Motion on Amendments 1 to 3
That this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 1 to 3.
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 2, leave out Clause 1
2: Clause 2, page 2, line 25, leave out from “about” to end of line 26 and insert “—
(i) the form of a declaration and the manner in which it is to be made;
(ii) the conditions to be met by the person making a declaration; (iii) the period for which a declaration has effect.”
3: Clause 2, page 2, line 26, at end insert—
“(4A) For the purposes of assisting the Secretary of State in the discharge of the duty imposed by subsection (1), the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs may carry out functions in connection with the making of determinations as to whether a child is a qualifying child of working parents.”
My Lords, I am pleased that the Bill brought back to this House today for our consideration is in such good shape. As a result of the scrutiny in both Houses, I believe that the Bill now presents the right framework to deliver the 30 hours of free childcare for working parents of three and four year-olds.
As we have discussed at length in this Chamber, for too long childcare has been the issue and the barrier for parents deciding whether to return to work or work more hours. The Bill, and the entitlement that it creates to 30 hours of free childcare, will support working parents to make real choices about how they balance raising their children and working to provide for their families. We are clear that parents need and expect the childcare provided under this Bill to be high quality and delivered in settings where they know their children are safe and well cared for.
I hope that after the debate today noble Lords will agree that this Bill is fit for purpose and that, while our discussions should continue, our focus should move on to implementation and ensuring that the details of regulations and statutory guidance are right. I hope noble Lords agree that turning this Bill into action is an exciting opportunity for parents, providers and local authorities, beginning later this year with early implementation.
I am delighted that today the Department for Education has announced the areas that will benefit from 30 hours of free high-quality childcare places a year earlier than planned, taking pressure off parents and helping children to fulfil their potential. Around 5,000 children residing in York, Northumberland, Newham, Hertfordshire, Portsmouth, Swindon, Staffordshire and Wigan will benefit early from this entitlement. In addition, the department has announced today that it has set aside £4 million to support an additional 25 local authorities to develop innovative flexible childcare for working parents, and to ensure that we can meet the needs of children with special educational needs, in homeless working families and in rural communities.
Amendment 1 in this group removes the funding review clause that was inserted as Clause 1 to the Bill on Report in the Lords. Debate on funding in the other place prompted by the clause was extensive. Members in the other place were able to use all stages of the Bill to scrutinise, challenge and support the evidence presented by the Government’s review into the cost of providing childcare and the outcome in the spending review settlement. The amount of detail and certainty about the funding settlement for early years has increased significantly since your Lordships last debated this Bill, most notably the announcement in November’s Autumn Statement that the Government will invest an additional £1 billion per year by 2019-20 to fund the free entitlements in the early years. This funding includes £300 million per year for a significant uplift to the rate paid for the two, three and four year-old entitlements, fulfilling the Prime Minister’s commitment to increase the average hourly rate that providers receive to deliver the free entitlement.
These decisions on funding are underpinned by the review into the cost of providing childcare, published on 25 November. I hope that noble Lords have been able to look at this review document and the wealth of evidence and information it provides. I hope noble Lords agree that this is a thorough and comprehensive piece of work, and that all Peers who were able to meet the funding review team in October and again in January found these discussions helpful.
It is really important that the department is now able to build on this generous settlement and ensure that every pound is used as effectively as possible. This is why the Government have committed to introduce a new national funding formula in the early years to ensure that funding is fairly and transparently distributed across the country. It is also why we will also be ensuring that as much funding as possible reaches providers and that it is fairly distributed between different types of provider.
I am also pleased that the Government have confirmed that £50 million of capital will be allocated to support the creation of early years places for the free entitlement. We believe strongly that the childcare market will grow to deliver the extended entitlement, but we are not complacent and are taking steps to build capacity—for example, through the free schools programme, which could create at least 4,000 places, building on provision available in free schools such as Reach Academy in Feltham, which offers free entitlement places for two, three and four year-olds. This capital investment, combined with an attractive increased rate to providers, will enable providers to seek investment to expand if they want to.
I hope that based on this significant amount of new information and detail, noble Lords will agree that the funding review clause inserted on Report is no longer required. That clause prompted debate in the other place on the important issue of funding but Members have signalled clearly that they do not believe that a further funding review upon Royal Assent is necessary, nor should it hold up the important next steps needed to ensure that early implementation can begin this year. The sooner we can tell local authorities about their funding allocations, the sooner they can begin to plan with their local childcare providers. A further review would simply delay this whole process. I hope your Lordships agree that this is the best way forward.
Amendments 2, 3 and 6 relate to the role of HMRC in relation to the extended entitlement, and to a consequential amendment that would enable this to come into force immediately on Royal Assent. I am pleased that in considering the Bill in the other place, the Secretary of State for Education was able to confirm at Second Reading that parents will be able to apply for the extended entitlement as part of a simple, joint online system that is being developed by HMRC for tax-free childcare. This means that parents will have to provide information on their personal circumstances only once to apply for both schemes, which will create a simple and smooth customer journey for parents and minimise burdens on providers. I hope that noble Lords will welcome this.
Amendment 2 would enable regulations to be made under Clause 1 to set out the conditions to be met by a person making a declaration as to a child’s eligibility for the extended entitlement. For example, the person making the declaration will need to be the person who is responsible for the child, as is also the case for tax-free childcare. It is crucial that we are able to provide clarity for parents about the declaration they will have to make, and to ensure that HMRC will be provided with the information it will need to decide whether a child is eligible for the extended entitlement. Regulations, which will be brought to this House for consideration, will say more about these matters in due course.
Amendments 3 and 6 are linked. They will make it clear in the Bill that HMRC will verify and make a determination as to a child’s eligibility for additional free childcare, and will allow for this provision to come into force on Royal Assent, so that HMRC can begin to build the technical aspects of the joint eligibility checking system. Ensuring the operational aspects of the extended entitlement are in place in good time will enable us to test that the eligibility checking system runs smoothly for parents. I wish to be clear that the responsibility for the 30 hours’ free entitlement programme remains with the Department for Education, and local authorities are under a duty to secure places and fund providers. HMRC’s role will be restricted to providing the joint application and eligibility checking process for parents.
The debate on these amendments in the other place was technical, reflecting the nature of the changes. Members of the other place were reassured about the role of HMRC and agreed that it was necessary that the building of the systems to support eligibility checking should begin in earnest, so that they can be tested as part of the early implementation phase. I hope that noble Lords will be able to support those amendments today.
The Government recognise the importance of Parliament having the opportunity to scrutinise the details which will be set out in secondary legislation, so Amendment 5 in this group requires that the regulations made under the Bill be subject to the affirmative approvals process on their first use. Subject to parliamentary timetabling, we hope that this will take place later this year, ahead of early implementation. The Government believe that the affirmative procedure for the first use only is the right approach, particularly given that, since we introduced the Bill over the summer, we have provided much more detail about how the Government intend to deliver their manifesto pledge and have committed to undertaking a formal public consultation on the draft regulations in 2016 before they are laid before Parliament.
If the Government are required to timetable a debate in both Houses when details need to be amended in regulations, this will be likely to have a detrimental impact on the successful delivery of the new entitlement. We want the Secretary of State to be able to respond efficiently and effectively, where necessary, to support local authorities, providers, parents and their children without seeking and receiving the approval of Parliament to do so. Once the fundamental principles have been agreed, we do not believe that it would be a good use of the parliamentary timetable to make changes that would ordinarily be dealt with under the negative resolution procedure—for example, if consequential changes were made to the current entitlement to reflect the introduction of the education, health and social care plans and the replacement of residence orders with child arrangements orders. Such changes are straightforward and not controversial, but if the regulations were subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, then these amendments would require a full debate in both Houses.
In the other place, after a debate on this issue, all sides of the House agreed with the Government’s proposal. The shadow Minister for Childcare said:
“The Minister has given assurances for the first time that the regulations will get full debate in both Houses, and the negative procedure is normal practice in other areas, so I am happy with that”.—[Official Report, Commons, Childcare Bill Committee, 10/12/15; col. 119.]
I hope noble Lords will agree with this approach today.
The Government recognise the expertise of this House, particularly on the details of how the entitlement will be delivered in practice. I would therefore like to meet interested Peers in March to begin an ongoing dialogue on the draft regulations and policy details ahead of public consultation. I look forward to having detailed discussions at that meeting and, quite probably, subsequent meetings.
Amendment 7 is a technical amendment to remove the privilege amendment made in this House before the Bill passed to the other place. As noble Lords will be aware, this standard formula of words is incorporated into a Bill as it moves from your Lordships’ House to the other place to avoid infringement of financial privilege. A money resolution has been passed conferring parliamentary approval for financial expenditure incurred as a result of the Bill, and the removal of the privilege amendment is a formality.
I hope that the significant progress made on this Bill since it was last debated in this place in October will be welcomed. The detail on the wider policy and funding to deliver 30 hours of free childcare for working parents of three and four year-olds shows that the Government are committed to delivering their manifesto pledge in a way that works for parents, providers and local authorities. I hope that noble Lords are able to support the Government’s amendments today.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his progress report and for introducing the government amendments this afternoon. I am also grateful to him for the many meetings he has arranged since the Bill left this House, and in particular for the briefings on the outcome of the financial review.
As we stated at the outset and continue to make clear, we support the aims of the Bill. Our concern was that what could have been a more effective, ambitious and streamlined initiative to deliver free childcare has been let down by a lack of foresight and planning, and we continue to have that concern. So we were disappointed that the Government chose to reject our amendments in the Commons, because we believe that they would have enabled a more detailed analysis of the childcare funding system to take place, with properly costed long-term solutions to be put in place.
The amendments would also have ensured a proper degree of parliamentary scrutiny for a Bill which, as we rehearsed at the time, is skeleton in nature and relies on a raft of regulations to bring it to fruition. Instead, we will be reliant on debating secondary legislation —over which, quite clearly, we do not have the same influence—to agree the fundamentals of what the future childcare offer will be. I have listened carefully to the Minister’s outline of the next steps, and I am very grateful for the offer of continuing involvement in the regulations. I hope they will be as meaningful as he has now suggested, and let me make it clear to him that we will hold him to his word on this matter.
In the mean time, sadly, we are left with a Bill which is a pale shadow of its original ambition as set out by the Prime Minister at the election. The truth is that lots of parents who believed the election promises now stand to be disappointed. In order to bridge the funding gap, which, incidentally, we told the Government all along was a problem, the Government have now squeezed the eligibility for free places, so that less than half of all three and four year-olds will be eligible. The original plan was that 630,000 children would be eligible, and now that figure has been reduced to 390,000. It is the poorest parents who will lose out the most—those on the edge of the labour market with short hours, part-time work and zero-hours contracts. As we know, it is those parents, the most disadvantaged, whose children would benefit the most from the provision of quality childcare to help them to close the attainment gap. That is a fundamental regret of the Bill.
At the same time, despite the welcome injection of extra funds, the Government still do not appear to have squared the funding crisis. Research by the House of Commons Library has revealed a shortfall of £480 million over the Parliament, which means up to £470 per child per year. I am not sure that the latest figures announced by the Minister will square that figure. Those figures, which are backed by Ceeda research from the Pre-school Learning Alliance, make the case powerfully that the impact on the capacity in the system may lead to fewer rather than more places becoming available. In addition, as in the past, there appears to be no uprating mechanism, so that funding runs the risk of falling further behind over time. Will the Minister clarify how future costs will be evaluated year on year? He mentioned the national funding formula, but I am not sure that that will address those concerns.
I also regret that the Government did not pay more heed to our concerns and those raised by numerous stakeholders across the sector on these matters. Nevertheless, we do support the Bill. It clearly represents a step forward. For many parents, it will provide a welcome lifeline back into paid work and for many children it will become a new route into quality care, which will obviously give them a much better start in life. It addresses one segment of a much bigger problem of affordable childcare for all and the need to close the attainment gap between children on free school meals and their peers. In the mean time, we will continue to press this case. We will watch the rollout of the Bill with interest and we will participate in the scrutiny of the regulations with vigour. I thank the Minister for his commitment up to this point.
My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for what he said today and for the discussions that he organised during the course of the Bill. The Bill is very different from the one that first saw the light of day in this House, which was only notable by its lack of detail. It has certainly gained considerable flesh on the original skeleton, and I am grateful for that. However, it is not necessarily a fully formed being just because it has grown throughout its progress. We still have some concerns about the detail that the Minister has finally given the House today.
There has been a broad welcome across the House, which we agreed with, for the Government’s additional childcare offer. I will comment on two particular aspects of the Bill in its final form, in the light of the discussions that we had in this House. First, we have always been concerned about the funding. There were wide discussions in Committee and on Report about the viability of providers if there were no adequate recompense for the hourly rate, and we welcome the additional funding that the Government have put into that, albeit that it is 30p an hour. I have great concerns that it will not up be upgraded annually by either RPI or CPI. If it is not, that will put additional stress on the financial viability of providers.
An issue that we on this side particularly raised in the course of the discussions was that of the additional capital that should be made available to enable providers to offer the further 15 hours, and there were many discussions about how that could be achieved. I welcome the Government’s capital fund that they have set aside for just that purpose, which demonstrates that some of the arguments we made have been recognised, albeit perhaps not enough, in my view.
The second amendment that I want to talk about relates to eligibility. In relation to the Government’s policy statement published in October last year, it was stated that:
“Eligibility for the free entitlement will include households where … both parents are working or one parent working in lone parent families, for their children aged three- or four-years-old. This will be defined as earning the equivalent of 8 hours per week on national minimum wage and this can includes self-employment”.
All our deliberations were on that basis. Whatever the Government’s current thinking, the original concept was to include those families with the lowest incomes, because providing childcare has to have more than the single aim of helping more parents into work—it should also be about helping to prepare young children for school.
Much of the early discussion in this House focused on the need for quality of provision and on the qualifications of those delivering it, so it is much to be regretted that the Bill has returned to us with the eligibility criteria substantially changed so that parents are required to work 16 hours before accessing the additional hours. I hope that the Minister will be able to justify this significant change, which means that almost 350,000 children will not have the benefit of the full 30 hours a week that will be enjoyed by other children. That has enormous social and educational consequences.
What we are saying in this Childcare Bill is that the offer will be accessed only by those parents who are already more advantaged, because they are in full-time or substantial part-time work, and are able to support their children’s development. However, those parents who are struggling the most financially, because they are in low-paid, very part-time work, are the ones who will be omitted from this scheme—albeit that they will be able to access the current entitlement of 15 hours. When compared with more advantaged families, they will be left out. It seems to me that those are often the children who the Government and we as a country ought to be putting more focus on rather than on the children of other more advantaged families.
I suppose that it is a stark contrast, really. What the Government are saying is that parents whose household income is £200,000 a year will qualify for the additional 15 hours of free childcare, while parents whose income is less than £10,000 a year will not. That tells the full tale. I am very disappointed that we are not putting more focus on offering greater support to the families who need help the most. I would urge the Minister to explain to the House why the eligibility criteria have been changed so dramatically and perhaps give us some hope that in the future they will be revised.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for the work that has been put into this Bill and I welcome it. I also thank him for the meetings that he arranged, which were extraordinarily informative and helpful, together with the documentation, which I have looked at but needs quite a lot of study to get a grip on the numbers.
I have two points. Like the Minister, I am keen to see implementation, so I am delighted that there will be projects moving forward early. How will the lessons that are learned from these early projects be applied to looking again at regulations, and how can we improve any further projects, which look rather like pilots, if I can use that word? I should be pleased to know how that learning is carried forward.
Listening to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, I, too, have a concern that some of the poorest and most disabled children will not gain access to this funding. I have spoken to the Minister on a number of occasions about autistic children and children in specialist care provided by the non-governmental sector where it is very much at the whim of the local authority as to whether someone gains funding for their project. Can we at some point look at that? As far as I can see, the eligibility criteria have been changed because of the financial ceiling that is available for this work to go forward. Knowing how keen the Minister is on children and their education, and on giving them a good start, maybe in the lifetime of this Parliament, more children will be able to enjoy the benefits of early childcare places. When we learn about the benefits, maybe another childcare Bill will be introduced in the future.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones, Lady Pinnock and Lady Howarth, who have spoken in the debate. Their contributions in today’s debate emphasise the extensive knowledge and experience of childcare policy across the House. This is a widely supported manifesto commitment, much anticipated by parents who want the Government to provide more help with their childcare costs. It is very pleasing to hear support across the House and the other place for the aims of the Bill and the Government’s commitment.
As has been highlighted during the passage of the Bill, we all recognise the benefits that free childcare can bring. This includes supporting those who are most disadvantaged by increasing their social mobility through providing opportunities to work or work more, rather than the availability of quality affordable childcare being a barrier to getting on. The amount of detail and certainty about the funding settlement for early years has increased significantly since noble Lords last debated this Bill, as I said earlier. As we have heard today from the announcements of the spending review, we are looking at a really positive position for early years. We have gone over and above our promise by investing a record amount in childcare and making a clear commitment to paying more to those providers who wish to deliver the free entitlement.
We want the increased rate to enable and encourage providers to deliver the entitlement. Following our comprehensive review of the cost of childcare and our significant additional investment, we are confident that this will happen. We firmly believe that we have established a sustainable rate for providers, taking into account the evidence that we gathered throughout our cost of childcare review. The upfront nature of our funding uplift, coupled with the introduction of a national funding formula, will help providers to manage future cost pressures, such as the introduction of the national living wage. We are confident in the work of the cost of childcare review, and there is no case for establishing a bureaucratic and costly process that repeats the review on an ongoing basis. The Government will monitor the implementation of 30-hour free childcare, for example, through the early implementers, and if any issues arise relating to funding they will be considered in the context of delivery of the whole policy.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Pinnock, talked about eligibility. Parents will be eligible where they work the equivalent of 16 hours at national minimum or national living wage, whichever applies to them. The Government have also taken the decision to introduce a higher earnings threshold, so that where parents earn more than £100,000 per year each, they will not be eligible for the additional hours. I remind noble Lords that all three and four year-olds remain eligible for the first 15 hours of free childcare, which remains universal. We estimate that the additional 15 hours will benefit around 390,000 children.
As noble Lords will be aware, the free entitlement hours sit within a wider package of childcare support available to parents. This package includes the universal 15 free hours for three and four year-olds and disadvantaged two year-olds, tax-free childcare, and universal credit, under which parents can receive up to 70% of their childcare costs, increasing to 85% from April this year.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is quite right about the 600,000 figure. This was the original estimate of the families who could benefit from the extended entitlement, but that included children in reception classes who could choose to stay in an early-years setting. The effect of the revised eligibility criteria is nowhere near as dramatic as the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, referred to. It is a reduction of 50,000 places, of which 9,000 are as a result of the income cap. Parents on zero-hours contracts will be included if they meet the minimum income requirement. In addition, part-time workers may well be able to access the entitlement and remuneration. It is important to note that they will all access the existing early education entitlement.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, for her remarks. The intelligence from early implementation will inform us about operational issues and market challenges as we finalise the functioning of the operational delivery system, enabling us to adjust our plans as we move towards full rollout in September next year. Shared learning from early implementation will provide us with early intelligence on how we can refine the system ahead of that time. The department has established a local authority working group, which the Minister, Sam Gyimah, met with in January. It will feed real-time intelligence back to the department on learning from the early implementers.
The noble Baroness also raised the case of disabled children, which is obviously an extremely important issue that was discussed at length by the Bill Committee in the other place and which I know is of interest to many noble Lords. The review found that the nature and level of support required by children with special educational needs and disabilities can vary significantly for each child, as does the prevalence of additional needs across each setting. The cost estimates reported in the review made allowances for these factors, but the review is very clear that funding for children with additional needs in the early years cannot be solved with a one-size-fits-all approach. In response, the Minister for Childcare has committed to consider early-years funding for children with special educational needs and disabilities as part of our wider consultation on allocation and a fairer funding system. The department is now working with the sector and local authorities on how this might work.
The message is clear: the Government are on the side of working parents, helping them to get on and supporting them at every stage of their life. That is why we are pressing ahead with these reforms, going further than ever before to help with childcare costs, help hardworking families and give people the choice to get into work or work more hours. This will all lead to having the right childcare in place, which will mean more parents can have a genuine choice, security and peace of mind when it comes to being able to support their family. The Bill clearly delivers on those objectives, and I hope that noble Lords will support the Government’s amendments.
Motion on Amendments 1 to 3 agreed.
Motion on Amendment 4
That this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment 4.
4: Clause 3, page 3, line 46, leave out subsection (3)
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 4 and 4A in this second group. Amendment 4, and Amendment 4A, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, relate to flexible childcare provision for working parents. When we debated the amendment on Report, I was clear that the Government are fully committed to ensuring that sufficient flexible provision of childcare is made available to support hard-working parents. Indeed, if the new additional free hours are to support parents to work, they need to be delivered in a way that meets parental demand. We know that a large number of parents, particularly those on low incomes, work all year round and outside nine to five. We want to ensure that the new entitlement provides childcare to support their working patterns.
I will come on to explain why we think that the amendment to the Bill the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, proposes would not deliver a flexible system in practice but I would first like to thank her for highlighting this very important issue, and reiterate that the Government strongly agree with the principle of this amendment. We have made good progress on flexibility since Report stage in October. As a result, I am pleased to confirm that regulations will cover the need for childcare to support parental working patterns, and that we will review statutory guidance to remove any barriers to flexibility and clearly set out the types of flexibility that local authorities should consider.
In developing the regulations and guidance, we need to work closely with local authorities and providers to look for innovative ways to meet the needs of parents, and to encourage new providers to enter the market to give parents more choice. We need to build on the existing best practice of local areas offering flexibility in the childcare system—for instance, Brighton & Hove City Council, where 82% of year-round nurseries offer a stretched entitlement; Bradford council, which offers a community nanny scheme, providing flexible childcare for lone parents struggling to access work or training; and Swindon council, which has started offering weekend sessions. The department is already working with local authorities and the Local Government Association through a newly established local authority working group to identify and address any barriers to offering flexible provision.
It is clear that the market will need to adapt to support a flexible childcare offer in the extended entitlement, and we will encourage different types of providers to offer the additional hours. Childminders, for example, will have a very important role to play. More than 46,000 childminders are registered on the Early Years Register and we want carefully to consider how to encourage more of them to offer the free entitlement, as we know that they can contribute to flexible delivery in a way that many other providers cannot—such as providing childcare overnight and outside term time.
This Government have removed many of the previous restrictions to childminders offering the free entitlement. We have seen significant increases in the number of childminders offering funded hours as a result, and we want this to continue. From this January, childminders are able to spend up to half their time working from non-domestic premises. This is opening up new opportunities for them—for example, in working with schools—and will further enhance their role in the 30-hours delivery.
I am pleased that the Government have today announced the successful early implementer areas, where the extended entitlement will be introduced a year early, and will look at ways to provide flexible childcare for working parents. All the early implementers will test innovative approaches to encourage flexibility, and four out of eight of the early implementers will have a specific focus on it. When I met the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Tyler, last night, I slightly sold ourselves short when I said that the figure was three out of eight. It is, in fact, four out of eight. The noble Baroness was pleased with three; I hope that she is even more pleased with four.
There are some very exciting proposals. For example, York will test a “banking system” to enable parents to access the extended entitlement during the school holidays, and Portsmouth will trial a stretched offer over 51 weeks supported by sessional providers and childminders working in partnership. The Government have also announced £4 million of funding for early innovators to test flexible and different approaches to delivering the extended entitlement with a number of providers across the country.
While the Government agree with the principle of ensuring that the 30 hours is delivered flexibly, we have been clear that placing requirements around flexibility in primary legislation—as the noble Baroness sought at Report stage, and seeks again today with her Motion to disagree with the Government’s amendment—is not the right approach, and the other place agreed. I would like to be very clear that such requirements in primary legislation would simply not work in practice. Dare I say that her amendments to increase flexibility would, we think, be very inflexible? Local authorities are dependent on the market to supply childcare places and it would not be reasonable to place a statutory duty on them to guarantee out-of-hours and holiday provision for every parent who wants it, since their local childcare market may not be able to deliver this.
There are a number of local authorities, particularly in the north-east, where the majority of childcare is delivered by sessional providers, such as maintained schools or nurseries. These providers cannot offer out-of-hours or holiday provision and placing a duty on local authorities will not change this overnight. It is also important to note that local authorities, rightly, cannot require private providers to deliver childcare. Therefore, it is simply not right to give them a legal duty to secure flexible provision for every parent in their area.
Every parent’s needs are individual, and while the priority for some parents is to be able to access childcare during the school holidays, for others the pinch point is between them leaving work and collecting their child from a childcare provider. Different local authorities need to work with their local childcare providers to ensure that these needs can be met; a one-size-fits-all approach in primary legislation will not allow them to do this. As the Local Government Association has said:
“We are pleased the Government listened and has removed clauses which would have allowed the Secretary of State to prescribe the types of and times at which childcare is provided. The clauses would have placed duties on local authorities that they have little control over.”
I know that one of the issues which the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, is rightly concerned about is ensuring that there will be transparency on how the entitlement is delivered and that flexible childcare is available for parents. I reassure the noble Baroness that this is really important and that is why we have included a requirement in the Bill for local authorities to publish information to parents on their local childcare offer, which will include information on the availability of childcare and how that fits with parental need. I hope the noble Baroness will find this reassuring.
On the basis of the work that the department has under way with local authorities to remove barriers to delivering flexible childcare, and the commitments made in the other place around regulations and statutory guidance, I hope that noble Lords are content to support the Government’s position. I beg to move.
Amendment 4A to the Motion on Amendment 4
Leave out “agree” and insert “disagree”.
My Lords, noble Lords will recall that, on this side, we secured the support of the House for our amendment to include a flexible approach to the implementation of the additional 15 hours of free childcare. We did so because parents and providers told us that the main barrier to their working hours was access to childcare after school hours and during school holidays. Indeed, many parents—especially mothers—expressed to us the horror with which they viewed forthcoming school holidays, particularly the long six-week summer holiday, because of the difficulties they had in either affording childcare or dealing with it in some other way through family and friends. I have read with interest, and noted with satisfaction, that the Minister in the other place conceded the need for flexibility when he said:
“I completely agree with the principle of the amendments tabled in the other place”.—[Official Report, Commons, Childcare Bill Committee, 10/12/15; col. 103.]
I have listened very carefully to the Minister today and welcome his statement in support of the need for flexibility. We are, at last, all agreed: flexibility is important. Although we can all agree on the principle, it is the implementation that interests me. I also welcome and thank the Minister for his concessions towards implementing a flexible childcare offer. I am glad that, on this side, we have continually raised the issue of flexibility, which has put that bit of pressure on the Government to think about it and come up with an approach to dealing with it. It is absolutely vital to the lives of many working families that we address their difficult daily conundrums of “Am I going to get back from work in time to pick the children up?” or “What am I going to do in the school holidays?”—in fact, to have an offer which enables people to go to work with the worries of childcare not first and foremost in their minds.
I really do thank the Minister for what he said today. I will summarise it and then I will have a think about whether it is enough. First, he said that he will put in the regulations the need to support local authorities in developing a flexible approach. That seems to have it written down and, as long as the regulations are up to scratch, seems something that will work in providing flexibility. He also said that four out of eight of the early implementers—the pilot schemes, in my phraseology —will test this out. That also seems a very positive and constructive approach. He mentioned extra funding. I did not quite hear how much he said it would be. Perhaps he could repeat that in his response. If there is extra money, I am always in favour of that, especially if it is for childcare. I think he said that local authorities would be required to be transparent in their offer. Using the examples he gave of Bradford, Brighton and Hove, Swindon and so on would show other local authorities what they could follow and replicate. If that is transparent and open, that would also be positive.
I welcome the approach to childminders, who play an enormously important role in the provision of childcare in this country. To encourage them to do more than in their own domestic setting is very much to be welcomed because it will enable a more flexible offer to lots of working parents, who often use more than one provider to enable their working lives to continue. They drop their children off with childminders before work; then the childminder takes them to a professional provider and collects them; the childminder has them at the end of the working day and the school day, and they are collected from there. To envelop all the providers into one—I hope—coherent package is very much to be welcomed.
It seems that great strides have been made towards enabling a more flexible approach, both out of school hours and during the school holidays. I hope that will, first, enable more parents to develop their own skills in the workforce without those constant worries that their children are not being properly and adequately cared for; and, secondly, enable more families to become financially secure, albeit not the families that I mentioned earlier. Given that the Minister has made such a great stride towards meeting the thoughts that I had on the flexible offer in childcare, I will hear what other noble Lords say but I thank him for the movement he has made. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak very briefly on these amendments. As noble Lords will know, we agreed with and very much supported the amendment originally proposed by the noble Baroness on Report and we still think that the principles behind it are important. We also noted, both on Report and in the Commons, Ministers’ wording when they agreed with what was proposed; that is, they agreed with the concept of flexibility and the need to build more flexibility into the system, so obviously that is very welcome. I suppose that my one remaining concern is that “flexibility” may be all things to all people. It can hide a thousand sins. I would like to drill a little more into what is meant by that word. The noble Baroness’s original amendment specifically referred to flexibility being in the context of extending opening hours beyond nine to five and making provision in school holidays. It would be very helpful if the Minister could confirm that “flexibility”, in his terms, is about those sorts of issues and not some weaker concept.
I have another concern. If that flexibility is there and if the local authorities embrace it in the way that we hope they will, surely there will be funding issues. To provide a more flexible arrangement which may go into the evenings, weekends and school holidays would be an added cost. I am not clear how the scheme that the Minister is proposing would provide that extra funding for the flexibility that we all see as important. If the pilots work and show that that flexibility is welcome, can the Minister clarify what extra funding will follow those extra hours?
Finally, I have one more question. The funding review seemed to identify that one of the ways of making the scheme pay would be the spare capacity in the system. In other words there were nurseries which were not running at 100% capacity for 100% of the time, for example, and we could therefore ensure that they used their staff more effectively to increase the ratios and provide more capacity in that way. That is fine and I think we can all understand it although, for all the reasons that we also understand, I do not think that we would ever reach 100% capacity. But if we are to have flexibility with longer hours—some people might want school holidays and others would not—that would seem to run counter to it. We go for either maximum capacity or more flexibility; I do not quite see how those principles can run in parallel. I hope that the Minister is following my line of argument here. It would be really helpful to have some answers on that.
We do not want to delay the Bill by wrangling over this issue and we seem to have quite a lot of agreement. However, we want to be confident that the understanding with which we are going forward is a real one that will embrace the concepts in the noble Baroness’s amendment and is not just something very general around “flexibility”. As I say, that word could mean 101 things to people. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, briefly, I support Amendment 4A. I reiterate my strong support for the principle behind the Bill: to help parents, particularly mothers, to enter and stay in the workforce by ensuring that their children have access to high-quality and affordable childcare.
My key concern today, which is something that we have pressed throughout the passage of the Bill, is that the extended free childcare should be available to everyone who needs it including those who work atypical hours. As we have heard, those might be early in the morning, late in the evening, at weekends and during the school holidays. The question that I ask myself is: does this Bill help low-income families and single parents—usually mothers—to enter and stay in the workforce? To be able to answer that with a resounding yes, we must be confident that the free childcare will be available on a flexible basis which matches the working patterns of all parents. I am thinking particularly of those people struggling at the very bottom of the income scale, who are generally in no position to negotiate their working patterns in the way that, thankfully, many parents working in professional and managerial positions or those in more stable jobs can.
We know from all sorts of surveys that there is much demand for flexible childcare outside of standard hours. We also know that the supply of it is currently very scant. The only figure which I will quote is from the Family and Childcare Trust’s annual childcare costs survey of last year. It found that only 14% of local authorities in England said that they had sufficient childcare for parents working atypical hours.
I know that the Minister understands this issue very well and I welcome the plans that he outlined earlier in this debate to ensure that low-income families needing flexible childcare will actually be able to find it at hours that suit their needs. It will be vital that the strong focus on flexibility of hours is reflected in the pilots and the regulations, and the Minister has made clear that it will be. I am pleased about that, but would press him to go a little further. He talked about transparency and the monitoring arrangements, all of which I welcome, but at what point will he decide to review whether those things have worked and whether the approach he has set out has delivered the intended results?
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have participated in this debate for their contributions. I particularly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, who has provided scrupulous challenge from the other side of the House throughout the passage of the Bill. She has seen the Bill through to the end of its passage, even though she has changed her responsibilities during that time. I also welcome the meetings and sessions we have held outside the Chamber, particularly on the funding review, which I hope noble Lords found useful.
I also pass on my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Tyler, who have provided a constant source of challenge to this policy, as they have today, always with the best of intentions. I pay special thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Sutherland, who provided support throughout the passage of the Bill, ensuring the relevant Peers were involved in the crucial steps we took to guarantee the Bill is the best that it can be to deliver this well-intentioned policy to support working parents. I look forward to continuing to work with him and other noble Lords as we produce regulations to make this policy a reality, and I welcome the important scrutiny I know they will provide.
Although we have not had an extensive discussion today on the quality of the entitlement and the workforce, I am thankful for the discussions I have had on these throughout the passage of the Bill, particularly with the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth. The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Childcare and I also thank all the officials in the Department for Education who have supported the passage of the Bill. Our particular thanks go to the excellent Bill managers who have so ably supported the Bill through both Houses: first Jenny Preece, then Katy Weeks.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked me to be a little clearer about what I meant by flexibility. She is always very suspicious and I am sure she thought that I was trying to use some mealy-mouthed words in that definition—I had hoped she would know me better by now. It covers all the things that she mentioned and others. It will of course depend on the particular needs in the area but it is meant in the widest sense: we are not trying any fastballs here. We believe that the funding we have come up with will be sufficient, including in terms of flexibility, but I note the quite technical points that she makes about the workings of this in relation to flexibility, as well as those made by the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler. I would be very happy to host a meeting when we have had feedback from the early implementers, particularly on this point, and to have further discussion about this. The points they raise are very important to making sure that this does actually work in practice.
As for the points made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Pinnock and Lady Tyler, the summary given by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, was spot-on—it is delightful to see that the art of precis is still alive and well. As I have said, noble Lords will be involved in drafting the regulations in this regard. As to the money, £30 million has been announced for the eight areas mentioned to deliver the 30 hours of free childcare to 5,000 children from September 2016. Four of these, as I said, will focus on flexibility. In addition, we have announced £4 million to support an additional 25 local authorities in testing innovative approaches to flexibility. We agree and understand that balancing capacity and flexibility is complicated, which is why the Government have announced these issues today. I hope that the noble Baroness does not have to think very long and hard whether what I have said today and the assurances that have been given will enable her to withdraw her amendment to the Motion.
I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this amendment on a flexible approach to the childcare offer and I thank the Minister most sincerely for the important offer that he has outlined today, which will take us very much in the direction of travel that I hoped we could achieve. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 4A to the Motion withdrawn.
Motion on Amendments 5 to 7
That this House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments 5 to 7.
5: Clause 5, page 5, line 30, leave out subsection (4) and insert—
“(4) A statutory instrument containing (whether alone or with other provision) regulations mentioned in subsection
(5) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament. (5) The regulations referred to in subsection (4) are—
(a) the first regulations made under section 2;
(b) the first regulations made under section 3(1); (c) any regulations under section 3(7);
(d) any other regulations that amend or repeal provision made by an Act.
(6) Any other statutory instrument containing regulations is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.”
6: Clause 8, page 6, line 8, leave out from beginning to “come” in line 10 and insert—
“(1) The following provisions come into force on the day on which this Act is passed—
(a) section 2(4A); (b) section 7;
(c) this section;
(d) section 9.
(2) The remaining provisions of this Act”
7: Clause 9, page 6, line 19, leave out subsection (2)
My Lords, I do not know whether this is the appropriate time to do so, but before the Bill passes, I wanted to extend my thanks to the Minister and his civil servants for their courtesy throughout its passage. I know that it will continue to be extended to my noble friend Lord Watson for many months to come.