the assessment of the development needs of the child but also work ably with the parents. This is good child care practice at its best.
§ I hope that, although I have expressed my concerns with brevity, the Government will be willing to look again at this proposal because I feel deeply troubled as regards transferring the regulation and inspection of 1025 child minders at this stage from the Department of Health and social care specialists to the Chief Inspector of Schools. I beg to move.
§ Lord Clement-Jones
I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Laming. I had not considered fully all the implications when we discussed this matter at Second Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, had the courtesy to write to me. I raised the issue of the resources that would be available to Ofsted and I received some assurance that these would be considered. However, it seems to me that the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, on the practicalities are extremely powerful in these circumstances. My arguments at that stage were about resources, but if one adds the two arguments together, one has a very powerful case against transferring to Ofsted.
§ Lord Jenkin of Boding
I too support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Laming. I say straightaway that he knows a thousand times more about this subject than I do.
I have the impression that this extension of the remit of Ofsted has been greeted with some derision in certain circles. I think I am right in saying that the phrase "Oftot" has been used by some commentators.
The noble Lord made the case that this is primarily a matter of care standards; it is not primarily a matter of education. I entirely concede that a good childminder is perfectly capable of assisting in the education process of a child, but so are the parents. Anyone who has the care of a child—if he or she is doing so properly—is constantly aware that he or she is actually promoting the child's education in the widest possible sense.
That does not seem to me to be a matter that lies easily within the remit of Ofsted. To my mind, since it was set up by the previous administration, Ofsted has established its authority, its expertise, its credibility and its acceptability in a most remarkable way. However, it is essentially concerned with the formal education of children in schools. This extension to becoming the authority responsible for monitoring childcare, and day care by childminders of the kind we are talking about, would be of an entirely different character. To my mind, the matter essentially lies within the scope of the new care standards commission, which, after all, has a range of similar objectives in relation to other establishments.
Quite frankly, I am puzzled and astonished as to why the Government should consider that Ofsted is the right home for this particular extension. I agree that there should be proper control of standards, proper monitoring and proper registration, but it does not seem to me that that is an Ofsted function; it should be a function of the new commission. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, is right. I hope that the Government will listen carefully to an argument coming from such an authoritative source.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Bach
We know of the great expertise in this field of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, and any amendment he moves will of course be treated seriously.
On this occasion he raises an important issue: which body should have responsibility for the regulation of day care and childminding in England. I am grateful for the opportunity he gives to set out the Government's position on this matter and to attempt to allay any concerns which may have arisen as a consequence of the decision to transfer the regulatory function to Ofsted.
That the regulatory function—and, in particular, the consistent application of standards—should be carried out by a single national body rather than by 150 individual local authorities, as at present, is, I venture to suggest, not in question. Responses to the Government's consultation in 1998 on the regulation of childcare showed clearly the importance attached to the delivery of regulation being consistent across the country; nor is there any doubt that integrating day care regulation and nursery education inspection will reduce burdens on providers.
Having a single regulatory authority operating the national standards will ensure that a child's welfare and safety will no longer be a matter of geography but one of consistency across the country. We believe that the present system has become, in effect, one of localised regulation, which has led to widely varying interpretations of guidance in different parts of the country. A national framework will help to ensure a level playing field for providers and will deliver clarity for both the regulated and the regulator.
In reaching its decision on which body should be responsible for regulation, the Government were bound to be aware of some people's perceptions of Ofsted, particularly having heard the notable contributions to the debate today. I refer, for example, to the perception that Ofsted has no experience of the provision of childcare and that, as a consequence, this will lead to an education "take-over". We acknowledge that that is an important concern. It is one which all who have spoken to the amendment so far have reiterated.
The Government's decision to cast Ofsted in the role of regulator does not ignore these concerns and it is important that I explain the rationale behind the decision. I should also like to reassure the noble Lord, and others who share his concerns, that the well-being of our children will remain the highest priority under the new and distinct early years directorate, which will be established within Ofsted and headed by the early years director, a new post created to carry out this important work.
First, and most importantly, the legislative provision set out in the Children Act 1989, which this Bill seeks to improve further, presents a very clear framework to ensure that the care, welfare and development of children is at the heart of the regulatory function. A new framework of standards will be set by the Government for the provision of care 1027 and Ofsted will work within this framework. These legal responsibilities simply cannot be ignored or played down, and there is no doubt that Ofsted has every intention of fulfilling its legal duties in this respect.
I must also make it clear that there is no intention of ignoring or marginalising the vast amount of expertise of the staff currently involved in this work. It is the Government's intention that local authority inspectors, managers and administrative staff will be given the opportunity to transfer to the new early years directorate, bringing with them their knowledge and experience. It is essential that the best of the existing system is maintained in the new one. The necessary competence to carry this forward is currently vested largely with those working in the local authorities.
I do not think it is unparliamentary language—nor do I think that what the noble Lord, Lord Laming, said was unparliamentary—to put the matter directly. Ofsted does not have hundreds of staff hidden away waiting to take on this work. The early years directorate will achieve greater success if many of those doing the job now opt to continue to do it.
In coming to their decision, the Government had regard to the burden that dual inspection placed on many providers. Bringing together the regulation and inspection systems for early years childcare and education in England signals an end to the confusion and duplication which operating two separate regimes has created.
There are a number of other practical considerations to take into account. Ofsted has experience of inspecting new areas of provisions and of successfully putting in place the means to do this. In 1992, Ofsted was given the task of setting up an independent system of school inspection. It had to devise a framework for inspection applicable across all schools, recruit sufficient numbers of suitable inspectors and ensure that they were appropriately trained in the framework and in quality assurance throughout the whole process. We believe that this was done successfully, not only meeting the targets but achieving quality inspections.
When Ofsted was given the function of inspecting nursery education, that was also new to them. They have made a success of this by drawing upon and harnessing the expertise of those in that sector and training them for the purposes of raising and ensuring the standards of education for four year-olds, now being extended to cover three year- olds. Inspection of nursery education has also been generally successful because Ofsted has worked in close partnership with providers and relevant bodies such as early years development and childcare partnerships in this sector.
Ofsted has undoubted considerable experience in driving up standards. It has always delivered what has been asked of it and it has never failed to meet its targets. Ofsted has a national framework for education inspections and, most important, it already has in place a national and regional organisational structure.
1028 Furthermore, Ofsted has experience of publishing inspection reports—an important aspect of the new legislative framework—enabling providers and parents to see the quality of provision at present and what the provider needs to do to make it better. Ofsted has experience of producing thematic reports on more general trends in the provision of education. These types of reports will be important in giving an overview of the national position as regards childminding and day-care provision.
This experience will be invaluable in bringing together the best of two existing systems of regulation and so maintaining the highest standards in both welfare and education.
I have taken a little time to explain the Government's rationale in the decision they have made. I sincerely hope that the noble Lord and other noble Lords who have spoken are happy with this explanation of how the Government came to their decision on Ofsted and how Ofsted will operate within the new framework. I hope also that the noble Lord will consider what I have said and will take the opportunity—which of course he knows exists—to meet with myself and others to discuss further this Government decision in the weeks ahead.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
Before the noble Lord, Lord Laming, responds to the Minister, I should like to make two points and to ask one question. I shall start with my question. The Minister laid great stress on not only the desirability but the fact that it would be essential that those who have gained great expertise in this field—principally in local authorities—will be those who will take up the staff posts on offer in the early years directorate. Has the Minister any idea of what proportion of those people will come from local government departments other than the social services department? How many will come from the education department of a local authority? My guess is probably very few indeed, because this area has always been seen to be a social services activity.
First, the Minister made a powerful case, which I do not challenge for one moment, of the desirability of setting national standards in this area. If I may say so, much of his speech was directed to an argument that no one who spoke in the preceding debate had addressed. We accept that point as taken for granted. We are concerned why the area of childminding should in future be regarded as an extension of the education responsibilities rather than the welfare responsibilities of an authority.
Secondly, I sometimes feel that it is a pity that Ministers do not have a second pair of eyes in the back of their shoulders. If, when the Minister was speaking, he had seen the reaction of some very experienced noble Lords sitting more behind his right shoulder than behind his left, I believe that he would have advanced his arguments with rather less confidence. Before we finish the debate, I hope that the Minister will give us some indication that he is now prepared to listen to the arguments rather than merely attempt to 1029 persuade the Committee. This is an important matter and I am deeply unhappy about the way the Government have chosen to move forward.
§ Lord Bach
I believe there was a question in the comments of the noble Lord. In one regard in particular, let me say that we accept that what has happened under the existing circumstances has not always been a social services responsibility. Around one-third and rising of inspection units are now based in education departments.
§ Lord Bach
That is so. The noble Lord said that most of my speech was directed towards an argument with which everyone agreed. On reflection, perhaps the noble Lord may accept that part of my speech sought to lay the ground on the matter. However, I was attempting to deal with those elements of the Government's decision that are controversial.
The transfer of staff will be a TUPE transfer. With his great experience in the field of local government, the noble Lord will understand that point. Those currently doing the job will transfer from their current positions as a matter of local authority organisation.
What the noble Lord does not seem able to accept—and this may also be true of other critics—is that the idea that nursery education and childcare can be kept apart somehow and that the one should not touch upon the other is a notion the Government believe to be out of date. The two parts must be brought together. The question then remains of who is best placed to bring them together. We are of the opinion that allowing Ofsted to take responsibility for this task does not in any way detract from the responsibility of ensuring that childcare and child welfare is an essential part of our programme.
While I may not have eyes in the back of my head, I hope that, from where I am standing, I can recognise that real concerns have been expressed about this issue. Of course the Government will continue to listen to those concerns. The noble Lord heard me make that point in my speech, as did the noble Lord, Lord Laming. However, I cannot suggest for a moment that the Government are minded to change their mind on the decision to give Ofsted the responsibility, under the new directorate, to look at this field. However, we shall continue to listen to the arguments.
§ Lord Laming
I am extremely grateful for the powerful support I have received from the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, who of course has vast experience in this field. I am grateful also to the Minister for his detailed response, even if he does think that I am out of date on this matter.
First, I have no disagreement with the Minister on the need for uniformity and I accept that that is the reason that lies behind the Government's decision to establish a national care standards commission. That will achieve the very uniformity that formed a key plank in the Minister's response.
1030 Secondly, I should like to make clear that I make no criticism of Ofsted as a body that is suitable for the inspection of education. Furthermore, I do not believe that any other contributors to the debate have doubts about that body. Many of the noble Lord's points about the qualities of Ofsted are not in dispute. The Minister said that Ofsted publishes all its reports. Well, the national care commission will do so as well. Indeed, an amendment to that effect standing in my name was considered earlier in the Committee's consideration of these matters. There is no dispute about the benefits of uniformity and there is certainly no dispute about the need for reports to be published; nor is there any dispute about the need to have good national standards.
However, I regret to say that the Minister has failed to convince me on the need to recognise that care in a childminder's home is quite different from nursery education. There is every reason for having two systems. One should deal with childcare practice and childcare standards. That is what we should expect good parents to provide for a very young child in their own home. That is different from what we expect in nursery education or in other forms of education. It is entirely right that there are two separate systems. As the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, rightly said, there is every reason why the two will come together at particular points, as good parents come together with the education system at particular points. However, we should not try to blur the distinction between the two functions; nor should we attempt to weaken good childcare practice at this stage. I believe that this measure, however well intended, will seriously weaken childminding in this country. I have no doubt about the need to improve childminding, but the way to do that is by building on existing practice and doing that through the national care standards commission.
The Minister kindly said that there can be further discussions on this point. I welcome that opportunity for further discussions. I shall approach those discussions having been reinforced in my belief that the Bill is wrong in this regard. While I am happy at this stage to ask the leave of the Committee to withdraw the amendment, I hope very much that we can continue the dialogue elsewhere. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.30 p.m.
Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 129B:
Page 31, line 5, leave out ("and every prescribed person").
§ The noble Lord said: On behalf of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, in moving Amendments Nos. 129B, 129C and 129D, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 129DA and 173B.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
Perhaps the noble Lord will allow me to intervene. Is not the correct procedure that the Minister should move the first amendment in the group and not the others? He is speaking to the others. 1031 I hesitate to intervene but I think that we should get these matters right. If I am right—I believe that I am—I hope that the Minister will accord with that.
§ Lord Bach
The noble Lord is of course right. I am extremely grateful to him for putting me right. I hope that I do not make that mistake again.
In moving the first of the amendments, I shall speak to the others. I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 129DA and 173B, standing in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. These amendments together relate to important issues concerning suitability—
§ Lord Clement-Jones
On a matter of procedure, I understood that the Minister would normally move the lead government amendment, speak to the other government amendments and then we would have the opportunity to speak to our own amendments—not moving them but speaking to them—and that the Minister would respond at the end. If I have that wrong, the noble Lord can correct me.
§ Lord Bach
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, although I still have at the back of my mind his welcome to me a few minutes ago. I think that I was right to be cautious.
I shall do precisely what the noble Lord said. The purpose of Amendment No. 129B is to remove an unnecessary regulation-making power in relation to the suitability of persons. The power as drafted allows the Secretary of State to prescribe the people—other than the childminder and anyone else looking after the children—who must meet the requirement to be suitable to look after children under the age of eight. This would be a necessary qualification of registration. However, the power was designed particularly to catch proprietors, managers and committee members of day care establishments who may from time to time have occasion to look after children under the age of eight. This has been unnecessarily replicated at what will be new Section 79B(3) of the Children Act 1989 to apply to a childminder's premises and should be removed.
Amendments Nos. 129C and 129D deal with the question of suitability of equipment. These are correcting amendments which seek to clarify that a person is not qualified for registration unless equipment in day care and childminding settings is not only in good condition but is also appropriate. The amendments will improve the Bill and ensure that equipment—for example, toys—is appropriate to the age and ability of the children. That will help to prevent those toys designed for older children—for example, those with very small parts—being made available to babies. I beg to move.
§ Lord Clement-Jones
I thank the Minister for arranging matters so as to allow me to speak to Amendment No. 129DA. My noble friend Lady Barker will speak to Amendment No. 173B. I am sure that the Minister will rewrite his reply after hearing my arguments.
1032 The amendment is designed to establish how the new clauses regulating the registration of childminding and day care will work. They are designed to establish that inclusion of a registered person on the Section 1 list under the Protection of Children Act 1999, along with other lists and conditions, is not explicitly a pre-condition of registration of childminding and day care services. It is clear from the clauses what events give rise to disqualification. But additional to that, we propose that there is a positive approach of ensuring that certain categories of person are not included and cannot be registered. In a sense, the amendment is designed to elicit whether that is explicitly the case in the Bill. For that reason we have included in the amendment a rather long subsection which seeks to define someone who is not considered suitable right at the very outset for the purpose of registration, so that rather than awaiting disqualification, one never registers these people in the first place.
§ Baroness Barker
I was going to say to the Minister that it is comforting to know that someone else is about as proficient as I am in the procedures of the House.
I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Laming, will take an interest in Amendment No. 173B, given that he has just spoken about the difference between day care and childminding facilities and schools. This amendment seeks to do precisely the opposite. It seeks to establish whether those in charge of childminding and day care facilities should have the same responsibilities as schools for child protection.
Throughout our debates a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Laming, have spoken very much from the point of view of people who are or have been practitioners. I take a rather pragmatic view of this issue. Although I have not worked in the field of the provision of children's services, I am given to understand by those who do that being aware of children exhibiting signs of having been abused is very common and ordinary within daycare and childminding settings and settings where young children are engaged in play.
In proposing the amendment, it is therefore our intention to find out whether childminders and people in the provision of day care for small children will have the same duty of care and child protection as do schools.
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
I wish to ask about "appropriateness". I should explain, rather than declaring an interest, where I come from. I chair a charitable trust connected with Queen Mary and Westfield College, east London. One of the objectives of the trust is to assist in the education of women, which was the role of Westfield College before the merger.
1033 One of the earliest decisions my trust took was to finance a creche for the benefit of the very young children of both staff and students. I was surprised to find that our college was one of the few in London University that did not already have a crèhe. I ask a question in relation to some of the experiences we had with that and the problem of satisfying the local authority that the facilities fulfilled the requirements. We are talking about "appropriateness", the Minister referred to equipment being suitable for young children. Some of the requirements of the local authority for the establishment of the créche went some way beyond what those responsible for running it considered reasonable in the circumstances. One could have taken the matter to appeal, I suppose, but in the end the trust financed the necessary changes.
One point was that the local authority required the uncovered open area outside to be covered in a specially soft and resilient covering so that, if the poor little people fell over, they did not bruise themselves. One can understand the desire of the regulator constantly to want to guard against every conceivable risk. My feeling is that, if a child falls over and hurts itself, it learns not to do it again. That is part of growing up.
I should be sorry if, as a result of the merger of responsibilities for nursery schools and similar establishments with responsibilities for child minders, one would have the same attitude spilling over into the provision of child minding, requiring child minders to install every conceivable measure for the avoidance of any possible injury to children in their care. It could not be reasonable and if one went too far down that road, one would end up destroying the facility. People would say, "I'm sorry, I can't do this, I can't afford what is necessary". I ask the Minister to give an assurance that the requirements for equipment, premises and the other matters mentioned in the subsection for child minders will be appropriate and proportional to the service provided. That is the kind of thing lying behind the anxieties expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Laming, Lord Clement-Jones and myself on the previous amendment. We have had experience of such high standards being imposed on a créche and we wonder whether that will happen to every child minder in the land. It cannot be in the interests of the children and parents or of the achievement of high standards.
§ Viscount Bledisloe
I wish to ask a question about Amendment No. 129DA in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. As I understood him, he said that the people listed in paragraphs (a) to (j) are not suitable, but other people may also be unsuitable even though they do not fall into any of those categories. I venture to suggest that, as his amendment is drafted, there is a nasty risk that no one could be held to be unsuitable unless he fell into one of those categories. The list is likely to be construed as exclusive. A person who is unsuitable on general 1034 grounds but does not fall into those categories could no longer be held to be included if the amendment were accepted.
§ Lord Clement-Jones
I entirely agree with the noble Viscount. There are defects in the drafting in that respect and we do not wish to curtail other ways in which someone would be not suitable for the purpose of that clause. At this stage, as so often at Committee stage, the amendment is designed to establish a principle.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Lord Laming
I wish to say something in this important debate. There was a time when it was extremely difficult to get child minders to register. There was a great resistance to registration and a feeling among many child minders that, if they registered, then all manner of bureaucratic demands would be made of them, some expensive, as has been described.
The way in which it was possible to persuade childminders to register was through working in partnership with them in ensuring that their talents and experience as parents were used positively and creatively in parenting someone else's child during the time they had that responsibility.
The situation requires not only sensitivity to the issues but also understanding of the position of a child minder, not only in terms of the enormous responsibilities a childminder takes on for someone else's child, but also in terms of the kind of support and help they need.
When it comes to dealing with children who may be thought to be at risk or children who have special needs, working in partnership with childminders requires particular skills. It seems to me that the amendments underline the points already made. I hope that the Minister will view the amendments as a positive contribution to the debate.
§ Lord Bach
I shall attempt first to deal with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, on his fear that "appropriate" may be so harshly defined that too harsh standards are set. I can give him the assurance that he sought, but we are determined to have national minimum standards and it is important that equipment is appropriate. However, I believe that he need not worry too much about what he fears.
I deal now with Amendment No. 129DA, to which the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, spoke. It refers to the definition of suitability of persons to look after children under the age of eight. The Committee will know that the Bill currently provides a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations about the grounds on which people will be disqualified from being registered. Schedule 2 makes it clear that the grounds may include all matters listed in the amendment. To that extent, it replicates existing regulation-making powers and seeks to stipulate the definition of suitability on the face of the Bill. While regulations will need to cover a wide range of issues to 1035 be taken into account, I believe that the Committee would agree that it would be cumbersome to seek to specify every issue in the Bill which we may want to cover.
The issue of which persons are suitable to look after young children is a fundamental part of the revised regime that this Bill will create. It is essential that we ensure that we do not constrain unnecessarily the matters which should be taken into account when day care providers and child minders seek to register to care for young children. We need to have flexibility to respond effectively to new developments which may arise in future for protecting children from harm; for example, new arrangements for identifying and recording those deemed unsuitable to work with children. We believe that the regulation-making power set out in the Bill gives us that flexibility.
It is of crucial importance that a proper balance is struck between safety and unnecessary regulatory burdens on business. We believe that such detail is not appropriate for primary legislation. For example, it will not be necessary to include all the matters listed in the amendment as grounds for disqualification, since the Government intend to introduce legislation in a crime and public protection Bill in this Session to implement the recommendations of the inter-departmental working group on preventing unsuitable people from working with children. When that Bill comes before this House, it will provide that a person who is convicted of one of a number of offences against children (to be specified) is to be banned from working with children. A similar ban will apply to persons who are included on the Department of Health's new list or the Department for Education and Employment's List 99 because they are unsuitable to work with children. By that disqualification the person is banned from becoming a day care provider or child minder. There is therefore no requirement to consider such a person's suitability, which is the test applied to each application for registration.
Amendment No. 173B, which was spoken to with such proficiency by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, draws our attention to a very important and fundamental principle of Children Act regulation: child protection. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving me this opportunity to state the Government's position on this important matter. I hope that noble Lords will be reassured that this Bill already includes powers for us to make regulations to govern the activities of registered persons who act as child minders or provide day care and to impose duties on the chief inspector to have regard to the standards prescribed in regulations. We therefore question the need for a specific reference to such matters as are set out in the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness. We urge that such detail is not appropriate for primary legislation.
I restate the commitment of the Government to consult widely on new national standards for the regulation of day care providers and child minders. Child protection and behaviour management are exactly the kinds of issue on which we want to gain a 1036 wider view over the next few months. The Government are committed to considering the responses carefully. However, the Government believe that it is inappropriate to pre-empt that consultation by committing themselves now to the details of the national standards and the regulations that they will underpin. Having made those comments on the two amendments that have been spoken to, the Government are grateful to the noble Lord and noble Baroness for having raised what are undoubtedly very important issues.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Bach moved Amendments Nos. 129C and 129D:
Page 31, line 12, at end insert ("and appropriateness").
Page 31, line 29, after second ("condition") insert ("and appropriateness").
§ On Question, amendments agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 129DA not moved.]
Lord Clement-Jones moved Amendment No. 129DB:
Page 32, line 5, after ("Inspector") insert (", early years development and childcare partnerships").
§ The noble Lord said: I failed to mention in the context of the previous set of amendments my gratitude to the Minister for having taken the trouble to write in advance of the government amendments.
§ Amendment No. 129DB is concerned with consultation provisions related to regulations applicable to child minders and day care providers. In particular, the amendment is designed to elicit from the Government the consultation mechanisms and the way in which they propose to introduce early years development and child care partnerships. Early years development and childcare partnerships were initiated in 1998 as a result of the School Standards and Framework Act 1998. As I understand it, each local authority, at least in England, now has an operational partnership. All produced a comprehensive early years development and child care plan by the winter of 1999. I believe that a second plan is being prepared by all of them for 2000–2001.
§ The responsibilities which the local authorities share with the partnerships include not only the production of the required number of annual reports but also a complementary annual childcare audit and detailed development and expansion programmes to cover every aspect of early years and childcare services, including training and support for the development of quality. I understand that at least 25 of the 148 partnerships and their respective authorities have begun to produce local quality assurance schemes, such as the Sheffield Kitemark. Many others are in train.
§ I also understand that each partnership must have a chair and comprise local people who represent all groups of providers, employers and parents. They are beginning to develop as active local forums within which parents and other key stakeholders can formulate a local vision for the provision of services 1037 for children in their particular areas. It is arguable that every aspect of a partnership's responsibilities impacts on the ultimate quality of the care and learning support received by the children in its area. There must be a clear linkage—this is the purpose of the amendment—between the role of the partnership and Ofsted as the external regulator, whatever one may think of that body (one hastens to add) as performing that role. That will offer significant added value to the existing Ofsted organisation and evidence a real measure of local partnership with parents and providers. I beg to move.
§ Earl Howe
In rising to speak to Amendment No. 135, I associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. One of the inevitable consequences of this part of the Bill is that the role of local authorities will be considerably reduced. But it would be very foolish if the corporate wisdom, as it were, of local authority registration and inspection teams was allowed to evaporate. It is that element of local knowledge, and often considerable development and support work, which will be immensely valuable to Ofsted. If anything, I believe that the local dimension will be required even more than before with Ofsted operating, as inevitably it will be, on a somewhat less localised basis than the present inspection teams. Ofsted will need all the support that it can get in its regulatory role to ensure that it is as close as it can be to each of the many cultures that influence early years education and child care in various ways.
While the wording of my amendment is somewhat more general than that of Amendment No. 129DB, its intended purpose is very similar. I too am interested to learn from the Minister what role he sees for early years development and child care partnerships. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, that they should be consulted from the outset not only for what they can bring to the table in terms of effective planning but for the advice that they can give from the perspective of quality assurance. Most people agree that these partnerships act as an effective channel to convey parental issues and concerns.
§ Lord Laming
I do not want to give the impression that I have lost hope on the fundamental point. I support the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, about ensuring that the current experience and philosophy of many, although not all, local authorities are available in whatever future arrangement is decided upon.
§ Lord Bach
I thank noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 134B in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. Obviously, partnerships are intended to play a very important role in the system that is developing.
Amendment No. 129DB would require the Secretary of State to consult early years development and childcare partnerships before making regulations governing the activities of registered providers. The 1038 regulations in question may cover how providers deliver their services or how Ofsted fulfils its regulatory function. The provision in the Bill as drafted requires consultation with Ofsted and enables the Secretary of State to consult any other party he (the Secretary of State) considers appropriate.
We are sure that it will often be the case that partnerships prove a valuable source of expertise. However, it may not be appropriate to burden partnerships with the requirement to consider proposals for regulation in every case; for example, where the regulations under consideration relate to how Ofsted fulfils its regulatory functions. We therefore think it more sensible to allow the Secretary of State to use his discretion on a case by case basis.
The intention of the amendment in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is to ensure that local authorities in England co-operate with the chief inspector. We believe that that is a desirable requirement. A similar provision already exists in the Children Act which requires authorities to assist each other under the present regulatory system. It is only sensible that this requirement should be carried forward when Ofsted assumes the role of regulator. However, we do not believe that it is necessary to amend Clause 68 as proposed. The objective of the amendment is achieved already in Schedule 2 to the Bill, which inserts a new Schedule 9A into the Children Act. Paragraph 8 of the new schedule enables the chief inspector and the National Assembly for Wales to ask for assistance from local authorities. In turn, authorities are required to provide the assistance requested where reasonable to do so. That is an important provision.
The Government's amendment, Amendment No. 134B, enables regulations to be laid in support of the general duty set out in new Section 79 concerning the provision of training, advice and guidance by local authorities. As drafted, new Section 79 would require each individual authority to determine how it might fulfil this function. That could lead to 150 different approaches across the country and precisely the kind of inconsistency we are seeking to do away with. Taking a regulation-making power would enable the Government to develop a more strategic approach, guided from the centre. For example, the regulations could set out the involvement of and interaction with those same partnerships which we in this House believe have an important role to play; namely, the early years development and childcare partnerships which draw up and agree early years development and childcare plans in each local authority area and which play a key role in the local delivery of the overall national childcare strategy.
Such an approach would allow for the proper allocation of the function between local authorities and early years development and childcare partnerships and ensure no unnecessary overlap and duplication locally. On that basis, I ask the noble Lord to consider withdrawing the amendment.
§ 7 p.m.
§ Lord Clement-Jones
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that considered reply, and in particular his words about early years and childcare partnerships. I liked the language on consultation as far as it went: that it would not be appropriate to burden the early years development and childcare partnership with consultation in certain circumstances. I am sure that by and large they would be more than happy to be burdened. However, that is ministerial language.
I understand the Minister's position as regards discretion for consultation being used on a case by case basis. However, I suggest that it would be preferable for the Minister, as agent for the Secretary of State, to set out the general circumstances in which he believes it would be right to consult. A more positive and specific provision at a later stage of the Bill would be helpful. The assurance that the Secretary of State will consult where appropriate is not good enough. Perhaps the Minister would consider a more concrete form of words. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 129E:
Page 34, line 2I, leave out ("members of the public") and insert ("any person").
§ The noble Lord said: This amendment stands in the name of my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. It is a short amendment. It extends access to the regulatory authorities' register of childminders and day care providers to any person. This improves current drafting to put beyond doubt that individuals in organisations acting in an official capacity (for example, partners and staff in the partnerships referred to in the previous debate) as well as members of the public (for example, parents wishing to secure childminding or day care services), will have access to the register. I beg to move.
§ Lord Jenkin of Boding
My Lords, I understand what the Government are getting at. However, I should have thought that the expression "inspection by the public" has entered into the minds of the body politic over the decades and that one does not need to give an extended meaning to the word "person", as the Minister sought to do by referring to partnerships, bodies, and so on. If one simply says that the register is open to inspection by the public, everyone knows what that means.
It would be easier—I am sorry that I did not think of it myself—simply to take out the words "members o' and then the matter would be clear. Everyone would understand what the provision meant.
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.1040
Lord Rix moved Amendment No. 130:
Page 37, line 36, after ("training") insert (", including disability equality training,").
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, before moving the amendment, perhaps I may crave your Lordships' indulgence and assume once again for one moment the role of a rogue and vagabond in apologising to the House for my unavoidable absence for the second half of the performance last Thursday, after the dinner interval. I thank my noble friend Lord Laming for assuming my part at such short notice and proving to be such a splendid understudy. I must commend the stage management skills of the noble Lord, Lord Lucas—unfortunately he is not in his place—in prompting those taking part that Amendments Nos. 91 and 92 had made a somewhat late entrance. Last, but not least, I am delighted by the warm-hearted response of the audience in the shape of the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. At the end of a curtain speech, I suppose I should say, "Goodnight and God bless us", and leave the Chamber. However, I assume that I must now move Amendment No. 130.
§ Families with a child with severe learning disabilities or complex health needs often find it extremely difficult to obtain reliable professional and affordable childcare.
§ Childminders, of whom we have been talking a great deal this evening, are often reluctant to offer care to disabled children unless they have already had experience of so doing. This has wider ramifications for the social inclusion of disabled children, and indeed may impact on the ability of parents to go out to work. Offering disability equality training to childminders, as indeed to all social care workers, will go a long way to prevent the social barriers which derive from ignorance.
§ The activities covered seem to be within the ambit of the Disability Discrimination Act, which of course itself argues for disability equality training. Therefore, can the Minister assure us that such training will take place? I beg to move.
§ Lord Bach
The noble Lord, Lord Rix, with his renowned expertise in this field, is right to be concerned that provision for the special needs of disabled children and children with learning disabilities is not overlooked.
It is, of course, only proper that those responsible for the welfare and development of disabled children receive adequate training and operate within the appropriate guidelines and to the relevant standards.
It is already the case that all early years providers receiving funding for early education must have regard to the code of practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Need. The noble Lord will welcome the fact that that Code of Practice is currently being revised to include more detailed guidance.
As the noble Lord will be aware, we intend to implement a new framework of national standards for day care providers and childminders. Work on the 1041 detail of these new standards is ongoing, and, naturally, there will be full consultation with the sector before the standards are developed fully. However, I can assure the noble Lord that disability and special needs will be covered in the new standards, which will be underpinned by regulation and guidance.
If, as we intend. providers and their staff are to meet these new requirements, they must, where necessary, have access to the proper training. As drafted, the relevant provision in this part of the Bill enables Ofsted to secure such training. Furthermore, in October we implemented further rights under the Disability Discrimination Act, which cover services to the public, including day care and childminding services. In December, following recommendations from the Disability Rights Task Force, the Secretary of State announced that the Government will bring forward legislation to tackle disability discrimination in education, including that for under-fives.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for allowing me, through his amendment, the opportunity to explain how it is envisaged that the new regulatory system and standards will operate in respect of disabled children and children with learning difficulties. I hope that, in the light of the explanation that I have attempted to offer concerning the Government's action more widely in this area, he will at least have been reassured on the point that we are discussing now.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 7.15 p.m.
Earl Howe moved Amendment No. 131:
Page 38, line 27, at end insert—
("( ) The Chief Inspector shall secure that registered inspectors receive appropriate training.").
§ The noble Earl said: In moving this amendment, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 132, 133 and 134.
§ If I have an overriding concern over Part V, it must be my concern about the inspection of childminding and day care. The first and main point that I should like to emphasise is that any national system should be operated by staff who are trained to understand the full range of issues in education and childcare. They must understand the techniques of inspection and be familiar with a diversity of settings. The training of such staff is a task that is integral to these aims. If early learning is to be long lasting, a child's intellectual development must be nurtured on an equal basis with his or her emotional development. The training of registered inspectors must reflect both of those aspects.
§ Registration and inspection staff are worried about their jobs. The DfEE has let it be understood that they are expected to transfer to the new branch of Ofsted, but how, and on what basis? I am aware, of course, of the TUPE arrangements, but local authorities need all the information possible to help them in planning for 1042 this transition and for the necessary changes, including the training of staff with qualifications that will be recognised by Ofsted.
§ I hope that the Minister can provide reassurance on these issues, which are not clear from my reading of new Section 79N, within Clause 68. New Section 79P(3), again in Clause 68, allows for the subcontracting of inspections. Have the Government considered giving the voluntary sector a role in such inspections? Does the Minister envisage the possibility of such organisations—provided, of course, that they are competent—registering as inspection bodies? Generally, on the issue of subcontracting, can the noble Lord confirm the paramount importance of ensuring the maintenance of high standards, whoever conducts the inspection?
§ Speaking on an earlier set of amendments regarding the inspection of fostering and adoption agencies, I argued that the names of children and of adoptive and foster parents should be kept confidential in any inspection report and that they should not be publicly disclosed. I believe strongly that the same safeguards are needed for childminding as for the inspection of fostering and adoption arrangements.
§ On a related point, the privacy of childminders should not be invaded more than is strictly necessary. Entry into a child's home is entry into a private domestic household, and ideally the minder as well as the inspector should be safeguarded by being accompanied by an officer of the arranging agency. We should remember that this is an activity that must be conducted with great sensitivity.
§ With that thought in mind, let me express some concern over the drafting of new Section 79R(3). I was going to say that I hoped that the Minister would be minded to take away this part of the Bill and have a thorough look at it. Happily, the Government have already done that. But, without having had the benefit of hearing the Minister's remarks, I worry about the word "inspect", which it is proposed will replace "examine". I hope that the Minister will explain exactly what the significance of that word is.
§ Looking further down the subsection—and here I re-emphasise a point I made a moment ago—I question whether inspectors should interview a childminder without anyone else being present in the room.
§ The Government's proposal to inspect childminders will cost a considerable sum of money. The number of childminders is falling, I understand, and the proposal to create a national inspectorate may result in a further fall. I do not know how many recent scandals arid disasters there have been in this field, but in looking at the issues as they will impact on local authorities, perhaps I may make a plea to the Government that the money transferred from local authorities to Ofsted t o accompany the transfer of functions will be no more than can be fully justified. Local authorities will still retain important functions in providing information, training and advice on childminding and day care. 1043 With the revenue support grant already under pressure to meet the teachers' pay award, funding must be adequate. I beg to move.
§ Baroness Barker
I rise to speak to Amendment No. 134ZA. We recently discussed the inspection of care homes. Here we are again trying to make that most difficult of judgments as to what constitutes inspections that will be effective without being too onerous.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, in relation to his amendments, talked about the use of the word "examine" as opposed to "inspect". I want to argue the contrary case on this amendment. Those of us who work in the field of social services, like those who work in other fields, have a language that is all our own. People gradually become fluent in speaking "social services", and words have particular meanings to us.
The word "examine" in this context carries with it a connotation of physical or medical examination. Therefore, we believe that its use is inappropriate in charging inspectors to go into any premises and carry out what could be a detailed physical examination of a young person. Our amendment has the same intention as that tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, but from a different starting point. We believe that the word "examine" is inappropriate and we want to replace it with the word "inspect".
§ Lord Bach
In responding to Amendment No. 131, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 132,133 and 134ZA and to the Government's Amendment No. 134A. Taken together, they address a number of important issues relating to inspection.
Amendment No. 131 ensures that the chief inspector provides proper training for his inspectors before they are expected to carry out their duties as regulators. That is a sensible requirement. It would not be appropriate for untrained, inexperienced inspectors to carry out this important and often sensitive role.
However, provision for the training of inspectors is already included in Part V of the Bill. New Section 79N(3) on page 28 applies paragraph 11 of Schedule 26 to the School Standards and Framework Act to the register of childcare inspectors in the same way as it currently applies to the register of nursery education inspectors. Paragraph 11 requires registered nursery inspectors to have completed a course of training to the satisfaction of the chief inspector before being permitted to conduct an inspection. As this condition will also be required of the new cadre of inspectors, I am pleased to be able to reassure the noble Earl that the objective of his amendment has been achieved.
I turn to Amendment No. 132. I recognise that there may he concerns in some quarters about who might be contracted to carry out Ofsted's inspections. It might be helpful if I make clear that the actual effect of Amendment No. 132 is to prevent the contracting out of the organisation of inspections, not the inspection itself. This is a useful power as it may prove 1044 administratively more efficient, particularly in the longer term, for Ofsted to contract out the administrative function to allow it to concentrate on its key regulatory function. Indeed, Ofsted already successfully exercises a similar power in relation to the administration of the nursery education grant inspections and has found such flexibility helpful and would welcome its replication here.
However, it is important to stress—and I do so—that the Government are concerned to ensure that inspections of both nursery education and childcare are carried out by appropriately qualified persons and the training to which I referred earlier is integral to that. That is why we are introducing new requirements on Ofsted, first, to register early years childcare inspectors and, secondly, to ensure that registered inspectors carry out inspections.
In case there are further concerns about the contracting-out powers, we expect that in the majority of cases the inspectors currently employed by local authorities will carry out those duties and—in response to the noble Earl—to a high standard indeed. However, over time that might change as others such as nursery education inspectors take an interest in the work, which we should welcome. It will remain the case that whoever is charged with carrying out the inspection, he or she will be a registered inspector of a suitably high calibre to fulfil the role. We believe that someone from the voluntary sector could inspect, but only if suitably qualified. I am grateful to the noble Earl for his comments which we shall take away and consider further. Furthermore, there will be transitional arrangements for the transfer of staff, a matter to which we shall no doubt return.
Having completed the inspection process, the regulating authority undertakes to make a full report. It is with regard to the detail of those reporting arrangements that the noble Earl, Lord Howe, tabled Amendment No. 133. We have some sympathy with the general thrust of that amendment and I welcome the opportunity to clarify our intentions.
It is important to ensure that certain sensitive information, including in some cases names and addresses, is not placed in the public domain. That will be particularly so when the publication of such information might in some cases place a child's well-being in doubt.
However, our approach is slightly different from that of the noble Earl. The provision in subsection (2) of new Section 79Q already enables Ofsted to publish reports on providers but to withhold information from the report where appropriate to do so. That might apply, for example, when publishing an inspection report on a childminder and, for child protection reasons, it is considered appropriate not to reveal the provider's identity by publishing his or her name and address. In addition, your Lordships should also be aware that it is routine protocol for Ofsted when completing a report to check matters of factual accuracy with the provider before publication.
1045 We do not believe that that will be necessary, as this amendment seeks to achieve, in order to prevent the publication of names and addresses in every instance. An important part of these reforms is that parents are given access to more, not less, information about the availability and quality of the provision of childcare in their locality. In this context, the Ofsted reports will be rendered meaningless if parents, having identified potentially suitable provision in their area via the register established in new Section 79F(5), cannot assess the quality of its provisions. That is why we consider it proper that there should be discretion in this area, recognising, of course, that a sensible balance must be achieved between protecting children and the provision of information to parents.
Inspection powers and the records which follow from them are the subject matter of Amendment No. 134 tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Howe. It provides an opportunity to explain clearly that this element of the Bill basically carries forward an existing and very important inspection power set out in the Children Act 1989. In brief, this section of the Bill, unamended, sets out what an inspector may do or have regard to upon entering a provider's premises to undertake a routine inspection to report on the welfare and development of children. In addition, it clarifies what the inspector may do, or have regard to on other occasions; for example, on pre- and post-registration checks or unannounced inspections.
As drafted, Amendment No. 134 would undermine this fundamental aspect of the inspection process, removing existing clarity as to the right to interview the care provider and/Dr give regard to the premises, the relevant records or documentation or the children being cared for.
Given the clear implications for child protection and safety, the Government are concerned for the need to be more specific in this regard than the general power of entry which would result from the amendment. As drafted, the amendment would lay the power wide open to interpretation in relation to routine inspections. Furthermore, the amendment would reduce existing and helpful legal clarity regarding rights of entry to premises for purposes other than the prescribed formal inspection.
The noble Baroness, Lady Barker, raises a more specific concern in Amendment No. 134ZA, which relates specifically to the children being cared for. Clearly, inspection of children is a particularly important aspect of the current inspection process to ensure both child welfare and child protection, which again should be carried forward into future arrangements. However, where concerns stem from the application of those various powers, I hope that the Committee will be reassured that the Government are of course determined that all powers are appropriately exercised.
But surely that is a matter not for primary legislation but for regulations and standards? I have said before that the Committee knows that the Bill will for the first time introduce national guidance and standards, which we intend to develop in consultation 1046 with the relevant bodies. Those national arrangements will govern the whole inspection exercise and will ensure that the powers are effectively discharged and not abused.
Having said that, the Government have some concerns similar to those expressed by the noble Baroness. They are related to the detailed wording of the draft Bill which introduces into the regulation process the word "examine", which we believe—here I am attempting to answer the noble Earl, Lord Howe— is an unhelpful and unintended "clinical/medical" term. Following helpful representations from both providers and regulators in this area and from the NSPCC, we have tabled an important amendment in the name of my noble friend: Amendment No. 134A, which seeks to remove the word "examine" and put back the original word, "inspect", as used in Part X of the Children Act 1989. We hope that by addressing that point with a government amendment, we may reassure the Committee on other related concerns discussed today.
I hope that I have said enough to encourage the noble Earl, Lord Howe, to withdraw his amendment.
§ 7.30 p.m.
§ Earl Howe
I thank the Minister for the full reply that he gave to all my amendments. I am particularly grateful to him on Amendment No. 131 for pointing me in the direction of paragraph 11 of Schedule 26 to the School Standards and Framework Act, which I believe settles the matter, together with his explanatory remarks. The intention of Amendment No. 132 was purely to probe the Government. I realise that its effect would be to prevent contracting out, which was not in the least my intention. I have every sympathy with the aim of contracting out. I am grateful for the consideration that the Minister said he would give to the points I made about the possible role of the voluntary sector.
In respect of my Amendment No. 132 which deals with the confidentiality of names, I shall read carefully what the Minister has said and consider the matter further between now and Report stage. Finally, I thank him for his remarks in response to my Amendment No. 134, which was again intended purely as a probing amendment. He successfully answered the questions that I raised. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ [Amendments No. 132 to 134ZA not moved.]
Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 134A:
Page 39, line 33, leave out ("examine") and insert ("inspect").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 134B:
Page 40, line 11, after ("shall') insert (", in accordance with regulations,").
§ On Question, amendment agreed to.
§ [Amendment No. 135 not moved.]1047
§ On Question, Whether Clause 68 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Lord Jenkin of Roding
I shall not detain the Committee long against this clause, but I should like to draw the Government's attention to the fact that a number of substantial anxieties have been expressed about the way in which the new power has been drawn up, the body to which the registration and inspection has been entrusted and some of the detail about the powers to be given. In the course of his replies, the Minister has given us what I can only describe as some very bland assurances. One is dealing with the matter, as it were, at third hand. The Minister is here to say what he believes the Government will do. We have what is in the Bill as to what that means; then there is the question of the regulations which will follow; and, perhaps most important of all, the actual operation of the registration and inspection as it will be carried out by the people on the ground.
I have a fear that we shall find ourselves with some rather heavy-handed detailed inspections and regulation in an area which, on the whole—although of course there are variations across the country—in the case of well-run local authorities, has actually run fairly satisfactorily. As a result, large numbers of people are prepared to offer child-minding and day care services and, as the Minister himself properly said, that is of great value in present day society when so many more women go out to work.
I simply ask the Minister to take account of the anxieties that have been expressed; and to look seriously at some of the points raised—he has indicated for some of them that he is not disposed to change his mind, although he will listen—because I believe that we risk setting up something of a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Yes, there should be national standards—we agree on that. But I seriously wonder whether we are justified in setting up a whole new national bureaucracy to run them. I have a horrid feeling that, as it unfolds over the years ahead, one will find a rising tide of protest and a falling number of childminders and day care providers. That would be in no one's interest.
§ Lord Bach
I am grateful to the noble Lord for his remarks. I am sorry if my remarks seemed to him to be bland; I am sure that, when he was a senior Secretary of State, his remarks at any stage of any Bill for which he was responsible were not bland. I take seriously the comments and discussion that we have had in the Committee today at the proper stage of the Bill. We do not believe that the consequences of passing the Bill into legislation will be as the noble Lord predicts. However, we have further thinking to do; we shall no doubt return to the House on Report on those matters; and the noble Lord may rest assured that the remarks and comments made from all Benches—some supportive, some not so supportive—on this important part of this important Bill will be taken into careful consideration.
§ Clause 68, as amended, agreed to.
§ Lord Burlison
I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving the Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.40 p.m.
§ Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
§ House resumed.