House of Lords
Wednesday, 1 July 2015.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of St Albans.
Oaths and Affirmations
Several noble Lords took the oath or made the solemn affirmation, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
International Students: Post-study Visa
My Lords, the UK continues to have an excellent offer for international graduates wishing to undertake skilled work in the UK after their studies. There is no limit to the number of students who can remain, if they secure a graduate job. The Government have no plans to reintroduce the previous post-study work route, which saw large numbers of fraudulent applications from graduates who remained unemployed or in low-skilled work.
My Lords, there is an economic imperative: we are pretty much at full employment. We do not just need to attract the brightest and the best from around the world to come to study in the United Kingdom, we also want them to stay and play their part, be economically active and then, when they go home, be great ambassadors for the United Kingdom—what a fabulous example of soft power. Does my noble friend agree that we need to focus on and grasp this economic opportunity, and will he also agree to meet with me and other interested Peers to discuss how we may improve the current situation?
I am, of course, very happy to meet with my noble friend on this important issue. I agree totally with him that the offer that we have for international students plays a significant part in our economy. They bring experience and investment into our universities. However, I think that there is a problem with the messages that we send to students. In some parts of the world, people say that we put a limit on the number of students but there is no limit on the number of students to bona fide universities. They say that we send out a message that they are not welcome to stay, but we have said that they can stay, providing they are in a graduate-level job, an internship or a doctoral programme; they are genuinely looking for work; or if they are setting up a business. That is the right balance, but we have got to get that message out there and I am happy to meet with my noble friend to discuss how we do that.
My Lords, the Royal College of Art, a postgraduate institution in which I declare an interest, launches more new student start-ups than any other UK university. This year, however, its most innovative, international social entrepreneurs and inventors, its design engineers and healthcare innovators, who would have set up UK businesses upon graduation, will now return home instead. Can the Minister begin to assess the loss of enterprise and competitiveness of ending most—and it is most—tier 1 visas for budding entrepreneurs, and also the impact of skill shortages on specialist companies reluctant to deal with the increased red tape and hurdles of tier 2 visas?
We have a specific tier 1 graduate entrepreneur visa whereby people are encouraged to stay, particularly if they are working in the area of technology, which the noble Baroness is talking about. We have systems whereby people are given 12 months to explore where they can do, in particular, a doctorate degree. I would be very interested to discuss further with the noble Baroness why people are making that decision when the rules have been designed so that the brightest and best can stay here and contribute to the UK economy.
Does the Minister agree that the time has now clearly come for Her Majesty’s Government to say that the number of non-EU students who come to our shores every year—well over 100,000—and whose contribution, culturally and economically, is massive, should be taken entirely out of the immigration equation? Does he also agree that it is only by acting in that simple, straightforward way that the Prime Minister’s pledge that immigration would be reduced below 100,000 can be put properly to the test?
Obviously I respect what the noble Lord says, but we follow the UN guidelines on this. The ONS also follows them when it is producing the statistics, and they are used in the US, Australia and Canada on pretty much the same basis—that is, students are included in the figures. Of course, speaking as a Home Office Minister responsible in your Lordships’ House for answering questions on immigration, it would be very convenient if we could lift 140,000 or so out of the statistics, but that would do nothing to tackle the real problem. Last year 135,000 students came here and only 44,000 left, so 91,000 remain. We cannot be serious about immigration without tackling that problem.
I am very happy to meet representatives of the universities. In fact, earlier this year the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Migration produced a very helpful report entitled UK Post Study Work Opportunities for International Students, which drew on evidence from universities. I have read it, and it may be helpful to follow it up with universities to make sure that we get the message out on what we are selling and what they should be selling—that is, world-class education, in which we specialise, not low-skilled employment.
My Lords, some time ago, as a member of a digital study that we were doing in this House, a group of us went to Imperial College. We were told categorically by graduate students there that they would have to leave within two or three months of finalising their studies. The Minister is saying that they do not have to do that, so why do we not get that message across? I am hearing that from students everywhere, so they are getting misinformation or a lack of information. I think that it would be to the benefit of us all to get that message across.
Imperial College is a world-leading university and we are very proud of it. I want to be clear on the specific point that my noble friend made. If someone is not going into a graduate-level job, they will have four months following the completion of their course to look for work. If they do not do that but are able to find graduate-level employment, they are able to apply for a tier 2 visa. If they secure a temporary internship, they can stay for 12 months. If they are completing a doctorate, they can stay for 12 months, and if they are setting up a business, they are particularly welcome and can stay longer.
My Lords, in the field of science there is no question but that a student is at his most productive and most useful immediately after completing his doctorate. Practically speaking, we are currently training what will be our opposition over the next 10 years, because these graduates are going back to their own countries and developing technology which would be highly useful to the British economy. Surely we need to try to do something about that.
That is a fair point, and as regards STEM subjects, the noble Lord is absolutely right. We also need to remember that there is a development point. Due to the world-class education that we have, many people come to this country from less-developed economies. The idea of them taking their skills and experiences of British life and culture back to those countries is also an incredibly important part of the soft power that my noble friend Lord Holmes began his Question with.
Will my noble friend reflect for a moment and consider the wisdom of putting in writing for every higher education institution what he said to this House this afternoon, so that all potential graduates know what the position will truly be when they graduate?
Obviously my ministerial colleague has responsibility for universities within BIS. I will certainly talk with him, and also with my honourable friend at the Home Office, James Brokenshire, who has responsibility for this area there, and see if we can do just that.
Royal Bank of Scotland
My Lords, the Chancellor announced on 10 June that the Government intend to begin selling their shares in the Royal Bank of Scotland in the next few months. The Chancellor is acting on independent advice from the Governor of the Bank of England and a review by Rothschild that it is in the interests of taxpayers to begin now to sell our stake in RBS and return the bank to the private sector.
That is very disappointing. We now have an opportunity to break up RBS into regional stakeholder banks. We know that these banks are better at lending to SMEs and more stable, and contribute more to regional growth. Will the Minister agree to publish a proper and full analysis of the comparative merits of different ways of dealing with RBS, including breaking it up into regional stakeholder banks?
My Lords, it was never the intention of the Government to be a permanent investor in the UK banking sector. At a national level, both RBS and Lloyds are already in the process of divesting part of their UK banking businesses. The Government do not believe that the case for breaking up the core operations of any bank in which the Government have a stake into regional entities meets the objectives of maximising the bank’s ability to support the British economy, getting the best value for the taxpayer or facilitating a return to private ownership. The cost of reorganisation would be attributable to the banks and, as a result, would be fully borne by the taxpayer. The significant issue is the trade-off between the costs, which are certain and significant, and the benefits, which are uncertain.
But, my Lords, as the Minister has just indicated, the bank is involved in restructuring at present and is still awaiting a judgment in the United States on the mis-selling of subprime mortgages—which takes us back a little while. How can the Government think in terms of having an early timetable for the selling off of this bank? The bank is now trading a long way below the price that the Government paid for it in 2008. Will that not mean that there will be a distinct and significant loss to the taxpayer?
My Lords, I made no criticism of the Labour Government when they bailed out RBS and made no criticism of the average price that they paid. But of course it is part of the mathematics of selling the bank for a loss that they paid 502p. As to the present price and whether it is being discounted, it is true that there is a law suit from the FHFA in the United States, but our independent advice is that the current share price fully reflects the concerns about any future law suits in that regard.
My Lords, can my noble friend explain to the spokesman for the Opposition that the fact that the Labour Government grossly overpaid for a bombed-out bank with shares that were virtually worthless should be a matter of shame to him and should not inhibit the Government from doing what is the right thing to do?
My Lords, both opposition parties have already asked a question, but the Labour Party fielded its Front Bench first, so, arguably, it should be the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.
That is not the prospect. Since the policy was announced, the shares have actually gone up. The independent advice we received from Rothschild said that giving a strong signal that it was ready for sale would help the share price. By letting some shares go now, the free float would increase and the benefit to the taxpayer would be increased. The Governor of the Bank of England concurred.
My Lords, the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards specifically recommended exactly the study that my noble friend Lord Sharkey described because of the lack of diversity in the UK’s banking system. Given that report after report has identified lack of diversity and lack of local banks as the biggest barriers to securing both economic growth and financial stability, why did the Government specifically ignore diversity in the review that they carried out?
My Lords, we have not ignored diversity. We are committed to increasing competition in banking to improve outcomes for consumers. The Government have an ambitious programme of reforms to increase competition in banking. This includes, for example, divesting both Williams & Glyn and TSB from RBS and Lloyds, creating a seven-day current account switch service, and delivering more data to enable customers to compare which bank is best for them—I could go on.
My Lords, the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time of the bailout promised that all the money expended by the taxpayer would be recovered in full and that there would be a reformed Royal Bank of Scotland. Neither of those promises has been realised. The Royal Bank of Scotland has still to escape the shadows of seven years ago. Why is the Chancellor breaking his promise?
I do not agree that he is. The Chancellor said two years ago that he would return RBS to private hands. He is doing that. He is increasing competition. RBS has been reformed. The independent advice is that this is the best time to go forward. We have reformed the banking sector completely. I cannot agree with the noble Lord.
My Lords, in his letter of 15 June to the Prime Minister, Sir John Chilcot indicated that he would only be in a position to provide a realistic timetable for publication once the inquiry had received and evaluated the remaining responses from those individuals who had been given the opportunity to respond to the inquiry’s provisional criticism. In his reply, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said,
“I … had hoped for publication of your report by now and we are fast losing patience”.
He also asked for an update from Sir John once the Maxwellisation process had been concluded.
My Lords, the Chancellor of the Exchequer also said that people were running out of patience with the inquiry. This must be particularly true of the families who lost lives. Will the Minister recall that, on 4 February 2015, Sir John Chilcot told a Commons Select Committee that there was,
“a settled body of evidence that may be added to, but it will not be subject to revision”.
Is it not deplorable that there was a 13-month argument with the former Cabinet Secretary about the disclosure of notes between Mr Bush and Mr Blair which proved unsustainable? Since Parliament is the ultimate guardian of the independence of any inquiry, and since this one seems incapable of reporting, should not the Prime Minister pull the plug, discharge the committee and, on the basis of the evidence already gathered, come to Parliament for its advice as to a way forward?
I start by saying that I entirely share the noble and learned Lord’s frustration, as I am sure do those who served and those who lost loved ones in Iraq. The general gist of his question—in fact, there were several questions rolled into one—was that we should scrap the inquiry. I cannot agree with the noble and learned Lord on that. First, the inquiry is independent of government and, most importantly of all, it has taken a long time to get this far—on that we agree—but it needs to be able to complete its work as quickly as possible so we can learn the lessons. Removing its members from office or stopping the inquiry now is not in the best interests of this work. However, I am sure that those involved in the inquiry will heed the views of your Lordships, especially those of the noble and learned Lord, on how long this is all taking.
My Lords, it is now more than 12 years since the invasion of Iraq. Does the Minister agree that, increasingly, the impression being given is that people do not want crucial facts to be subjected to public transparency, where they can be discussed and debated? Does he also accept that, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, said, this situation is particularly unfair to those such as my late and very outstanding friend, Charles Kennedy, who said that, in engaging with the issue of whether we should have invaded Iraq, he found that, regarding possibly one of the most distinguished commissions that has been appointed by this House and the other Chamber, we have no way of knowing what its conclusions are, no way of knowing what it believes to be the sources of the Iraq war and no way of knowing what it believes the consequences of that war were. It is profoundly unjust and unfair to allow this situation to continue. May we ask the Prime Minister to insist that, at the very least, there should now be a report, even though some parts of it may be kept secret for security reasons?
I repeat that I obviously share, as does my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, the frustration that clearly many in this House feel about the length of time this is taking. I draw your Lordships’ attention to the letter that the Prime Minister sent to Sir John, in which he asked the Cabinet Secretary to meet Sir John “as soon as possible” to discuss progress on the completion of the report, and said that the Civil Service would continue to assist the inquiry in the “urgent completion” of its work.
My Lords, does the noble Lord recognise that there is across, I think, all corners of this House total impatience with the present situation? We recognise the difficult position the Prime Minister is in, but while it is right to allow those who may be criticised in the report to have the opportunity to make representations and for those to be considered, in any consideration now and in any future arrangements for a commission of this kind there must be a limit on the amount of time that people are allowed to hold up publication of a report. This report is meant to provide an opportunity for lessons to be learned from what happened over Iraq. No lessons have been learned, a lot of years have gone by and further mistakes have been made.
My Lords, on the first point, I draw my noble friend’s attention to what Sir John Chilcot told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee in the other place. He said he had seen,
“no evidence … that anyone is trying to delay the publication of the report by holding out from responding or entering into argument about the Maxwellisation process”.
As regards the lessons we need to draw from this process, I am sure there will be very many indeed, but I humbly suggest that we do so once the report is completed.
My Lords, is not the real problem here that, under the present rules for inquiries, the Maxwellisation process is mandatory? It is not discretionary or left to the chairman of the inquiry to decide who ought to be given the opportunity to respond; it is mandatory and it takes an awfully long time. A committee of this House recently considered the operation of the Inquiries Act and one of its main recommendations was that a Maxwellisation process should cease to be mandatory and should be left to the discretion of the chairman. So far, the Government have refused to take that on board. In the light of what we now know about Chilcot, will the Minister undertake that the Government will look again at whether the rules of procedure for inquiries are up to it and, indeed, whether or not the Maxwellisation process should cease to be mandatory?
I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord, but I have to refer him to the answer I have just given, which is that we will need to take account of this process and the lessons we might learn once the inquiry concludes. I note that he shakes his head, but this inquiry is independent and it needs to remain independent.
My Lords, the underlying problem here is the fact that this inquiry was not constituted under the Inquiries Act 2005. If it had been set up under the Act, as it should have been, the inquiry would have been conducted more efficiently, the Minister setting it up would have had a power to call for it to be concluded and handed over to him, and this problem would not have arisen. Lessons should be learned, and they are contained in the report that the noble Lord referred to. The Government should review their response to that report.
I am sorry, but the House is calling for the next question, so I think we should move on.
My Lords, these discussions are primarily a matter for Greece and for the euro area. However, it is in Britain’s interest to see a stable euro area, and the Government maintain regular contact with euro area member states and other European and international partners on economic issues. As the Chancellor has said, we should not underestimate the impact that a Greek exit from the euro would have on the European economy and the knock-on effects on us.
May I also take the opportunity to correct an error that I made in answer to a question after the Statement on Monday? I said that the UK’s share of IMF funding was 15%, whereas it is around 4.5%. I apologise to the House for that error.
My Lords, in light of that reply, will my noble friend urge the Chancellor to play a more active role in this matter? It is fortunate that we are not members of the eurozone; however, we have a definite interest in what the eurozone is doing. Not only are we contributing to the bailout through the IMF, but it crucially affects our own economic recovery. The politics of this have become unbelievably acrimonious and complicated, but the economics are very clear. Greece is locked into an uncompetitive exchange rate and it will be condemned to endless financial crises, bailouts and austerity until it leaves. Therefore, will the Chancellor seek to do all he can with our European partners to ensure an orderly exit? In particular, will he reject the view, apparently expressed this morning, that if Greece leaves the eurozone it has to leave the European Union, which would push it into Mr. Putin’s arms? Will he also say that the finance that would otherwise be available should be used to ensure a smooth transition to a more competitive exchange rate for Greece?
My Lords, the Chancellor has been very clear that we have exposure to the eurozone and it is an important market, so we cannot be in any way complacent about the Greek situation. However, it is a eurozone matter and the Chancellor will not involve himself directly. He talks regularly to fellow Finance Ministers and to the heads of the ECB and the Commission; indeed, he said in his Statement the other day that he had spoken to them in the previous 48 hours. The Governor of the Bank of England also made the point that the ECB stays in regular contact with the Bank. Regarding my noble friend’s suggestions as to what the Chancellor should tell the eurozone leaders, I can pass on his comments, but I think the Chancellor is very keen to leave them to deal with what is their problem.
May I ask the noble Lord to go rather further than he did in answer to me on Monday? In the course of the discussions he referred to with our eurozone partners and the IMF, will the British Government be using what influence they have in favour of a revival of the package that Mr Tsipras turned down so petulantly the other day, if the Greek electorate vote yes in the referendum on Sunday? This issue can hardly be avoided in any such discussions. Will the Minister tell us frankly the Government’s position on the matter?
My Lords, on the hopeful assumption that Greece’s financial crisis can be resolved, what constructive role can the Minister assure us the UK Government will take as a leading member of the EU—if not of the eurozone—to help resolve Greece’s economic crisis, and to help it to build a sound and sustainable economy? Can the Minister assure us that it is in our interest, as well as Greece’s, that the UK remains a leading member of the EU?
The Chancellor is not going to tell anyone what they should be doing, but of course we want the economic situation in Greece to get better, not least for the benefit of the Greek people. That is not a simple matter and it will not happen any time soon, but we are not going to be drawn on advising the Greek people on how they should vote in the referendum, or on what course they should take.
My Lords, discussion of this issue has, for obvious reasons, focused on economic and financial issues, but does the Minister agree that what is going on in Greece is likely to have far wider repercussions, not least for European security in the eastern Mediterranean? This is an issue for us, just as much as for the eurozone countries; therefore, such discussions cannot just be left to the eurozone.
My Lords, could my noble friend the Minister have another crack at my noble friend Lord Higgins’s Question? Does he agree that it would be in Greece’s interest if it had a flexible exchange rate that reflected the economy and created a more competitive economy in Greece?
My Lords, if Her Majesty’s Government can play only a limited role in the resolution of the crisis, at least they can do something on behalf of British citizens in Greece and those intending to go to Greece. The Minister gave a very limited answer on Monday to the question of whether our embassy in Greece would be strengthened and help given to those who are bound to find things difficult in getting money from the stricken Greek banks.
I mentioned on Monday that we will increase the resources available if necessary, and the Foreign Secretary had agreed that. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has updated its travel advice and we stand by to do everything we need to do to help British citizens go to Greece and enjoy their holidays. We think that it is good for Greece that they continue to do so.
Davies Commission Report
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
“I would like to make a Statement about the Airports Commission’s final report, published earlier today. I received a copy yesterday evening and I have had copies put in the Library of the House and the Vote Office. First, I will review the commission’s process to date; secondly, I will describe the next steps.
In September 2012, the Government appointed Sir Howard Davies to lead a commission to consider how the UK could maintain its status as an international aviation hub and, in particular, provide capacity in the south-east. I thank Sir Howard for his contribution and his leadership. I also thank his fellow commissioners —Sir John Armitt, Ricky Burdett, Vivienne Cox and Dame Julia King—for their hard work. I also acknowledge honourable Members from all sides of the House who have campaigned vigorously on behalf of their constituents. I am sure they will continue to do so.
There are strong opinions on this issue and it is not easy to resolve. For the Government, the task is to balance local interests against the wider, longer-term benefits for the UK. This report is part of that process.
Over 50 different propositions were considered. In December 2013 the commission shortlisted three schemes for further consideration—two at Heathrow, one at Gatwick. It also made recommendations for improving our existing airport infrastructure, including upgrading transport connections. We are acting on these interim recommendations.
We are working with Gatwick Airport to upgrade the station there. Network Rail is leading a study to improve the rail link between London and Stansted, and Crossrail will soon provide a new direct route to Heathrow.
The commission has also sought views from across the country because the UK’s other airports play a big role in our aviation success story—airports such as Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Connectivity to all parts of the UK is something the commission has rightly considered.
The UK has the third largest aviation network in the world after the US and China, but it is congested, and a lack of capacity holds our country back. Since 1990, 12 UK airports have lost their direct links to Heathrow. As Sir Howard Davies says in his foreword to the report:
‘Good aviation connectivity is vital for the UK economy. It promotes trade and inward investment’.
As the report points out:
‘About half of the British population travelled by air over the past twelve months’.
It also says:
‘While London remains a well-connected city, its airports are showing unambiguous signs of strain’.
Meanwhile, hub airports such as Dubai and Istanbul are growing fast.
The commission found that all three shortlisted schemes are credible options for expansion but that the Heathrow Airport Northwest Runway scheme offers the strongest solution. To quote the report:
‘Heathrow offers a stronger solution to the UK’s aviation capacity and connectivity needs than a second runway at Gatwick’.
The report recommends action to address the impact of any expansion on the local environment and communities, among them a limit on night flights, greater compensation, controls on air quality and a guarantee there will be no fourth runway.
Let me turn to the Government’s response. There are a number of things we need to make progress on now. First, we must study the substantial and innovative evidence base the commission has produced. Secondly, we will need to decide on the best way for achieving planning consents quickly and fairly if expansion is to go ahead. Thirdly, we will come back to Parliament in the autumn to provide clear direction on the Government’s plans.
This is a vital moment for the future of our aviation industry. Our aviation sector has been at the heart of our economic success and quality of life. All those with an interest in this important question are expecting us to act decisively.
This is a clear and reasoned report. It is based on the evidence; it deserves respect and consideration; and we must act.
I commend this statement to the House.”
My Lords, that concludes the Statement
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating this important Statement, which was delivered by the Secretary of State for Transport in the other place. The Official Opposition join with him in thanking Sir Howard Davies and his team for the vital work they have done since 2012 in producing this very important report.
I take this opportunity to praise Heathrow and Gatwick for the campaigns they have run in recent years which have been educative for the public and have often been conducted with an eye to giving information rather than just propaganda.
This substantial work has got one very important feature. Sir Howard Davies has proceeded to a clear recommendation:
“A new Northwest Runway at Heathrow delivers more substantial economic and strategic benefits than any of the other shortlisted options, strengthening connectivity for passengers and freight users and boosting the productivity of the UK economy”.
Aviation plays a very substantial role in our economy and it has the potential to play a greater one. The sector employs hundreds of thousands of people, contributes more than £50 billion to our GDP and pays the Exchequer more than £8 billion every year in tax revenues. But we know that the growth of our aviation sector is at risk. Heathrow has been full for 10 years; Gatwick will become full over the next five. It is therefore quite clear that we need additional capacity. That is the case made by Sir Howard Davies in the report but, as the Minister indicated, there are details regarding the report that we need to consider.
We, as the Opposition, present the following tests which we think need to be met so that the public can have confidence that this is the right way to move forward. The recommended expansion in capacity must go hand in hand with efforts to reduce CO2 emissions from aviation, allowing us to meet our legal climate change obligations. We also need to ensure that local noise and environmental impacts have been adequately considered, and will be managed and minimised. The benefits of expansion must also be felt in every corner of the country, including any infrastructure, employment and supply chain benefits; regional airports must be supported, too. If these conditions can be met, it is quite clear that it is in the long-term interests of the country to carry out the report’s main recommendation. I therefore hope the noble Lord will appreciate that, given strenuous efforts to ensure that these tests are met, the Official Opposition will support the construction of an additional runway at Heathrow.
My Lords, this is a worthy report but I suppose we could say, “Here we go again —another report on the airports of south-east England and another recommendation for Heathrow”. There has also probably been another not very ringing endorsement of such a report. A Statement that says in almost its last sentence:
“It deserves respect and consideration”,
is hardly a ringing endorsement from the Government.
The Liberal Democrat position is very different from that of the Official Opposition, in that we believe there is no need to expand airport and runway capacity in the south-east. One thing to illustrate that is in the report itself, which clearly states that airports in the south-east will reach full capacity in 2040. That is 25 years ahead. We certainly need to plan ahead on major infrastructure projects in this country but some 25 years ago, back in 1990, I was lucky enough never to have seen an email and I certainly did not have a smartphone. I had also never participated in a videoconference, which is perhaps more relevant. Over that time, Stansted, which has capacity, has increased its ability to take extra flights.
Yes, Heathrow is full. As the Minister said, it has been full for 10 years. In fact, it has always been full but you manage businesses, as Heathrow and other airports do, by making sure that your fixed assets are fully used. If you have an asset that is not being fully used, you are not managing it properly. Airport capacity will clearly be used as much as it can be and we will find that at Heathrow, as a prime airport in the UK. We would no doubt quickly find that it was true with a third runway as well.
I now move on to the fourth runway, which the report goes into. There is an illustration here of how the report looks at the future. It says categorically that,
“there is no environmental or operational case for a fourth runway at Heathrow”.
If that is the case, I find it difficult to understand why the third is so important, given that Heathrow salespeople, if they are up to their measure, will make sure that the capacity of the third runway is used fully and as soon as possible.
Heathrow is irresistible. Asking for a fourth runway is irresistible to the management of Heathrow, as they asked for terminal 5 after terminal 4. What the report really says is that Heathrow is in the wrong place. If the environmental or operational issues are wrong for a fourth runway, a third runway is clearly wrong now.
On climate change, we can be very proud of a 20% reduction in emissions since 1990, yet airline emissions in the UK have gone up by some two-thirds. Is that compatible or is it a contradiction of policy, given that the Government have, quite rightly, committed themselves to the climate change policies and budgets of the Climate Change Act 2008?
On air quality, page 196 of the report states that,
“none of the schemes improve air quality compared to a scenario where no expansion takes place”.
On connectivity, I agree that there is a real issue around regional airports being squeezed out by Heathrow, but the report recommends that the Government should be prepared to use public service obligations. There is nothing in there saying that these should be mandatory.
On noise, the reports states that,
“an independent aviation noise authority should be established with a statutory right”,
which sounds very strong, but it concludes with “to be consulted” over noise levels in the west. That is clearly another very weak recommendation.
I have two questions for the Minister. It is said that this autumn’s decision will give a clear direction. Will there be an actual decision in October? Most importantly, the Statement says that,
“we will need to decide on the best way for achieving planning consents quickly and fairly if expansion is to go ahead”.
Will the Minister confirm that that “if” is still an option?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, for his support for the Statement. I join him in extending thanks to all involved in the report. He and the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, raised issues around climate change. In the short time we have had to digest quite an extensive report, I am sure that both noble Lords will acknowledge that the commission has done a great deal of work on looking at how threats to the environment and to air quality can be mitigated. Certainly, the Government will look at those elements as part of our decision on the report.
The noble Lord, Lord Davies, also raised local concerns and the impact on the local community. Indeed, he may have noted the suggestion in the report for a local community board to be established, which would evaluate the impact of any expansion and its operation. It is not unprecedented: I am sure the noble Lord is aware that Amsterdam Airport Schiphol operates a similar board for local interests. His point about local, regional airports was also raised by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. Of course, as the Statement said, and as the report acknowledges, this is not just about the south-east and London; it is about the country. The issue of our regional airports is important and the Government will respond accordingly, but the report has dealt with that issue.
The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, asked about October and the question of “if”. I am not going to give a commitment at the Dispatch Box on what the Government’s decision will be, but the Government have said we will press ahead. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State and, indeed, my right honourable friend the Prime Minister have today both stated the importance of moving forward on this and we will return to the issue with the Government’s review in the autumn.
My Lords, the Secretary of State accepted in the other place today that lack of airport capacity was holding this country back. Now that we do not have the alliance, we can rely on the new Conservative Government to implement this particular expansion. Can we now expect the Davies report to be the main determinant of the Government’s decision?
As my noble friend is aware, we commissioned the report in 2012 during the previous Government. I believe that was the right thing to do at that time. The issue of capacity in London and the south-east is something that we have been reviewing and looking at over the last 50 years. This was an extensive report, which looked at more than 50 different options and then whittled them down to the three on which it has reported. Of course it will be a primary consideration for the Government in thinking about the way we move forward on south-east airport capacity.
I have been campaigning on this for years, in the House of Commons and in this House. I remind the Minister that many constituents supported my line precisely because they knew that Heathrow needed to expand if their jobs were to be safe and if the British and regional economies were to grow. I have two very quick, simple questions. First, can the Government make sure they act on this, hopefully by the end of the year? Please do not drag this out, which is what we have done before on so many infrastructure projects in this country. It is an embarrassment for us that we have not achieved this. Secondly, we have to stop this nonsense of taking years to decide whether an airport can expand when what matters is that we put down very tough conditions, as Howard Davies has suggested, on noise and the environment. Those are the issues that trouble people, quite rightly. If we do that, airports should be allowed to expand, because they are amazing economic drivers, locally, regionally and nationally. They are terribly important.
I share the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord and commend his efforts as an exponent for ensuring that airport capacity meets the challenge not just for our country but for the global role we wish to play. I draw his attention to the penultimate sentence of the Statement I repeated: “And we must act”. I hope he takes some reassurance from that. As he rightly pointed out, the commission looked at the conditions extensively and put in various mitigating safeguards covering noise, other environmental issues and, as I said earlier, engagement with the local community. Those will be important factors in the Government’s evaluation of the report as well.
My Lords, I declare that I have lived for 20 years under the Heathrow flight path and that I am a member of HACAN. Could the Minister tell us what the anticipated impact is on Manchester and Birmingham airports? The business plan for Heathrow includes a proposal to divert direct flights into those two airports to the third runway, which will have an impact on the northern powerhouse. In addition, my neighbours and I were told when the fourth terminal was approved that there would be no further expansion at Heathrow. There was then an effort to get a fifth terminal, and we were promised that there would be no expansion beyond the fifth terminal and no third runway. Within six weeks of planning approval, a campaign began for the third runway. Would the Minister tell me whether I am a fool to have believed those assurances from both the airport and the aviation industry, and whether I would be a fool to believe again promises about there being no plans for a fourth runway or indeed about the rather minor mitigations promised, many of which could have been implemented already?
As the noble Baroness knows, I have great respect for her opinions and I would certainly never suggest that she has been a fool in any respect. The important thing for Manchester is that it will benefit from the engagement and the statements we have made on the northern powerhouse and from the development of HS2. As I am sure the noble Baroness is aware, Manchester itself recently announced £1 billion of investment for Manchester airport and its expansion over the next 10 years.
I emphasise again that it is the Government’s opinion—and the commission has evaluated this in its report—that regional connectivity is important in ensuring that our regional airports are part and parcel of the development of our airport capacity nationally.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Statement. I agree completely on the need to act decisively. He referred to the fact that 12 regional airports have already lost their links into Heathrow because of lack of capacity and that virtually all regional airports are urging the expansion of Heathrow to go ahead. Can I ask him please to ignore the siren voices like that of the noble Baroness who spoke earlier? It can hardly have come as a surprise to her when she bought her House in west London, next to one of the busiest airports in western Europe, that she experiences airport noise. So while it is important to take on board these concerns, please also bear in mind the concerns of the rest of the country, which needs Heathrow to expand to help in particular areas such as the northern powerhouse.
I thank my noble friend for his comments. I agree with him about the importance of ensuring that whatever decision the Government take in moving forward on what has been a very extensive report reflects the importance of UK plc and regional connectivity. We will certainly review that, and it will be part and parcel of our decision-making on the way forward when we return to this issue in the autumn.
Does the Minister agree that the only way to ensure regional connectivity is to regard airline slots as the national asset that they are and not leave them to airlines to cut regional services and instead introduce more lucrative long-distance services? More capacity will not improve regional connectivity unless it is destination specific.
As much as we may regard national slots at airports as our national heritage or assets, they are allocated by the EU and are governed by European Union and associated slot regulations. The UK Government are legally prevented from intervening on slot allocation processes—be it at Heathrow, Gatwick or other slot-co-ordinated airports.
I, too, declare an interest as a former chairman of HACAN and a former MP for the constituency of Richmond Park. Some years ago the Prime Minister said that, “no ifs, no buts”, there would never be a third runway at Heathrow. Could the Minister tell us what his line is going to be now?
I am sure that the noble Baroness heard the Prime Minister responding to PMQs, when he said that the important thing was to move forward on the decision. She referred to the comments of the Prime Minister, “no ifs, no buts”, but what he was commenting on at that time was a very different proposition for Heathrow. Following this, we made the decision to set up the Airports Commission. It was the Prime Minister’s decision and that of the last Government—indeed, the noble Baroness’s party were part of that Government. That is what we have now done, and the option put forward for Heathrow now is a very different one from the one proposed in 2010.
My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that the issue of security through aviation—indeed through all modes—is something that the Government take very seriously. Perhaps I speak with a special interest, because I am the Minister for Aviation Security at the Department for Transport.
There can be no doubt that the Davies report has come down in favour of Heathrow, but there are certain details that have to be addressed. Can the Minister say that, in the autumn, the Government will make a firm decision? That is imperative, in my view. The report also stressed that an early decision is absolutely imperative. The delay would be immensely dangerous, particularly since the Government commissioned the report in the first place. It would imperil British aviation, and it would imperil our economic advantages and our situation in the global economy, as well as our standing as a nation. Does the Minister not agree that an early decision is absolutely vital?
I do agree, and the challenge now is to make decisions that are reflective of what has been a very well-balanced report and are also, as I have said, in the best interests of the country. I assure the noble Lord that the Government will carefully consider the commission’s extensive report without delay. By the autumn, I want to get to a stage where we can set out a position to Parliament on the way we want to take forward this work.
My Lords, unlike many noble Lords, I have the honour of being elected. I was elected as leader of a council and represent many of the people who will be most affected by this report, so perhaps I might intervene. As I walked around the streets this morning, I sensed anger, dismay and cynicism, but no surprise. I deprecate my noble friend’s comment that implied that people in west London are nimbys. They already put up with 40% of the noise pollution from airports in Europe and with air quality that breaches European standards. Whatever position we take in this debate, I would be obliged if the people I have the honour to represent were not spoken of in that way.
My erstwhile noble friend mentioned the Prime Minister’s statement,
“no ifs, no buts … no third runway”.
Will he forgive me if I thought I heard an “if” and a “but” in his response? That statement was made by David Cameron at a PM Direct event. It was clear and was heard clearly. Will my noble friend use his influence to make sure that that statement is kept before the Government in all deliberations on this question?
I reassure the noble Lord that, when he gets a chance to read the commission’s report, he will find that it has addressed all the concerns that he has highlighted, and it will be a significant part of the Government’s decision. With regard to the statement made in 2010 by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, as I said earlier, the proposal that was in front of him at that time, including some of the concerns that the noble Lord has just highlighted, merited what the Prime Minister said. However, we are quite clear: the commission has now produced its report; it is well balanced and has looked at many factors that the proposition in front of us in 2010 did not consider; and the Government will come back with their view in the autumn.
Has the Minister noted the recommendation of the commission that:
“The Government should alter its guidance to allow the introduction of Public Service Obligations on an airport-to-airport basis, and use them to support a widespread network of domestic routes at the expanded airport”?
Given that if the third runway gets the go-ahead, it could be a number of years before it is actually in place, what is to stop the Government altering their guidance to bring it in line with a number of other European Union countries to enable further,
“Public Service Obligations on an airport-to-airport basis”,
The Government consider their public service obligations very seriously, as I am sure the noble Lord knows. It is not that we have not interjected in recent times. For example, the route has been protected from Gatwick to Newquay, as have routes up to Dundee. Where the criteria are met, the Government have exercised their option and met their obligations. We are keen to ensure that public service obligations are, if you like, the backstop, to ensure that any concerns over particular domestic routes are retained.
Does my noble friend not agree that it is wrong to hold the Prime Minister to what he said some years ago when faced with a report that has been carefully considered and that says unequivocally that it is in the national interest for the expansion of Heathrow to go ahead? It is his duty to proceed as recommended. I very much welcome the fact that the Official Opposition have indicated their support for that. Has this thing not been in a holding pattern for far too long? We need to get on with it.
I thank my noble friend for the first analogy about aircraft and holding patterns. I agree with what he said about the Prime Minister’s statement. We are looking at something very different. I stress to all noble Lords that the Government commissioned the report in 2012. It is extensive and covers a range of factors, including mitigating factors, regional connectivity and a raft of other matters. I am sure noble Lords agree that it is right that the Government look at the report’s recommendations, evaluate them and come back in the autumn with their response.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the largest aircraft coming into Glasgow Airport is the Boeing 777 operated by Emirates, and the number recently increased to two per day? Does he agree that if there is no expansion at Heathrow, the winners are going to be the Middle East airlines?
The Government will return to the issue of the expansion of capacity across London and the south-east, but as I have said, our decision, which will be put forward in the autumn, will reflect on ensuring the competitiveness of UK plc and the importance of regional connectivity.
My Lords, I declare an interest in that, 30 years ago, I was rash enough to buy a house in Battersea—a considerable distance from Heathrow—where the noise is excessive, even today. I have one specific question. If this goes ahead, it is proposed that there should be a legal limit on night flights so that they cannot arrive before 6 am. At present they fly though my bedroom window, so to speak, at 4 am every day because the airlines pay the necessary penalty to do so. During the long time before we go through this long process, why can we not legislate to put a legal ban on night flights straightaway?
My Lords, I speak as somebody who has taken a fairly hard-line position on expanding airport capacity: I have not been in favour of it. Does the Minister agree that there is no possibility of a meeting of minds between people who take the view that there should be no capacity increase and people who are arguing about where the capacity should be put? Will he assure the House that, since this report is about where additional capacity will be put, the Government will not come back in October, having considered, with a decision not to decide?
I have never regarded the noble Baroness as being hard line in any respect. I am sure she will agree that it would be inappropriate for me to give a commitment at this time. The Government will evaluate the report, and we will come back on the way forward in the autumn.
My Lords, the Statement refers to our aviation success story, citing Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow. Is the Minister aware that London Luton Airport has passenger throughput greater than any of those airports, with the exception of Manchester: currently some 11 million, and there are plans to go up to 18 million? I declare my interest as an advisory member of the board of London Luton Airport.
Childcare Bill [HL]
Committee (1st Day)
Relevant document: 2nd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
It may be helpful if I report to the House that there have been productive discussions in the usual channels about the next stage of this Bill and that as a result of these discussions we will be looking to arrange the Report stage for October when the House returns from the conference recess.
Noble Lords will be aware that last Friday the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee published its report on this Bill and other Bills before the House. We are of course mindful of that report and its recommendations in respect of this Bill and intend to prepare and publish our response in good time before Report, including tabling government amendments where appropriate. Both these points are relevant to our discussions on the amendments that have been tabled for consideration this afternoon. I hope it is therefore helpful to have set them out at this first available moment in proceedings this afternoon.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and I had a helpful conversation last night. We agreed about the importance of making progress with this Bill and the important commitment to children and parents that it makes. I know that all in this House are agreed about that. We also agree that it is important that the voices and expertise of parents, providers, local authorities and employers properly inform the provisions we will make. I know that noble Lords want us to take time to get that right and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has raised many questions about it. The noble Baroness asked if I could be specific about the further information that will be available before Report to confirm and build upon the commitment I made in my policy statement that I sent to noble Lords last week. It is our intention to provide a full update to the House on how we will deliver this extended entitlement and an update on our plans to pilot it in 2016. This will take account of our consultations with parents, providers, local authorities and employers over the summer, the helpful contributions which I anticipate from your Lordships tonight and of course the recommendation of the Delegated Powers Committee, which asked for clarity about how we intend to use the powers.
In time for Report, therefore, the House will be able to scrutinise that information and we will respond formally to the Delegated Powers Committee. If appropriate we will bring forward amendments to the Bill which respond to its recommendations. We will also of course pay careful attention to the views that the Delegated Powers Committee has expressed about affirmative procedure. As noble Lords are aware, it is our intention to consult fully on draft regulations and guidance in the first part of 2016 after Royal Assent. In this regard, I am lucky and extremely grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, has agreed to work with me and the department to find a way in which we can take advantage of the invaluable expertise of members of the Select Committee on Affordable Childcare and others in this House to work with us on those regulations in due course to ensure that they are thoroughly fit for purpose.
Meanwhile I am delighted to confirm that we have already deliberated across government on the points raised at Second Reading and by the Delegated Powers Committee about the provision in Clause 1(5)(g) which will allow us to establish a body corporate. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has tabled Amendment 18 to remove that provision and I am pleased to inform the House that it is my intention to accept that amendment tonight. I beg to move.
My Lords, I apologise for detaining the House prior to Committee but I had given notice to the Government that I would be speaking on this matter. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation. It is unusual when a Minister moves a Bill to be taken in Committee that he makes such a lengthy statement and I think it is an indication of the concern that has been expressed around your Lordships’ House that he has chosen to do so today. It is helpful to a degree and I am grateful to him for doing that. Perhaps we would not have had that statement today had it not been for the report from the two committees and our intention to speak today prior to Committee.
This is an important Bill, and we all want to ensure that there is proper and effective consideration of it. However, the way in which the Government have brought forward the Bill has serious implications for how we as a House consider legislation and fulfil our constitutional obligation as a revising Chamber. We cannot revise that which is not there. The primary role of your Lordships’ House is effective scrutiny. That Ministers accept so many amendments in your Lordships’ House, and propose others following our debates, is evidence that this role is valued by Governments in improving legislation.
At Second Reading, concerns were raised about the lack of detail in the Bill from all sides of the House, including from noble Lords on the Government Benches. Since that debate, both the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee have reported. The Constitution Committee today says that this is, “a particularly egregious example” of the kind of legislation coming forward from government, and,
“an example of a continuing trend of constitutional concern to which we draw the attention of the House”.
The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, in its report published on Friday, agreed with many of the concerns that were raised at Second Reading and said that it was:
“Unable to understand why the Bill has been presented in a skeleton form only”.
Rarely has this House seen such stark criticism of a Government’s failure to provide the information needed to allow proper consideration of legislation at the start of a Bill for Second Reading, or indeed for Committee. The Delegated Powers Committee rejected the Government’s bizarre assertion in their report that,
“too much detail on the face of the Bill risks obscuring the principal duties and powers from Parliamentary scrutiny”.
Surely it is the purpose of this House to examine the detail of a Bill. The committee also rejected the notion that regulations can be published at a later date to deal with what the Government referred to as,
“operational, administrative and technical details”.
The committee has been very clear that the use of regulations in this way is “inappropriately wide”, “flawed”, “vague” and that more detail is essential, otherwise,
“the House will have insufficient information … for a properly informed debate”.
Most damning of all, the committee also rejected,
“the Government's attempt to dignify their approach to delegation by referring to a need to consult”.
I think we heard from the Minister’s statement that the committee is highly regarded by your Lordships’ House and by Governments, who rarely fail to give effect to its recommendations. This is not at all a party-political matter—far from it. The committee is cross-party, and we on these Benches support the aims of the Bill. However, for this House to do its job it must have more than the bones of a policy to scrutinise. Our concerns, as the Government will understand, are wider than the Bill. The fact that the Minister has been brought to the House to make quite an unusual statement before the start of Committee today, as welcome as that is, is an indication that the information to date is completely inadequate. Therefore, with the wider concerns that no Government should consider this to be an appropriate approach to legislation or business in your Lordships’ House, I would be grateful if he can clarify some points.
The Minister said that there have been discussions among the usual channels, and the Report stage will not come forward before October. I will press him a bit further, as I was not 100% clear about that from the other comments he made. We are looking for guarantees and assurances on just three points about information being available, not by a specific date but prior to consideration on Report. The Minister may have addressed those points in his comments, but I will be grateful if he could confirm, first, that the committee’s report is followed up by the Government and effect given to its recommendations to amend the Bill. He said that he would take consideration and take note, but I was not sure if he said that he would bring forward amendments as the committee recommended. Secondly, the draft regulations that were provided for consideration must also be available prior to Report. Thirdly, the most crucial piece of information we require is that the financial report, which is the basis on which this policy will succeed or fail, will be made available before Report.
We do not in any way want to delay consideration in Committee, but we recognise—I think the Minister has gone some way towards recognising it today—that without this information, despite the best efforts of noble Lords who will take part in this debate, scrutiny will be inadequate. That information is essential for Report, otherwise we could not consider the Bill effectively. Finally, on behalf of the whole House, can we have a categorical assurance from the Government that this will not be their approach to any future legislation?
My Lords, further to the comments and concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, I also thank the Minister for setting out the Government’s position when he moved that the House should go into Committee. It is helpful that he indicated that Report stage will not be until October, but, like the noble Baroness, I was not entirely sure what he was saying in terms of a commitment to amendments. We will therefore reserve our position with regard to anything that may come forward from the Government after they have given consideration to the many concerns expressed not only in your Lordships’ House but also, and particularly, in the committee reports that have been referred to.
This legislation has the hallmark of a party policy announcement during a general election, with the Government now desperately trying to figure out what it means and how to put it together. The comments of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee —which, having recently been in government, I can attest is a committee that Ministers take very seriously indeed—are some of the strongest that I can recall. The noble Baroness said, quite rightly, that it is a cross-party committee chaired by a member of the governing party. When the committee makes comments such as:
“In our view, the Government's stated approach to delegation is flawed. While the Bill may contain a legislative framework, it contains virtually nothing of substance beyond the vague ‘mission statement’ in clause 1(1)”,
it is a strong condemnation which I think shows that the Government have not given the matter adequate thought.
My real concern is that this is not the only Bill where the Government have singularly failed to make a clear case for the policy that they are advancing. People have been watching the proceedings on the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill. That is a policy that also generally commands support but, nevertheless, we have seen in that case, too, the Government seeking to make policy on the hoof and pass through the revising Chamber legislation that fails to stand up to the most basic test of scrutiny.
I suggest to the Minister that—while it may be past praying for these Bills as they were introduced—tools such as pre-legislative scrutiny might be used more regularly when the Government want to do something that is, at the outset, somewhat unclear regarding the detail of how they wish to proceed. They might reflect on the failure to use the mechanisms available to them for this Bill and ensure that such measures will be taken, where appropriate, in the future.
The Minister said that there had been agreement to make progress. My noble friend Lady Pinnock will indicate today in Committee that we do not want to see this Bill delayed; we want the Government to get their act together and make reasonable progress with a measure that commands, I think, a fair degree of support. Primarily, our position is that we want reassurance that, in the future, this House will not be frustrated in its fundamental role of effective scrutiny because the Bills presented to it have not been properly thought through.
I want to reinforce the points that have been made by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition and by the previous speaker. I was critical of the Government on Second Reading because I felt that the Bill that they introduced was, essentially, an abuse of process. Having read the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, I think that I rather understated the case. Now that I have seen the Constitution Committee report, which points to an increasing trend of legislation that is vacant and in fact leaves most of the delivery to regulations, I think that I have been even more restrained. I am grateful for what the Minister has said today because he has responded to many of the concerns that were raised, but I want to press him on a few things.
To pick up on the previous speaker’s statement about the mission statement, the nature of the Bill, what the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee said is excruciating stuff, advising the Government and officials that Bills are not there to “send a message”; they are there to implement legislation. I think back on great reforming legislation, such as the National Health Service Act 1946. If it had just sent a message that it would be rather good to have a national health service and left everything to regulations, we would be in a fine mess now, but that is precisely the nature of the trend of legislation that we see in this House, which is a point that has also been picked up by the Constitution Committee. Without knowing the likely impacts of this Bill, it is very difficult for this House to do its job. As my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition said, it is not so much a question of when Report stage is introduced, it is whether we will have the fundamental information that we need to actually test this Bill in this House as we are required to do.
We are in favour of the Bill. Who could possibly be against the expansion of affordable childcare when so much more is needed, when so many parents are not able to access it and when so many children are in need of the sort of quality childcare that lifts their learning and gives them a good start? In this Bill we will be looking for evidence of not merely an increase in capacity but a genuine increase in quality. However, at the moment we do not know whether the Bill will meet its objectives. We do not know whether it will make the situation better or worse, because there is currently a real issue of capacity in the childcare system. Many childcare providers think that at the moment the Bill could reduce capacity. That is why by Report we need a full account of the evidence that has been provided to the Government so that we can make a judgment about how to improve the Bill, how to deliver the objectives and how to get the best possible outcomes for children and parents.
This is a more general point but it goes to the heart of the arguments that we hear about secondary legislation. The department has consistently argued publicly that speed is of the essence. Frankly, I think that the Minister should be more concerned about sustainability than about speed. Can he explain to the House—with all respect, he has not done so so far—why the Bill was introduced in the way that it was? The policy comes into force in 2017. Why did the Government think that getting the process or the order right would slow down their ability to deliver the policy? Having the evidence, the reviews, the consultation and then the Bill would hardly have been a slower process. We would have ended up with a more secure and sustainable process, not simply a slower one. In particular, the Minister has failed to explain why, in the Select Committee’s words, he has put,
“the very heart of what is to be delivered”,
not on the face of the Bill but in delegated regulations and therefore beyond the scrutiny of Parliament. That has really exercised the Delegated Powers Committee and it should concern this House.
The department has attempted to argue that the regulations under Clause 1 are operational, administrative and technical in detail, and it has referred to the need to consult. The committee demolished that argument. It is often used but it is a lazy and sloppy argument. The point is that these regulations confer new powers. Some are unspecified and unjustified, referring, for example, to any public body, but they carry the burden of the implementation of the Bill; they are not technical.
Will the Minister accept the recommendations in paragraph 11 of the committee’s report and amend the Bill to include greater detail about the nature of the provision? Will he also follow the recommendation of the committee, which has said, quite simply, that it is,
“surprised that the negative procedure is considered appropriate for any of the powers under clause 1”?
Will he give the House an assurance that he will be bringing forward affirmative regulations in each case?
Unless the Minister can accept those two critical recommendations, it will be extremely difficult for the House to have a proper and full debate on Report to test the Bill.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for this announcement. Having worked with him on the children Bill, which he led through Parliament, I know how very hard he works to listen to Peers’ concerns and to respond to them, so I am very grateful to him for this response. I also know that his first ambition is to make a difference to children in this country. I am sure he will agree that, by delaying the Report stage and allowing us to gain more information, we will be in a better position to challenge him and work with him to get the best Bill and one which will make the most difference to children. Therefore, I warmly welcome the Minister’s announcement.
My Lords, I find it very surprising that today the Opposition have decided that the Statement on child poverty made in the other place by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions should not be repeated and discussed here. The Statement details the Government’s approach to tackling the root causes of child poverty and improving the future life chances of young people. Instead of debating child poverty as a matter of public importance, the Opposition have chosen to have a debate about procedural matters, when the Government have already made it quite clear that they have responded to their request to defer the Report stage of the Childcare Bill to October.
My Lords, the Minister has already made it clear that the concerns of the House were to be brought back at Report in October. However, the issue of child poverty is of great importance to the whole nation. I do not think that the electorate are particularly interested in the finer points of how we reach conclusions.
Perhaps the noble Baroness can explain why it is in the interests of either this House or the nation for the Government to bring forward legislation without telling the country the detail of what is contained in it. It is a constitutional issue that is being raised now, not a party-political point.
My Lords, I served as a member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and want to return for a moment, if I may, to the recommendations in our second report. I very much welcome the response from the Minister this afternoon because I think that it was very helpful, but there are wider issues here. I particularly appreciate the presence of the government Chief Whip, because I am sure he will wish to make sure, through the usual channels, that there is discussion of some wider issues.
I am also delighted to see that the chair of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee is here—the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes. It is probably her drafting that has produced what is, I think, the most critical paragraph in the second report—critical in both senses—which I will put before your Lordships’ House:
“We note that the Minister said that ‘the introduction of the Bill, with a strong duty on the Secretary of State, sends a clear message to parents and providers about the Government's commitment’. That is not, in our judgment, a proper use of legislation: the purpose of an Act is to change the law, not to ‘send a message’”.
I think that that is critical to the role and responsibility of your Lordships’ House. I therefore think it entirely appropriate—and I welcome the fact that they have given these indications—that the Government are prepared to respond positively to the report as a whole. However, it applies not just to this Bill. As the noble Baroness and my noble friend said, there are echoes here of the committee’s first report, which relates to the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill, where again there were powers in statute, potentially, that are akin to Henry VIII powers, which this House has always been very sensitive to and I hope will always be.
As my noble friend said, in the immediate aftermath of a general election and change of Administration, there is always an absurd rush to legislation, with Ministers desperate to get something done. But it is an affront to the role of your Lordships’ House to put before us obviously inadequate legislation. That is true in both these cases. I hope that there will be an understanding, not just in relation to this Bill but in relation more widely to the legislative programme of the new Administration, that there are important implications for the role and responsibility of your Lordships’ House. I hope that there will be very careful reading of the first and second reports of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his statement and am very pleased to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, will be helping in the progress of this Bill. The noble Lord chaired most ably the Select Committee on Affordable Childcare. It is to this point that I wish to refer, following on from the points made by my noble friend Lady Andrews about the skeletal nature of the Bill and the inadequacy of the deliberations before the Bill came to us.
The Affordable Childcare Select Committee interviewed more than 80 experts in childcare and several academics and parents. It was an excellent committee effectively chaired. I would like to know from the Minister whether the Government have actually read the Select Committee report. Even though the report was presented to this House in February, we have been promised a response only in the autumn. That seems to me to be a very long time for consideration.
If the Government have read the report, does the Minister think that it would be a good basis on which to produce or propose legislation now? The Government have missed an opportunity to produce a really good, solid Bill. They have not done so. They had the opportunity to read the Affordable Childcare Select Committee report with all its recommendations. What will the Government do now about this Select Committee report? Will they take it seriously and why have they not done so already?
My Lords, I raised this matter on Second Reading. I was critical of my noble friend on the Front Bench and of the way in which the Bill had been brought forward. This was from the viewpoint of someone who spent rather too long in Whitehall and even longer—13 years—in the usual channels. I repeat what I said: it was not a good way to go about legislating. But I think that the House is at its best when it sheds light, rather than heat, on a subject, so perhaps we should get on and consider it in Committee.
The noble Baroness the Leader of the Opposition was a little bit holier than thou. During all the years I spent toiling in opposition, I remember a fair number of pretty outrageous Bills—indeed, skeleton Bills—that came forward from the other side. I remember in particular a scandalous planning Bill which would not bear much resuscitation. So we have all been guilty and we all agree that the House is at its best and does its duty best when it has the opportunity to consider a Bill in detail. I was grateful for the chance to talk to the Leader of the House yesterday, and to my noble friend, who responded, as the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said, with the courtesy and consideration that the House expects from him. Clearly, a mistake was made. When a new Government are formed they understandably want to make progress on important matters. Lessons have been learned and I am unequivocally grateful to my noble friend for his response.
There is just one small thing. I do not want to upset my noble friend the Chief Whip, but Report stage is quite restrictive. It is not for me to do the usual channels any more but it may be that, in the light of information we receive, some of the Report consideration could be on recommittal, to enable your Lordships to look at one or two matters, provided that there is no obstruction to the timely passage of the Bill. This is a matter for the usual channels but the House does have that flexibility. I should like to thank my noble friend for the generous, courteous and honest way in which he has come forward with good solution for the House.
My Lords, the Minister’s statement has been described as unusual. I welcome unusual statements, especially from Ministers; it is normally a sign that some thought has been given to what is happening, which is much appreciated.
The messages are clear. The Delegated Powers Committee has produced an absolutely vigorous report and comment which mirrors much of what was said at Second Reading. We have the beginnings of a response from the Government and, if I can play a small part in that, I shall be delighted to do so—I assure noble Lords that it will be on an all-party basis, as the Select Committee was.
The critical issues are, first, how much information will be available to the House before Report. That is fundamental to having adequate further discussion. Secondly, in the case of this particular Bill, is a very clear distinction being drawn between primary legislation and regulation? These are the two areas where major discussion needs to be held. I hope that postponing Report will give us time to do that—and I hope that we might even have the odd, additional, unusual statement coming forth to help us in a difficult situation to get a Bill through that we all want to see in good shape so that we can strongly represent it to the country.
My Lords, the noble Lord described the Delegated Powers Committee’s report as vigorous. That is perhaps a little bit of an understatement. It is true that the Minister is a courteous and honourable person. Those who worked with him on the Children and Families Bill know how anxious he is to keep people together and to get agreement on the things that concern us all. This must be true of the Childcare Bill. It is too important to get it wrong. I am a great admirer of the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton. She and I have served together on a number of local government committees. However, I was slightly disappointed with her disingenuous remarks. Had she looked at the list of amendments, she would have seen that another local government stalwart—the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock—has tabled Amendment 34 on child poverty. Therefore, I ask the Minister: am I right in understanding that these issues will be sorted—to use a common colloquialism—before Report?
My Lords, I hope that the House and the Minister will forgive me if I intervene briefly as the chairman of the regulatory powers committee. I accept that it was a hard-hitting report; none the less, I think that it was a fair one. On the other hand, I welcome my noble friend the Minister’s offer to postpone Report stage, and the various ways in which he is trying to put right what I think must be accepted as a mistake. However, I think that all this could have been avoided if one of two ways had been followed by the Government in this matter—either by introducing a draft Bill, where all the details could have been fleshed out, or by the time-honoured method of introducing a Green Paper for consultation, followed by a White Paper setting out broadly the regulations and Bill that they wanted to see. In those cases, we would have had no worries at all.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords across the House for expressing their support for this extended provision. I have already commented on the Delegated Powers Committee’s report and our gratitude to that committee, and the fact that we will reflect very carefully on its findings and bring forward any appropriate amendments on Report. Regulations will not be available until after Report but we will report by then on the findings of the funding review. We will have evidence from the pilots in 2016, before the provision starts in earnest in 2017. We certainly take the report of the Select Committee on Affordable Childcare extremely seriously. We are studying it in great detail and look forward to discussing the details of the Bill with its members on and off the Floor of the House.
The Bill is very clear on what it sets out to achieve. It places a duty on the Secretary of State to make available 30 hours of free childcare for working parents. That pledge was in the Conservative Party manifesto at the general election and is similar to what was in the Labour Party’s manifesto. I make no apology for the fact that we are getting on with delivering that pledge. The parents want it, the sector wants to know where it is and is, indeed, pregnant with anticipation for this provision. We have already had 500 responses to the funding review call for evidence. Of course we want to work with the House and our stakeholders to make sure we get the delivery right. I know that there is a lot of good will around the House to help us achieve this and I look forward to working together to do that. Taking all those points into account, I hope that we can now proceed to Committee.
1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Consultation and reviews
In order to ensure that the duty in section 1(1) can be implemented effectively, the Secretary of State shall, before the end of 2017— (a) arrange for the following to be conducted and completed—(i) a review of the cost of providing childcare;(ii) an impact assessment for the provisions of section 1;(iii) a consultation with parents and childcare providers;(iv) a review of the 2016 pilot scheme;(v) the taskforce on childcare led by the Minister for Employment in the Department for Work and Pensions;(b) arrange for a report on each of the pieces of work under paragraph (a) to be laid before Parliament; and(c) publish and make available for consultation a draft of any regulations which the Secretary of State intends to make under section 1.”
My Lords, these are crucial amendments that seek to take forward our concerns, which have just been set out by my noble friend Lady Smith. As we have just discussed, they echo the concerns identified around the House at Second Reading, which have been endorsed by the damning report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and further endorsed today by the Lords Constitution Committee.
Noble Lords will recall that at Second Reading there was broad consensus that we supported the principles behind the Bill but were concerned about whether it was workable and affordable. More fundamentally, there was a concern that we were being prevented from carrying out our essential scrutiny role effectively. I could cite a number of quotations from noble Lords around the House to endorse that argument, but I know that we all recall the frustration that we felt at the time. The Minister was not able to provide any reassurance because, as he said, the plan was to carry out the reviews and then publish the regulations in light of their conclusions—in other words, a long time after the Bill had left this House. We have since received a letter and a policy statement from the Minister, as well as his helpful statement today, but I would still like further clarification on what we will have before us on Report. This is what our amendments are attempting to tease out.
I gathered from the policy statement that it was proposed to consult parents, providers and employers, beginning in the summer, as well as to have a public consultation that would not take place until 2016, and that outcomes from both would feed into the draft regulations, which would be published after that. I am just checking the timescale that the noble Lord is now proposing, in light of what I read in the policy statement. Then, in September 2016, the pilot schemes will take place, so there will also be conclusions from these. I gathered from the noble Lord today that on Report we would have details of what the pilot schemes would do, but not their conclusions.
The policy statement also said, and the noble Lord echoed this today, that in the autumn the Government will produce their response to the affordable childcare report. As my noble friend Lady Massey has said, it would be helpful to have the Government’s response to that before Report. I am not sure that the Minister clarified that that would be the case. He said that there would be discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, and others, but a thought-through response to that report would be very helpful.
We then have the government task force on childcare, which I think we are also calling the funding review, to which my noble friend Lady Smith referred. As she said, the whole Bill will stand or fall on whether we get the funding right. Is the noble Lord saying that all the work on that review will be completed by September, in time for Report? It seems a very big piece of work to get it right—not only to consult all the providers but to look at the financial implications and at where the money will be drawn from to pay for any additional places. I am impressed if that is the case, but it would be helpful if the Minister could clarify that.
We also have the Minister for Employment chairing a childcare implementation task force—which I think is different, but the noble Lord will be able to clarify this—to look at the options for extending entitlement. However, as we discussed last night, it seems from the 10 Downing Street website that that task force’s report is not to be made public. Perhaps the noble Lord could clarify whether we will ever see it.
There is then a full economic impact assessment, which we will not see until 2016. Then, as we talked about, there are the final regulations and guidance. I am just trying to tease out in a little more detail which of these we will see on Report, because I would have thought—and this is what the Delegated Powers Committee report said—that most of them would be very helpful before we get into the detail of the Bill.
In essence, this is a topsy-turvy Bill. We are doing everything in the wrong order. As the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, said, it would have been sensible to have reviews and pilot schemes and publish a more detailed Bill after that. Amendment 1, is, in effect, a sunrise clause: it puts a logical process of consultation and review into the Bill and enables both Houses to play a proper role in scrutiny before the Bill is enacted.
At Second Reading, the Minister argued that it was important for the Bill to be published early so that parents could plan for 2017. Crucially, our amendment would not alter that start date, but would give an opportunity to address the many concerns that parents and providers are raising about who will be entitled to the free childcare and how it will be funded, so that, by 2017, parents will have a much clearer picture of what is on offer to them. I hope that noble Lords will see the sense of the amendment. It is very much in keeping with the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Committee and it would underpin our right to scrutinise the intent and detail of the Bill more rigorously.
Amendment 27 is quite straightforward and essential, and again builds on the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Committee. As it stands, Clause 2(2)(d) is a Henry VIII power that gives widespread powers to the Secretary of State to amend, repeal or revoke any regulations made under the Bill. By removing subsections (4) and (5) and replacing them with our amendment, all the regulations in the Bill would need to come to each House for approval, so there would need to be an affirmative, rather than a negative, process. We believe that this safeguard is necessary because of the lack of clarity in many of the regulations proposed.
In their policy statement, the Government sought to make a virtue of the lack of detail in the regulations proposed, arguing that the reviews and the consultation should take place first. We of course agree that consultation, evidence-collecting and analysis should take place before the legislation is finalised, but we are not prepared to hand over so much detail of the legislation, both primary and secondary, to the Secretary of State when so much is yet to be decided. We believe that that is bad policy and bad scrutiny.
The Delegated Powers Committee’s report was clear on this. It said:
“In our view, the Government’s stated approach to delegation is flawed. While the Bill may contain a legislative framework, it contains virtually nothing of substance beyond the vague ‘mission statement’ in clause 1(1)”.
It went on to recommend that the affirmative process,
“should apply on the exercise of all powers conferred by clause 1”.
We agree with this recommendation and our amendment would give effect to it. I am not sure whether the Minister’s statement today confirmed that. Again, I would be grateful if he could clarify that. Amendments 40, 41 and 42 are then consequential on Amendment 21.
Given the lack of detail, on which all noble Lords commented at Second Reading and again this afternoon, I hope that these amendments will provide some reassurance and a vehicle for taking the Bill forward. I hope they will receive widespread support. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am very new to this process of scrutinising legislation. All the detailed procedures and processes that more experienced Members of this House know about, and the intricacies of how a decision is made, are a bit new to me. What I do know, though, is this: there is in front of us, for a very important change to legislation, a Bill that comes to just over three pages. The amendments that have been tabled across your Lordships’ House come to 13 pages, which is a very telling ratio.
What we have in the initial case is something that is extremely lacking in detail and substance, when we need detail and substance. The Bill is not about a Conservative manifesto commitment; I am concerned not about the Government’s manifesto commitments but about the impact of the final legislation on children and their families. So much is lacking in the Bill that we have no idea what the impact will be and whether it will be affordable or accessible for all young people. Which families will be able to take advantage of the 15 hours of additional free childcare that is on offer? We know none of these things. We do not know whether there is sufficient capacity in the sector to provide these additional 15 free hours.
In my other capacity, as a local councillor, representing families and their children, I would have to say, looking at this, that I do not know what is on offer, and whether I would be able to access and use it. We have before us a lost opportunity of immense proportions. Everybody across this Committee can agree that an additional 15 hours’ free childcare is very important to families and to children of preschool age, but we cannot get it right in the first instance. It is shameful that we are at this stage.
Before we get to Report, we ought to have all the information we need. I do not want to be part of a system that agrees legislation without all the information. I cannot believe that that is what we are being asked to do. I urge the Minister to do what he can to encourage those who do these things to make sure that we get all the information we need so that we can properly scrutinise what is on offer and, in the end, provide something of value and substance.
First, I want to make it absolutely clear that, on this side, we are very supportive of the outline of the Bill, which is the 15 hours’ additional free childcare. Secondly, we do not want to see any unnecessary delay. Thirdly, we want the wording to be right so that no one slips through the net because the detail of the legislation is inadequate.
That leads me to be very supportive of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, which seeks to get all that information upfront so that we can look at it and, as is our duty, make a proper decision about the contents of the Bill. It is about not the principle but the detail. The detail matters for children and their families. I urge the Minister to reflect very carefully on the lack of detail before us, and to make sure that we get it on Report so that we can do what we should be doing, which is to scrutinise the detailed content of this important piece of legislation.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 29, and first declare my interest as a newly appointed vice-chair and parliamentary representative of the Local Government Association. I omitted to thank the Select Committee and the Opposition for their part in ensuring that we have this thinking space before Report on this very important Bill. I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, and I was pleased to hear the passion in what she has just said.
I do not think it a good thing if a newly elected Government with a manifesto commitment and with a majority feel timid about taking action. I very strongly opposed the Academies Bill, which was introduced under the coalition Government. I do not feel it is wholly redeemed, but I think a Government have to be fairly bold, and maybe do new and dangerous things. Sometimes those can have very good outcomes. In what became the Academies Act, I think the power given head teachers has been a very good thing.
I think it is a difficult balance for a new Government. They need to assert themselves, and they should not be too timid, but for something as important as this—and I totally agree with the noble Baroness—time, thought and consideration are vital. I am happy that we have had this opportunity for extra thinking time.
In my amendment, I call for a commission to be set up:
“Within two years of the coming into force of”,
the Act, which will look,
“with particular regard to value for money”,
in childcare provision. Under the amendment the commission would appoint,
“the Children’s Commissioner for England … a representative of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, and … a representative of the Nuffield Foundation”,
to look at value for money in the childcare sector. I have done this because I have been rather shocked in the past to see from international comparisons of the cost of childcare how expensive it is in this country. I am concerned that the taxpayer is not getting value for money.
I must apologise to the Childcare Minister. In a recent meeting when he briefed us on the Bill, I am afraid that I put words into his mouth which he did not use. He did not refer to his concern that the cost of childcare in this country is higher than in other nations; that was a concern expressed by his predecessor in the other place, his colleague Elizabeth Truss. I apologised to him for that but he did point out that childcare provision in this country has been part of a piecemeal process. Over the years, it has been rather reactive and there has not been a strategic view of what we should be doing, so I hope that your Lordships might think this a worthy consideration.
One particular concern I have is that while parents are the drivers here—the money goes to where they choose to place their child—I know from research that they will often choose price over quality. That is absolutely understandable when you are desperate for childcare, but because we all know that quality is so important, we may need to think of other ways of funding the way the market works to ensure that there is more of an incentive to improve quality, rather than simply to have extra provision.
I will also speak briefly to my colleague and noble friend Lord Sutherland’s amendment, 38A. I do not have it in front of me right now but, having looked at it briefly, I felt that he had made a very helpful contribution in saying that there should be a longitudinal study of the impact of early years childcare. The development of children who experience early years provision is fundamental. I am sure that my noble friend Lord Northbourne will raise the question today of what happens in early childhood, and particularly how the relationship between mother and infant is mediated by early years care. That is fundamental to how we make mature relationships as adults. So much of the security and success of our relationship with our partners and children depends on what happens in early childhood. Perhaps we can get more information on this long distance between infancy and the ages of 25 or 30, when we start to make our own families, and even look at the next generation on. It would be really helpful to have a study to look at the impact of this, so I welcome my noble friend’s amendment.
My Lords, I believe we are in a much better place now than we were during Second Reading and I thank the Minister for the part he has played in that. I also thank the usual channels, who I am sure were not silent when critical issues came up.
That being said, there are still some major issues and some of these amendments deal with them very well. Pro tem, until we see how much information we will have before Report, I would be inclined to give my support to Amendments 1 and 27—particularly Amendment 27, because we need to be clear that the regulations that do not come before this House deal only with practical constitutional matters. In principle, I give my support to both these amendments and we will see how things develop between now and Report. Effectively, the Government are under detailed scrutiny here and I encourage the Minister to do all he can to work with the good will around this place to bring about a successful conclusion.
That being said, I will refer briefly to my own Amendment 38A, which is quite different from the others. It recognises the fact that excellent work of a longitudinal nature has been done—for example, in the EPPE and EPPSE reports—with the encouragement and sponsorship of the Department for Education under two different Governments. That is something we welcome. We should look at the value of that work, which was evident to the Select Committee, with a view to continuing with a similar evaluation of what government policies bring about. The EPPE study takes children from the age of three. This legislation might alter that age and, if so, is an additional reason to look for the ways in which early education impacts on later educational opportunity.
I am looking for an indication from the Minister that the department still attaches great importance to building up this long-term database of how well or ill any particular policy might be working.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Listowel for mentioning that we were going to speak together and I apologise to the Minister for being a minute or two late—I did not realise that there had been a slight rehash of the timings. My Amendments 4 and 7 dare to ask, in this company, whether childcare is always the right answer for all children and all parents. I shall, of course, come back with those questions when this matter returns. I understand that we are not discussing these things in any detail today, so I shall not press my amendments.
My Lords, I have a few comments. First, Amendment 1 raises a lot of the issues that we began to talk about in our previous discussion on the way the Bill is managed. Again I tell the Minister that we are very grateful for the flexibility he has shown under the circumstances.
Amendment 1, in the name of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch, creates an opportunity for the Minister to give us a bit more information on the timetable in general. He has said clearly that we will have the results of the funding review before Report. It would be really useful if he would spell out, as far as he is able at this point, some sort of road map for the process as it will run over the next three to six months. There are so many reviews and all manner of different things happening. There are the pilots—I, for one, do not know much at all about those. Is it possible to set out the department’s working timetable, and perhaps put a copy in the Library, so that we can reflect upon it as we come back at various stages of the Bill? That would be very helpful.
Secondly, there is a contrast between the amendments in this group. Some are probing into the workability of the process itself and then there are two, in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, which raise much more fundamental questions about impact and longitudinal issues. We need a proper debate on what we actually know about the impact of childcare, in terms both of learning and social skills. At the moment we have a rather random collection of evidence about impact, much of which is from the agencies themselves. It would be extremely useful, given the investment that is going into this and given the expectations raised by doubling childcare, if we could have some thorough, systematic research on impact, as the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, suggests in his amendment.
I do not want to labour the point, but I am reminded that there is a contrast between the way the Bill has been introduced and the way previous childcare legislation was introduced. If we go back to 1999 and look at “Meeting the Childcare Challenge”, that was a very detailed road map for increasing the supply of childcare, which went along with tax credits, with start-up capital, with revenue funds and with the extension of after-school care. There was a very clear prospectus as to what was going to happen and how it was going to be funded. We should bear in mind that past massive changes in provision have been planned carefully. Some studies on not just the value for money of what we are getting but the impact on educational achievement in particular are long overdue. For example, a recent report from the National Literacy Trust on reading shows an increasing, not decreasing, gap between the achievement of boys and of girls from disadvantaged backgrounds, after all the effort that has gone into investing in boys’ education. We really need to know what we do not know, as well as what we do know.
First, I thank the Minister for his letter, which raised a number of issues in my mind but which was at least helpful in resolving some others, and say that I support Amendment 1. I believe that I heard the Minister say in his introduction that he had had useful discussions with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and that some of the issues that he outlined in his introduction were going to come forward in any event. Despite all the difficulties that have gone before—I am glad I am not taking a political view—this gives us a really good opportunity to take a strategic view of childcare at the moment. I want to be absolutely clear about the who, the how and the what as we go through the amendments. We have a number of amendments, which we will discuss later, about what a working parent is, who in a range of other groups, such as disabled groups, might qualify for extra childcare and how that will be delivered. Will it be on an educational or a childcare basis? The Sutherland report pointed out clearly that there are differences in those two things. What will it be? Who will deliver it? Will it be delivered by childminders as well as within that educational framework?
If we could understand, through these reports, the answers to some of the issues that the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, raises, we would have a good opportunity to settle funding, cost and consistency issues. Those are among the main difficulties across the country for those trying to access childcare—you only have to move across a county border to find you pay twice as much for childcare as you did in the previous county, which can cause great difficulties, particularly with a mobile workforce. I hope that as we go through the amendments we will get answers to these questions and that we will stop, if you like, the procedural issues—we have made enough of those. We now have some baseline information from the Minister, and maybe we can move forward and get further information so that, by October, we know which parents will qualify and can understand what they will get and where they will get it from.
First, I apologise to your Lordships for not being able to speak at Second Reading. I will speak to Amendments 1, 29 and 38A. I very much agree with the comments of the noble Baronesses, Lady Andrews and Lady Howarth, but am very nervous of phrases such as “value for money” and “best value” in local government. It has to be about what is best in terms of provision. We have seen early years childcare grow over the last two decades. We have seen the Labour Government, the coalition Government and now the Conservative Government all doing something about early years, but we have not really thought about how it is going to look and how we want it to work. I find it concerning, for example, that three-quarters of our nurseries are, as we know, independent. There is nothing wrong with that, but we know that of those independent nurseries only half have a qualified teacher on the staff. We also know that, when there is a qualified teacher, the learning experience for those children is far greater than otherwise. So it has to be about the quality of the provision, for me.
I wonder about the effects of having those extra 15 hours. It might be great for working parents, but how do they affect the child? I will give an example. Schools will have nurseries, where children will go for part-time provision for three hours a day, Monday to Friday. So you can see a system arising now whereby the working parent will take the child to the childminder and the childminder will then take the child to the school nursery for three hours. With the extra 15 hours, they cannot use the school again, because it is a different set of children in the afternoon—not in every case but in most cases—so they will look for a different provider for the afternoon session. Then the child will go back to the childminder to be taken home to the parent. So there will be four different regimes or experiences of childcare, and I really wonder what the effect will be on those children. We need to look closely and calmly not just at the extra resource and provision, which we all welcome, but at how we ensure that there is quality.
My Lords, this is very much a debate on Amendment 1, and I welcome it—it must not be another Second Reading debate—but the points in the amendment seem to be the essence of good governance. Even if my noble friend is unable to accept the amendment, I am sure that he would be the first to say that government will be constantly reviewing the cost of providing childcare and constantly consulting. I am already grateful for the assurances that I have had that he will consult childcare providers. So in that sense the spirit of it is agreed. Of course, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, that longitudinal and technical study is extremely important. Without going over where we have been before, policy should be founded on consideration of good information and be brought forward in due process, and we are moving towards that.
I have one mild stricture for the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. She said that she did not care about what was in the government manifesto. That is a perfectly reasonable personal thought, but I think Mr Lloyd George from her Benches reminded this House that it ought to have a care for the manifesto of a newly elected Government. So I know that she does not oppose this Bill, but I hope that it is not going to be a doctrine that we hear from the Liberal Democrats—that they do not care too much what the elected Government have promised.
I wanted to probe further on regulation. I shall read Hansard very carefully tomorrow. My noble friend does not necessarily have to reply in detail; it may be something that he wants to give further thought to. But on the question of regulations—maybe draft regulations, not the final regulations—the fact is that the wrong regulations under this Bill, and under its wide powers, could drive small, private and voluntary settings out of existence, just as the wrong sort of heat drives our trains off our railways, it seems. That will be one of the concerns that I express as we go through the Bill. It is reasonable for Parliament to want to avoid the wrong sort of regulations on behalf of those whom we represent. Of course, I declare a particular interest as the leader of a local authority that may have to implement those regulations and as the husband of a provider who may have to respond to them. I hope that between now and October my noble friend will see whether we can show a little bit of ankle on the regulations, because some of them could be literally life and death, not only to businesses and voluntary organisations but to the hard-working women, if I may use that phrase —they are predominantly women—who work in these settings, many of them part time. So I would be grateful for the most that he can do to help us on regulations.
In the amendment proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, of course I agree that value for money is important. Once upon a time, Her Majesty’s Treasury was very interested in value for money before any policy came forward; now it seems that we are looking into affordability once the policy has been published. The value-for-money argument has another aspect to it that I hope we will not lose sight of. I recognise that the Government are committed to this principle. However, this policy, we are told, is going to be funded by taking away benefit from people earning more than £150,000 a year who are provident enough to save for their retirement. That money is going to be given to another set of people, many of them earning more than £150,000 a year, who, you might say, are not provident enough to put a bit of money aside to pay for childcare for their children. That could be a bit of a merry-go-round, to use a phrase that we have heard lately.
As the policy evolves, I hope that we will consider whether the state, the Government and the taxpayers are getting the best value for their money—not only what parents get in terms of providers; that is an issue of quality. This looks potentially—we shall see—to be a very expensive policy with a very substantial dead-weight cost involved in it of paying for a lot of people for something that they pay for already.
I do not expect an answer but I hope that that thought will inform a little the consideration of the implementation of the policy. Having slightly enlarged on the noble Earl’s Amendment 29, I hope that that aspect of value for money will be kept in mind as development of the Bill goes forward.
My Lords, in this group, I will speak to Amendments 1, 27, 40, 41 and 42, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and to Amendments 29 and 38A, tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland. I will attempt to flesh out a sequence of events and a road map which the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Andrews, spoke about. I will write to noble Lords about this and place a copy in the Library well before Report.
The Government are committed to delivering the provisions in the Childcare Bill in a way that is flexible, affordable and high quality for parents. A number of amendments in this group refer to specific activities that have been discussed with reference to the Motion to move the Bill into Committee and that were covered in the policy statement published last week. As I clarified on Second Reading, the Government are reviewing the cost of providing childcare and have committed to increase the average funding rate paid to providers. It is essential that the rate that we pay is fair for providers, value for money for taxpayers and consistent with the Government’s fiscal plans. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in Amendment 29 that value for money must be a consideration for all aspects of government spending, and the early years should be no different. The extension of the free entitlement is a significant government investment.
Last month, the Government launched a call for evidence as part of the funding review and, as I have said, we have already had more than 500 responses. As I have also said, we will report back on the review’s findings by Report and will then be able to say a lot more about the delivery model. I can confirm that we want childminders to be able to deliver the extra 15 hours of childcare, as they already deliver the universal 15 hours.
On 25 June, I wrote to noble Lords with an assessment of the impact of the Bill on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, child poverty, the public sector equality duty and the family test. The collective conclusion of these assessments is that the extension of the free childcare entitlement will have a positive impact for children and families. I can confirm to noble Lords that the Government will publish a full impact assessment on the extent of free entitlement when draft regulations are published for consultation in due course.
The Government want to engage with parents, providers, local authorities, employers and representative bodies about how parents currently access childcare and how it is delivered. This will begin shortly. We want to hear what is important to parents in choosing a childcare provider, and their views on how the extended entitlement will best meet their childcare needs.
I am pleased to say that we have already received a number of great offers from voluntary and community organisations to host events for parents and providers. They include groups representing and supporting disabled children and their parents. It is the Government’s intention also to work closely with employer organisations, such as the CBI, to ensure that we listen to employers’ views about how the entitlement could work best.
The Government will roll out the extended free childcare entitlement in certain areas under pilots from September 2016, in advance of full implementation from 2017. I was pleased that so many noble Lords welcomed this intention on Second Reading. A number of local areas have approached the Government to register their interest in taking part. This is a really positive sign of the engagement of the childcare sector in the new entitlement. We are currently considering where early implementation of the extended entitlement should take place, including the number of areas and the locations to ensure geographic balance. The areas will test out the important operational details for delivering the extended entitlement and provide a source of intelligence to support the Government in refining the systems to deliver the entitlement. As I said, we will provide a full update on our plans for piloting ahead of Report.
I welcome the reference to the childcare task force which the Prime Minister announced on 1 June. The task force is chaired by the Minister of State for Employment, with significant cross-government representation from the Department for Education, the Department for Work and Pensions, HM Treasury, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Cabinet Office. The establishment of the task force demonstrates how seriously the Government take the implementation of this policy. It is a cross-government ministerial group co-ordinating childcare work across government. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is right that it will not produce a report. It is there to drive implementation of this policy and other policies, such as tax-free childcare, so that we can deliver on our commitments.
All the activities that I have described will feed into the development of draft regulations and draft guidance. These will be subject to public consultation in 2016. Therefore, I do not believe that each activity listed in the amendment requires the production of a separate report to Parliament. Although I am in agreement with the noble Baroness that a certain sequencing of activity is required to ensure that the Government implement the extended free entitlement in the most effective and efficient way, I do not believe that the detail of this activity needs to be set out in the Bill. Indeed, I hope noble Lords will agree that it is important that a number of these steps take place now, in parallel with these debates, and do not wait until the Bill is passed. The call for evidence as part of the review into the cost of providing childcare is already under way, and the consultation with parents, providers, local authorities, employers and representative bodies will begin in the summer. I believe that the sooner the Government begin listening to the views of those accessing and providing childcare the better it will be. This is the key to ensuring that we can deliver the entitlement in the best way for working families.
I have listened carefully to noble Lords’ specific concern that it is important that Parliament is able to scrutinise the detailed secondary legislation that will underpin this Bill. I recognise and greatly value the expertise that noble Lords can offer as the Bill progresses through this House and beyond. Draft regulations will be published for consultation, and I look forward to comments from and engagement with members of the House’s Affordable Childcare Committee and others on those draft regulations. The noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, and I have spoken about the best way for my department to support that. In relation to the comments of my noble friend Lord True, we have no intention of setting up a situation where we drive any providers out of business. On the contrary, we want to encourage the sector to grow and flourish.
Evaluating the impact and benefit of programmes such as the free entitlement is extremely important, and I welcome the amendments tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, on this issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, referred to the importance of this evaluation. The highly influential Effective Pre-school, Primary and Secondary Education project, to which the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, referred, ran between 1997 and 2014 and demonstrated the benefits of high-quality early education on children’s outcomes. I hope that noble Lords will welcome the Government’s building on this with the new longitudinal study of early education and development commissioned by the Department for Education to update our evidence. This is a large-scale longitudinal research project that will follow the progress of more than 5,000 children from the age of two, assess the quality of provision and quantify the impact.
The study will also offer insights into the perspectives and experiences of childminders and of children with special educational needs and disability. The study is particularly relevant to Amendments 29 and 38A and will specifically examine the impact of providing funding for early years education to two year-olds from lower-income families. The reviewers will also be working with settings to collect cost information and to estimate the value for money offered by different ways of delivering government-funded early education. The first reports are expected to be published later this autumn with the final report in 2020.
The Government also welcome evidence gathered by others. The specific membership of the commission proposed by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in Amendment 29 reflects previous, informative evaluations carried out in this area. The Impact of Free, Universal Pre-school Education on Maternal Labour Supply, a report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, is a great example of this type of work. The Nuffield Foundation report published alongside the IFS report was a welcome addition to the increasingly rich evidence base about the early years. This report was of course carried out before many of our reforms, such as the two year-old entitlement, had been introduced, and looked specifically at the impact of funding early education on child outcomes rather than the impact of early education per se.
The Children’s Commissioner in particular has a strong role in reporting on government policies which impact on all children, including in the early years. Under the Children and Families Act, as noble Lords will recall, the primary function of the commissioner was strengthened to promoting and protecting children’s rights, and the wide range of work that she carries out ensures that the rights of children are at the heart of what we do. This external consideration is valuable and must continue. However, I believe that setting out a requirement to produce this work through a commission would limit the scope and flexibility to report at the most appropriate time and with the most appropriate focus.
I hope that I have reassured the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, that the Government will complete a number of steps to ensure that parents, providers, employers and Parliament are engaged in the development of the extended free childcare entitlement. I also hope that I have provided the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, with sufficient reassurance that although the Government recognise the value of evaluating significant programmes such as this one, it is not necessary to place it in primary legislation. I therefore urge the noble Lords not to press their amendments.
My Lords, I welcome the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel. I was also very interested to hear what the Minister said about the research that is taking place and I will look at that in some detail in Hansard in due course. I will also scrutinise very carefully the wording of the information that the Minister has now provided about the timeline and I welcome his suggestion of a road map. I think that would help all noble Lords to understand what we can expect on Report.
The critical issue here is not an October deadline. I am grateful that the noble Lord has offered that but it is more important to get the information right than to tie ourselves down to an artificial date. Whether it is October or November does not matter. What matters is that we are furnished with all the information that the Minister is now saying that we will get. I would hate to think that some of this work is being rushed to meet an artificial deadline, so I will just put that marker down, but if it can be ready by October, that is fine.
A number of noble Lords have said that we have had the procedural discussion and the procedural row and I agree with that. We are keen to move on with the detail of the Bill now so let us put the process behind us. I look forward to the information the noble Lord has given and will give in the follow-up letter and I hope that we can go forward on that basis.
I have one last caveat. The Minister talked about the draft regulations. Again, I need to check exactly what he said, but our Amendment 27 says that the regulations should be affirmative, which is an important principle. It is what the Delegated Powers Committee recommended and I hope the noble Lord will take that on board so that we can have a proper opportunity to debate the regulations, not only in draft form but in their final form, before they are put on the statute book. With that caveat, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, before the amendment is withdrawn—I apologise for being slow off the mark—may I make a brief comment? I thank the Minister for his careful response, which I appreciated, and for your Lordships’ comments on my amendment.
On my noble friend’s amendment, I take it that the longitudinal study referred to by the Minister will finish fairly early in the children’s lives. It seems that our discussion is about longitudinal studies that are focused mainly on the educational outcomes and maybe a little on child development. The EPPE study terminated at either 16 or 18, but here it may be slightly earlier.
My concern is that we need some means to think about the long-term impact of early years care. We are becoming more and more aware of the importance of a secure attachment in the early years. I visited the Anna Freud Centre over quite a period and spoke to professionals at Coram. To give an example of the importance of a secure early attachment, they have developed a means of assessing potential adopters. With that tool, they can learn about the adopters’ own experience of their early childhoods, and from that discussion they can assess how secure the child that would be placed with them is likely to be. To simplify grossly, if the adopters have had a secure attachment in their own lives, it is likely that they will be able to give a secure attachment to an infant placed with them, even if that child is quite challenging, because they had a very good experience early in life. This is a very important thing to keep in mind.
I am sorry to bore your Lordships with this—I mention it so often—but in this country about 22% of boys and girls are growing up without a father in the home and, according to the OECD, we will overtake the United States in a few years. It is of course deeply distressing for children when their parents separate, and hugely economically costly for us as a nation when families break down.
I am sure many of us would feel reassured if there was research that looked at the experience of early years provision and the early years experience of childhood and connected that with the success of family relationships down the road. Maybe the Minister will think about that, and then we can discuss it at another point. I thank noble Lords.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
2: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Welfare of children in the delivery of childcare under this Act
(1) In exercising her duties under this Act, the Secretary of State shall—
(a) hold the welfare of all children as paramount in the delivery of childcare in England;(b) promote the progressive development of persons and institutions which provide childcare;(c) promote the effective execution by local authorities of their childcare duties under Part 1 of the Childcare Act 2006;(d) ensure that childcare provision under sections 1 and 2 provides valuable early years education and contributes to closing gaps between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers; and (e) ensure that childcare in early years settings should provide caring and positive experiences which support children’s development and prepare children to thrive at school and in later life.(2) In this Act “welfare” in relation to childcare means the welfare of children in childcare in so far as it relates to—
(a) physical and mental health and emotional welfare;(b) protection from harm and neglect;(c) education and recreation; and(d) social and economic welfare.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 2, I shall not go through each point but there are other important amendments in this group.
First, I thank the Minister for responding to concerns about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in the annexe to his correspondence entitled “Considering the Impact of the Childcare Provisions”. Of course, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states that the welfare of the child should be paramount. The Minister quotes Article 18 with regard to assistance of parents and legal guardians, and Article 3, on the best interests of the child. I add that UNICEF’s summary of that article states:
“When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children
That is a fundamental issue behind my amendment.
Of course I support getting parents into work, and I support the increase in free childcare. However, children are at the end of this. I think the noble Lord, Lord Storey, was in the same territory: children should be at the end of any deliberation we might make. The Bill as it stands is very adult-centred, and I want to redress the balance and put the focus back on to children and their needs, in particular with a specific provision to close the gap between children from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers.
Eligibility for working parents and the problems about eligibility will be discussed later, so I will not go into them now. Nor will I go on and on about the wonderful report of the Affordable Childcare Select Committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, although I have to say it is a good read. It is packed with research, options and recommendations from providers, parents and employers. Importantly, that report also has children and their welfare at its heart. It shows that children in deprived areas tend to get worse childcare than those in affluent areas and that early years provision attached to a school is generally of a better quality. The committee also recommended that the Government should reprioritise and focus on children who are most in need of high-quality childcare. As we go on, prioritisation may become important and we should discuss the options.
I suggest, as did my noble friend Lady Jones, that the Bill is the wrong way round—“topsy-turvy”, I think she said. A Bill on childcare should look first at the best interests of the child. Childcare and early years provision should help disadvantaged children—and, of course, all children. This is the best interest of the child. We see in a report published last week, and referred to earlier, that there are serious challenges with regard to early literacy skills, particularly with boys. Fundamentally, and worryingly, early disadvantage can mean less chance of success later in life. I therefore want us to state in the Bill, loud and clear, that the welfare of the child is paramount and to go on from there. It is only by doing this that we will make real differences. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 4 in this group would insert “high-quality” into Clause 1(1). Amendment 6, which we will come to later, similarly inserts those words into this subsection. It also asks the Secretary of State to produce a strategy for developing high-quality care within six months of the Bill coming into force and lays out that the strategy should include,
“a target for the number of graduates in the early years workforce”—
I am not sure whether it is a particularly helpful target so I will not discuss it—
“a target for the proportion of managers of early years settings who are graduates, and … a plan for increasing the number of nursery schools to a specified level”.
The reason I tabled this amendment is, in part, the same reason that I gave earlier: what happens at the very beginning of our lives affects our adulthood to a huge degree. This is something of which we are becoming more and more aware. The intimacy that we experience in childhood is very much what allows us to have intimacy as adults. If that experience of intimacy as a child causes fear and disquiet, then, as an adult, we may find it difficult to be intimate with others, which has a huge impact.
Quality is really important. I was grateful for the opportunity to speak to the Childcare Minister and to hear, for instance, that he is looking at sharing early years practitioners with schools, perhaps in reception. I hope that a strategy will look at these innovative ideas so that perhaps it would become normal for early years practitioners to move into primary school education and for primary school practitioners to move the other way. It would greatly enrich learning in primary schools; a really good understanding of child development—which can be developed in particular by working with and observing infants—could be really helpful for primary school teachers. Anna Freud said so to a group of teachers back in the 1930s or 1940s. As a teacher, your job—or an important part of it—is to understand child development, recognise when the child has strayed from the normal course of child development and know how to bring that child back on to their proper developmental course.
That notion is important. We might also look at a strategy of co-training—something that I know has been discussed in the past—whereby early years professionals train with health visitors, mental health nurses, social workers and family support workers to strengthen their understanding of, and develop a respect for, what others do so that they can work more effectively. It is a multi-agency way of getting the best outcomes for children.
The noble Lord, Lord Storey, alluded to concerns about the number of graduates leading early years provision and the evidence that we are unlikely to get the outcomes that we want if graduates—I think they have to be the right kind of graduates—are not leading settings. I had some acquaintance with the manager of a Montessori school in London. She was an Oxbridge graduate and we had many interesting conversations about her work. I was struck by how very thoughtful she is. Clearly her children must benefit from the degree and depth of thought that she gives to her work.
I have mentioned previously one element that is really important in a nursery setting and that is the “key person”—a designated early years practitioner who is responsible for each child. In a sense, the key person is the guardian of secure attachment while the child is placed in a nursery. However, there are two difficulties with that. First, it can be quite distressing for the key person from an emotional point of view because they become quite attached to the child and the child becomes attached to them. If they move on or there is a break in the care, the child will be upset, as will the key person. So, from an emotional point of view, there is pressure on them not to really engage with and care for the child. Secondly, some parents will be jealous that their infant is forming such a close relationship with someone in the early years setting. These things have to be thought through very carefully so that the child does not grow up in a sterile, unemotional environment but in a rich, warm environment. That is why I have tabled my amendment, and I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 20 in my name. However, before doing so, I want briefly to lend my support to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey. I feel that it is a very important amendment as it provides a necessary rebalancing in the Bill between the needs of the child—we heard the statement about putting the child at the heart of the Bill—and those of working parents. Both are important but we have to think very hard about how those two interests and sets of needs can be best balanced.
The amendment to Clause 1 in my name would require regulations to set out the quality standards that childcare providers must adhere to in order to deliver the 30 hours of free childcare. Essentially it is about the quality of the childcare to be provided and it is a probing amendment.
While it is encouraging that the quality of childcare is gradually improving—we heard about this at Second Reading—there are still insufficient numbers of high-quality free entitlement places for three and four year-olds and disadvantaged two year-olds, resulting still in too many children attending poor-quality settings or being unable to access provision that meets their individual needs. Some 15% of disadvantaged two year-olds are attending settings that have not been judged good or outstanding by Ofsted. We know that this position is particularly stark both for children with special educational needs and disabilities—we will come later to amendments that focus on that group of children—and for disadvantaged children. I thought that the Affordable Childcare Select Committee report—I declare an interest as a member—was particularly strong in pointing out that childcare provision in deprived areas is less likely to be good or outstanding than that in affluent areas, compounding the disadvantage that already exists.
We know that current quality standards for early education and childcare are set out in statutory guidance for local authorities. However—this is my key point—it seems to me imperative that the expansion of free childcare to 30 hours does not in any way undermine recent progress in improving the quality of the free entitlement. The early years foundation stage and a robust Ofsted inspection process have both been central to improvements in outcomes for young children in recent years. While the Government acknowledge in statutory guidance that high-quality provision has the greatest impact on children’s development—that is very welcome, particularly for the most disadvantaged children—they have not restricted the delivery of the free entitlement solely to good and outstanding providers due to a shortage of high-quality places.
It is unclear to me—hence this probing amendment—whether the Government plan to use regulations underpinning the Secretary of State’s new duty to prescribe the quality standards that childcare providers must meet in order to be able to deliver the 30 hours of free childcare. I always like to look on the bright side, so it seems to me that the Bill presents an opportunity to secure quality standards for the additional 15 hours of free childcare and, at the same time, to strengthen existing quality standards for the free entitlement for three and four year-olds.
Very much in that spirit, perhaps I may ask the Minister some questions. First, will regulations be used to place quality requirements on providers of the additional 15 hours of free childcare? Secondly, can the Minister provide assurances that all childcare settings providing the additional 15 hours will be required to be judged good or outstanding in their most recent Ofsted inspection to deliver the early years foundation stage and to have all staff holding or working towards a level 3 qualification? Thirdly, will the Government consider using the introduction of the additional 15 hours of childcare to raise the quality of the current free entitlement? Finally, can the Minister provide any assurance that the Government will develop, publish and implement—I am sure that many people in this House would be happy to help on this—a strategy for expanding on and improving the quality of the early years workforce, building further on the recommendation in Professor Nutbrown’s report and, in particular, on the recommendation that there should be graduate leadership in all settings, including, most importantly, those in disadvantaged areas?
I wish to speak to an amendment that I have in this group. I follow entirely the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, about the need for things being child-centred. My noble friend was kind enough to embarrass my wife by saying that she was Montessorian of the Year, so I am obviously particularly attached to the Montessori system, which is quintessentially child-centred.
I will not repeat the remarks that I made at Second Reading but I think that, as the Select Committee said, there is a little bit of a risk of a conflict at the heart of the Bill. It is presented by my noble friend as an Education Minister but much of the rationale is that it is an employment measure. Indeed, the Minister for Employment is creating a task force that is intended to enhance the take-home pay of a two-earner household doing whatever the regulations—when we see them—will define as work. We do not know quite what that is, but we know that it is work done outside the home or work done inside the home, other than anything to do with caring for the children, as far as I can see. At the same time, we are moving from 15 to 30 hours and bringing in something that was never there before—a barrier against women who stay at home and provide that affective affinity which is so vital. Heaven knows, my mother was never a graduate—she did her bit in the war—but I do not like to think there was anyone better than her at providing childcare. I hope that we can find a way in going forward with this policy to explore whether that barrier is necessary. It will be costly in terms of administration for local authorities, and potentially to providers, and potentially socially costly in what it says about the role and enormous social, and therefore economic, contribution made by mothers who stay at home.
I fear that increasingly, given the comments I have received since the remarks I made at Second Reading. I have had a number of emails from groups and individuals about what I said at Second Reading about not venturing to put in second place the role of the mother who stays at home and cares for a child. That has certainly struck a chord. We must have care as we tread forward. If we really do believe in a big society, is that a big society that we wish to build? I unashamedly think that that is a marvellous phrase of the Prime Minister’s, and I strongly support the principle.
Regarding the nursery education provision, surely it must include children in families were one partner does not work but instead devotes her time—or his time, in some cases—to childcare. That role is absolutely fundamental and I worry, not about an iron curtain but about the net curtain that is slightly coming down. Is that for reasons of cost? We do not know because we have not yet explored all the business of costs. If cost is the reason, there is a question of choice. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, slightly hinted at that when she said that we should perhaps explore this issue as things go on. It may be that, if there is limited extra cost, we should skew that extra spending, as we discussed at Second Reading, towards areas of disadvantage, those in most need, those with special needs and so on. It is simply a question.
My amendment is framed far too widely and can easily be swatted down by my noble friend. It is intended only to provoke a debate on how this Bill contributes or does not contribute to addressing the relationship between one set of carers and another.
A new report has just been released by the social policy charity CARE, The Taxation of Families — International Comparisons 2013. It says that the tax burden placed on one-earner married couples in the United Kingdom with two children and an OECD average wage is about one-third higher than the OECD average. I have not had time to analyse and explore that, but if it is true, in this context, what we arguably would not need is a new provision that further assists two-earner families while ignoring one-earner families.
This is a manifesto commitment and we will support it, but can we in some way extend inclusion? The importance of affective relationships between stay-at-home parents and their children links to what my noble friend said entirely correctly at Second Reading: the formation of attachments at an early age is crucial, so we must support them.
Even the Guardian—not my normal reading, my Lords—had a comment piece last week by Alice O’Keefe entitled, “Stay-at-home mums are heroes. The left should stand up for them more”. I agree with that, actually—take note, editor of the Guardian. Alice O’Keefe said that,
“mothers – and fathers – who prioritise staying at home and caring for their families are a valuable and grossly undervalued asset to society. Rather than focusing solely on pushing women out to work”—
and this is a woman writing in the Guardian—
“we should be making space for them and their partners to enjoy a stable and happy family life”.
I agree with that and hope that this Bill does not close the door a little on those people in the generous provisions that we all want to make.
My amendment is really designed to remind people outside this House—this House does not need any reminder—and perhaps in another place to reflect, as this policy discussion goes forward, not only on the balance between education and employment, between enhancing income and enhancing love, learning, socialisation and the formation of character, but on the balance between one-earner families and two.
My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer may be looking at this area overall and bringing policies forward in his Budget to address what seems to be a potential gap in this measure—we do not know. If so, it is one further reason why it is good to have a delay so that as the Bill progresses, we can look at the overall fiscal, social and educational climate in which we advance childcare, as well as the narrow measure before us.
I add just one final thought before ending wearying your Lordships: please let us not overregulate. I wholly endorse everything that was said about quality. But by making more and more graduates in nursing, have we guaranteed that everyone in our hospitals is cared for? There are some things that are instinctive. By making every teacher in every maintained school have qualified teacher status, have we guaranteed axiomatically that all teaching that goes on in our schools is good? As we aspire to quality, I ask that we do not rush to regulation uniformity, which may not answer some of the deeper questions about how we deliver true quality in providing child-centred care for the future.
My Lords, I will be, as I usually am, brief. I am not going to make the speech that I was going to make as I think that it has already been made by other noble Lords I just want to make some points that I think have not been made and, if possible, take up one or two points with the noble Lord, Lord True.
I primarily want to support the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, in ensuring that, whatever we decide in this Bill, the child’s needs are paramount. Having heard him on previous occasions, I am quite sure that the Minister will agree that the child’s needs must be paramount. The problem is how to implement that. Listening to some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord True, I felt that there was a conflict between the suggestion that there should be universal provision for every child and the need to meet the needs of children who have more deprivation or disability than the general population. I am quite sure, even on my poor economics maths, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will not have the funding for universal provision. I therefore hope that, when we get to some kind of pilots, we do not just look at the employment issues.
I know that this is a manifesto commitment and absolutely understand how it has to be met by the Government. However, I think that there is a risk of making things worse for some groups of children. If some families who are earning good funds—I think that the noble Lord, Lord True, was right on this—take up the 30 hours and are already paying for half of it, that means that there will be less finance available for those young people and children, two year-olds and upwards, who are not yet getting proper provision. Knowing some of the parents in those groups as I do, I appreciate that they do not always even know how to access that provision. I know that the Government are keen to improve information so that they can access it.
Those are the points that I wanted to make in seeking the Minister’s assurance that, despite the manifesto commitment that this is about employment and getting more women into work, the child’s needs will be paramount. I agree that quality is not always about qualifications. Having interviewed many staff down the years, I know that some of the best qualified have probably been some of the least caring. Then again, some of the most caring have not had the skills to actually implement the caring. It is about having an understanding of the two. I think that we could get more for less with a more strategic approach across the whole. I hope that the Minister will, in some of the reviews that are being undertaken, take that overview of it all. The way in which funding is given and the range of different funding—for example through tax credits and universal credit—is such a jigsaw for families. Just to rationalise that would make a difference both to access for families and to finances generally.
My Lords, I want to focus briefly on one word in the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lady Massey—the word “paramount”. It will make a huge difference as to how choices are made when it comes to implementing this Bill. There will be hard choices of a financial nature about commitments to manifestos and about the kind of care provided. As a principle, it may read like motherhood and apple pie, but it is not. “Paramount” is saying where the final commitment will be. For example, is it the case that paramount considerations will lead to children in deprived areas or children with special needs being favoured if there is a shortage of money? The word “paramount” begins to put an edge on this and that is why I support this amendment.
My Lords, I support what the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, has said. As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, said, the focus of this Bill must be on the quality of provision for the child. I made that point on Second Reading. It is most important that we keep our focus on the quality of the provision for the children whom the Government are going to spend money on by providing additional hours of childcare.
The one word that I noticed was missing from the Bill was the word “quality”. When you are dealing with the very youngest members of our society, you would think that any additional provision made for them would have the word “quality” attached to it. When I read the Bill, it struck me that the focus or driving force behind it was not the needs of the child but the needs of the parent. That is why I passionately support these amendments. We need to shift the focus back on to what is done for the child. It would be wonderful if we could rename this Childcare Bill, which has all the connotations of care rather than anything else, the “Early Years Care and Education Bill”. Within the additional 15 hours for which the Government are paying we want to see not just aspects of care, but aspects of early years education as well. That would bring with it the qualities proposed by both the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, and my noble friend Lady Tyler. I hope the Minister will take those two points on board.
My Lords, the Minister and I have something in common: we are both in celebration mode. I believe that it is his wife’s birthday. Unfortunately, business in this House prevents him from being with her this evening but I am sure that we would all want to send her many happy returns. For my part, I have to leave before the Committee finishes its business tonight. My youngest daughter is getting married in the morning and I have to catch a train to Wales this evening.
I turn to Amendment 2. My noble friend Lady Massey posed a key question when she spoke on Second Reading on 16 June. She asked:
“Who is the Bill for?”.—[Official Report, 16/06/15; col. 1115.]
The more I see and try to understand this measure, the more I begin to wonder that myself. The noble Baroness said that any Bill with “child” in the title must reflect—as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child—that the rights of the child are paramount. I share her view. Good childcare should be child focused and offer learning and developmental opportunities. Otherwise, what is the point of it?
I share the fear expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock—a blunt-speaking Yorkshirewoman if ever there was one. On Second Reading, she said that the Bill’s focus was on providing means to encourage women into work. While that might be laudable, the primary focus must be on its impact on children’s lives and not just on the future of the labour market. If, in the end, all we get from this Bill is a very costly system of babysitting and nothing else, we will have failed every family who wants the opportunity of meaningful, progressive and fully rounded childcare in which the child’s development can be the central objective.
Amendment 2 gives us an opportunity to persuade the Government to refocus the Bill and put the child at the heart of this measure. It places a specific duty on the Secretary of State to promote childcare and underpins that by requiring the Secretary of State to,
“promote the progressive development of persons and institutions which provide childcare”.
Those objectives go hand in hand. The first without the second would be worthless.
That brings me to a key point highlighted in the report of the Select Committee on Affordable Childcare, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland of Houndwood. Paragraph 25 stated that the committee and its witnesses were concerned,
“about the lack of coherence in the Government’s stated objectives for childcare policy”.
Witnesses appearing before the committee had flagged up the trade-offs necessary to achieve the separate policy strands. These were highlighted as,
“improving child outcomes, narrowing the attainment gap, and facilitating parental employment”.
The committee concluded, after listening to witnesses, that there was no evidence,
“to suggest that the need for such trade-offs was … acknowledged by Government”.
It formally asked the Government to clarify,
“how competing aims between the policy strands are prioritised, and what mechanisms are in place between Government departments to address the necessary trade-offs”.
Could the matter have been resolved and perhaps a different paragraph 25 put in the report? If the then Exchequer Secretary and now Employment Minister, Priti Patel, had turned up to give evidence it might have been. However, like some latter-day Louis XIV, she wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, and said:
“I have concluded that it would not be appropriate for me to attend”.
I do not know the lady—I know nothing ill of her and I am sure she is a very good person. However, it is becoming typical of the attitude of this Government to refuse to submit Ministers to the scrutiny of Parliament. If we cannot hold the Executive to account, who will? That is why we come here every day. Ministers and the Government must understand the need to co-operate with the House, with noble Lords, and not to resist our legitimate scrutiny role. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, spoke for all when he wrote back to the Minister expressing his disappointment that the Minister refused to attend. He went on to say that what is best for child development may not be best for enabling parents, and especially mothers, to maintain their attachment to the labour market.
I have been greatly encouraged by the response that the Minister gave at the start of this debate. He is clearly wanting and willing to engage with the House and with noble Lords on all sides to make this a better Bill. I invite him to assuage the fears expressed by my noble friend Lady Massey and other noble Lords and state without equivocation that this Bill is about childcare—a childcare service that is centred and focused on the child. The benefit of helping parents into work is a bonus, but it should not be the main objective of the Bill.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 4, 7, 15, 20 and 33 regarding the quality of childcare and early years education. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, my noble friend Lord True and the noble Baronesses, Lady Tyler and Lady Pinnock, for tabling these amendments and for leading the debate on this important issue. I also thank other noble Lords for their contributions.
First, I will reassure all noble Lords that children are at the heart of our thinking in this area and that they will always be at the forefront of what we are trying to do. The Government are committed to driving up the quality across early years provision for all children and ensuring that the current early education entitlement is of the highest quality. The current entitlement ensures that all three and four year-olds can access 15 hours a week of quality early education free of charge to prepare them for school and improve their life chances. It also ensures that children are kept safe and well and that their individual needs are met. The purpose of this Bill is to build on the popular current package and to help families further by reducing the costs of childcare and supporting parents to work.
A number of noble Lords rightly focused on the needs of deprived families, but we all know that work is a key route out of poverty, which is why that is a focus of these measures. We are clear that the extended entitlement is intended to help families by reducing the cost of childcare and supporting them to work. We want to make sure that this is delivered in ways that meet the needs of working families and their children. We think that it is important that the extended entitlement is flexible for parents to access and can be delivered by a range of providers. But again—this point was made by many noble Lords—what is of equal importance is the quality of childcare and the impact that it has on child development. It is absolutely imperative that childcare is delivered in a safe, secure and welcoming way that contributes to a child’s welfare and development. Of course, a large number of parents already use significantly more than the 15 hours of formal childcare that are provided. All a child’s time spent in such registered early years settings is looked at by Ofsted.
I turn first to Amendments 2, 4 and 20. The quality and welfare standards of all early years childcare, and this Government’s expectation of providers to deliver it, is already set out in regulations under the existing Childcare Act, and, crucially, through the requirements of Ofsted’s regulatory and inspection regime. Ofsted has announced a new, improved common inspection framework to come into effect from September this year, which will bring more consistency to inspection approaches across education and registered early years settings assessed under the early years foundation stage statutory framework. There will be an increased focus on children’s outcomes and the quality of teaching and learning, and on whether appropriate continuous professional development to improve staff practice is in place. Once again, I stress that children’s welfare and safety remain paramount and are key elements of the inspection regime.
The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, asked about the strategy for workforce improvement. We are committed to ensuring that we provide a clear and overarching framework of regulatory accountability and high-quality standards for childcare providers, alongside raising the bar on the calibre of staff via more demanding qualifications and qualification entry requirements. Within this framework, childcare businesses are incentivised and supported to self-improve. We think that this is the right approach for a largely private market and respect the fact that professional practitioners and owners of settings are best placed to recruit and retain a workforce that delivers the childcare that the Government, but, most importantly, parents, want.
The Government therefore are continuing to support the development of the sector by providing £50 million of funding through the early years pupil premium to support providers to raise the quality of provision for disadvantaged children, including supporting workforce development, £5 million to teaching schools to work with local providers and £5.3 million to voluntary and community sector organisations this year, many of which will focus on the upskilling of the workforce by offering training and development.
The noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, also asked about quality being reflected in the regulations. This was a key theme that ran through many noble Lords’ contributions. As we have said, we are talking to parents about their requirements for taking up the new entitlement, including quality. These views will be reflected in the regulations that we will consult on in 2016.
I turn to Amendments 7 and 15. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for raising this issue. I think that we can agree on the importance of attachment in early childhood and its implications for long-term social and emotional development. International and UK studies have shown that the foundations for virtually every aspect of human development are laid in early childhood. What happens to a child from the womb to the age of five has lifelong effects on many aspects of health and well-being from obesity, heart disease and mental health to educational achievement and economic status.
The environment for a child in their early years is fundamental to their development and for secure emotional attachment. We know that infants become securely attached to adults who are consistently sensitive, loving and predictable in social interactions with them. With the security of knowing that their primary care giver is emotionally available, children grow in confidence and explore the surrounding world, including the learning opportunities of nursery and school. The Government are committed to supporting the promotion of developing secure attachments between young children and their parents. As well as increasing the number of health visitors, we have raised the standards of qualifications, including the introduction of early years teachers and early years educators and we want to ensure that practitioners have a strong understanding of child development issues such as attachment.
The early years foundation stage sets the standards that all early years providers registered on the early years register must meet to ensure that children learn and develop well and are kept healthy and safe. The statutory framework also recognises that good parenting and high-quality early learning together provide the foundation that children need to make the most of their talents and abilities as they grow up, and, of course, continuity of care is very important. I reassure noble Lords that Ofsted inspectors will take into account the need for the well-established key person system mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, among others. It will help ensure that children form secure attachments and promote their independence and well-being. While I recognise the intentions behind the amendments I have discussed so far, I hope that we have sufficiently reassured noble Lords that they will agree to withdraw them.
I turn to the amendment spoken to by my noble friend Lord True, who raised the position of parents who choose to stay at home. I assure him that the Government recognise that it is a matter of choice for parents to decide whether they want to work or not, and that we have already implemented additional support for such parents, such as shared parental leave. The new marriage allowance will allow people who are married or in a civil partnership to reduce their partner’s tax by up to £212 a year. I understand his concern that for many parents the choice to stay at home, offering their own quality of care and love to their children, will be the right one to make. He will also be aware that those families are, indeed, entitled to the first 15 hours for three and four year-olds and to the 15 hours for two year-olds from disadvantaged homes. All in all, that adds up to a substantial package.
The principle that the additional entitlement is for working parents is, however, an important one, which I have already mentioned. It offers greater choice to parents who wish to work additional hours and for those who may wish to return to work, and it supports the Government’s goals of supporting hard-working families, reducing the cost of living and ensuring that fiscal goals can be met. However, it does not stop anyone choosing to stay at home and access the other support that I have outlined. I hope that the noble Lord is reassured by that and will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
In conclusion, the Government are committed to ensuring that childcare places are of high quality, as these have lasting benefits for children. The safety and welfare of children remain paramount. Children are at the heart of what we are seeking to do. I hope that noble Lords have been reassured by my responses and I ask them not to press their amendments.
My Lords, this has proved to be a very important and stimulating discussion on these amendments. I thank noble Lords for their support for the notion of high-quality, child-focused childcare, and the Minister for her response. However, I would be reassured if the words “paramount”, “important” or whatever appeared before the notion of children, because my problem is that I do not see the importance of the child being paramount on the face of the Bill, and I would like it to be there.
However, as I say, this has been a very interesting and important debate. Developmental stages have come up time and time again—that is, children’s personal, social and academic development—and high-quality childcare, from whichever source it comes, that responds to the child’s needs. I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, who talked about a strategic approach, recognising that children are different. Many noble Lords spoke about this. Children have varied needs. As many noble Lords said, this may, indeed, require hard choices.
I mentioned earlier the report highlighting that some boys not only have poor literacy but are miles behind at a very early age. We need to focus on children who require special help; their needs are paramount. If the welfare of the child is at the forefront, as the noble Baroness has just said, I think that needs to be spelled out in the Bill, preferably at the beginning. That would reassure me. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I apologise for being slow to my feet this evening. Before the noble Baroness withdraws the amendment, may I make a few comments on what the Minister has said, since we are in Committee? I am very grateful to the Minister for her careful reply and for her reference to the importance of the key person in the nursery. I am also grateful for everything I have heard about the improving educational qualifications of staff and the encouraging inspection reports from Ofsted.
What troubles me, and I think may trouble other noble Lords, is the concern that this is a very low-paid workforce of mainly very young women. I recently visited a nursery near here and met a couple of young women who had just started working there. I learned of their history: they were abused themselves as children. I do not know how good their experience was of recovering from that. However, childcare staff are often young women who are poorly educated and may well have had poor emotional experiences themselves growing up.
With respect to levels of maternity in young people in care or leaving care, I believe that research was carried out 10 or 15 years ago which highlighted that about a quarter of girls were getting pregnant before leaving care, and a further quarter shortly afterwards. Young women who have had a poor experience of childhood are often attracted to the idea of having a baby, and perhaps to working with young children, because they seek love—the love that they never had—and they hope that through having a baby or caring for a child they will receive that love. Sadly, what they learn is that the child needs to be loved by them, and that responsibility quickly becomes too much for them. Perhaps that is part of the reason why so many children who grow up in care go on to have children who are taken away from them and placed into care again.
I am going to make it my job to visit a few more early years nurseries before Report to reassure myself that the improvements that the Minister described are taking place. Given the realities of the workforce, I find it surprising that we are moving forward in the way that the Minister describes. However, it may be that this is such a vocational line of work that there are young women attracted to it who have great capacity for it. That might be one reason why we are seeing such an improvement, despite the low pay and low status of the work.
I do not expect a response from the Minister, but I wanted to flag that up as a concern.
Amendment 2 withdrawn.
Clause 1: Duty to secure 30 hours free childcare available for working parents
3: Clause 1, page 1, line 3, leave out “The Secretary of State” and insert “Every English local authority”
My Lords, at Second Reading several questions were asked of the Minister as to why it was necessary to have a system of dual responsibility for delivering the free childcare allocations, with the proposed duties seemingly being shared between the Secretary of State and local authorities. However, I do not believe that we received a satisfactory answer at the time; I have scoured the policy statement and there does not seem to be an explanation in that document either.
Under the terms of the Childcare Act 2006, the duty for delivering the existing 15 free hours of childcare currently resides with local authorities. It seems that overall, despite the pressures they are operating under, they have done a good job. In the previous debate, the Minister cited a delivery figure of 95% take-up of free entitlement, which, given the geographical and financial variations that they are operating under, seems pretty impressive.
As I understand the proposals, it is not envisaged that this duty will be repealed. Indeed, in response to a question at Second Reading from the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, about the local authorities’ role, the Minister said that,
“as my noble friend rightly says, local authorities play a very important role. We fully intend and need them to continue to do so”.—[Official Report, 16/6/15; col. 1130.]
So we are now faced with a potentially farcical situation in which local authorities will be responsible for delivering the first 15 hours and the Secretary of State will be responsible for the next 15 hours, even though the local provider is likely to be one and the same organisation. This arrangement will simply blur the lines of responsibility. It will confuse parents and providers alike and will provoke a blame game when things go wrong. I do not think that anyone understands the logic of this; I hope that the noble Lord will shed some light on the matter.
In the mean time, our amendment provides a simplified, streamlined structure in which the duties of local authorities are extended to cover the full 30-hour package. I hope that all noble Lords will see the sense in our proposal. I beg to move.
I shall speak to Amendment 31 in my name. Before I do so, I declare my interest—since it is pertinent to local authorities—both as a councillor and as a newly elected vice-president of the Local Government Association. I concur entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, about the confusion in implementing free childcare provision if local authorities are responsible for the first 15 hours and the Secretary of State is responsible for the next 15 hours.
However, our amendment focuses on a different aspect. We are asking for a new clause to be inserted into this Bill, to enable local authorities to be a provider of last resort. We do so for a number of important reasons. When I visited the Minister this morning, I noticed a big sign on his door that included the phrase “closing the gaps”. We all know, from our own research and from references already cited by many noble Lords this afternoon, that early years are extremely important in ensuring that children start school on a level playing field. We as a society must do our best to ensure that children who come from less advantaged homes have that gap closed before they start their formal education.
We are concerned that where children are less advantaged, either in homes where they are vulnerable or in areas where there is considerable deprivation, it is much less likely for vibrant private sector provision to be established, particularly when there will be 30 hours of free childcare. We already know, from evidence provided at Second Reading, that many private providers rely on additional funding, outside those free hours, in order to make their businesses financially viable. We need to give special focus to those areas of the country and those families that many Members of the House are already most concerned about, to ensure that children in those areas and families have the same opportunities and access as children from more advantaged areas. In those places where there are no viable providers from either the private or the voluntary sector, the local authority should be given the opportunity to close that gap to enable children to take advantage of the 30 hours that would be on offer. One of the reasons for doing this is because, sadly, many Sure Start children’s centres are either closing their doors or decreasing the number of hours that they are open for children from these very families. In many cases the buildings are there and could be used by local authorities by commissioning from the voluntary or private sector, but certainly provision should be made for children from less advantaged backgrounds.
As we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, local authorities already have a duty of sufficiency. Enabling local authorities to bridge that gap would give them the opportunity to ensure that there is a sufficiency of places for all children in our country to take advantage of the additional 15 hours of free childcare—or “early years care and education” as I am going to start calling it. As we heard in the debate on the previous group of amendments, that is probably the most important thing we can do: to focus on children who come from less advantaged areas and vulnerable families and give them the right start in life. Let us really do what it says on the Minister’s door and do our best to close that gap.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 3 and 31, regarding the model of delivery for the additional entitlement. I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Pinnock, and the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, for raising this important issue and bringing their considerable experience to the debate. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, for his congratulations to my wife on her birthday and reciprocate by congratulating him on his daughter’s impending marriage. I initially thought that Thursday was a rather odd day to get married, but then I remembered from personal experience that, given the Welsh legendary reputation for hospitality, a Welsh wedding can easily start on a Thursday and run right through to the Sunday night. The noble Lord will certainly have the weather for it.
There are many views about the best way to deliver childcare for working parents, including those in the excellent report from the affordability committee, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland. We believe that we should take stock of all such views before setting out the delivery model for the additional 15 hours. That is only right and proper in a consultation process.
With respect to Amendment 3, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, no doubt have in mind existing legislation under the Childcare Act 2006 that places a statutory duty on local authorities to secure early education free of charge for eligible children. The amount currently prescribed under that duty is, of course, 15 hours a week for 38 weeks, although this can be stretched over more weeks per year when parents wish and providers offer the option to do so.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, delivery of the current entitlement has been phenomenally successful. Statistics published last week show that more children than ever before are taking up their entitlement. Around 1.3 million three and four year-olds now access the entitlement—some 96% of all children of those ages. Furthermore, around 157,000 two year-olds have been reported as taking up a free place—some 58% of those eligible. This is excellent progress for a programme focused on those least likely to participate in formal childcare. I put on record my gratitude to all those in local authorities and elsewhere who have worked to ensure the early success of the programme.
The Government are currently looking at the lessons that can be drawn from the existing delivery model for the free early education entitlement and considering the simplest and most efficient way to deliver the additional 15 hours of free childcare to working families, many of whom will already be paying for additional hours or provision outside the free entitlement. The extended entitlement must be delivered in a way that is flexible for parents and providers, and funded through an efficient mechanism that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, said, reaches those who are disadvantaged in particular. Doubling the free entitlement is, however, a significant change for the system and it would be remiss of us not to pause at this early stage in the process and ask stakeholders, including local authorities and noble Lords, whether they have views about alternative approaches to delivery that could work, and that could deliver the quality, flexibility and efficiency that we want to see.
However, I would like to reassure the noble Baronesses and noble Lord that the Bill gives the Secretary of State powers to deliver the new entitlement through local authorities. The Government think that it is right for the primary legislation to put the duty to secure the extra 15 hours on the Secretary of State in the first instance, to demonstrate to parents the importance we attach to providing free childcare provision and to give them confidence that the Government will deliver on their manifesto commitment. We intend to build on the existing entitlement that local authorities provide, but will take account of the views of parents and providers to ensure that the additional 15 hours is provided in as effective a way as possible.
Between now and September we will consider carefully the simplest and most efficient way to deliver the additional 15 hours of free childcare, including understanding the view of parents on how this new entitlement should be delivered. This process will be led by the Minister for Childcare and Education and the Government’s task force on childcare. I am sure that the learned views of this House will provide important contributions to those considerations.
In Amendment 31, the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, has proposed that local authorities should be able to provide childcare themselves when no other provider is willing to do so, or when they consider it appropriate. This is analogous to existing provisions under the Childcare Act 2006, which we do not intend to amend. The noble Baroness is concerned about whether there will be sufficient capacity to cope with the new entitlement in all areas. The provider market is large and diverse and we are confident that it will respond effectively to any increase in demand that the new entitlement will require, although in many circumstances the new entitlement will replace provision that parents are already paying for. The market has responded very effectively to changes before, including the increase in the number of hours for three and four year-olds and the introduction of the entitlement for some two year-olds in the previous Parliament. But, as with other amendments in this group, it is right that we consider carefully the delivery options and the implications for all concerned.
I hope that I have reassured the noble Baronesses and noble Lord about any concerns that they had and that they are able not to press their amendments.
Can I ask the noble Lord something that is slightly puzzling me? I understand that, under Section 6 of the 2006 Act, local authorities are required to provide sufficient childcare as far as is reasonably practical, but I also understand from research that has been done that many local authorities are not undertaking childcare sufficiency audits, which obviously means that they will not provide sufficient childcare. Given the new responsibility given to the Secretary of State, is that the sort of thing that he will be able to require local authorities to do?
My Lords, as a local authority leader I am obviously grateful for the way that my noble friend responded. I understand precisely what he said about flexibility. At the moment, local authorities have to deliver the universal entitlement, the conditional entitlement and the targeted benefit for two year-olds. This will be another, different category of support. He is quite right to say that that needs to be thought through. I am not going to alarm the House as I once alarmed Whitehall by pronouncing the dread word “voucher”, but there are all sorts of ways that these things can be looked at.
I am worried that as a House our gift to Lady Nash is detaining my noble friend Lord Nash here at great length, but the only thing I would say, given this opportunity, is that local authorities will not find this easy. I agree with the permissive approach that my noble friend has endorsed and I am grateful for that, but just to inform the House, I asked my officials what it would potentially cost to extend provision to 30 hours across our existing maintained sector. Because of the constraints on building and taking a reasonable view that the regulations will not be less demanding than existing ones, capital investment would be more than £6 million for our maintained schools. That was in a local authority with a low proportion of maintained to private and voluntary provision.
While I understand the aspiration of the noble Baroness to enable local authorities to come forward, I think the Government and the House need to understand that the resource constraints on local authorities in filling such a gap would be considerable.
I thank noble Lords —we have had a good short debate. I understand the point of the noble Lord, Lord True, that, although we can recognise the success of local authorities’ involvement until now, this would be a new challenge for them. Of course, if you follow the logic of that through—I think the noble Lord was making a bid for some extra money when he talked about the capital costs—there is no guarantee that the Secretary of State or local authorities will have the extra money to fund some of that capital build that we all know would be necessary.
I have listened very carefully to what the Minister said, but I have to say that he was not very persuasive on this matter. He said that they are consulting. I understand, and we agree with the need to consult, but if that is the case, how come this is very specifically in the Bill when everything else could or could not be part of regulations?
My key concern is that the Minister did not address the complexity of running a parallel system. The noble Lord did not respond to the question of whether local authorities would still be responsible for the first 15 hours. As I said in my opening remarks, it appeared that they would be responsible for the first 15 hours, so making somebody else responsible for the next 15 hours does not seem to make sense at any level.
I shall withdraw the amendment, but I think this is something that needs a great deal more thinking through before we get to Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Amendment 4 not moved.
5: Clause 1, page 1, line 4, after “working” insert “or homeless”
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 5, and to Amendments 8 and 9.
I want to include homeless families. I want them to have the offer of 30 hours’ high-quality childcare each week. More than 90,000 children in England are living in temporary accommodation, and more than 2,000 families in England are living in bed-and-breakfast accommodation. These are the worst figures in seven years.
I do not know who is to blame for the current situation, but we seem somehow not to have produced enough housing. As a landlord, I know how challenging it is to be a landlord. I feel how badly we, as a nation, have all let these wonderful families down by not providing adequate housing for them. I think there can be some ambivalence about social housing. I have heard a couple of colleagues say, and I understand their concern, “If you offer social housing, then young women will have babies in order to get on the housing list, and we will be creating a culture of dependency”. My response to that is “Perhaps some might”. There is the other perverse situation in which women may bring up children on their own because, in order to get a home, the father has to live separately. On the continent, they seem to be more humane, and they do produce sufficient housing. In Italy, Germany and France the rate of teenage pregnancies is lower than ours. They do not have as much family breakdown as we do. So, experience elsewhere suggests that that ambivalence about providing adequate housing for our people is not necessary. People—families—need decent homes if they are to thrive and do well and secure employment. That is the context of the amendment.
Many years ago, I went with a health visitor to a number of households in Redbridge, in east London. One had damp running down the walls, another had a flooded basement that the landlord would do nothing about. In one, bizarrely, the lavatory was somehow part of the shower arrangement. The mother slept with her child in her bed. The provision was overcrowded and of poor quality.
I have also spoken on a number of occasions with mothers in temporary accommodation. Barnardo’s used to run a project called Families in Temporary Accommodation, managed by John Reacroft. I was fortunate to speak to those mothers about their experience. What I gathered from them is the isolation they have experienced: they might well be placed many miles away from their community, their family, their friends, and they might have to make a number of bus journeys to get where they need to go. Of course, there was also the uncertainty in their lives resulting from living in temporary accommodation.
I therefore encourage the Government to accept this part of the amendment, so that such children can get respite from an unstable and chaotic situation at home, and can have the stability of a hopefully high-quality nursery placement. I ask the Minister to consider asking the Education Secretary if there might be some ministerial discussion about the issue of homeless families, and what the Department for Education thinks needs to be done in this area.
The next subsection of the amendment is concerned with families with children at risk of significant harm. Visiting a nursery some time ago and being told that one of the mothers was a heroin addict helped me to think a little about this issue. Many of these parents will be addicted to either drugs or alcohol, so the benefits for them of having access to 30 hours’ free child care would actually be for the siblings of those three year-olds. Often, it is the siblings in an alcoholic or drug-addicted family who look after the younger children, so the elder children can get a break from having to worry about and care for the younger children. If the parent is taking part in a drug or alcohol programme, that allows them to immerse themselves in that programme, to build new relationships—their old relationships would probably lead them towards a drink or a drug—and to take a full part in the therapy offered, develop new activities and move on.
The family drug and alcohol court, which the last Government were so good at supporting strongly, is helping many families across the country to get off drugs and alcohol. Children who are at risk are, thanks to this work, able to remain with their parents. It has about a 50% success rate. A judge follows a family throughout a year and ensures that the parents give up their addiction and they can keep their children. I encourage the Minister to consider offering this opportunity to families with children at risk.
I turn to my proposal for literacy and numeracy courses. Perhaps it is a bit hard to define what those courses should be, but the research is very clear. I pay tribute to the work of many years by the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education and the Workers’ Educational Association, and to the recent report that my noble friend Lady Howarth of Breckland chaired for NIACE, which shows the benefits of family learning. It is so important to educational outcomes that parents be given the opportunity to learn, as well. When they start placing their children in education, they begin to want to learn, too. I am afraid that one can find, especially with very underprivileged families, that when parents are not given that nutrition and nourishment they may get resentful of their children, who are. I remember hearing of one mother—no, I will not go into the details of a rather painful story. However, it is very good to nourish both parents and children.
I am taking too long but, moving on to foster care, research has shown that not enough foster carers make use of early years provision. This is something their children could benefit from, so I hope this offer would encourage foster carers to make greater use of early years provision. Perhaps we could save some time here: will foster carers get the 30-hour entitlement? Are they classed as working people? I will hear later what the Minister has to say on that.
Research has shown that many of the young children coming into care—the under-fives—have mental health issues which are not properly identified. There is the opportunity of being in a high-quality early years setting, where those missed mental health issues may be identified. It is so important for foster carers to have all the possible incentives to continue in what they do—for instance, in 24/7 social work support and their really good support for clinical psychologists. This should be seen as another service that should be offered to our foster carers because we want to retain them and to attract the best. We want to recruit more foster carers, although I am afraid that the Minister and I were a little responsible for putting a stress on local authorities with the “staying put” amendment. Allowing young people to remain with their foster carers to the age of 21 rather reduces the supply of foster carers to young children. We could help support the recruitment of foster carers by bringing this provision in.
I am taking far too long but I am coming to the last of my subsections. It is on care leavers, who have often been abused as children. Many care leavers have a positive experience of care and move on to do very well in their lives, but may have had abuse before entering care. Many of them have unfortunately experienced many discontinuities in care. The report from the Centre for Social Justice of about two months ago highlighted that many left care feeling isolated and went on to have unhappy lives. I have already mentioned that many young women in care, and leaving care, will become pregnant and choose to have their babies. That is problematic when so many of them go on to have their children removed, so it would be really helpful to offer this provision to care leavers, in order to give those children and mothers the extra support they might need. With that, I beg to move.
My Lords, I want to propose Amendment 11 on the definition of a working parent, which adds our suggested categories to the list proposed by other noble Lords. In his response to the Second Reading debate, the Minister said that “working”—and by this we assumed that he meant “working parent”—
“will be defined as the equivalent of eight hours per week, will include self-employed work, and that lone parents will be able to access the entitlement”.
He added that,
“more detailed criteria will be subject to consultation in due course”.—[Official Report, 16/6/15; col. 1128.]
As we have discussed, we have not yet seen the more detailed criteria that will be the subject of that consultation, so on this basis we are helping the noble Lord along in this process by making some more helpful suggestions.
We discussed the report of the Delegated Powers Committee earlier. I thought it made a telling comment, because the Government had stated that their intention in the Bill was to send,
“a clear message to parents and providers about the Government’s commitment”.—[Official Report, 16/6/15; col. 1130.]
In its response, the committee said that it did not feel that the purpose of an Act was to send a message. I do not think we are sending much of a message to parents anyway if they do not know what the qualification criteria will be for this free childcare. Our objective behind Amendment 11, which by its very nature is a probing amendment, is to make the eligibility as simple but also as widespread as possible. Through this amendment, we want childcare to be available, free of charge, for qualifying children for a period equivalent to 30 hours in each of 38 weeks in any year for parents who: are not in work but are receiving job training; are,
“the main carer for a family member”;
or are on zero-hours contracts. More than that, we want by this amendment to ensure that “working parents” includes parents who have had their contracts,
“unexpectedly ended through no fault of their own”.
This is a point well made by the Child Poverty Action Group, which argues that generous rules should be established for parents who place their children in childcare when in work but subsequently lose their jobs through no fault of their own.
The Government have so far reached a definition of working parents without conducting any consultation on or assessment of how many children would miss out on the Bill’s provisions. At Second Reading, the Minister stated that a working parent is a parent who works a minimum of eight hours per week. Then in the policy statement issued later, he added an important detail refining the definition of a working parent as one who works a minimum of eight hours per week earning the national minimum wage. That leaves even more questions to be answered. For example, what happens in the case of parents earning below the national minimum wage? Although that is illegal, as we know, employers in disadvantaged areas often practise this. The Government have been given plenty of evidence of this illegal practice for some years now and have done very little about it. If the aim of this policy is to get parents back into work, surely it should be extended to parents on jobseeker’s allowance who are receiving training to get back into work. Alternatively, parents may be engaging in regular voluntary work as a means to build experience and their CV while seeking paid employment. Has the Minister any thoughts on how these categories of parents can be supported with childcare?
Parents on zero-hours contracts do not have a set number of hours to work a week. There are some women and some men whose shifts are cancelled at short notice—that day, and there is no work and no pay. These parents would not meet the eight hours per week criteria. Will they be penalised by this measure? Would they become criminalised if they had already filled in a form expecting to work eight hours per week but, due to circumstances beyond their control, were unable to do so? We also have a growing number of carers, with more and more people giving up their jobs or cutting back on hours to care for a family member. Have the Government accounted for the care sector in the delivery of the additional hours of free childcare?
These questions and many more are being left unanswered, so I hope that the Minister can confirm that he is taking on board the many examples we are all giving this evening, and come back with some further examples which embrace many of these wider definitions that we have been spelling out.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendment 25. I support the amendments in this group, which look at what constitutes a working parent. Here, I would maintain that grandparents can fulfil that definition of a working parent if they are looking after a child or children, and they should get the same childcare opportunities as working parents. I will explain why in a moment. Grandparents are bringing up children because the parents of the child may be dead, in prison or addicted to alcohol or drugs. For grandparents, the welfare of the child is so paramount that many put their own lives on hold. They need and deserve support.
The issue of grandparent, or general kinship, care has been discussed in relation to many Bills over the past 10 years at least. I became aware of the issues facing kinship carers, particularly grandparents, when I chaired the National Treatment Agency for Substance Misuse. I met many grandparents who were suffering hardship. It is estimated that 300,000 children are being raised by relatives and friends—and I mean raised full-time. They are doing a job: they are looking after and bringing up someone else’s child or children. An estimated 60,000 kinship carers have dropped out of the labour market to bring up children. Many have decreased their working hours or their income. One reason is the high cost of childcare. Other kinship carers, usually grandparents, have retired from work. They and their grandchildren would benefit from extra free childcare. I know what they are already entitled to, but if they are not working the new provisions in the Bill will not apply. Many kinship carers are under severe strain and could be helped, as could the children they are bringing up, by more hours of childcare.
I met a grandparent a couple of years ago who used to work but gave up when her daughter died of a drug overdose. She took over responsibility for three children, aged between one and four, left with her one midnight. She was exhausted and needed more space for herself, and the children needed more stimulation than she could give. She was not helped by the bureaucracy of her local authority, from which she had little help or support. In a recent survey, 95% of kinship carers said that they had experienced at least one unmet need for support. Kinship carers have few rights, few specific services and a complex and confusing system to negotiate. The woman I just spoke about said, “I ought to be reading to my grandson but I have to spend my time filling in forms”. According to a survey by Family Lives, most feel that parenting is more challenging than it was a generation ago.
I am talking about committed carers, devoted to their grandchildren or relatives, who have taken over in a family crisis. They save the taxpayer about £750 million a year. Surely, these carers should be given support. Being able to access free extra childcare would make a huge difference to their lives and the lives of the children in their care.
At Second Reading, I raised considerable concerns about the lack of a definition of working parents. I welcome the contributions so far, which have tried to expand the definition of working parents that the Minister gave at Second Reading, which is now written in the policy statement he provided at the end of last week. If the Government’s aim is to enable more people to go out to work by providing additional free childcare, I think we need a wider definition than that the Minister provided.
I am particularly concerned about people who go into education and training. They, too, ought to qualify for the additional 15 hours’ free childcare. We know two things. One is that many young parents have missed out, somewhere along their route through life, on accessing further education or training, either by choice or not. We also know that skill levels in this country are not as high as we would like them to be. One of the best ways back into the workforce is by gaining extra skills or qualifications through further or higher education. The Government ought to be enabling and encouraging this to happen by including parents in education or training in their definition of working parents. I urge the Minister to consider that addition seriously.
More broadly, I suggest that another entry point for a parent who has been out of the workforce caring for children is through an apprenticeship. The Government rightly encouraged apprenticeships—I am proud to say that my party promoted this strongly during our period in government—as a way of gaining skills and getting back into the workforce in secure jobs. It seems beyond debate that a parent in an apprenticeship ought to be part of the definition of a working parent in the Bill. We know from the figures for apprenticeships that many apprentices are parents in their late 20s going back into the workforce. Including them in the definition of a working parent would enable many more parents to get skills and training via apprenticeships.
It would be unfortunate if we were to exclude people who are on so-called zero-hours contracts and unable to say that they can work eight hours a week. These parents are often on low incomes, because the jobs on offer on such contracts are often poorly paid. They are the very people who would benefit from additional access to free childcare. They are working; they will not be able to substantiate the hours that they work, but they ought to be included because it gives them a route back into the workforce. The Minister has already described this as important because of the additional income it brings to the family.
I strongly support what the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, has said about carers. She talked in particular about grandparents raising children. I would extend that to parents who are caring, for example, for elderly parents who need particular care. They are, in many ways, working; they are just not paid for it. I hope that including them in the definition will enable them to do it without penalising their children. That is my fourth category.
The fifth category I should like to see added to the definition of working parents is those who do voluntary work. If someone has left school at the earliest possible moment with limited qualifications and has never gone into work but has had a family, one route back into gaining skills and learning what it is like to go to work is via voluntary work. There are many bodies around this country that encourage people, particularly those in less advantaged areas, to work in local charity shops or luncheon clubs to help them get a feel for what it means to go out to work. Again, we can encourage that if we include it within the definition of a working parent. That would focus our care on those most disadvantaged families in the most deprived areas and would show the degree of care and compassion that I hope we can achieve through the Bill and its implementation. I hope the Minister will seriously consider those aspects and broaden the definition to include some of the things that we have raised this evening.
My Lords, I have a very straightforward and simple question for the Minister. When I first read the Bill, I was struck by the phrase “working parents”. Do the Government really mean working parents or do they mean those with parental responsibility? One of the things the Minister will know about family construction in this country is that nuclear families, with two parents and two children, are at a minimum. I spent my life in the children’s court system looking at extraordinarily complex types of families. People with parental responsibility might be kin such as grandparents, aunts or other relatives, or they might not be directly related but have been given some sort of kinship care prior to adoption. There is a whole range there and I hope that the Bill, at some point, will make it clear that this is about those with parental responsibility. That would end the debate about a whole range of the issues that have just been raised.
My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a very interesting point. I will intervene on a slightly different tack. I have tried to present myself as friendly and caring so far, and I hope I am, but we have of course just heard a debate which has lasted half an hour with a range of different aspirations. Some are very worthy, including those on behalf of the homeless, grandparents and people with wider parental responsibilities, and some relate to whether different types of things are work or not. I have not counted how many categories have been suggested by your Lordships, but there are probably 10 and maybe 12, each of which has to be assessed and policed by somebody. I do not want to try my noble friend again, but this problem of defining the frontier and policing the entitlement arises from what I called earlier the net curtain between the so-called working and the so-called non-working—although there are wider issues in relation to broader parental responsibility.
At the moment we have a beautifully simple system: someone comes with a child of three or four; the providers simply tell the local authorities the numbers; a return is made; and money is given to the providers and paid over. Each one of these aspirations requires a different sort of assessment, probably by a different part of the public sector. It may even touch people who do not touch the public sector—there are sad cases of people who are deeply involved in caring but very hard to reach. I venture to say to the Committee that trying to get everything into one bottle will be extremely difficult. If the Minister wishes to keep the net curtain as he goes forward, there may be wisdom in trying to find different types of authority with the entitlement to do the assessment rather than putting it through.
I would prefer to keep it simple. Universal benefits are much simpler, although a means test can be applied if it is wanted. But I recoil with some fear, not particularly from the point of view of the local authority but from thinking about public administration, the ethical doubts and challenges, the frontiers that have to be defended, the rows and the unintended injustices that will occur from having too complex a system where it is hard to define the frontiers between working and non-working in a way that is perceived as “fair” and therefore sustainable. I believe that this debate illustrates the point I have been trying to make about public policy: good intentions, unless we are very careful in framing the regulations, will lead us into some very difficult places—and I hope that they never become dark ones.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 5, 8, 9, 11, 25, 26 and 33. This group covers a range of amendments on eligibility. I appreciate the intentions of noble Lords in laying these amendments and seeking further clarity on the definition of “working parent”. Perhaps I can clear up one point immediately, on whether a parent is someone with parental responsibility. This is defined in the Bill, in Clause 1(12)(a), which states that a,
“‘parent’, in relation to a child, includes any individual who … has parental responsibility for the child”.
The Government’s intention with this new entitlement is to support hard-working parents with the cost of childcare and to enable them, where they want, to return to work or work more. As I announced at Second Reading, parents working eight hours per week, including those who are self-employed, will be entitled to this additional provision.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, is well known for championing the case for support of the most disadvantaged, and he is absolutely right to do so. The Government provide a wide range of support to all families, especially the most disadvantaged. All families are of course entitled to 15 free hours of early education for three and four year-olds. Recognising that some children were missing out on the benefits of early education, we extended this to the most disadvantaged two year-olds. In particular, I know that the noble Earl will have welcomed that this includes looked-after children. We have been encouraging local authorities to ensure that many of these children can benefit from the support that is available.
The noble Earl raised the important issue of homeless families. I empathise of course with the practical challenges that such families face. Housing authorities and children’s services work together locally to ensure that the needs of children in homeless families are met. The Housing Act 1996 places a duty on authorities to co-operate with social services where children may be homeless intentionally or threatened with homelessness intentionally. However, I will be very happy to meet with the noble Earl on this matter. The Government are committed to supporting vulnerable groups such as care leavers. Our statutory guidance makes clear that local authorities, through the pathway planning process, must assess the needs and ambitions of their young people and set out how they will support them.
Amendment 9, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, would include parents,
“on courses to improve their literacy or numeracy”.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Tyler, have, in separate amendments, also proposed that parents engaged in education or training or undertaking voluntary work or work experience for a minimum of eight hours per week should also qualify. As I have explained, the intention of this additional entitlement is to support working parents. If parents work at least eight hours per week, they will qualify regardless of whether they are engaged in education, training, voluntary work or additional work experience.
It may help the Committee if I explain the support that parents who are studying may already receive, in addition to the existing free entitlement. Parents who are under the age of 20 and are studying a publicly funded course are eligible for the Care to Learn scheme. This can provide vital financial support for childcare costs of up to £175 per child per week. For parents over the age of 20, discretionary learner support and childcare grants may also be available, depending on the nature of the education and training that parents participate in.
Where a child is deemed to be at risk of suffering or likely to suffer significant harm, the local authority has clear duties to investigate and to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. This might include the provision of access to childcare provided by the local authority as part of a wider support plan.
Where a child is looked after, the local authority must make arrangements for their care, which might include support for childcare. The local authority must provide a fostering allowance which covers the full cost of caring for the child. For this reason, foster carers are not eligible for additional support through tax-free childcare or child tax credits for children who have been placed with them. We of course value the important role that foster carers undertake in looking after some of our most vulnerable children. However, whether foster care is considered work under the eligibility criteria for this additional childcare support is more complicated. I would welcome a further conversation outside the Chamber with the noble Earl on this issue.
I now turn to Amendment 25. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, has rightly recognised the important role that grandparents play in the lives of children. In particular, some willingly and unselfishly accept the role as main carer for their grandchildren at a time in their lives that they should be able to dedicate to themselves after bringing up their own children. When grandparents have parental responsibility and meet the requirements that they are working, I hope the noble Baroness will be delighted to hear that they, too, will be eligible to benefit from the new entitlement. This will allow them to maintain their work or increase their hours so that they can support their grandchildren, safe in the knowledge that they will be well looked after.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Tyler, raised the question of those on flexible and zero-hours contracts. Those contracts can help parents effectively balance work and family commitments, and are an important contribution to a flourishing labour market. Noble Lords will wish to be aware that under the tax-free childcare programme, eligibility will be assessed over an entitlement period of three months, allowing for variations in income week by week. I should like to reassure noble Lords that it is not our intention that parents on flexible contracts, or those on zero-hours contracts who meet the criteria, or those who lose their job unexpectedly, should be disadvantaged compared to those with regular working patterns, and we will therefore consider the technical detail of how this should operate and provide further information once we have done so.
The noble Baronesses have proposed that parents who are apprentices should be included within the entitlement. Apprenticeships benefit employers and apprentices themselves and are essential to helping our economy to prosper. Apprenticeships are paid full-time jobs of at least 30 hours with training, and therefore will quality for the additional childcare support.
The Government place considerable value on the important role that volunteers provide in our communities and in many parts of the social fabric of society. Where volunteers otherwise meet the eligibility criteria, they will be able to access the new entitlement.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Tyler, raised the important issue of carers. Under tax-free childcare, carers receiving carer’s allowance will be entitled to support where they are part of a couple and one parent is working.
In proposing their amendments, the noble Baronesses and noble Lords mentioned many important groups. The Government’s overall package of support already provides for their needs in the ways I have described. The main objective of the new free entitlement, which the Government intend to take into account when considering eligibility, is to support parents into employment. We also want to ensure that the rules are as clear and easy to understand as possible. On this basis, it is the Government’s intention to broadly align eligibility for the additional entitlement with that of tax-free childcare. It is, however, important that we consider each group carefully to ensure that the Government’s core objective for the policy is met and that the interactions between the other benefits that they may be receiving are well thought through. As a result, we intend to consider further, taking into account all your Lordships’ helpful contributions, and will return to the House on Report. I therefore hope that, for all the reasons that I have outlined, noble Baronesses and noble Lords are persuaded not to press their amendments.
Can I ask a very simple question? The Minister did not specifically refer to the very telling comments from the noble Lord, Lord True, that, if you have too complicated a system with all the bureaucratic checking that needs to take place, it is a burden on the public bodies that have to do it—but also there is a cost involved. Is the funding review or one of the other reviews that is taking place going to look at whether having a universal system would not be a whole lot simpler than some of the tiers that we are now trying to put into place? I am not expecting an answer now, but it would be useful to know at least that these factors are being considered again.
I apologise, because I know that everyone wants to get to supper, but I have a clarification point. In the Childcare Act 2006, which is quoted in the Bill, it says that,
‘“parent’ means a parent of a young child, and includes any individual who … has parental responsibility for a young child, or … has care of a young child”.
Did I understand the Minister to say that grandparents would still have to be working grandparents or that they would qualify because they would have parental responsibility or care for a child? Many of them are not working because they are too old or they have retired. Could he clarify that for me?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his careful reply and his kind offer of a meeting to discuss homeless families and the status of foster carers. I note particularly what the noble Lord, Lord True, said about the complications of making such amendments possible. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 5 withdrawn.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.35 pm.
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am very glad to have this opportunity to ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to tackle litter in urban and rural areas. I express my thanks at the outset to all those noble Lords who have put their names down to speak in this debate, and look forward to hearing their contributions. I am particularly glad that my noble friend Lord Marlesford, who has made this very much his own subject in the past, is taking part, and that my noble friend Lord Gardiner, who has done so much to advance the cause of the countryside over so many years, is to respond.
Those of you who know me will know that I am not a natural for Glastonbury—at least not for the festival. I was having a conversation about this extraordinary extravaganza, and somebody said to me, “The people who go there are the sort of people who care about the planet”. When I saw the photographs on Monday or Tuesday morning of the enormous piles of rubble and rubbish left behind by the revellers, I could not help but reflect that we judge people by what they leave behind. It was symbolic of a problem that is very real in our towns and countries. When I go to the early service at Lincoln Cathedral on a Sunday morning, which I do whenever I am there, it is a very rare Sunday morning when I do not observe rubbish between our home in Minster Yard and the cathedral. That is not because Minster Yard is badly kept—it is most scrupulously kept—but because revellers on a Saturday evening have seen fit to deposit all manner of detritus in a particularly lovely and holy place.
Again, one thinks of so many of our country lanes defaced, the verges absolutely obliterated in some cases by all manner of nasty things. Before I moved to Lincoln, I was for 40 years, as some of your Lordships know, a Member of Parliament in south Staffordshire. I lived for some 35 years in and near the lovely village of Enville. It was rare to drive around the country lanes without seeing discarded sofas, refrigerators and mattresses that had been fly-tipped by people, frequently over a weekend, and which cost a great deal of money to remove. This detritus is a product of carelessness but, much more than that, of selfishness—and, sometimes, of malevolence.
I was very glad when the Commons Communities and Local Government Select Committee produced a hard-hitting report just before the end of the last Parliament—so close to the end of it that the Government have not yet got around to replying to it. I am sure that they will; maybe my noble friend will be able to tell us when. It really was a sobering report to read, referring to England—because it was specifically concerned with England—as a “litter-ridden country”. About a month later, that very attractive and important magazine, Country Life, which has delighted people for well over a century, began its campaign against litter. It described the United Kingdom as,
“one of the filthiest countries in Europe”.
The first article was illustrated by a graphic picture of Loch Long in Scotland, showing the shore of the loch completely dominated by discarded rubbish and rubble.
Some 30 million tonnes of rubbish are gathered up from our towns and cities every year, enough to fill Wembley Stadium four times over. We have to remember, too, the nature of much of the rubbish in our streets. A cigarette butt, I am told, takes 12 years to break down completely; a plastic bag takes 20. Another graphic statistic appeared in a Country Life article, which said that it is reckoned that there are,
“46,000 pieces of plastic in every square mile of ocean”.
That is a terrible statistic, particularly when you think of the implications for wildlife. So many sea birds die as a result of ingesting bits of plastic. It really is a commentary on the carelessness of our age—carelessness in the worst possible sense: that people do not care.
It is not that there are no powers on the statute book to deal with these issues; indeed, there are a number. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs produced, again in March this year, a splendid account of what the responsibilities of councils and other public bodies are in clearing up litter and rubbish. It is an impressive document. It has been reprinted in an excellent brief that the Library has produced for noble Lords who may be taking part in this debate and others who are interested but cannot be here, of whom I know there are a good number. It illustrates that most of the powers are there but they are just not being properly enforced. So few on-the-spot fines are administered to those who discard their rubbish in the streets, very often from car windows. It is possible for people to be fined £2,500. I appreciate that that sanction cannot easily be applied to a careless child—I will say a little more about that in a moment. But we should enforce such things, and the department itself should hold councils to account for what they do.
We should also be considering anti-social behaviour orders—ASBOs—for those who deface our towns, cities and countryside in this way. We should be considering the confiscation of vehicles that have been found guilty of being used for fly-tipping. We should consider a takeaway-food tax for those who sell takeaway food and do not deal properly with what happens afterwards—there are exceptions, such as McDonald’s, which has a proud record of playing a part in tidying up the environment. There are other measures that can be taken. The call of the Commons in its Select Committee report for a national clean-up day ought to commend itself to the Government.
I have often talked in your Lordships’ House about the importance of citizenship and community service for our young people. I would like all of them, when they leave school, to have done some community service and to be given a citizenship certificate, which underlines not only their rights but their responsibilities; and one responsibility that we have to inculcate into the young is care for the environment. I should very much like to see the Government place a real emphasis on this issue; this would mean my noble friend talking to our noble friend Lord Nash and others. If there is to be a moral and a message from this brief debate, it ought to be: “Don’t fling it, bin it”. We need to inculcate this attitude into people of all ages, but particularly into the young, who can often be the best disciplinary influence on careless parents.
I am glad to have had this brief opportunity to introduce this subject of great importance, and I very much look forward to your Lordships’ contributions.
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. He is a decent, civilised man who cares desperately about the qualitative dimensions of life in Britain. He is right to have drawn attention to the scale of the challenge. Litter is not limited to the countryside; it is there in cities as well.
I live in one of those beautiful valleys of England. Just like the noble Lord, if I stroll up the lane that goes past our house, I pull rubbish out of the hedge. I can return home with a black sack full of rubbish. It is appalling. One thing that strikes me is that so often people say, “Something should be done about it”, rather than start by saying, “Could we do something about it?”. I find it very interesting that people give immense attention to the care and beauty of their own gardens, but if they step out of their gardens and into the lane beside their homes, they do not even think of picking up unsightly bottles or waste that has been thrown away.
Of course, we all have a responsibility. It is not a matter of political doctrine. In any kind of society that challenge would arise. In our little London flat, we have a basement entrance, and we are constantly picking up the rubbish that has been casually thrown into our basement by passers-by. Do not let us think that there is a social division about this. So-called yuppies, upwardly mobile people, are just as likely to do it as anybody else. There is an issue here, I believe, about style. There is almost a style in discarding your rubbish. If you are in a car and the window is open, you flick your cigarette. If you are crossing the road and you are having a last puff, it is almost ballet to watch the last few puffs and then throw the cigarette away. There are things like that. But I am so glad that the noble Lord emphasised the responsibility of food and drink producers and suppliers, because they should take very carefully the example of those who have a responsible approach and not, by their means of packaging or whatever, aid and abet this process.
Sometimes, of course, it is carelessness. Down this lane that I have described, we have the coast-to-coast cycle trail. Sometimes there are people there enjoying the beauty of our valley, not realising, as they think, “This is just a small bit of rubbish we’re discarding here”, what that accumulates into being—and, indeed, that it endangers the beauty of the valley.
The points that the noble Lord raised are very important, but we have to look behind it all. The issue has become more challenging because we live in a society in which consumerism has eclipsed citizenship and people are almost thinking of the countryside as something beautiful that is just a consumer good, not as something that is part of their responsibility as a citizen. With great respect to the noble Lord, I do not think that it is just about teaching about responsibility to the countryside. It is a matter of emphasising the whole concept of citizenship and what it involves.
We live in an age of profound acquisitive individualism, selfishness and greed. If we are going to get that right and get the issue of litter right, we have to have other values. I have never had a doctrinaire stand against the market, but the market is simply not enough in these spheres. We have to have other absolutes which must be there in our approach to society, education and government. It is essential. Without them, we are lost. This issue is desperately urgent, but it is a symptom of far deeper issues and challenges in society.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for bringing this very important subject to our attention this evening. I recognise that the noble Lord’s question is about litter and that there are distinct definitions for litter, fly-tipping and detritus in the code of practice issued under Section 89(7) of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. I hope that the Minister will be tolerant when I digress occasionally from litter to fly-tipping, for both are obnoxious. I will also concentrate on rural rather than urban areas, for it is these with which I am most familiar.
I am frankly appalled that, as a nation, we seem to have become inured to the sight of vast amounts of paper, cardboard, plastic, bits of clothing, cans and bottles of all descriptions that litter the sides and central reservations of our major roads and motorways. Equally, lay-bys and railway embankments are the repository for old sofas, mattresses and bags of litter. Some of these are the responsibility of the Secretary of State, although I am not sure whether this relates to transport or Defra—perhaps the Minister will clear that up—and others are the responsibility of local authorities. Fortunately, these eyesores are not so obvious at this time of the year when Mother Nature does her best to hide them under verdant spring and summer growth, but the autumn and winter reveal all. As a frequent traveller on both road and rail, I sometimes feel ashamed to be British. What visitors to this otherwise beautiful country must think of us, I dread to think.
As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, pointed out, there are plenty of legal provisions to fine litterbugs—but first catch the offender. Fly-tipping is usually carried out at night and it is difficult to detect the offenders. According to the ENCAMS—Keep Britain Tidy—survey, it costs an average of £800 to clear up each incident on private land. Defra estimates that it costs private landowners £150 million a year. Out of 852,000 reported incidents of fly-tipping reported last year, there were only 2,000 convictions. How do you catch and give an on-the-spot fine to someone hurling litter from a car travelling at 70 miles per hour on a motorway, or even stop a lorry with an insecure load dispersing litter over a considerable distance? There are too few policemen to impose the law, and too few citizens who can be bothered to report perpetrators, though I note that two individuals were fined £4,500 between them in Bedfordshire last Monday as a result of reports from members of the public. In this instance fines, or the threat of a fine, clearly did not work.
How can we change littering behaviour? First, we need to clear up the worst areas, as is outlined in part 1 of the code of practice. We must stop hiding behind dubious health and safety rules as an excuse for doing nothing. If an area is clean and tidy, the tendency to drop litter must be reduced. When I was young, we used to be confronted by signs that ordered: “Take your litter home”. I recall anti-littering campaigns in schools. As the floor of my car sometimes demonstrates, the lessons that I learned when young have never been forgotten.
I wonder just how many know about Keep Britain Tidy and what it does. If it is to be effective, its profile needs to be raised. I agree that there have been periodic reminders—Mrs Thatcher, as she then was, was seen picking up rubbish in a London park—but there needs to be a concerted campaign to highlight some of the awful damage caused to wildlife and farm animals that might ingest or get trapped in litter dumped on roadsides or in fields; to highlight the cost to local authorities and individual landowners of clearing up behind dirty, lazy people; and to prick the consciences of those who deliberately defile our countryside with their rubbish. For example, could use be made of the overhead signs on motorways to remind people that litterbugs are offenders as well as offensive? There are working parties of young volunteers who clear our beaches. Could not the same be done for other areas where littering is bad, so long as there are sufficient safety measures and supervision? If the volunteers are local, they will take a pride in their patch and want to keep it as nearly pristine as they can.
There needs to be a culture change so that, like the Japanese, Scandinavians, Germans, Austrians and Singaporeans, we learn to appreciate our environment. While the Government can provide some incentives, I wonder whether the Minister agrees that it is up to every one of us to play our part. Will the Government look at what happens in these other countries with a view to adopting some of their successful practices?
My Lords, my noble friend has done very well to secure this debate because the subject needs debate and action. We should be ashamed of ourselves. Litter is quite unnecessary and is therefore inexcusable, but the Government are much to blame. I shall give an example. Whitehall knows little and cares less. Ministers were pathetic during the coalition Government. I hope that with a Tory Government we will get something better done.
I shall tell the House a little anecdote which illustrates the difficulties of dealing with Whitehall on such matters. From 1995, I campaigned for an electronic record of all firearms similar to the long-established vehicle licensing system at Swansea. The Home Office said it was unnecessary and too expensive. In February 1997, with all-party support, I got an amendment to the Firearms (Amendment) Bill for that purpose. The Home Office opposed it, but the late Emily Blatch, who many of us loved and who was the Minister, rang me to say it was a good idea and she would accept it. It became part of the Act which came into force in October 1997. The Home Office was having none of it. It set out to sabotage it using the usual “Yes Minister” techniques. I persisted over many years with the support of a series of Home Office Ministers in this House. Those on that roll of honour include Lord Williams of Mostyn, the noble Lords, Lord Rooker, Lord McNally and Lord Bassam, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, and my noble friend Lady Anelay. Eventually the Home Office gave way after 10 years. The complete system that I wanted, linked to the police national computer, went live on 22 September 2007. It works extremely well—I check with the police from time to time to make sure it still does.
Now we have another “Yes Minister” game about littering from vehicles. I introduced a Private Member’s Bill to stop up a loophole which means that in general it is impossible to fine people for throwing litter out of a vehicle, which is a criminal offence, unless you can prove who is responsible. My Bill, which made the keeper of the vehicle responsible so that it was much easier to enforce, had its Second Reading in July 2013, with great support on all sides of the House, but the Government, in the shape of the Home Office and Defra, opposed it.
I then introduced an amendment to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill 2014. The Civil Service opposition was maintained. However, I got backing from the Home Secretary, my right honourable friend Theresa May and the then Defra Secretary my right honourable friend Owen Paterson. On 20 January 2014 my noble friend Lord Taylor accepted it, and the power to make the regulations for the purpose was inserted in the Bill at Third Reading on 27 January 2014. The Bill received Royal Assent in March last year. Since then the “Yes Minister” game has started again. Defra officials have told CPRE, which has been hugely helpful to me in this matter, that they are still not convinced that what is in the Act is needed and they propose further research.
I had a letter dated 14 November 2014 signed by Dan Rogerson—then a junior Lib Dem Minister at Defra but an election casualty in May—explaining that they had, “unfortunately not been able to let the contract ... for the scoping study in July 2014”, but were “taking steps to retender the scoping study in the next few weeks”. Since then absolutely nothing has happened—radio silence.
I hope that my noble friend will have a word very soon with my honourable friend Rory Stewart, who is now the Minister responsible, and tell him that I am not a quitter. I shall continue to press this, if necessary throughout the Parliament, until what Parliament has decided is enacted. I am not going to accept this Civil Service obstruction to the will of Parliament and to the needs of the countryside on litter.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, for putting this Question about a topic which has long been on the agenda and will not go away any time soon unless they listen to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, who might get some action going.
The problem has got worse since the use of plastic and other non-biodegradable materials multiplied due to industrialisation and commercialisation throughout the world. I have seen idyllic tropical beaches spoilt by mounds of plastic bric-a-brac thousands of miles away from its place of origin. In the middle of the Pacific Ocean is a giant garbage patch where many thousand tonnes of plastic rubbish revolve in a slow whirlpool or gyre, causing great harm to marine life. This rubbish mostly originates from the land, blown from landfill sites or thoughtless dumping. I have been saddened to see many rural roadside hedges and verges in the UK heavily contaminated with plastic bags and other non-degradable rubbish. Removing it is labour intensive and expensive for local councils. Local volunteer groups do a valiant job but only scratch the surface of the problem.
I want to concentrate on a specific form of litter—cigarette stubs. We all know how ubiquitous they are. Despite the level of smoking dropping significantly in the last decade or two, nearly 6,400 tonnes of waste are still caused annually by smoking. This mainly consists of cigarette filter butts which take 10 to 15 years to biodegrade. Some 1,400 tonnes are discarded on streets and footpaths and must be picked up and disposed of by local government street-cleaning services. On the whole they do this unpleasant job efficiently; they deserve our thanks. Some councils, while clearing up the cigarette rubbish, use strategies to discourage smoking, including deterrents and incentives. In the City of London, for instance, if a street environment officer sees you dropping a cigarette butt, you will be issued with a fixed penalty notice and now with a “Quit Here” card with details of your local stop smoking service. If the smoker then follows this up and succeeds in quitting, they are given a £20 Boots voucher. Wandsworth was planning to pilot a similar scheme last year, together with pocket ashtrays promoting local stop smoking services.
These schemes have not yet been evaluated but they are surely a step towards eliminating the problem at source. There are other similar schemes around the country which the Minister may be able to tell us about, but no central government funding is earmarked for this, so councils will now find it difficult to fund any anti-smoking messages which could be displayed on bins for cigarette end disposal in busy shopping streets, for instance. This was not done in Middlewich, where 32 butt bins were mounted on walls around the town last February. The sting in the tail is that the £5,000 cost of installing these was borne by Japan Tobacco International, which used the publicity as part of a corporate responsibility deal. Naturally, there were no anti-smoking messages on those bins. This form of activity by the tobacco industry is against the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Its guidelines make it clear that government endorsement of tobacco industry corporate responsibility activity, which could include activity relating to litter, can be used to create a more credible profile for the industry and its policy positions.
I hope the Minister can say that the Government will strongly discourage this form of funding for local authorities and instead step in with assistance in mounting these health messages. In effect, funding from the tobacco industry is a form of Faustian pact, considering the lethal nature of its products.
My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on stimulating this debate. I cannot remember how many times I have said to my wife over the past 12 months, as we have been driving through the English countryside, that I must promote a debate in the House on litter. I am clearly too slow off the mark and delighted that the noble Lord got there before me. I also express my thanks for the very helpful briefing pack on this topic.
I continue to be appalled at the volume of litter on the side of highways in rural areas, on city bypasses and on the streets of our towns, and at the increase in fly-tipping and its impact on the farming community and the resources of local authorities to deal with this unacceptable situation. I became even more alarmed when I read the very helpful briefing notes provided for this debate. The statistics are stark indeed. Fly-tipping is increasing by about 20% annually and the cost of clearance by local authorities is obviously increasing by an equivalent amount. To make matters worse, prosecutions are falling by 9% annually so the problem is increasing at an alarming rate and prosecutions decreasing at an alarming rate. This can only lead to a crisis situation.
When we have overseas friends staying with our family, I find myself embarrassed at having to apologise for the litter on our roadsides. Some friends of ours moved from South Africa to live permanently in Britain a few years ago, and I asked them about their first impressions of our country. Their response was that they were really surprised at the amount of litter. How dreadful is that?
The opening words of the CLG Select Committee report are very impactful:
“England is a litter-ridden country compared to most of Europe”.
Our deep concern about this issue in this House this evening is shared by others. The president of CPRE warned earlier this year that the countryside is sinking in litter. He is quoted in a Guardian article as saying:
“Without urgent action, the generation that follows us will find the beauty of England submerged in garbage ‘too thick-strewn to be swept up’, just as Philip Larkin prophesied”.
I could not have put it better myself.
We cannot stand by and allow this situation to continue to get worse and worse. I applaud the efforts of Keep Britain Tidy and of the amazing groups of volunteers who are making a real difference. There are 671 registered voluntary groups —and I suspect many more which are not registered—that care about the appearance of our countryside, towns and cities and take precious time out to clean up the mess others leave behind. I was hugely impressed with the example given in the report of a five and a half-mile section of the A46 where five workers took 17 days to collect six tonnes of litter. We cannot quite match that density in Northumberland, but our farm boundary abuts a mile of highway and I personally collect at least five large bin bags of rubbish every year from the roadsides of that mile; five large bags per mile in rural Northumberland, and every single piece of rubbish thrown out of a vehicle window. The statistic that shocked me the most in the report was that 25% of people admitted that they drop litter. I cannot believe that 25% of people have admitted to doing this. Now, I know we should not stretch statistics too far but if we discount children, around 15 million people in Britain admit to dropping litter. This is a national disgrace.
What is the solution? There are three possible actions. First, we need anot