HL Deb 17 June 1996 vol 573 cc84-154

8.9 p.m.

House again in Committee on Clause 1.

Lord Elis-Thomas moved Amendment No. 8: Page 1, line 7, at end insert— ("(1A) 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 experimental voucher schemes, until the conditions set out in subsection (1B) have been met. (1B) The conditions referred to in subsection (1A) are that—

  1. (a) experimental voucher schemes shall have been in operation for a period of I year throughout the area of at least two local education authorities in Wales; and
  2. (b) the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament a report on the operation of those experimental voucher schemes, and of voucher schemes in England, which in particular shall include an assessment of the likely effects of voucher schemes upon the provision of nursery education in Wales.
(1C) An experimental voucher scheme under this section shall not remain in operation for more than one year.").

The noble Lord said: Perhaps I may first of all apologise for not being present for the Second Reading debate. I was acting in pursuance of my duties on behalf of the Government, promoting their Welsh language policy. That has some relevance to what I want to speak about today.

I have a major problem with the Bill because it is a piece of primary legislation which applies to England and Wales together. The normal practice in this place is to have separate Bills where there is a major difference of policy or timing, such as in local government or in language policy, or, where it is a major Bill which has relevance to both countries, it is taken with specific Welsh clauses. I would instance the Environment Bill which had specific clauses relevant to policies or practices that were to be pursued in Wales. In all education legislation, certainly post-war, there are relevant clauses which have applied specifically to the Secretary of State for Wales since 1964, and before that to the Secretary of State for Education through the Education Department and the Ministers who were responsible for Wales.

One of the areas of devolution in this kingdom which has probably gone on longer than most—certainly in the context of Wales—is education. Yet this Bill does not do that. The Bill provides for no devolution of policy and no devolution of administration. The whole structure of the Bill is centralist. It behaves as if England and Wales were a unitary state and as if the Welsh Office did not exist. Your Lordships may have views about whether the Welsh Office should or not exist. I am strongly in favour of it because it pays my salary for two days a week. However, since it is not paying my salary this evening or perhaps it is, I feel free to criticise—in fact I feel it is my duty to criticise—the Welsh Office in this case. I try not to criticise a department for which I work on a part-time basis, generally in areas of policy which coincide with my work for the Welsh Language Board, but in this case I believe that I have the support not only of the Welsh Language Board, which put forward a memorandum to the Welsh Select Committee in another place which looked at this issue, but also of the overwhelming majority of educationists and of parents throughout Wales in moving this amendment, which would have the effect of placing on the face of the Bill a statutory equivalent of a Welsh pilot scheme.

I say that because, like so many Members of the Committee, I have received genuine correspondence—letters written by real people who expressed real concerns. I have also personally received a number of petitions in all my capacities on this issue. Those petitions will be forwarded to the Welsh Office in the appropriate interval between this debate, depending on what happens to the amendment, and Report stage. I promise that we shall turn to the issue of the relationship between education and nursery education in Wales at all further stages of the Bill until we receive a clearer understanding of the position from the Government.

What we are doing in the Bill so far as concerns Wales is legislating for provision which already exists. I find that a complete legislative anomaly. I can understand the Government saying, "Yes, there are certain education authorities which do not deliver a service and therefore we need to provide diversity of provision there". But the case in Wales is over the top. On one calculation, with double counting, the old county of Clwyd has 101 per cent. of four year-olds in school. We do not all reach Clwyd proportions but even Gwynedd, which for historical reasons is at a lower level, is at 77 per cent. of its four year-olds in school at January 1995. The overall Wales average is 92 per cent. The figure for three year-olds in nursery, primary or special schools in Clwyd at the same date was 65 per cent. while the figure for Wales as a whole is more than 50 per cent.

So when the Prime Minister made his commitment about the introduction of nursery education, he was making a commitment which I am sure was relevant to large parts of England but was not as relevant to Wales as provision already existed. I take rather a dim view of a piece of legislation which works to undermine the consensus of operation which we have established within the Principality in the way that the Welsh Office, the inspectorate, the local education authorities, the Welsh Joint Education Committee and the voluntary sectors, both Mudiad Ysgalion Meithrin and Wales PP have worked together over the years to develop this level of provision and the commitment that we have. I find myself in agreement not for the first time with John Ellis, the now retired Director of Education for Dyfed, who gave evidence to the Select Committee in another place on behalf of Cvmdeithas Cyfarwyddwyr Cymru, the Association of Directors of Education Wales, in which the scheme was described as an imposition on Wales of a solution designed to meet the significantly lower levels of provision in England. Whereas I would be in favour of schemes imposed on Wales to improve the level of provision to that of England in a number of areas, that is probably not the case in education. Therefore, I think we need to look at ways in which we can, as it were, rescue the Welsh Office from its willingness to go along on this matter with the Department for Education and Employment.

A letter was sent to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, which indicates quite clearly that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, has consulted his departmental colleagues in the Welsh Office on this issue, but it is not a convincing letter. It does not go much further than information which we already had. Therefore, I still believe that the evidence given to the Select Committee in another place and the response subsequently from the Welsh Office to that evidence is still the benchmark for the implementation of this policy and it will be as far as I am concerned—I am sure that other colleagues will speak on this issue in a similar way—until we are convinced that this is a cost-effective scheme in terms of Welsh Office funding, local government funding and LEA funding and indeed in terms of the voluntary sector.

What is the administrative cost of devising a scheme which provides for, at best, two-thirds of the cost of a place, which top-slices that funding away from the all Wales local authority budget and then puts it back, allegedly through the operation of the voucher scheme? At the same time the individual parent will have to apply for the voucher scheme to the private contractor. I have no objections to private contractors provided they are delivering a service which is more efficient than that delivered in the public sector. In this case I am not convinced that that is happening. This whole bureaucratic structure will exist apparently to create choice and diversity. Where is this choice and diversity in deepest Powys where a parent seeks to ensure nursery provision for a child? There may be the small development of voluntary groups in the area, but if that child is already in the reception class or in the nursery class of the local primary school, surely there is no way in which that parent in deepest Powys in that rural context can exercise a choice. That position is replicated throughout the Principality in different ways.

We do not know, because we are not yet privy to the PES round for next year, how much new money, if any, will be added to this scheme. But I think it would be helpful if we could have an indication of any parameters of possible new money. It seems to me that the present design of the scheme creates a situation whereby the local authority service is to be denuded of resources in order to create an appearance of choice which in real terms it is not possible to deliver and to create the appearance of choice where already there is such a high level of public provision. Therefore, I say to the Government and to the Welsh Office Ministers who went along with the scheme in Wales and did not take a Welsh Office option for a different policy structure, which I shall come to in two minutes, that this Bill is seen in Wales as being deeply ideological. That is why there has been such a sharp response across the board from a whole range of bodies—I shall not repeat the list—which gave evidence to the Select Committee.

The Government will argue that the office of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector has, in its inspection, identified areas where standards need to be raised. Of course, there are areas throughout both the voluntary and maintained provision where standards can be raised, but the way to do that is to target additional resources where they are most required. The Prime Minister should have gone to the Conservative Party Conference at Porthcawl—from my observation in the Gallery of the other place today during Welsh Questions, Ministers were quite tanned and fit after being in Porthcawl—and announced the introduction of a nursery voucher scheme for three year-olds in Wales, because that would have been the logic of his position. I am not arguing for that. But if the Government are interested in extending choice and providing diversity of provision in Wales, they should have set up a voucher scheme in that area where there is not yet full provision, and not interfered with the level of provision that all the players in the complex scene of under-five education have established in that structure.

So what has the department succeeded in doing, and the Welsh Office on its coat tails? They have succeeded in antagonising a whole section of Welsh educationalists and parents. In 20 years of representative politics I have never seen such a big, genuine postbag as I have seen on this issue. I am sure that that applies to my other colleagues here as well.

There is a simple way out. The Minister has still the opportunity to speak with his new colleague in the department. Perhaps I may say en passant that I regret the way in which his previous colleague in the department was forced to resign. I do not believe that it is helpful to public life in this country that people's personal lives should make profits for newspapers and that Ministers are removed from office in that way. I say that en passant for the record.

With a new Minister in the department with responsibility for education, there is now an opportunity for the noble Lord, Lord Henley, to talk with Mr. Jonathan Evans in another place and to reassess the relationship of the Bill to Welsh education and nursery education and the particular role of the Welsh Office, and to provide for a very simple resolution of this issue. The Secretary of State for Wales is the Secretary of State and, as the noble Lord, Lord Walker, once told me when he came to that position, he is able to do anything within his devolved responsibility. So there is no reason why the Welsh Office cannot undertake policy changes in this area even at this late stage.

The Government simply need to move their own amendment at Report or Third Reading. I shall give them the wording if they would like it. I could take it from a series of measures on education that apply to Wales and to grant-maintained schools. There exists on statute something called the Schools Funding Council for Wales. I am not aware that it has even met because so few schools decided to opt out that the power resides with the Welsh Office, the department funds it and there is no such body. But that body could exist by order of the Secretary of State. Similarly, with this scheme, the Welsh Office, and Mr. Evans in particular, can recognise the strength of the opposition to the scheme and its redundant nature in Wales as regards four year-olds. They could recognise that even at this late stage. The Government could draft a clause which would ensure that the nursery voucher scheme for four year-olds in Wales will proceed only by order of the Secretary of State. That would give the department and the Government the opportunity to proceed with the scheme if there appeared to be a consensus in favour of it following the proposal on the face of the Bill for a pilot scheme. If that is not the case, the Government would be going with the grain of education and parental opinion in the Principality.

This is my final point. This is a very important constitutional issue. When legislating in this House and in another place on primary legislation for Wales, it is important that any government must go with the grain of opinion in that country, otherwise there will be an increasingly legitimate demand for primary legislation for Wales to be removed to Wales itself. The Labour Party has such a policy for Scotland and the Liberal Democratic Party has such a policy for Scotland and Wales. Therefore, the Government must realise that when they play around with Welsh education and try to run Welsh education through unitary primary legislation, they are digging their own grave. If they are interested in maintaining the unity of the United Kingdom they have to recognise that that unity is in diversity. I beg to move.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Hooson

I very much support this amendment although, left to my own devices, I would have gone for a much stronger one. As I listened to the enthusiastic speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, on an earlier amendment today, it occurred to me that she obviously believes that the intention of the Bill is to improve access to nursery education in the country generally. But its effect as far as Wales is concerned will be entirely retrograde.

I do not normally intervene in debates on education, but in my 17 years in Parliament I have never had such a postbag as I have had on this issue. I have stripped it of all the enclosures. Many of the letters are hand written and have been very carefully drafted by parents and concerned people in Wales. For example, I had considerable correspondence on the subject of BSE, but that pales into insignificance beside this subject.

People representing all shades of political opinion have written to me about this matter because they are tremendously concerned about education generally or education for their own children. There was an absence of ideology in most of the letters I received, with people taking an entirely pragmatic view. I suggest, therefore, that this matter should be probed very carefully with a view to the Government thinking again.

The position of nursery education in Wales reflects priorities held by people of all political opinions, including parents and education authorities. Do the Government accept that, on the figures provided by the 1994 review which are the latest figures available to us, 92 per cent. of four year-olds to five year-olds in Wales receive nursery education, which is 92 per cent. of those available to take it? Do they also accept that 73 per cent. have full-time education and only 18 per cent. part-time education? As a matter of interest, on my calculations, whereas the LEA schools take the vast majority of these students, only 545 are in private schools. Do the Government equally accept that on the same figures the majority of three to four year-olds in Wales receive part-time education? Of the total number of children in that age group of just over 38,000, 51 per cent. go to school, of whom 13 per cent. are in full-time education while 38 per cent. are in part-time education. So, in so far as it affects Wales, the Government's scheme is a backward step.

The more that I have read those parents' letters, the more I am convinced that their fears are well founded. The solution that the Government have put forward for the country generally is a solution for areas of the country which are without a solid commitment to pre-five education. The noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, referred to the fact that in the old Flintshire there was 101 per cent. attendance by four to five year-olds. That is easily explained because children come over from Cheshire where there is little state provision of nursery education. That happens all along the Welsh border. As a number of my correspondents have pointed out, children come over from Herefordshire and Shropshire to have state nursery education in Wales.

The financial implications of the scheme are worrying an awful lot of people. As I understand the position—I should be grateful if the Minister could deal with this point in detail—the Welsh Office proposes to deduct from the local government revenue settlement most of what the LEAs now spend from their own resources on providing full-time education for all four year-olds in Wales. I understand that it is intended to redistribute that money, through a private company contracted for the purpose, to the parents of the same 38,000 or so children each year by means of vouchers with which they can purchase—I now quote the words of the consultation document: three terms at least of part-time, high quality pre-school education in the year before compulsory schooling begins". Given the provision that is already made by LEAs in Wales, the proposed scheme is clearly a retrograde step. Most of the children are in full-time education, not part-time education. How will vouchers pay for that, even with the preference given to Wales in the allocation per head under the formula that was dealt with in Amendment No. 86?

Parents in Wales are very content with state nursery education at the moment, but all that is being threatened by the Government's scheme. It appears to me that the Government are abandoning their obligation to give children in Wales full-time education from the age of four and part-time nursery education from the age of three, and are shifting their responsibility to a private, profit-making company. Nobody on the Government's side can lecture me on the benefits of private enterprise because I happen to have been chairman of two of the most successful private enterprise companies connected with Wales. However, there is a sphere for private enterprise, where the object is to have the maximum return on the money invested, and there is a sphere where that should not apply—and the prime motive here should be the well-being of the children.

When the Prime Minister made a public commitment to provide a pre-school place for every four year-old whose parents wished to take it up, he was expressing a sentiment with which we can all agree, but, even when it was made, that commitment had in Wales not only been fulfilled, but exceeded. It had been exceeded by a system almost wholly provided by the local education authorities. It seems to me that to go backwards and to abandon that pragmatic approach in favour of what seems to be an ideological approach is wrong. I hate people with excessively ideological approaches—whether in the Labour Party in the old days (I hope that the Opposition have grown out of that by now) or in the present Government who seem to be hooked entirely on their ideological approach. What possible justification is there for this Government to threaten a system of nursery education in Wales which is working well? If similar provisions existed in England, there would be much more opposition to the Bill. I do not pretend to be able to speak on the merits of the Bill so far as England is concerned, but I think that it is entirely unacceptable that the Government should take this course with regard to Wales.

I have supported the amendment because the very least that the Government could do, given the satisfactory nature of nursery education in Wales at present, is to have pilot schemes in Wales to see how the new scheme will affect the present set-up. No such scheme has been carried out in Wales, so why on earth should the people of Wales accept the system? If the Government do not do that, I think that they will be surprised at what some of their own supporters in Wales think about it. The Government would be very wise to have another look at this.

Lord Prys-Davies

It is relevant to raise the question of the application of this Bill to Wales as there is an enormous desire in the Principality that the present nursery provision should not be imperilled. I have today received a petition signed by 200 parents from Carmarthen expressing their strong opposition to the application of the Bill to Wales.

I do not propose to go over the ground which I covered on Second Reading, but would like to express my thanks to the Minister for his letter of 12th June commenting on the matters which I raised on Second Reading. Nevertheless, I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, who is relying on the advice of the Welsh Office, that I am not satisfied with what the letter says—and neither are my colleagues from Wales who have seen it. With the greatest respect, I do not believe that the Minister or the Welsh Office advisers have understood the Welsh point of view as developed by the noble Lords, Lord Elis-Thomas and Lord Hooson, in this Committee.

First, the Minister claims in his letter that there is parental misunderstanding in Wales of the voucher scheme. That claim requires considerable amplification, if not correction. Although some parents and organisations may still be unclear about the issue and the redemption of the voucher—I can fully understand that—there is no misunderstanding of the adverse effects of the scheme.

In his letter the Minister acknowledges that Welsh LEAs have a good record in nursery education. Indeed, he said earlier that there was far higher provision in Wales and less variation than in England. Undoubtedly, there are areas in Wales (possibly some rural areas) where the LEAs may not as yet have achieved the 90 per cent. level of provision which is the Welsh average—just as there are other parts of Wales that have exceeded that 90 per cent. level. The Minister will be aware that there are transport difficulties in many isolated and remote villages.

The Minister claims that the quality of the provision could be improved in certain parts of Wales. The Welsh LEAs have always stressed the importance of improving the quality. It seems to me that the Minister has failed in his letter to provide good reasons for imposing in Wales an untested scheme which puts the whole nursery system, which is of good quality, at the risk of being seriously impaired.

For years we have been told repeatedly by this Government that additional resources, when available, should be targeted on those areas of greatest need. Wales is a small country. Surely it should be possible for the Welsh Office to address local problems in the provision of nursery education where they exist without the need for the extreme and potentially damaging solution proposed by the Bill.

I believe that the Government's principal aim in Wales is the expansion of parents' choice. That was one of the chief points raised by the Minister in his speech at Second Reading, and he returned to it repeatedly in his letter of 12th June. We have not been given evidence of dissatisfaction with the present system on the part of parents in Wales; we have not been given evidence of a demand for an alternative provision. Nor have we been given an estimate of how many parents are likely to opt-out of the LEA provision and how that might affect existing services. The Government simply insist on the principle that there must be room for choice. There is another principle which matters in a free society. The exercise of choice by the few should not imperil existing provision for the many provided that provision works well. That is not a matter of fact but a matter of values. Our fear is that the Government under-estimate the capacity of the Bill to cause grave damage to existing nursery provision of high standard while they over-estimate its capacity to produce lasting benefits.

This is a simple amendment. This afternoon there was debate as to whether an amendment was a wrecking amendment. This is a compromise. If the compromise is acceptable to the Government it will go a long way to establish whether or not our fears are justified. It requires the Welsh Secretary to proceed carefully and to undertake the experimental scheme to evaluate the impact of the voucher scheme on existing provision. For all of the organisations and parents in Wales with a special interest in nursery education that evaluation is very important. It will show whether our fears are justified. If so, it will be hard for any government to ignore the warning.

I very much trust that the Minister will be open minded, take seriously on board the principle of the amendment and take it back to the Welsh Office and ask it to think further about its merits.

Lord Williams of Mostyn

I support this amendment, which is not a wrecking amendment. In its relevant part, it is a wrecking Bill. As my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies and the noble Lords, Lord Hooson and Elis-Thomas, have pointed out, there is general satisfaction in Wales with the scheme as it is presently operated. Earlier I listened to the words of the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley. He said that it might be of benefit—I respectfully concur—if we proceeded in these matters on a substratum of measurable facts. We know the measurable facts. The noble Lords, Lord Elis-Thomas and Lord Hooson, and I do not always agree on everything. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and I always agree on everything. The one thing that is known by everyone who has any connection with the education system in Wales is that at the moment the public provision is extremely popular. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that this was a marvellous scheme and it would prove to be immensely popular. We have an immensely popular scheme at the moment.

I am not normally the recipient of unsolicited correspondence, but I have had an enormous postbag of petitions and individual letters, which are not the usual mimeographed letters nor single letters written in red ink and underlined in green. They are sensible letters from people who know what they are talking about and who are passionately concerned about the nursery education of their children. The figures have been given by the noble Lords, Lord Elis-Thomas and Lord Hooson. They provide extremely powerful ammunition.

I regret to say that we are faced with the triumph of dogma, or a kind of unreconstructed Stalinism, which implies that the centre always knows best. This is not a party political argument. The fact is that there are six Conservative Members of Parliament in Wales at the moment who have majorities which range from 19 to just over 6,000. There are very few local government councillors in Wales who bear the Tory flag. The overwhelming voice of public opinion in Wales indicates full confidence in the present system. That is not to say that the system cannot be improved. But this amendment will bring about such improvements as may be necessary by means of a measured and measurable scheme; in other words, we may have a reasonable substratum of measurable evidence.

8.45 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

We on these Benches support the amendment. I plead with the Minister to take away and consider the need to work with the brand new local education authorities in Wales. What better example can the Minister have of an opportunity to work co-operatively with those new authorities? The Minister referred to the fact that authorities had not come forward. There was an enormous upheaval in Wales. Why not extend the spirit of partnership and co-operation?

Lord Henley

I start by assuring the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, that we keep in close touch with colleagues in the Welsh Office. Colleagues in the Welsh Office were actively involved in the Bill. The noble Lord will be aware that when the Bill was introduced in another place my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales was one of those whose name was attached to that Bill. The Welsh dimension has always been important. I also assure the noble Lord that we will continue to discuss these matters very closely where they relate to Wales or to Welsh matters. I assure him that my right honourable and honourable friends in the Welsh Office will read very carefully all that has been said on this occasion and take note of it.

I do not argue that any of the amendments debated this afternoon have been wrecking amendments. I said that one was partially wrecking, and that it was only partially wrecking for those with children who would be four next year. Nor do I believe that this is a wrecking Bill. We have no desire whatever to damage good provision in any way. We very much hope that we will not damage good provision. We simply wish to extend choice. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, I believe that we can extend choice without undermining the collective rights of those Who do not wish to make use of that choice.

What we have before us this evening in this amendment is a call for the scheme to operate in Wales on a trial basis first. The Welsh Affairs Committee made a similar recommendation. However, I do not believe that there is a need for this. The initial phase in four authorities in England is testing the mechanics and the administrative arrangements. There will be a full evaluation which will include consideration of the effectiveness of the operational arrangements and so on, as we discussed earlier this afternoon. Clearly, that evaluation will inform the scheme in Wales as well as the scheme in England. I believe that a separate experimental phase would only serve to duplicate. The Welsh Affairs Committee acknowledged that, with regard to the mechanics of the scheme, the Welsh Office might be right in considering that it could learn enough from pilot studies in England. I said during Second Reading that there had been no volunteers in Wales for a Welsh pilot. The Welsh Office said that it would consider any interest put forward. As the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, stated, it has been through an upheaval as part of the local government organisation. However, the same is true in Scotland but volunteers still came forward for the pilot scheme there.

The Welsh Affairs Committee indicated that the absence of a Welsh pilot phase is seen by many as symptomatic of a lack of regard for the distinctiveness of education in Wales. As I stated in my letter to the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davis, the Welsh dimension is not being ignored. Far from it. It will be taken fully into account. The Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales (ACAC) has given quite separate advice on desirable educational outcomes in Wales. Its advice is being considered by Welsh Ministers but the consultation document was well received. There will be bilingual vouchers and a specific helpline for parents in Wales.

The noble Lord, Lord Hooson, asked me to expand on the funding arrangements for deductions for local authorities in Wales. The total cost of the scheme in Wales is expected to be £43 million and will be funded from a mixture of additional provision and the deduction from local authorities. Final decisions on the level of funding and the amount of additional provision in Wales will be taken in the light of public expenditure discussions in Wales. Local authority funding arrangements are different in Wales and there is no hypothecation of resources to particular services as there is in England. There is no specific SSA for education in Wales. Accordingly and recognising the higher level of nursery provision in Wales, my colleagues in the Welsh Office have decided there will be a transfer from local authorities at the all-Wales level and before distribution of local revenue settlement to individual authorities.

It would be invidious now for the Welsh Office to hypothecate funding in respect of education for four year-olds and there is no justification for setting aside longstanding arrangements which have been agreed with local authorities. The authorities that responded to the consultation paper issued by the Welsh Office favoured the all-Wales approach. That approach should ensure that authorities with a high level of discretionary spending are not disadvantaged. The precise sums to be transferred have yet to be decided but colleagues in the Welsh Office have given an assurance that it will not exceed the value of a voucher for a four year-old in a maintained school and, therefore, they should not lose out.

Lord Hooson

I do not think that the noble Lord has allayed the fears of parents because the document sets out that the voucher would provide for high quality part-time education. As most children in this age group are in full-time high quality nursery education, how will the difference be provided for?

Lord Henley

I hope to be able to allay those fears. The Government will deduct from the local authority settlement in Wales no more than the number of four year-olds in the schools multiplied by the voucher value. That will not necessarily be all that the local authorities are currently spending. That will be left with the local authorities and they will be able to spend to provide full-time education if they wish.

I have acknowledged that there is a distinctiveness to the Welsh educational scene. However, it is difficult to envisage what gain could be expected from an experimental phase in at least two authorities in Wales and what aspects of the Welsh dimension it could cover that are not currently being considered. It would delay giving parents throughout the Principality the choice in the provision they want to make for their four year-olds and provision of at least half-time education for a full three terms. All parents in England, subject to Parliament, will have those benefits from April next year. We do not think it desirable to treat parents in Wales any less favourably. I hope that on this occasion therefore the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Elis-Thomas

If the Minister were trying to persuade me not to divide, he would not conclude on that note. The issue that concerns us is that where Wales has decided through its democratically elected local education authorities to make provision in a way which has consensus support, it is not for Parliament or Westminster to intervene, in a way which may be appropriate for some authorities in England, and to disrupt an established public sector scene in Wales which functions effectively and has popular support.

We shall return to this issue, maybe on stronger grounds, during later discussion of the Bill. We will take advantage of the opportunity between this debate and the final stages to talk to the Welsh Office again to give it, and particularly the new Minister, the opportunity to return to the issue.

I refer to a typical authority which, were it in England would no doubt be nearly under Conservative control, and that is Denbighshire. The new Denbighshire County Council has led Wales in campaigning on the issue of nursery vouchers. That has been done very ably by Mr. Edgar Lewis, director of education, who was previously working in Clwyd. That authority is made up in the following way. The largest group is the independent group which, in the English context, would probably be Conservative; the next largest group is the Labour group; and then there is the significant Plaid Cymru group. All the councillors in that authority, all the parents I have met at meetings and all the material I have received from parents, indicate complete support for what Denbighshire is providing, carrying on from what Clwyd is providing.

The Government are setting their faces against the consensus of nursery providers and parents in Wales. I warn the Government that they do that at their electoral peril. I wish to test the opinion of the House.

8.57 p.m.

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

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 57; Not-Contents, 59.

Division No. 3
Addington, L. Hooson, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Kirkhill, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Lockwood, B.
Berkeley, L. McNally, L.
Borrie, L. Mallalieu, B.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Mar and Kellie, E.
Carter, L. Masham of Ilton, B.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Mason of Barnsley, L.
Dahrendorf, L. Monkswell, L.
David, B. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Davies, L. [Teller.] Nicol, B.
Dean of Beswick, L. Ogmore, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Palmer, L.
Desai, L. Perry of Walton, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Dubs,L. Richard, L.
Elis-Thomas, L. [Teller.] Seear, B.
Sefton of Garston, L.
Ewing of Kirkford, L. Serota, B.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Sewel, L.
Geraint, L. Smith of Gilmorehill, B.
Gladwin of Clee, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Greenway, L. Tope, L.
Grey, E. Turner of Camden, B.
Hamwee, B. Warnock, B.
Haskel, L. White, B.
Hayman, B. Williams of Mostyn, L.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Wise, L.
Addison, V. Harris of Peckham, L.
Balfour, E. Henley, L.
Blatch, B. HolmPatrick, L.
Boardman, L. Howe, E.
Bowness, L. Inglewood, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L.
Bridgeman, V. James of Holland Park, B.
Bruntisfield, L. Kingsland, L.
Burnham, L. Kinnoull, E.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Lindsay, E.
Carnock, L. Lucas, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B. Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Chesham, L. [Teller.]
Clark of Kempston, L. Lyell, L
Cochrane of Cults, L. McColl of Dulwich, L.
Courtown, E. Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.] Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Dean of Harptree, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B. Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Dixon-Smith, L. Marlesford, L.
Downshire, M. Miller of Hendon, B.
Feldman, L. Northesk, E
Ferrers, E.
Gage, V. O'Cathain, B.
Glenarthur, L. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Harmsworth, L. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Rankeillour, L. Strathclyde, L. [Teller]
Rennell, L.
Seccombe, B. Trumpington, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L. Vivian, L.
Skidelsky, L. Wade of Chorlton, L
Slim, V. Wynford, L.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.

9.5 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 9: Page 1, line 8, after second ("education") insert ("that is appropriate to the age of the child and is").

The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 9 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 12, 51 and 61. The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the curriculum delivered in response to vouchers is of the right type for the children involved and that there is some legislative protection as to its quality. By definition, anything that is properly education will be conducted according to a curriculum, which is the sum total of experiences which contribute to the learning of an individual. It includes planned intervention by educators as well as the outcome of self-directed or guided activity on the part of the learner. An appropriate curriculum for the nursery phase of education was well described in the report, Starting with Quality, published in 1990 by the committee chaired by Angela Rumbold, the then Minister of State at the Home Office. I can do no better than commend that document to your Lordships in the hope that you will read it, mark it, learn it and inwardly digest it.

Currently, nursery education, as it is properly understood, covers the period from the third birthday to the entry into the reception class at rising five. In our view, the proposed nursery voucher scheme cuts across those arrangements by neglecting three year-olds but invading the funding of older children who are already moving beyond the true nursery phase. The aim of the amendment is an attempt to relocate the application of the Bill towards activity that can properly be understood as nursery education and provide legislative protection to the quality of provision which that term implies.

The amendment received a very cold wind from the Government in another place. We hope that noble Lords speaking for the Government today will give serious consideration to the appropriateness of education funded through vouchers.

Perhaps I may say a few words about Amendment No. 51. Its purpose is to bring the obligation on nursery providers in line with the Education Act 1988 by ensuring that the chief inspector has the duty to inform the Secretary of State on the "physical" and "intellectual" development of children as well as on their spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. We prefer the word "intellectual" to the word "mental" from the Latin mentalis—mens mentis, the mind—meaning also "chin" or "pertaining to the chin" from the Latin mentum. I believe that the arguments which will follow any quotation from me in that learned tongue will be none the weaker for it. Therefore, for the purpose of the amendment, I prefer the word "intellectual".

A list of "desirable achievements" or "outcome statements" such as has been put forward in SCAA's document, Desirable Outcomes for Children's Learning is not in our view an acceptable or adequate way of describing a nursery curriculum. While such a list facilitates the production of a simple check list for those children reaching statutory school age, it would dominate and narrow the curriculum for the under-fives. In addition, it is likely to ignore the development of individual children and their educational needs.

How much more appropriate the ACAC's "desirable outcome" consultation document for Wales which begins with Gerallt Lloyd Owen's opening lines of his epic poem "Afon": Pan feddwn dalent plentyn, I weld Ilais a chlywed Hun". I shall translate that for your Lordships: When I had a child's talent to see a voice and hear an image". That is what that kind of curriculum should introduce. I say it in all seriousness. I beg to move.

Lord Northbourne

My name is attached to Amendment No. 12 and also to Amendment No. 61. I should, therefore, like to say a few words about them. As I understand it, the Government propose to define nursery education in accordance with the category of child, the type of institution and, in regulations, the way in which grants are calculated. I am not entirely sure that that is quite enough. Surely we want some mention of the kind of nursery education about which we are talking.

Nursery education could, perhaps under a different Minister and a different Secretary of State, mean almost anything from strict three Rs to the other extreme where, perhaps under pressure from single interest groups, it might become little more than childminding, so that it could be extended for longer periods; for example, to suit mothers who want to go to work.

Surely there should be three elements in nursery education. The first is the preparation for academic education; the second—and most important in my view—is the social development, because unless children have the necessary social development they will not fit into primary school and they will go down and down. The third, is language skills which are most important for those who do not have them so that, again, they can fit into primary school at a later stage. All those elements must be within the framework of children being well cared for.

Amendments Nos. 9, 12, and 51 suggest forms of wording for the Bill. Amendment No. 61 suggests a way of linking the Bill with the "desirable outcomes" mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Morris. The Minister kindly wrote to me about the matter on 10th June, and said: All providers will he required to work towards the desirable outcomes for children's learning". That is fine; but who says so? I absolutely accept the noble Lord's word that that is his intention. However, in a few years he may no longer be in that position as, indeed, may well be the case with the Secretary of State. Surely we must have something written down as to Parliament's intention on these matters.

Baroness Seear

I, too, have attached my name to Amendment No. 12. I shall be very brief. I want to emphasise something to which the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred; namely, the important scope and range that nursery education should have. It should at least cover—it clearly should do so—both care of the youngster and his or her educational development. The point I should like to add is that if you are going to do that properly it will be expensive. There is very little chance that you will get the full range of care and education provision when people are thinking in terms of £1,100 a year. Indeed, proper, good nursery education as is being provided in some places at present in both the public and private sector costs a good deal more than that.

I know that the Minister will say that we are talking about additional money. However, once the figure has been named and people are allowed to take it and run their own schemes, there is surely a very real danger that what is provided will become narrower and less satisfactory; and, indeed, will not provide what is required on both the care and the educational front. That is a real danger. I hope that the Minister will take that fully into account.

Baroness Warnock

I, too, attached my name to Amendment No. 12. I believe that the effect of the voucher scheme will be to obscure the line between playgroup and nursery school. Therefore, it is all the more important that there should be some account on the face of the Bill of what nursery education actually should be. I also believe that the emphasis on language is extremely important. Language is the route by which the relation between a child and his world is formed. It is only through language that he can learn to communicate with other people; to accept conversation from other people, and to enter into dialogue with other people.

An enormous number of children enter playgroup or nursery school without the concept of conversation and dialogue. They think of grown-up people as people who do not want to talk to them and who put them in front of the television and want them out of the way. It is therefore incredibly important that teachers involved in all forms of nursery provision should be seen by children to be grown-up people who communicate. That is why I place such strong emphasis on language. As I say, that is all the more important if the dividing line between playgroup and nursery school is becoming somewhat fudged by the application of vouchers. I feel strongly about this amendment.

9.15 p.m.

Lord Henley

When the noble Lord, Lord Morris, introduced his amendment he said that in another place the Government poured cold water over these amendments. I hope that I shall not pour cold water over them but explain why I think they are unnecessary, although we are sympathetic to much of what has been said, particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, on the importance of language and developments in that field.

As I said, we believe that these amendments are unnecessary. All providers need to agree to provide education appropriate to a set of desirable learning outcomes on entering compulsory education which has been developed by SCAA as a requirement of grant. This will ensure that all providers are offering education appropriate to the age of the child and of a consistently high standard.

The SCAA desirable outcomes break down into six areas of learning, one of which covers personal and social development. Another covers language and literacy. I believe that that more than covers Amendment No. 12, and for that matter Amendment No. 9. Inspectors will consider the extent to which providers are working towards each of the outcomes. Where provision is not satisfactory in a particular area of learning inspectors will highlight that in the inspection report and appropriate action—

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord but I hope he can clarify something. As regards the suggestion that the inspector should add to his duties an inspection of the physical and intellectual progress of children, the Minister has more or less made the argument for including that on the face of the Bill, as that is one of the outcomes, some of which are mentioned in paragraph 3 of the schedule, and some of which are not. It seems rather curious that some of the outcomes are mentioned but not others.

Lord Henley

I do not believe that I am doing that. I was discussing Amendments Nos. 9 and 12; I had not yet moved on to the others. We do not believe that they are necessary because we can, by means of a requirement of grant, make sure that any of the voucher redeeming institutions work towards those desirable learning outcomes as developed by SCAA. It will be for inspectors to consider the extent to which providers are working towards each of those outcomes, as I said. That is a matter which can be dealt with in the appropriate way.

The provisions sought in Amendments Nos. 9 and 12 may be provided for as requirements of grant as the Bill stands. Indeed such requirements are already in place under the Phase I arrangements. I therefore see no particular value in prescribing such detail on the face of the Bill. That relates to some of the discussion we had on the first amendment that was before the Committee this afternoon. I also think 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 3 (a) of Schedule 1—I think that was what the noble Baroness referred to—requires the chief inspector to keep the Secretary of State informed about the quality and standards of funded nursery education.

Paragraph 7 requires inspectors to report on the quality and standards of nursery education provided. These provisions are the same as for the 1992 Act. They will of course embrace the physical and intellectual development of children. Such aspects of quality, and many others, are already 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 the good quality education that we believe it is desirable to offer to all children. I hope therefore that the noble Lord, Lord Morris, will feel that on this occasion we have not poured cold water over his amendments but that they are unnecessary.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

On a warm evening like this, a little cold water might not be a bad thing.

"Desirable outcomes" are generally felt to be well below nursery education standard. Some people, doubtless of a sceptical persuasion, suspect that this is provided deliberately to attract low level providers from the private sector into entering into this area of education, which would lower the standards that pre-school education should set for itself. It is an unworthy thought, I have no doubt, but one which from time to time, like all sin, obtrudes into the human mind.

As regards the weight of responsibility to be placed on the chief inspector, at this stage we have stated our positions and we must be content to disagree. We can return to that matter at a later stage. I am content to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 10: Page 1, line 8, at end insert ("by a qualified teacher and other appropriately trained staff").

The noble Baroness said: The Title of the Bill refers to nursery education. All that the Government say with regard to the Bill is misleading unless it refers to a consistently high quality of provision.

This group of amendments deals with staff qualification and training. There is the appropriate training of staff as teachers and non-teaching staff. Those are complementary roles, and it is critically important that both sectors have had full benefit of the training.

We are dealing with educational provision for very young children, some of whom may have obvious, clearly defined, special educational needs. Others may have the more difficult to detect early signs of later difficulties; or they may have moderate learning difficulties. But help is needed if those learning difficulties are to be overcome and those children are to achieve the highest levels not only in their educational development but also in their social personal skills among their peer group. Amendment No. 10 refers to the importance of a qualified teacher. It is extremely important that this issue is taken seriously.

Among those who have had no contact with children with special needs, with very young children, or with different types of early years provision, there is a belief that any woman—usually the speaker is a man and the staff referred to are women—who has had children of her own can provide nursery education; after all, they are mothers. A great many mothers pride themselves on their ability to work with very young children. Few would have the temerity to claim that they equal those qualified in nursery education, or provide the same background and environment for a child.

In the DFE publications on good quality and early years education the Government recognise the importance of nursery education scoring higher in level of support and in the opportunities that it offers to children than do other forms of education.

Before I am accused again by the Minister of seeking rigid, imposed, central planning, or a lack of choice for parents, perhaps I may say that some parents choose not to place their children in nursery education. Some parents choose not to be concerned about qualifications. Many, like myself, have children who benefited from pre-school education, the quality of and training for which is often of a consistently very high standard. There are different aspects of nursery education. I for one welcome an approach to verifying qualifications that includes a recognition of the value of Montessori training, to cite just one example. There are many aspects to providing high quality nursery education.

I am interested to see whether the Minister is even prepared to consider adopting a target, a phasing-in of a move, towards ensuring that all nursery education funded through public money will be provided by staff who are properly trained. It is extremely important. Children are very vulnerable, and we want the best for our children.

A recurring theme of this group of amendments is the complementary nature of different forms of training. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Government will be prepared to support clearly, publicly and openly the need for staff working with young children to have the proper qualifications and training. The Minister may argue that it is not possible to achieve that immediately. There would be enormous popularity in the Government setting a target date and co-operating with all parties concerned to try to ensure that nursery education is provided by those who have had full training. I beg to move.

Baroness Seear

I strongly support the amendment. It follows on from my remark a few moments ago in relation to Amendment No. 12. I referred to the very real danger of skimping on provision through lack of money. If we are to have properly qualified teachers, it will cost more. We have to face that. Without properly qualified teachers, we run the risk of developing a whole grade of sub-standard nursery education. At its worst that can be very much less good than no education at all.

Baroness David

I regret that the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, is absent tonight. He spoke at Second Reading. If the Minister is listening, I want to give one quotation from a document from the National Commission on Education, Learning to Succeed. The commission states: Teaching very young children is a complex task demanding a high level of skill and understanding. The committee supports graduate level training". I totally support all the requests for qualified teachers and a great deal of teaching knowledge for such children. It is said over and over again how important this is. The Government should be prepared to agree to this very straightforward amendment in the very first clause of the Bill.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

As someone who spent some years in the classroom, I wish to reinforce the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington. One might think that the children who are really difficult to cope with are those at scholarship level. In my experience, they are the easy ones. They simply sail away. You can put anything in front of them and they can more or less do it. The further down the scale you go, the more difficult it gets. It is therefore of prime importance that, in the earliest years of all, children have the highest qualified teachers to lead them into the national curriculum at the age of five and try to make, if possible, a seamless transition between nursery and primary education. At that stage, contrary to popular myth, it is extremely important to have highly qualified staff. I support the amendment.

Lord Northbourne

I accept the importance of qualifications. I know about the deprived children and the seriously damaged and disadvantaged children. I hoped these amendments would not be used to squeeze out the participation and involvement of parents, or indeed what have been called "streetwise grannies", as supporters.

9.30 p.m.

Lord Skidelsky

I urge my noble friend the Minister to resist this set of amendments. They strike me as being much too prescriptive and every permissive clause is turned into a prescriptive clause. Running through the debate is a conflict of opinion. On one side—and that is the side I am on—we support maximum choice and minimum regulation. The other side seems to support maximum regulation and minimum choice. We counter that all the way through and I hope that my noble friend sticks to his guns.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I wish to make a few comments in support of these amendments. First, to start with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, this is not a question of regulation. It is a question of ensuring that the most vulnerable children in school are being looked after and their studies directed by somebody who is qualified to do both those things. That is the main point of this series of amendments: to ensure that people who are qualified recognise the child who has particular needs—particular learning needs, personality needs or gifts, and so on.

So often our primary schools are taking children who already, at the age of five, are desocialised, with whom it is almost impossible to deal. As a school governor, I have frequently come across this difficulty. We must ensure that those who guide the people in charge of classes are qualified teachers who have been trained to recognise these difficulties or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, said, a child's special gifts. If that happened we would be making an important contribution to the quality of education of young children which, after all, as far as I am concerned, is the whole point of the Bill. We are talking about the prospects for young children. Experience and research in the United States showed that early years education made children higher achievers and better socialisers. That was one of the factors which was prayed in aid by the Minister when he introduced the Bill. So it is difficult to understand how that attitude ties in with a resistance to ensuring that there are qualified teachers. I do not think that anybody supporting these amendments has any wish to exclude parents from their proper role in this particular process.

I would like to emphasise the point about Montessori teachers. We are not talking necessarily of an identical qualification for every person who takes this lead role in a class. The Montessori Foundation has been involved in pre-school education for over 90 years, amd probably knows as much about it as anybody. I would certainly wish to ensure, through these amendments—and I rather hope the Minister will be able to respond on this matter—that its qualifications, which are very high and growing all the time, would be recognisable under the processes we are suggesting or even without those processes.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

I would like to comment on Amendments Nos. 38 and 45. Amendment No. 38 has been the subject of advice which we have received from the Special Education Consortium and which I find particularly persuasive. They have very special knowledge and understanding of the needs of children with special educational needs. It is at that stage of the whole process of formal education that they perhaps should command our greatest weight of respect. Amendment No. 38 is there to ensure that levels of qualification that are acceptable are set out in regulations and that those regulations are regularly reviewed.

In the Next Steps document and the debates that we have had so far on this matter, there has been repeated insistence from the Government that the current proposals are indeed intended to promote the development of high quality education for four year-olds. But one question to which we seldom seem to address ourselves is the question of what quality really means. I have said before in this Chamber that in many respects the English language is degenerating rapidly. One can point to particular words of which that is true and "quality" is one.

"Quality" is a noun which has become an adjective and quality has become synonymous with good quality—high quality. It has become a hooray word and not a boo word. That is imprecise thinking and dangerously imprecise thinking in what we do. People talk now about quality goods, without saying whether they are high quality or low quality goods. But I must confess that the height of absurdity came when the Welsh Rugby Football Union, which in recent years has not been notably successful in producing teams which win matches, held a debate in which one famous Welsh three-quarter said that the trouble lay with the forwards because, "We backs cannot win if we don't get quality ball." "Quality ball"—I invite the Committee to speculate on how that use of the language can possibly make sense. We know what it means but how can it make sense?

The Special Education Consortium believes that high quality education for young children with special educational needs means precisely this: it means being taught by staff who are themselves trained in curriculum, trained in child development, have an understanding of how children learn and can adapt curricula to meet those children's needs. A recent survey of provision in Wales compared provision for the under-fives in playgroups and in maintained schools. In schools, teachers observed, assessed and planned work for children in a way that matched the children's abilities and achievements; whereas playgroup staff, however willing they were, were not sufficiently well informed to recognise children's educational needs and abilities and make decisions about progression in learning. They themselves had not been taught that skill. They worked by instinct—flying by the seat of their pants. Without teachers, it is unlikely that young children with special educational needs could possibly receive an education appropriately matched to their needs.

The argument that the SEC has advanced to date is that significant additional money is going into playgroups, day nurseries and the private and voluntary sectors. The SEC feels that that money ought to be used to buy in trained teachers. However, it has become clear that the Government intend to proceed with the scheme without specifying qualifications and there would be a shortfall of teachers if all settings were to try to employ teachers.

I invite noble Lords opposite and the Minister in particular to speculate about a possible compromise, which, again, the SEC put forward. It is a pragmatic compromise. This amendment promotes an approach which would gradually increase the levels of training and qualifications expected within the voucher scheme. Ministers may say that it is not necessary to specify qualifications and that anyone who says that he can deliver the desirable outcomes in the SCAA document can be allowed to teach four year-olds. We profoundly doubt that. I need go no further than the reference that has been made to the Government's aim. Whereas we should not normally wish to suggest that one registered childminder would be capable of coming into this voucher scheme perfectly happily, if there were a small group of them who could get together and think out some kind of desirable scheme, we should certainly be willing to consider it. And then presumably we would accept what that group said on its self-assessment form without inspecting it before it began to accept vouchers—inspecting it any time up to one year after that. If that was a disastrous inspection result, we would give it nearly a year to mend its fences and its ways before it would be refused permission to continue. Where children with special educational needs are concerned that seems to us to be profoundly dangerous and undesirable.

While the amendment does not achieve what the Special Education Consortium would wish in the here and now, it provides a mechanism for achieving a more skilled and better qualified workforce in the longer term. I hope therefore that it will be considered appropriate on those grounds. It is a compromise.

I hope that Members of the Committee will forgive my devotion to the Holy scriptures; it is simply that with a good Welsh Baptist upbringing phrases keep returning to mind. An appropriate one in regard to Amendment No. 45 is that there is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth than over 90 and nine just men that need no repentance. The Minister may recall that in previous education Bills I was not convinced of the virtue of the Teacher Training Agency. I confess that I was extremely sceptical about it. I thought that it was a bad thing; that we should not have it; and that, in so far as we had it, we would regret it. I was wrong.

I visited the Teacher Training Agency at its request. I was taken round for the best part of a day and was allowed to ask questions of any of the people I met without their superiors being present—and I did. My mind was changed. Although the TTA has a long way to go and a great deal to do, it certainly proved the case that, young as it is, it is making a valuable contribution to the training of teachers. I just wish people would leave it alone.

The idea of reforming the TTA and getting it to do something else—to teach teachers about discipline and all that kind of thing—seems to me to be piling Pelion on Ossa. It is a good little outfit doing a good job. It is hardly out of the nursery stage, but it is doing something that universities cannot do. Amendment No. 45 seems to me sensible in that it introduces a requirement for the Teacher Training Agency to assess the qualifications and training needs of institutions prior to initial registration under the arrangements. I hope that the agency has been asked and I hope that it feels that it comes within its remit. It obviously asks for vastly more resources and a huge new grant from wherever the grant comes from, but if it can be persuaded, it would be very apt.

The amendment links the TTA properly into the Government's new initiative. It also introduces a new stage, prior to initial registration under the voucher scheme, of requiring the qualifications and training needs of the providers to be assessed. That gives much greater quality assurance for parents, which we consider to be an important part of the whole scheme, and a better guarantee of value for public money.

At present the arrangements we have heard described suggest that an unsuitable provider (let us call it a "cowboy") could be registered and, failing an inspection, operate for two or, in some cases, three years—I shall be grateful if the Minister can say how long it is—before being necessarily struck off; and, of course, a lot of children can have an impoverished opportunity in that time.

The arrangements under the Bill are for the provision of funded nursery education; not simply care, not simply training, but education. Many new or existing providers may not necessarily have "education" as their focus. Under current arrangements providers have no guarantees that the experience and qualifications of their staff are sufficient to teach to the SCAA's "desirable outcomes", which to a lot of people sound rather like motherhood and apple pie and are very difficult to translate into any kind of practical application that can be described and quantified, let alone provide a broad and balanced curriculum appropriate to nursery age children. We think that providers should be required to take advice from the TTA both for their own benefit and for the security of parents.

In the absence of a requirement for new providers to be inspected prior to registration, this link with the TTA would at least provide a basic assurance for parents that the provision chosen for their child has had to take good, top, professional advice on this matter. Without such a guarantee, the claim of a new provider that it will be working towards the "desirable outcomes" is not very much more than a pious hope and a statement of faith and is not really worth the paper on which it might be written.

9.45 p.m.

Baroness Hayman

I wish to say a few words on the issue of the training and qualification of staff and to support what has been said earlier about the challenge to trained and qualified staff of teaching the youngest children within the education system and the children with the greatest needs among that cohort of very young children. In making these remarks, I have no intention of undermining the contribution that can be made and the support that can be given by parents or grandparents within that set-up. My remarks come rather from the experience of having been a parent and of helping at all stages, through playgroup, nursery education and primary school, and seeing how much more difficult and skilful a task it is to make sure that high quality education is delivered to the youngest children than to the oldest children.

One of the mistakes we have made in education has been in not focusing enough on, and not giving enough attention to, the highly skilled task of teaching the youngest children. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, said, there is an important reason for doing that beyond the altruism of wanting to give the highest quality of education to those children. The reason is that more and more in our primary schools we see troubled and disadvantaged children in respect of whom, by the time they have reached a large reception class, we have lost our opportunity effectively to intervene to help them.

I saw in the primary school of which I was a governor for many years how effective that help could be if the nursery class had the resources in terms of teachers and skilled personnel to, if necessary, withdraw those children from the class in order to give them the special help and support they needed. The investment in those children, which starts with the identification of need and goes on to the meeting of that need, paid tremendous dividends throughout the rest of their primary school career. Therefore, I think it is of enormous importance that, in looking at the variety of settings in which nursery education is offered to children, we are equally firm in determining that training and qualifications are of the highest standard.

Baroness Seear

Perhaps I may briefly underline and develop the point that was made by my noble friend Lady Thomas as regards special needs. We always talk about them as though they were always for people with learning difficulties. But there are special needs among the gifted. If they are neglected in their early years they can often turn into very difficult people. Identifying the gifted and giving them the right opportunities early on can be just as important as dealing with people with learning difficulties. Gifted people can be extremely troublesome and develop very badly if they are not allowed to develop the gifts with which they are born.

Lord Henley

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, for his dissertation on the corruption of the English language in his brief intervention, but I wonder whether it was quite relevant, particularly in view of the time that this debate is taking. Perhaps I may also say that I am grateful for the news of his conversion on the road to Damascus over the Teacher Training Agency. I look forward to witnessing many more such conversions.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was worried that an amendment of this sort could squeeze out parents. Others have expressed the view that it could certainly squeeze out playgroups. I shall resist amendments of this sort very strongly, partly for the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Skidelsky.

I can see what the noble Baroness is aiming for in her amendments. I shall speak first to the qualification side and later to the training side. I cannot see why we should have only qualified teachers providing education for voucher-bearing children. It is important to recognise that many four year-olds are already in settings in the private and voluntary sectors where there is no qualified teacher. Excluding such settings from the voucher scheme would do nothing for the quality of educational experience for these children, but by allowing such settings to take part in the voucher scheme, new money is injected, educational inspections begin, and, over time, quality is improved. It is vital to acknowledge that that is where we start from in the field.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, that if an inspector revealed a totally unsatisfactory level of education provision—no doubt we shall come back to this later—the provider could be struck off immediately. There are no "ifs" or "buts" about that. But the situation is often not quite as black and white as it might appear. Our proposals allow for continuing development of the provider's ability to provide good quality nursery education. But there is no reason why, under the conditions of grant and that kind of provision, we could not strike that provider off immediately. I make that absolutely clear.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am delighted at what I believe I have just heard and so much so that I would like to hear it again. As I understand it, a provider may set up on a self-assessment scheme and be in operation without being inspected for up to 12 months. Am I now learning that on that first inspection during the 12 months, providers can be struck off immediately? Do they have any appeal? If they appeal, do they get an automatic further 12 months or is there a time specified? I shall be most grateful if I can be helped on that.

Lord Henley

I prefer to write to the noble Lord in greater detail on those points unless we come to them later. I am not going to waste the time of the Committee by repeating my precise words. I was trying to make it clear to the noble Lord that if the provider is providing something which is totally unsatisfactory, there would be provision to strike the provider off.

I said that it is vital to acknowledge where we start from in the field. That is why I was trying to stress that there are already many four year-olds who are in settings where there are not qualified teachers. Neither do I see why the Secretary of State should be required to prescribe annually the qualifications required of staff. The Bill already gives her the power to set requirements of grant as she sees fit. Our Next Steps document published in January, sets out the staff qualifications that we will expect from voucher-redeeming institutions. We will keep that situation under review.

Amendment No. 34 seeks to provide that requirements of grant should be set out in regulations. The new powers enable the Secretary of State to impose any requirements that she feels necessary, including a requirement to repay grant in specified circumstances. Providers will have to comply with whatever requirements we put in place. If they breach any, they will stop receiving additional grant, may be liable to repay any grant they have already received and may be removed from participating in the scheme.

In fact, the flexibility of setting requirements through grant arrangements rather than in regulations provides greater control over the use of grant because it ensures that the requirements in place can always be appropriate to the circumstances at the time.

Turning to the training aspects of this group of amendments, I do not believe we need a specific power to enable the Secretary of State to make grants to nursery providers specifically for the training of teaching and non-teaching staff. The value of the voucher assumes an element for training and staff development. It will be for individual institutions to use the resources to meet their specific training needs.

In the current financial year (1996–97), grants will also be available through the school effectiveness grant for the first time to support in-service training for early years teachers. Our support for the PLA's extensive training infrastructure will continue.

The amendment suggests that all non-maintained providers should have to seek advice on training and qualifications from the TTA before they can redeem their vouchers. I see no need to write into statute any rules about how and from whom providers of nursery education should seek advice on their staffing. We shall be imposing and inspecting requirements about outcomes. The staffing necessary to achieve those outcomes is quite properly for the judgment of individual providers. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness will see fit not to press her amendment. I can assure her that if she wishes to press it, I shall resist it.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

It is sometimes very difficult to follow the detail of the Minister's replies. I shall certainly read Hansard with great interest to see the exact words that he chose not to repeat—because of time, he said—regarding the training element of the voucher. I shall also need to read one or two other aspects of his reply. Are the very same Government, at education and training meetings across Europe, supporting the European Union in the International Year of Life-Long Learning and encouraging people to go into training for life? How can the Government say that they support the principle of life-long learning and claim that they recognise the importance of young people gaining qualifications and then suggest to young people leaving school that were they to take up a nursery nurse qualification it would be of little value and the Government are not even prepared to be involved in assessing the institutions that will provide that qualification?

It is important to understand that nothing said from these Benches undermines the role of parents. Far from it. Good nursery education training now concentrates heavily on the importance of working with parents. The hospital service works with parents, recognising that a young child in hospital will recover most effectively if the parent can stay with him or her. But it does not ask the parent to remove the tonsils. Under the guise of supporting parents, the Minister is now behaving as though the only added value is the involvement of parents, the added value of qualifications and training by teachers and non-teaching staff being somehow an irrelevance.

The Minister could have said, "Yes, we are prepared to consider this, but we would like to see it phased in". He could have said, "Yes, the Government can see merit in this, but would like to move towards it over a two to three-year period". The Government could have asked, "What about accreditation for prior experience and the consideration of new modes of qualification?" However, the Government have behaved as though the whole field of education has ceased to be a profession and become an occupation. This Government encourage young people who may work in Sainsbury or other shops, or as hairdresser trainees, or in any field—I wholeheartedly approve of this—to gain qualifications and undergo training. Yet, when dealing with the care of all children, for some of whom parents may have no choice, the Government say that they are not prepared to look at the issue of qualifications.

The Government fail to understand the logic of the position they adopt on one subject and the position they adopt on another. It is ridiculous. The Government find themselves in an unacceptable position. I have no intention of dividing the House at this time, but I am sure that these matters will be returned to at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

10 p.m.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 11: Page 1, line 10, leave out ("their fifth birthday") and insert ("they have attained the age of five years").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 11 is a purely technical amendment which seeks to ensure that the definition of nursery education with regard to the upper limit of children who may be covered is consistent with the commencement of compulsory schooling. I beg to move.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

This has all the appearance of being a drafting amendment. I confess that in considering it we were more than a little puzzled as to how it came to be here and why it had to stay. If I understand the Minister correctly, it concerns the definition of the age range for nursery education; that is, education before the first school term starting after a child's fifth birthday. It appeared to us that it sought purely to alter the terminology without altering the meaning in any particular way. We are strongly in favour of making every possible improvement to this Bill, especially in any area which gets us through the interminable thickets of the language of the parliamentary draftsman. Perhaps the noble Lord can assure us that what we understand it to mean is what it means, neither more nor less. It is hardly among the highest of our priorities, but we have no particular objection to it.

Lord Henley

As currently drafted, Clause 1 defines the upper limit as education provided before the start of the first term beginning after a child's fifth birthday. This would include education provided for children whose fifth birthday fell on the first day of term. However, such children would be of compulsory school age and be children for whom a full-time primary school place must be provided, and should not therefore be eligible for nursery education grant.

The noble Lord will see that the amendment affects only one in 365 children, or three in 365 children; that is, those children whose birthdays happen to fall on a certain day. I am afraid that my mathematics may not be up to it. However, it affects only a relatively small number.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

I am grateful to the noble Lord for that clarification. I believe that the correct figure is three in 365. Since we on these Benches and the Labour Party as a whole—new Labour, old Labour or Labour of any sort—are resolute defenders of minorities, especially those around the age of five, we have no objection to this amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 12 not moved.]

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 13: Page 1, line 14, at end insert— ("(2A) No arrangements may be made under subsection (1) above in respect of grants payable under this Act on or after 1 April 1997 before the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament an evaluation of the operation over a period of twelve months of any grants for nursery education in the area of any local education authority made during the financial year 1996/7.").

10.5 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 13) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 92; Not-Contents, 58.

Division No. 4
Addington, L. [Teller.] Judd, L.
Archer of Sandwell, L. Kirkhill, L.
Avebury, L. Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Lockwood, B.
Beaumont of Whitley, L. McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Berkeley, L. Mackie of Benshie, L.
Blackstone, B. McNally, L.
Borrie, L. Mallalieu, B.
Bruce of Donington, L. Mar and Kellie, E.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L. Mayhew, L.
Carter, L. Merlyn-Rees, L.
Clinton-Davis, L. Meston, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Methuen, L.
Craigavon, V. Mishcon, L.
Dahrendorf, L. Monkswell, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B. Morris of Castle Morris, L.
David, B. Nicol, B.
Davies, L. Ogmore, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Palmer, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B. Perry of Walton, L.
Desai, L. Peston, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Prys-Davies, L.
Donoughue, L. Rea, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Redesdale, L.
Dubs, L. Richard, L.
Eatwell, L. Robson of Kiddington, B.
Ewing of Kirkford, L. Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Ezra, L. Russell, E.
Falkland, V. Seear, B.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B. Sefton of Garston, L.
Gallacher, L. Serota, B.
Gladwin of Clee, L. Sewel, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B. Shepherd, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.] Southwell, Bp.
Grey, E. Strabolgi, L.
Hamwee, B. Taverne, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Haskel, L. Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Hayman, B. Thurso, V.
Hilton of Eggardon, B. Tope, L.
Hollick, L. Tordoff, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B. Turner of Camden, B.
Holme of Cheltenham, L. Varley, L.
Hooson, L. Warnock, B.
Jay of Paddington, B. Williams of Elvel, L.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L. Winston, L.
Addison, V. Chalker of Wallasey, B.
Balfour, E. Chesham, L. [Teller.]
Blatch, B. Cochrane of Cults, L.
Boardman, L. Courtown, E.
Bowness, L. Cox, B.
Brabazon of Tara, L. Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Bridgeman, V. Dean of Harptree, L.
Bruntisfield, L. Denton of Wakefield, B.
Burnham, L. Dixon-Smith, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B. Downshire, M.
Carnock, L. Elton, L.
Feldman, L. Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Ferrers, E.
Gage, V. Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Glenarthur, L. Marlesford, L.
Harmsworth, L. Miller of Hendon, B.
Harris of Peckham, L. Northbourne, L.
Henley, L. Northesk, E.
HolmPatrick, L. O'Cathain, B.
Howe, E. Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Inglewood, L. Rankeillour, L.
Rennell, L.
James of Holland Park, B. Seccombe, B.
Kingsland, L. Shaw of Northstead, L.
Lindsay, E. Skidelsky, L.
Lucas, L. Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Lyell, L. Trumpington, B.
McColl of Dulwich, L. Vivian, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L. Wynford, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

10.13 p.m.

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 14: Page 1, line 14, 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 and such standards shall accord no less indoor or outdoor space or levels of facilities than would have been required if the Education (Premises) Regulations 1981 had been in force.").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to require the setting of common space standards indoors and outdoors at no less than the 1981 regulation levels. The Education (School Premises) Regulations 1991 prescribed that: there shall be teaching and play-room accommodation of a total minimum net area of 2.3m2 for each pupil of the nursery school, or as the case may be, in the nursery classes".

Similar guidance issued by the Department of Health under the Children Act 1989 also recommended that an allocation of 2.3 square metres is a desirable standard for accommodating nursery school children of three to five years of age. That still stands, but the Government announced their intention to deregulate school premises in July 1995 and did so when they laid the statutory instrument just before Easter at the closing stages of the consideration of this Bill in the other House.

I cannot believe that the actual requirement, not the legal requirement, for space standards can have changed so quickly. That requirement still exists because parents expect that their children will have adequate space provision in schools. All children need adequate space in which to learn, move and play. However, confined teaching space and a lack of requirements for recreation areas will impact directly on the education for children under five. Dispensing with those regulations could have a significant detrimental impact on the social, physical and academic development of three and four year-olds with the effects for some children—depending on the nature of the facilities—remaining well into their school lives.

When parents send their children for pre-school education they expect to receive those basic minimum standards. That is the purpose of the amendment. We believe that it is important because if quality is to be maintained we need strong protection and statutory backing for clear and appropriate quality standards for the premises used for young children. Setting the voucher value at less than the notional cost of provision immediately creates a pressure for providers to cut costs in order to minimise the top-up fee that parents must be charged. Compromising on the standard and quality of premises is clearly a way of saving money. If that is to be avoided and a level playing field of high quality established for all providers, space and quality standards must be clear, unambiguous and universally applied.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that all premises offering funded nursery education comply with the minimum standards as laid down in the 1981 regulations. Where necessary, it would ensure that standards are improved before inclusion in the voucher scheme. Although the amendment has been moved just after a fairly important Division has taken place, it is, nevertheless, important. I hope that the Government will feel able to accept it without the need for Members of the Committee to go through the process of another Division in a few minutes' time. I beg to move.

Lord Skidelsky

I should like to make a few comments on the amendment. Once again, it exemplifies the Opposition's passion for over-regulation which has run right through all the amendments that they have proposed tonight. We all know that good education can take place in poor premises and that very bad education can take place in excellent premises. What conclusions do we draw from that? Well, governments should not be over-zealous in specifying standards as to space and facilities; and, indeed, not strike down good schools which do not have very good premises. But, no, the Opposition wants to specify standards in minute regulation. Therefore, we are back again to the motto that I suggested earlier: maximum regulation always means minimum choice. That is what the Opposition have been arguing for all evening.

It is no use saying that that is a political remark because this is an intensely political debate. We approach such problems from different positions. We want more choice and light regulation but noble Lords opposite want a great deal of regulation and very little choice. I very much hope my noble friend the Minister will resist the amendment.

Baroness David

All we are asking is that we should go back to the regulations that the Government already have in place; we are not asking for new regulations. Indeed, those regulations have been in place for a considerable time. We do not want relaxation so that much worse conditions will prevail than was the case before.

Lord Dixon-Smith

There is one small point that bears on the matter of regulation. In the good old, bad old days when there was a great deal of regulation, the concomitant effect was equally present; namely, that there was relatively low provision because the regulation inhibited it. Surely provision, even under what some people might consider less than adequate standards, is better than no provision at all. Indeed, provision is better than regulation in that respect.

Lord Elton

I would not altogether follow my noble friend because obviously one wants what provision there is to be of a suitable standard. However, I am not at all convinced that this is the way of securing that objective given first of all that there is already a matrix of requirements under health and safety regulations and fire regulations. I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell us what they are because it seems to me absurd to bring in one set of regulations in order merely to double bank another. Of course if they were to be in conflict with each other then confusion would become worse confounded.

To illustrate the point, I turn for a moment to Italy. The cheese makers in Italy are under a requirement to tile their cheesemaking rooms by the health and safety at work people and under an interdict against tiling their cheesemaking rooms by the heritage authorities of that country. That is a good illustration of what I have in mind. I hope my noble friend will be able to tell us what are the requirements at present under these other statutes, and also to bear in mind the general welcome there has been in this Chamber for the deregulating offensive—I think I can call it that—of Her Majesty's Government, which has resulted in the giving of work to the Select Committee on Delegated Powers to invigilate the process. It seems to me that if with one hand we do that and with the other we start laying on more regulations, we are creating a further round of deregulation for our own sub-committee. That would be a great waste of the time of this Chamber, as I suspect is this amendment. I hope my noble friend will resist it, but in the terms which I have described.

Baroness Seear

I must take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, as regards the introduction of a great deal of regulation. Of course we do not want the matter over regulated. We are only suggesting the reintroduction of regulations which were drawn up by this Government. I think back to the child minding arrangements which we entered into years ago. I think it was originally a Labour government who introduced those measures, but I forget which government introduced them. The lack of regulation in that area led to some horrid situations. We want a minimum of regulation which will ensure that we never see the kind of situation which we witnessed in those times—no one denies that—which arose because of the absence of regulation on child minding.

Lord Elton

Have the noble Baroness and her noble friends considered whether legislation by reference to a defunct regulation is a proper procedure, and whether they ought not to be considering reintroducing the regulations which have lapsed? It seems to me that it is difficult to refer to a ghost as it were and say, "Do it like him" because these are now ghostly regulations which are no longer in force.

Baroness Seear

That is a technical point which we can well look into. The whole point is that we do not want over regulation. We must not allow this debate to turn into a discussion of whether this area is regulated or not regulated. We want to ensure decent standards in which good education can be conducted. There have been regulations which have laid down those standards. It is that kind of regulation—not necessarily precisely those regulations—which we require at the present time. That is all we are talking about. There is a determined attempt to suggest that we are regulators; we on these Benches are far from being over-regulators.

Lord Elton

I am attempting to be helpful. Have the noble Baroness and the noble Lord considered whether the Education (Premises) Regulations 1981 were amended at any stage, because if they were, in law it will not be known whether the regulations referred to here are the unamended or the amended version. This is legislation, not a parlour game. It is important that anything we put on the statute book will work. It seems to me that this measure is defective in that respect.

Lord Tope

These regulations provide the space requirements which I certainly feel are adequate and appropriate. I do not wish to lose the point of this debate in an argument about the technicality of legal drafting for which, frankly, I am not qualified. If the Minister is prepared to say that he accepts the intention and the spirit of this amendment, and that at Report stage he will bring forward a better drafted Government amendment to achieve the same effect, I should be content to accept his assurance on that point. If, on the other hand, he does not say that, we shall have to consider the matter further.

Lord Henley

I was waiting for our colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench to intervene. However, they seem to have developed a strange reticence since the earlier stage of the Bill. I was awaiting another dissertation on the decline of the English language—on "quality ball", which noble Lords' colleagues in the Principality use: a form of words which I imagine could be interpreted in a completely different manner in other parts of the world. However, we need not go into that.

Baroness Seear

Is the noble Lord aware that ten past ten has passed?

Lord Henley

I am not clear why the noble Baroness refers to ten past ten or, for that matter, any other hour. We shall be here for considerably longer discussing the many amendments before us. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, will wish to discuss them at considerable length, as he always does; and I look forward to that. I look forward to discussing the amendments well after the 'witching hour and I look forward to coming back tomorrow on other business bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Whether that is true of noble Lords on the Opposition Front Bench is a matter for them. I do not know whether they have the resilience that we on these Benches have.

I do not believe that it makes sense to require voucher redeeming institutions to meet standards laid down in regulations that have now been superseded. New regulations will come into force later in the year. That issue has been through Parliament. It has been discussed in another place. To be tied to such regulations would be folly.

As the noble Lord, Lord Tope, will know perfectly well, following extensive consultation—the noble Lord knows just how extensive the consultation can be in the Department for Education and Employment—we decided to revoke those regulations. New regulations—the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1996—were laid in another place in February and will come into force on 1st September. That again was discussed in another place.

All maintained schools, including those which offer nursery education, will be required to comply with the new regulations. These retain and even strengthen the health and safety requirements of the 1981 regulations.

But we are deregulating the minimum requirements for teaching accommodation and recreation area because we believe that 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.

My noble friend Lord Elton raised a number of questions about other regulations which will protect children. Playgroups and other institutions registered under the Children Act will still have to adhere to the guidance under that Act. As a condition of registration under the Children Act, providers' premises must comply with a range of health and safety requirements, that, like the School Premises Regulations, ensure the safety of children.

In discussing a number of issues including Italian cheeses, my noble friend asked me to give greater detail of the effects of those health and safety regulations—what they do and how they protect the interests of children. I regret that owing to pressure of time I cannot go into quite the detail that my noble friend wishes. However, I can assure him that, while not being burdensome in the way that my noble friend Lord Skidelsky views many amendments—he is right to worry about excessive regulations—they adequately ensure the health and safety of the children attending such institutions.

The revised School Premises Regulations, and the relevant Children Act guidance, both contain important requirements for essential areas of health and safety like washing and toilet facilities and fire safety.

Our policies thus address fully the issue of premises standards for institutions that will be in a position to redeem nursery vouchers.

The noble Baroness, Lady David, asked why, when we had had the regulations for so long, we did not keep them. They date from as far back as 1981. A great deal has changed since then. We have seen quite a revolution in the world of education. The many changes were, as always, opposed by the party opposite, none more loud than the noble Baroness herself. But many of them are now warmly welcomed. We heard only today about the Damascene conversion of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, on the subject of the TTA.

Baroness David

These regulations were made in 1981. That was not by a Labour government.

Lord Henley

I did not say it was by a Labour government. The noble Baroness is right to remind us that we were lucky enough, even as far back as 1981, to have a Conservative government. They were made by a Conservative government on that occasion. Much has changed since then in the world of education. Perhaps I may give just one—

Lord Tope

I thank the Minister for giving way. I accept that much has changed in the education world, as elsewhere, since 1981. But will the Minister tell us what exactly has changed that means that a child in 1996 or 1997 requires less space than he or she did in 1981? What changes is he referring to that mean we should have more crowded conditions for our children?

10.30 p.m.

Lord Henley

Put very simply, the changes we have seen since 1981, which, I hope, as we continue this process of Damascene conversions, we shall see the noble Lord, Lord Morris, and others welcoming, are, for example, LMS and grant-maintained schools—changes that allow much more to be devolved through the schools themselves. As I said, if the noble Lord was listening to me, we believe it right that the governors and the LEAs are in the best position to make appropriate decisions, and decisions in relation to school premises. That does not mean, as again I made clear, that we shall not be publishing guidance. However, it does mean that they should make those decisions. That was not necessarily the case in 1981.

Having said all that, I hope that the noble Lord will now accept that his proposals are not necessary on this occasion. I therefore ask him to withdraw the amendment.

Lord Tope

I am less than convinced by the Minister's arguments. I am a strong supporter of LMS, if not GMS. But I really do not see how that means that children require less space then they did in 1981. What the Minister is saying is that, in the Government's view—

Lord Henley

If the noble Lord will bear with me, at no point did I say that children require less space than they did in 1981. What I said was that it was more appropriate that decisions of this sort should be made without being over-regulatory, as my noble friend Lord Skidelsky put it. I said that these decisions could, and should, be made by the schools and the LEAs themselves and there was no need for a central diktat from government of the sort that the noble Lord and the party opposite seek. On this occasion we have not heard from the official spokesmen of the party opposite. A strange silence seems to have crept over them which I fail to understand. We now feel that it is appropriate that the schools and the LEAs make decisions—with guidance, yes, but not as a result of government diktat.

Lord Tope

I understand what the Minister is saying. He is saying it is no longer appropriate to set minimum standards and that, if a provider can get away with providing less space than would have been required had the 1981 regulations been in effect, then so be it.

The point I made earlier was that because the value of the voucher is less than the cost of the provision in many cases the pressure upon a provider to reduce space in order to maximise the value to that provider of the voucher will be all the greater. It seems that the talk about LMS and GMS is a smokescreen. The need for minimum standards—not maximum standards, not a prescription or over-prescription, but simply minimum standards—is all the greater, not less, with the introduction of this scheme.

The Minister referred to the 1996 school premises regulations. In our view, they do not provide satisfactory standards of space and so on for young children. That is why we deliberately chose to go for the 1981 regulations—and we are immediately accused of being over-prescriptive and over-regulatory. The point has been made by my noble friend Lady Seear, among others, that these "terribly prescriptive, centralising" regulations were actually introduced by the same deregulating Government who are still in power, albeit for a short time to come.

The Minister has been far from convincing. I note what he says about the publishing of guidance. I believe that guidance is a lot less satisfactory than regulation, but we will certainly look at that guidance with interest and consider what he has had to say. For the time being at least, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 15: Page 1. line 14, at end insert— ("(2A) Nursery education falling within subsection (2) above includes educational provision by parents in their role as a child's first educator and arrangements made under this section may include grants for parenting education programmes which support parents in that role.").

The noble Lord said: The Committee will be surprised to hear that this is an important group of amendments. In rising to move Amendment No. 15, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 20 which is in my name.

These amendments are about the role of parents in the education of their children. The Bill as it stands makes no reference to the role of parents. I think it is generally agreed that one of the most important factors—perhaps the most important factor—in a child's success at school is parental support, encouragement and involvement. Some parents give this naturally. Some lack the confidence to give it, or the skill; and some are put off by schools which are unwelcoming. Parents from insecure and disadvantaged homes particularly need to be helped, involved and supported. This is a very worthwhile investment.

Troubled and damaged children who slip through the education net cost society very dear indeed in the end. A place at an EBD day school costs about £11,000 a year and at a boarding school £22,000; and we are told that these new secure units will cost £100,000 a year. If we compare that with the very low cost of keeping parents in the picture, interesting them in their children's education, empowering them with the confidence to become involved in helping their children and firing them with enthusiasm, any government who fail to make this small investment in parents will, in my view, be guilty of wasting a great deal of taxpayers' money later on.

Amendment No. 20 is designed to ensure that parents will not be excluded from being providers of nursery education just because they are parents, if they can provide education to the standards which are required in other ways. I beg to move Amendment No. 15.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

We on these Benches support the importance of involvement of parents in the education provision for children and in particular the very important role of parents in early years education. As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, said, even if one were merely to look at this in terms of the costs to society, the involvement of parents would be a valuable financial consideration.

Far more important than that is the quality of life. The quality of life of young children and the relationship between parents and children with regard to a child's educational future is often dependent on the fact that many parents experienced their own education within the context of seeing themselves as failing. There are many parents who are afraid of school. Their memory of school is of an environment in which they never felt they could succeed. The worst examples of extreme professionalism will have an environment in which parents' sense of inadequacy can actually be reinforced by the attitude of the educators, the professionals, who prevent parents from developing confidence in this new role.

During my contact with the education service, both in the playgroup sector and in particular in nursery schools, nursery units, reception classes and infant schools, I have seen excellent, outstanding examples of parental involvement projects being highly successful in terms of the confidence they have given to parents, and in terms of the confidence they give to the child, because as parents we all know that children tend to imitate rather than listen. If the child grows up in an environment where he or she observes that the parent is uneasy in the school environment, where he or she hears the parent saying, "We will not gain any benefit from this", it can undermine the child's first steps in education. But when the environment is good and the parents are involved right from the beginning, the child learns in a new environment and the parent benefits.

I consider this amendment to be one of the most important amendments that we are discussing tonight. It is critically important that we take seriously this area and this element. It gives me great pleasure to support Amendment No. 15.

Baroness David

My name is also to this amendment and I support very strongly what the noble Lord and my noble friend said. Parental involvement has been a theme to which I have returned time and again in this Chamber. We know that many parents are very much lacking in confidence. We also know of the excellent work that is going on in such places as the City Lit, where a great many parents of foreign extraction who do not speak English need to be given a great deal of confidence. If they are taken into the schools and helped, it does a great deal for the children's education.

This is an extremely important amendment. I hope that the Government will see their way to accepting it.

Lord Elton

I hope that my noble friend, who is so accustomed to disagreeing with those opposite him, will not regard their support for this amendment as a cause for immediately brushing it aside. I recognise that it is not framed and indeed I do not suppose that what it asks for is achievable in the terms in which it asks for it. But the noble Baroness, Lady David, touched on a point which ought to be common ground between the parties; namely, the crucial importance of the involvement of parents in their children's education, and not all parents are equipped to deliver that involvement.

Only last week, in common with the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, I heard that a parent who had been illiterate and unable to help her children in school had, as a result of the intervention of the school, learned to read. She had been enormously helpful to her children and quite changed their behaviour in the school. That is an extreme example. But it is the case that many parents are not adequate to give their children the help that they need. Sometimes it is simply because they find the school a very daunting place. If some of the effort and resources put into this Bill could be put into making the school less daunting and more amenable to the involvement of parents in the education of their children, it would be enormously to the advantage of the children and eventually society at large.

The effects are greatly underestimated. Some years ago, I and my committee drew attention to that matter in a report on discipline in schools. A great deal of work has been done on it since then and every piece of work has re-emphasised its importance.

I do not want to delay the Committee at this time of night. I merely want to ask my noble friend to keep that principle firmly in mind (even if he asks the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment) because it is crucial.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

From these Benches perhaps I may very briefly support this series of amendments. I also welcome the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who said what I hoped would be said on this series of amendments; namely, that this issue had nothing whatever to do with party politics but with something rather more important on which we could agree across party barriers. That was part of the burden of his earlier remarks.

Lord Elton

Perhaps I could advise the noble Baroness not to use those terms. Having sat for many years in the seat now occupied by my noble friend, I came to recognise that every serious assault on the Government's position was preceded by the statement, "This is not a party matter". This one really is not.

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

I thank the noble Lord. He criticised me and confirmed that I was correct at the same time, so I am not quite sure on which side I am supposed to be standing.

I wanted to draw attention to Amendments Nos 52 and 60 which are like equivalent amendments in relation to the physical and intellectual progress aspect. In the interesting and excellent document, Desirable Outcomes, a whole page is devoted to the importance of parents as partners. It would be a great help in watching how the process developed if the inspectors could look at it and take on board whatever they find during their inspection, in respect of the involvement of parents in their children's education, whether or not it is encouraging.

I take seriously what the noble Lord, Lord Elton said. We are seeing in schools examples of parental violence. The pupil is criticised and the parent's reaction is to come to the school and thump somebody. That is often because parents do not know how to approach the school which seems, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, rightly said, to be a daunting institution surrounded by a hedge of rules and regulations. However much we try to keep the doors open—and most schools do—it would be useful in the context of early years education if inspectors were to be asked to pay attention to the development of care for parental involvement in nursery education.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

I have not spoken during this Committee stage, but it is important for the Committee to remember that that is the whole point of vouchers. Parents will be very much less daunted by schools if the school's existence depends on their bringing their child. We must remember that. That is the whole point.

Lord Henley

I believe I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is aiming at. But these amendments in no way achieve what he desires. I find it rather peculiar that, despite knowing what his intentions were, having read it and seen what it did, the Opposition Front Bench and the Liberal Democrats signed up to an amendment which produces such inconsistency. The noble Baroness earlier accused the Government of inconsistency but this is inconsistency with a capital I; it is inconsistency on a major level.

An amendment such as this would allow the Secretary of State to treat parents as though they were a voucher-redeeming institution in themselves. The noble Baroness should have looked carefully at the amendment before signing up to it. I appreciate that that may not have been the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in his amendment, though it is his concern in Amendment No. 20 to which the noble Baroness has not signed up. The earlier amendment is defective and does not achieve what the noble Lord wants. It has much the same effect as Amendment No. 20 and we do not believe—I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, does not believe it, if she wishes to be consistent—that individual parents should he eligible to redeem vouchers.

Having said that, I can assure the Committee that we expect parents to be closely involved with their children's nursery education. Inspectors will have to include in their report their assessment of the quality of information for both parents and carers, and the chances for parents to be involved in their children's learning. Furthermore, the inspection reports will be required to be available to both parents and prospective parents alongside other published information. That will ensure that parents have the opportunity to play an active role in their child's education.

Going back to the intentions behind the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I should remind him that one part of the Bill is specifically for the funding of education for four year-olds; it is not for parents. I therefore have some doubts as to whether we can accommodate what the noble Lord wishes to accommodate. Having said that, I shall be more than happy to have further discussions with him between now and Report stage as to whether it is possible to do anything. However, I must first make clear what the Bill is designed to do and therefore what are the constraints in terms of what the noble Lord is trying to achieve.

Lord Northbourne

I am grateful to the noble Lord. I understand, and I recognised when I drafted the amendment, that he has a problem there. However, it could well be argued that the cheapest and the best way to effect the beginnings of education for some children is to help their parents to give it.

With regard to the later amendment, I did mean to say in Amendment No. 20 that groups of parents who got together to form a playschool or a nursery school to provide a nursery education, if they could meet all the standards which were required by the inspection, should have the opportunity to do so. I am grateful for the noble Lord's invitation to come and talk about it and I shall certainly do so. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 16 to 20 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Cox)

In calling Amendment No. 21, I should point out that if it is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 22 because of pre-emption.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 21: Page 1, line 20, leave out from ("or) to ("are") in line 21 and insert ("a grant made under arrangements under this section shall he determined in such manner as may be prescribed; and regulations may, in particular, provide for the determination to be made by reference to an amount (or amounts) specified for the purpose by the Secretary of State. ( ) The times at which, and the manner in which, grants made under arrangements under this section").

The noble Lord said: I referred to this amendment earlier today. The Committee will recall that during the Second Reading of the Bill I gave notice that, in the light of the views of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, the Government would be introducing an amendment dealing with the method of determining the amount of grant that is to be paid to providers.

I explained that our aim is to strike a sensible balance between providing appropriate parliamentary control and excluding administrative details from the face of the Bill. The Government's amendment achieves just that.

It provides for the method of calculating the amount of grant to be paid to providers to be set out in regulations, thus ensuring that a fundamental element of the arrangements of the voucher scheme is subject to parliamentary scrutiny. The Government intend this to be a per capita amount per term for each child for whom nursery education is provided in that term. But the amendment is framed to allow the Secretary of State the flexibility to determine, and thus to adjust, the per capita amount to be used or to adopt different amounts for different cases, as necessary.

In moving this amendment, I refer to the report of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. It said that if the House agrees to the amendments the Government propose to bring forward, the delegated powers in the bill will be subject to appropriate parliamentary control; and that there is nothing further in the bill on which we invite the House to act". I beg to move.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

As the Minister said, the amendment responds to the recommendation of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, which is itself taking up the Government's suggestion in their evidence that an amendment of this type should be moved. It means that the method of determining the amount of grant in each year will be subject to regulations open to parliamentary scrutiny rather than being decided under arrangements.

The value of the grant in the pilot year is £1,100 and this corresponds to the value of vouchers given to parents, although it is not actually required so to correspond since there is no provision for vouchers in the legislation. By the same token, the deductions from the LEA are also set at £1,100 in the current year, and again these could vary in future years from the value of grants. The mechanism for the setting of the grant level is nonetheless the core around which the financial side of the system will operate. It is right that there should be proper scrutiny. The amendment does not actually give Parliament the right necessarily to agree the actual level as opposed to the means by which it should be determined. The second half of the amendment does give power for the regulations to prescribe a determination by reference to "an amount"—i.e., to name a figure—but that is not mandatory. The amendment which stands in my name and the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, Amendment No. 24, achieves that object, but that is a matter for separate consideration. We are perfectly happy to accept the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 23 not moved.]

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 24: Page 1. line 22, leave out ("by the arrangements") and insert ("annually by order").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 85. The purpose of the amendment is to require an annual voucher value setting order which would be debatable. This amendment, along with one to Clause 7(3), will require an annual order laid under the negative resolution procedure to state the amount of grants. Let us see what the Minister thinks of that.

The Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee of this place reported on this Bill on 1st May 1996. The report recorded that the Secretary of State had agreed, at his committee's request, to table an amendment in this place so that the method of calculation of grant is set out in regulations subject to the negative procedure". This amendment, along with the amendment to Clause 7(2) requires an order to be made annually on the amount of grant to be paid to nursery providers.

The issue which divides the amendment from the Government amendment is that there will have to be a statutory instrument each year giving the grant arrangements. The reason for that is that the Government have not stated how the grant arrangements will change from one year to the next. If they remain the same there will be no need for a further statutory instrument and therefore no parliamentary scrutiny through that avenue. The Government have not stated how the value of the voucher will vary from one year to the next. Will it be based on the retail prices index, or will it be related to education costs or earnings? It is a probing amendment to discover what the Government's intentions are on this matter.

Nursery education providers need to know the mechanism for receiving money, but they need also the protection of secondary legislation to know how much money they will receive. In our view the Government amendment does not quite fulfil that requirement, but our amendment, coupled with the amendments to lines 20 and 22, require that all the financial arrangements will be in regulations and that those must be reviewed annually by Parliament.

Amendment No. 85 corrects an earlier misreading of Clause 7 and secures the aim of the main amendment in the group headed by Amendment No. 21, that there should be a vote in Parliament on the order to set the voucher value. I beg to move.

Baroness David

Amendment No. 25 is in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. It is grouped with this amendment. Amendment No. 25 would allow for the consideration of, and resourcing for, continuity and stability for children in educational terms. The current arrangements may jeopardise continuity between pre and post-five provision.

In A Framework for the Primary Curriculum (1989) the National Curriculum Council stressed the need to plan for progression and continuity in order to enable children to transfer smoothly from pre-statutory to statutory provision and from one phase of education to the next. It points out that in primary schools where there are nursery classes, continuity is eased where nursery class teachers are involved as full members of the primary team.

The HMI report A survey of provision for under-fives in the playgroup and maintained sectors in Wales: Inspected during Academic Year 1994-95 includes as a feature of good practice: There are close links with the next stage of education to promote continuity and progression. Children benefit from being taught by qualified teachers who are able to build the links between the individual knowledge and understanding of each pupil and the expectations of the national curriculum and the broader components of school life. In settings where curriculum provision is largely underdeveloped children are less likely to be able to cope with the educational demands at school.

The Rumbold Report Starting with Quality (1990) states: On current evidence we believe that continuity is likely to be better between nursery education and primary education than between other provision for the under fives and primary school. Children also benefit from continuity of environment as well as that of the curriculum. In such terms, some settings are able to provide greater continuity and stability than others.

The Rumbold Report supports that statement and says, continuity is likely to be easier where the child moves from a nursery class to the same school's reception class than when there is a move between nursery school and primary school. I hope that the Minister will pay attention to that point.

11 p.m.

Lord Henley

I always listen with the closest attention to everything the noble Baroness has to say. I do not think that the arrival of my noble friend the Chief Whip interrupted her thoughts one jot.

Amendment No. 24 would require the amount of grant, and the time and manner in which it was paid, to come before Parliament either in regulations or in an annual order. I believe that to be undesirable.

The Government propose that the amount of grant received by providers should depend on the number of voucher-bearing pupils they attract. The precise amount of grant payable to each provider will therefore differ in each case and be impossible to predict.

Under the Government's proposal, Parliament would scrutinise the method by which grant was to be determined and would be informed of the per capita amount to be used in determining grant and any changes to that amount. That seems to me a sensible and practical approach.

The noble Lord asked me to go further and explain how my right honourable friend will consider the matter and decide to uprate it. I am afraid that I cannot help the noble Lord. As with all public expenditure, the value needs to be considered in the light of the overall public expenditure round and is something that my right honourable friend will consider each year in the light of other pressures and demands in the world of education. The Government as a whole will consider such matters in the light of all the other demands on government expenditure. These amendments would require subordinate legislation to specify the amount of grant providers will receive. That seems unrealistic and unworkable.

I turn briefly to Amendment No. 25, to which the noble Baroness, Lady David, spoke. The Audit Commission report, Counting to Five, shows that the hourly rate implied by the voucher (if it is exchanged for a part-time place) is not far from expenditure in a variety of institutions. We have said that we will be looking at the value of the voucher across the country and will consider whether there is a need for regional variations in value.

However, I am not convinced that this is a workable amendment. The responsibility for assessing individual children's needs rests at a local level with the provider, not with central government. Children have differing needs and develop at their own pace. Therefore, the amount of time and money needed will vary from child to child. Providers are in the best place to reach a judgment on this and to manage their resources accordingly.

In some places the cost of a place will exceed the voucher value. But in local authority schools, the LEA will still retain funds, as at the moment, to do so—and budgets will be reduced by only the voucher value for each four year-old. In the private and voluntary sector it will be for parents to top up the voucher. The voucher will enable parents to choose which setting offers the most appropriate provision for their child. Therefore, I hope that amendment will not be pressed.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

Amendment No. 24 was worth a try. I am not unduly surprised that the Minister is not terribly content with it and I thank him for the courtesy with which he explained his position. I appreciate the noble Lord's points about his right honourable friend. This is a matter on which we shall have to differ. We may return to it at a later stage; meanwhile I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 25 not moved.]

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 26: Page 1, line 22, at end insert— ("(4A) Nothing shall be taken to prevent, or to afford any right of appeal against, a refusal by any authority or person to provide (or continue to provide) a child with a place for nursery education at a maintained school if the reason for the refusal is that a relevant condition has not been complied with in relation to the child; and this subsection applies even if the child has been provided with, or offered, a place at the school before the commencement of this subsection. In this subsection—

  1. (a) "a maintained school" means a school maintained by a local education authority, a grant-maintained school or a grant-maintained special school, and
  2. (b) "a relevant condition" means a prescribed condition designed to facilitate the determination of the amount of grants payable under arrangements under this section.").

The noble Lord said: Again, I beg to move a technical amendment. It responds to views which have been expressed by a number of local education authorities and, I hope, will be welcomed by them.

In nursery schools and classes it is possible for admissions authorities—either LEAs or governing bodies—to place conditions on the places they offer to children. It may be therefore that an admissions authority offers a child a place in a nursery school with a condition that relates to the presentation of the nursery education voucher to the school. The law on admissions is not quite the same for reception classes in primary schools.

The purpose of the amendment is to clarify the position in reception classes and to ensure that reception classes, nursery schools and nursery classes are all on an equal footing. We propose giving admissions authorities a power to place conditions on the offer of reception class places. This is a power. It is entirely up to individual LEAs and governing bodies to decide whether or not to exercise that power.

Let me also make clear that this new power is very tightly drawn. There is no question of allowing admissions authorities to impose any sort of condition—only conditions that are prescribed and allow the amount of grant payable under this Bill to be determined.

Of course, all four year-olds are entitled to a nursery education voucher. Therefore, there is no reason why parents of eligible children should not get their vouchers or present them to schools. With that brief explanation I hope that the noble Lord is prepared to accept this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

This is an interesting and potentially helpful amendment. It gives an insight into the potential human cost of the voucher arrangements. The purpose of the amendment is to allow any person or authority to refuse to admit, or if in attendance to exclude, a child from nursery education in an LEA-maintained or grant-maintained school if the voucher is not produced. It seems to me that there is a flaw in the arrangements which this amendment has the potential to remedy. If a child is in a part-time maintained place in the morning but goes to a voluntary and private part-time place in the afternoon, because the morning place is free the parent can choose to use the voucher for the afternoon provision. This amendment gives legal sanction to excluding the child from the morning session if the parent has not produced the voucher.

However, the human cost of excluding a child—perhaps a three year-old—who has already settled into a nursery class ought not to be underestimated. The provision can also be used to exclude a child whose parents have not presented a voucher for any reason, no matter how genuine. The child may be a new immigrant whose parents are not in receipt of child benefit. There is also the prospect that grant-maintained schools, who are fully in charge of their own admission arrangements and finance, may wish to exclude children whose parents do not produce vouchers immediately, whereas an LEA school may take a more humane approach to the receipt of vouchers and give parents warning of the consequences of not producing it. It may increase the divide between LEA and grant-maintained primary schools.

I believe that there are two issues which need a little more probing. First, can the Minister define "any authority or person" in the second line of the amendment? Does it mean that the LEA can direct voluntary schools to refuse to continue to educate a child whose parents do not have a voucher? Can the head teacher of a maintained school exclude a child whose parents have not been sent a voucher, even though the LEA may be prepared to wait for another couple of weeks for the voucher to be presented? Are these matters that can be dealt with within the confines of the LMS scheme?

Secondly, the amendment refers to "a relevant condition" as a condition to do with payment of grants, but the precise nature of any conditions will be subject to regulations. Can the Minister state what the regulations will prescribe? For instance, how much notice will a parent have before a child is excluded? Will children who are not on the child benefit database be excluded from the provision? It is worth noting that there is a retrospective provision in the amendment. A child can be excluded under the provision even though he or she has been admitted to school before the commencement of the provision. Can the Minister offer any help on those matters?

Lord Henley

I believe that at this time of night it would be rash of me to attempt to answer the detail of the noble Lord's questions. I prefer to write to the noble Lord in greater detail. It may help if I explain what would have happened without the amendment. That may give the noble Lord some idea why we felt it necessary to table the amendment. The objective of the amendment is to make a link between the voucher and place in the maintained school. It has been drawn to our attention in Phase 1 that there is room for clarification and giving equal treatment to nursery schools, nursery classes and reception classes. The consequence is to ensure that each school receives funding for the four year-olds that it takes. I believe that that is only right and proper. I believe that that will be welcomed by the LEAs who have brought it to our attention in Phase 1. If the noble Lord agrees, I prefer to write in greater detail to him.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 27: Page 1, line 22, at end insert— ("( ) A grant made under arrangements under this section may be made to the governing body of an aided or special agreement school 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 noble Baroness said: I move Amendment No.27 in the absence of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon. The amendment addresses the need of voluntary-aided primary schools to receive capital funding to extend or alter their premises to make new nursery education provision.

The amendment arises because of the desire of local education authorities to make provision for nursery classes in voluntary aided schools. As a member of the local education authority in England with the largest number of voluntary aided schools, I speak from personal experience when I say that the LEA is not responsible for the costs of this provision and may not make provision from the capital expenditure approvals.

The building costs have to be found by the schools' trustees, governors and dioceses, although 85 per cent of the cost is grant aided by the DfEE. Frequently however, the DfEE has refused to find the 85 per cent, and that has caused much frustration. In certain years the Government have advised voluntary aided school governors and diocesan authorities not to submit bids for funding of nursery provision. The reason is that the Treasury has been reducing education capital spending significantly over recent years and nursery education provision has not featured high on the list of urgent priorities in the voluntary aided school sector. The amendment attempts to address the imbalance.

I cite the example of a local authority of which I am a member, Lancashire County Council. In looking at the provision of nursery schools, classes and units, the authority has attempted to evaluate the areas of greatest need taking into account that the most appropriate need on the list of developments would be a voluntary aided school. That has often been thwarted by the actions of the DfEE. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

The amendment is intended to empower the Secretary of State to make capital grants under Clause I to the governing body of an aided or special agreement school. I can assure the noble Baroness, in her role as the right reverend Prelate—I welcome the fact that the Church of England is moving further forward - that grant will continue to be available to voluntary aided and special agreement schools under Section 281 of the 1993 Act as now, subject to the need to prioritise bids in the light of the need to ration scarce resources.

I understood that that was the kind of reassurance that the right reverend Prelate was seeking. I hope it is the sort of assurance that the noble Baroness, in her role as the right reverend Prelate, is also seeking. If that is the case, I hope that she will be able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I am very happy to take on this role. I hope that the Minister will not discuss whether or not enacting the policy he has referred to is dependent on his right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Environment who may not share his view about welcoming me as a right reverend prelate. At this stage I shall not press the amendment. I look forward to reading Hansard. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 28. After Clause 1, insert the following new clause—


(".—(1) A local authority shall secure the provision of nursery education within the meaning of section 1(2) above for children within its area. (2) The Secretary of State may, after consulting such persons as appear to him to be concerned, issue guidance to authorities as to the fulfilment of their duties under this section.").

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

I beg to move Amendment No. 28. It is—

Lord Henley

We spent considerable time on securing groupings. We went through about four drafts. Amendment No. 28 was grouped with Amendment No. 7; we discussed it earlier. I see little to be gained by discussing it yet again unless we are to be here all night.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

All I was going to do was say, "Not moved".

[Amendment No. 28 not moved.]

11.15 p.m.

Clause 2 [Delegation]:

[Amendments Nos. 29 to 31 not moved.]

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Requirements]:

[Amendment No. 32 not moved.]

Lord Rix moved Amendment No. 33: Page 2, line 10, after ("shall") insert ("have regard to any code of practice issued by the Secretary of State under section 157 of the Education Act 1993 and shall").

The noble Lord said: I wish to concentrate my few remarks on Amendments Nos. 33 and 88. In tabling the amendments, I and my noble friends Lady Warnock and Lord Northbourne seek to ensure that all voucher-redeeming institutions—I apologise for the jargon—have regard to the code of practice on special educational needs. No doubt other Members of the Committee will speak to Amendments Nos. 44, 47 and 73.

At the moment, the Bill does not require the private or voluntary sector to have regard to the code of practice. I believe that it is essential. The code of practice is based on good practice gathered from the maintained sector. I believe that it is flexible enough to be used by a variety of organisations.

I readily accept that not every section of the code will be relevant in all settings. However, having regard to the code gives enough scope to use only those parts of it which are relevant.

Although, as the Bill stands, all providers will have to publish policies on special educational needs, if those policies are developed without use of the code they may encourage and reinforce bad practice. I am sure that we are on common ground in wanting quality, and quality requires attention to principles and detail. I hope that the Minister can reassure me on those matters. I look forward to hearing his comments. I beg to move.

Baroness David

My name is to Amendment No. 47. The amendment would require all voucher-redeeming institutions to produce a written SEN policy. The code of practice states: as part of their statutory duties, governing bodies of all maintained schools must publish information about, and report on, the school's policy on special educational needs". The production of school SEN policies provides an opportunity to audit each school's needs in a systematic way. The Education (Special Educational Needs) (Information) Regulations 1994 prescribe the information which the school must make available. For example, the checklist contained in the SEN policy outlined in Regulation 2 and Schedule 1, and reproduced in the code of practice, includes the requirement for basic information to be published on, any special facilities which increase or assist access to the school by pupils with SEN". This requirement to produce such comprehensive SEN policies has proved vitally important in terms of ensuring the identification, assessment and subsequent provision for children with SEN in maintained schools. The benefits of identifying and assessing the special needs of children as early as possible are obvious, and it is vital for these children that any subsequent provision is both adequate and appropriate.

The current Government and the Labour Party are both keen on baseline assessment as a focus or starting point for value-added measurement. The identification of a child's special educational needs at the age of four (or younger) would dramatically increase that child's chances of later success. Therefore it is extremely important that all forms of provision for four year-olds should be required to publish information about, and report on, their SEN policies with regard to the code of practice's SEN policy checklist. That is an extremely important requirement.

The DfEE next steps document lists the publication of SEN policies in the information that providers should be required, as a condition of the voucher grant, to provide annually for parents. However, it gives no indication of what form this SEN policy should take. The amendment would ensure that all providers follow the SEN policy checklist as outlined in the Education (Special Educational Needs) (Information) Regulations 1994. I hope that the Minister can see his way to accepting this group of amendments.

Lord Northbourne

I rise to speak to Amendments Nos. 44 and 73. Amendment No. 44 is a modest little compromise amendment about the identification of special educational needs. The noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, in moving Amendment No. 10, sought to require all providers to employ a qualified teacher. I presume that that means one person full-time. It seems to me that that may be a very exacting requirement in the case of a small nursery provider in, say, a remote area where there are only half a dozen children involved and where provision could adequately be made by a trained playschool leader, perhaps supported by mothers or grannies.

However, such staff might not have the skills to identify special educational needs, so it seems to me that the employment of a specialist teacher part-time for a minimum, as I have suggested in the amendment, of 15 hours a term would ensure that special educational needs were identified. If the principle of the amendment were to be accepted by the Government, I think it would probably need to be backed by a consequential amendment on Report which would require all schools to notify the social services of children with special educational needs so that some action can be taken to deal with the matter and help them.

Amendment No. 73 is, I admit, a slightly "rogue" amendment. I believe in vouchers but I do not really support this scheme because I believe that the value of vouchers ought to be related to the needs of the child and to the costs of fulfilling those needs. I tabled the amendment under what I believe now to be a misunderstanding about the Government's intentions. Perhaps the Minister will now confirm whether or not I am correct in believing the following. If a child with special educational needs is, at present, being educated in a state school and it is costing, say, £4,000, will the local authority lose £4,000 under the new scheme or will it lose £1,100 from the clawback? I believe I am right in saying that it will only lose £1,100 which it will then get back, in which case the importance of the amendment is not as great as it might otherwise have been.

However, it seems to me that there is a pot of money which could easily be available to help the children in most need. I simply cannot believe that any person who is wealthy enough to pay tax at 40 per cent. would not be prepared to accept a hand-out of £660, instead of a hand-out of £1,100, if he or she knew that the balance was going to help children in need.

Lord Addington

I should just like to express my support for the tenets of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rix. I also give my full support to Amendment No. 47 tabled in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady David. Early recognition is a great tool for anyone giving assistance in this field. If you identify a problem, you can then start to do something about it—or, at the very least, you can stop doing things which may aggravate that child's problems in the classroom. If we are starting to educate at the age of four, then there will be a slightly longer period during which teaching practices may compound problems. Early recognition and trying to get some statement of intent is vitally important to the whole system. I suggest that we cannot start early enough in the field.

Baroness Darcy (de Knayth)

I should like to support this group of amendments. I shall be brief, even though this is the first time that I have spoken tonight. Amendment No. 44 in the name of my noble friend Lord Northbourne would ensure that each establishment employs a teacher for at least 15 hours a term who could identify children with special educational needs. That seems to me to be a valuable and extremely modest requirement. I particularly support Amendment No. 33, so succinctly moved by the noble friend Lord Rix, which relates to the duty to, have regard to any code of practice issued by the Secretary of State", which would bring the legislation into line with that for schools.

I also warmly support Amendment No. 47 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady David, and the noble Lord, Lord Addington, which would ensure that "every authority" had a duty to make and maintain a statement of its special educational needs policy. That would be excellent. It would mean that we would have a duty right across the educational field with nursery schools, schools, further and higher education colleges, together with LEAs, providing further education. It would make for coherence and continuity in provision for pupils with special educational needs and students with learning difficulties. I very much hope, therefore, that the Minister will give an encouraging reply, not only to my noble friend Lord Rix but also to the noble Baroness, Lady David, and my noble friend Lord Northbourne.

Lord Henley

I hope that I can be encouraging on this occasion, though I cannot accept all the amendments, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, asked. However, I hope I can go some way down that track. I start by answering the point put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, when he asked about a figure of £4,000 and whether all that would be lost, or whether he was right in assuming that the figure is £1,100. I was trying to nod, but obviously nodding does not get onto the record. He was right in saying that only £1,100 pounds would be deducted for every child, regardless of the cost of the place.

I turn now to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, which he and I discussed at a meeting where a number of points were put before us. We thought the meeting might last some time, but because there was such agreement among us all, the meeting was over before the tea was cold or the chocolate biscuits finished. I am sure the noble Lord will be pleased to learn that having considered his amendment, and listened to the representations he and others made, we have decided to place on the face of the Bill a requirement that all voucher-redeeming institutions not already covered by the duty in Section 157 of the 1993 Act "have regard" to the SEN code of practice.

However, in placing such a requirement on the face of the Bill we need to build on the noble Lord's amendment. Therefore he will quite understand if we cannnot accept his amendment precisely as tabled. It is important not to forget that the code of practice was written primarily with local education authorities and maintained schools in mind. It was not drafted with playgroups and private nursery schools in mind. As such, a good deal of the code is not directly relevant to non-LEA providers.

We have therefore decided, in order to make the code more accessible to voucher-redeeming institutions in the private and voluntary sectors, that we will issue complementary guidance on the code. We envisage that that guidance will highlight the key principles of the code, and issues relevant to private and voluntary providers.

I see such guidance as essential in the short to medium term. We need to ensure that private and voluntary providers are aware of and comfortable with the requirements of the code. At such time as we revise the code, we shall see that its contents are suitable over the various settings in which the under-fives receive education with support from public funds.

I stress that that complementary guidance will be just that—complementary. It will complement the code by flagging up the key principles for those not familiar with them. It will not in any way dilute the standing of the code itself. The code will remain the point of reference. We shall be consulting shortly on the detailed content of this guidance. In bringing forward our amendment, we will expand on the noble Lord's amendment. The result will be that all voucher-redeeming institutions will have to have regard to the code, and to any complementary guidance issued alongside it.

I hope therefore the noble Lord will feel it unnecessary to press his amendment, and I hope other noble Lords will understand why, having gone that far, I am not prepared to go quite as far on some of the other amendments. I start with Amendment No. 44 from the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, which seeks to make it a requirement that all voucher-redeeming institutions employ for a minimum of 15 hours per week a person qualified to identify children with SEN—

Lord Northbourne

It is 15 hours per term.

Lord Henley

I apologise to the noble Lord. Of course he is right; it is 15 hours per term. I do not think that such a requirement is needed. I am confident that many of the staff who are working with the under-fives have the necessary skills and experience to work with children with SEN.

Moreover, I have already outlined the commitment we have made to children with SEN by requiring all voucher-redeeming institutions to have regard to the code of practice and to publish information about their SEN provision. We believe that those requirements will help ensure that the needs of SEN children are identified and addressed, and will help identify the training needs of staff. We have included an element for training within the voucher value and individual institutions could obviously use that according to their specific needs.

Turning to the request by the noble Baroness, Lady David, for a written statement of SEN policy, this clause seeks to place a duty on providers of nursery education to produce and keep an up-to-date written statement of their policy for making provision for children with SEN within the meaning of Section 156 of the Education Act 1993.

The availability of information for parents about an individual institution's policy on SEN is important to enable parents to make informed choices as to the most appropriate pre-school setting for their child. Again I argue that the noble Baroness's proposed new clause is unnecessary. We have made it clear that it will be a requirement of grant that all providers participating in the nursery education voucher scheme must publish on an annual basis information for parents which must include details of the provider's SEN policy. I shall not go into detail as to exactly what should be provided. I do not think that at this time of night the noble Baroness would wish me to continue at great length. However, in offering to write to the noble Baroness with further details, I hope that that will speed matters up.

The publication of SEN policies as a requirement of grant, together with a duty on all providers to have regard to the SEN code of practice, will enable parents to make appropriate, informed, considered and confident choices about the type of provision for their child.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, described his amendment as the rogue amendment. I am opposed to the amendment for two reasons. First, I do not believe that it would be desirable to make vouchers a taxable benefit; and even less desirable then to hypothecate the tax. The noble Lord will know that we are unwilling to hypothecate taxes. Secondly, we believe that resources for nursery education for children with special educational needs are already being provided. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will not feel it necessary to pursue that amendment further.

I hope that the concessions that I have announced for the noble Lord, Lord Rix, will go a considerable way towards allaying some of the concerns of other noble Lords who have spoken on the amendments.

Lord Rix

I am delighted with the Minister's response. It was certainly worth waiting these long hours to hear those words of comfort. I was also delighted with the response we received when we met the Minister last Thursday in the department to discuss Amendments Nos. 33 and 88. It was clear then that we were pushing at an open door. I hope that noble Lords who put forward Amendments Nos. 44, 47 and 73, will feel that they have not wasted their time this evening and that some form of favourable response will come from the Minister in due course.

I am grateful for such a short debate on the amendments and for the fact that, although the wording will not be precisely as tabled, in the fullness of time it will be similar. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 34 not moved.]

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 35: Page 2, line 11, at end insert— ("( ) 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 arrangements under section 1.").

The noble Baroness said: The Minister will not be altogether surprised that I have returned to a theme which I have followed for about 15 years—moving sometimes a little way and sometimes quite a long way. I hope that we can move a little way tonight.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that all children in institutions providing early years care and education are protected from institutional corporal punishment. We are talking here of four year-old and possibly three year-old children. Surely no one these days on either side of the House would seek to justify institutional corporal punishment for such children.

When I raised the issue at Second Reading, the Minister responded at col. 722 of the Official Report of 20th May that he believed that protecting voucher-bearing children was sufficient. In our view it is not. Surely there have been enough instances of abuse and ill-treatment of children in institutions to convince the Government that there must be no confusion whatever over teachers' and other carers' rights to hit children.

We appreciate that the Bill cannot be used to solve the problem properly by extending the existing prohibition on corporal punishment to cover all institutions, including those in the private sector. But it can and should be used to ensure at least that the very young children in all the institutions involved in the voucher scheme are protected.

Ministers in the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Employment know that educational organisations—those involved in early years care and education and child welfare, and child protection groups, including the NSPCC—all strongly oppose the use of corporal punishment. The National Early Years Network and the Law Reform for Children's Day Care Group strongly support this amendment.

Whatever the Government may say, the current proposals are a step backwards. The Department of Health has maintained for years that, Physical punishment has no place in the childcare environment". Back in 1987, in answer to a parliamentary Question, Edwina Currie, then a junior Department of Health Minister, stated that, There are no circumstances in which corporal punishment would he appropriate for children attending local authority day nurseries or any premises registered under the Nurseries and Child-Minders Regulation Act 1948". What has changed to lead the Government now to tolerate institutional corporal punishment of these young children?

The current proposals will not even implement the DfEE's limited policy that there must be no corporal punishment in publicly funded institutions or of state supported pupils. Children in maintained nursery schools and nursery classes are of course already protected. But day nurseries are fully publicly funded. Playgroups receive public funds. Yet, under these proposals non-voucher bearing children in those institutions will not be protected from corporal punishment.

The only adequate and humane solution within the scope of this Bill is to ensure that corporal punishment cannot be used in any voucher-redeeming institution. I appreciate that this amendment may not be the best way of achieving this. It can probably be achieved by regulations. But in moving the amendment, I am seeking an assurance that the Government will accept the need to protect from corporal punishment all children in all the institutions involved in the voucher scheme, and to do so through legislation. Guidance is not enough.

The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, regrets that he could not stay to support me in this amendment, but he wishes it to be said that he very strongly supports it. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

I know that the noble Baroness feels particularly strongly on this matter. I know her interest goes wider than this Bill and that she has pursued it for a number of years. The noble Baroness will remember that in answer to a Written Question earlier this year, I made it clear that it is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to prohibit corporal punishment for all state-funded education.

Clearly, education provided in exchange for nursery education vouchers is "state-funded education" and as such we will ensure that no child receiving eduction by virtue of its use of a nursery education voucher is subjected to corporal punishment. We intend to do so through a condition of grant. I believe that is as clear a way of doing it as any.

I hope that the noble Baroness appreciates—I am not quite clear about the scope of her amendment—that this would not be the place for a wider debate on corporal punishment generally; this Bill relates only to children funded through the grant arrangements. Therefore we must confine ourselves to that group. I hope that the assurance I have given her, and gave again in a Written Answer on 12th February, will be sufficient. I make it quite plain that, through the conditions of grant, we intend to make it quite clear that no child receiving education by virtue of its use of a nursery education voucher is subjected to corporal punishment.

Baroness David

I thank the Minister for his reply. But I did say myself when I spoke that I did not look on this Bill as a way of preventing, or trying to prevent, corporal punishment in every private establishment. However, I am not quite clear from the Minister's answer whether the institutions where any government money is going will be prevented from using corporal punishment or only the children who have vouchers. It would seem to me a very odd situation if in any institutional educational establishment some children were able to be hit and not others. It would be perfectly ridiculous, rather like the ridiculous Bill that was brought forward by Keith Joseph which was ignominiously thrown out by this place. Could the Minister please make it clear.

Lord Henley

It is so unlikely that there would be an institution that allowed some children in receipt of vouchers not to be beaten but allowed others whose parents paid for facilities to be beaten. I do not think one would have an institution of that sort. There might be private sector institutions that would not become voucher-redeeming institutions which might, as with other private schools, wish to go on making use of corporal punishment. The assurance I am giving to the noble Baroness is that no child in receipt of vouchers will be subjected to corporal punishment and I do not think that any schools will have two classes of pupil dependent on whether they do or do not receive vouchers.

Baroness David

Will the Minister at least give guidance to that effect?

Lord Henley

There is a limit to how much guidance we can issue. The suggestion that there could be such a school is so beyond all ideas of reality that it is hardly necessary.

Baroness David

I agree it is ridiculous, but I would have liked a further assurance. However, I shall discuss the Minister's reply with the noble Lord, Lord Henderson, and see whether he is satisfied with what the Minister has said. I am not quite sure that I am, but for the moment I beg leave to withdraw. Amendment, by leave, withdrawn. [Amendment No. 36 not moved.]

Lord Addington moved Amendment No. 37: Page 2. line 12, at end insert— ("( ) shall require that an authority or person to whom grant is made under arrangements under section 1 is subject to the requirements of Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995,").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I think it is best that I start off with a question to the Minister. He has just said that special educational needs provision will be enhanced and brought forward with the Bill. Thus, does the provision address the type of school about which this amendment is talking? This amendment and Amendments Nos. 37 and 91 are about those children in non-maintained schools in receipt of vouchers who fall outside the Disability Discrimination Act and within the statutory requirement for education, which is designed for five year-olds, and which is expanded down. Therefore, there is an area where a child is vulnerable to discrimination. The problem is that there is a possibility that the state may fund a child in an educational programme where it is quite legal to discriminate against him because he is not defended. This is what lies behind both these amendments. If this has been corrected by what the Minister has just said, I will of course withdraw the amendment straight away. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

I suspect I missed an opportunity to make the noble Lord aware of the letter I wrote on the 4th June this year to David Grayson, the new Chairman of the National Disability Council. It is a letter that I showed to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, dealing with the very point about which the noble Lord is concerned. First, I want to make it quite clear that I will make a copy of the letter available to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and he might like to consider that in the light of what he does at a later stage. The first point I want to make is that the voucher redeeming institution will be a school and therefore will be excluded from Part III of the Disability Discrimination Act, along with other educational institutions. However, in the light of concerns raised by the NDC—and this is what I was writing to Mr. Grayson about—I wrote: We have come to the conclusion that it would not be appropriate to extend the education exclusion to cover all services offered by providers who redeem nursery vouchers. We are very aware that many providers in the private and voluntary sectors who redeem nursery vouchers will also be offering other services for the under fives, notably child care services, and that it would be unacceptable for institutions to discriminate against disabled children whose parents may apply for such services". What I am trying to say to the noble Lord—and again I ask that he looks at the letter in due course—is that, although the educational aspect will remain excluded following concerns raised by the NDC, the non-educational aspects will not be excluded from the Disability Discrimination Act.

Lord Addington

I thank the noble Lord for that response. I shall first read the letter and then consider his remarks. I shall possibly come back to the point.

But the fact remains that there is a hole that must be filled. I hope that what the noble Lord said has filled it, but it is a matter of concern. There have been cases in point. For example, a small girl had a facial disfigurement—a portwine stain on her face—and was undergoing reconstructive surgery for a hare lip. Other parents protested to the headmaster, who asked for the child to be removed. Something has to be done, if there is any possibility of such a child who is receiving state funding for education not having full protection.

Lord Henley

The noble Lord will remember better than I do the long debates that we had on the Disability Discrimination Bill. We decided to exclude education partly because there is the 1993 Act and the SEN code of practice. Obviously, as on the previous amendment, that will apply to the educational aspects of nursery provision. But the other, non-educational provision, will be covered by the Disability Discrimination Act.

Lord Addington

I thank the noble Lord for that little piece of clarification. I believe that he has covered the points that I wanted to raise, although I should like to think a little further on this matter. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 38 not moved.]

11.45 p.m.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 39: Page 2, line 12, at end insert— ("( ) shall prescribe the staffing ratios required in respect of four-year old children in reception classes (having regard to the need for the Secretary of State to satisfy himself that adequate resources are available to providers for this purpose)").

The noble Baroness said: I shall move this amendment very briefly. There is quite clear educational evidence that those children who are designated as summer-born children perform right through to the age of 16 at a lower level of attainment than other children in the same year. It is equally true that the child who is barely four when it enters a reception class has very different educational needs from a child who has reached statutor school age. It is also true that the Government have no intention at the moment of putting any limit at all on reception class sizes. There will not even be a limit on the number of children who can be placed in a reception class on health and safety grounds. That is the current situation.

This amendment is necessary. Nursery education and primary school education are different. One obviously merges into the other. We are concerned to ensure that schools which take children as part of the nursery voucher scheme do so providing an appropriate education for children in that age group. The educational research shows that the child who is taken into a large reception class too young, where there is no proper training for or recognition of the needs of that young child, may be further disadvantaged. I beg to move.

Lord Northbourne

I rise to speak to Amendment No. 40, which also concerns staffing ratios but which varies significantly from the amendment of the noble Baroness, to which she has just spoken.

If one relies on market forces to provide satisfactory outcomes, then a level playing field must be provided. The key factor in the economic operation of an educational establishment is the staff to pupil ratio. If a situation is allowed in which one set of providers is submitted to fairly stringent, though probably very right, conditions in relation to staff-pupil ratios and other providers are allowed complete freedom, the natural economic tendency will be to fill up reception classes and provide the minimum of staffing to give a general impression that the establishment is doing its job. With a reception class of 25 or 30 children and perhaps one teacher and one assistant, as the noble Baroness said, the children will not receive the education they need. With the present economic pressures on schools and local authorities there will be a serious temptation to do that. It is not in the best interests of children, and it is not fair to the institutions which are providing quality education, to throw them into the marketplace and not provide a level playing field.

Lord Henley

I am afraid that I do not see a justification for either Amendment No. 39 or Amendment No. 40. The touchstone of quality in all settings will be whether the desirable learning outcomes are likely to be achieved. Defining any particular staff:child ratio will not guarantee the achievement of the outcomes. I am not sure why we should need to.

Where is the evidence to suggest that there is no good work going on, no good provision, in any reception class? Indeed, 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 the reception classes seen. The HMCI report on provision for under-fives in Wales, published last December, reached similar conclusions.

As the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, made clear, a teacher in a reception class is often supported by a classroom assistant. I hope therefore that we need not take that amendment any further. Perhaps I can deal with a further suggestion that was made.

Lord Northbourne

Before the Minister moves on—it is simpler to do it in this way—if he says that it is not important to specify staff:pupil ratios, why are they specified in nursery schools and similar establishments?

Lord Henley

I was coming on to the suggestion that reception classes would "unlevel" the playing field by cramming in pupils. I hope that that will respond to the point raised by the noble Lord.

I have no doubt that the LEAs and the governors 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. The revised School Premises Regulations strengthen the detailed health and safety standards to which schools must adhere, and we discussed that earlier.

We need also to recognise that once children have gained admittance to a school's reception class, they have a secure place until the age of seven, eight or II, depending on the type of school and the area they are in. So if a school were to cram children into its reception class—the unfairness the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, sees—that school would need to continue to provide for all those children throughout their time in the school. I cannot believe that any governing body or an LEA would think such a situation desirable.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

The Minister has misunderstood. There are two aspects to the question of the number of children in a class. One is the physical constraints. In response to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, the Minister seemed to imply that any constraint would involve teachers. Can the Minister confirm that the nursery staffing ratios recommended by the department are adult:child staff ratios? They are not solely teacher:pupil ratios. Part of the justification is the safety of very young children where there are insufficient adults. I speak from memory; I believe it is something like 13:1 for children in that age-group, but I may be wrong.

Lord Henley

I suspect the noble Baroness's memory is better than mine. I shall have to come back to her on the detail of that.

The point I was hoping to make reasonably clearly, though it is difficult at five minutes to midnight when we have much more to get on to, is that, first, it would not be in the interests of the school itself, in the case of reception classes, to cram in more children because they have to provide for those children later on, up to whatever may be the appropriate age. For nursery classes and other such institutions the case is different and that is why I set it out as I did. That is why I made it clear to the Committee when I started my response that the teacher in a reception class is often supported by a classroom assistant—the very point the noble Baroness was trying to make.

Ultimately, though, these should be matters for parental choice. If, for whatever reason, schools do not offer the type of nursery provision that parents want, they will take their children elsewhere. So that the governors are totally clear about what is expected, we shall publish some fairly detailed guidance on school accommodation later this summer. I hope that that deals with the point made by the noble Lord and I trust that, at this hour of night, the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

Given the lateness of the hour and the need to read in detail the points raised by the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Northbourne had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 40: Page 2 line 12, at end insert— ("( ) shall prescribe the minimum staffing ratios in respect of four-year-old children in reception classes which shall not be less favourable than the minimum staffing ratios that apply to four-year-old children in other nursery classes,").

The noble Lord said: I shall not move the amendment because of the lateness of the hour. However, I am profoundly unhappy about what the Minister has said. I do not think that he has at all answered the questions which were raised in the debate.

[Amendment No. 40 not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 41 to 45 not moved.]

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 46: Page 2, line 16. at end insert ("not").

The noble Lord said: I should welcome some clarification from the Minister. Clause 3(3) gives the Secretary of State power to reclaim grant from providers in certain circumstances. The circumstances in which this power might arise are expressed as where, "specific conditions are satisfied".

The amendment argues that a better formulation would be that the powers bite where the conditions are "not" satisfied. Perhaps I may give an example to illustrate my point. A condition of grant might be that the recipient should not abscond with the money. The recipient does not abscond. The condition has actually been satisfied and the grant could be reclaimed even though the recipient has done absolutely nothing wrong. Conversely, if he did abscond and went to Rio with the proceeds, there might be some doubt as to whether steps could be taken to recover it. Presumably, the drafting is intended to allow for both negative and positive requirements; that is, obligations, respectively, not to do and to do certain things. But the phraseology seems to me impenetrably intricate. I invite the Minister either to put me out of my misery or to take this amendment away and see whether he can help in some other way. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

I shall try. If my explanation fails to work, I shall take away the amendment and have a look at it. We were not quite clear what the noble Lord intended to achieve with the amendment and I am now even less clear.

We propose that the requirement of grant may specify circumstances in which a provider would be required to repay grant. These might include, for example, where a provider has not used the grant for the purpose of nursery education. What the noble Lord's amendment suggests is that the provider should be required to repay grant when circumstances specified for the repayment of grant are not met. I would suggest that that is the wrong way round. But, as I said, if I have still misunderstood what the noble Lord is getting at, I shall certainly have another look at what he had to say in moving the amendment.


Lord Morris of Castle Morris

I am grateful to the noble Lord. This is no hour of the night to be bending our minds to this kind of thing. Let us see what we have both said tomorrow morning and come back to this matter at a later stage if we cannot satisfy ourselves between times. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Baroness David had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 47: After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—


(" It shall be the duty of every authority or other person to whom a grant is made under arrangements under section 1 to make and keep up to date a separate written statement of their policy for making provision for special educational needs, within the meaning of section 156 of the Education Act 1993, with regard to children in receipt of nursery education.").

The noble Baroness said: I spoke to this amendment earlier. The Minister was good enough to say that he would write to me in response to it. I am very pleased to accept that from him and look forward to his letter.

[Amendment No. 47 not moved.]

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 48: After Clause 3, insert the following new clause—


(" .—(1) An authority or person to whom a grant is made under arrangements under section I shall comply with such requirements as may he specified by the early years strategy prepared by the local authority under subsection (2). (2) An early years strategy shall be prepared annually by each local authority to whom a grant is made under section 1 or in whose authority a person to whom a grant is made under section 1 has his premises, and shall specify requirements on providers of nursery education to whom this Act applies. (3) In carrying out such a strategy each local authority shall consult any relevant body within its boundaries for the purposes of ensuring that children aged three and four within its boundaries shall have nursery education made available to them, with particular emphasis on children with the greatest need. (4) In subsection (3) "relevant body" means—

  1. (a) every health authority the whole or part of whose area lies within the area of the authority;
  2. (b) every National Health Service trust which manages a hospital, establishment or facility in the authority's area;
(c) any organisation which represents schools in the authority's area which are grant-maintained schools or grant-maintained special schools; (d) the proprietors of every such school providing primary education in the authority's area which is not so represented under paragraph (c) above; (e) such voluntary organisations as appear to the authority to represent the interests of people who use or are likely to use services as specified in paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 to the Children Act 1989; (f) any other persons to whom a grant is made under arrangements under section 1; (g) such other persons as the Secretary of State may direct. (5) In drawing up such a strategy, each local authority to which this section applies shall have regard to—
  1. (a) the local authority's children's services plan, as specified in paragraph I of Schedule 2 to the Children Act 1989; and
  2. (b) the local authority's review of daycare, childminding and out of school provision as specified by section 19 of the Children Act 1989.").

The noble Lord said: This amendment arises out of a curious situation. Attempts were made to table various amendments trying in some way to link together the provisions of the Children Act and those of this Bill. Unless some effort is made to co-ordinate the various services undoubtedly some children will fall through the net. The obligations of the local authority to provide for children in need and those at risk—I am talking now mainly about children in need—are not in any way meshed into this Bill. The example is the child about whom I spoke on an earlier amendment who is costing the local authority £4,000 at the moment to provide nursery education. Now there will be a provider who will get £1,100 from a voucher, but the obligation of the local authority to provide the other £2,900 will have to be meshed in with that. Questions arise as to whether this Bill will in any way relieve the local authority of its obligations. I do not want to go into details at this hour of the night. It is the kind of situation where it is particularly important that there should be co-ordination.

The proposal behind this amendment is that the local authority should be required to produce a strategic plan for the provision in its area. The arguments for it are particularly relevant in areas where there are very small numbers of clients; for example, in remote rural areas and where there are minority ethnic groups who may need special provision. It is probably an amendment that the noble Lord will not like. It may be one that we should discuss between now and Report stage if there is any hope of getting some sort of a solution. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

It is an amendment that I do not like. It proposes the development by the LEAs of an early years strategy. It looks to me very much like another attempt to put local authorities very much in the driving seat, to use a form of words I used in connection with earlier amendments. Unlike the amendments that we debated earlier concerning development plans and the suggestion of placing a new duty on local education authorities to provide nursery education, the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, does at least recognise the important part that providers and agencies, other than the local authority, play in the provision of nursery education. It is certainly very good to see that local authorities will have to consult such a wide range of bodies in carrying out their early years strategy. Consultation with those other bodies does not require local authorities to take their views into account nor feature other sectors in the strategy as it is developed.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton

The Minister would seriously benefit from visiting a wide range of local education authorities. He will find that they have co-ordinating committees on provision for under-fives on which health authorities are represented and on which the local education authority has its own representatives, including those of the voluntary sector and the pre-school playgroups. It is about time that the Government came down from their ivory tower and went out and visited local authorities. I see two former colleagues from local government circles, the noble Lords, Lord Bowness and Lord Dixon-Smith, on that side of the Chamber and the noble Lord, Lord Tope, on this side. I know that they can all tell the noble Lord that there is already co-operation. It is not something to which the Government have to keep referring.

Lord Henley

I am not quite sure of the point of that in relation to this amendment, but I can tell the noble Baroness that I am a former member of a local education authority—not, I appreciate, with the great distinction of the noble Baroness. I have nevertheless served for a number of years on a local education authority. I can also assure her that in the course of my work in the department I visit a number of local education authorities and see officers and members, and I intend to continue doing so.

The simple point that I was making is that I do not like the amendment, but I like it slightly more than the previous one moved by the noble Baroness. In effect, it puts LEAs in the driving seat and I can only repeat that the Government believe that the manner of the expansion of nursery education should be determined by parental choice, not by LEAs.

Lord Northbourne

The problem we are discussing highlights the fact that the responsibility for children and their families falls across no fewer than seven departments of state. That is the root of the problem. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 49 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Nursery education grants: inspections etc.]

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 50: Page 4, line 33, after ("education") insert ("with particular reference to—

  1. (i) qualifications and training of staff;
  2. (ii) staff-child ratios; and
  3. (iii) space regulations and guidance").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of this amendment is to give the chief inspector a duty to report to the Secretary of State on objective measures of inputs to quality listed in the amendment. This would help to develop a better defined and more robust inspection regime that makes specific reference to those indicators of quality—a little less of the light touch, a little more of the heavy hand.

The chief inspector's duty in the Bill to report on the strengths and weaknesses of early years education should refer directly to the inclusion of judgments on the qualifications and training of staff. The nursery voucher scheme will very suddenly plunge us into a new system where providers, who have previously been expected to do no more than fulfil Children Act requirements to satisfy the fit person requirement, are now expected to provide a curriculum that will lead to the SCAA desirable learning outcomes. In ensuring that the providers are "fit" persons, the local authority will only be required to "have regard" to a number of important considerations, among which is, qualifications and/or training in a relevant field such as child care, early years education, health visiting, nursing or other caring activities". As the father of a nurse who is well qualified in health visiting, I can assure the Committee that she would not exactly welcome being stuck in a situation for which she would feel that she was not properly trained.

It is clear that there is no real qualification requirement. In what must be the most crucial indicator of quality the SCAA desirable outcomes for children's learning study found that the children who had attended LEA nurseries, engaged in more purposeful and complex activity in reception class than did the children who attended playgroup; they chose more 'demanding' educational activities. Nursery children were more likely than playgroup children to initiate contacts with the teacher that were 'learning orientated' while the playgroup children approached the teacher for help". This begins to demonstrate the quality of the children's experience in playgroup by comparison with that in nursery education—a quality determined by the quality of staff in both environments.

That is complemented by a second study, carried out by Kathy Sylva at the Institute of Education, working with Siraj Blatchford and Johnson. The study found that the staff in the social services sector of nurseries had too little knowledge of the national curriculum to lay down firm foundations for it during the pre-school years. In contrast, teachers in the education sector were well informed about the national curriculum pertaining to primary school children and devised nursery school programmes based on assessing the educational needs of children and fostering learning tailored to individuals. Some recent evidence pertaining to the importance of qualifications in the teaching of this age group is contained within the Audit Commission's splendid little report, Counting to Five. That study examined 50 settings, and on page 25 the report states: The inspectors' reports did not highlight any single feature common to all the highest grade settings, but two were mentioned in relation to many of them, one of which was: staff trained specifically for working with young children". If this is true, surely we should acknowledge this important facet of high quality provision by making certain that, above all, the chief inspector has it firmly in his sights.

Earlier amendments today have raised the issue of staff: child ratios and space regulations. This amendment simply suggests that the chief inspector should report on the national picture in those areas to assist in assessing progress and identifying and developing national trends.

Amendment No. 57 is intended to introduce a set of basic minimum standards against which all nursery providers are inspected. It would exert considerable pressure on the Secretary of State to establish those common criteria relating to staffing numbers and qualifications, training and experience as well as those relating to indoor and outdoor space regulations, which have been a sore point with us all along in consideration of the Bill. Such aspects are much more reliable and long-term indicators that basic standards are being met than any kind of half-day snapshot of a nursery teacher or any other staff can be. They are also quantifiable indicators by which parents can compare and thereby make more meaningful choices. We are all for choices but let us have meaningful ones.

Although in the new arrangements there is an apparent commitment to give Ofsted overall responsibility for inspecting all nursery providers, it remains distinctly possible that the criteria against which each provider is measured may be different for different kinds of institution: for example, maintained nursery classes as against play groups. Such differences would be unacceptable, and the amendment seeks to remedy that. We know that staff can be put on show for inspectors. What happens when the inspectors go is rather like the Sunday after "Songs of Praise" has visited a parish church. On television day the church is packed but the following Sunday the congregation comprises the usual three old ladies and one small child. Similarly, in these situations there can be an under-performance as a result of being inspected. However, more qualifiable aspects of standards, like child:staff ratios, cannot be changed for the day and they are not subject to human responses or judgments. We believe that the amendment would help by requiring inspectors to inspect those quantitative factors and to inform parents of how the situation with one provider compares with a national set of common criteria. If you like, it is a league table. It also allows greater feasibility for initial inspection prior to registration. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

After all that, I intend to respond briefly in the manner that I adopted in relation to earlier amendments. We believe that it is unnecessary to prescribe the scope of the chief inspector's duty to report to the Secretary of State, or the scope of the inspections, in any greater detail than that already provided for in the Bill. The Bill provides for that in some detail and in a manner very similar to other bits of legislation which have been before the House relating to inspectors. The provisions for the chief inspector and the inspector to consider the quality and standards of funded nursery education embrace the standard and suitability of teaching, alongside other aspects of quality. Having said that, I believe that it is unnecessary to go down the line that the noble Lord, Lord Morris,

wishes us to pursue and further prescribe the scope of his duty. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

The remarks of the Minister are noted. I disagree with what he has said. Like General MacArthur in the Pacific in the Second World War, I shall return. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos.51 to 61 not moved.]

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 62: Page 5. line 38, after ("a") insert ("public").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to require the register of inspectors to be public. This is, by contrast, a gloriously simple amendment. There are no technicalities or complexities. It simply requires that the registers of nursery education inspectors established and maintained by chief inspectors for England and Wales be in the public domain.

The amendment is intended to promote public access to information contained in the registers. Parents and other members of the public with a legitimate interest in the quality and integrity of inspectors entering institutions for the purpose of carrying out inspections would be able to have access to the registers in order to satisfy themselves that those persons charged with the important responsibility of scrutinising the quality of education in such institutions are properly qualified and experienced to do so.

The amendment does not seek to prescribe the detail of any arrangements for providing access to the registers. By implication, that could quite properly be left to the chief inspectors for England and Wales. We do not see it as an invasion of personal or sensitive information which the chief inspectors may legitimately hold. Published information contained in the registers would include the lengths of the inspectors' registration and the nature of any conditions imposed by the chief inspector on registered inspectors as provided for elsewhere in the schedule.

Thus the public, if it wished, could be informed as to the experience and competence of registered inspectors. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

These amendments are unnecessary. The chief inspector already makes a register of inspectors available to the public under the 1992 Act. It has always been our intention to follow the same course of action for nursery education. I assure the noble Lord that the register will be available free of charge on request. There seems little to be gained from spelling that out on the face of the Bill, particularly if it is not spelt out on the face of the 1992 Act, and to have different provisions in different Acts. I suspect that that could lead to a different interpretation of the procedures in both Acts. Therefore I suggest that we follow the provision in the 1992 Act. I hope that the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris

I am satisfied with what I have heard. I am grateful to the Minister for putting it on the record, and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 63 to 72 not moved.]

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 73 not moved.]

Schedule 2 [Nursery education grants: disclosure of information]:

[Amendments Nos 74 and 75 not moved.]

Schedule 2 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Power to borrow]:

[Amendment No. 76 not moved.]

Lord Skidelsky moved Amendment No. 77: Page 2, line 27, leave out from ("fit") to end of line 30 and insert ("subject to the provisions of the standard form contract under subsection (5) below, which is to be known as the School Standard Loan Contract").

The noble Lord said: I have been advised that Amendment No. 83 is out of order as being inconsistent with the long title of the Bill. I will therefore not move it or otherwise refer to it, except to say that the weakness of the Bill is, in my view, the artificial distinction it creates between the borrowing powers of the two maintained sectors—a distinction that my "out of order" amendment was designed to rectify.

The amendments to which I will speak may look a little complicated but they are designed to do two things. I am sorry that I must explain them at a little length, even though it is late. I shall try to keep my remarks as short and succinct as possible.

Amendment No. 77 is designed to create a level playing field for all GM schools. Clause 6 allows GM schools to borrow from the private sector but only on the security of surplus assets. This means that many GM schools will not be able to borrow at all. Whether or not they have inherited assets surplus to their current requirements is largely a matter of historical accident.

Moveover, if a surplus asset becomes the security for a loan it is no longer available for return to the local authority which first acquired or created it. So there is not just the inequality between the borrowing powers of GM schools but also a strong sense of inequity between the two maintained sectors. My amendment tries to get rid of the first inequality by allowing all GM schools to take unsecured loans, subject to a school standard loan contract, the terms of which are spelt out in Amendment No. 81.

The reason for getting the Secretary of State to introduce a standard contract is that the market for loans to schools will need a great deal of prompting. The transaction costs of arranging loans is extremely high as everyone will be playing unfamiliar roles. In addition, the standard contract can provide a convenient and simple vehicle for regulating the types and levels of borrowing allowed.

The amendment removes the discretionary veto power of the Secretary of State over the granting of loans and instead requires him to set out the rules of the game in the schools standard loan contract. I hope that one day this most basic principle of modern political economy will penetrate into the Department for Education and Employment; setting out the rules of the game rather than intervening in an anxious manner over every case.

The amendment suggests a basic framework of the standard contract. In essence, it should not specify the length, price or the maximum size of the loans permitted. These are matters to be filled in later by the parties to a specific loan. However, the contract will have to do several things. It will make clear that loans are not underwritten by the public authority; it will issue a standard procedure for what happens in the event of a school or bank ceasing to trade; and, in particular, what happens if the school fails the Ofsted inspection. It will also cap borrowing powers by forbidding schools to devote more than a set proportion of their cash income for servicing the loans.

Most importantly, the standard contract will deal with the issue of default with organised and pre-set arrangements. In particular, signatories will agree on a schedule of required resources for the school. These will simply be income and capital assets required for the school to meet its obligation to provide education. In the standard contract schools will have to service and repay loans as long as their resources year by year exceed their required resources. If resources dip below the required resources, schools will be permitted to default on their loans and carry on trading.

The aim is to ensure that the first liability of schools is to service their statutory obligation to the state. Banks will never be allowed to claim resources, income or capital if the school cannot then properly teach. The resources required to meet those obligations will be agreed in advance. Being part of the negotiation in signing a standard loan contract, they will be understood at the time the loan is made.

One advantage of this procedure is that it replaces the rather narrow notion of surplus assets which are difficult to define—the distinction between surplus and core assets is rather vague—with a far more general notion of required resources.

Thus the amendment sets in train procedures for unsecured as well as secured loans. The expectation is that most schools will require all their assets; that is, they will have no surplus assets and, consequently, they will be able to apply for unsecured loans only. On the other hand, if the loan is used to create a new separable asset like, for example, a new building, that could be recovered by the lender, as the new asset will not, by definition, have been required.

That is the end of the technical exposition. I move very swiftly to my conclusion. I believe that these amendments offer an elegant mechanism for enabling publicly funded institutions to borrow from the private sector, and is one which could be extended, if necessary, to other public sector institutions, such as local authority schools, hospitals, and so on. It would be far better to consider the borrowing problems of such institutions in a general way rather than on a case-by-case or sector-by-sector basis. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will consider this group of amendments in the light of the explanation that I have rather lengthily offered, and for which I apologise. I beg to move.

Lord Henley

I am grateful to my noble friend for his lengthy explanation of the terms of the amendment, for which he apologised. I should like to look at all the amendments tomorrow with considerable care when I have more time at my disposal. I do not wish to sound too hopeful to my noble friend. I must remind him that the amendments were only tabled last Friday and, therefore, we need slightly more time to study them.

Having said that, I should like to make a few brief comments on what my noble friend said. First, the Bill as drafted does allow unsecured borrowing for schools which have no non-core assets to offer as security. Therefore, he is not proposing anything extra. Secondly, we agree with my noble friend that grant-maintained schools should, subject to certain restrictions, be free to take out whatever loans they see fit. We also agree in general terms about what those restrictions should be. Borrowing by grant-maintained schools should not impair their ability to perform their main business—that is, educating children—nor should they place at risk assets that have been provided out of the public purse.

However, where I suspect my noble friend and the department differ is over the mechanism for applying those restrictions. Both of us believe that there should be as light a touch as is possible. My noble friend has argued that schools should not have to seek consent from the Secretary of State or the Funding Agency for Schools but that their borrowing should be circumscribed by the kind of statutory standard contract that he suggested. We prefer the other route because we believe that that provides more of the light touch that is necessary and that it leaves the grant-maintained schools to make their own arrangements. Having said that, I shall have a further look at my noble friend's amendments and give them the proper consideration that they deserve.

Lord Skidelsky

I thank my noble friend the Minister for that very helpful reply. In the circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Burnham)

I should inform Members of the Committee that I am advised that Amendment No. 78 has been incorrectly placed on the Marshalled List and that it should be called after Amendment No. 80.

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 79

Page 2, line 30, at end insert ("as may fall within the meaning of the "core assets" of the school as prescribed by regulations made under section (Core assets) of the Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Act 1996").

The noble Lord said: The amendment and the suggested new clause in Amendment No. 82 are an attempt to insert on the face of the Bill some definition of "core assets" against which borrowing will not be allowed; that is, to insert some framework for agreeing a definition of that phrase against which borrowing will not be allowed. I hope that the Minister will accept the suggestion as I believe we need to have a clearer definition of exactly what is meant by "core assets" and a framework within which schools and the FAS need to be working.

I understand that the Secretary of State will be sending a remit letter to the FAS in due course. If the Minister is not inclined at this stage to accept the amendments, I hope he will at least give us some information on the content and status of that letter. Finally, and most particularly, before any further definition of "core assets" is produced, I hope that there will be full consultation with all interested parties, especially the representatives of local education authorities. I beg to move.

12.30 a.m.

Lord Henley

I start by pointing out that the noble Lord's amendment is technically flawed. I do so purely to be of assistance should he want to return to it later. It would explicitly allow GM schools to offer core assets-however they are defined-as collateral for loans. I take it that the noble Lord's intention is actually the same as the Government's—that it should not be possible for grant-maintained schools to mortgage essential assets. This was pointed out to the Opposition in another place but they seem to have tabled an identical amendment today.

An important part of our policy for grant-maintained borrowing is that vital publicly funded assets should not be placed at risk. To that end the Government are committed to proper and appropriate safeguards. I believe there is a good deal of agreement on this between this side of the Chamber and noble Lords opposite. We agree that schools should not be able to offer as collateral assets that are essential to their functioning. I think we also agree about what is and what is not likely to be considered essential. Where we differ from noble Lords opposite is whether there is any need to define core assets in legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Tope, wants us to set this out in regulations. I believe that that is unnecessary and undesirable.

The difficulty with defining core assets in regulations is that the circumstances of individual schools vary so widely. The layout, size and quality of school buildings in different institutions may also vary. Whether particular buildings are essential to a school's functioning at any one time will depend on a wide variety of factors.

As regards consultation, I can give an assurance that the department consulted fully on the proposals and the remit letter will obviously be based on that. If the noble Lord would like me to write to him in greater detail on precisely what will be included I shall be more than happy to do so. If that would assist, I shall try to do so before the next stage. I hope therefore that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Tope

I am grateful to the Minister for those comments. It would be helpful if he could write to me in more detail as soon as he is able. I shall certainly consider what he says with great interest before we reach the next stage. In the meantime I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 80 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 78 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 81 not moved.]

Clause 6 agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 82 and 83 not moved.]

Clause 7 [Orders and regulations]:

[Amendments Nos. 84 and 85 not moved.]

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clauses 8 and 9 agreed to.

Schedule 3 [Consequential amendments]:

[Amendments Nos. 86 to 91 not moved.]

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Schedule 4 [Repeals]:

[Amendment No. 92 not moved.]

Schedule 4 agreed to. Remaining clause agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

House adjourned at twenty-four minutes before one o'clock.