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Lord Graham of Edmonton: How much?

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, £5.2 million; in other words, the Government are taking back the whole of the grant plus a fairly large percentage of the capital investment that Fife makes in nursery education. I do not know whether or not the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, is looking for inspiration, but I say to her that when the Bill goes to Committee she cannot possibly support that situation. It is unsupportable. That is why when I saw the troops trooping in to support the Minister I realised that I had better have a much closer look at the Bill, and for the benefit of the noble Baroness in particular, I thought that I would bring out these detailed points. I am just giving her time to think about what she is going to ask me before she gets to her feet. I thought I would make those points in order to give her time to think about it.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I was interested in what he said. I know that Fife has that great reputation. What would happen in Fife under option one, as a matter of interest? We do not know whether option one, option two or none of the options will be adopted.

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: My Lords, what will happen in Fife under option one is what will happen throughout Scotland under option one: the number of vouchers going to the private sector will be deducted from the government grant to the local authorities in the area where the vouchers are used in the private sector. It is as simple as that. Under option two it is much more severe.

On topping up vouchers, here again it is important that the Government understand the hole that they are digging for themselves--the situation that they are creating. It is expensive to provide nursery education in a rural area, and in the rural areas there is little or no provision at present. The scheme will divide the community in rural areas, because one parent will say, "I'll get my cheque book out. I can afford to top up the £1,100". I always remember Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State, saying that he made his educational choices through his cheque book.

So we will have some parents in the rural areas who will get out their cheque books. They will top up the £1,100. There will be other parents in rural areas who just cannot afford to top up the £1,100. We will create the situation where there are a dozen children at the same nursery school with one half of them receiving more nursery education than the other half. This myth--it is a myth--that the nursery voucher is a passport to nursery education is unsustainable. It is not a passport to nursery education. It is a voucher to buy £1,100-worth of nursery education, but in the estimation of those who know about these things that amounts to only eight hours a

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week. Those who can do so will buy their 20 or 30 hours a week while the rest of the community will have to make do with the eight hours.

The whole scheme should be withdrawn. It is not even worth a pilot scheme. If there are pilot trials, I hope that when the Minister replies he will give the House an assurance that if the pilot scheme is shown to be a failure--I do not see how it can succeed--the Government will not press ahead with the proposal. I hope that the Government will have not just the courage but the wisdom to withdraw the scheme.

Finally, will the Minister give an indication of how the Government propose to handle the Bill's future stages, because there is some doubt about how they will he handled.

Lord Graham of Edmonton: Now answer that!

5.46 p.m.

The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, there are lots of answers. This has been a wide ranging and interesting debate. I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part. They have all contributed a certain level of experience to the debate and a certain level of speculation, but I shall come to the speculation in a second. Noble Lords on all sides of the House have contributed a level of knowledge. The scrutiny of the Bill will be all the better for that.

As was indicated at the beginning of the debate, the Bill, with provisions ranging from pre-five education to post-16 qualifications, will maintain and further enhance the high standard of education and training in Scotland. The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, hinted that the traditional reputation for excellence that education in Scotland has enjoyed might not continue. That is not the case. I am not sure on what grounds he was seeking to undermine Scotland's current reputation in education.

Many of the changes proposed in the Bill are proposed after extensive consultation, despite assertions to the contrary. I welcome the suggestions and questions which have been lodged today. I welcome also the expressions of support the Bill has received, especially from my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour who has great experience in this field.

I shall pick up as many of the points as time will allow me. Because of the volume of points made, I doubt whether I shall be able to cover them all. The noble Lord, Lord Ewing, was surprised that there were so many troops here in support of the Bill, but in Scotland we regard education as being a central subject, as the noble Lord knows. That is why I did not bring a man and a dog; we brought the whole team, because of the fundamental value of education within Scottish life.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove, asked me a number of questions, some of which, but not all, I can answer now. The noble Lord, the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, and my noble friend Lady Carnegy asked about the representative nature of the existing SEB as regards the new membership of the SQA. We have consulted on the different options available for the composition of the SQA. It is vital that we have flexibility to represent the varying interests of education,

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training, employers and industry. The large boards which run the SEB and SCOTVEC are doing so very well. Combined, they would lead to a board of unmanageable proportions.

We are insistent on flexibility so that all those interests can be represented on the new SQA board and that the members of that board will be there as a result of individual merit rather than the mechanics of a nominee system. I stress that the Secretary of State, in making appointments, must take into account the interests of education authorities. More explicitly, the Bill provides for the SQA to have regard to the interests of those using its services, including the education authorities. Apart from the training and employer's interests, specific note will be taken of the education authorities involved.

The noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, asked two questions about the vocational dimension of the new SQA. I can assure him that the SCOTVEC national certificate, which is available in schools and colleges, is geared to educational training and is widely accepted as such. This success will be part of the foundation on which Higher Still will be built. The vocational side of the SQA management and the application of its powers will not be lost in a welter of academia. I can also assure the noble Lord on the parity of esteem between the Scottish and English qualifications. Scottish vocational qualifications are recognised throughout the country. They are mutually recognised between England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. They are part of the national framework of vocational qualifications introduced by the Government. Similarly, the general SVQs and NVQs, which prepare young people and adult returners for employment, are broadly comparable and are accepted as regards equivalent employment opportunities.

My noble friend Lady Carnegy asked about the financial side of the SQA and the role of CoSLA in considering estimates. The Bill provides for the Secretary of State to determine the financial duties of the SQA as a means of safeguarding the interests of customers, in particular in relation to the level of fees. The SQA would have the power to fix fees for its services but those must conform to criteria set by the Secretary of State. The Bill also provides for the SQA to have regard to the interests of persons using its services. That is most important because we fully appreciate that local authorities will be the significant customers of the SQA and therefore its most significant funders.

The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, asked questions similar to those asked by the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell, about the SQA and equivalent qualifications. The noble Earl also asked specifically about the implementation of the new advanced higher qualification. The SQA will have an important role in the Higher Still initiative, which includes the advanced higher qualification. The Government attach a high priority to that initiative. Despite all the derogatory chat about the Government's funding commitment to education in Scotland, today's announcement on funding in Scotland includes a continuing and increasing commitment to the Higher Still initiative.

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Perhaps Part II of the Bill exercised more of your Lordships' effort as regards what was and was not taking place. A stimulating proportion of myth and speculation came from various noble Lords. I must stress at the outset that we have always acknowledged that, although we fundamentally believe the voucher system to be right in principle, there will in practice be certain constraints, problems and unforeseen difficulties which must be overcome. We have consulted and considered the consultation to date already. The pilot scheme is about to take place and that will be evaluated extremely carefully. The pilot scheme will seek a representative range of the different types of community across Scotland. At the end of the day, the ability that the Bill provides to grant vouchers to pre-school providers is a power rather than a duty. In the light of our experience and knowledge of the subject, we can tailor the voucher system to best provide the benefits that we know it contains.

The noble Lord, Lord Ewing, made assertions that the scheme would be particularly difficult to run in rural areas. I wish to take issue with that assertion now and probably when we reach some of the finer detail of the Bill. At present there are few providers in rural areas. The combination of that and the sparse scattering of potential pupils can make for an expensive service. However, a voucher system introduced into a rural area can increase the demand and make the provision of a service much more economic. The £1,100 value of the voucher, which is being focused on by a number of noble Lords, is based on careful calculations. It is based on the results of studies and on our estimated average cost of part-time pre-school education across Scotland. It is an average cost and I as much as any other noble Lord can produce examples of where it might be higher. But there are examples of where the cost is lower. Local authorities which choose to spend more will have the chance to top up that funding, just as they can now. Parents sending their children to private providers will have a similar choice to top up. But there is nothing inadequate about the voucher value, as the noble Lord admitted when he acknowledged that in the private sector it would cover not just current costs but would also be able to cover interest on capital.

At the heart of some of the misconceptions was the assertion made by a number of noble Lords that the entire voucher system would be funded by the local authorities. That is not the case. The Government are putting in new money; when the voucher system is up and running the Government will have put in £30 million-worth of new money. Therefore, when local authority providers of pre-school education attract extra places they will be attracting extra funds to the provision of that service--


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