HL Deb 09 July 1996 vol 574 cc177-245

3.11 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Arrangements for making grants]:

Baroness Warnock moved Amendment No.1: Page 1, line 7, after ("grants") insert ("to registered providers").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 21 and 22.

The purpose of these amendments is to establish the registration of all funded nurseries using educational criteria; and to require short inspections before any providers are admitted to the register.

Many people have expressed anxiety about the possibility of poor-quality provision if no formal and tough regulation is introduced for new providers entering the system. The proposed "light touch" inspection is insufficient, since it cannot control new providers from the private sector from the time that they first decide to enter the market. There is a risk that providers of nursery education that is not up to a satisfactory standard may be allowed to continue in their position for as long as over one year and for nearly two years before their initial validation to participate in the scheme is withdrawn if they are unsatisfactory. That is manifestly harmful to small children, and unfair to their parents, and it is likely to bring the whole scheme into disrepute.

These amendments are therefore intended to ensure that an additional safeguard is introduced into the Bill to require preliminary inspection before registration can be granted to new providers.

In The Nursery Education Scheme—Next Steps, the document published by the Department for Education and Employment in January this year, the proposal was that on applying to join the scheme potential new providers should assess themselves with regard to their ability to meet the standards laid down by the DfEE. It was stated in the Next Steps document that self-assessment was mainly intended to help applicant providers to decide whether they can work towards the so-called "desirable learning outcome" that the DfEE had stated.

On page 11 of the document, paragraph 4.13 states that the self-assessment forms filled in by the new providers need not be completed or returned to the voucher agency. While it might be very useful for the new providers to remind themselves of what the required standards are and to ask themselves whether they are capable of providing education that meets them, it is not likely that the second question will be pressed very hard when nobody will find out whether they have answered the question affirmatively or negatively. This kind of self-assessment is not a safe basis on which to entrust the whole responsibility of providing high-quality education for very young children—a responsibility which I am sure the House will agree is of vital importance.

An additional reason for moving these amendments is to plug a gap between the moment when new providers are validated in the first instance so that they may open a school or class, and their final validation, which is properly dependent on an inspection by qualified inspectors.

The Next Steps document states that the inspection that will provide the final validation, will normally take place in the first year of participation". That has been confirmed by assurances given in another place that, We intend to inspect all private and voluntary providers within the first year".—[Official Report, Commons, 19/3/96; col. 191.] All the same, the anxiety remains that the initial arrangements for accepting new providers should include proper inspection or screening and not rely so heavily on self-assessment.

The introduction of a preliminary registration visit by a qualified and registered inspector would offer a safeguard to parents that a new provider has been able to satisfy that inspection, that there is no cut-price or "cut corners" nursery provision on offer, and that the inspector has been satisfied that the required standard will be met from the very beginning.

After all, two or three terms without an inspection is an eternity for very young children. Three terms is a very long time for children of nursery age. That applies particularly to children who may turn out to have special educational needs. The first year of nursery provision cannot be wasted.

The amendments do not seek to lay down in detail how such an initial inspection should be arranged. The detail would be for the chief inspector and for individual registered inspectors to determine according to their own professional judgment and to the particular circumstances where the provision was to be set up. Nor should these amendments be seen as an attempt to put undue pressure on new providers or to restrict applications. They are intended only to close a significant gap, a loophole, in the quality assurance that the regulations should provide. I recommend the amendments, particularly on the ground that, if this loophole is not closed, there is a danger that the whole new nursery education scheme might be jeopardised. I beg to move.

Baroness David

My Lords, I should like to support this amendment very strongly. The noble Baroness mentioned children with special educational needs. I would like to emphasise this point: the Special Educational Consortium, which is made up of 140 organisations that have special interests in those children, is particularly anxious about what would happen if this initial inspection does not take place.

Those who have not previously provided educational inspection by Ofsted may not be able to make available an educational programme capable of identifying and meeting the needs of young children with special needs. The consortium recognises that there are two types of new provider. Some have been offering care and/or play facilities and are already subject to inspection under the Children Act, though not to educational inspection under Ofsted. Others are entirely new providers with no previous track record. The greatest concern the special consortium has is about this second group of new providers. Among them may be some who are entering the market to make a fast buck and will be able to set up and draw money from the scheme with impunity. It is most important that young children should be safeguarded against such providers. Registration and initial inspection, as proposed in the amendment, should provide such a safeguard.

The consortium argues that providers should return the completed self-assessment schedule as part of the initial validation process, and the arguments are strong. The schedule is largely wasted if it is not returned. There is nothing in the current proposals to ensure that providers complete it, discuss it or even read it. It has potential as a useful tool for self-improvement where it is used to identify areas for development. It could be a useful baseline for inspection. It asks some very important questions about special educational provision and it will be taken more seriously by providers if it has to be completed and returned. It seems to me quite wrong that it should not be completed and returned.

In addition, the assumption underlying the original consultation on quality assurance was that the self-assessment schedule would be completed and returned. SEC understands that Ofsted may be sympathetic to the use of the schedule in this way. A range of providers support its use in this way, not wishing to see standards lowered by those who are unable or unwilling to reflect on the quality of their own practice.

The consortium is encouraged by the fact that many of the features identified will be incorporated into the voucher scheme in Scotland. So if they can do it in Scotland it seems to me quite ridiculous that we should not follow that excellent example in England.

I support this amendment very strongly and I hope the Government can look favourably on it. It seems to me of the utmost importance.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I should like to add my voice briefly to those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Warnock and Lady David. I support the arguments they have put forward and would like to ask what has been the experience during the pilot study of this self-assessment programme. My information is that checks have not been made and that the forms are still with the providers. We should like reassurance that at the present moment at least what is supposed to be happening is happening. But basically we support the proposal that we should have inspection before registration, as in these amendments.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, in rising to support these amendments I would point out the need to recognise the public perception of the situation. Because we are all here going through the detail and we have the benefit of government explanation of how things will work and how things will change, we are in a very privileged position. But the vast majority of the population are not in that situation. The parents of very young children will be presented with nursery vouchers which they will be able to present to providers of nursery education in exchange for provision for their young children. The expectation of those parents is that the nursery provision to be obtained on the basis of the nursery vouchers will be validated, tested and ensured to be of a certain quality.

The only two other examples, in our experience, that I can think of are milk tokens and luncheon vouchers. If one exchanges milk tokens for milk, one knows—the culture of our experience is—that you will get tuberculin-tested milk. It will be quality assured; it will be to a high standard. If one receives luncheon vouchers and takes them to the local café, restaurant or sandwich bar, one knows that the food will be prepared under fairly stringent trading standards regulations, hygiene regulations and so on. If a new sandwich bar opens in the neighbourhood and we take our luncheon vouchers to the sandwich bar, we know that the food we will receive in exchange will be to a standard determined by government inspection and control to a large extent. That is the cultural expectation that parents will have of this new nursery voucher scheme. They will presume that the new providers of nursery schooling for their young children will be tested and inspected to a high quality standard because that is the culture of our British experience. If we do not enshrine that in the legislation and ensure that that careful inspection—and control to a certain extent—is undertaken, we will be mis-selling a product to the British people and that would be wrong.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I have listened with great care to what noble Lords opposite have said about this amendment and the linked amendments. I am bound to say that it is difficult to see that this is not another attempt to delay the implementation of the Bill. That is a matter of deep regret, certainly on my part, because I believe in nursery education and I saw this Bill as a way of increasing the provision of it, which is what I think it will do. I find it strange that all those who for so long have argued in favour of nursery education look continuously for ways of slowing up the procedures under this scheme.

There is no doubt that a lot of parents have been made anxious about the scheme. A lot of parents to my certain knowledge have been made anxious about grant-maintained schools, with strong campaigning against them and, I suspect from some of the literature that I have been sent, that a lot of parents have been made anxious about this scheme. That is very unfortunate indeed. We have four pilot schemes, and if ever there was a success story it is those four pilot schemes. There has been a tremendous take-up. I believe in Norfolk it is now over 90 per cent. That is quite extraordinary, in my political experience, for any kind of scheme at all.

What has happened? Are they full of anxious parents, poor schools, children suffering? We have no evidence of that at all. I am sure there are plenty of people going round looking for it, and if there was the evidence, they would find it.

What is the position under the Bill? Those people setting out to provide this nursery education—I leave aside the maintained system—or any school wishing to register needs to demonstrate that it is fully conversant with the DfEE paper, The Next Steps, and to give an undertaking that it will be in a position to make provision in accordance with the criteria that have been laid down. All the schools which register and accept pupils with vouchers will be inspected during the first year of the scheme—between April 1997 and March 1998. Already, many children are involved in pre-school education and are not inspected at all, and never have been inspected. So for the first time we shall have systematic inspection throughout the nursery world. I cannot think, now that we are going to get it, why everybody should want once again to delay the implementation of the scheme, which will obviously be of benefit to a lot of children.

As I understand the position, inspections cannot begin until the Bill has been enacted. However, it is the intention that all private and voluntary sectors participating in Phase 1 will be inspected in the autumn term. For Phase 2, if resources permit, the Government intend to inspect some private and voluntary institutions before they enter the scheme. The intention is that the rest will be inspected during the first year in which they join the scheme. Clearly, that is dependent upon a number of factors. As the voucher company will maintain a register of providers, we will have a list of the providers and know which organisations need to be inspected.

Given that the pilot schemes are proving to be so popular, it would be extremely unfortunate if the amendment were to be carried, leading to further delay in the implementation of the nursery voucher scheme. Furthermore, we must remember that it is the parents who hold the voucher and, at the end of the day, they can withdraw the child if they are dissatisfied with the provider. They will have a power which they do not have at the present time. It is important to recognise that that will put great pressure on the provider to provide a scheme of high quality, and that is what we shall see. I hope that the amendment will not be pressed.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, from these Benches we welcome the amendment. We are concerned about the inspection regime; we are concerned about the Bill and would rather get it right than get it quick. The self-assessment process is wholly inadequate. The Next Steps document makes clear that the self-assessment schedule is simply intended to help applicant providers decide whether they can work towards the desirable learning outcomes, as stated in paragraph 4.11 on page 10. It goes on to state quite baldly in paragraph 4.13 on page 11 that the self-assessment schedule, does not need to be completed or returned to the voucher agency". While the self-assessment schedule of itself may be handy to applicant providers to work out whether they consider that they are up to providing nursery education for the first time, in our view self-assessment alone is clearly not a certain or safe enough basis on which to entrust the vitally important responsibility of providing high quality nursery education for young children. That is why we support the amendment.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley)

My Lords, I hope the House will bear with me if I start by saying, as the first education Minister to come to the Dispatch Box since the horrifying events of yesterday at St. Luke's Church of England School, Wolverhampton, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government and the whole House, how appalled we all were by the incident at the school yesterday afternoon. It is always particularly upsetting when young children are involved in incidents of that sort and we have seen too many of them this year. I express the sympathy of the Government and I hope of the whole House to all those involved and their families. We commend the courageous and professional reaction of all the staff at the school and those involved and we wish a speedy recovery to all those injured.

Noble Lords

Hear, hear!

Lord Henley

My Lords, the effect of these amendments would be to prevent grant being paid to providers under Clause 1 of the Bill until they have been inspected for registration purposes. Schedule 1 will provide for the first time for the inspection of private and voluntary nursery education providers to a newly established national standard, should they wish to be voucher-redeeming institutions. The inspections, as I made clear, will be rigorous and will focus on the essentials of good quality education. However, I must make clear—I shall return to this later in my remarks—that those institutions are already covered by the provisions of the Children Act which means that inspections are undertaken by the local social services department.

Under the Bill providers will need to demonstrate at the inspection that they are providing education appropriate to the SCAA outcomes. The inspections will not impose unnecessary burdens on providers; nor will they involve large amounts of bureaucracy. They will ensure that all providers offer education of a consistently high standard. I am sure that there will be no disagreement that such inspection is essential. Given the large number of providers involved, it would simply be impracticable for the chief inspector to inspect all of them before the scheme begins in Phase 2. We must be realistic.

The inspections cannot begin in any case, as my noble friend Lady Young made clear, until the Bill has been enacted and brought into force. But we intend to inspect all private and voluntary sector providers participating in Phase 1 before the end of March 1997. For Phase 2, if resources permit, we now plan to inspect some private and voluntary institutions before they enter the scheme, and we plan to inspect the remainder during the first year in which they join. Achieving that goal will of course depend upon how many potential inspectors are recruited, how many pass the training and assessment course, and the number of inspections per year that each inspector can undertake.

To delay the expansion of nursery education until all private and voluntary providers have been inspected for the purposes of registration—as the amendment suggests—would stifle parental demand just at the time when parental demand is growing as we know from the vast amount of briefing we have received from, for example, the Pre-School Learning Alliance. And it would deprive many parents and children of the opportunity to benefit from a state-funded nursery education place, especially those who currently find it hard to afford even the relatively modest fees that some pre-school institutions demand.

Consider also the situation at present. A significant number of four year-olds are already in those settings. At the moment there are no requirements related to the education on offer, such as the SCAA desirable outcomes. The sooner voucher funding through the scheme begins the sooner those institutions can begin investment in improving what they offer. That must be of benefit to those four year-olds who are already there.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, suggested that there will be those out to make a quick buck whose sole aim will be the making of money without regard to the provision on offer. There is concern that such people will not be inspected before joining the voucher scheme. As I made clear earlier, we have always insisted that all non-school providers will be registered and are registered under the Children Act. That means any institution joining the scheme must have passed a social services department inspection in which the inspectors satisfy themselves that staff are fit persons to work with children and that the premises are suitable. The provider must pay a registration fee and demonstrate a considerable outlay on staff and premises. It is extremely unlikely that a provider would commit to that if, after gaining an idea of what inspection entails, he thought there was a good chance of initial validation being removed shortly afterwards. That would not be a recipe for making a quick buck. For those reasons I am confident that brand-new providers do not require an Ofsted inspection before beginning to operate within the scheme.

There has been comment about the part played by the self-assessment schedule within the scheme. A draft of that schedule formed part of our Next Steps document. There has been general support for the idea of self-assessment as a way of helping providers identify their strengths and weaknesses. We want to maximise the potential benefits of the self-assessment schedule and as such, and in the light of the comments made to us, we will be considering with interested outsiders and experts whether providers should be required to complete and submit the schedule rather than work through it without subsequent submission. One possible outcome of this consideration could be to require providers to complete and submit the schedule and for that self-assessment schedule to be passed to an inspector in advance of inspection. But we are still considering that. In the meantime I still expect providers to use the self-assessment schedule as a figure for staff development and as a tool to improve the nature of the provision on offer.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, asked what has happened to the self-assessment schedule in Phase 1 LEAs. Providers in Phase 1 are using the schedule to assess their own performance. It is proving a very useful tool. Although in Committee I outlined our plans for evaluation of the operation of Phase 1 of the scheme, it will be helpful to flesh it out a little more at this stage. We have in hand a full and thorough programme of monitoring and assessment. As I have said in the past, we shall make the resulting information available in the Library of each House as we proceed. Some very interesting early information from a survey of parents has been received and noble Lords may be aware of it. It will be placed in the Library tomorrow. I hope that all noble Lords will take an opportunity to consult it.

Finally, as to the register of providers, the voucher company will maintain such a register. It will make it available to the chief inspector for inspection purposes. I can also give an assurance that the company will make the register available on request and free of charge. It will be made available to all. With those words I hope that the noble Baroness will not feel that it is necessary to press her amendment to a Division, but should she wish to do so, I urge the House to reject it.

Baroness Warnock

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for some of the things that he has said. I am somewhat reassured by the undertaking that the self-assessment schedule can be handed on and not used just to check up on how a school and the providers thought they were doing and then be thrown in the wastepaper basket.

The suggestion that some nursery settings will be subject to early inspection is perhaps in a way a justification for the anxiety that these amendments gave voice to; namely, that there will be many new providers who will not be subject to this kind of inspection. I also believe that it is necessary to have a little more reassurance—it may be that the Minister can satisfy me on this straightaway—as regards the timing of the first inspections in providing nursery schools and playgroups. It is not clear from the information that we have so far that there can possibly be an inspection of the new provision within the first year let alone within the first term of that provision.

I reiterate what I said before. Sometimes for us aged persons it may well seem that a year is not very long, but when one talks about a four year-old child an enormous amount can happen to that child within one, two or three terms. A great part of their early life is taken up by a year. Therefore, I ask the Minister to clarify my mind about the time within which the new providers are likely to be inspected.

Lord Henley

My Lords, with the leave of the House and, bearing in mind that it is Report stage, I do not believe that I can go much further than I did in my initial response. As I said, we plan to complete the scheme for the Phase 1 providers by the end of March 1997. Phase 2 is subject to resources and to the training which the inspectors undergo and such matters. We aim to get a number completed before they become voucher redeeming institutions. We plan to inspect the remainder during the first year in which they join. As I have said, that goal depends on a number of factors.

Baroness Warnock

My Lords, I am grateful for that. There is sufficient ground for belief that the new providers will be subject to scrutiny and there is hope that their self-assessment may be more rigorously carried out than was suggested in the first instance. There is sufficient hope to persuade me to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 2: Page 1, line 8, after second ("education") insert ("that is appropriate to the age of the child and is").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I spoke about this amendment at Committee stage. The Minister responded at cols. 100–1 of the Official Report on 17th June to the effect that the amendment was "unnecessary" because the job of determining whether or not any particular provider was, working towards each of the outcomes", was, developed by SCAA as a requirement of grant". Because that requirement was already in place he saw, no particular value in prescribing such detail on the face of the Bill". The definition of "nursery education" is to us utterly fundamental to the entire purpose of the Bill. It is stretching credulity to the point of clinical rupture to suggest that it is mere "detail". The Bill as it stands—and I invite your Lordships to glance at it—defines "nursery education" as "education"—that is utterly circular—and makes reference to the age at which it is received. There is nothing about what it is; what is in it; how it happens and what it is meant to do—just who it applies to.

This amendment seeks only to make the declaratory point in 11 words that nursery education must be appropriate to the child. It is not simply anything that might loosely be thought of as—more or less; by and large; taking one thing with another—"education", which happens to be provided for a child of nursery age.

To clarify all this would greatly assist the PSLA which needs to know what manner of provision Her Majesty's Government have in mind. To reject this helpful addition to the Bill of, as I say, fewer than a dozen words—and words which will enormously improve it—is to admit that the Government care not if provision funded by vouchers is inappropriate to the needs of its beneficiaries.

The noble Lord would have us believe that inspection, together with the SCAA "outcomes" document, is quite sufficient to ensure that the quality and appropriateness of voucher-funded provision will be secured. Would that it were. It is precisely because of the professional anxiety that has been expressed on these points that we are pursuing this amendment today. We have heard from teachers, head teachers and education officers throughout LEAs across the country that they are not happy about it.

The proposition that an activity may contribute to an "outcome" at some unspecified future date is almost impossible to establish or to falsify without, if I may be technical, a longitudinal research project which is totally beyond the scope of the inspection regime or, as far as I can see, the imagination of the Government. In fact, inspectors will normally have one day only, if that, in which to arrive at this difficult, hypothetical judgment. Inspectors, whose conclusions may be challenged, must be mindful of the need to produce observational evidence to justify their decisions.

Is it not much easier and infinitely preferable for them honestly to answer the question, "Is this activity education that is appropriate to the age of the children here and now?", rather than to speculate as to whether they might have learnt something by the time they have reached five years of age? This amendment will require inspectors to adopt that approach. If the Minister believes that that will be a bad or an inferior thing, let him explain his reasons to the House. There will be a few minutes for him to think about that while I go on to develop this amendment at somewhat greater length.

I said in Committee—I make no apology for repeating it—by definition, anything that is properly "education" will be conducted according to a curriculum which is the sum total of experiences that contribute to the learning of the individual. It includes planned intervention by educators, as well as the outcome of self-directed or guided activity on the part of the learner. If the Minister wants an example of an appropriate curriculum for the nursery phase of education, let him do no more than consult the report Starting with Quality published in 1990 by the committee chaired by Angela Rumbold, the then Minister of State at the Home Office. That is a good example of education which is "appropriate". It could be used by inspectors as a reference point or a benchmark. As things stand, they will have no guidance—and they are going to need all the help they can get.

Similarly, we have heard from teachers, head teachers and education officers that their view is that the statement Desirable Outcomes for Children's Learning on Entering Compulsory Education, published by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, falls sadly short of an adequate nursery curriculum. That document has been prepared to define the conditions for validation of a nursery provider who wishes to receive vouchers. We cannot avoid suspecting that that quality benchmark has been defined in that way to lower the threshold of quality for eligibility for the scheme in a panic attempt to increase the number of private providers in the scheme—and there has been no unseemly rush of private providers so far.

That is confirmed in the Next Steps document published by the DfEE on which I commented in Committee and on which I was not at all reassured. It states: The Government would not normally expect to validate individual child minders for the scheme. It should be possible, however, for child minders to form a group with other child minders and develop a structured programme of activities". Are we then to believe that "appropriate education" is no more than a "structured programme of activities"? It is clear that a few potentially unqualified child minders, with the best will in the world and the highest intentions, banding together to put together a "structured programme of activities" amounts to a lot less than an institution offering a high quality nursery curriculum delivered by skilled and qualified professional teachers. Can the Government really be satisfied that at the bottom end of that range we shall have something which is acceptable and safe for the teaching of children?

Unless the Bill is strengthened in that respect, it is likely that the opportunity to expand high quality nursery education will be lost and public money voted by Parliament ostensibly for the purpose will be diverted to subsidise child care under the cloak of some vaguely education-related activity which is never defined, never even described, and for which no model is indicated at all. That is not to say that child care, nurture, and opportunities to engage in free and self-directed play are not important for young children—they are, and other amendments will show us attempting to introduce a requirement that nursery education is planned alongside, and integrated with, provisions directed at those objectives. However, the public interest is not served if the definition of "nursery education" is evaded so that appropriate funding for it can be diverted elsewhere.

A second problem which the amendment seeks to address is the danger that nursery education will be confused with an early start to primary school. The two are different. The date on which it becomes a legal requirement for parents to ensure that their children are in receipt of full-time education is the start of the term following the fifth birthday. However, a majority of schools admit children to the reception class at the start of the term in which they become five—and many do it earlier than that. The reception class provides an important bridge between the pre-school phase and the start of compulsory education in year one of primary school. Reception class teachers need to take account of the differing prior experiences of their pupils who might have had any kind of structured pre-school experience or none whatever. Some will probably get their first feel of what it is like to be in any kind of educational establishment in that reception class.

It is also necessary for the reception class to try to take account of the variation in chronological age of a group of children who will subsequently receive education on the basis of the year group into which they fall. They will continue their education in year groups. Obviously, a few months' difference in chronological age is extremely significant for very young children. It gets progressively less important as they get older. Indeed, the older we get, the less age differences seem to matter. We can tolerate even the difference between the ages of the Minister and myself with a modest degree of equanimity, but if we were four and five things would feel and look very different. The fact that the noble Lord is much bigger than I am does not particularly bother me at the moment, but if we were four and five it would bother me quite a lot.

The reception class is there to provide a transition between the individual approach at nursery level and the group approach thereafter. Anxiety has already been expressed in pilot areas that some play groups are losing four year-olds because of their early admission to reception class. That seriously threatens the PSLA provision which we consider to be an undesirable and deleterious move. Currently, "nursery education", as that phrase is properly understood, covers the period from the third birthday to entry to reception class at rising five. The proposed nursery voucher scheme cuts across those arrangements by neglecting the three year-olds, but invading the funding of the older children who are really moving well beyond the true nursery phase.

The aim of this modest amendment, in conjunction with others directed at the eligible age group, is to relocate the application of the Bill towards activity which can properly be understood to be "nursery education" and to give a bit of legislative protection to the quality of the provision to which that term applies. In my view, the amendment elicited a wholly inadequate response from the Government at the Committee stage in another place. It went on for a long time and got nowhere—and so far the amendment has not fared very much better in your Lordships' House. We believe it is essential that the Government give serious consideration to the "appropriateness" of the education to be funded through vouchers. I beg the Minister to take the amendment away and to consider it with his colleagues in the DfEE and bring us back something a little more acceptable. We do not ask for very much. We would be content with almost anything that improved upon the sad and sorry state in which we find the Bill at present. This is intended to be a creative and helpful amendment. It is not intended to wreck anything. I beg to move.

4 p.m.

Baroness Perry of Southwark

My Lords, I cannot support the amendment. In fact, I think that in many ways it could be quite a dangerous amendment if passed. I respect entirely the intentions of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, with regard to the amendment which he has advocated so passionately because I understand that he, like the rest of us, wishes to see the best possible provision for young children which this nation can provide.

Nevertheless, the noble Lord has restricted the "appropriateness" of nursery education to the age of the child. That is wholly inappropriate. Children of four come from a variety of very different backgrounds. Some come from homes in which they have already been given a great deal of pre-school help: quite often they will have been taught to read and are used to books and sophisticated play. Others come from homes where, as a colleague of mine once described it, there were so few objects in the home that the child had not even had the opportunity to discriminate by colour or shape because there was only one glass, one cup and one mug in the cupboard that she saw.

There is a very great variety of four year-olds. To provide an education which is appropriate to a notional four year-old may restrict matters very greatly. The noble Lord appears to have an objection to education which is defined by outcomes. Your Lordships may not be surprised that I passionately believe in education which is defined by outcomes. When the noble Lord says that teachers dislike that concept, I am not sure to which particular teachers he refers. Teachers and educationalists with whom I have had discussions welcome the concept of an outcome from nursery education which provides a common starting point for reception class teachers.

It is important that inspectors who look at nursery education ensure that the provision is geared to providing the kinds of outcome which SCAA has professionally and carefully defined and we all want as a starting point for the statutory period of education at five. I believe that most teachers welcome that approach. I have never known an inspector to be inhibited by the fact that there is no particular wording in an Act that provides a basis on which to form a professional judgment. I have a great deal of confidence in the professional judgment of inspectors. They look at nursery education to see whether it is helping children to achieve the desired outcomes and make professional judgments on that basis. I believe that the current wording of the Act allows them to do that. It provides a broad definition of nursery education which will enable a variety of providers, including child minders—many of whom are deeply caring, educated people who know exactly how to go about their task—to provide nursery education wholly to the benefit of the four year-olds concerned.

Lord Tope

My Lords, I also speak to the amendment which stands in my name. I am saddened that the noble Baroness opposes it. I suspect that if we were able to discuss this in a less formal setting we would achieve a rather greater measure of agreement than might be apparent from the debate which must take place in this Chamber. I support all that has been said by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, in moving the amendment. I would have said very much the same. I emphasise a number of points that the noble Lord has already made. I do not object to outcomes. I am married to a teacher and I agree with her that, on the whole, teachers support the idea. The difficulty is one of judging outcomes at this age on the basis of a one-day inspection. All of this must be subjective and subject to the judgment of inspectors. However, I believe that it is easier for them to answer the question whether the activity or education is appropriate for the age of the child here and now than to judge whether it is an appropriate outcome.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, referred to possible confusion with education in a reception class. Traditionally, nursery education has been understood to be that which is often provided for children from the age of three until the time they enter reception classes in primary school. In many, not all, LEAs nowadays that means before the fifth birthday. In my maiden speech I said that in my view proper nursery education was not the same as a good education in a primary school reception class. One of the difficulties with this scheme is that there must be a likelihood of confusion as between the two.

The noble Lord, Lord Morris, referred to concern about the scheme that had already been expressed in the pilot areas by some play groups who were losing four year-olds because of early admission to reception classes. I suspect that I am not the only noble Lord who has received a letter from the Kensington and Chelsea Pre-School Learning Alliance which is located in one of the pilot areas. The alliance states in its letter: Our experience has been that the greatest increase in provision has been in the state and funded schools sector". It quotes some examples and goes on to say: This has had a great effect on the local pre-school as the four year-olds have been filtered away to the school they were planning on entering in a year's time. Therefore, we have lost their voucher money. The authority have suggested that they will be withdrawing the funding equivalent to the vouchers we have received". That is a danger which is already apparent in the pilot areas. That is another reason why there is a need for the evaluation to which your Lordships agreed at Committee stage. The letter from Kensington and Chelsea Pre-School Learning Alliance says exactly that: We believe that the monitoring should continue for over a year". This is an important amendment and one which I hope the Minister will be able to accept. I suspect that my hopes will shortly be dashed. However, I believe that it is an amendment which will greatly strengthen and improve the Bill. I hope it is one which your Lordships will feel able to support.

Lord Monson

My Lords, the noble Lord has not answered the cogent point made by the noble Baroness. She said that different four year-olds had different skills and abilities which depended largely upon home background.

Lord Tope

My Lords, I am not sure that that is a question necessarily addressed to me. What has just been said is true of children of every age. It is a consideration at every point throughout life, including school life. The scheme is specifically designed for four year-olds, and therefore it is necessary for the amendment to refer specifically to four year-olds.

Baroness Warnock

My Lords, I support the amendment, largely because I believe that the Bill as it stands suffers from lack of clarity as to what is meant by "nursery education". This is not an idle philosopher's desire to discover the meaning of words. This is very important in the context of a Bill which is to expend money on a voucher scheme. It should be made absolutely clear to what purpose the money is being put.

I believe that there is a shift in the Bill towards the idea of play group provision. It is suggested at one end of the spectrum that play groups may come together to provide something. At the other end of the spectrum it is suggested that nursery education may just as well be provided in reception classes in primary schools.

Perhaps I may draw an analogy with the 1981 Act in respect of special education. From the very beginning, that Bill was clear that the education was being provided for very severely handicapped children. The education was to be provided in the same sense that it was provided to all other children. But here there is lack of clarity about the nature of nursery education. This must be central to the Bill as it is before us. We must know what nursery education is supposed to be. I am sure that some noble Lords will suggest that parents ought to be allowed to choose provision for four year-olds. I believe that very often that is a delusory choice. A large number of parents do not know what they want, or what ought to be provided, for their very young children. Some of them—but only some—will use their vouchers on whatever is to hand. The notion that in one day an inspectorate can determine whether the ultimate outcome of the education will be good or bad is somewhat farcical. For example, all noble Lords have read submissions from the United States which indicate that the outcomes of nursery education are still visible when an individual is married, not divorced or whatever. Long-term outcomes are very difficult to assess in one day. Short-term outcomes may be a little easier, except perhaps as to whether the child appears to be happy or occupied. A test must be available to the inspectorate and to parents which concerns itself with whether the activity provided is genuinely education and is suitable for the child and the child for it so that steady progress may be made. There is a deep flaw in the Bill because it shows no real concept of nursery education as opposed to what is provided in the play groups and reception classes. I believe that the few words in the amendment would help to clarify that and I support it.

Lord Henley

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, spoke for some 11 minutes on his 11-word amendment. I hope that he will not use that as an example to follow as regards his somewhat longer amendments. I dare say that I tempt the noble Lord.

The noble Lord accused me of clinical rupture. That is a new one on me; I have not had that thrown at me before. I hope that he will not throw it at me again when I say that I cannot accept the amendments as they stand. I shall give a brief explanation as to why. No doubt the noble Lord is aware that there is another stage and if before then he wishes to talk to me outside the Chamber, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, put it, that may be possible.

The purpose of the definition of nursery education in the Bill is to specify the education for which grant may be paid. That issue is separate from the quality of education, which is addressed by requirements of grant under Clause 3. I believe that the noble Lord has confused the two issues. The amendment confuses the purpose of the definition of grant-aided education with the discretion that the Secretary of State will have as to when to pay grant. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that explanation. That is why on a previous occasion I said that I made no bones about the fact that I saw no value in prescribing such detail on the face of the Bill, and that is why I certainly would not wish to see such an amendment to the Bill.

The noble Lord asked, why link activity to age. As my noble friend Lady Perry clearly stated, it is not always appropriate to provide education appropriate to the age. There can be children who are particularly bright, those who are less bright than others of their age and those with special educational needs. It is important that we cater for them.

As I made clear on a previous occasion, all providers will need to agree to provide education appropriate to a set of desirable outcomes on entering compulsory education. Those have been developed by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority (SCAA) as a requirement of grant. Despite the criticisms of the noble Lord, Lord Morris—and I welcome what was said by my noble friend Lady Perry—those outcomes are the framework and there is a wide variety of curricula which might be appropriate. We do not wish to override any of that. The inspections will cover that issue. SCAA is working on exemplifications which will illustrate exactly what the outcomes look like and Ofsted will collaborate in that work. The inspector must then make judgments about the appropriateness in deciding whether the outcomes are likely to be achieved. I believe that that will ensure that all providers are offering education appropriate to the age of the child and of a consistently high standard.

The noble Lord spoke at some length and perhaps moved away from the subject of the amendment. He appeared to imply that standards, were being lowered in order to let in the private sector. I believe that that is absolute nonsense. As we have made clear, all providers will be inspected to the same standard, with the outcomes defined by SCAA, on which there was expensive consultation last autumn.

I hope that with those explanations of why I do not like the words proposed by the noble Lord, and in the hope that it is a mere probing amendment—he described it as being creative and helpful after he had accused me of a clinical rupture—he will feel able to withdraw it.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, I hope that the House will understand and permit me to refrain from making a long and detailed speech attempting to counter the arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, or to rebut the points made by the Minister at this Report stage. I wish to make that my practice throughout the Report stage. I do not wish to re-open anything which has previously been said.

I reiterate my disappointment on reading the SCAA document, which seemed to me to be sparse in its definition of the curriculum. It describes language and literacy in fewer than 12 lines of text and mathematics in fewer than 10 lines. It appears to be thin, shallow and weak in what it says.

However, it is quite clear that the Minister will have nothing to do with the amendment. I am content that we should differ on this matter at least, unless and until I return on Third Reading to try yet again to persuade him or to ask the House to express a view. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4.15 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 3: Page 1, line 9, after ("premises)") insert ("inspected in accordance with Schedule 1, having particular regard to paragraph 18 (Standards of inspection)").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have never understood why in politics consistency is regarded as such a cardinal virtue. Politicians seem positively to rejoice in saying about whatever it is, "I said in 1946, and I still say today". Such people seem to me—a poor, provincial, Protestant poet and professor, a mere academic—to show a remarkable inability to profit from experience and a stubborn resistance to the virtues of progressive change. But consistency has its place and in relation to this Bill it is in the establishment of general and continuing standards.

The amendment seeks to introduce a set of basic minimum standards against which all nursery providers will be inspected. It would put pressure on the Secretary of State to establish common criteria relating to staffing numbers, qualifications, training and experience, as well as to those relating to indoor and outdoor space regulations.

We have been over this ground previously. In Committee our concerns regarding the quality of provision under these arrangements were discussed at some length. Today I shall be more brief. We are all agreed that a commitment to raise educational standards is one to which we would all adhere. But there is a chance now to put that into practice at the very beginning. If the Government's commitment to quality assurance under these arrangements is serious, they ought to pay heed to these arguments.

I am advised that there are more than 400,000 people working with children under five. I was astonished at that figure and I caused inquiry to be made among those who advised me as to how exactly it was arrived at. They seemed to scratch their heads a lot and say, "It is more or less that. It is somewhere in the region of that". If the Government have any better figures, I should be grateful if the Minister would let us have them when he comes to reply, having been given any information which he may seek.

A large number of people are involved. The vast majority are women, many of whom are low paid and have few qualifications. It has been estimated that one in 10 of those working with children under five has no qualifications to do so. The diverse nature of early years provision in this country has meant difficulty in obtaining accurate figure for the number of four year-olds without places, let alone statistics relating to the qualifications of those working with young children. But if the declining number of students on teacher training courses is anything to go by, the future for such children does not appear to be bright. On Friday last week I said that we shall never see any great improvement in educational standards in this country until we get down to the basic issue of paying teachers very much more than they currently earn.

This amendment would ensure common quality levels or standards for staff qualifications by which parents could be reassured that their child was obtaining the best possible educational experience. Similarly, there exist huge disparities in terms of premises, facilities and staff/child ratios. In many rural areas particularly, where parents will not realistically have any choice between the different forms of provision (unless they have access to helicopters or hot-air balloons or an extremely fast car) because these places are going to be very far apart, the choice will be extremely limited.

A requirement for inspectors to inspect quantitative factors such as staff numbers or the suitability of premises would help, because it would inform parents of how the situation with a particular provider compared with a national set of common criteria. That does inform choice. If that provider did not meet those required standards, in order to continue its registration under the scheme improvements would have to be made. Parents would then have some form of guarantee that their voucher was paying for the best possible quality nursery education. That is what choice means in this situation; it does not mean that if there are 16 different forms of pre-school education available throughout the country, any one single parent is going to have access to any particular number of them, unless they are prepared to take their child from Penzance to Wick. Without that, and until Her Majesty's Government can provide this, choice in this context is a phantasm, a snare and a delusion.

This amendment, despite Ofsted's overall responsibility for the inspection of all providers, would reduce the possibility that different providers were measured against different criteria. As the Bill stands, the proposed arrangements are such that a single registered nursery inspector, possibly with very limited training or experience, is going to be expected to make judgments about the quality of nursery education provided by any particular institution. Why should the fate of a particular institution be decided by a simple snapshot assessment, subject to the whim of a particular inspector on a particular half-day; or, worse, why should the future achievement of those four year-olds in another particular institution be potentially jeopardised because another inspector, for whatever reason, was unable to recognise the failings of that provision?

Such scenarios are not absurd. They appear to be possible under the current arrangements. Our amendment, which is put forward in a positive spirit, would go at least some way towards preventing that. We are not suggesting that the inspection process should solely involve a checklist of the measurable quality indicators. Those unquantifiable assessments which can often only take place after formal or informal conversations with the staff and children remain vitally important. We are not in favour of these everlasting "tick the box", page after page, assessments. That is a waste of time. However, let us make things easier; otherwise these half-day inspections are simply not going to raise standards or assure quality. I beg to move.

Baroness Young

My Lords—

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords—

Lord Henley

My Lords, this is Report stage, and after I have spoken, it is only the mover of the amendment who should speak, so I can give way.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I simply did not want to interrupt the noble Baroness, Lady Young. That is all.

The purpose of this amendment is to insert a new clause into the Bill, to which reference is made at the very start of the Bill and which secures that the chief inspector creates a set of common criteria against which inspections are carried out. I shall speak briefly, because the noble Lord, Lord Morris, has been very comprehensive.

The Government have themselves put emphasis on the value of a common system of inspection for all providers of education for four year-olds and, notwithstanding the suggestion that the Minister made in an earlier intervention, I believe that everybody values that element of the Bill. But we want these inspections to be fairly and dispassionately made on the basis of common criteria so that, in truth, all schools, all providers, receive the same quality of inspection.

Of course, there are other factors. There are factors which cannot be quantified for the most part—what one might call "an educated hunch", and we shall return to the matter of the experience of inspectors later on. Of course, this educated hunch plays its part in an assessment of any living organisation, and a school is a living organisation. One cannot measure everything good that goes on in a school. We believe that every school should be inspected on the basis of common criteria which cover the basics of the provision within that school. That should be applied equally to those people who provide education for four year-olds under this Bill.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I have listened with great care to what both the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, have said in supporting this amendment. I was quite shocked to hear—I believe I quote him correctly—the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, talking about the "whim" of an inspector. When one is talking about people who are qualified under the Ofsted arrangements, one cannot describe professional people in those terms.

When Ofsted was being set up—I well recall the debates, and I am sure that my noble friend Lady Perry will recall them as well—a great many frightening things were said about the disasters which would befall standards in schools when Ofsted was established. In fact, quite the reverse has proved to be the case. Schools are now regularly inspected; we now have accurate measurements; we have discovered where schools are failing the children; and at the end of the day it is what happens to the children in the schools that is the important point.

Let me make it quite clear, and repeat what my noble friend the Minister said on an earlier amendment: many of these establishments are not inspected at all at the present time, so they are going to be inspected for the first time. To describe the people who are going to be inspecting these children as having a whim and having different standards, and to talk about an educated hunch, as the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, did, is to bring into disrepute people who are professionally qualified and who are there to do a professional job on an issue which is of great importance, particularly to the children, but also to the parents.

As far as the schools are concerned, looking at Clause 3 of the Bill, the Secretary of State has the power to impose "requirements" on those who are going to receive the grants in respect of nursery education, and in the next set of documents I have with me there is a list of conditions which the voucher-redeeming institutions will be required to satisfy. They will have to show that they are going to work to a set of desirable learning outcomes, as my noble friend Lady Perry said earlier; they will have to agree to regular inspection; and, as I understand it, they are going to be required to publish information for parents on an annual basis. There is a whole sequence of things listed, including staffing policies, staff numbers, qualifications and training, educational programmes and activity, record keeping, progress recording and reporting to parents, premises and equipment, health and safety, equal opportunities, special educational needs, and so on. This is something which parents have never had before. It will give them an extremely important opportunity to make a judgment between one school and another and, above all, it should require that high standards are kept.

This is a very serious matter. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, on that point. However, I believe that serious debate on it will not be advanced by impugning the standards of professional people. We must start by having confidence in the inspectors. I for one have that confidence, and I have no reason to suppose that what has been successfully achieved in other parts of the educational world will not be achieved in this area.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, before the noble Baroness sits down, may I ask her whether she will accept that my reference was in no way meant to impugn the standards of inspectors, either those inspecting today or those likely to be inspecting in the future? I was merely trying to express that unquantifiable expertise which inspectors need to acquire if they are to make the fullest inspection.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I accept immediately what the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, has just said. I hope that we both agree that professional standards will apply to these inspectors.

Lord Henley

My Lords, again, I should like to endorse everything that my noble friend said about the value of inspection since the creation of Ofsted and all that it has done. I hope that we can continue that process with the Bill's provisions. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, said that consistency is not always important. I find that rather odd, as only the other day he accused myself and my right honourable friend the Secretary of State of a veritable series of "U"-turns. However, on that occasion he was making a different political point. I note that the noble Lord does not think it necessary to preserve the consistency of his own arguments.

In my view, it is unnecessary to prescribe the scope of the chief inspector's duty to report to the Secretary of State, or the scope of inspections, in any greater detail than the Bill already does.

Paragraph 7 of Schedule 1 requires inspectors to report on, the quality and standards of nursery education provided". Singing the consistency song, perhaps I may make it quite clear that those provisions are exactly the same in the 1992 Act. I believe it important to preserve a degree of consistency in legislation of this kind. What interpretation would one put on the 1992 Act if this Act were drafted in a different way? Would that not imply that the 1992 Act had to be interpreted in a rather different manner? That is an important point which the noble Lord should take on board.

The provisions will embrace all aspects of quality covered by the draft framework of inspection, which is closely linked to the SCAA outcomes. The nursery education inspections will make sure that all early years' staff and all institutions are offering good quality to all children.

Further, Ofsted's Primary Subject Guidance, issued in March to primary school inspectors, for inspections of nursery and reception classes in maintained primary schools, and maintained nursery schools, also makes specific reference to the SCAA desirable outcomes. Ofsted is responsible for both systems of inspection, and has ensured that they are aligned with one another.

I should like to deal with one or two of the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Morris. He talked about there being some 400,000 workers involved with the under-fives. I, too, have heard mention of that figure. It is an overall figure which includes, for example, something like 90,000 childminders whom we are not seeing as voucher-redeeming institutions, unless they were to get themselves together to create what would amount to playgroups.

As regards the scheme, the workers must at least be fit. When they enter the scheme, as I made clear earlier, they will, under the Children Act, obviously be inspected by social services. With the help of the voucher funding I hope that training will improve and that higher qualifications will follow. I believe the noble Lord mentioned that a large percentage of people working with children had no qualifications. Again, I would ask the noble Lord not to forget that the key theme of the pre-school—the playgroup—movement is the involvement, for example, of parents on a voluntary basis. Many of those parents would have no specific qualifications.

Of course, it is frequently the case that parents help in schools; for example, with early reading. I believe that the noble Lord will accept that that is very valid assistance. I am sure that he would not want to put a stop to that sort of unqualified parental involvement. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment. I also hope that he will accept that there are many occasions when consistency is important, especially in legislation. As I said earlier, these provisions are the same as those in the 1992 Act.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, I intend to be entirely consistent with what I said at the end of the debate on the last amendment. However, on the amendment which is now before the House, I should like to say: first, I have listened carefully to what the Minister said; secondly, I am not persuaded by it; thirdly, I think he is wrong; fourthly, I believe, like the noble Baroness, Lady Young, that the amendment is too important to abandon; and, fifthly, I must ask the House to express an opinion.

4.35 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 3) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 101; Not-Contents, 177.

Division No. 1
Acton, L. Hollis of Heigham, B.
Addington, L. Hooson, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Howell, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Howie of Troon, L
Beaumont of Whitley, L. Hughes, L.
Berkeley, L. Jay of Paddington, B.
Blackstone, B. Jeger, B.
Blease, L. Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Borrie, L. Jenkins of Putney, L.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Kennet, L.
Brace of Donington, L. Kilbracken, L.
Callaghan of Cardiff, L. Lockwood, B.
Carlisle, E. Longford, E.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Carter, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Chorley, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. McNally, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Mallalieu, B.
Dahrendorf, L. Mar and Kellie, E.
David, B. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Desai, L. Methuen, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Milner of Leeds, L.
Donoughue, L. Molloy, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Monkswell, L.
Dubs, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Elis-Thomas, L. Murray of Epping Forest, L
Falkender, B. Nicol, B.
Falkland, V. Palmer, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Peston, L.
Fisher of Rednal, B. Plant of Highfield, L.
Fitt, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Gallacher, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Geraint, L. Rea, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Sainsbury, L.
Greene of Harrow Weald, L. Sandwich, E.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Seear, B.
Haskel, L. Serota, B.
Hayman, B. Shepherd, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Simon, V.
Smith of Gilmorehill, B. Tonypandy, V.
Stallard, L. Tope, L.
Stoddart of Swindon, L. Tordoff, L.
Taverne, L. Warnock, B.
Taylor of Gryfe, L. White, B.
Tenby, V. Williams of Crosby, B.
Thomas of Walliswood, B. [Teller.] Williams of Elvel, L.
Williams of Mostyn, L.
Thomson of Monifieth, L. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E.
Thurlow, L. Winston, L.
Addison, V. Ferrers, E.
Ailsa, M. Flather, B.
Aldington, L. Eraser of Carmyllie, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Gainford, L.
Allenbyof Megiddo,V. Gainsborough, E.
Ashboume, L. Gardner of Parkes, B.
Astor of Hever, L. Gisborough, L.
Balfour, E. Goschen, V.
Barber of Tewkesbury, L. Gray of Contin, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Grimston of Westbury, L.
Beloff, L. Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L
Blaker, L. Hamilton of Dalzell, L.
Blatch, B. Harding of Petherton, L.
Boardman, L. Hardinge of Penshurst, L.
Bowness, L. Harmar-Nicholls, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Harmsworth, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Harris of Peckham, L
Brookes, L. Hayhoe, L.
Brougham and Vaux, L. Henley, L.
Burnham, L. Holderness, L
Butterworth, L. HolmPatrick, L.
Cadman, L. Howe, E.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Hylton-Foster, B.
Campbell of Croy, L. Inglewood, L.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L. Jellicoe, E.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Johnston of Rockport, L.
Carnock, L. Kintore, E.
Carr of Hadley, L. Kitchener, E.
Carrington, L. Knollys, V.
Cayzer, L. Lane of Horsell, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Lauderdale, E.
Charteris of Amisfield, L. Lindsay, E.
Chelmsford, V. Liverpool, E.
Chesham, L. [Teller.] Long, V.
Clanwilliam, E. Lucas, L.
Clark of Kempston, L. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Cochrane of Cults, L. Lyell, L.
Constantine of Stanmore, L. McConnell, L.
Comwallis, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Courtown, E. Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Cox, B. Macleod of Borve, B.
Cross, V. Marlesford, L.
Cuckney, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Cullen of Ashbourne, L. Miller of Hendon, B.
Cumberlege, B. Monckton of Brenchley, V.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Monson, L.
Dean of Harptree, L. Mountevans, L.
Denham, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Moyne, L.
Dilhome, V. Munster, E.
Donegall, M. Murton of Iindisfarne, L.
Downshire, M. Nelson, E.
Dudley, E. Norrie, L.
Dundonald, E. Northesk, E.
Eccles of Moulton, B. O'Cathain, B.
Eden of Winton, L. Orkney, E.
Elles, B. Orr-Ewing, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Oxfuird, V.
Elton, L. Park of Monmouth, B.
Erne, E. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Erroll, E. Pender, L.
Fanshawe of Richmond, L. Perry of Southwark, B.
Feldman, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L. Strafford, E.
Platt of Writtle, B. Strange, B.
Plummer of St. Marylebone, L. Strathcarron, L.
Pym, L. Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Quinton, L. Sudeley, L.
Rankeillour, L. Swinfen, L.
Rawlings, B. Swinton, E.
Reay, L. Terrington, L.
Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L. Teviot, L.
Rennell, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Renwick, L. Tonington, V.
Rippon of Hexham, L. Trefgame, L.
St. Davids, V. Trumpington, B.
Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly. Tugendhat, L.
Ullswater, V.
Sanderson of Bowden, L. Vivian, L.
Sandys, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Seccombe, B. Waterford, M.
Selborne, E. Weatherill, L.
Shannon, E. Wedgwood, L.
Sharpies, B. Whitelaw, V.
Shaw of Northstead, L. Wigram, L.
Skelmersdale, L. Wise, L.
Somerset, D. Wynford, L.
Stewartby, L. Young, B.
Stodart of Leaston, L. Zouche of Haryngworth, L

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

4.45 p.m.

Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 4: Page 1, line 19, at end insert— ("(3A) No arrangements for the issue of vouchers in respect of nursery education (in this subsection called a voucher scheme) shall be made under this section in relation to Wales, other than arrangements for the experimental voucher schemes referred to in subsection (3D) and (3E) below, until the Secretary of State has made an order under this subsection authorising the making of those arrangements. (3B) An order under this subsection shall not be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before Parliament and been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament. (3C) No draft of any order proposed to be made under this subsection shall be laid before Parliament until the conditions set out in subsection (3D) below have been met. (3D) The conditions referred to in subsection (3C) above are that—

  1. (a) experimental voucher schemes shall have been in operation for a period of 1 year throughout the area of at least two local education authorities in Wales where not less than 90 per cent. of children between the ages of four and five years receive nursery education; and
  2. (b) the Secretary of State has consulted the Welsh Joint Education Committee on the arrangements to be authorised by an order made under subsection (3A).
(3E) An experimental voucher scheme under this subsection shall not remain in operation for more than one year.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a second attempt by my noble friends and myself to try to persuade the Government to pursue an education policy for the nursery sector in Wales by consent rather than by legislative coercion. I say that advisedly.

Earlier, in Committee, we discussed the issue of whether it would be possible to organise pilot schemes prior to the introduction of the legislation and that was nearly carried, as your Lordships will recollect. This is another compromise attempt to secure a similar course of action. I do not wish to repeat the arguments which were made in Committee but there is a sociological and profound educational and cultural difference between the perception and delivery of nursery education in Wales and in large parts of England. The figures of the numbers of the relevant cohort receiving both full-time and part-time education and the extent of local authority provision indicates that at current levels, a little more than 540 pupils of that age receive private nursery education in Wales whereas the figure within the local authority sector is at 92 per cent. For that reason, we propose in this amendment that the Secretary of State for Wales should make different provision.

As we pointed out, I thought quite clearly and adequately in Committee, there is nothing exceptional about government policy for education being implemented differently in the Principality compared with England. Indeed, there is a long history of the Welsh Office doing that. I know that I have the support of my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies, who at present is at the Statutory Instruments Committee and cannot be on the Floor of the House, in saying that there is a clear precedent for setting out a different way of implementation in Wales for government policies. This amendment allows the Secretary of State to exercise by order powers that would implement the scheme for Wales but following an experimental period which relates specifically to those areas which have 90 per cent. provision and also which enables consultation with the Welsh Education Committee, as representing local education authorities which, as I indicated earlier, are the main providers.

Such provision would be totally unexceptional if it were presented to the Welsh Grand Committee or to a Welsh assembly depending on the referendum proposed by the party to my right in this Chamber and outside. This would be an unexceptional proposal but, because the Government have taken upon themselves to implement equivalent unitary policies for the Principality of Wales and the country of England, despite the differences in provision and social contexts, we believe that the Government are making a rod for themselves even at the next election. Therefore I appeal to the Government, even at this late stage of the Bill, to take time out within the next week to think again about the way they implement this policy, and to look for ways of seeking compromise.

We propose an experimental period and a year's review subject to the experimental scheme, and then an order by the then Secretary of State to implement the scheme. There is an alternative. The Government could indicate they would be prepared to review the scheme—following implementation—in a thoroughgoing way. We shall be interested to see whether the Government can respond in that way this evening. I beg to move.

Viscount St. Davids

My Lords, I support this amendment. I was somewhat disappointed at the Committee stage by the Government's response because it appeared to me to show a lack of understanding of the provision for nursery education currently enjoyed in Wales. As the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, has told your Lordships, some 92 per cent. of eligible children are provided for. I ask my noble friend, if such a level were to be achieved in England, would we be debating this Bill today, because surely it would be unnecessary?

Lord Hooson

My Lords, I very much support this amendment. I do not wish to reiterate the arguments so ably put forward by my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas, and which were adumbrated during the previous debate. Yesterday the noble Lords, Lord Elis-Thomas, Lord Prys-Davies and myself, had the opportunity of meeting the Under-Secretary of State. At that meeting many of these points were put to him. He will consider them in the course of the coming week.

It seems to me that this is a political hot potato of the first order from the Government's point of view. Neither I nor any other Peer has received such a postbag during our time in this House. Many of the letters were written by people in their own hand—it is mainly parents who have written to us—who are terribly concerned about this matter. This is not a party matter. I am talking about a country where 92 per cent. of the children receive not nursery education but reception class education. That is what children in Wales receive between the ages of four and five. Nursery education is largely the domain of the three to four year-olds. That figure of 92 per cent. is a higher target than the Prime Minister had in mind when he launched the scheme. Few of those children have that education privately funded anyway. The great danger is that one could disrupt that system. There is a great deal of social cohesion in Wales on the education front, even if not on other fronts. It would be a shame to disturb that situation. I hope that the Government will use the coming week to give maturer thought to this matter and will either accept something on the lines of the amendment, or an alternative such as the one that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, mentioned.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, we on these Benches support this amendment. We support the request for the Government to give further consideration as regards imposing upon Wales a scheme that has not even been tested there in a pilot scheme. I believe all of us in this Chamber speak from a background of supporting the Government's stated aim to offer that nursery education provision which parents choose for all four year-olds in the country. The debate is all about how that should be done; it is not about whether it is a good thing. There is also a debate as regards what is on offer.

I have listened with great interest to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who at the Committee stage and today has said this scheme is popular with parents. I believe she said that one can tell the scheme is popular with parents because 80 per cent. of parents—in the case of Norfolk it is 90 per cent.—have claimed vouchers. If the only way Members of your Lordships' House could see their GP was through obtaining a voucher, a ticket or a coupon, they would obtain those vouchers if they were ill. That would not be proof that the mechanism of a voucher, ticket or coupon was logical or sensible. It is that point that is causing anxiety throughout the country.

I should like to think that as a Member of your Lordships' House, and a junior member of the shadow education team, I could stir up parents to such vociferous concern. I refer to parents in places such as Solihull, Cardiff, North Wales—the areas of independent colleagues, former county councillors and members of unitary authorities—and in places as far apart as Sheffield and Devon, and to church schools and to non-church schools. I refer to the Pre-School Learning Alliance in Kensington and Chelsea. The issue here is whether imposing vouchers on the people of Wales, without testing them, is something that can be justified in the cause of seeking to ensure that parents have continued access to that which they have now. That is the issue that is of such deep concern.

A growing army of school governors and parent governors are asking why we should have a voucher system as a means of recycling and circulating money which is already available in order to pay for our children to receive what we wish them to receive, but which entails a complicated procedure. A growing army of governors of church schools and of non-church schools are asking why there should be uncertainty about getting the money back. Research among parents as regards nursery education vouchers shows that in the Tory boroughs of Wandsworth and Westminster nearly 2,500 vouchers which should have been claimed have not been claimed. That means that £2.75 million has gone astray. That is serious. The Government have produced the most remarkable scheme of all time; namely, a new system for losing public funding. The Government claim that the scheme is meeting its target now and that it is in the interests of parental choice.

As regards parents choosing to remove their children from the school they are currently attending and sending them elsewhere, the Government could have produced a scheme offering that choice and put it before those 92 per cent. of parents in Wales who are affected by the proposal. I should have thought the Government were crazy to ask those parents whether they wish to forgo their children's current places in local schools. That provision is already being purchased with public money. However, the Government could have produced such a scheme. But that is not what the Government are doing. The Government are deliberately seeking to impose a new system without trial on parents, governors, schools and on the education system in Wales. I say with the greatest of respect that the figures of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, demonstrate that the Government's scheme will result in the loss of public money in a bureaucratic paper chase.

I repeat my earlier point. If I have a broken leg and have to apply to a private company for a voucher to obtain plaster of paris to put on my leg, I shall do it. However, I ask that no one in your Lordships' House takes that as proof of my commitment to increasing the cost of bureaucracy at the expense of money for the service.

5 p.m.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I do not think the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, would expect me to let her get away with the remarks that she has made. However, before I discuss her remarks, I wish to comment on what the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said in moving the amendment. I am second to none in my admiration for education in Wales. I believe English people recognise that education in Wales, in Scotland, and indeed in Northern Ireland, is excellent. It is a great achievement that 92 per cent. of children in Wales—I presume that they are the rising-fives—are in a reception class. No one can be other than pleased that that is the case. As an English taxpayer one hesitates to say that parts of the country always do rather well out of the distributions of grant. Nevertheless, in this case the distribution is successful, and it would be churlish not to agree that those young children should benefit from it.

It is said that the Government will impose the scheme. Let us be realistic. No parent has to take up the voucher scheme if he or she does not wish to do so. The scheme gives an opportunity to provide variety and choice. My noble friend the Minister may say that it would be quite wrong to accept the amendment. It would have the effect that vouchers could not be introduced into Wales until an order has been approved by Parliament. Such an order will not be made until there has been a 12-month experimental scheme in at least two LEAs which have over 90 per cent. of four year-olds in nursery education, and the Welsh Joint Education Committee has been consulted. That provision would put the Bill into a completely different category from any other education Act that has been before your Lordships' House or Parliament.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, with the leave of the House, will the noble Baroness confirm that the only way in which school governors can get back the money stopped from the local education authority budget is by parents filling in the vouchers? The vouchers leave no choice; the schools are left short of money.

Baroness Young

My Lords, we are not simply recycling money, as the noble Baroness has said. A great deal more money is going into the scheme generally. Therefore, many children will benefit from the scheme who do not benefit at present.

One of the many things said about the scheme to frighten parents is, "There will be no extra money; you will be told where you have to go; money will be withdrawn". There has been this extraordinary analogy with GPs. The truth of the matter is that the health Acts lay down that everyone shall have the opportunity to go to a GP. That situation is completely different from the provisions of education Acts which have never required that pre-school children have to have an education. We are not talking about similar situations. It is said to frighten parents. It is a very serious situation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, shakes her head. I have been in local government. I know a lot about what goes on in local government today. I can tell the noble Baroness that many Labour and Liberal Democrat authorities set out to frighten parents about grant-maintained schools. I do not have the slightest doubt that they set out to frighten parents about this scheme. It is rather patronising for the Front Benches opposite to tell parents that they are unable to make up their own minds. Most parents are quite capable of making their own decisions.

It would be a great mistake for the Government to accept the amendment. It would introduce, I believe for the first time, a provision which is quite separate from other education Acts which have applied equally to England and Wales. Four year-olds living in Wales would not have the same opportunities that would be enjoyed by four year-olds in England. For that reason, among the many that I have given, I hope that the Government will not accept the amendment.

Lord Hooson

My Lords, will the noble Baroness, Lady Young, deal with this point? I believe that the argument may be slightly misleading. If she were speaking generally of England and Wales, it may well be that more money is available. However, 92 per cent. of children between four and five years in Wales receive so-called nursery education. Of those, 79 per cent. are in full-time education. The provision for vouchers is for only part-time education. Many of the schools in Wales are in rural areas with small numbers. Therefore vouchers even for part-time education may not provide the money. That is the fear in Wales.

The theory may be all right in England where one has a much greater leeway to make up. But in Wales where 92 per cent. of those children already receive such education the genuine fear of parents is that the money will simply not be available.

Baroness Young

My Lords, I am sure that this point will be dealt with by my noble friend the Minister. However, there is no question that the education currently provided would be removed from children. I should have to have that confirmed but it is not my understanding of the way the scheme would operate.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch

My Lords, before my noble friend on the Front Bench replies, will the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, take on board this fact: until the Government started taking parental choice seriously there were up to one million spare places in the state system of education. The noble Baroness talks about the comparatively small sum of money which she claims will be wasted in administration of the scheme. From the evidence I have so far heard, I doubt it. Perhaps the Benches opposite should consider the colossal savings that are starting to be made by giving parents the choice that this scheme provides. I urge my noble friend not to accept the amendment.

The Earl of Strafford

My Lords, will the Minister confirm whether there have been any pilot schemes in Wales?

Lord Henley

My Lords, as we made clear at an earlier stage, there have been no pilot schemes in Wales because, quite simply, no local authorities in Wales applied for the benefits of that pilot scheme and thus denied their children the possibilities of bringing choice and benefit to Wales.

It is a bit rich that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, tries to pray in aid the pre-school learning alliance. That alliance made it quite clear that it rejected the antics of this House at Committee stage. It rejected the attempts to deprive a great many children of the benefits of the scheme, as noble Lords opposite sought to do. I reject the noble Baroness's allegations that the Labour Party has claimed that some £2.7 million worth of vouchers have been issued but not claimed. That is yet more inaccurate information from the party opposite.

Perhaps I may put the figures straight. Some 90 per cent. of parents have applied for vouchers, with an impressive 97 per cent. in Norfolk and 95 per cent. in Wandsworth. So far some 83 per cent. of those vouchers have been returned and more continue to come in. We do not expect them all to be redeemed. In some areas, in London in particular, parents may take their children to school outside the phase l areas, in which case they will be unable to use their vouchers during phase 1. The value of the as yet unredeemed vouchers is nowhere near £2.75 million. The party opposite simply cannot get its sums right.

Let us turn our attention to the amendment. First, it is almost a re-run of the debate at Committee stage when the noble Lord and others sought to delay the introduction of the voucher scheme in Wales until there had been a pilot phase. I accept that the noble Lord has slightly amended his proposals by suggesting that the experimental schemes, as they are called, should be restricted to high providing authorities. However, I believe that the arguments remain the same as those on which the Committee made a clear decision some three weeks ago.

Of course I recognise the concerns of noble Lords opposite and of others in Wales that the quality of provision for all should not be prejudiced; and that certain aspects of provision in Wales differ from those in England. Noble Lords opposite know that the Welsh Office has already taken steps to ensure that the Welsh dimension is being taken fully into account and has made specific arrangements to meet the particular circumstances and needs of Wales—such as the method of transferring resources from local authorities which was previously commended by certain noble Lords. The Welsh Office has sought advice from the Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales—the equivalent of SCAA—on what should be the desirable outcomes of provision for four year-olds under the voucher scheme. The advice of the authority has been accepted by the Secretary of State for Wales.

The Welsh Office has done much in recent years to promote and protect the development of the Welsh language and of Welsh medium education. Only yesterday my right honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Welsh Office announced funding for the expansion of a Welsh medium secondary school in Cardiff under the popular schools initiative. I was grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, referred to the meeting he had with my honourable friends in the Welsh Office. I am sure that if my honourable friends have offered further meetings, the noble Lord will take them up.

The department will obviously want to ensure that the voucher scheme contributes to the development of the language. We are convinced that it will. By putting purchasing power in the hands of parents it will offer greater opportunity to those who, for example, want a Welsh medium education for their four year-olds and offer a potential stream of income to the Welsh nursery movement which it does not have now. The Welsh Office already provides significant core funding to the Welsh nursery movement and recently announced further grants of some £250,000 to that movement, the Wales PPA and Children in Wales to help them address some of the weaknesses in the voluntary sector provision in Wales identified by the inspectorate's survey published last December. The Welsh Office has given careful consideration to the Welsh language implications of the voucher scheme. It would certainly not want to do anything to prejudice the significant investment and effort it and others have made in recent years in the development of the language and of Welsh medium education.

The Welsh Office is committed to monitoring the implementation of the voucher scheme in Wales. It will do so in consultation with local authorities, the voluntary sector, the independent sector and, of course, the inspectorate. It will happily involve the Welsh Joint Education Committee in the consultation. It will have particular regard to the maintenance of quality of education for four year-olds across the whole of Wales and to the position of the Welsh language. It will be concerned to ensure that any aspect of the voucher scheme which is not working as it should will be reviewed and possibly modified. I can give an assurance to the House that the Bill provides for the detailed operation of the scheme to be governed by both regulations and arrangements. The regulations and arrangements are made by the relevant Secretary of State. If need be, therefore, separate regulations and arrangements can be made for England and Wales. It is always possible that the detail of the scheme in Wales could be amended by modifications to the regulations or arrangements setting out detailed implementation of the scheme made by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales as opposed to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. I can also give an assurance that implementation of the scheme in Wales will be kept under continual review by colleagues in the Welsh Office.

In Wales, as in England, we want to ensure that all four year-olds whose parents want them to receive education will have access to a place for the full three terms. I know that noble Lords mentioned the much higher percentage of nursery provision in Wales, but it is not happening in all areas of Wales at the moment. The Government believe that the provision of education for four year-olds should not be the sole preserve of the local authority sector. It is not their sole preserve in the education of compulsory school age pupils. There is a thriving independent sector and grant-maintained schools have broken away from local authority control. They too are thriving. We in the Government believe that parents should be given the choice. We are prepared to let them decide what they want for their children, rather than the local authority. The proposed experimental schemes, I believe, would serve no purpose except to delay giving parents in Wales the real choice we want to offer them. We say: let parents decide. The voucher scheme will allow them to do so.

I believe that the amendment proposed by the noble Lord would mean yet further delay. I trust that noble Lords will not seek to deny that choice to parents in Wales. In the light of my assurances about the intention of the Welsh Office to keep the implementation of the scheme under close review, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Elis-Thomas

My Lords, the Minister gave himself away in his peroration when he talked about the Government believing that certain educational initiatives should take place in Wales. He referred to the thriving independent grant-maintained school sector. I am afraid that I have never seen it. There is a minute grant-maintained sector. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that in the amendment we propose some unique intervention in education legislation, but we have on the statute book under previous education legislation an organisation to which I referred at Committee stage affectionately known as the "Welsh Schools Funding Council". It has not been brought into effect. It is capable of it by order in the same way as we propose the institution of the experimental schemes and the nursery voucher scheme. It has not met and will not meet because there is no demand for it. At the moment, the powers rest with the Welsh Office and the Secretary of State

Therefore, we are dealing with the position where the Department for Education and Employment and the Welsh Office have decided to implement a certain policy. I believe that the policy is still unacceptable in Wales. I shall, of course, with my colleagues, consider the assurances given, but I am not satisfied that they go far enough to ensure that there is a monitoring of the effectiveness of the scheme which would be independent of the Welsh Office, the local education authorities and the independent providers. In our view, any monitoring scheme should assess the extent to which the nursery voucher scheme should increase the numbers who receive full-time nursery provision and whether the scheme adds to the effectiveness of the current level of provision. It should monitor whether the standards of education, both bilingually and generally in Wales, are being maintained by the new scheme.

For those reasons, therefore, although at this stage I may wish to withdraw the amendment, I shall take it for further consideration with my colleagues and the department. I ask the Minister to agree to discuss again with the department the views that have been expressed.

I neglected to declare an interest as chairman of the Welsh Language Board, and I speak in this debate on that count as well. It is a statutory board responsible, not only under the legislation of this House but also of the Welsh Office, for the provision of bilingual education. I would not wish to see any change in legislation which damaged the quality of provision in either language for any pupil in Wales. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, with the clear warning that we shall return to the issue. Incidentally, the Minister has still not responded to the question asked by his noble friend.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 5: Page 1, line 19, at end insert— ("( ) Education falling within subsection (2) above shall be given in premises conforming to such common standards as to space and facilities as the Secretary of State shall by regulations specify.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of Amendment No. 5 is to require the Secretary of State by regulations to lay down minimum space standards for the provision of nursery voucher-funded education for four year-olds. This is a subject we debated at Committee stage and I make no apology for returning to it. I do so, first, because it is an important subject and, secondly, because we debated it on an occasion immediately after your Lordships had passed a significant amendment and perhaps the concentration of some noble Lords may have been on other matters than space regulations.

The amendment which we debated in Committee sought to lay down minimum standards not less than those prescribed in the recently revoked 1981 regulations. Amendment No. 5 backs away from that; it makes no reference to what the minimum standards should be. It states simply that there should be minimum standards which are for the Secretary of State to lay down. We hope and expect that he would have reference to the requirements of the Children Act and other standards and would set standards that were high rather than low. However, the specific purpose is to ensure that there are some minimum standards.

When we debated the matter in Committee it was suggested that we had a passion for regulation. That is a strange accusation to level at a Liberal, almost by definition. I cannot see how a requirement for a minimum standard represents a passion for over-regulation or can in any way to be said to be over-regulation. Surely minimum standards are minimum safeguards. That is what we are discussing.

In Committee I pressed the Minister to say what had changed since 1981 that meant that while in 1981 we required minimum standards, now we do not. I hope I do not misquote him. He said that the principal change was the introduction of LMS. I very much welcome the introduction of LMS. One of the features of LMS was that it was the schools themselves that campaigned most strongly against the revocation of the minimum standards laid down in the 1981 requirements. Schools want the safeguard and surety of minimum standards. I reject any argument that may follow that, because we have LMS, we no longer need minimum standards.

My principal concern, which I know is shared by other noble Lords, relating to the need for some minimum standards to be laid down, is a recognition that the value of the voucher is not sufficient in most cases to cover the cost of provision. It is certainly not sufficient to include any capital costs, training costs and so on. There must inevitably be pressure upon providers to reduce standards, to reduce costs, to keep expenditure as near as possible to the value of the voucher and to have as little additional contribution as is necessary, whether from the LEA or from parents.

That makes it even more necessary for minimum standards to be laid down. That is what this amendment seeks to explore. Children need space in which to learn, play and grow. It is our duty to ensure that we include in the Bill a requirement that minimum standards are laid down for children. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, we on these Benches support all that the noble Lord said. I endorse his remarks about the strength of feeling among governors and governing bodies and among all those from local education authorities of all political persuasions and none. The parents are always on the horns of a dilemma. There is always pressure where buildings are inadequate for the number of children for whom demand exists. It is fair to protect children from that. It is unfair for the Government to release themselves from any statutory level of duty to ensure that adequate capital funding is available to help governors meet both parental choice and the minimum standards necessary for young children.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

My Lords, perhaps I may intervene briefly at this point. We must bear in mind that a school near Birmingham suffered tragically yesterday from an incident in the playground involving nursery school children. And we still have in mind what occurred at Dunblane. The noble Lord's remarks are important. People will not only have to look after facilities inside the school; they will also need to pay attention to what happens outside the buildings. If those working inside are not qualified teachers, and if there is not an adequate number of supply staff in ordinary nursery schools and classes, that may put some children's lives in jeopardy. I ask the Minister in replying to consider that point, following the remarks the noble Lord made in moving his amendment.

Baroness Young

My Lords, when my noble friend comes to reply, perhaps he will confirm the position as I understand it; namely, that anybody seeking to provide nursery education is required to register with local social services departments in accordance with the Children Act 1989, which has presumably superseded the previous Act; and that as a condition of registration providers' premises must comply with a whole range of health and safety requirements such as that of the premises regulations to ensure that children are properly protected.

As I understand it, the school premises regulations and the relevant guidance under the Children Act contain important requirements relating to essential areas of health and safety, including washing and lavatory facilities, etc., and in particular fire safety. These are all very serious matters.

No school could ever be expected to imagine the occurrence of terrible, tragic events that took place yesterday, about which we all feel deeply distressed. It is very difficult to assume that anything could be done to protect schools from somebody who can only be described as a madman entering the premises in those circumstances.

For the purposes of this piece of legislation we are discussing the need for schools to be adequately protected by the regulations which I understand are in force; and also by the powers that governors and schools under local management have to consider the adequacy of the provision that they contemplate making.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, that I referred to the tragic events in Wolverhampton earlier today. However, I did not go on to say that I believe it would be wrong for me at the Dispatch Box to offer any knee-jerk reaction. I remind her that, following the tragic murder of headmaster Mr. Philip Lawrence late last year, we set up a working party to advise on security in schools. That received a further impetus, if I may put it that way, following the unbelievably tragic events at Dunblane.

The working party has now reported. It has produced a large number of recommendations, virtually all of which we have accepted and will act upon in due course. Whether further review is needed following the incident at St. Luke's is another matter.

As my noble friend Lady Young made clear, it is very unlikely that we could ever arrive at a position whereby schools were totally and utterly secure. To turn them into fortresses would have quite undesirable effects. No parent would like to see that happen. However, obviously there are certain actions that we can and will take.

I now turn to the amendment. It is important that I put this point across, because it is important that a House that prides itself on being a revising Chamber should get its amendments right. The amendment tabled by the noble Lord would require all pre-school providers of nursery education, not just voucher redeeming institutions, to meet the same standards in terms of space and facilities.

I do not intend to raise questions as to whether this amendment therefore falls outside the scope of the Bill. That is for others to advise upon. However, I doubt whether it would be appropriate to include such a wide-ranging power, which would affect those schools that do not wish to become voucher redeeming institutions, in a Bill that is simply designed to give a power to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to make grants to fund nursery provision. Anyone seeking to press such an amendment must think very long and hard about the precise wording. I also do not believe that it would be appropriate or sensible to impose the same premises requirements on all pre-school providers of nursery education.

Schools in the maintained sector cater mostly for children of four years of age and upwards, whereas Children Act registered providers cater for children of four years and below. Both require a premises regime which is suitable for the age ranges they make provision for, while at the same time ensuring that the quality of provision is not affected.

As noble Lords will know, the maintained sector will be required from September this year to adhere to new regulations—the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1996—which were laid in February. I make no apologies for the fact that they are a more liberal set of regulations than those that they replace. I explained the reasoning for that at an earlier stage.

The new regulations will not specify minimum requirements for teaching accommodation or recreation areas. That is because we believe governors and LEAs are in the best position to decide how to administer their school premises. We shall, however, be publishing guidance later this year to help schools and LEAs make informed decisions.

As I have already indicated, unlike in the maintained sector, pre-school providers in the private and voluntary sectors will be providing day care for very young children, even babies. I confirm to my noble friend that they are required to register with the local social services department in accordance with the Children Act 1989. I assure my noble friend that as a condition of registration providers' premises must comply with a range of health and safety requirements which, like the premises regulations, ensure that the children in their care are protected.

Both the revised school premises regulations and the relevant Children Act guidance contain important requirements for essential areas of health and safety, like washing facilities, lavatories and, for example, fire safety.

I believe, therefore, our policies address fully the issue of premises' standards for institutions that will be redeeming nursery vouchers, while recognising the important differences between sectors. In both cases I believe that the health and safety of all children attending these institutions will, so far as is humanly possible—bearing in mind the tragedies we have seen—be protected. I therefore hope the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Tope

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to the Children Act and the requirements therein. As I understand it, the requirements there are simply in guidance, not regulation. Guidance does not have the force of regulation as, indeed, my own authority has had occasion to find out in a slightly different context.

I understood the Minister to say, correctly, that the 1996 regulations will not place any requirement on minimum space standards but that he hopes to deal with that in guidance. I feel that regulation is a much better way to specify what the minimum standards should be than is guidance where guidance implies and, indeed, it has been held, there is a degree of discretion. The financial pressures of the maintained sector, as well as the voluntary sector, must urge people to have at least a different interpretation of guidance.

I am disappointed, although not surprised, that the Minister is unable to accept this amendment and that he is unable to give minimum standards the safeguards that would be enshrined in regulation. But we will look with great care and interest at the guidance that is to be issued. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.30 p.m.

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 6: Page 1, line 24, at end insert— ("( ) The Secretary of State shall at such times as may be prescribed report to Parliament on the availability in England and Wales of nursery education to children aged three and four whose parents wish their children of those ages to receive such education.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move Amendment No. 6 standing in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris. The purpose of this amendment is to require the Secretary of State to report to Parliament on the availability of nursery education for three and four year-olds.

The Government have stated that this scheme will lead to the expansion of provision for four year-olds. They have also said that they hope to extend this scheme to three year-olds. As I have said on a previous occasion, the extension of nursery provision for three and four year-olds is of particular importance to my party. Therefore, I hope that the Government's intentions are fulfilled, although I think that this is almost the worst way of achieving it.

However, there is little within the Bill to ensure that the current situation of existing provision will be reviewed. This amendment would at least go some way towards ensuring that the Government are made aware of the true availability of places for four year-olds and, until the scheme can be extended, that existing three year-old provision is safeguarded. That point is particularly important. As your Lordships know, there is great concern that this scheme could damage the existing provision for three year-olds. I am sure the Government do not accept that; but that is the concern of those who are well informed on the subject.

There is a common view in your Lordships' House on the desire to expand nursery education for three and four year-olds. There is widespread concern among, not least, the Conservative Education Association, the Audit Commission and many others that this is not the best way to do it and that it could, in some areas, actually reduce the existing provision, particularly for three year-olds.

Whether or not those concerns are justified will remain to be seen. But by passing this amendment we will at least have a guarantee that the Secretary of State must regularly investigate the availability of places for three and four year-olds and report on this to Parliament. If the Government really believe that the voucher scheme will expand nursery provision, they have nothing whatsoever to fear from this amendment. Indeed, they could be putting some statute behind their words by supporting this amendment and agreeing to report regularly to us so that we can judge how effectively the scheme is expanding nursery provision. I beg to move.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, sometimes, when the weather is bright and fair, my family and I—three generations of us—walk over the moors to Hathersage. In doing so, we have to cross the river Derwent at the foot of Offerton Moor by means of a set of stepping stones. I have tried to instil in the minds of my grandchildren that it is unwise to step forward until you are quite secure on the stone upon which you are standing. So far, with Thomas and Rebecca, I have succeeded passably well. I only wish I could be so persuasive with the noble Lord the Minister.

The Government have said that this scheme will lead to a great leap forward, to an expansion of provision for four year-olds. They have also said that they hope to extend this scheme to three year-olds. All we want to do is to ensure that the current situation of existing provision will be safeguarded by being reviewed. If it is not, the Minister may find himself up to his neck in cold river water.

This amendment would at least go some way towards ensuring that the Government are made aware of the true availability of places for four year-olds and—until the scheme can be extended—that existing three year-old provision is safeguarded.

I should like to make two points in support of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. First, there has been widespread concern that an allocation of grant via a voucher scheme will not necessarily be an effective way of expanding nursery provision. That concern has been expressed by the Government's own supporters. At the beginning of this year, the Conservative Education Association, whose work I read with great interest, produced a policy statement on pre-school provision which stated, there is a real chance that in some areas parents will receive vouchers but have no provision of the sort that they want available … In some areas there will be a reduction in LEA provision without a corresponding private sector increase. Can the Minister, when he comes to reply, explain to us why those fears are groundless?

Secondly, there are other worries about the impact of the voucher scheme on expansion. For example, the low value of the voucher relative to the high cost of quality places or the lack of additional money for capital projects threaten the scheme as we see it. Can he tell us: how does the scheme cut out the cowboys? How does the scheme avoid educational slums? Whether or not such concerns are justified remains to be seen. But a guarantee that the Secretary of State is regularly to investigate the availability of good places for three and four year-olds under these arrangements would go a long way to allay some of the fears that many of us feel.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I thought I dealt with allegations of cowboys earlier this afternoon in response to the noble Baroness, Lady David, and I do not intend to repeat the arguments I put forward on that occasion.

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to make regular reports to Parliament on the extent to which the availability of education for three and four year-olds satisfied demand. I would like to persuade the House that the amendment is unnecessary.

Of course, we shall all be watching the expansion of nursery education for children of all ages with interest, and also the extent to which there may be any unmet demand. However, there is no need for the Secretary of State to make a special report to Parliament at regular, unspecified intervals in order for information about these matters to be made public.

As part of the assessment of the nursery education voucher scheme, a survey will be undertaken of current use of places by three and four year-olds, and the results will be compared with those of similar surveys in subsequent years. In addition, a commitment has already been made by my honourable friends in another place that data on the numbers of vouchers issued and redeemed, and the number and type of institutions validated to redeem vouchers will be published annually in the departmental report.

I appreciate that in an earlier Bill my noble friend Lord Peyton was dismissive of the departmental annual report. Whatever my noble friend said on that occasion, it puts the information in the public arena and makes it available to all. Further, data on the numbers of three and four year-olds in schools in England will also be published annually in the Statistical Bulletin, as it has been for many years. Again, I appreciate that the Statistical Bulletin may be a document that some consider to be dry reading. Nevertheless, it makes the information available to the public at large and to noble Lords opposite.

I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Tope, is now satisfied that mechanisms are already in place to ensure that those matters are monitored; that those mechanisms are perfectly adequate for ensuring that Parliament and the general public are kept informed about the availability of nursery education, and that therefore it is unnecessary to add to what some may argue is a superfluity of documents being produced by the Secretary of State, by demanding that yet one more should be produced. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps he can tell the House what the mechanisms are to which he referred on two occasions. He probably knows that I write to him occasionally about these matters. Perhaps I may mention a subject I raised recently which caused considerable interest in the House. I refer to the sale of playing fields about which people both inside and outside Parliament seem to be concerned.

There is no doubt that there has been an increase in the sale of playing fields and we all know what a major part they play in education. I was astonished, as I am sure were other noble Lords, to find that there is no central register of any kind and no central statistics which show how many playing fields are being sold off. That has happened on two or three occasions.

The Minister may say, and I would accept, that the other mechanisms are Starred Questions, Unstarred Questions, Questions for Written Answer, or a debate. But that does not take care of the main thrust of the amendment; that is, that there should be something monitoring the situation. This scheme is an innovation in itself, and that alone should be sufficient to warrant information being sought. Presumably it will be debated, it being published in the annual report. But unless we have that level of information the Government will have a big hole in the scheme with which many of us will not be satisfied.

Lord Henley

My Lords, that struck me as a somewhat long intervention for Report stage before I sat down. However, I go back to what I said in regard to departmental annual reports. Some may find them dry reading. There is a great deal of material available in the Statistical Bulletin and therefore to the general public and noble Lords opposite to inform them where we are in a number of ways.

I appreciate the noble Lord's sadness in relation to the lack of precise statistics in regard to school playing fields. But there is a limit to the amount of statistical evidence that we can collect for the sake of planning purposes and so forth. It would not be responsible to further add to that bureaucracy and expense of the department by increasing the amount of information collected ad infinitum. There will always be gaps in the sort of information we collect.

Perhaps I may refer the noble Lord to another parliamentary Answer I gave not long ago in regard to levels of language achievement by 16 year-olds at GCSE level in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The figures were deeply misleading. They implied that children in Northern Ireland were doing much better than those in other parts of the country. The simple answer was that the four parts of the United Kingdom were collecting their figures in different ways and asking different questions. The results were not comparable. That is often the case and we cannot achieve the perfection the noble Lord seeks. However, I hope that we provide a great deal of useful information and data in the Statistical Bulletin to which I referred.

Lord Tope

My Lords, I do not wish to join the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, in being dismissive of the annual report. As some of my best friends are statisticians, I would not dream of commenting on the Statistical Bulletin. I do not doubt that for those who have the time, the knowledge, the ability, the resources and the opportunities afforded to your Lordships' House, it would be possible to extract the information about which we are talking. But for the Minister to suggest that the general public at large will be ploughing through the departmental annual report, studying and understanding the Statistical Bulletin and instantly and readily understanding how well the voucher scheme is or is not working, is testing our credulity a little too far.

The Minister's sole reason for rejecting the amendment is that in his view it is not necessary. In giving his reasons why it is not necessary, he demonstrated exactly why it is necessary. If the Government believe that the scheme will succeed, that information needs to be transparent and readily available to the public; above all, it needs to be presented to Parliament where we can discuss and debate it. None of that will be the case. The amendment is before the House and I regret that the Minister has not seen fit to support it. Nevertheless, I do not intend to press the amendment to a vote tonight and therefore beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.45 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon moved Amendment No. 7: Page 1, line 28, at end insert— ("( ) Arrangements made under this section shall include provision for the making of grants to the governing bodies of aided and special agreement schools in respect of expenditure incurred by them in the provision or alteration of premises or equipment for the purpose of providing nursery education at the school and such grants shall be made as if they were grants under section 281 of the Education Act 1993 (grants by Secretary of State in respect of aided and special agreement schools).").

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his expressions of sympathy with the governors, staff, parents and children at St. Luke's Church of England School, Wolverhampton. This was another of those totally unexpected and horrific events and we all feel profoundly moved. We share in the sense of sympathy which the Minister expressed. I am sure that the Whole House will want to join with him in what he said.

Amendment No. 7 is similar to an amendment tabled in my name at Committee stage but which I was unfortunately not able to move. I apologise to the House for not being in my place at that time and express thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, for moving it in my place and standing in most ably on that occasion as a substitute for a right reverend Prelate. I thank also the Minister for his reply. I read the exchange most carefully in Hansard and felt that there was one matter which the exchange did not make sufficiently clear. That is my reason for returning to the matter in Amendment No. 7.

The reply of the Minister made it clear that grants will continue to be available under Section 281 of the Education Act 1993 for those governing bodies which apply for a grant in order to adapt or extend premises for the provision of nursery education. I accept entirely that assurance that in principle those grants continue to be available. The difficulty lies not so much in the principle as in the practice.

What happens in practice is that a school or governing body is responsible for finding the money for such capital expenditure—85 per cent. grant comes from the Government, but it is the governors who decide that they wish the work to be carried out. They will obtain the consent of the LEA and it and the governors together will put in a request. In doing so they are in competition with all sorts of requests for grants, not only for nursery education but for all kinds of works in respect of aided schools for mainstream as well as for nursery education. Therefore, the requests for nursery education are in competition with the requests for mainstream funding. It is that competition that I wish to emphasise in moving this amendment.

The difficulty is that the requests for nursery education frequently seem to come at the end of the list because other grants are made ahead of them, and therefore there appears to be great difficulty in practice in obtaining grants for these purposes under Section 281 of the Act. I shall be grateful if the Minister can give some assurance on that. This is a probing amendment and not one that I intend to press. I shall be grateful for some recognition by the Minister of the difficulties that there are, despite the principle that he has enunciated. Perhaps he could give some indication that his department will look with sympathy on such applications for nursery education premises. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member and former chair of an education authority which has the largest number of voluntary-aided and special agreement schools in the country. I shall be grateful if the Minister can indicate to the House whether the specific request from a former Secretary of State or Minister for schools that voluntary-aided diocesan authorities' representatives do not put in bids for nursery projects has been withdrawn. There was a time in the 1980s when they were specifically asked not to put in bids.

The reason given was that the Government said that the top two priority categories for which credit approval would be given would be basic need, which is roofs over heads where otherwise none would exist for children of statutory school age, and reorganisation to remove surplus places where statutory notices were required. Since then the position on the availability of capital has worsened.

I know that the circumstances of voluntary-aided schools can vary enormously. In the centre of Blackburn, church schools are crowded and bursting at the seams. In other cases, we are dealing with very tiny rural schools where the addition of a child who is younger means that there is a need for appropriate equipment because there are no other children there in that age group. All these matters require the urgent attention of the Minister in his reply.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I prefer to take advice on the specific and somewhat technical points put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington. I shall write to her in due course and certainly before the next stage of the Bill.

I appreciate that the right reverend Prelate's amendment is a probing amendment and that he will not wish to press it further tonight but may wish to come back to it; and that he was unfortunately unable to be present at an earlier stage. We had the joy of the Church of England moving on to women Bishops with the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, taking his place, and very well did she do so on that occasion.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, if I recollect accurately, the Minister promised that he would not tell his colleague the Secretary of State for the Environment of this change.

Lord Henley

My Lords, it is frequently a dangerous matter for politicians to get involved in Church affairs. Bearing in mind the debate that we had on moral and spiritual development only last Friday and the publicity that it generated, on this occasion I shall restrain myself.

I gave a number of assurances on that occasion that grants will continue to be available to the voluntary-aided and special agreement schools under Section 281 of the Education Act 1993, as now, subject to the need to prioritise bids in the light of the high demand for scarce resources.

The right reverend Prelate is seeking to go somewhat further; namely, a separate source of capital grant for voluntary-aided and special agreement schools which would be ring-fenced for nursery education. I shall give a brief explanation which he can look at in due course to decide how he wishes to pursue these matters. Schools claiming from this pot of money would therefore not have to compete with other claimants for other grant under Section 281. Schools in all sectors—county, grant-maintained and voluntary-aided—will have access to the new recurrent funding for nursery education which is being made available through the nursery education voucher scheme. The level of funding which flows to each sector will depend, as I said earlier, on parental choice.

This new recurrent funding can be used to fund capital work, perhaps by servicing debt. However, we do not envisage creating a new, separate stream of capital funding for nursery education in any sector. I must therefore make it clear that whether or not capital grant in respect of nursery education at voluntary-aided schools was ring-fenced, the grant would have to come out of the amount set aside for voluntary-aided school building generally.

If we did set up a separate pot of capital grant for voluntary-aided schools, ring-fenced for nursery education, we would need to know exactly how much money to put in. We would not wish to find that the pot was either too small or too big. In the latter case we would have deprived the rest of the voluntary-aided capital budget unnecessarily. Furthermore, ring-fencing a specific sum for capital grant for nursery education would remove the flexibility which is necessary to administer the voluntary-aided budget effectively.

The present system, under which we assess nursery cases as part of the total voluntary-aided budget, bearing in mind the need to ensure that other types of projects for pupils in the compulsory age range are not disadvantaged, secures that voluntary-aided nursery projects are considered on their merits.

The right reverend Prelate has given an assurance that this is merely a probing amendment. I hope that he will consider very carefully what I have had to say between now and the next stage.

Baroness David

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps I may ask one question. Was capital funding made available to Norfolk for any nursery schools during the pilot phase?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am not aware that it was. I shall check up and write to the noble Baroness.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, may I also probe one matter? I accept what he said about ring-fencing, but will his department look with sympathy on applications which are made for the funding that we have been talking about?

Lord Henley

My Lords, as I made clear, we always have to consider all applications in the light of the finite nature of resources. It is a matter of prioritising what are the most important of them.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon

My Lords, I am grateful for this brief exchange. Perhaps I may say that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, would admirably fulfil the qualities needed to be a right reverend Prelate in your Lordships' House, but I am relieved that that is a matter which we are not discussing at the moment. We do not propose to pre-empt such discussions as may be held elsewhere.

I am grateful to the Minister for giving such a careful reply to my question. I shall read with great care what he has said, and in the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6 p.m.

Clause 3 [Requirements]:

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 8: Page 2, line 37, at end insert (", and (c) shall prescribe the minimum staffing ratios required in respect of four-year-olds in reception classes").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, this amendment requires the Secretary of State to specify staffing ratios in reception classes. Many people do not realise how much of the voucher scheme will be happening in reception classes. For some time now the age of admission to a reception class has been reducing and many of the nation's four year-olds are placed in reception classes long before their fifth birthday. Because of this gradual change in the age of admission to reception classes, many people have lost sight of the fact that statutory education does not start until the beginning of the term after the child's fifth birthday. That means that if an authority moved to admitting all children to reception classes at the beginning of the year in which they became five, one-third of the children (the summer-born children) would spend all three terms of their voucher-bearing career in the reception class; one-third (the spring-born children) would spend two out of three terms of their voucher-bearing career in the reception class; and one third (the autumn-born children) would spend one out of three terms of their voucher-bearing career in the reception class.

If that pattern became widespread, the majority of vouchers would be redeemed for the education of four year-olds in reception classes. The Special Educational Consortium does not believe that it was the Government's intention that that should happen; rather, it understood that the Government intended that all sectors—maintained, private and voluntary—should play a full part in the nursery voucher scheme.

However, the conditions are not the same for all providers. Let us consider the staffing ratios in different settings. Staffing ratios vary according to the setting—according to whether it is a primary, infant or nursery school or a nursery class. They are as follows: for children at registered settings, an adult:child ratio of 1:8 for children between the ages of three and five; for nursery schools and classes, the DfEE's circular 2/73 recommends a ratio of 2:26—that is 1:13—where half the staff are teachers or 2:20—that is 1:10—where the head teacher teaches. There is no guidance on staffing levels for reception classes.

The Audit Commission study, Counting to Five, found that the highest proportion of total costs in all settings is staff costs at an average of 81 per cent. Playgroups come out cheapest because their staff receive low pay. The other main determinant of staff costs, besides pay, is the child:adult ratio. In most settings the recommended maximum ratios are set out in statutory guidance. Reception classes have no laid down ratios although the work of each class must be led by a qualified teacher. That makes it possible for them to operate with much larger ratios than are found in other settings and explains why they are the next cheapest after playgroups.

In a nursery class or school, class size has until now been limited in two ways—by pupil:adult ratio and by the recommendation that half the adults should be teachers, and by the 1981 Education (School Premises) Regulations on teaching recommendations and recreational space. However, there is no limit to reception class size. Reception classes (originally planned for children who are rising five) are not limited by pupil:teacher ratios. In addition, from September 1996, the 1981 regulations will be replaced. There will then be no limit on the number of children who can be placed in a reception class—not even a health and safety limit. That is the situation in spite of the fact that those classes may now contain some of our youngest four year-olds.

A survey by HMI in Wales last year looked at provision for under-fives in playgroups and in the maintained sector, and found that, The good adult:child ratio in nursery schools, and nursery classes in primary schools, ensures that the children receive ample individual attention, and helps them to feel secure, valued and confident. The adult:child ratio in reception and infant classes in primary schools is generally not as good. In some schools, the large size of the classes and the lack of ancillary support make it difficult for teachers to respond flexibly to the children's developing needs and abilities".

Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in the report on class size, also produced last year, drew attention to the fact that for younger children smaller class size is a significant factor in better pupil performance and a higher quality of education. In that study, the particular features which inspectors identified as contributing to the higher ratings that they gave to smaller classes were good levels of involvement in tasks by pupils; plenty of opportunities for pupils to develop and to practise oral and written skills; effective interaction in which teachers could diagnose and remedy specific weaknesses; a lack of restless and ill attentive behaviour; and close matching of tasks to pupils' needs. Those points about quality highlight the very aspects of smaller classes that can benefit young children with special educational needs and give cause for concern about the fate of young children with those needs placed in large reception classes. With increasing class size, the first categories are the very features that can enable teachers to identify and respond to the learning needs of our most vulnerable children.

There are incentives for LEAs and schools to admit more four year-olds to reception classes. Local education authorities will have money deducted from their standard spending assessment to fund the voucher scheme. They can be more confident of retrieving that money if they admit four year-olds a bit younger and collect a few extra vouchers. For most primary schools there will also be significant incentives to increase the number of four year-olds in their reception class. That may be achieved by admitting four year-olds earlier or by simply admitting more.

In Committee the Minister argued that if parents did not like what was on offer in a reception class, they could take their children elsewhere. However, although in theory there may be a choice for parents, in practice there may not be, particularly in rural areas. There is insufficient provision to provide choice for parents until there are spare places in the system. It is estimated that an excess of 10 per cent. of places is needed to allow for choice, whereas there is quite the opposite: there is currently a shortage of places for four year-olds.

Parents are anxious to secure a place for their child in the school of their choice, and admission to a reception class will secure a place in the school later. The Pre-School Learning Alliance reported just last month that nearly half of all pre-schools report that pressure has been exerted on parents to send their child to the school nursery rather than to pre-school. It is impossible to assess accurately whether that pressure is real, but it is a fear which is being expressed by pre-schools in many other areas 10 months before the scheme comes into operation. It remains a concern that parents will be pressurised into taking a reception class place which will secure their child's place in that school for the remainder of his or her primary school career.

As I have said, there is already a trend towards younger admission in the reception year. The same Pre-School Learning Alliance report records planned changes to admissions policies in a significant number of schools in Norfolk so that they can admit younger children into the reception class. The Special Educational Consortium is concerned that large reception classes do not provide the best setting for four year-olds with special needs, particularly for the youngest. The particular aspects of quality lost in larger classes militate significantly against such children receiving provision which is appropriate to their needs.

There is a need for this amendment. There is a clear intention on the part of the Government that the voucher scheme should promote high quality nursery education—we all support that—and such a provision is crucial in identifying and making an early start to meeting the special educational needs of young children. It seems equally clear that the lack of guidelines on the size of reception classes will militate against the high quality that is sought by everyone. The amendment seeks regulations to limit the size of reception classes. I beg to move.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment. As I said on Second Reading, I live in the London Borough of Wandsworth, which is one of the four local authorities which has been carrying out the pilot scheme in the current academic year. As I also mentioned on Second Reading, my daughter is just finishing her year in the reception class of our local primary school. She was too old for a voucher, but the parents of many of her younger classmates received them.

Our local primary school is very popular. It is over-subscribed. As my noble friend has just said, many parents try to get their four year-olds into the school by securing a place in the reception class. They are told that that does not guarantee a place at the school, but many parents nevertheless try to get their child into the reception class there. As a result, my daughter is in a class of 32 children, which I believe to be too large. While I have nothing but admiration for the school and teachers, I believe that the class is too large to teach four year-olds as effectively as they could be taught. I am not alone in raising this concern. Every parent to whom I have spoken has expressed this concern to me and to anyone else who will listen.

It is wrong that a school should be under pressure to maximise the numbers in its reception class in order to optimise the class size when statutory schooling starts. In today's jargon, the school wants to achieve a high market share to secure its future. We are not talking about market share but four year-olds. It should be the role of Government to set the limits within which the market can operate.

Parents have an overwhelming concern about this issue, and I believe that the Government have a responsibility in this area. It may be said that I have a choice and I can send my daughter to another school. I have an abundance of choice of nursery education, but I have chosen to send her to a school within walking distance of my home, and a school which will go on to be her primary school. The Government should be responsible for ensuring that the school is not subject to market forces; or they should contain market forces to maximise the benefit to my daughter and other children of four, rising five.

I believe that this is the most important amendment to be discussed this evening. When talking to fellow parents it is the issue which is raised more than any other. I support the amendment.

Lord Bowness

My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will urge the House to reject the amendment. While facilities for educating children of this age are very important, I believe that if this amendment were passed it would establish an unfortunate precedent for local education authorities and schools. The words are not for guidance or recommendations but prescription. If this precedent were followed in the rest of compulsory education it could take away from local education authorities the right to determine class size. Even if that is not the intention of noble Lords opposite, I believe that it betrays a lack of trust in local education authorities. Local education authorities have determined many of these matters over the years with regard to the compulsory years of education. We should be content to allow them to exercise their discretion and make their own arrangements in the years of nursery education. I hope that the amendment is rejected.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak after the noble Lord, particularly as for many years he has been one of my colleagues in local government. I should like to put a question to the Minister. Given that there is a national maximum class size agreement in Scotland, will that apply to children going into classes who are in receipt of vouchers under the Government's proposals? Freedom to place children in classes whose maximum size is greater than a nationally agreed level is something I have yet to see supported by parents. Parents do not believe that larger and larger numbers of children in classrooms are a good idea. I repeat what I have said on many occasions. If class size is irrelevant, why does every brochure of every private school refer to the benefits of children being in small classes?

We are dealing with very young children. I believe it is possible to construct a staffing ratio to provide training and opportunities in a reception class which will cater for a child with special needs, or who is immature at the age of four, as readily as for a child aged five who is at an advanced stage of learning for that age group. But I do not believe it is possible to provide a good standard or quality of education if those two children are in the same class with no stipulation as to the adult:child ratio. Given that since the 1980s there would have been protection for children had the then Secretary of State, Mr. Kenneth Baker, not overturned the agreement between teachers and their employers in the final Burnham pay talks, at this stage the least that the Government can do is protect the very youngest.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I rise to support briefly but enthusiastically this amendment. One of the most important matters with which we should be concerned is the size of classes for very small children, or the number of people available in any class to deal with pupils; in other words, the pupil:staff ratio. A class of 25 or 30 children with two adults in the class may work very effectively; a class of over 30 with only one person in the class will almost certainly not give a good standard of education to those in the class, particularly if they are very young. We are talking about laying down not an absolute standard but a minimum standard upon which education authorities and providers of all kinds can build. We are not saying that they must have this or that but that they must not have more than a certain number.

Every parent to whom I have spoken takes this matter very seriously. Parents of children of all ages do not like large classes. It is no good the Government telling parents in various declarations that the educational attainment of children who come from large classes is different from that achieved by those who come from smaller classes. They know that the children are happier, busier and more committed to the class when they have a greater share of the member of staff's attention. If that is true of children in the primary and secondary sectors it is doubly true of children in the younger age groups. I urge the Minister to look upon this amendment with sympathy and perhaps come back to it at a later stage. I believe that across the country there is great support for a movement in the direction indicated by this amendment.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, on quite rightly exercising his choice. But I remind him that he made his choice and sent his daughter to a reception class of 32. An amendment of this kind could limit his choice if it reduced the size of a reception class. I believe that that is a matter that he ought to bear in mind.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I live within the catchment area of the primary school. It would not limit my choice if I sent my daughter to that school, but it would limit the number of children within that class. Therefore, it would be to my absolute benefit if the class size were reduced.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I am grateful for the frankness of the noble Lord in admitting that that would not affect his choice. It would certainly affect the choice of a number of others, which is an important point to remember.

We discussed this point very late at night in Committee. I appreciate that the debate was cut short somewhat. I should like to respond in detail to the various points that have been made. Like the noble Baroness, Lady David, I begin by setting out the various staffing ratios which apply at the moment. For those settings registered under the Children Act an adult/child ratio of 1:8 is required for children aged three to five. We believe that it is necessary to regulate in these settings because of the age of the children and the nature of the provision on offer—often full day care lasting up to 12 hours a day. For nursery classes and nursery schools a ratio of 1:13 is recommended—I stress recommended—where half of the staff are teachers. A ratio of 1:10 is recommended where the head teacher teaches. We believe that it is necessary to provide this guidance again because of the age of the children. Nursery schools and classes cater primarily for three and four year-olds, but it is often the case that two year-olds are admitted.

As noble Lords will know, at the moment there is no recommended staffing ratio, or adult/child ratio, for reception classes. Nevertheless, the Ofsted report Class Size and the Quality of Education published last year found that 54 per cent. of reception classes were of 25 pupils or fewer. Furthermore, 25 per cent. of classes had 20 or fewer. It is also important to acknowledge that in many reception classes there are classroom assistants working alongside qualified teachers. Indeed, it is often the case that when an LEA chooses to move to a single point of admission for all children it specifically addresses the concerns raised by noble Lords by training classroom assistants.

These figures clearly demonstrate that in many reception classes the adult/child ratio is already lower than that recommended for maintained nursery schools and classes; that is, 1:13. We should also recognise that teacher numbers have risen in recent years and numbers of support staff in primary schools have risen significantly. I believe that we also need to recognise the quality of provision that is already on offer in the majority of reception classes. First Class, an Ofsted report on the standards and quality of education in reception classes, published in 1993, found that the overall standards of work were satisfactory or better in nearly 80 per cent. of reception classes seen. And let us remember that we are focusing on outputs, not inputs. We believe that the SCAA desirable learning outcomes are the important factor here.

In assessing an amendment which seeks to impose a staffing ratio in respect of the four year-olds in reception classes, it is also important to realise that few reception classes cater for four year-olds exclusively. The nature of reception classes makes them different from nursery classes. Reception classes are to all intents and purposes, though not in law, the start of the compulsory years of education. Reception classes tend to include children aged four and five, or even four, five and six. It cannot be practical to set a staffing ratio that applies only to the four year-olds in a mixed age group class.

I believe that arbitrary limits on class size would be unhelpful. They would reduce the freedom of schools and local authorities to make the best use of their resources. I believe that we should preserve the freedom of LEAs and governors to do this. I have no doubt that they will keep the number of children in reception, and, indeed, in all, classes to a reasonable, manageable and safe level, as they do at present. I do not accept that they will "pack four year-olds" inappropriately into reception classes purely for financial gain, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, implied.

Let us consider the impact on a school of a very large reception class. Once children have gained admittance to a reception class they have a secure place at that school for the duration. A school would have to cope with a large group of children as they progressed through the school. There is no question of taking in a large reception class and then excluding some children from year one of compulsory education. I cannot believe that any governing body or LEA would think such a situation desirable.

Let us also be clear about where the decision lies to admit children to school. Admissions authorities, LEAs in most cases, will decide on the appropriate admission pattern for their area. That control mechanism, coupled with LMS funding, means that LEAs are in a position to take an overall view of the nature of provision they wish to offer and the appropriateness of early admission to reception classes.

Ultimately, of course, this is a matter of parental choice. If schools, for whatever reason, do not offer the type of nursery provision that parents want they will take their children elsewhere. I expect that parents will take into account the size of the groups in pre-school compared to the size of classes in school when they make their choices. The choice was open to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, as he admitted, where there was a wealth of provision in the area.

Nevertheless, so that governors are totally clear about what is expected, guidance on school accommodation is to be published later this summer. It will include a section on nursery provision.

In conclusion, I am convinced that the quality of work in reception classes will be maintained and, over time, will improve under the voucher scheme. I believe that LEAs and schools will continue to do what is best for the children in their charge. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness, Lady David, will not consider it necessary to press her amendment.

Baroness David

My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister will reply to one question before I decide what to do about the amendment. He said that guidance will be issued. Can he explain exactly what that guidance will say?

Lord Henley

My Lords, at this stage I am unable to do so. As I have made clear, we will be publishing guidance in the summer. It will be guidance for the governors to make sure that they are totally clear about what is expected.

Baroness David

My Lords, I must confess that I am disappointed with the Minister's reply. I do not believe that he realises that the situation is changing all the time and that more children are being put into reception classes. He said that the situation is reasonable, manageable and safe. The regulations have been changed. If there is a teacher without an assistant—and there is no guarantee that there will be an assistant—the situation may not be safe with all those children in a reception class.

Surely the quality of the provision is important. There is no guarantee that the quality will be good. Children with special educational needs may not be recognised in a large class. It is essential to have a teacher with a clear knowledge of the special needs and how they can be met. In a large class it will be extremely difficult to recognise the child who is failing and needs the special attention which otherwise would not be obtained.

The Minister quoted various figures—54 per cent. and 26 per cent. There are still 24 per cent. of classes with large numbers. He also stated that in 80 per cent. of classes the work is satisfactory. That means that in 20 per cent. it is not satisfactory.

I must confess that I am not satisfied with the Minister's answer. The amendment is important for the quality of education and I wish to test the opinion of the House.

6.28 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 8) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 65; Not-Contents, 146.

Division No. 2
Acton, L. Kilbracken, L.
Ashley of Stoke, L. Lockwood, B.
Bamett, L. McGregor of Durris, L.
Berkeley, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Borrie, L. McNally, L.
Broadbridge, L. MarandKellie, E.
Brooks of Tremorfa, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Carlisle, E. Milner of Leeds, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Molloy, L.
Carter, L. Monkswell, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Nicol, B.
David, B. [Teller.] Palmer, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Peston, L.
Dean of Thomton-le-Fylde, B. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L.
Desai, L. Ripon, Bp.
Donoughue, L. Russell, E.
Dormand of Easington, L. Sandwich, E.
Dubs, L. Seear, B.
Elis-Thomas, L.
Falkland, V. Shepherd, L.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Gallacher, L. Strabolgi, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Tonypandy, V.
Haskel, L. Tope, L. [Teller.]
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Tordoff, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Wamock, B.
Howie of Troon, L. Whaddon, L.
Hughes, L. Wharton, B.
Hylton, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Jeger, B. Winchilsea and Nottingham, E
Jenkins of Putney, L. Winston, L.
Addison, V. Inglewood, L,
Ailsa,M. Jeffreys, L.
Aldington, L. Jellicoe, E.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Kimball, L.
Allenby of Megiddo, V. Kingsland, L.
Astor of Hever, L. Kitchener, E.
Balfour, E. Lawson of Blaby, L.
Belhaven and Stenton, L. Lindsay, E.
Biddulph, L. Liverpool, E.
Birdwood, L. Long, V.
Blaker, L. Lucas, L.
Blatch,B. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Blyth, L. Lyell, L.
Bowness, L. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Boyd-Carpenter, L. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Brentford, V. Mackintosh of Halifax, V.
Brookes, L. Marlesford, L.
Bumham, L. Massereene and Ferrard, V.
Butterworth, L. Miller of Hendon,B.
Cadman, L. Monckton of Brenchley, V.
Campbell of Alloway, L. Monson, L.
Carlisle of Bucklow, L. Mountevans, L.
Carnegy of Lour,B. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Carnock, L. Munster, E.
Carr of Hadley, L. Murton of Lindisfame, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Nome, L.
Chelmsford, V. Northesk, E.
Chesham, L. [Teller.] Oppenheim-Bames, B.
Clanwilliam, E. Oxfuird,V.
Clark of Kempston, L. Pearson of Rannoch, L.
Cochrane of Cults, L. Pender.L.
Colwyn, L. Perry of Southwark,B.
Courtown, E. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Cox, B. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Cross, V. Platt of Writtle,B.
Cumberlege, B. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L
Dacre of Glanton, L. Rankeillour, L.
Dean of Harptree, L. Rawlings, B.
Denham, L. Reay, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Renfrew of Kaimsthorn, L.
Dilhorne, V. Renwick, L.
Downshire, M. Rippon of Hexham, L.
Dudley, E. St, Davids, V.
Eccles of Moulton,B. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Eden of Winton, L. Sanderson of Bowden, L.
Elles, B. Sandys, L.
Elliott of Morpeth, L. Seccombe, B.
Elton, L. Selsdon, L.
Erroll, E. Sharpies, B.
Feldman, L. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Ferrers, E. Somerset, D.
Hather, B. Stewartby, L.
Fraser of Carmyllie, L. Stafford, E.
Gainsborough, E. Strange, B.
Gardner of Parkes.B. Swansea, L.
Gisborough, L. Swinfen, L.
Goschen, V. Swinton, E.
GrayofContin, L. Teviot, L.
Grimston of Westbury, L. Teynham, L.
Hamilton of Dalzell, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Harding of Petherton, L. Trefgarne, L.
Hardwicke, E. Trumpington, B. [Teller.]
Harmar-Nicholls, L. Tugendhat, L.
Harris of Peckham, L. UUswater, V.
Hayhoe, L. Vivian, L.
Henley, L. Wade of Chorlton, L.
Hertford, M. Whitelaw, V.
Holdemess, L. Wigram, L.
HolmPatrick, L. Wilcox,B.
Hooper, B. Wise, L.
Howe, E. Wynford, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

6.37 p.m.

Baroness Warnock moved Amendment No. 9: Page 2, line 37, at end insert (", and (c) shall prescribe the qualifications to be required of staff employed to teach children in respect of whom grant is made under section 1 above, which shall be reviewed annually by both Houses of Parliament").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, the purpose of this amendment relates, to a certain extent, to something which follows on from the amendment which has just been voted on. There is no doubt that one of the main motives of government—a very admirable one—in promoting nursery education is to give the best possible chance not only to children with special educational needs, but to children whose needs may well be discovered only when they come into a nursery class, whether it be a playgroup or in a nursery school or, indeed, whether it is a reception class or a class in a primary school. We are asking that one of the requirements which may be laid on these classes is that a certain level of qualification should be held by the teachers in that class. The point of this requirement is largely so that such children may be identified. I have in mind here, as in the next amendment, those children whose needs are not already identified by medical or social services, but whose needs emerge only in the context of a classroom.

Of course, it would be wonderful if one could have in every nursery class at least one fully qualified nursery teacher with, among other qualifications, one which enabled him or her to identify special educational needs, but that would be asking far too much.

This amendment would require that, in order to qualify for a grant, teachers should have quite modest qualifications which, nevertheless, give them some knowledge of child development, even at quite ordinary and humdrum level. I am thinking of what used to be the NNEB qualification—the Nursery Nurses Education Board qualification—which was a qualification for nannies, for example, as well as nursery nurses. As I understand it, that qualification is to be changed for one which will have a greater educational component.

Then there are elements of the national vocational qualifications—NVQs at level 2 and level 3—which are connected with looking after children and which provide some knowledge as regards their development. It is hoped, ultimately, that there will be a national vocational qualification at level 4, which would be the equivalent of a teacher's qualification. That is the kind of qualification which it is thought not unreasonable to demand as a requirement for teachers in any kind of nursery class.

The second element of the suggested requirement is that the position should be reviewed every year because, over time, the level of the qualification might be raised. Similarly, perhaps money might be made available to enable people to acquire such qualifications. At present, there would obviously be a shortage of qualified people if one were to set the qualification at too high a level.

My demands are modest. However, they would, nevertheless, ensure the ongoing improvement of the quality of provision which the Government intend to ensure. I repeat: without some knowledge of the normal development of a child, it would be extremely difficult for someone running a playgroup, a nursery class or indeed a reception class to pick out the level of performance in a child which might give cause for concern.

One of the very good things that we shall be discussing later is the exact way in which Part III of the code of practice—and, indeed, the code of practice as a whole—is to apply to nursery education. That part of the code makes it perfectly clear that the process of identification and the meeting of special needs starts with the classroom teacher. It is there that what is called "Stage 1" is, in the words of the code, "triggered"; in other words, a teacher notices that there is a failure to respond and to absorb the learning that the other children are absorbing.

Sometimes it is simply a matter of the withdrawal of the child altogether, or a case of him or her not joining in. Alternatively it can be a behavioural difficulty which makes it impossible for the child to join in with the other children and which may threaten the progress of the rest of the class. The ability to recognise those characteristics as not being just a passing phase—that is, not a case of the child "just being like that"—but as something which might give rise to concern and which might well be put right if specialised help were invoked, requires some training and, indeed, skills that not everyone possesses.

The situation is particularly difficult in the case of children aged three-plus, four or five. It is well known that children vary a good deal in the degree of their development; indeed, they vary in how far they progress at those ages. It is easy to write off an apparent eccentricity of a child, bad behaviour or failure to be able to concentrate as being a matter of, "Well, that is as far as that child has reached so far". As I said, we all know that children differ.

The ability to make assessments and recognise that it is more than that and say, "We must do something about this child", requires a degree of trained skill. That is why I believe it to be extremely important to have a requirement that some degree of training, however modest, should be available in the classroom before that classroom is the recipient of a grant through the voucher system. That is the whole point of the amendment. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Baroness David

My Lords, I should like to support the amendment. Again, this is a very important amendment. Qualifications really make a difference. Qualified teachers can bring to the classroom intellectual inquiry and rigour which characterise high quality education. The demand that nursery teachers should be qualified to the same level as other teachers would give nursery education an appropriate and equal status with other areas in the education service. That equality of status is beneficial for children and other staff working with the under-fives. It is particularly important for children with special educational needs, where you desperately need qualified staff who will know how to deal with them and how to recognise them in the classroom.

Can the Minister say whether any of the money which is being put into the system at present is being used for training? It seems to me that an amendment of this nature would lead to more training and, therefore, more qualified staff, even if it were not a very high qualification to start with. At least it would encourage the pursuit of qualifications. I hope that the Minister will look kindly on the amendment and give us some encouragement in that respect.

Lord Tope

My Lords, I, too, should like to support the amendment and, indeed, to endorse what the two previous speakers have said with greater eloquence and knowledge than I can muster. One of the reasons that I want to support the amendment is that it deals with the assumption made by so many that, somehow, to teach young children is easier than to teach older children. At this point I should declare a sort of interest in that my wife is an infant school teacher. If I ever thought that it was easier to teach young children than older children, the last 22 years have taught me that the reverse is the case.

It is not the qualification as such which is important in this respect; it is the skills and the training which go with attaining that qualification. The amendment seeks to recognise the importance of those skills and of that training in looking after young children. Indeed, the point has been made, and made very well, about the particular importance of all this to children with special educational needs. That applies especially to the age group about which we are talking. It also applies more widely. That is what the amendment seeks to achieve. For those reasons, and because the amendment would give recognition to the importance of teaching young children, while not over-simplifying that teaching, I wish to support the amendment.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, a qualified teacher in every nursery setting is not a luxury; in hard economic terms, it is a good investment. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, pointed out the need in that respect, and I should just like to give the House one illustration of it. As noble Lords know, we get an enormous postbag on such matters and we read all the letters. One letter I received came from the headteacher of a tiny school in South Wales. He pointed out that, from time to time, there arrives in his school a child who has absolutely no ability to communicate. It is not a case of that child being mentally unbalanced in any way or indeed a matter of his not having developed; such a child has probably never been in a situation where communication was called for. He is dazed and dazzled; he does not understand and is confused when confronted with it in school. It takes someone who is skilled and trained to recognise that fact and know what to do about such a child. Although this amendment is a generous one and would cost a little more to implement, I believe that the fruits would be enormous.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, I should like to say a few words about the effect which this proposal might have on the status of teachers in the eyes of parents. As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, said, it is quite true that it was widely thought—and is still thought in many cases—that it is very much easier to teach infants than to teach sixth-form pupils. That is simply not the case. At both stages there are difficulties, as those of us will know who have been engaged in education.

It seems to me that if we are to convince parents about the importance of nursery education—and they are convinced to a very large extent—it is important to add to that that those who are teaching their children in nursery schools are what we would call fully qualified; in other words, they are fully trained and specially trained. That would add great status to the teachers themselves and to the schools in which they are employed.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I assume that the intention of the amendment is to increase the minimum qualification requirements that the providers, particularly in the private and voluntary sector, will have to meet. As other speakers have said, I accept that training and qualifications are extremely important. My department is committed to that and that has been one of the themes of the merger, going wider than just the educational world.

However, I believe that it is unnecessary to put such a requirement in regulations as is suggested. Under the Bill it will be possible for my right honourable friend to review at any stage the requirements of grant relating to staff qualifications. Requirements of grant are a very powerful tool indeed to use to lever up standards over time.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, asks whether extra money is being made available for training. But as regards the vouchers, it is for each provider to decide how to use its own voucher income and whether to direct some into training. Anecdotal evidence from the pre-school movement in Norfolk—and this is one of the reasons behind Phase 1's evaluation—is that training is an extremely high priority.

As our next-steps document makes very clear, we see the touchstone of quality in all settings to be whether the desirable learning outcomes are likely to be achieved. There is a range of qualifications, not only qualified teacher status, that offer teaching staff the necessary expertise to help children work towards these outcomes. As well as the BEds and PGCEs that lead to QTS, there is a whole host of others which are important in the nursery setting: the NNEB (CACHE) Diploma in Nursery Nursing; the PLA Diploma in Playgroup Practice; NVQs, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, (Levels 2 & 3) in Childcare and Education; a new range of BAs in education and childcare; and a range of independent qualifications like Montessori.

We also need to recognise that there are many staff working in nurseries and playgroups who do not have the qualifications that I have mentioned but who have the experience, built up over a number of years, and indeed the skills, to offer children a wealth of personal, social and learning skills. It is important to remember that there is that wealth of experience out there of which we should make use even if no formal qualifications are attached. But we will not allow voucher-redeeming institutions to rest on their laurels. Ofsted will monitor the quality of education that is on offer in exchange for vouchers and recommend any changes we may need to make to the qualification requirements. As set out in the Ofsted framework for inspection in the next-steps document, Ofsted reports will look at, the quality of teaching and its contribution to children's attainment and progress", as part of its study of the quality of educational provision generally.

As I have done on a number of occasions, I remind the House that in order to obtain registration under the Children Act, those providers must meet the qualification requirements recommended under that Act. At the moment these requirements are interpreted locally by local authority social services departments. This helps to ensure that only those institutions with suitably qualified staff gain registration under the Act and in turn are able to redeem vouchers. This is an important and valuable quality control.

I am confident that, over time, we shall see an improvement in the qualifications of staff working in voucher-redeeming institutions. I do not therefore believe that it is necessary to place this proposed requirement in regulations. We already have a mechanism to review as necessary the qualification requirements of voucher-redeeming institutions. In my view, that is the appropriate mechanism. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Dormand of Easington

My Lords, before the Minister sits down, perhaps he will clarify one matter for me. I believe that he said that there may be some teachers or helpers in nursery schools who have no formal educational qualification. He said words to the effect that they may have the aptitude and experience built up over the years which enable them to make very valuable contributions. I agree that that is the case. It is said that there are some natural teachers, and I think that that is true, but that is always based on the fact that they have had training as teachers. Therefore, is the Minister saying that there are people who would help or teach in a nursery school who would have no formal qualifications?

Lord Henley

My Lords, I was referring to staff who have no formal qualifications working in particular in playgroups—and there are many of them—and the same is true of nurseries. We do not wish to lose the wealth of that experience which has been built up over the years.

Over time we may wish to consider other measures. But as I made clear, through the requirements of grant we have power to lever up standards and to look to other qualifications. But I believe that to introduce a standard right at the beginning and to include it in regulations would bring with it a danger of losing a great deal of wealth of experience which we do not wish to lose.

Baroness Warnock

My Lords, I am disappointed with that answer. Before deciding what to do, I should like to have some reassurance that guidelines will be issued for local authorities or whoever it is who will decide which level of qualifications will make for a satisfactory group.

Once again, I feel a curious sense that the concept of nursery education is becoming diluted in two different directions—this has been discussed over and over again—in order to accommodate the playgroups and the reception classes where all the teachers, although not their ancillaries, presumably have teacher training qualifications. Between that, the idea of what nursery education is and what it requires is getting lost.

The Minister said that he hopes that standards will rise; that qualifications will increase and so on. What is the basis for that hope if there is no requirement that there should be qualifications for the staff? It has now become explicit that we are talking about those groups of playgroups which come together and make themselves into new providers. If there is no requirement that those groups should be staffed by people who have some qualifications, we are in danger of providing far less than the best that was promised. Therefore, I should like a suggestion from the Minister that guidelines may be issued along those lines.

Lord Henley

My Lords, the noble Baroness invites me to intervene and, although it is Report stage, with the leave of the House, I shall do so. Guidelines already exist under the Children Act guidance in relation to the qualification of staff in settings registered under the Act. I was trying to make the point, which I obviously did not make as clearly as I should have done, that my right honourable friend has powers to review at any stage the requirements of grant relating to staff qualifications. As I made clear, or as I thought I made clear, in my opening remarks, we believe that the requirements of grant are a very powerful tool. I cannot remember exactly what it was that Dr. Johnson said about hanging, but I think that that will concentrate the mind wonderfully.

Baroness Warnock

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for those comments. Requirements are of course a powerful weapon provided they are sufficiently tough to concentrate the mind in the way that he suggests. Nevertheless, there is probably no point in pressing this amendment further. Everyone who has taken part in the discussion realises the anxieties that are felt as regards the danger in letting standards of nursery education drop. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7 p.m.

Baroness Warnock moved Amendment No. 10: Page 2, line 37, at end insert (", and (c) may specify the training and provision to be made for language teaching and for teaching English as a second language, having regard to the needs of the locality").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in this amendment I am really pressing the same point. I believe this has already been said by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris. I think that we ought to take particular notice of those children who, with luck, will not become children with special educational needs. However, without luck and without special vigilance, they will become children with special educational needs. I refer to that large number of children who are linguistically deprived. Of course that linguistically deprived class of children includes those who do not speak English at home because they speak some other language. Those children are readily recognisable but need specialist help to acquire fluency and the ability to conduct conversation in English, which is not the language they are accustomed to at home.

This is an area where the qualifications of staff—to return to that matter—are of supreme importance. There is a probably larger category of children, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, referred in respect of a particular area of Wales, who can be found all over England and Wales; namely, those children who receive no parental encouragement to speak at all, and who sometimes come to school, even at the age of five, with a vocabulary of about five words, and most of those constitute various forms of invective because the only words they ever hear, apart from those uttered on the television, are words uttered against them by various grown-up persons.

Those children do not realise that talking to grown-up people is a possibility. They do not have the concept of dialogue or the concept that language is used for all kinds of different purposes, for example, to command, in which case one obeys; to discuss, in which case one is allowed to express one's own feelings, and so on. That is an area of deprivation which I do not believe we take enough notice of. I believe that the nursery class is where this deprivation needs to be addressed before the gulf between those who have a large vocabulary and can talk and express themselves, and those who cannot, becomes enormously wide and we have two classes of people; namely, those who will succeed in school, and those who will fail from then on. The purpose of this amendment is to call attention on the face of the Bill to the need to have teachers who are qualified to identify those children and get them out of their predicament. I beg to move.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, the amendment, which I am happy to support, provides for the language needs of pupils. As the noble Baroness has said, in the case of Wales this is a rather special problem. It would lead to provision for children whose home language is other than English in many cases, but it would also contribute towards the nourishment of the Welsh language, and that is a particularly sensitive matter. There is danger here. Cymdeithas yr laith Gymraeg, the Welsh Language Society, is a vigilant and alert body that takes offence quite easily. There are other organisations and parents who are equally alive to fair, equal and proper provision being made for the Welsh language throughout education, and especially in nursery education. It was not so long ago that we pushed through the Welsh Language Act which produced the Welsh Language Board under the distinguished chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas. I should like to know—if the noble Lord can jot this down for an answer when he comes to speak—whether the Government have had any consultations with the Welsh Language Board on this particular matter.

The introduction to SCAA's language and literacy "desirable outcome" states, children must be helped to acquire competence in English as soon as possible, making use where appropriate, of their developing understanding and skills in other languages". That is precisely the kind of thing that is liable to irritate people whose first language is Welsh and who want, on the whole, for their children to remain bilingual for as long as possible, and somewhat resent the large presence of English right next door, and the assumption that everyone must get to know it as soon as possible in their lives. There is scant reference to languages other than English in SCAA's "desirable outcome" document. That lack of recognition for the many children who will start nursery education with home languages other than English is of great concern. It simply does not reflect our multicultural society. All children have a right to live in and learn from a diverse world, to respect harmony and equality and to be well informed about other groups and cultures. That is perhaps particularly important in Wales. This amendment would acknowledge the specific and different language needs of children in Wales. That is not the same problem as one has with Hindi or Tamil or Urdu.

In contrast to the SCAA document the introduction of ACAC's draft "desirable outcome" document places far more emphasis on the home language, other than English, in that locality. It states: Experience of the Curriculum Cymreig, including the Welsh language, should be an integral part of the ethos of the nursery provision and of the range of children's experiences. Welsh should not be a once-a-week language lesson. It can with vision, enthusiasm and support from committed educators be a rewarding and lively learning experience for all children of nursery age in Wales". That is more like what we should like to get from this amendment. The ACAC document goes on to recognise: Competent use of language is the most fundamental of human skills. It is a decisive factor in mastery of other areas of learning. If a child has a wide range of language experiences, that mastery will become well established and the child's intellectual, emotional and social learning will be enhanced". Amen to that, say I!

Special provision we believe surely must be made for that. There is none in the Bill as it stands. There is none in the various documents that have floated around the Bill. If it is not mandatory, some providers will scant it while others may not. The Minister may well say, "Well, fair enough, parents will choose providers who provide it". And so they will, but non-providers, especially in a place like Wales, will attract odium, and the existence of both sorts will fracture communities, and bring back that bitterness and resentment and divisiveness over the question of the language in Wales which brought about even the extreme of arson which those of us who have lived there have striven so hard over the years to eliminate. This amendment would prevent that in Wales. It would encourage good practice, and it would cost the Government only peanuts. I beg the Minister to consider it most carefully.

Lord Tope

My Lords, I rise to support this amendment but will do so only briefly because the case has been well made. The noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, spoke, not surprisingly, with great eloquence on behalf of Wales. Whilst I endorse all that he says perhaps I may speak with much less eloquence and more briefly on behalf of London and indeed on behalf of all metropolitan inner city areas where the issue we are discussing is important. In those areas many young children come from homes where English is not spoken at all. Their experience in nursery education will be their first in a learning situation. The passing of the amendment would go some way towards encouraging adequate resourcing for a sufficient number of teachers under Section 11 arrangements. That would help to ensure that all bilingual children or children with English as a second language who participate in the voucher scheme receive the provision that they need. I believe that it is an important issue. I am happy to support the amendment.

Baroness David

My Lords, the case has been made for Wales and for children where English is a second language. However, it is important that children who speak the normal English language learn to use the language more effectively, to read it and to make use of books. That is important for all children, not only those who have been mentioned by other speakers.

Lord Henley

My Lords, with due deference to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, perhaps I may start with the subject of Wales. I fully agree with everything he said about the importance of preserving and encouraging the Welsh language. I believe that we all have a duty there. Dr. Johnson had something to say on the sadness that was universal about the loss of any language. The noble Lord will know the quotation better than I do. I can assure the noble Lord that the Welsh equivalent of the SCAA, the ACAC—the noble Lord will accept that I cannot pronounce it in Welsh—has made distinctive proposals on the outcomes in Wales—to which I shall come—taking into account the interests of the Welsh language.

On an earlier amendment, dealing with points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, I made it clear that there was a possibility of teaching in Welsh, the Welsh medium being available. I can also give an assurance that ACAC, the Welsh equivalent, consulted widely on its proposals. Therefore I presume that I can give a guarantee. If it consulted widely, it would be somewhat unlikely that it had not consulted the Welsh Language Board. I believe that I am safe in giving that assurance.

Having said that, I believe that the amendment, worthy though it is, is unnecessary. The SCAA desirable outcomes break down into six areas of language. One of those outcomes covers language and literacy. As the noble Baroness, Lady David, made quite clear, it is important that children should be helped to acquire competence in English whether or not they have English as a first language. For those who do not have English as a first language, that is even more important if they are not to be alienated from the rest of society by misapplied multiculturalism. As soon as possible they should be encouraged to make use, where appropriate, of their developing understanding and skills in other languages. Inspectors will consider the extent to which providers are working towards each of those outcomes. Where provision is not satisfactory in a particular area of learning, inspectors can draw attention to that in the inspection report.

The SCAA outcomes therefore implicitly cover the provision that the noble Baroness seeks in her amendment. Furthermore, the provisions may be provided for as requirements of grant as the Bill stands. I go back to the ability that my right honourable friend has to influence matters. Indeed, such requirements are already in place under the Phase 1 arrangements. Therefore I see no reason for prescribing these amendments on the face of the Bill. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Warnock

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the phrase "misapplied multiculturalism". In reward for that phrase, I willingly withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 11: Page 2, line 37, at end insert (", and ("(c) shall be such as to ensure that the parent of any child in respect of whose education a grant is made available is advised that in the absence of alternative provision being made, the exercise by that person of a choice not to apply for financial support from monies made available by way of grant under this Act represents a choice not to seek nursery education for his child. (2A) The requirements of subsection (2)(c) shall not be considered satisfied unless it is shown that a parent who has failed to seek the benefits of financial support from monies made available by way of grant under this Act has been reminded of his opportunity to do so.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is just before the dinner break. I am reminded of the American comedian who said about a break in a film show, "Those of you who are really keen, now is the time to go out and get the popcorn". Now is the time to go out and get the popcorn because I am bound to take a few minutes to introduce this important amendment. I shall have a lot to say but I shall say it once and once only; and I shall say it quickly.

The purpose, aim and object of the amendment are to place a duty on the voucher agency to follow up why a parent eligible under the scheme does not take up his or her voucher. We remember from last Friday when the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury introduced the splendid debate that we are all prone to sin, that we all neglect our duties and that we leave undone those things which we ought to have done and there is no health in us.

We often take the easiest path available, and that sometimes imperils other people. The amendment is intended to prevent the voucher agency from sin, from being complacent about any parent who either fails to apply for his or her voucher or subsequently does not use a voucher which has been supplied to him following application.

To some extent, I believe that the amendment has a moral basis to it. It is not enough to say, "An opportunity has been provided. If they do not take it, had luck to them". We are our brother's keeper. So the amendment requires the voucher agency to ascertain whether or not such non-application or non-use of a voucher is a conscious decision by a parent not to participate in the voucher scheme—that is everyone's right—or whether it is the result, for example, of postal problems, or the inability of the parents either to understand or to carry out the voucher system, in which case the negligence in following it up is in my view wrong.

There may be postal problems. I should imagine that those would be few. As we have said many times, we have had massive postal deliveries about the voucher scheme. I have had quite a number which emanate from one source because they are very like one another. They may be distinguished by the fact that they were all addressed to me at home, to "Lord Morris of Castle Morris, The Old Hall, Derbyshire". It is rather like saying "Chatsworth, Derbyshire", as though everyone knew my tiny semi-detached farmhouse built in 1398. However, many contained the postcode S31 1 QR and a great many got through. I do not know how many did not. There are the possibilities of postal difficulties in a scheme of this kind.

The amendment would go some way towards clearing up the reasons as to why 15 or 20 per cent. of eligible parents in the pilot areas have not taken up vouchers. It would be a means of targeting non-takers and would avoid the need to re-do the expensive publicity campaigns which we have seen in the pilot areas. I believe that I am right in saying that over £1.1 million has already been spent on publicity.

Why have 15 per cent. either refused or neglected a gift worth £1,100? What research in each pilot area has been done on this, with what results? Under current arrangements, there is no way of knowing whether parents have chosen not to take up a voucher. As I have argued previously, there is little way of knowing what parents feel about the scheme if they use their voucher. But that is a separate issue.

What we propose is that the voucher agency would be required to carry out a further procedure beyond a normal application and distribution of vouchers and remind parents of the consequences of non-application.

That duty cannot be satisfied simply by enclosing an additional statement with the application form. There has to be a second stage. The agency must remind. In other words, it must take a further step such as a follow-up telephone call, if that is possible, to make the parent aware of the consequences for the child of not taking part in the scheme. Such a step would protect four year-olds from being needlessly disadvantaged as a consequence of their parents' attitudes or inabilities, or of the simple breakdowns in a highly bureaucratic voucher system. Consider the possibilities of error in the eight, nine or 10-step mazurka that these wretched vouchers have already to go through.

It has been reported that the voucher agency, Capita Managed Services, appears not to employ anyone who is able to offer bilingual translation and support in more than one language to cope with telephone inquiries. I should be grateful if the Minister could have a thought about that, or even seek advice, and let me know whether that is the case.

The amendment may go some way towards ensuring that the voucher agency considers issues such as the importance of communicating with all parents and puts some of its private profits from the public purse into redressing oversights of that kind. If ever the scheme is extended to Wales, I can promise the Minister great grief over a long period, if translation services are not available everywhere and to everyone.

The private voucher agency is making use of public money. In accountability terms, this requirement would appear to be a cost-effective way towards parental choice, which is the Government's aim. The Government have stated that any funds not used would be returned to the Treasury. This requirement may ensure that that is less likely to happen. Such a requirement on the voucher agency is sensible, in our view, and will no doubt appear to be even more so if the scheme is ever to be introduced nationwide. So I ask the Minister: has the issue been explored, quantified and costed with Capita Managed Services? If it has, what response has been elicited from it? If not, why not? And when will it be? I beg to move.

Lord Tope

My Lords, it has been said many times that the scheme is about choice. Of course, parents have the right to choose not to take up their voucher. But we have a responsibility, if we are to introduce the scheme, to determine whether the parents have made a choice, a deliberate decision not to take up the voucher scheme, which is their right; or whether they have simply not understood what it is about, have thrown it away or not bothered.

As the noble Lord, Lord Morris, said, the amendment's purpose is to put some responsibility on the people administering the scheme to check that choice has been exercised and that the parents who have not taken up their vouchers deliberately chose not to do so and had not just not noticed or not bothered. I support the amendment.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I was completely mystified by the amendment when I first saw it. I was mystified after I had discussed it with officials and I am even more mystified having heard the explanation given by the noble Lord, Lord Morris. He says that it is about a duty on the voucher agency to follow up why any parent does not apply for a voucher. The amendment does not apply to the voucher agency but to the providers. It seeks to provide a requirement of grant on them. If the noble Lord is trying to accomplish something else, he ought to explain it to the House. As he has drafted it, the amendment does not do what he claimed it did in his opening remarks. I hope, therefore, that he will find some means at the end of my reply of taking the amendment away and, if he thinks it worth it, coming forward with a further suggestion on Third Reading. I should be happy to consider it.

Perhaps I may make one or two points to show how the Phase 1 procedures are working. Despite what the noble Lord said about postal difficulties, they do not seem to have prevented a large number of people from writing to him, to myself and to other noble Lords. I remind the noble Lord that we have a 97 per cent. take-up in Norfolk and a 95 per cent. take-up in Wandsworth. Parents are also happy to use the phone helpline if they do not receive an application form. Further, for parents who are unwilling or unable to apply for vouchers in Phase 1, special arrangements are in place to cope with the exceptional cases where parents cannot make an application. There has been little need for it in Phase 1, so we shall review the procedure in Phase 2 to find out what is required.

I can also give an assurance to the noble Lord that Capita has experience of coping with different languages. It has staff at the moment who can translate into 20 languages. I am sure that the various points made about the Welsh language will be taken up by my right honourable and honourable friends in the Welsh Office.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

My Lords, I apologise to the Minister and the House. I have been deeply engaged in trying to listen to him, finding splendid nuggets of consolation in what he said and at the same time ascertaining the exact basis of his complaint that we could not do what we wish through the voucher agency. I had assumed that we could and I shall need to consider the point at greater length. An additional phrase or two may be needed. I hope the Minister will agree that the point made was a fair one. I shall take the amendment away, reconsider it and almost certainly bring it back at Third Reading.

The first part of the amendment puts the onus on the providers, but the second part erects an expectation of the system applying to the agency. Unless the Minister has an immediate answer—which I suspect he has not—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment and shall return to it at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 12: Page 2, line 40, at end insert— ("(4) Requirements imposed under this section shall include a requirement to ensure that corporal punishment is not used in nursery education provided by an authority or other person to whom a grant is made under section 1.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I thought we would now have the dinner break, but perhaps I may move the amendment and then there will be no need to hurry back after the break.

Since moving the amendment at Committee stage, I have written to the Minister. I know that he received the letter because I asked him. In it I sought to clarify what the Government's policy is in relation to institutional corporal punishment of three and four year-old children. Unfortunately, I received no reply.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I appreciate that this is Report stage but I have in front of me a photocopy of my letter to the noble Baroness dated 6th July. If it were possible for someone with wings to take it to the noble Baroness I would make it available to her. It was always my intention to make it available to her before this stage and I can only apologise on behalf of myself, the department and possibly the Royal Mail.

Baroness David

My Lords, I do not know how it failed to be delivered but as I have now received it, perhaps I may be allowed time to read it. It is an awkward situation.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

My Lords, would the Minister be prepared to read his reply to your Lordships' House? There is not time for all of us to read it.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I will give that assurance if, by the time I reply, my copy, which I have now given to the noble Baroness, has been passed back to me.

Baroness David

My Lords, I shall read it. The letter states: Thank you for your further correspondence about the nursery education voucher scheme and corporal punishment. I can only repeat what I said in the House as well as in our previous written exchanges on the subject of corporal punishment. It is government policy that children whose education is supported by state funding who are 'looked after' by social service departments must be excluded from physical or corporal punishment. Because the nursery education voucher scheme is state funded education, children whose places are supported by voucher income will also be excluded from corporal punishment in whatever pre-school they attend. The prohibition of corporal punishment does not extend to children who are attending independent schools or Children Act registered institutions where it is the parent, not the Government, who is meeting the cost of the school fees or charges. This is because the contract and the arrangements for responsibility are between the parent and the provider, not the Government nor the local authority. You quite rightly point out that some playgroups and day nurseries are subsidised by local authorities usually by the local social services department. As I have said before, Children Act guidance does not support the use of corporal punishment but leaves decisions about [its] use … where the child is not in receipt of state funded education, or is not being 'looked after' with the parent and the provider. I am sending a copy of this letter to John Bowis". That does not take us any further. The Minister is staying exactly where he was. I am sorry about that because I thought he might possibly be moved when there have been examples of the Department of Health saying that physical punishment has no place in any childcare situation. Here we have institutions which will have funds because of the voucher scheme. The voucher children will not be able to be hit but the others could be. That seems an insupportable situation.

I am really very sorry that the Minister cannot see that we are supporting a scheme where some children will be there and yet the Government are not saying that institutions receiving these funds will not hit the children. This is quite insupportable. My noble friend Lord Henderson is unfortunately ill and cannot be here. I know that he would support me strongly. I must ask the Minister, as I did in the letter I wrote, whether in the regulations the Government will give guidance that corporal punishment should not be used in any institution. That is the very least I can ask. I hope the Minister will be willing to give that assurance. I beg to move.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Tope

My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, and particularly in her quest for, at the very least, some guidance. I would add the requirement that such guidance should be clear and specific. As I mentioned earlier, I am leader of an authority that has had some experience of guidance under the Children Act on the subject of slapping and smacking children. We were held to have taken too much notice of the guidance. Childminders, as was the case in question, may do so if they so wish, although the practice is discouraged.

This is an important issue. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady David, on the vigour with which she is pursuing it. Having heard the Minister's letter for the first time as she read it, I am inclined to agree with her. It is welcome in so far as it goes. However, it does not go far enough. I therefore hope that the Minister will take on board the points made so ably by the noble Baroness and will be able to give us further assurances.

Lord Monkswell

My Lords, I support the amendment tabled my noble friend Lady David. Having heard her read the letter, it now seems that the Minister is saying that corporal punishment cannot be used in a nursery school which receives income from the nursery voucher scheme, because it is effectively publicly funded education and there is some prohibition on corporal punishment in publicly funded education institutions. I am concerned as to the exact legal framework. I suspect that it may be framed in terms of local education authority provision, which is not necessarily the same as provision that is "publicly funded".

We have not had a chance to digest the content of the letter, but the Government seem to suggest that corporal punishment may not be used in publicly funded nursery provision of the type we refer to. If there is already a legal requirement, surely there is no problem in writing it on to the face of the Bill. To dare to put it this way, the Government and the Minister have some explaining to do in relation to this particular matter. Without a satisfactory explanation that there is already some fairly strong legal authority saying that corporal punishment shall not be employed in nursery schools, then we shall need to write it on to the face of the Bill.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, I wish to ask the Minister a question. I am sure that he will not be able to answer it now, but perhaps he will return to it at a later stage. I was very struck by the explanation he gave in his letter. It occurred to me that it suggested unfair treatment as between one child and another. I seriously wonder whether he feels that there is any risk of this approach being in breach of the European Convention. It would be very interesting to find out. Quite honestly, it is quite a disturbing consideration.

Lord Henley

My Lords, I do not believe that we should be at risk in that respect. We have always maintained that we will not have corporal punishment within publicly funded education. It is still open, and a number of schools make use of corporal punishment in the non-maintained sector. That is a matter for them.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked for further guidance. There is such guidance in the Children Act, which does not support the use of corporal punishment but leaves the decision to individual institutions. I certainly would not want to go further than that. All I can do is again to apologise to the noble Baroness that she did not receive her letter in due time. As she will see, I signed it some days ago, but these things have a way of falling through the gaps.

I reiterate that it is our policy to continue to prohibit corporal punishment in all state-funded education. Nursery education in exchange for nursery vouchers will be no exception to the rule. I do not believe it would be right or proper to take this matter any further in a Bill such as this, designed purely to extend the provision of nursery education. I appreciate the strength of feeling the noble Baroness has in relation to these matters. However, this is neither the time nor the place to go further than we are going at the moment.

Baroness David

My Lords, I am not convinced by the Minister's letter or indeed his response. I think the least he could have done was to say that there would be guidance. I would not demand it now on the face of the Bill, but I should very much like to have had guidance when the regulations were made. It is far too late to do anything about this tonight. I accept the Minister's apology about the letter. Letters between him and me seem to be fated. Some of my letters to him have disappeared in the past. Of course I accept his apology. Goodness knows whose fault it was, but not his. I shall think about this matter and decide whether to return to it. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Miller of Hendon

My Lords, I beg to move that consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion I suggest that the Report stage begin again not before twenty-five minutes to nine.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.