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Public Bill Committees

Debated on Thursday 10 December 2015

Childcare Bill [ Lords ] (Third sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: †Nadine Dorries, Mr David Hanson

† Berry, James (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con)

† Cadbury, Ruth (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)

† Cunningham, Alex (Stockton North) (Lab)

† Donelan, Michelle (Chippenham) (Con)

† Drummond, Mrs Flick (Portsmouth South) (Con)

† Frazer, Lucy (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con)

† Glass, Pat (North West Durham) (Lab)

† Green, Chris (Bolton West) (Con)

† Gyimah, Mr Sam (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education)

† James, Margot (Stourbridge) (Con)

† Matheson, Christian (City of Chester) (Lab)

† Phillips, Jess (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)

† Smith, Chloe (Norwich North) (Con)

† Smith, Jeff (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)

† Tomlinson, Michael (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con)

Walker, Mr Robin (Worcester) (Con)

Fergus Reid, Joanna Welham, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 10 December 2015


[Nadine Dorries in the Chair]

Childcare Bill [Lords]

On a point of order, Ms Dorries, may I seek your advice on the tabling of Government amendments, please, in the light of an occurrence overnight in the Housing and Planning Bill Committee? The Government tabled amendments for the last day of consideration that will fundamentally change the structure of the Bill and bring great insecurity to social housing tenants with the ending of long-term secure tenancies. Is it in order for me to seek an assurance from the Government that no such stunts will be pulled in this Committee? If the Government intend to table amendments that will fundamentally change the nature of the Bill, perhaps we will be given time to consider them properly, rather than doing so on the last day of consideration.

That is not an issue for the Chair; the issue for the Chair is that amendments will be accepted for this, or presumably any other Bill Committee only if they are tabled three full working days before the next sitting. If the Minister wishes to table an amendment for Tuesday, as long as it is tabled by the rise of the House today, which will be three full working days before the Committee’s next sitting, he is quite within his rights to do so, as the hon. Gentleman or the Opposition spokesman would be. I hope that answers the hon. Gentleman’s question.

Clause 3

Non-compliance in the labour market etc: interpretation

I beg to move amendment 14, in clause 3, page 3, line 14, at end insert—

“(bb) make provision to enable priority to be given to qualifying children who are also assessed as being disadvantaged in the allocation of childcare places in childcare settings that have been classed as outstanding (or equivalent) following inspection;”

To require priority to be given to children who have been assessed as disadvantaged in the allocation of childcare places in childcare settings that have been classed as outstanding (or equivalent) following inspection.

Many of us have sat on Bill Committees before, but I have never led on one before. As with so much in life, I actually understand what is going on now—at the end.

When I first came into Parliament in 2010, given my background of working in education for 25 years, the former Member for South Shields, David Miliband, used to send me his speeches on education occasionally, asking me to have a look at them. After the first couple of times of me going back to him and saying, “You know, this is really important, but it is not the most important issue in education”, he stopped sending them to me.

The most serious problem in education today is not the limited number of children from disadvantaged homes who are making it into Oxford and Cambridge, or even into Durham University, wonderful institution though it is; it is not the perception of grade creep at GCSE, whether real or not; and it is not how many of our children are achieving at grade A or A* at GCSE, or at the C-D or B-C borderline, undoubtedly serious as those issues are.

The most serious problem in education today is not even the number of children who get five A to Cs at GCSE; it is the number of children who do not. Decreasing, but still significantly large, numbers of children of average, close-to-average and above-average ability in this country are failing to achieve five good GCSEs, and an even larger number are failing to achieve five good GCSEs including English and maths. The most serious and worrying issue in education today is the percentage of those children who are on free school meals, and the percentage of those children who are assessed as having special educational needs, even the most minor SEN. I am not talking about children who have profound or even serious or moderate SEN; I am talking about those who fall in the wide band between close to average and above average. They can and should achieve five good GCSEs.

The attainment gap has narrowed slowly. It was narrowing slowly in the period 2007 to 2010 and continues to narrow marginally, but the rate at which it is closing has slowed down significantly. If that is not addressed, it will start to go the other way quite soon. That gap leaves us without the trained and experienced workforce that we need in industries such as engineering, construction, childcare, catering and many others. It is creating a widening gap in productivity between the UK and the rest of Europe and the far east. If the gap is not addressed, history tells us that it will lead to serious and costly social problems throughout society.

I already talked on Tuesday about the Ofsted report that was published last week, in which Sir Michael Wilshaw expresses concern about the number of disadvantaged two-year-olds who are still failing to access early education. He is concerned that even if disadvantaged two-year-olds are accessing early education, a large percentage are not getting access to the best and most outstanding provision.

I have heard it said that the higher the income a person has and the more articulate they are, the sharper their elbows are when it comes to fighting for their children. Parents at the other end of the scale, however, do not have the sharp elbows and they certainly do not have the income. That might be all the more reason why we have to give them and their children a helping hand at the earliest point in their lives.

I do not think the sharp elbows are necessarily linked to income. I have met some very sharp-elbowed parents at the bottom of the income scale, and I certainly do not blame any parent for trying to get their child into the best provision that they can. However, too many of the children who need access to the best provision and the best teachers are simply not getting such access. Even in secondary schools where there is a particular issue—I know we are talking about early years—one of the arguments I used to have with headteachers, particularly in schools that required improvement, was about the tendency to put their best teachers at key stage 4 and not at key stage 3, which is where they need to be.

The hon. Lady makes the excellent point that early years provision is absolutely vital to give children the best start in life and to narrow the gap. Does she agree that introducing 15 hours of free early education for disadvantaged two-year-olds is a big step in that direction?

I absolutely agree, but it is equally important that the children who need access to the best teachers are not pushed out of the system, or not pushed into provision that is not good or requires improvement. I do not know whether the Minister has had a chance to look at the Ofsted report, but the chief inspector of schools clearly says that far too many of our disadvantaged children are not getting access to the best provision and too many end up in childcare settings and schools that require improvement.

If we want to narrow the gap—clearly, we all do—it is not enough for the Government to simply will this. They have to will the means as well as the ends. Admissions is a key factor in making that happen. As somebody who has managed admissions over the years, I know they are tricky, but they came under one of the areas that I managed and quite liked. I understood why parents got really angry if they could not get their child into the school that they wanted. I had a huge amount of sympathy for them. When I managed admissions, I always tried to get a balance between having not too many surplus places but enough to give parents the access that they needed to the schools that they wanted. So I understand how tricky admissions can be.

Parental choice is a myth that continues to be talked about a lot. It is really parental preference, but in far too many cases it is not parental preference that presides, but school choice. Schools make choices about children.

The hon. Lady makes an excellent point: the sentiment is an honourable one. However, has she thought through the practicalities of the issue that she raises? I represent a rural constituency where there may be only one provider. We are operating in a sector in which many nursery providers are private providers. The Bill is permissive; it is not mandatory. People do not have to provide for 30 hours if they do not want to do so. Is not the answer to her point that we need to level up standards and ensure that all nurseries and all schools are good or outstanding? The Government have made significant progress, ensuring that 1 million more students are now getting outstanding or good education. Is not that the answer?

I would not disagree with the hon. Lady. She needs to make a speech, because she makes some good points. I am not for one moment underestimating the difficulties of doing this, and I will address the issue of admissions in early years. Such admissions are not statutory, which makes it even trickier. However, just because it is tricky, it does not mean to say that we should not at least try to address it.

The hon. Lady has referred to Ofsted’s latest annual report a number of times, and I draw the Committee’s attention to what it says:

“Children in England now start their lives with a high chance of spending all of their early educational experiences up to the age of 11 in a good or outstanding early years provider and primary school.”

The report also says:

“Early education has never been stronger”.

I am sure the report does say that, and I am sure I could go through the report, which is very thick, and pick out all kinds of things that support my argument. If the Minister goes straight to the main recommendations at the front, he will see that the chief inspector’s No. 1 recommendation—I have not had to scour the report to support my argument—is about disadvantaged two-year-olds getting access to the best provision. That is so much of an issue that the inspector has put it right there on the front page.

The hon. Lady is aware that the Bill provides for 30 hours of childcare for three and four-year-olds, and is not about the two-year-old offer.

I accept that. The issue of admissions is tricky, but that is not a reason to ignore it. I entirely accept that it becomes more complicated in the early years, pre-school and childcare sectors because there is no statutory requirement. Where there is a shortage of provision, such as in areas with just one provider, effective provisions choose children, and provision operates on a first come, first served basis everywhere else.

The most able, advantaged and well organised usually get their children’s names down first for outstanding provision, and it is equally true that the disadvantaged and less well organised tend to lose out. That is borne out by the Ofsted report. Children who would be assessed as disadvantaged do get access to provision that is good and outstanding—we are not saying that they do not—but far too many children from such disadvantaged homes end up in provision that is judged to be requiring improvement or failing, and the cycle of disadvantage and failure begins all over again. We accept the difficulties, but we have to intervene somewhere. We have to look at the best triggers for intervention to stop that cycle.

I am listening to the hon. Lady’s speech with close interest, and I notice that she has not defined “disadvantage,” which is at the core of her amendment.

I am using exactly the same definition of “disadvantage” as the Department does when it looks at disadvantaged two-year-olds. The amendment would require childcare providers to give priority for admission to children who have been assessed as disadvantaged in the allocation of childcare provision. We know who those children are. Health visitors and social workers are already identifying and assessing disadvantaged two-year-olds, so it is simply about taking that forward. Extending it to childcare provision for four and five-year-olds would require little effort. If the Government are serious about narrowing the gap, if they want to get the acceleration in narrowing that gap going again—the acceleration is slowing—if they are serious about making the step change that is needed to raise the achievement of all children and if they want more and more children to be educated in outstanding childcare provision, hopefully the Minister will support this amendment.

Order. Ms Glass, do not beat yourself up too much about what happened on Tuesday. Although you strayed from the parameters of the debate, it is accepted practice to give whoever opens a debate, no matter which side of the Committee they are on, more leniency in setting the tone of the debate.

I am pleased to support amendment 14, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham has outlined, would require children assessed as being disadvantaged to be given priority in the allocation of childcare places in settings that have been classed as outstanding. Members will recall from the Committee’s sitting on Tuesday that there is substantial evidence to show that high-quality early education and childcare have a positive impact on children’s development. Importantly in the context of amendment 14, that is particularly true for children from low-income families, who are more likely to fall behind. There is overwhelming evidence that children assessed as being disadvantaged are less likely to be able to access outstanding childcare provision, as my hon. Friend has said. Instead, they are much more likely to be able to access childcare that requires improvement.

We face the sorry reality of knowing that children from disadvantaged backgrounds are much more likely to fall behind. My hon. Friends and I have spelled out the facts in earlier Committee sittings. One in four children in England arrive at primary school without good early language development, and that figure rises to one in three for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, who, as I mentioned in support of new clause 1, start school on average 15 months behind their peers in language and vocabulary skills.

Many organisations with expertise in the sector have agreed that action is needed to close the attainment gap between the most disadvantaged children and their better-off peers. Closing the gap has been an aspiration of successive Governments over the last 20 years or so, but despite record levels of spending on education between 1997 and 2010, some of which the current Government have built on—a little, at least—that gap is still much in evidence. The Government will have the support of all Opposition Members if they can narrow it over the Parliament. The Minister knows, as does everyone else, that closing the gap has to start with our youngest. If he gets that right in the Bill, he will go down as a success, but if he does not, he will simply end up with a report card that says, “Could do better.”

On the subject of successes, or perhaps I should say progress, is the hon. Gentleman aware that 85% of two-year-olds are taking their funded place in a good or outstanding setting already?

Yes, and that is good news, but there are still 15% who are not. The organisations that we speak to and that brief us tell us that the most disadvantaged are still the most likely to lose out on the best provision. In the testimony given to the House of Lords Affordable Childcare Committee, published in February this year, there was strong consensus on the evidence for the persistence of the gap and its effects. Barnardo’s, for instance, noted the

“consistent and large gap in educational attainment in the UK, based on income”.

The Early Childhood Research Centre noted a

“19 month vocabulary gap at age 5 between children from the poorest and most affluent families”.

The Child Poverty Action Group spoke of intergenerational poverty being far greater in the UK than elsewhere, with children

“far more likely to follow in their parents’ footsteps in terms of income and educational level.”

For context, 53% of children in the 30% most deprived areas of England in 2014 achieved a good level of development in the early years foundation stage profile, compared with 65% of children in other areas. As the Minister knows, that gap of 12 percentage points has remained unchanged since 2011. That hiatus should be all the evidence we need to convince us that positive steps are required actively to address the sorry situation and revitalise efforts to close the attainment gap.

I am clear that the only route to resolving this unacceptable situation, and righting the inequality of opportunity that many children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds face growing up, is to take action to level the playing field from the outset. We all accept that early education has a crucial role to play in helping disadvantaged children to catch up with their most advantaged peers. The Minister has accepted that as the case for investment, and he has made that clear. I do not need to remind him that in the light of the evidence of the difference to school readiness that early education makes, he suggested that

“being able to invest in it early, especially for the disadvantaged”

was key to narrowing the attainment gap. Indeed, the House of Lords Committee recommended that the Government consider targeting more resources at the most disadvantaged children because that is where the strongest evidence of the impact of high-quality education lies. It is not, however, clear that the Bill addresses that recommendation. I am therefore pleased to support the amendment to correct that oversight. It would give priority for high-quality childcare provision to those children identified as being from disadvantaged backgrounds and who are more likely to fall behind. Such a step would not only be a move towards closing the attainment gap, but would contribute to raising overall attainment levels. It is the right thing to do and I hope the Minister will join me in supporting the amendment.

Once again, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. At the start of the line-by-line scrutiny of the Bill, I said that there were three aims behind our childcare policy: to enable parents to work more hours; to help parents with the cost of living; and to give children the best start in life with high-quality early education.

Does the Minister recognise that a mother’s education is the single biggest factor in how well her children go on to achieve? As we are focusing on children’s attainment, does he agree that helping women in education to access this childcare provision would be a step towards one of his three aims?

Obviously helping women in education is a broad aim of the Government, but those are the three objectives of this particular Bill. The amendment addresses the third objective of giving children the best start in life, and I am grateful to hon. Members for tabling it, as it draws attention to the importance of closing the gap in achievement between disadvantaged children and their peers. I am pleased to say that more children, including those in receipt of free school meals, are now achieving a good level of development at the end of the early years foundation stage. In 2015, 66.3% of children achieved a good level of development. That figure was up from 51.7% in 2013. In 2015, 51% of children on free school meals achieved a good level of development compared with 45% in 2014. That is the equivalent of an extra 5,800 children. The gap in achievement between disadvantaged children and other children has narrowed from 18.9 percentage points in 2014 to 17.7 percentage points in 2015, which is welcome news. However, the gap is still too large and the Government are absolutely committed to narrowing it.

As the Minister says, that development is very much to be welcomed. I appreciate that the current Government and the previous coalition Government built a little bit on what Labour achieved in government when we funded education properly for the first time in a generation. However, there is still the same attainment gap that there has been since 2011. There has been a slowdown. What will the Minister do about that? Backing the amendment would help.

I will come to the practicalities and issues of the amendment, which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire pointed to so deftly in her comments. The hon. Gentleman asked what we are doing to help to narrow the attainment gap. That is the reason we extended the pupil premium into the early years with the introduction of the early years pupil premium this year, providing £50 million of additional funding to support the early education of disadvantaged three and four-year-olds. The extra funding, worth 53p an hour—about £300 a year—goes directly to providers to help them to increase the quality of their setting. I am pleased that the feedback from local authorities is that providers are using the additional funding to achieve exactly that.

I thank the Minister; that was exactly what I was going to ask about. There is a lot of evidence currently emerging that shows that, when the pupil premium is being used and targeted at specific children and specific programmes, it is making a difference. When it is simply backfilling funding, as it appears the Minister is doing with this, it is not making any difference at all. Why is he so convinced that it will make a difference in the early years?

The pupil premium is not backfilling funding. To re-hash the funding debate, the £300 million uplift that was provided by the Chancellor in his spending review excludes the pupil premium. The pupil premium is not being used to backfill core funding. It is a new initiative—I think it started earlier this year. I will be the first to admit that there is some way to go to ensure providers are using it for the right interventions. Regarding the amendment specifically, however, what the pupil premium does is to put a higher price on the heads of disadvantaged children. If someone is a provider and they take on disadvantaged children, they get more money as a result, so there is already an incentive built into the system for good and outstanding providers to take on more disadvantaged children. There are more funds attached to those children.

I do not want to burst the Minister’s bubble at all, but the additional pupil premium is not convincing schools to take on more children in receipt of free school meals, so what makes him think it will convince providers of early years? If it is not working with schools, do we not need something else to ensure good providers take on disadvantaged children?

On good providers taking on disadvantaged children, specifically in the early years, we must acknowledge that the early years setting is very different. Schools are in the maintained sector, but here we have private providers. There are parents who have different ideas of where they want their children to take their early education. Some parents prefer childminders because they want their children to have their early education in a domestic setting; some would prefer a private nursery; and some would prefer a nursery in a school. In practice, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South East Cambridgeshire mentioned, making this proposal work would be tremendously difficult, because we would have to compel a private provider to take a specific type of child rather than operating on a “first come, first served” basis, which is how the system currently works.

The important news is that there are many good examples of how the pupil premium is working.

I would like to develop that argument, but I will take the intervention from the hon. Gentleman first.

I thank the Minister for giving way. However, even if his figures from the former Deputy Prime Minister’s pupil premium initiative are correct, we have got to concentrate on what is happening long before the pupil premium kicks in for young children. We need to be kicking in at the offer for two, three and four-year-olds. That is where we need the quality and the funding.

The hon. Gentleman is talking about having an intervention long before the early years pupil premium, which is for three and four-year-olds, kicks in. This is the Government who introduced for the first time ever early education for disadvantaged two-year-olds, spending something like £750 million a year on that. I would argue that we are already making that intervention. However, the Bill is about providing 30 hours for three and four-year-olds. I will just mention a few examples of how the early years pupil premium is helping disadvantaged three and four-year-olds.

In one nursery, the funding has been used for staff training and equipment, to help children achieving below their age-related averages on entry in mathematics, and in communication and language skills. Another provider has been able to employ a dedicated early years special educational co-ordinator and language specialist, to help children to develop attention skills, turn-taking and speaking in sentences. Another provider has put the funding towards the recruitment of specialist staff to communicate with the families and children who have English as an additional language, as well as to support their other learning needs. These are the sorts of interventions that really make a difference in narrowing the gap, and we will look to roll them out across the sector.

I am sure that hon. Members will share my view that the additional help and support can make a real difference to the most vulnerable children in our society, particularly as they get ready to start school. That is why the Conservative-led Government introduced the two-year-old entitlement, which has been maintained in the spending review. In June, local authorities reported that around 167,000 two-year-olds were already benefiting from a funded early education place, and that figure continues to rise.

That is an achievement for an entitlement that was only introduced as recently as three years ago, I think. We have seen rapid increases in take-up in local authorities that had initially struggled, with some remarkable increases in London, for example. However, we must remember that the offer to parents, as far as the education for two-year-olds is concerned, is voluntary. Parents do not have to enrol their two-year-olds in a nursery setting, and one of the projects that I worked on when I was first appointed as the childcare Minister was to consider how we can encourage more parents to take up the offer for two-year-olds.

Many parents thought that the age of two was too soon to enrol their children in early education. We noticed that there were some parents who did not even open the official envelope inviting them to take the offer that they received, because when they saw a brown envelope that looked as if it came from Government, it was the last envelope they wanted to open. We had to think about new techniques. We worked out that colourful envelopes were opened. We also realised that the messages made a big difference—saying to parents that their child can play and enjoy themselves with other children made a big difference.

We are coming from a position where for many people, a child being in an educational setting at the age of two is a big step. We are making huge progress on that. We should work with the grain of how parents want to take this, rather than trying to foist things on them as the amendment would do.

For some parents, cultural barriers are a challenge. We noticed that some local authorities were far more responsive to the offer for two-year-olds than others. Some said their demographics meant that parents did not want to take the offer, but we highlighted the comparison with local authorities with similar demographics, and then those parents began to take the offer. There is a lot of work going on, but there is no magic bullet to get parents to enrol in the offer for two-year-olds. We must get that right rather than impose further conditions, as the amendment suggests.

Ofsted’s early years report called for schools in particular to take more disadvantaged two-year-olds, as they generally have well-qualified staff and additional services in place to support those children. We have legislated to make it easier for schools to take two-year-olds by simplifying the registration process. Again, there is a need for a cultural change. There are a lot of headteachers of schools who do not want to get involved in day care, as they see it. They see working with two-year-olds as completely different from the well established pre-school work with three and four-year-olds.

Schools that have begun to take two-year-olds are seeing the benefits of working with children earlier and are able to help sooner when children and families need specific support. Importantly, we have changed the admissions code to enable schools to prioritise the most disadvantaged children. We are already giving those children priority access to outstanding provision.

Furthermore, two-year-olds benefit from the highest-quality early education, because local authorities can only fund places for them in settings with a grading of less than good if there is insufficient accessible good or outstanding provision. If there is insufficient good or outstanding provision, local authorities can fund a place in a setting that is on its way to improving its Ofsted rating. As I said, 85% of settings are currently good or outstanding.

Of course, we want all children to experience high-quality provision. The quality of the early years sector is improving. Our data show that more and more providers are rated good or outstanding—79% in the most disadvantaged areas. Hon. Members will be reassured to hear that in inspections, Ofsted puts an explicit focus on checking that disadvantaged children are making the progress that is expected and that additional funding for them, such as the EYPP, is being used well to close the gaps. Providers that do not deliver that are demonstrating inadequate performance.

Hon. Members will also be aware of the evidence that the biggest influence on the quality of a setting is the quality of the workforce. The quality of the workforce is improving, as we debated in the context of the amendment on workforce strategy. I am proud of the Government’s record in providing quality early education to disadvantaged children, and I support the motive behind the amendment, but I have some difficulties with the amendment itself. Neither local authorities nor the Government allocate early years places to children. Most free childcare places are provided by the private, voluntary and independent sector and are not, therefore, controlled by Government. Providers are not required by existing legislation or the Bill to deliver the free entitlement. They can do whatever they want.

It is important that parents, not Government, choose the provider that best meets the needs of their children. For example, parents may not want to be prioritised to a place that is many miles from their home or workplace and is not delivered by the type of provider that a parent would prefer to use. Our absolute priority must therefore be to drive up the quality of early years provision across the board, ensuring that all disadvantaged children are able to access and benefit from high-quality provision in a non-stigmatising way. I am confident that the Government’s significant additional investment in the early years, the policies that we have in place and the focus in the accountability framework on outcomes for disadvantaged children will increase our progress in narrowing the attainment gap and ensuring that the early years entitlement benefits all children.

Although we are clearly on a journey with the early years pupil premium, the early years foundation stage profile results show that school-readiness is increasing for the children in question and that the gaps are starting to close. In view of that, and of my commitment to focus relentlessly on the issue, I hope that the hon. Member for North West Durham will feel sufficiently reassured to withdraw the amendment.

The Minister said right at the beginning that the Government had three aims in introducing the Bill: enabling parents to work, helping with the cost of living and giving children the best start in life. I think the amendment would fit in very nicely with that. This is the most serious issue in education today, and I remind the Minister that I said that it is not sufficient for the Government to will the ends; they have to will the means. The amendment would have been a useful way to do that. I accept the difficulties in achieving the aim, but this is about the sentiment rather than the amendment, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment 15, in clause 3, page 3, line 14, at end insert—

“(bc) make provision to enable parents to use their total entitlement to free childcare per year flexibly for the purposes of reflecting variations in need effectively (for example school holidays).”

To allow parents to use their entitlement to 30 hours of free childcare flexibly throughout the year.

On a point of clarification, I will speak to amendment 15, Ms Dorries, but may I then raise any issues that I have with Government amendment 4 before the Minister speaks? It is only a couple of technicalities.

Amendment 15 is a probing amendment. I hope that when the Minister gets to his feet, he will support my call for flexibility and deliver what I am asking for. I just have a feeling in my water that that will not be the case.

The need for childcare is different for different families. It is clear that most working families can find ways of boxing and coxing their childcare provision during the week. However, we have heard about the variable levels of occupancy, ranging from 75% to 95%. There is heavier childcare occupancy on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, and lighter occupancy on a Monday and Friday as families find other solutions on those days.

Family solutions are as different as the families themselves. Some parents work part time, some work in job shares and, in many families, one parent works a regular pattern of nine-to-five or thereabouts—often the higher earner—while the other works an early morning or a late shift to ensure that there is childcare at the beginning and end of every day. That was the pattern in my home when I was growing up. My dad was pretty rubbish at breakfast, but we got used to it. [Laughter.] He was really rubbish at breakfast, but it allowed both parents to work, and that is what many families do. Some family solutions are dependent on grandparents from both sides of the family taking a share of the childcare. Indeed, in many families today, grandparents are the childcare. Other families do not live close enough to grandparents for that to be a regular, reliable solution.

Whatever childcare solutions families find from birth to the age of three, and from Monday to Friday, many parents tell me—I am sure they tell the Minister the same thing—that the biggest problem is how to manage school holidays. There are holidays at Christmas and Easter and half-term holidays in February, May and October, but what parents really worry about are the six-week summer holidays. Two working parents with 25 days of holiday entitlement each, and understanding and flexible colleagues, could theoretically cover all but three weeks of the school holidays, but that would mean giving up all their holiday entitlement and in most cases never having one day when all the family is on leave together. Many other families find themselves in situations that are not even as fortunate as that, and not all employers are accommodating. Most parents work alongside colleagues who also want time off during the school holidays, so they cannot depend on taking their full entitlement in the school holiday period.

My hon. Friend describes the situation for a family with two parents in work. The situation is far, far worse for lone parents, not all of whom have local family support, particularly if they have had to move house to find somewhere affordable to live.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I will touch on the situation of single-parent families in a moment. Even in the most flexible and helpful of employment situations, parents tell me that if they each take two weeks’ leave, that still leaves them with two weeks in the summer to cover, and they have to prevail on wider family or friends or other solutions for those remaining two weeks. Parents tell me that they dread that time, and that should not be the case. The six-week summer holiday should be a time when parents and children can be together, and it should be a good time, not something that parents dread. I have even been told by some parents that after struggling to put childcare solutions together—prevailing upon their friends, family and acquaintances to the point where those people avoid them—they have still had to take unpaid leave, or in some extreme cases give up their job to cope with the summer holidays.

While for many couples it is a case of misery being better shared, single parents do not even have that, as my hon. Friend said. There is no one to share the childcare management with and no one to share the worry and the stress. The last Labour Government introduced a childcare vouchers scheme that was based on employment. Parents and employers could buy into the scheme, but I understand that the Government are phasing out the scheme and not allowing new applicants, and that is a shame. Those who used the scheme have told me that what they liked best about it was its flexibility.

The hon. Lady is absolutely right to say that the childcare vouchers scheme is being phased out, to be replaced with tax-free childcare. There were deficiencies in the childcare vouchers scheme. People had to have an employer that was willing to do the vouchers, which meant it was often only large employers. Self-employed people did not qualify, nor did people on the minimum wage. However, people who earned £1 million a year could still get the vouchers. Tax-free childcare strikes the right balance in focusing things on the parents who need it, while also having the same level of flexibility in the providers that parents can use and allowing different professions to use it. That means it applies to the self-employed and those on the national minimum wage.

Order. Could we please keep the interventions a bit shorter, or we will never get to the end?

The Minister is right. I am not pretending for one moment that the voucher scheme was perfect. It was far from perfect, but I am using it to illustrate what parents said they liked about it. Large employers that used the scheme, such as the John Lewis Partnership, said that they liked the flexibility.

The amendment would put flexibility into the system. We have already heard of many parents who use their childcare entitlement on certain days of the week and not on others. For many families, other childcare solutions can be found for Mondays and Fridays. The idea of being able to spread the childcare entitlement across 52 weeks, rather than 38 weeks, would take away an extreme worry for an awful lot of parents. They see the summer holidays coming, and they absolutely dread it, because they just do know what they are going to do.

Ultimately, all of us—including the Government, I presume—want to see a system in which childcare is not seen as an ever present worry and problem, so that parents can feel secure about going out to work knowing that there is sufficient good provision for their children irrespective of their needs. The amendment is intended simply to give parents some control over their childcare allocation. It would put some of it in the hands of parents so that it was not exclusively in the hands of providers, and it would enable parents to use it flexibly to meet their wider family needs.

We have already talked about changing patterns of work, such as part-time work, job shares, shift work, seasonal work, self-employment and zero-hours contracts. We are working very differently now, and the amendment would ensure that parents who have problems with childcare over the long summer holidays and the other school holidays could use their entitlement flexibly.

I am pleased to support amendment 15, which would ensure that parents were given the flexibility to use their 30-day entitlement to free childcare throughout the year. It would ensure that they were not restricted in when and how they take the additional 15 hours.

As my hon. Friend said, the concept of flexibility is central to the success of the 30-hour offer. All children aged three and four are currently eligible for 15 hours of free early education each week, or 570 hours each year. That offer can be taken over the 38-week academic year or be stretched over the calendar year to provide roughly 11 hours of free childcare a week. Although those 15 hours are of some help to parents, we are all too aware that they are often available only in inflexible morning or afternoon sessions, and that they frequently do not correspond to parents’ child caring needs.

We have already heard that the availability of affordable and flexible childcare is widely recognised to be a central issue for families across the country. According to figures published by 4Children earlier this year, nearly one in five parents are considering reducing their hours or giving up work altogether because of the cost of childcare.

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Bill doubles the entitlement to 30 hours, and that parents will be able to stretch it across the year and take it alongside tax-free childcare or the childcare element of universal credit—whichever applies to them? We are giving parents a lot more flexibility than he is acknowledging.

That is extremely helpful. That is the reassurance we seek, but we need it to be spelled out in the Bill. Perhaps the Minister will say that in his speech.

When the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced in the summer Budget that the Government would extend free childcare, he said that there would be a pilot in 2016 and that it would be rolled out from 2017. The Minister has just said—this was not clear at the time—that there is elasticity around the additional provision. I hope he will reiterate that in his speech and tell us how he is going to spell it out in regulations—preferably, he will do it in the Bill—to give parents the flexibly that they need.

The 30-hour offer must account for parents who work atypical hours, irregular patterns and inconsistent shifts. The Family and Childcare Trust highlighted that 29% of mothers routinely work at atypical times, such as during the evening or at weekends. Childminders are the principal means through which flexibility is offered in formal childcare provision. Other parents—my hon. Friend the Member for North West Durham referred to some of them—work full-time hours but are on zero-hours contracts, so they require even more flexibility in accessing childcare because they do not know when they will be working from one week to the next. I would welcome further clarification from the Minister on that issue.

There is also the challenge of ensuring that childminders have a role in providing flexible care. The Government’s proposals are not straightforward. Because of the increased competition from centre-based providers and the low levels of remuneration commonly available to childminders —often due to reduced fees from local authorities following central Government cuts—less than 1% of free early education for three and four-year-olds is currently delivered by childminders. If the Bill is to succeed in allowing parents to enter and stay in the kinds of jobs that are available to them, it is self-evident that childcare must be available to cover the hours they work. For that reason, it is important that free places are offered flexibly. The Minister has said that that is possible, but the sector must provide places when shorter or longer sessions are required. Parents must not be required to pay top-up fees because of when they need childcare.

It is also essential to get the balance right and ensure that quality is maintained as the free entitlement is extended. That means that the quality of the existing 15-hour entitlement should not be compromised by the reforms in the Bill. At the same time, questions remain on the pressing issue of how sessional and maintained providers will be both funded and supported to extend their offerings from part-time to full-time hours.

As the Committee has heard previously, 73% of three and four year-olds accessing free childcare at any one time are attending a school-based setting or sessional pre-school. Those schools and sessional pre-schools face barriers in extending provision to 30 hours each week.

Order. Mr Cunningham, could you please stay within the scope of the amendment?

I thought I was staying within the scope of the amendment, about the flexibility required for 30-hour provision.

For instance, if pre-schools are to extend childcare across the full day, they face having to dramatically reduce the number of places they can offer. Similarly, there are core logistical hurdles that need to be overcome. Many sessional pre-schools, for instance, use shared community premises for part of the day at vastly reduced rates of rent. Those institutions would need to move to new premises and access additional funding to extend their offerings and provide the flexibility that is needed, unless the funding is available to keep complexes accessible. In the same vein, nursery class facilities in schools may not be suitable for day care, with many lacking vital rest areas and requiring significant adaptation to cater for children across a full day.

It is important to be absolutely clear that the 30-hour offer is valuable, at least on the face of it, because it significantly increases the potential flexibility available to parents to go out to work or progress towards work. Certainly, the extension of the free childcare entitlement can play an important role in providing parents with the support they need to balance work and childcare responsibilities. However, the extent to which that potential is realised is, of course, dependent on the degree of support and malleability the Government offer providers.

It is therefore imperative that we do all we can to ensure that the Bill delivers provision that is inclusive, high-quality and supports good outcomes for all children. That, in my view, necessarily entails a comprehensive package that gives parents a realistic option of using their 30-hour entitlement flexibly. Of course, it is all very well being able to use entitlement flexibly, provided the facilities and the offer are there for the community to access.

The amendments are focused on ensuring that the 30-hour entitlement delivers sufficient flexible childcare for working parents. I completely agree with the principle of the amendments tabled in the other place and by the hon. Members for North West Durham, for Birmingham, Yardley and for Stockton North, which is that the extended entitlement should be delivered flexibly to support working parents.

However, delivering flexible provision is not simply about ensuring that childcare is available outside the hours of nine to five, as the amendment made in the other place suggests, or during the school holidays, as suggested in this debate. Each parent has different needs. Some parents will need childcare to cover the period between leaving work and picking up their child, while a number of parents of children with special educational needs want their child to spend part of their time in a mainstream setting and part of their time in a special educational needs setting.

Real flexibility, therefore, is about responding to the specific requirements of working parents, and I am passionately committed to delivering that. I feel strongly that setting out in primary legislation a requirement for local authorities to secure provision to meet each parent’s individual needs will not work in practice.

I am interested in the school-based settings for nurseries. What work is the Minister planning across Government, and with local government in particular, to see how the provision and facilities that exist can be utilised during school holidays, thus offering flexibility to parents?

The hon. Gentleman is alluding to the announcement we made earlier this week on wrap-around care, which will allow private providers to bid to use a school site to provide care for school-age children during the holidays. So we are already working on that. I will come later to what we can do for children under five.

Local authorities depend on the market to supply childcare places. We want them to work with local providers to transform the market and increase flexible childcare provision for parents with out-of-hours working patterns. It would not be reasonable to place a statutory duty on them to guarantee out-of-hours or holiday provision for every parent who wants it, since their local childcare market may not be able to deliver that.

Returning to the hon. Gentleman’s point about school nurseries, there are a number of local authorities, particularly in the north-east, where the majority of childcare is delivered by sessional providers such as maintained schools or nurseries. A large number of those providers cannot offer out-of-hours or holiday provision. As Lord Sutherland said in the other place, for those providers

“to continue provision outside their normal hours may well stop them operating completely”.—[Official Report, House of Lords, 14 October 2015; Vol. 765, c. 265.]

Placing a duty on local authorities will not change that overnight. It is also important to note that local authorities, rightly, cannot require private providers to deliver the free entitlement. Therefore it is simply not right to give them a legal duty to secure flexible provision for every parent in their area.

In my view, the way to promote flexible provision is to work with local authorities and providers to look for innovative ways to meet the needs of parents, and to encourage new providers to enter the market to give parents more choice. We should encourage provision to respond flexibly to demand. It does not make sense to require every local authority to secure a particular type of provision when parental working patterns and the type of demand for childcare will vary from area to area.

I reassure the Committee that there is already flexibility in the system used for the existing 15-hour entitlement, and we intend to build on that flexibility in delivering the extended entitlement. There is no requirement that free entitlement places can only be in line with school term dates, or during the hours of nine to five.

In fact, the previous Government changed the statutory guidance to enable local authorities to fund providers to allow parents to access places between 7 am and 7 pm, so that parents can drop off their children earlier in the day or collect them later. Providers can also stretch their entitlement across the full year rather than limiting them to term-time only provision, and a number already do that.

The Bill is very carefully drafted at clause 2(1) to say that the free childcare must be available for a period

“equivalent to 30 hours in…38 weeks”

so that the primary framework allows for the stretched offer. Some local authorities are already promoting flexible childcare provision, including Brighton and Hove City Council, where 82% of year-round nurseries offer a stretched entitlement; Blackpool local authority, where nurseries and childminders work in partnership to offer out-of-hours provision, including weekends and evenings; and Bradford Council, which offers a community nanny scheme, providing flexible childcare for lone parents struggling to access work or training. In Tuesday’s discussion of eligibility I mentioned the great work that Swindon Council is doing to offer weekend sessions from January 2016. In addition, we will set up a flexible funding model to support providers to deliver flexible provision to meet the needs of parents.

Although it is great that some local authorities are already delivering flexible provision to meet parents’ needs, I want more local authorities to deliverthe 30-hour entitlement in that way. I have been clear that the extended entitlement needs to support parents to work. We have been working with the Local Government Association to set up an expert local government working group in the new year, to build on existing flexible provision and make the extended entitlement even more flexible.

Is there anything to stop private providers just setting off a block of time within their timetable and saying that the free hours can be claimed in that time? That was certainly my experience of what happened under the 15-hour provision. They could say, “You can use your free hours only between nine and five.”

The hon. Lady makes a good point—what sort of restrictions can private providers impose on parents taking the free entitlement? We want providers to deliver this more flexibly. Now that the offer is moving to 30 hours from 15 hours the scope for providers to say, “You can take it only at this time,” is significantly limited, because if a child is taking all of the 30 hours, that is most of the week.

The Department for Education will be working with the Local Government Association to enable the sector to take a leading role in expanding existing provision and responding effectively to emerging demand as the extended offer is rolled out. We will also review the statutory guidance to remove any barriers to the flexible delivery of childcare, such as those the hon. Lady mentioned. We will set out work that local authorities can do to enable parents to take the current entitlement in a pattern of hours that best meets their needs.

I appreciate the care that the Minister is taking in responding. How would the provision work for my constituents who work at the airport, for example, and have different work patterns, such as early mornings, normal days and late days, while working four days on and four days off? If they were only able to claim their 30 hours during the normal working day and could not claim the full amount, would they be disadvantaged because of the nature of their working patterns?

The hon. Lady raises an important point. First, it is difficult to use legislation to clearly define flexibility. Indeed, doing so in primary legislation is almost a contradiction; it cannot work. Secondly, she points out why our approach is the right one. It allows local authorities to work with providers to deliver the sort of flexibility that works in their local area. The flexibility that her constituents will need will be quite different from that required by parents in a rural area, which is why we cannot define it in primary legislation. However, we want to ensure that the 30 hours is equally accessible by all parents, which brings me on to my next point.

It is clear that the market will need to adapt to support a flexible childcare offer in the extended entitlement, and we will encourage different types of providers to offer the additional hours. The hon. Member for Stockton North mentioned the role of childminders in flexibility, and I agree that they have important part to play. There are currently over 46,000 childminders on the early years register, but not all offer the free entitlement due to local authorities’ payment terms, for example. We want to consider that carefully to see how they can be encouraged to offer the entitlement, because they can contribute to flexible delivery. For example, some parents could use a school nursery and have a childminder either pick their children up or drop them off. A shift-worker at the airport might use a childminder during evening or weekend work alongside some nursery provision.

I have said to the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years, which represents childminders, that there is a big opportunity for childminders to work with nurseries and schools to deliver a full offer of the 30 hours. In the previous Parliament, we allowed childminders to operate outside their domestic premises for 50% of the time. Childminders can now team up with schools to offer after-school provision. If a child does a morning session, they can be looked after by a childminder on school premises for the afternoon to allow parents to pick them up. That flexibility for childminders will come into force from January 2016 and will open up many new opportunities.

I also recognise that a number of parents already use multiple childcare providers, such as sending their child to a nursery and then getting someone else to pick them up, as I have said. I want to ensure that the system continues to allow parents to make the right decisions for their children and will encourage information sharing between different providers so that there is continuity for the child and that their best interests are taken into account when multiple providers are involved in childcare delivery. On Tuesday, we discussed the Government’s plans to introduce the 30-hour entitlement early in some areas, and flexibility will be a focus. The early implementers will look at ways to encourage different providers to enter the market, including childminders who are not currently offering the free entitlement.

I hope that Committee members are reassured that the Government are absolutely committed to ensuring that parents have access to flexible childcare to fit their working patterns. I would therefore encourage Committee members to support Government amendment 4 and urge the hon. Member for North West Durham to withdraw amendment 15. I emphasise that the Government are committed to delivering flexible childcare for children of all ages, as I said in response to an intervention from the hon. Member for Stockton North. That is why we will consult on parents having the right to request wraparound and holiday care at their child’s school, as the Prime Minister announced on Monday. Providers will also have a right to request use of a school’s facilities when the schools are not using them. That will help local authorities to ensure as far as possible that there is sufficient childcare in the area that responds to parental demand.

What will happen when an agreement cannot be reached with a local school or local authority, or when the private provider is not prepared to be more flexible in its provision? How do we ensure parents’ needs are met if the system in their particular area is not flexible enough?

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich North made an interesting point on Tuesday: we have significant additional investment in the sector which should be attractive to many new providers. If a provider does not want to offer flexible childcare to all parents in an area, they will struggle to find business somewhere else, because the majority of parents of three and four-year-olds will be entitled to the 30 hours of childcare. Providers that refuse to respond to parental demand may therefore struggle to stay in business.

Government Members have talked about the particular challenges in rural areas, where there might be very little provision. Here we face a situation in which there might be 20 children in a local community who access care; all of a sudden the amount of available care will need to double, and yet there may not be the capacity in that small rural area to do so. How will we cope with that?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, local authorities have a sufficiency duty. I hope that what we will do to encourage providers on the early years register that currently do not offer the free entitlement—such as childminders, who he pointed to—will work. We will also use £50 million of capital investment to target areas where there is a need for more places. Finally, local authorities can fund providers in a way that incentivises flexible provision, so a number of levers can be used to deliver flexible provision for parents.

I am willing to listen to many of the arguments that the Minister makes, but he has singularly failed to convince me on this one. He gave us lots of examples of local authorities operating flexible systems, but this is not about the best authorities; it is about the worst. The amendment would go some way towards addressing the authorities that need incentivising.

I accept the Minister’s point about the wording of the amendment. It is not possible to require every local authority to provide every kind of flexibility for every child, but education legislation is littered with the word “reasonable”, and to ask local authorities to make reasonably flexible provision is not beyond the wit of the Minister.

I find myself in an unusual situation: I stand here as the person saying there are opportunities here for the market. We need to allow new entrants into the marketplace, and in my view, the best way to do that is to put some control in the hands of parents, who can then choose the best providers for their children. At the moment, we have an incredibly inflexible system that we need to move away from in order to help parents with things such as summer holidays.

Although it does not exactly fall within the scope of the amendment, I welcome what the Minister said about wraparound childcare and getting schools to open their incredibly expensive capital buildings, which often stand empty from 3 o’clock in the afternoon, all weekend and during summer holidays. It is amazing that someone has not done that long before now. Clearly, we will have to see the details, but it is a really good idea to open those buildings up to the marketplace. I understand the Minister’s concern about creating chaos in the market, but providers are making exactly the same arguments to him that providers made to previous Governments about things such as respite care and social care. We were told that putting the control in the hands of parents, disabled people or elderly people would create chaos in the market, and local authorities said the same, but there was not chaos, and it is a better system as a result.

I agree with the hon. Lady on the principle—what we need here is parent power. However, does she recognise that it is surely not possible to set in primary legislation what flexibility is for every parent?

I am not saying that we should do that, but if we say that local authorities must provide “reasonable flexibility”, that forces those who are not doing anything about that now to start to do something. Unless the Minister tells me that he is prepared to look at that flexibility in regulations, we may need to make an issue of this.

Does the hon. Lady agree that councils as public authorities have a duty in law to act reasonably, so the insertion of the word “reasonable” into legislation is superfluous?

I suggest that the hon. Gentleman looks at the Education Act 2005, which has “reasonable” in every third sentence. It is not superfluous. It makes the point that this measure is not about giving everyone what they want or what they think they need; it is about giving something that is reasonable to the taxpayer and to the parent or child.

The hon. Lady asked for assurance on what the Government will do in respect of flexibility. As I mentioned earlier, statutory guidance already enables providers to stretch hours across the full year and deliver provision from 7 am to 7 pm. We will work with the Local Government Association and local authorities to revise the statutory guidance to remove any perceived or actual barriers to flexible provision.

Again, as we are talking about technical words such as “reasonable”, I point out that the amendment is about ensuring we “enable” parents. Will the Minister expect local authorities to do that?

Of course, we will expect flexibility in the market so that parents can access the 30 hours to make the policy successful.

Does the Minister expect not just that there will be provision for 30 hours, but that that will be implemented flexibly?

That is precisely what I said we would do with the early implementers. After we have tested the provision with the early implementers, we will expect all local authorities to implement it in a flexible way for parents.

I thank the Minister. On that basis and because of his confirmation that the word “flexible” will be included in the regulations, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment 13, in clause 3, page 3, line 32, at end insert

“and in connection with the unreasonable refusal of a childcare place to a qualifying child with a disability”.

To ensure that a disabled child is not refused a childcare place on the grounds of their disability.

The amendment would make it clear that a place could not be refused to a disabled child on the grounds of their disability. Members of the Committee will know that 41% of parents of disabled children cannot access the current 15 hours of provision and that of them 25% cannot do so because their child has been refused or excluded from a place purely on the grounds of their disabilities. I have gone on and on about this and I am probably boring members of the Committee, but it is important. It is illegal under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, yet it happens again and again. The stories I have heard from parents of disabled children have made me angry enough to want to take every opportunity to do something about it.

I welcome the Minister’s offer to work with me on this. His office has been in touch and we have set up a meeting early in the new year. I welcome that and I absolutely accept his commitment to change this. I know that the Minister for Children and Families is also keen to change this. This is clearly the direction of travel and we are all focused on this now. So I am hopeful for the future, but mindful of the past. I am sure the Minister will say the amendment is unnecessary because the issues are covered adequately in other legislation, and yet the situation for many parents of disabled children remains the same. It is covered, but it does not change anything.

Olivia McLeod, who was the director of early years and childcare in the Minister’s Department, gave evidence to the inquiry that we have talked about. She said:

“We know there is a general issue about the cost and affordability and choice of childcare for all parents and obviously that is exacerbated hugely when a child has a disability.”

I cannot help thinking, if it is so obvious, why have we not done something about it? How would we have felt if that sentence had ended with something else? Would we accept it if the sentence had said that obviously that is exacerbated hugely when a child is black, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, or a girl? We simply would not accept that. We would be demonstrating outside Parliament, marching, holding candlelit vigils and throwing ourselves in front of the king’s horse—I am excited about this because I have been to see “Suffragette” this week. We would not accept those things. We would not say, “obviously, that is hugely exacerbated”; we would do something about it. Yet, in the second decade of the 21st century, it is obviously happening to families of disabled children, and we seem to be happy to let that continue, with the exception of we three: the Minister, me and the Minister for Children and Families.

Does my hon. Friend agree that, although the vast majority of childcare providers do their very best, some will benefit from specifically knowing that discriminatory behaviour against children in the care setting will see them prosecuted?

The situation is so bad that we need to send out a strong message, which is why I want the amendment included in the Bill.

I will read from the parliamentary inquiry into childcare for disabled children. A parent told us:

“Even now, at age 3, we have only managed to secure 6 hours a week at a nursery, during term-time”.

One said:

“I feel like the 15 hours scheme at the moment is really invented for normally functioning kids”,

but it could be easily turned into something that could help children like hers. Another parent said:

“This is a nightmare. I have tried for a year to find an out of school provider that is suitable for my daughter...and...have not been successful.”

One told us:

“We have contacted every single private childcare provider (childminders, holiday clubs, day care nurseries etc) yet no one is willing to take on a disabled child”.

Another parent said:

“I have tried to access childcare. I contacted many child-minders and had a very negative experience. Some of the things they said were very hurtful and eventually I gave up as it was so demoralising.”

In the previous sitting, the hon. Lady highlighted all the risks of creating criminal liability for a parent who might not satisfy the income threshold at a later date. Does the same principle not apply when she talks about criminal penalties on childcare providers?

I am not creating criminal penalties. What I am describing is illegal now, yet it continues. All I want to do is to send out a very strong message in whatever way we can. At the moment, we have is a Bill—if I could find any other way of helping the situation, I would. It is illegal at the moment, and I am not seeking to create anything new.

Amendment 13 would give the Secretary of State the power to create a criminal offence where a disabled child is unreasonably refused a childcare place. Was that the intention behind the amendment?

I apologise if it is carelessly worded; that was not my intention. I simply want to make clear in the Bill that it is illegal to refuse a place on the grounds of a child’s disability, in exactly the same way as it is under the Disability Discrimination Act 2005. I do not know whether there is a criminal penalty attached to that, but that is the current legislation, and that was my intention.

Before I give way, can I make it clear that we do not want to put anyone in prison? As I said to the Minister, if the amendment is carelessly worded, I am happy to change it. The current situation cannot continue and I simply want to change it, however that may be possible, so that it is line with Disability Discrimination Act.

The examples the hon. Lady gave are horrific. However, if the measure is already on the statute book, should she not call for proper implementation of the legislation we already have, rather than duplicating it?

That is exactly what I want to do. I have a Bill in front of me, and I want in some way to ensure that the current position—that what I have described is illegal—is used to improve the situation for the parents of disabled children, however we do that.

I do not believe that the vast majority of care providers want to discriminate against children with disabilities. They do it possibly because they are ill equipped and do not have the experience, understanding and skills to cope with disabled children. Perhaps the answer is, as we discussed earlier, an upskilling programme across all situations, so that staff can feel confident that they can take on and deal with disabled children.

I agree. I also think there is an element of childcare providers and even maintained settings not being aware of the law regarding refusal to take a child on grounds of disability. It is not absolutely clear to them.

I want to talk about the evidence given by one young couple. They had a lovely baby girl who had severe and multiple learning difficulties. The mother told me that she had approached every provider in her London borough. As soon as she explained the extent of her child’s problems, they were suddenly full. This young woman told me that she was attending mother and toddler groups with her child, and other mothers, who approached the same providers later, found they were not full. That is awful. One needs to sit face to face with this mother to understand how deeply she was disturbed and upset by that. It is wrong and should not be happening, but it is happening time and time again.

I appreciate that the childcare providers might be frightened. They will feel that they do not have the skills, knowledge or training to admit such children. However, when a child is born with a major disability the parents do not magically acquire skills and expertise. The NHS does not give parents special training.

On a point of order, Ms Dorries. In my reading, the amendment should be to paragraph (h), which starts with the words

“create criminal offences in connection with”.

If the hon. Lady’s amendment were accepted it would create a criminal liability, which she states she does not intend to do. Given that the amendment would not achieve her objective, is it appropriate?

It is up to the Opposition spokeswoman to request where she wants the amendment to be made. It has been accepted, and it is in order.

Thank you, Ms Dorries. I think I have made my intentions perfectly clear.

Parents who have a disabled child do not magically acquire special skills and knowledge. The NHS does not give them special training before they leave hospital with their baby, when they are often in shock and grieving for the child they were expecting but did not get.

We need to ensure, as my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton North said, that childcare providers can access the training that will give them the confidence they need. However that is done, the Government need to put down a huge marker that the current situation cannot continue.

The amendment would ensure that a disabled child is not refused a childcare place on the grounds of their disability. As I highlighted on Tuesday, I absolutely agree that children with special educational needs or a disability should not be put at a disadvantage and that they should have the same access to high-quality childcare as children without disabilities. The Government are committed to ensuring that all families have access to high-quality, flexible and affordable childcare, and I am delighted that the hon. Lady has agreed to meet with me and the Minister for Children and Families to look at how we can improve access to childcare for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

As I pointed out in my intervention, the amendment would create a criminal offence if a disabled child were unreasonably refused a childcare place. Although I agree with the principle behind the amendment, and agree that all children should be able to access childcare, I do not agree that would be the right approach. I have been clear in our debates so far that local authorities are already required by law to secure free entitlement places.

One of the ways of encouraging childcare providers to be open and welcoming to children with disabilities is to ensure that funding is available for additional support—in large childcare settings, a disabled child might need one-to-one support—as well as for specialist training and, occasionally, specialist equipment. Will funding be available in the programme over and above the normal funding per child for the 30 hours?

We covered the issue of funding on Tuesday, when I made it quite clear that the £5 billion high needs funding block applies to ages nought to 25. Funding will also be available to parents who have access to tax-free childcare up to £4,000. They can access that for children from the ages of nought to 18.

Amendment 13 is about what providers do when confronted with a child with special educational needs or disabilities. It is important that we are clear that the Equality Act 2010 sets out the legal obligations that early years providers and local authorities have towards disabled children and young children in their care. Refusing to admit a disabled child may amount to unlawful discrimination, if that refusal is as a direct result of their disability or something arising in consequence of their disability. The Equality Act applies to all early years settings, whether or not they are in receipt of Government funding.

If a parent of a disabled child believes that their child has been discriminated against by a school setting, they can appeal to the first-tier tribunal or, in certain cases, to local admissions panels. Where the case involves a provider that is not a school, a discrimination claim is heard in the county court.

I take on board the comment made by the hon. Member for North West Durham that she does not intend to create a criminal offence through the amendment. I therefore suggest that when we look at the model agreement that local authorities have with providers delivering the free entitlement, we make the situation quite clear to them and draw their attention to the Equality Act requirement.

The hon. Lady raised a point about the confidence of the workforce to deal with the situation, which is not strictly a legal matter. We intend to look at that as part of the workforce strategy that I committed to on Tuesday. That will build on the requirement that already exists in the early years foundation stage. The significant funding that we give to voluntary and community service organisations can support providers in the workforce to develop confidence and skills.

On that basis, and given that the hon. Lady’s amendment would not really achieve what she wanted to achieve, I urge her to withdraw it.

I am happy to do that. I have made my point. We are going to talk about this collectively, and we will find a way forward. I just want to point out very clearly that the unreasonable refusal of childcare places for children with disabilities is covered in the Equality Act 2010 and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995, yet it still happens. We would not accept that if the child were black, or for any other kind of child. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made: 4, in clause 3, page 3, line 46, leave out subsection (3).—(Mr Gyimah.)

This amendment removes the provision which requires the Secretary of State to make provision, in regulations, to ensure that childcare is made available for parents who have alternative working patterns and during the school holidays.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Margot James.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.

Childcare Bill [ Lords ] (Fourth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: Nadine Dorries, †Mr David Hanson

† Berry, James (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con)

Cadbury, Ruth (Brentford and Isleworth) (Lab)

Cunningham, Alex (Stockton North) (Lab)

† Donelan, Michelle (Chippenham) (Con)

Drummond, Mrs Flick (Portsmouth South) (Con)

† Frazer, Lucy (South East Cambridgeshire) (Con)

† Glass, Pat (North West Durham) (Lab)

† Green, Chris (Bolton West) (Con)

† Gyimah, Mr Sam (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education)

† James, Margot (Stourbridge) (Con)

† Matheson, Christian (City of Chester) (Lab)

† Phillips, Jess (Birmingham, Yardley) (Lab)

† Smith, Chloe (Norwich North) (Con)

† Smith, Jeff (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)

† Tomlinson, Michael (Mid Dorset and North Poole) (Con)

Walker, Mr Robin (Worcester) (Con)

Fergus Reid, Joanna Welham, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 10 December 2015


[Mr David Hanson in the Chair]

Childcare Bill [Lords]

Clause 3, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5

Supplementary provision about regulations under sections 2 and 3

I beg to move amendment 5, in clause 5, page 5, line 30, leave out subsection (4) and insert—

“(4) A statutory instrument containing (whether alone or with other provision) regulations mentioned in subsection (5) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.

(5) The regulations referred to in subsection (4) are—

(a) the first regulations made under section 2;

(b) the first regulations made under section 3(1);

(c) any regulations under section 3(7);

(d) any other regulations that amend or repeal provision made by an Act.

(6) Any other statutory instrument containing regulations is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”

This amendment removes the provision which subjects all regulations made under clauses 2 and 3 of the Bill to the affirmative procedure on every occasion they are made. Regulations made under clauses 2 and 3(1) would instead be subject to the affirmative procedure the first time they are made, and the negative procedure thereafter

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Hanson. As currently drafted, clause 5 provides for all the regulations under clauses 2 and 3 of the Bill to be subject to the affirmative procedure every time the regulation-making power is exercised. That is as a result of an amendment made in the other place, and it provides a level of parliamentary scrutiny beyond the original intention behind the Bill.

We are in complete agreement with the intention behind the amendment made in the other place, and the Government welcome the opportunity for both Houses to have proper prior scrutiny before the regulations can be approved and added to the statute book. However, we do not believe it necessary or reasonable to make the regulations affirmative every time. That is why amendment 5 will allow the regulations to be debated the first time the powers are exercised, while subsequent changes will be subject to the negative resolution procedure.

The exception to that will be any instances where regulations seek to amend or repeal primary legislation, or in the case of regulations seeking to update the maximum level of any financial penalty set out on the face of the Bill. Any regulation made for those reasons will continue to be subject to the affirmative procedure and must be approved by Parliament each time the powers are exercised.

I will set out why we do not believe it necessary for the regulations to be subject to the affirmative procedure each time they are made. First, since we introduced the Bill over the summer, we have provided much more detail about how the Government intend to deliver their manifesto pledge and who will be eligible. That includes a recent policy statement and further details about eligibility as a result of the spending review announcement on 25 November. That additional information provides further clarity about what will be included in the regulations and addresses many of the concerns raised previously.

Secondly, we are committed to undertaking a formal public consultation on the draft regulations in 2016. Feedback from parents and providers will be taken into consideration as we develop the regulations, which will be revised as necessary in response to the consultation before they are laid before Parliament.

Thirdly, our proposal to make the regulations subject to the negative procedure reflects the precedent of parliamentary scrutiny adopted for comparable childcare and education legislation. We believe it is important to maintain the arrangements for approval used for the existing entitlement, which has been subject to the negative procedure since it was introduced in 2008.

The affirmative approval process requires the full involvement of both Houses and for time to be found for debates in both Houses, no matter how small the change. The Government being required to timetable a debate in both Houses when details need to be amended in regulations is likely to have a detrimental impact on the successful delivery of the new entitlement. We want the Secretary of State to be able to respond efficiently and effectively where it may be necessary to support local authorities, providers, parents and their children without seeking and receiving the approval of Parliament to do so.

Once the fundamental principles have been agreed, we do not believe it would be a good use of the parliamentary timetable to make changes that would ordinarily be dealt with under the negative resolution procedure. For example, consequential changes were made to the current entitlement to reflect the introduction of the education, health and social care plans and the replacement of residence orders with child arrangement orders. Those types of changes, which are straightforward and not controversial, can be made under the negative resolution procedure.

If the regulations under the Bill were to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, which would be the case without my amendment, the types of consequential changes that I am talking about could not be made unless time was found for a debate in both Houses. We do not believe that that would be an appropriate use of the parliamentary timetable. I hope that I can reassure the Committee further by confirming that the Department will continue to consult on any material changes to the regulations under the negative resolution procedure, as it has done with the current entitlement. By the time they are laid, the regulations will have undergone a vast amount of scrutiny. We are confident that we will deliver a set of regulations that fairly delivers on the Government’s manifesto pledge to support hard-working families.

Their lordships included this clause because they were concerned about the lack of detail in the Bill in relation to funding, workforce capacity, physical capacity, eligibility, accessibility and other areas. They were concerned that there would not be full and frank debate in relation to all those areas and that the regulations would simply be laid before Parliament—slipped out under the cover of darkness, as I think they said. However, the Minister has given assurances on that on Tuesday and today. He is an honourable man. I do not intend to detain the Committee on this matter. The Minister has given assurances for the first time that the regulations will get full debate in both Houses, and the negative procedure is normal practice in other areas, so I am happy with that.

Amendment 5 agreed to.

Clause 5, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 6 and 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8


Amendment made: 6, in clause 8, page 6, line 8, leave out from beginning to “come” in line 10 and insert—

“(1) The following provisions come into force on the day on which this Act is passed—

(a) section 2(4A);

(b) section 7;

(c) this section;

(d) section 9.

(2) The remaining provisions of this Act”.—(Mr Gyimah.)

This is consequential on amendment 3. HMRC’s power to carry out functions in connection with the making of determinations as to a child’s eligibility will come into force on Royal Assent.

Clause 8, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9

Short title

I beg to move amendment 7, in clause 9, page 6, line 19, leave out subsection (2).

This removes the provision which was inserted to avoid infringing the financial privileges of the Commons. Now that the money resolution has been passed this amendment can be removed.

This will be a very short speech. This technical amendment removes the privilege amendment made in the other place. As the Committee will be aware, this standard formula is incorporated in the Bill before it leaves the other place to avoid infringement of Commons financial privileges. A money resolution has now been passed conferring parliamentary approval of financial expenditure incurred as a result of the Bill, and the removal of the privilege amendment is a mere formality. I therefore hope that the Committee will accept the amendment.

Amendment 7 agreed to.

Clause 9, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 2

Early years SEND co-ordinators

“(1) Relevant childcare providers of a size prescribed by Regulations must designate a member of staff at the setting (to be known as the “Early years SEND co-ordinator”) as having responsibility for co-ordinating the provision of childcare for children with special educational needs and/or a disability.

(2) Regulations may require relevant childcare settings to ensure that Early Years SEND co-ordinators have prescribed qualifications or prescribed experience or both.

(3) For the purpose of this section, relevant childcare providers are those funded to deliver early education or childcare provision free of charge under section 7(1) of the Childcare Act 2006 or section 2(1) of this Act.” —(Pat Glass.)

This amendment would require all early years providers of a certain size providing childcare under this Act to designate a member of staff to be the early years SEND co-ordinator, and to ensure that they are suitably experienced and/or qualified.

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 3—Childcare inclusion plan

“Local authorities must produce and maintain a childcare inclusion plan that sets out a strategy for how disabled children and those with special educational needs will be assisted to access childcare under this Act.”

This amendment requires local authorities to produce a local childcare inclusion plan that sets out how disabled children will be assisted to access childcare under this Act.

New clause 4—Number of SEND co-ordinators

“(1) A local authority must secure there are sufficient SEND co-ordinators in the area to provide advice and guidance to childcare providers providing free childcare under this Act on how to provide inclusive childcare for disabled children and those with special educational needs.

(2) Area SEND co-ordinators must have prescribed qualifications or prescribed experience or both.

(3) A local authority must secure, so far as is reasonably practicable, one early years SEND needs co-ordinator for every 20 non-maintained childcare providers.”

This amendment requires local authorities to provide advice and guidance to childcare providers by providing sufficient Area SEND co-ordinators.

New clauses 2, 3 and 4 all relate to children with SEN and therefore, I will speak to all of them at once.

The previous Labour Government’s early years strategy included provision to ensure that all early years providers of a certain size had a designated early years SEN co-ordinator who was able to work with staff and parents to identify, monitor and meet the needs of children with special educational needs in childcare settings, particularly in the private and voluntary sector. They were generally area special educational needs co-ordinators, who would provide advice to something like 20 providers. Local authorities were required, although by regulation and not by statute, to designate a suitably qualified SENCO to support providers in the discharge of that duty.

New clause 2 would put existing good practice on a statutory footing. It would enable all childcare provision of a certain size to have a suitably qualified SEN co-ordinator who would, on behalf of the provider, identify, monitor and meet the needs of children who are admitted with SEN or who, it subsequently becomes apparent, have SEN.

It is accepted wisdom, supported by a mountain and decades of empirical evidence, that children with SEN need to be identified at the earliest possible opportunity, if they are to make suitable progress and have any chance of reaching their potential. I think that everybody, on both sides of the Committee, would agree with that.

One in 20 children will be identified as having SEN at some time in their educational career. For many children, it will be a temporary issue. If a child breaks their leg and cannot get to school, in a sense, that is a temporary SEN; they have a special educational need that the local authority or the school has to meet. For many children, however, it will not be temporary. Not all children with SEN will be identified at the point of birth—very few are. If a child is born with profound and multiple learning difficulties, it is fairly easy to identify. If a child is deaf, that is usually identified within a couple of days, but for many other SEN, that happens when they get to school, and that is much too late. We should have been intervening much earlier.

We have talked a number of times in the Committee about the barriers that disabled children and their parents face in gaining admission to childcare provision. Some of that, as we have discussed, is the lack of confidence from providers that they will be able to meet the child’s needs. They are just worried—for many of them, it is about being really frightened. This is about finding a way of delivering what we have all said that we think needs to be there: access to the appropriate training and the confidence that providers need to admit children with SEN. It therefore makes sense that at the earliest point, childcare providers have access to the skills and abilities to identify SEN, and that is what this proposal seeks to provide. To leave children until they start school is too late; it damages their ability to make progress and will ultimately result in far greater problems down the line.

A suitably qualified member of staff in a childcare provider, or to which the childcare provider has access, can open up lines early with the appropriate medical staff, health visitors, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, educational psychologists, specialist learning support teachers, child and adolescent mental health workers—in some cases, although I know from experience that that is often very hard to access—clinical psychologists and a range of people who can make a real difference, particularly if they have access to the child at the earliest possible point. This person—the SENCO, or whatever we choose to call them—can secure the training that is needed to give confidence to staff working with and caring for children with disabilities, and can make all the difference in the long term to their development.

New clause 3 concerns the childcare inclusion plan. Only 20% of local authorities report that they have sufficient childcare for disabled children, in comparison with 54% for all children under the age of two, 69% for children aged three and four and 35% for children aged five to 16%. Financial support for childcare for most families fell in the last Parliament, and at the same time, childcare costs have rocketed. The number of early years childcare places has fallen by more than 40,000 since 2009, and Sure Start centres are closing. We know that 41% of children with disabilities cannot access the 15 hours that they are currently entitled to. The new clause is designed to ensure that local authorities must produce and maintain a childcare inclusion plan—a strategy for ensuring that in the future they have sufficient local childcare to meet the needs of disabled children and their parents.

My experience, which I am sure is shared by many others in the room, suggests that if we are going to make a difference—if we are going to increase and improve childcare provision and make sure that every disabled child can access it—we need to know the size of the gap in provision and we have to have a plan for getting where we want to be. The new clause would simply ask local authorities to have a plan setting out what they have got, where they need to get to and, over time, how they will achieve that.

We do not want a plan full of nice warm words that sits on a shelf in the office of the director of children’s services, because there are already far too many such plans. I am asking for a plan with clear goals, setting out what will be achieved, by when and at what cost. That plan needs to be monitored by Ofsted. As I know from experience, whatever Ofsted measures gets done. If something is not measured by Ofsted, it takes a back seat. It is clear that the situation will not move forward and the provision for disabled children will not improve unless there are clear requirements for it to do so and penalties if it does not, and that is what the new clause is designed to achieve.

New clause 4 follows on from the previous new clauses and is a natural extension of what we have already debated. If we agree that staff in private, voluntary and independent settings need training to raise their confidence, and if we believe that we must stop the current situation in which disabled children are refused admission or children are excluded on the grounds of their disability, local authorities should play a role in that. That role needs to include training and co-ordination around inclusion and area SENCOs, and ensuring that they are suitably qualified.

I do not underestimate the size of the financial difficulties faced by local authorities; my local authority has had a 40% cut in its budget, and its ability to take on new work is limited. However, our proposal need not involve new staff. Every school has a SENCO. I believe they are all teachers—there was some discussion some years ago about whether they need to be teachers, but I think they still have to be—but in any case, they will all be suitably qualified; at least, all the ones that I have come across are. It is possible for local authorities to ensure that local schools work with the PVI settings in their area. It is in the interests of schools to do so, because the children we are discussing will go on to school. I have often found that secondary schools are keen to put down resources at the earliest point, because they know that they will get these children eventually, and I know that the same is true of primary schools. If we want to stop what is currently happening in childcare and not just wring our hands about it, we will have to legislate.

The new clauses would ensure that local authorities were required to produce and maintain a childcare inclusion plan and strategy, and to have SENCOs who are suitably qualified to deliver. The three new clauses go together. The Minister has talked a lot about the current situation for disabled children and their families. We heard some awful examples when you were not here this morning, Mr Hanson, of what is currently happening to disabled children in the childcare sector—not everywhere, but in too many cases. As I have said to the Minister on numerous occasions, if we want to do something about it, these are the practical steps that we will need to take.

The new clauses are about special educational needs in the early years setting. The hon. Lady must be congratulated on the ingenious and persistent way in which she has focused our attention throughout the scrutiny of the Bill on children with special educational needs and disabilities. I agree with her that that is the right thing to do as far as the Bill is concerned.

We have heard a lot in this debate about access to the free entitlement for children with special educational needs and disabilities. The hon. Lady’s amendments seek to propose that all childcare providers have access to suitably qualified SEND co-ordinators and to place a requirement on local authorities to produce and maintain a childcare inclusion plan. I agree with her that early identification of additional needs is extremely important. It is central to the SEND reforms, and it includes specific requirements in health to refer children who might have SEND to the local authority, recognising that in the early years, especially before age three, health visitors or GPs can pick up concerns before anyone else.

With that in mind, I reassure Members that we all want childcare that meets the needs of working parents and their children, including those with SEND. It is therefore the Government’s intention to ensure high-quality childcare that meets the needs of all children. We recognise that staff need to have the right skills and knowledge to deliver that care.

The Government continue to support the development of the early years sector with a broader self-improvement education system, to which I alluded during our discussion on an earlier amendment. We invested £5.3 million through our voluntary and community sector grant scheme in 2015-16, of which about £4 million was invested in early years projects to support SEND reform implementation. A number of those programmes deliver SEND training to the early years workforce. In particular, the National Day Nurseries Association’s current SEND champions grant has proved very popular among the workforce.

We have also provided £5 million to support partnerships between teaching schools and PVI providers, which have also enabled good practice in supporting children with SEND. For example, the Solent Teaching School Alliance is delivering support for PVIs that includes a focus on children with SEND. It is leading to improved identification of children and better tracking of their progress towards more aspirational targets.

Obviously, local authorities have a key role to play. As I mentioned, the Children and Families Act 2014 sets out how the needs of children with SEND must be met. As is set out in the code of practice, in order to fulfil their role in identifying and planning for the needs of children with SEND, local authorities should ensure that there is sufficient expertise and experience among local early years providers to support those children.

Local authorities often make use of area SENCOs to provide advice and guidance to early years providers on developing inclusive early learning environments. The area SENCO helps make the links between education, health and social care to facilitate appropriate early provision for children with SEND and their transition to compulsory schooling. A recent SEND reform implementation survey that received responses from 104 local authorities indicated that 78% already have an area SENCO that early years providers can access. We are confident that that number will continue to grow as the reforms are embedded.

I do not believe that the number of area SENCOs needs to be required, as set out in new clause 4. I believe that it would be more appropriate to consider how we can learn from local authorities with area SENCOs and encourage other areas to follow that example, building on the model of the local authorities from which we heard in our recent survey.

As we heard at Tuesday’s session, the early years market is diverse; it is made up mostly of small, single-site private, voluntary and independent institutions. It would be challenging to require every provider to have a suitably qualified member of staff, or a SENCO, as set out in the new clause.

As I have said, we require every provider delivering the early years foundation stage, regardless of their size, to have arrangements in place to support children with special educational needs and disabilities. Under the Children and Families Act, a maintained nursery must ensure that there is a qualified teacher designated as the SENCO in order to ensure the detailed implementation of support for children with SEND. In addition, the EYFS framework requires other early years providers to have arrangements in place for meeting children’s special educational needs. Those in group provision are expected to identify a SENCO. Childminders are encouraged to identify a person to act as SENCO, and childminders who are registered with a childminder agency or who are part of a network may wish to share that role between them.

I recognise that the new clause would allow the Government to set a prescribed size for a childcare provider that must have a SENCO, but I am concerned about the potential perverse incentives that it could create if we placed requirements on different sizes of providers. For example, it could create incentives for a provider not to take more than 49 children if at 50 children the regulations would become more burdensome.

SENCOs are already a valued part of the landscape, but we want to develop and test other innovative ways of meeting the needs of children with SEND, in particular through the early implementer areas, as I have said a number of times. We do not want to prejudge the learning that we will gain from the early implementers, and I hope that the Committee will understand why we do not want to close down other potential options by settling on a single solution now.

New clause 3 seeks to place a requirement on local authorities to produce and maintain a childcare inclusion plan. I recognise that the intention of the hon. Member for North West Durham is to assist disabled children to access a further 15 hours of free childcare under the Bill. As I have stated clearly in Committee, I agree that all families should have access to high-quality, flexible and affordable childcare. I also agree that parents with disabled children should have the same choice and access to high-quality childcare. We want our early years to be inclusive—for children to learn and play together—but I do not agree that the answer is to place a new duty on local authorities to produce and maintain a childcare inclusion plan that sets out a strategy for how disabled children and those with SEN will be assisted to access childcare under the Bill.

The Children and Families Act already requires local authorities to have a local offer, which includes information as to the special educational provision that a local authority expects to be made available to children in its area by relevant childcare providers, and information as to how those providers tailor the childcare on offer to meet the needs of children with SEN. In preparing their local offer, local authorities must consult with the children and young people with SEND and their families to find out what sort of support and services they need. To ensure that the local offer is made available to all, local authorities must publish their offer on the internet and ensure that those families without access to the internet can also see it. The local authority must also tell children and young people and their families how they can find out more about the local offer.

I hope that I have made it clear that I absolutely agree that all eligible children should have access.

Speaking as quite a sharp-elbowed mum of children with SEN, I did not know that any of what the Minister read out existed, so it is clearly not working. My children have been through all sorts of different provision. Wanting this is a bit like Miss World wanting world peace. If the Government actually want it, why do we not do something about it?

The Children and Families Act which came into force in 2014 was the biggest reform to SEND for 30 years. It is still being embedded in the system and that is precisely my point: we have made significant reforms, which are being embedded. I hope that what I am saying reassures Members. Rather than having another duty on SEND provision for local authorities, let us ensure that the reforms already passed on a cross-party basis become embedded and truly work for children, so that the parents, whether sharp-elbowed or not, may feel reassured that their children will get access to the childcare they need. I therefore hope that the shadow Minister will withdraw her new clauses.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley is right. We have all recognised here that there is a problem. We are not going to change things unless we do something to change them. At the moment, the system simply is not working for parents. The Minister and I agree that the role of SENCOs is crucial. The SENCO in the school and the area SENCO have crucial roles. They are almost the translator between the child and their difficulties and the rest of the provision. They work in relation to access and admission, to the training of staff and getting access to trained staff, to inclusive practices and, more importantly, to provisions to the curriculum in schools and in childcare. The SENCO is the translator of the curriculum for those children who have difficulties.

The hon. Lady is being critical of the system in place for area SENCOs. What gives her confidence that having SENCOs at the provider level would change anything?

The Minister misunderstands what I am saying. I am saying that the system is not working for disabled children if they are not getting access. I am not criticising the role of SENCOs or area SENCOs. The confidence I have is because I have seen that the role is crucial and huge, not only in translating the curriculum and so on, but in supporting parents. SENCOs have a strong role in supporting parents.

The Minister said that 78% of local authorities have a plan. That means that 22%—that is more than a fifth—do not. I worry about the children living in those local authorities that do not have a plan. I take on board his point on perverse incentives. I would hate to see a situation in which childcare providers, particularly those that are good or outstanding, suddenly decided not to take more children because of a cut-off point. I understand that concern, but I am not sure that that is sufficient reason not to have a requirement in the Bill to ensure that there is at least someone who is suitably trained in a provision or someone who knows where to go to get help.

I have been at it quite a long time, and I remember taking over SEN in an authority where SEN was failing badly. I had absolutely no experience in that. I had worked in school improvement and other areas of education, and I was suddenly asked to take over SEN. SEN has always been and remains something of a secret garden in local authorities. It is the province of all those professionals, such as educational psychologists and clinical psychologists, and is not for people like me.

The hon. Lady is making an eloquent case, as she has done throughout our scrutiny of the Bill and this issue. While we both agree on the problem we are trying to solve, if she thinks that an Act that came into force a year ago is not sufficient, why would another Act address the problem?

If I can finish the point I was making, I took over SEN. I feel ashamed that I sat in meetings at that time—it was quite a long time ago—and said to parents things like, “Do you know what? Your child will be better in this special school”, when they were fighting to have their child in mainstream education. I went along to a conference somewhere—I cannot remember what conference it was—and there was a disability discrimination officer who had severe cerebral palsy. He got up on the stage, and it was almost a road to Damascus moment. He said something like, “People like you made me special by making me different”, and I can remember thinking, “Oh my God.”

I set off from there to find out about inclusion. We were right at the beginning of things. If a child fell off a step, they were placed in a special school. It was that bad in those days. No one was being included. I learned an awful lot of things along the way, such as that pushing children through the door and having them there is not the same as having them included. There is a great difference between having them there and having them welcomed and wanted. That is what inclusivity is. The point that, in a very long-winded way, I am trying to make to the Minister is that we have to start somewhere, and forcing something is the first step towards making the system much more inclusive.

Once again, the hon. Lady makes a very strong point. Is she aware that, in addition to the requirement to publish a local offer for children with SEND, in the case of a provider that “requires improvement” or is “inadequate” the local authority must provide information and advice training specifically on meeting the needs of children with SEND? Given that that measure is in place, should we not make sure it works rather than putting more stuff into legislation?

I take the Minister’s point, and I appreciate that his colleague introduced major reforms in this area a year ago. We want them to work, because they are long overdue. We want to move away from a system in which statements took forever to one in which there is much more co-ordination between health, education and social care. We want that to happen. I worry about the cuts to local authorities’ budgets, because they must be able to deliver this. I am aware of the local offer, but in too many local authorities it is not a proper offer to parents, but a list of what is available if they bother to ring around, so we are some way from what the Government want to realise.

I would just like to draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the section in the EYFS that states:

“Each child must be assigned a key person…The key person must seek to engage and support parents and/or carers in guiding their child’s development at home. They should also help families engage with more specialist support if appropriate.”

Once again, does the hon. Lady think that what she is proposing will lead only to more law? There is enough law already to make what she wants happen.

I am aware of that, but if the key person measures were working, children with disabilities would not be being refused admission to childcare providers. We know that the SENCO role works incredibly well, and I just want to build on what works. I understand that we need to embed the things that are in the SEN legislation. We want them to work. I am happy not to press the new clauses if the Minister agrees to monitor this area and revisit it if it does not improve.

By way of reply to the hon. Lady’s concluding remarks, I assure her and the Committee that this will be a priority in the early implementers. We will also put in place an evaluation system to ensure we are learning the right lessons, not only from that but afterwards, to improve the system. I think the hon. Lady agrees that this is a practical, rather than a legal, problem. We have got to work with local authorities to ensure this works for parents, and I assure her that that is our priority.

The Minister is absolutely right. The amendments that I tabled about disabled children do not require a legal response; they require funding to be put in to ensure that this is monitored and policed. Something must be done to make the changes that will have to happen, because the current situation is unacceptable. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the Chair do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

Thank you for your expert and expeditious chairmanship of our proceedings, Mr Hanson. I thank the officials, who are seen but not heard, and who have worked incredibly hard since the start of this Parliament to turn our manifesto pledge into a Bill and into reality for working parents. I thank my colleagues, who have been very supportive, and the Opposition for ensuring that we focused not on the party-political knockabout but on what we can do to help children and families.

A lot of points have been made. As the hon. Member for North West Durham said, not all of them require a legal response, but a lot of them require a practical response. I thank hon. Members for raising those issues, and I look forward to working with them over the next weeks and months to make this Bill work for parents.

I, too, thank both Chairmen for their excellent chairmanship. I thank the Clerks and officials for supporting us. They supported me, in particular—I struggled a little, because this is my first Bill Committee. I thank my colleagues on both sides of the Committee. There was very little to disagree with in this Bill. It is a good Bill and we want to make it work for parents. I think I have made my point about disabled children.

I thank hon. Members for finishing early, because I have the opportunity to see the pupils of Ysgol Rhos Helyg of Rhosesmor, who have come 220 miles from north Wales to see their MP. I shall see them very shortly.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, accordingly to be reported.

Committee rose.

Written evidence reported to the House

CB 10 Local Government Association

CB 11 Independent Association of Prep Schools

CB 12 Independent Schools Council

CB 13 Shirley Jenkins

CB 14 Catholic Education Service

CB 15 Early Education

CB 16 Mencap

CB 17 National Day Nurseries Association

CB 18 National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT)

CB 19 Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY)

CB 20 DFE—application of Standing Order 83L to the Childcare Bill as amended

CB 21a Letter from the Department for Education

CB 21b Letter from the Department for Education

CB 21c Letter from the Department for Education

CB 21d Letter from the Department for Education

CB 21e Letter from the Department for Education

CB 22 Jean Kemp

Housing and Planning Bill (Sixteenth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: Mr James Gray †, Sir Alan Meale

† Bacon, Mr Richard (South Norfolk) (Con)

† Blackman-Woods, Dr Roberta (City of Durham) (Lab)

† Caulfield, Maria (Lewes) (Con)

† Dowd, Peter (Bootle) (Lab)

† Griffiths, Andrew (Burton) (Con)

† Hammond, Stephen (Wimbledon) (Con)

† Hayes, Helen (Dulwich and West Norwood) (Lab)

† Hollinrake, Kevin (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)

† Jackson, Mr Stewart (Peterborough) (Con)

† Jones, Mr Marcus (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government)

† Kennedy, Seema (South Ribble) (Con)

† Lewis, Brandon (Minister for Housing and Planning)

† Morris, Grahame M. (Easington) (Lab)

† Pearce, Teresa (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)

† Pennycook, Matthew (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab)

† Philp, Chris (Croydon South) (Con)

† Smith, Julian (Skipton and Ripon) (Con)

† Thomas, Mr Gareth (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)

Glen McKee, Helen Wood, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Thursday 10 December 2015


[Mr James Gray in the Chair]

Housing and Planning Bill

I welcome the Committee to the final day of its consideration of the Housing and Planning Bill. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I remind Members that, under the programme motion, the Bill has to be out by 5 pm.

New Clause 2

Revocation or variation of banning orders

“(1) A person against whom a banning order is made may apply to the First-tier Tribunal for an order under this section revoking or varying the order.

(2) If the banning order was made on the basis of one or more convictions all of which are overturned on appeal, the First-tier Tribunal must revoke the banning order.

(3) If the banning order was made on the basis of more than one conviction and some of them (but not all) have been overturned on appeal, the First-tier Tribunal may—

(a) vary the banning order, or

(b) revoke the banning order.

(4) If the banning order was made on the basis of one or more convictions that have become spent, the First-tier Tribunal may—

(a) vary the banning order, or

(b) revoke the banning order.

(5) The power to vary a banning order under (3)(a) or (4)(a) may be used to add new exceptions to a ban or to vary—

(a) the banned activities,

(b) the length of a ban, or

(c) existing exceptions to a ban.

(6) In this section ‘spent’, in relation to a conviction, means spent for the purposes of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.”—(Mr Marcus Jones.)

This amendment allows a banning order to be revoked or varied in certain circumstances.

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 3

Offence of breach of banning order

“(1) A person who breaches a banning order commits an offence.

(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a period not exceeding 51 weeks or to a fine or to both.

(3) If a financial penalty under section 17 has been imposed in respect of the breach, the person may not be convicted of an offence under this section.

(4) In relation to an offence committed before section 281(5) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 comes into force, the reference in subsection (2) to 51 weeks is to be read as a reference to 6 months.”—(Mr Marcus Jones.)

This amendment makes it an offence to breach a banning order.

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 4

Offences by bodies corporate

“(1) Where an offence under section (Offence of breach of banning order) committed by a body corporate is proved to have been committed with the consent or connivance of, or to be attributable to any neglect on the part of, an officer of a body corporate, the officer as well as the body corporate commits the offence and is liable to be proceeded against and punished accordingly.

(2) Where the affairs of a body corporate are managed by its members, subsection (1) applies in relation to the acts and defaults of a member in connection with the member’s functions of management as if the member were an officer of the body corporate.”—(Mr Marcus Jones.)

This amendment ensures that officers of a body corporate can be prosecuted for offences committed by it under NC3. “Officer” is given a broad definition by clause 48 of the Bill.

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 5

Power to require information

“(1) A local housing authority may require a person to provide specified information for the purpose of enabling the authority to decide whether to apply for a banning order against the person. It is an offence for the person to fail to comply with a requirement, unless the person has a reasonable excuse for the failure. It is an offence for the person to provide information that is false or misleading if the person knows that the information is false or misleading or is reckless as to whether it is false or misleading.

(2) A person who commits an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine.”—(Mr Marcus Jones.)

This amendment allows a local housing authority to require a person to provide information for the purpose of deciding whether to apply for a banning order. For example, the number of properties that a landlord has may be relevant to whether an authority applies for a banning order. The power would allow the authority to require the landlord to provide that information.

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 6

Removal or variation of entries made under section 24

“(1) An entry made in the database under section 24 may be removed or varied in accordance with this section.

(2) If the entry was made on the basis of one or more convictions all of which are overturned on appeal, the responsible local housing authority must remove the entry.

(3) If the entry was made on the basis of more than one conviction and some of them (but not all) have been overturned on appeal, the responsible local housing authority may—

(a) remove the entry, or

(b) reduce the period for which the entry must be maintained.

(4) If the entry was made on the basis of one or more convictions that have become spent, the responsible local housing authority may—

(a) remove the entry, or

(b) reduce the period for which the entry must be maintained.

(5) If a local housing authority removes an entry in the database, or reduces the period for which it must be maintained, it must notify the person to whom the entry relates.

(6) In this section—

‘responsible local housing authority’ means the local housing authority by which the entry was made;

‘spent’, in relation to a conviction, means spent for the purposes of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974.”—(Mr Marcus Jones.)

This amendment allows a local housing authority to remove an entry in the database of rogue landlords and property agents or reduce the time for which the entry must be maintained in certain circumstances. See also NC7. There is no mention of clause 23 as an entry under that clause is maintained for as long as the banning order has effect.

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 7

Requests for exercise of powers under section (Removal or variation of entries made under section 24) and appeals

“(1) A person in respect of whom an entry is made in the database under section 24 may request the responsible local housing authority to use its powers under section (Removal or variation of entries made under section 24) to—

(a) remove the entry, or

(b) reduce the period for which the entry must be maintained.

(2) The request must be in writing.

(3) Where a request is made, the local housing authority must—

(a) decide whether to comply with the request, and

(b) give the person notice of its decision.

(4) If the local housing authority decides not to comply with the request the notice must include—

(a) reasons for that decision, and

(b) a summary of the appeal rights conferred by this section.

(5) Where a person is given notice that the responsible local housing authority has decided not to comply with the request the person may appeal to the First-tier Tribunal against that decision.

(6) An appeal to the First-tier Tribunal under subsection (5) must be made before the end of the period of 21 days beginning with the day on which the notice was given.

(7) The First-tier Tribunal may allow an appeal to be made to it after the end of that period if satisfied that there is a good reason for the person’s failure to appeal within the period (and for any subsequent delay).

(8) On an appeal under this section the tribunal may order the local housing authority to—

(a) remove the entry, or

(b) reduce the period for which the entry must be maintained.” —(Mr Marcus Jones.)

This amendment allows a person to request a local housing authority to use its powers to remove or vary an entry in the database of rogue landlords and property agents (see NC6). If the local housing authority refuses, the person may appeal to the First-tier Tribunal.

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 8

Meaning of “property manager” and related expressions

“(1) In this Part ‘property manager’ means a person who engages in English property management work.

(2) In this Part ‘English property management work’ means things done by a person in the course of a business in response to instructions received from another person (‘the client’) where—

(a) the client wishes the person to arrange services, repairs, maintenance, improvements or insurance in respect of, or to deal with any other aspect of the management of, premises on the client’s behalf, and

(b) the premises consist of housing in England let under a tenancy.”—(Mr Marcus Jones.)

This and related amendments are intended to ensure that a banning order can be made against any person who engages in property management work, not just letting agents who engage in such work.

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 17

Default powers exercisable by Mayor of London or combined authority

“(1) After section 27 of the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004 insert—

‘27A Default powers exercisable by Mayor of London or combined authority

Schedule A1 (default powers exercisable by Mayor of London or combined authority) has effect.’

(2) Before Schedule 1 to that Act insert, as Schedule A1, the Schedule set out in Schedule (Default powers exercisable by Mayor of London or combined authority: Schedule to be inserted in the Planning and Compulsory Purchase Act 2004) to this Act.

(3) In section 17 of that Act (local development documents), at the end of subsection (8) insert—

‘(c) is approved by the Mayor of London under paragraph 2 of Schedule A1;

(d) is approved by a combined authority under paragraph 6 of that Schedule.’”—(Mr Marcus Jones.)

This new Clause and NS2 make provision for the Secretary of State to invite the Mayor of London or a combined authority to prepare or revise a development plan document for a local planning authority in their area that is failing to progress the document.

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 18

Amendments to do with section 111 to 117

“Schedule (Right to enter and survey land: consequential amendments) amends legislation conferring rights of entry relating to the acquisition of an interest in or a right over land in England and Wales.”—(Mr Marcus Jones.)

This amendment, together with amendment 257 and new Schedule (Right to enter and survey land: consequential amendments), clarifies how the new right of entry in clause 111 will interact with a number of existing rights of entry.

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 23

Procedure for redeeming English rentcharges

“(1) The Rentcharges Act 1977 is amended in accordance with subsections (2) to (5).

(2) Before section 8 (but after the italic heading before section 8) insert—

‘7A Power to make procedure for redeeming English rentcharges

(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision allowing the owner of land in England affected by a rentcharge to redeem it.

(2) Regulations under subsection (1) may not make provision in relation to—For the purposes of subsection (2)(d) a rentcharge is variable if the amount of the rentcharge will, or may, vary in the future in accordance with the provisions of the instrument under which it is payable.

(a) a rentcharge that could be redeemed by making an application under section 8(1A),

(b) a rentcharge of a kind mentioned in section 2(3) or section 3(3)(a),

(c) a rentcharge in respect of which the period for which it is payable cannot be ascertained, or

(d) a variable rentcharge.

(3) Regulations under subsection (1) may, in particular—

(a) provide for the owner of land affected by a rentcharge to be able to redeem a rentcharge by taking specified steps, including making payments determined in accordance with the regulations;

(b) require a rent owner or other person to take specified steps to facilitate the redemption of a rentcharge, such as providing information or executing a deed of release;

(c) where the documents of title of the owner of land affected by a rentcharge are in the custody of a mortgagee, require the mortgagee to make those documents or copies of those documents available in accordance with the regulations;

(d) permit or require a person specified in the regulations to design the form of any document to be used in connection with the redemption of rentcharges under the regulations;

(e) provide for a court or tribunal to—

(i) determine disputes about or in relation to the redemption of a rentcharge;

(ii) make orders about the redemption of a rentcharge;

(iii) issue a redemption certificate;

(f) make provision corresponding to any of the provisions of section 10(2) to (4).

(4) Nothing in this section prevents the redemption of a rentcharge otherwise than in accordance with regulations under subsection (1).’

(3) In section 8—

(a) in subsection (1)—

(i) after ‘land’ insert ‘in Wales’;

(ii) for the words from ‘a certificate’ to the end substitute ‘a redemption certificate’;

(b) after subsection (1) insert—

‘(1A) The owner of any land in England affected by a rentcharge which has been apportioned to that land by an apportionment order with a condition under—

(a) section 7(2) above, or

(b) section 20(1) of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1927,

may apply to the Secretary of State, in accordance with this section, for a redemption certificate.’

(4) In section 12—

(a) in subsection (1), after ‘this Act’ insert ‘, apart from regulations under section 7A,’;

(b) after subsection (1) insert—

‘(1A) Regulations under section 7A are to be made by statutory instrument.

(1B) A statutory instrument containing regulations under section 7A may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.’

(5) In section 13(1), in the definition of ‘redemption certificate’, for the words from ‘has’ to the end substitute ‘means a certificate certifying that a rentcharge has been redeemed’.

(6) The Leasehold Reform Act 1967 is amended in accordance with subsections (7) and (8).

(7) In section 8(4)(b), for ‘8’ substitute ‘7A’.

(8) In section 11—

(a) in subsection (6), after ‘1977’ insert ‘or the amount that would have to be paid to secure the redemption of that rentcharge in accordance with regulations made under section 7A of that Act’;

(b) in subsection (7)(a), after ‘specified’ insert ‘or required’;

(c) in subsection (8), for ‘8’ substitute ‘7A’.”—(Mr Marcus Jones.)

This amendment will permit the Secretary of State to make regulations allowing the owner of land in England that is affected by a rentcharge to redeem that rentcharge without making an application to the Secretary of State as the procedure in section 8 of the Rentcharges Act 1977 would involve.

Brought up, and read the First time.

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr Gray, it has been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship these past few weeks, and it remains so today. With your permission, before I speak to new clause 23, I would like to inform the Committee that last night I sent the Clerks an updated assessment of the Bill’s legislative competence, following the amendments agreed so far and those being discussed today. I trust that it will help to inform Mr Speaker when he comes to re-certify the Bill at the appropriate time.

New clause 23 give the Secretary of State a power to make regulations setting out a new statutory redemption procedure for rentcharges, excluding those specified in new section 7A(2) of the Rentcharges Act 1977, as inserted by subsection (2) of the new clause. Currently, a rent payer can apply to the Secretary of State under section 8 of the 1977 Act for a redemption certificate. The rentcharge team will carry out the necessary checks and advise the rent payer on the amount needed for redemption. Once that amount has been paid, the team will issue a certificate of redemption.

We do not believe it appropriate in this day and age, and especially in the current financial climate, for the Government to continue to have a role in the redemption of rentcharges. The clause will allow the current procedure to be replaced with a mechanism that will be set out in regulations. The new procedure will no longer involve the Secretary of State in the redemption of rentcharges. Instead, the rent owner and the rent payer will be required to take certain steps for the redemption of a rentcharge. [Interruption.]

On a point of order, Mr Gray. I am trying to listen to the Minister with great interest, but there is clearly a conversation going on elsewhere within the room that is preventing me from listening to what feels like an excellent contribution.

I am grateful for that point of order from the Opposition Back Benches. The Government Whip might like to take note—[Interruption.] I repeat: the Government Whip might like to take note of the point of order, which is that there are too many conversations—mainly involving the Government Whip—happening on the Back Benches.

Thank you, Mr Gray.

It will still be possible for the parties to reach a private agreement on redemption voluntarily outside the statutory regime. The existing redemption procedure is set out in primary legislation. The power to set out the new procedure in regulation provides the flexibility to make changes with greater ease than would otherwise be the case. The new regime is likely to contain a level of detail not suited to primary legislation, as the regulations will be concerned with substantive matters, such as the property rights of both the rent payer and the rent owner, and will include provision on dispute resolution. It seems appropriate for the regulations to be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

I do not wish to say too much about the new clause at this stage, because I am conscious that much of the detail will come in regulations, and I am partly assured by the fact that the regulations will be affirmative. Presumably, we will get an opportunity at a later stage to consider the implications of the new clause in more detail.

I thank the hon. Lady for her contribution. On the basis of the assurance that we have provided to her, I commend the new clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 23 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 32

Secure tenancies etc: phasing out of tenancies for life

“Schedule (Secure tenancies etc: phasing out of tenancies for life) changes the law about secure tenancies, introductory tenancies and demoted tenancies to phase out tenancies for life.”—(Mr Marcus Jones.)

A secure tenant can currently live in a property for life. This amendment and NS4 phase out lifetime tenancies. In future secure tenancies will generally have to be for a fixed term of 2 to 5 years and will not automatically be renewed. Towards the end of the term, the landlord will have to do a review to decide whether to grant a new tenancy or recover possession.

Brought up, and read the First time.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government new clause 33—Succession to secure tenancies and related tenancies.

Government new schedule 4—Secure tenancies etc: phasing out of tenancies for life.

Government new schedule 5—Succession to secure tenancies and related tenancies.

New clause 32 and new schedule 4 together prevent local authorities in England from offering secure tenancies for life in most circumstances. They deliver on a commitment in the July Budget to review the use of lifetime tenancies, with a view to limiting their use. Currently, the vast majority of new social housing tenancies are offered on a lifetime basis, meaning tenants have the right to live in their social home for the rest of their lives, provided they keep to the conditions of their tenancy.

Since April 2012, following changes introduced by the coalition Government’s Localism Act 2011, local authorities have been able to offer so-called flexible tenancies—tenancies of a fixed term of no less than two years. However, they are not taking advantage of that flexibility. In 2014-15, only 8% of social tenancies granted by local authorities were flexible tenancies. That is only just over than 9,000 in all. At present, 236,000 social tenants are forced to live in overcrowded conditions due to the lack of suitably sized properties, while 380,000 households occupy social housing with two or more spare bedrooms. Under those circumstances, we believe that continuing to offer social tenancies on a lifetime basis is not an efficient use of scarce social housing.

The new clauses will significantly improve landlords’ ability to get the best use out of social housing by focusing it on those who need it most for as long as they need it. That will ensure that people who need long-term support are provided with more appropriate tenancies as their needs change over time and will support households to make the transition into home ownership where they can. In future, with limited exceptions, local authority landlords will only be able to grant tenancies with a fixed term of between two and five years, and will be required to use tenancy review points to support tenants’ move towards home ownership where appropriate.

Let me be clear: we are not taking away security of tenure from existing lifetime tenants who remain in their home. Moreover, these amendments will ensure that where existing lifetime tenants are moved by their landlord—for example, as part of an estate regeneration—they will retain their lifetime tenancy. We want to ensure that fixed-term tenancies do not act as a barrier to mobility.

Where lifetime tenants choose to move, local authority landlords will have limited discretion to offer further lifetime tenancies. We will prescribe the circumstances in which local authorities may exercise that discretion in regulations. We expect that such circumstances will include tenants downsizing to a smaller property and moving for work. We will obviously ensure that we develop the regulations in discussion with local authorities. Outside those limited exceptions, if local authorities try to offer a lifetime tenancy or one that is shorter than two years or longer than five, whether deliberately or by mistake, the tenancy will default to a five-year fixed term.

In the main, the statutory protections that the amendments provide for those granted a fixed-term tenancy are similar to those currently enjoyed by flexible tenants. A person who is offered a fixed-term tenancy by a prospective landlord may request a review of the landlord’s decision on the length of term offered. The landlord will be required to look at their decision again and explain how it was reached in the light of their published tenancy policy.

For an amendment or something as substantial as what the Minister is proposing, an impact assessment would normally be published. Do the Government intend to do anything like that?

The hon. Gentleman raises a good question, which I will come to later in my remarks.

Tenants will usually be able to terminate their tenancy at any stage, while enjoying protection from eviction during the fixed term. The local authority landlord will need to demonstrate to the court that one or more of the grounds for possession is proven and that they are acting reasonably in seeking possession.

The amendments will introduce an important new statutory protection. Local authority landlords will be required to carry out a review of the tenant’s circumstances between six and nine months before the end of the fixed term, so that they can take an appropriate decision about the household’s housing need and advise the tenant on their housing options. That will include moving into home ownership where that is a realistic option. The new review process will also apply to existing flexible tenants unless they have less than nine months to go on their tenancy agreement.

In the review, the landlord will need to consider whether to renew the tenancy, offer the tenant another, more suitable social home or terminate the tenancy. We expect that in many cases the tenancy will be renewed, but where the landlord decides that it should not be, it is essential that the tenant be given the opportunity to challenge that decision, as well as sufficient time to find alternative accommodation, following advice and support from their landlord.

Where the landlord is minded not to grant a further tenancy at the end of the fixed term, they will need to serve a notice on the tenant six months before the end of the flexible tenancy, setting out the reasons for the decision, which should reflect the landlord’s published policy and give the tenant the opportunity to seek an internal review. Where that review upholds the landlord’s original decision, the tenant will have the right to challenge the landlord’s right of possession as part of the possession proceedings in the county court, on the grounds that the landlord has failed to conduct the review properly or made an error of law.

Currently, where landlords grant flexible tenancies, the tenancy will automatically become a lifetime tenancy at the end of the fixed term unless the landlord grants a new tenancy or obtains possession. These amendments ensure that that cannot happen in the future. Instead, unless the landlord grants a new tenancy, a further five-year fixed-term tenancy will arise automatically at the end of the fixed term. That does not prevent the landlord from bringing the original tenancy to an end, but it gives the tenant some protection, while ensuring that the tenancy does not roll over into a lifetime tenancy.

During a fixed-term tenancy, tenants will have the same rights as most secure and flexible tenants do now. As with existing flexible tenants, however, the right to improve and to be compensated for improvements will not apply to fixed-term tenancies. Landlords will still be able to grant such rights within the tenancy agreement if they so choose.

I am intrigued by what the Minister means when he talks about having the same rights. We have heard a lot in the past few weeks about how the Government want all social tenants to have the right to buy, but is it not the case that social tenants who have less than a three-year tenancy will not have the right to buy? Is that not a clear difference between those two different types of social tenant?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She makes a very good point, to which I will return.

We are including protections for existing introductory and demoted tenants at the time that the Bill comes into force. Where tenants have a legitimate expectation that they would be granted a lifetime tenancy at the end of the tenancy—because, in the case of demoted tenants, they were previously lifetime tenants, or because, in the case of introductory tenants, the tenancy would otherwise automatically convert to a lifetime tenancy—they will still be given a lifetime tenancy.

I believe that, taken together, the amendments strike the right balance between stability and quality for tenants—new and existing—flexibility for the landlord and a move towards home ownership.

Will the Minister clarify the previous point? If a tenant is currently a local authority tenant with a lifetime tenancy and they move within the stock, does the lifetime tenancy move with them or will they then have to be offered a two to five-year tenancy?

In my comments earlier, I set out clearly that that can be the case, but that will depend on the circumstances of the tenant at the time and the policy of the local authority.

We want housing association landlords and tenants to reap the benefits from shorter-term tenancies as well. However, we clearly need to consider any changes to housing associations in the light of the recent decision of the Office for National Statistics on classification. We are working through the ONS reclassification decision and considering the options but, given the complexity of the matter, careful consideration is needed. We will continue to work closely with the housing association sector, the social housing regulator and other stakeholders to finalise the deregulatory package, and we will consider any changes to lifetime tenancies in the context of that work.

New clause 33 and new schedule 5 change the rules on succession to secure tenancies and make equivalent changes for introductory and demoted tenancies. Currently there are significant differences between the succession rights for secure tenancies granted before April 2012 and those for tenancies granted after the date when changes under the Localism Act 2011 came into force.

For secure tenancies granted before April 2012 there is a limit of one succession. Spouses and civil partners qualify to succeed automatically, while other family members, including cohabitees, also qualify but only if they have lived with the tenant for at least 12 months immediately before his or her death.

Since April 2012, only spouses, civil partners and those living together as spouse or civil partner have a statutory right to succeed. However, local authorities can provide any additional succession rights that they think appropriate, including to people who have already succeeded, and to non-family members such as live-in carers.

We do not think that there is a justification for retaining the inconsistency of approach between pre-2012 and post-2012 local authority tenancies. We therefore propose that the succession rights for secure tenancies granted before April 2012 be aligned with those granted after that date. The amendments will deliver a consistent approach across all secure tenancies and ensure that common-law partners are put on an equal footing with married couples and civil partners.

Other family members who may have had an expectation of succeeding to a secure tenancy granted before April 2012, having lived with the tenant for at least 12 months, will lose their statutory right to succeed. We do not think that it is right that those who may not need social housing, because, for example, they can rent or buy privately, should have the automatic right to succeed to a social home when nearly 1.4 million households are on council waiting lists.

Perhaps I can take the Minister briefly back to his reference to the deregulation agenda in relation to housing associations. Is he minded to apply his proposed measures affecting council housing tenants to housing association tenants as well?

As I said a few minutes ago, we clearly need to consider any changes that we might want to make. As I intimated, we would consider that, but we need to make any changes in the light of the reclassification. That is why we are saying that we want to consider the position extremely carefully. We expect to work closely with the housing association sector and the social housing regulator, and other stakeholders, to finalise any deregulatory package. We will consider—and we are considering—changes. That will happen in the context of the work I have mentioned.

I was explaining that family members other than common-law partners, married couples and civil partners will lose any statutory right they may have had to succeed to a secure tenancy granted before April 2012. Instead, local authorities will have the discretion to grant them succession rights, which must be written into the tenancy agreement. Where local authorities grant additional succession rights, we expect they will apply the same rules to tenancies granted before and after April 2012. However, we will provide guidelines to assist local authorities to exercise their discretion.

As you know, Mr Gray, I listen avidly to what the Prime Minister says on these matters. In August 2010, in a speech in Birmingham, he said of this proposal that

“not everyone will support this and there will be quite a big argument”.

Well, he is right on that one: there will be a big argument. More importantly, however, he also said that the proposal would help with social mobility. It would be helpful if the Minister, in the absence of the Prime Minister, could explain why it will help with social mobility in any way whatever.

The measure will help with social mobility—all the policies in the Bill are aimed at helping with social mobility. We want people who are able to purchase their own property—to exercise the right to buy—to do so and to exercise what we see as a right to social mobility. Within this policy, in many cases, the circumstances of tenants will be reviewed; in certain cases, it may prompt people who may otherwise not have thought about purchasing their own home to do so where they feel they are able to. That is an important thing for everybody to have the opportunity to do if they are able to.

Does the Minister envisage any exemptions for households where there are young children? One thinks, for example, of the need to offer young children stability of schooling, allowing them to go through primary school or to complete their passage through GCSEs. Might there be flexibility on secure tenancies in that situation?

When a housing authority is doing a review of the circumstances of tenants who are in that position—where their bedrooms are fully occupied, and where they have children at schools—we would not expect it to assess their circumstances in the context that they have changed significantly enough to mean that those people would not be able to take a further tenancy from that authority. It is important to stress to the hon. Gentleman that this is all about trying to free up social housing for the people who really need it; this is not about taking away social housing from people whose circumstances have not changed significantly.

To come back to the point I was making about succession, even where family members do not benefit from additional succession rights, the landlord will still be able to issue them with a new tenancy in the same or a different property if they have had sufficient priority under the council’s allocation scheme. That will ensure that landlords take account of particularly hard cases. That feeds into the point made by the hon. Member for Harrow West.

The proposals ensure that spouses, civil partners and those who live together as such continue to have an automatic right to succeed to a lifetime tenancy. That seems only fair, particularly as, in many cases, they will be joint tenants. However, it is difficult to justify why other people should succeed to a lifetime tenancy, particularly when most new tenants will receive a five-year fixed-term tenancy. The proposals ensure, therefore, that anyone other than a spouse or partner will no longer be able to inherit a lifetime tenancy. Instead, if they qualify to succeed, they will be given a five-year fixed-term tenancy. At the end of the fixed-term period, the landlord will be required to carry out a review of their circumstances, as they would need to do for any new fixed-term tenant. If the tenant is still in need of social housing, the landlord will be able to grant a further fixed-term tenancy of between two and five years. We think that, taken together, the amendments strike the right balance between protection for the tenants and their families, and flexibility for landlords.

May I offer the Minister the example of a person who has a long-term disability and is in a specially adapted council property? Will there be an exemption for that person under the exemptions that the Minister says may be on offer through the regulations?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his question. There are people who have certain needs, and he mentioned somebody who is disabled and in a property that has been specially adapted to deal with that disability. He needs to realise that the amendments are not couched in terms of automatically asking somebody in those circumstances who comes to the end of a fixed-term tenancy to move on. They are about reviewing circumstances. If, after that review, it is found that the disability of the person in question has not changed and that they still need that type of property with the housing adaptations that have been made, the local authority should not do anything other than renew the tenancy, as long as the person who is occupying the property has fulfilled the obligations under their tenancy agreement.

Let me come on to one or two of the questions that were asked during the debate. A question was asked about the impact assessment. We will publish a revised Bill impact assessment, and this will certainly be included in that.

I assure the hon. Gentleman that it will be published before the Bill goes to the Lords.

On the right to buy, the answer is yes, the tenant will still be able to exercise their right to buy. They must have had three years in social housing to be eligible. That is the same for flexible tenancies. Part of the purpose of the review at the end of the tenancy is to consider whether a person can exercise the right to buy if they are eligible to do so.

Will the Minister explain something? If somebody has less than a three-year tenancy, they will not have the right to buy. If they have a two-year tenancy, then a break and then another two-year tenancy, they will not have the right to buy. Is it possible that some local authorities will not grant longer tenancies as a way of not extending the right to buy to some tenants? Has the Minister looked at that to see whether it is a possible loophole?

I am trying to think carefully about the hon. Lady’s logic. I think that the circumstances she mentioned would apply to people who have a lifetime tenancy. If a person does two years and, by their own volition, whether they are on a lifetime tenancy or a fixed tenancy, moves into private rented accommodation and then comes back to the local authority for rehousing, they would not have built up the three years that makes them eligible to take on the right to buy.

This issue has come up several times. The hon. Lady is saying that the local authority moves them out of the property after two years, but at the end of the two-year fixed tenancy, the situation is reviewed and the people’s circumstances are taken into account. I cannot see that this policy will stop people being able to take up right to buy.

The provisions also align the succession rights of introductory and demoted tenants with those of secure tenants. Spouses, civil partners and those living together as a married couple will have a statutory right to succeed and the landlord will be able to grant additional succession rights in the tenancy agreement. None of the changes will apply where the tenant died before the Bill comes into force. I therefore hope that hon. Members will take the measures in the spirit in which they are intended and accept them.

I will be very measured in my comments on the two new clauses, but I want to say to the Minister and put on the record that I am extremely angry about what is contained in the new clauses. I am angry in terms of process and in terms of content. I do not think it is helpful to the deliberations of this Committee to have had these extremely controversial and wide-ranging new clauses added on the last day of the Committee. I am also angry because, as far as I can see, there has been—

I am looking at the new clauses before us today and the ones that the Committee has not dealt with previously. I can see only a small number of new clauses tabled by the Government, but a significantly greater number of new clauses submitted at this stage to the Committee. I ask the hon. Lady: is not what is good for the goose good for the gander?

I thought the Minister was going to make a serious intervention about the content of the new clauses. The point I was making is that the Government new clauses, which are wide ranging and controversial and have an impact on lots of people’s lives, should not have been brought to this Committee on the last day of its deliberations without any consultation, without an impact assessment and without any background information. It really is extraordinary. It is extremely bad practice and not good policy making.

It is the content of the clauses that concerns and outrages me. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) said this morning:

“People will be astonished that Ministers are legislating to deny families a stable home. This will cause worry and upheaval for tenants, and break up communities.”

Because the new clauses have not been in the public domain for long, people are only now trying to catch up with what the impact might mean for people. However, some housing lawyers have contacted us to say:

“Presently, local authorities generally grant periodic secure tenancies. Such tenancies have no automatic end date, rather, they end only when the court makes an order for possession or when a tenant gives up the tenancy. Moreover, if you are the spouse or civil partner of a local authority tenant then, on the death of that tenant, you can succeed to the tenancy on the same terms.”

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. I want to finish what I am saying about this particular issue. The housing lawyers who have contacted us said:

“The new clauses end both of these rights. If the new clauses are accepted, local authorities will only (save for limited exceptions which will mostly be dealt with in secondary legislation)”—

as we heard from the Minister earlier—

“be able to grant tenancies for a fixed term of between 2 and 5 years. Towards the end of the fixed term (defined as between 9 and 6 months before it ends) the landlord will decide whether to offer another fixed term. Whilst there is a right to ask a landlord to review a decision not to offer another fixed term, there is no right to challenge the decision, e.g. by appeal to a court.”

Therefore, the spouse or civil partner of a local authority tenant, on death of that tenant, might get a five-year tenancy, or they might not.

The lawyers continue:

“This is a major reform of housing law, probably the most important since local authority tenants were given security of tenure in the Housing Act 1980. It requires much more detailed (and technical) consideration than just being dropped in for debate on the last day of the Committee Stage. There are, for example, two unintended consequences”—

my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West has just raised one. There is great concern about the potential impact on the right to buy, but there is also major concern about provisions for recovery of possession at the end of the fixed term and for recovery of possession against a successor.

The lawyers say that the current proposals are simply unworkable because

“where a local authority grants a fixed term tenancy, possession proceedings operate by way of forfeiture. Yet the Bill excludes forfeiture from the remedies available against these fixed term tenancies.”

The lawyers direct the Minister to read “Flexible Tenancies and Forfeiture” by Andrew Dymond in volume 17 of the Journal of Housing Law so that he can see how the drafting is flawed.

The lawyers continue:

“a 2 year fixed term means, in reality, only 15 months of security (since the decision whether to extend your tenancy can start with 9 months remaining on the term)”.

A two-to-five-year churn, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West pointed out, has huge implications for the stability of families and communities. It is important that the Minister addresses some of the points about what churn could mean in practice for the stability of families.

As my hon. Friend the Minister pointed out, there are 1.4 million people on the housing waiting list. Does the hon. Lady recognise that there is a real need to make the best use of our housing stock? People’s lifestyles change, as they go from living in a larger family to perhaps living on their own in a house that is larger than they need. Are these not sensible proposals to make sure we make best use of our housing stock?

Local authorities already have the power to grant fixed-term tenancies if they wish to do so. The issue we have been struggling somewhat to get across in the Committee to date is that, if there is a huge need for social rented housing, the way to deal with that need is to build more social rented housing units, not to make life more difficult for those who already occupy social rented housing by kicking them out using a whole variety of mechanisms.

Let me finish the point.

Increasing rents to a level that people will not be able to afford and having the bedroom tax in place means that a lot of people have to move out of their homes. Now, on the last day of our deliberations, we have this extraordinary set of measures, which seek to take secure tenancies away from people in the social rented sector. This is an extraordinary change. What I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that the way of dealing with acute housing need is to build more housing across all tenures, including for social rent, and I hope he will accept that.

I absolutely accept that. Does the hon. Lady therefore welcome the 55% rise in the number of affordable houses—25,000 more properties— built in 2014-15 versus 2013-14?

A further thing I have been trying to do in the Committee is to make it clear that there are social rents and there are affordable rents. Affordable rents are not necessarily what we would all understand as affordable, because, in a lot of areas, 80% of the market rent is not affordable. Of course, that also applies to other measures for low-cost home ownership. Throughout the Committee’s deliberations, we have been questioning whether the Government’s definition of low-cost home ownership actually is low-cost home ownership.

Taking at face value the question from the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton—and given the conversations on the Government Benches, one should perhaps be cautious about doing that—might he not be tempted to support new clause 37, which would make it easier for councils to build more homes and thus deal with the backlog of people on waiting lists?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. I hope that we are able look at that this afternoon, because it would be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say about it.

Traditional secured tenancies are not tenancies for life. They are invariably subject to a probation period of at least a year. If there is antisocial behaviour during the tenancy, the court has the power to take away security of tenure and reduce the tenant’s rights in a demoted tenancy, so there are already measures that enable local authorities to end tenancies if there is a problem with the tenant. Indeed, the Local Government Association wrote to us to say:

“The Localism Act 2011 introduced flexible tenancies in acknowledgement that ‘a one size fits all model on rents and tenancies is not the best answer to the wide range of needs and circumstances of those accessing the social rented sector’. Councils should retain this freedom to manage locally their Tenancy Policy and decisions over tenancies. Every housing market is different and blanket national enforcements may risk impacting on coordinated local efforts to balance efficient use of stock while building stable neighbourhoods and communities. The requirement to review each tenancy every five years would be a significant administrative burden on councils. We would like to support the Government to work with councils in order for it to understand the impact of fixed-term tenancies and to then be able to use the information to inform future tenancy strategy.”

The new clause is not only profoundly unfair and unjust for people who need and are fortunate enough to get social rented tenancies, but profoundly anti-localist. That is what the local councils themselves say.

The 2011 Act gave local authorities flexibility. If, because of local circumstances, they have not used that flexibility to the degree that the Minister would like, under localism that should not give the Minister the right to legislate for them to do things differently. I want the Minister to explain why he thinks it is appropriate to introduce these new clauses on the last day of Committee stage. What work has been carried out with local authorities and tenants’ organisations to understand the impact of the proposals? What is he going to do from now on in terms of both the impact assessment and having the important discussions that must take place before the proposals go any further?

If a 46-year-old woman becomes a war widow, and her family fly the nest with the exception of one child, would she be asked to move out with the remaining child in due course? Would she pay the price of the Government’s social mobility policy by losing her marital and family home? What would she say to the child? Does my hon. Friend have any advice on that?

At this point, I do not—in fact, I was going to ask the Minister about that. Another question is: what about adult children who have been living in the house as their home for a very long time?

I shall finish with the following point. The reason why Margaret Thatcher offered secure tenancies in the 1980s is that she understood the need for tenancies that would offer families stability. There was a lot of discussion in the run-up to the 1979 election about what would happen to people in the social rented sector, and it was a good thing. It was the result of many years of lobbying and of knowing how important secure tenancies are to the stability not only of households but of communities that the legislation was introduced. It was introduced after a long period and a lot of deliberation, and it is critical that we do not legislate this morning to just get rid of it on what appears to be the whim of a Minister, a particular set of Ministers, or even the Prime Minister. It requires careful consideration, and we have not had the opportunity to consider the full implications of the measures.

My family had years of private rented accommodation and of being moved on, with young children. Getting a secure council tenancy was critical in giving all of us stability and good opportunities for social mobility. I cannot see where social mobility comes into these clauses. We know that making life more insecure does not lead to greater social mobility.

I am very interested in what my hon. Friend is saying about social mobility. When I was granted a social tenancy at 21, I was on my own with my daughter. I stayed there for two years. In those two years, due to the lower rent and my increased job prospects, I was able to save enough to move out and buy my own property. Had I had a tenancy that I knew would end, I probably would not have been in a position to do that, because I would have been so fearful of where I would go next that it would have held back my social mobility.

I thank my hon. Friend for that helpful intervention, which demonstrates the clear difference between Opposition and Government Members: we appreciate the value of social rented housing to many individuals and families in this country, and how important it often is in enabling people to turn their lives around and in giving stability, particularly to families on low incomes seeking to do their best in difficult circumstances. It is not simply a product that can be used one way and then another; it is important for whole families and for their life choices.

Security of tenure often gives people time, as my hon. Friend said, to think about what options and opportunities might be available to them, such as education or retraining. It is critical that we do not remove that important support mechanism and pull the rug from under people, particularly when they might be facing difficulties. We should ensure that they get the support they need.

The more I think about it, the closer I come to the word to describe it. Does my hon. Friend agree that asking local authorities and registered social landlords to go to people and effectively move them out of their houses is pusillanimous, to say the least?

Yes. If this is the result, the circumstances will be absolutely dreadful. Whether or not families are ultimately moved on, they will now have to live with the insecurity of knowing that they could be moved on at any time. That is what is particularly pernicious about the measures. They are part of a continuing vendetta against social tenants in this country. That is what we must assume from how the measures have been introduced and their content.

The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead made the point beautifully. We all understand the need for social housing. She needed social housing at one time in her life, and the property was available. The measure is about making the best use of our housing stock.

We dealt with that earlier. I ask the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to turn their attention to how we can deliver more social rented housing.

I will give way to the Minister once I have dealt with the intervention by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton. The way to deal with the huge demand for social rented housing is to build more of it. The figures I gave much earlier showed that last year the lowest number of homes for social rent in decades was built—I think it was 10,000 units.

We have heard the heartening story of the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead. If she had chosen to, with a lifetime tenancy, she could by definition still be living in that house today while earning £74,000 a year as a Member of Parliament. Does the hon. Member for City of Durham think that it is right for someone to hold on to a lifetime tenancy in those circumstances, when people in housing need have nowhere near that income?

The Minister is sidestepping the point—for a change. We need to build more homes that are genuinely affordable—social homes, to rent. The Government are just making life more difficult for council tenants, trying to get them to move on somehow or other, rather than addressing the fundamental underlying problem, which is the lack of genuinely affordable housing.

Just to clarify, I did have a lifetime tenancy, and my options were either to stay, to buy the property—which I did not do—or to save up, buy something, and leave the tenancy for someone else. Since then four other families have had the flat, because I did not remove it from the social stock by buying it. I do not understand the point about what I could have done if I had had a lifetime tenancy, because I did have one.

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman and then I am anxious to conclude because other Members want to speak.

The hon. Lady is very kind to give way. Of course Conservative Members agree that we should build more social or affordable housing, and the Bill will achieve that. Does she agree, however, that cases such as that of the former Member for Holborn and St Pancras, Frank Dobson, who occupied a council house for 30-odd years despite being a Cabinet Minister, are poor use of housing stock, and that a family in Camden on a low income would have been much better off occupying that council property?

The hon. Gentleman needs to turn his attention to what the Local Government Association has said on the matter:

“The Localism Act 2011 introduced flexible tenancies in acknowledgement that ‘a one size fits all model on rents and tenancies is not the best answer to the wide range of needs and circumstances’”.

Local authorities already can offer flexible tenancies if they want to. The provisions before the Committee would force all councils to do it, and do it in a particular way, whether or not that accorded with local circumstances and met tenants’ needs.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth and Dearne said that the provisions are a continuation of a “vendetta against council tenants”. The manner in which they have been tabled, and the lack of consultation with the housing sector, tenants or anyone who might be affected, show that he is probably right. I look forward to the Minister’s having the good sense to withdraw them and to allow proper discussion of such a key issue before a decision is made.

It is absolutely shameful that the Government have tabled this new clause so late in the Committee’s deliberations, without time for tenants to be consulted, without time for the Committee to take evidence orally or in writing from tenants and from those who represent tenants, and without the opportunity to hear the views of the social housing sector and of councils. The proposal is yet another radical reform and a forceful attack on social housing as we know it.

Southwark Council, one of the councils that I represent, consulted during the previous Parliament on the Government’s proposed flexibility to change the form of council tenancies. It consulted extensively with its tenants and in the end it decided to take advantage of the proposal to introduce introductory tenancies, but not to remove lifetime tenancies. That was because of the views that residents expressed during the consultation.

I recall a conversation with a woman who lives on one of my council estates. She was an original right-to-buy tenant. She bought her flat and brought up her family there. She has lived on the estate for more than 40 years and has been the life and soul of the community; she has been chair and vice-chair of her tenants and residents association. She said to me, “If you as the council introduce this proposal, we are finished as a community, because you will be undermining the stability of our community. You will be destabilising. We will have a much more rapid turnover. Our ability to be a cohesive, strong, stable and long-term community on this estate will be gone.” That is the significance of this proposed reform of social housing. It denies stability and security to households on low and moderate incomes, who cannot afford to buy.

I do not understand why the Government are so set on making a distinction between the aspirations of people who can afford to buy and those of everybody else. I do not understand why the Government are bent on denying people on lower incomes the stability of knowing that they can live in their community for the long term; that they can send their children to the local school for as long as they need to be there; that they can invest in that community and play an active role in supporting their neighbours and in giving back. I do not understand why the Government are making that distinction on income grounds alone.

I am concerned that a consequence of the proposal will be to force tenants, for whom home ownership is not sustainable in the long term, to consider the right to buy. In my nearly six years as a councillor, many residents have come to me in deep distress because of the cost of major works bills and the cost of service charges, which they did not necessarily anticipate were coming and which they had not set aside the money for. They had 95% mortgages and they did not have the equity in their home to be able to borrow to cover those costs. Their home is threatened as a consequence of the financial strain. I am concerned that if people think they have only two, three or five years to live in their social home, and that the way to achieve longevity is to buy their home, they will be forced to take up the right-to-buy option when it is not in their long-term financial interests to do so.

It is worth rehearsing exactly how many and varied the ways are in which the Government seem bent on an attack on social tenants. We have the high income tenant provision for tenants who are not actually recognised as high earners by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs under the pay to stay clauses. We are still living with the pernicious bedroom tax. We have absolutely no funding line at all in the comprehensive spending review to deliver a Government subsidy for new social housing, the delivery of which—not the punishment of existing tenants—is the key to solving the social housing crisis. The forced sale of council homes will reduce the number of those homes available to meet the need that is there. This is a race to the bottom on housing for those on low to moderate incomes. It seems to me that the poor standards and insecurity of tenure of the private rented sector are the standards the Government are aiming for, rather than an aspiration to raise standards and security of tenure, and the availability of secure tenure, for those on low to moderate incomes.

New clause 32 is a further pernicious measure that simply punishes those who, through no fault of their own, are on low to moderate incomes. It shows absolute contempt for social tenants that the new clause has been introduced with no opportunity for tenants or their representatives to be consulted and make their views known, and with no opportunity for the Government to hear from them at first hand. Many times during Committee I have referred to my constituents—the people who, every week, come to my surgeries and write to me. Week in, week out, many people raise issues relating to security of tenure. They worry and are caused great anxiety—in fact, it affects their mental health to know that they might have to take their children out of school to move to a more affordable area. Insecurity of tenure undermines people’s ability to save for the future, the strength of community connections, and the ability of people to support each other in a mixed, balanced and diverse community. These things matter to all residents, not only those who can afford to buy their own home.

I would like the Committee and the Government to hear at first hand from tenants and leaseholders—those who live alongside tenants on our mixed and diverse estates—about the effect the new clause will have on them. I hope that the Government will withdraw the new clause so that tenants’ views on it can be heard and can inform the debate.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship once again, Mr Gray.

I rise to oppose the new clauses and new schedules. In doing so, I will try to be as measured as my hon. Friends the Members for City of Durham and for Dulwich and West Norwood, but I too am angry. Let us be clear: this is not just one group of a bunch of new provisions that have been tabled; taken together, the new clauses and new schedules represent a significant reform of housing law—probably, as my hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham said, the most important since local authority tenants were given security of tenure by the Thatcher Government in the Housing Act 1980. We can have a robust debate about the rationale for the Government’s policy, but whatever the views of individual Members on the Government and Opposition Benches, there is absolutely no justification for the shabby way that these provisions have been brought before the Committee. There has been no consultation or impact assessment. The Minister says we will get one sometime before the Bill goes to the House of Lords, but that will not give the Committee an opportunity to scrutinise this important legislation properly.

Is it not all the more disappointing that the Minister has confirmed that housing association tenants also face the potential loss of their secure tenancies? We do not know when there will be a consultation on that either, in the same way as there has not yet been a consultation on the provisions before us now.

My hon. Friend makes a good point. If I was a housing association tenant, or if I ran a housing association, I would be worried by the implications of the new clause and new schedules for tenants and for the sector as a whole.

Turning to some of the specifics, I have a number of concerns about the consequences, intended or otherwise, of the proposals. The most important is that the new clauses are yet another example of the centralising nature of the Bill. Perhaps that is the weakest part of the Government’s argument. The Minister argued that the measures are intended to promote the more efficient use of council housing, and the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton said that they are designed to make better use of stock, but the Localism Act 2011 already allows local authorities to grant fixed-term tenancies.

Currently, it is left to local councils to decide whether to grant traditional secure tenancies or fixed-term tenancies. The Minister touched on the fact that there will be freedom and opportunity for local authorities. If that is the aim, why the need for legislation? They have that as things stand. More telling was his staggering comment that the measures are needed because local authorities are not taking advantage of the freedoms available to them. What kind of localism is it that says to a local authority, “Here is a power that you can use if you decide, as a democratically elected local authority, that the housing needs in your area demand it, but if you don’t use it, we are going to take it away, make you look at it again and force you to use it”? That is not localism. As the Conservative party has championed localism, I thought that the Government might have thought about this measure a little more carefully.

My hon. Friend the Member for City of Durham has already said that the provisions for recovery of possession at the end of the fixed term and against a successor are not workable. Where a local authority grants a fixed-term tenancy, possession proceedings operate by way of forfeiture, yet the Bill excludes forfeiture from the remedies available against fixed-term tenancies. That is unsurprising, because the provisions have been introduced so hastily that the drafting is flawed and will need to be reviewed at a later date.

Perhaps the most important point is the one made powerfully by my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood. The new clauses and new schedules will have implications for the building and maintaining of stable and secure communities. I return to a point that we have touched on several times previously, including in our discussion of the pay to stay clauses. When we look at social and public housing as a zero sum game, through the lens of dependency and economic subsidy, as Government Members clearly do, we are into a world where we are undermining mixed communities. I thought that the Government—the coalition Government certainly stated this—believed in sustainable, inclusive, mixed communities. How can we have mixed communities if anyone who does well, who saves and gets a better job, is encouraged to move on?

As my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead, who has actually experienced living in social housing, has said, if they have the opportunity and the security and stability on which to do it, most people will take the opportunity to buy their own home and move out at some point in the future. Coercing people or applying pressure on them to do so is not the way to encourage them to move on. That is what the provisions will do.

The new clauses do not, as the Minister said, strike the right balance; they will be deeply damaging to communities throughout England, including those I represent in Plumstead, Charlton, Woolwich and Greenwich. I encourage the Minister to visit some of the estates and talk to the people there, who will say exactly as my hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood did: the people who hold these communities together—the glue, if you like—are those tenants who have perhaps done a little better than others but have stayed and are trusted and looked to as community figures.

The measures will increase transience and churn and undermine mixed communities. They are conclusive proof that the central thrust of the Bill is an attack on public housing and the families who rely on it. It is bad policy and, more important, it is bad policy making. The Government should go away and look again and at least, at a minimum, if they really believe in this, come back to us after a consultation when we can look at a proper impact assessment. They should not be introducing these new clauses in such a shabby way.

Order. The hon. Gentleman should realise that if he wants to catch my eye, he must stand up in his place.