Peers narrowly defeat government pledge to double free childcare

The Government has suffered a defeat in the Lords over its plan to double the amount of free childcare for parents of three and four-year-olds.

Labour and Liberal Democrat peers voted 222 to 209, majority 13, for the change not to come into force until a full analysis of funding the policy has been carried out.

They backed an amendment to the Childcare Bill at report stage also demanding a “comprehensive and sustainable funding solution” for childcare places.

Education minister Lord Nash warned the defeat risked delaying the implementation of the policy for working parents.

The Bill, which delivers a Tory manifesto commitment, will double free hours from 15 to 30 hours for 38 weeks a year – a total of 1,140 hours of childcare a year.

For Labour, Baroness Jones of Whitchurch said the Opposition supported the concept of extending free childcare.

But she told peers: “We want a policy that won’t just grab the headlines. We want a policy that will work.”

Complaining abut a lack of detail in the Bill, Lady Jones said: “There are real questions about now these new places are to be funded and what will happen if they aren’t fully funded.”

She said the plan wasn’t viable without a considerable injection of cash and demanded a review of the funding system before the Bill became law.

Liberal Democrat Baroness Pinnock, backing the amendment, said the Lords could not fulfil its duty to scrutinise legislation without the additional information on funding.

“How can we assure ourselves of the quality of childcare that will be provided if the amount of funding available isn’t declared,” she asked.

Lord Nash warned that the move simply risked substantially delaying the change for working parents in 2017.

He assured peers that the Government was committed to ensuring sufficient funding for the policy and had no interest in a solution which did not work.

The minister said a comprehensive review of childcare funding was already under way and indicated that there were no plans for the Bill to become law before the spending review concluded.

The amendment wasn’t necessary and could delay the “positive progress made already” if the Government was required to “stop and begin again”.

Later the Government suffered a second defeat over a Liberal Democrat demand for childcare to be provided flexibly for parents who work outside the hours of 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday and during school holidays.

Voting was 195 to 169, majority 26, despite Lord Nash assuring peers that ministers wanted to build on flexibility already in the system to accommodate out of hours childcare and during the holidays.

The minister said guidance would stress the need for flexibility by local authorities and pilot projects would focus on this issue.

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