The paper analyses the Childcare Bill ahead of Report Stage in the House of Commons. The Bill proposes an additional 15 hours of free childcare for a qualifying child of working parents (for three and four year olds) and will place a duty on local authorities to publish information about childcare and related matters. The Bill relates to England only.Jump to full report >>
The Childcare Bill [HL] had its Second Reading in the Commons on 25 November 2015, and its Committee Stage on 8 and 10 December 2015. It had already been debated in the House of Lords. This legislation applies to England only.
The Bill is scheduled to have its Report Stage and Third Reading in the Commons on 25 January 2016.
At present, all three and four year olds are entitled to 15 hours of free childcare over 38 weeks – a universal provision that is not affected by the circumstances of the parent or child, including their parents’ income.
The Childcare Bill proposes:
The second of these proposals is relatively uncontroversial.
In contrast, there has been considerable debate in the Lords and Commons about the provisions relating to extended entitlement. Key issues and changes to the Bill during its passage through Parliament to date include:
The Bill was amended by the Opposition during Lords Report Stage through the insertion of a new clause, the effect of which would have been to prevent the extended entitlement (and the information duty on local authorities) being introduced until the Government has undertaken an independent review of the funding of free childcare, and put in a place a “sustainable funding solution” for both the existing universal childcare entitlement and the extended entitlement, taking into account the findings of the independent review.
The Government subsequently reported the findings of its funding review at the time of Commons Second Reading of the Bill, which provided nearly £300 million to fund a 32p increase in the hourly average funding rate for free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds, and a 30p increase for 2 year olds. During Commons Committee Stage, the new clause requiring the independent funding review was deleted without a division;
Peers also debated the proposal in the Bill that the duty to secure the extended entitlement is placed on the Secretary of State, rather than local authorities (who currently have the duty to secure the universal 15 hours of free childcare). The Government explained that the duty on the Secretary of State was intended to “demonstrate to parents the importance we attach to providing free childcare provision”, although the Bill gives the Secretary of State the power to deliver the new entitlement through local authorities. The Bill was not amended in this regard.
In terms of implementation, the Government expects the extended entitlement to be available across England from September 2017, although a number of (yet to be announced) pilot areas (called “early implementers”) will test the scheme from September 2016.
The Parliamentary website has links to the different versions of the Bill and associated explanatory notes, copies of the Parliamentary debates and other relevant material at:
Commons Briefing papers CBP-7397
Authors: Tim Jarrett; Richard Kelly