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Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 2, line 8, leave out subsection (2).

The noble Baroness said: This amendment removes the commencement provision in the Bill. The effect is that the provisions in the Bill will come into force immediately the Bill receives Royal Assent. This is a sensible Bill which gives our courts much needed powers. We are grateful to my noble friend Lord Brabazon for bringing the Bill before the House. I hope the Committee will agree that its provisions should be available to the courts at the earliest possible moment. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

Education (Scotland) Bill [H.L.]

Reported from the Committee in the Moses Room with amendments and ordered to be printed as amended.

        House adjourned at six minutes before ten o'clock.

24 Apr 1996 : Column CWH51

Official Report of the Committee on the

Education (Scotland) Bill [H.L.]

Wednesday, 24th April 1996.

The Committee met in the Moses Room at half past three of the clock.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Strabolgi) in the Chair.]

[Amendment No. 25 not moved.]

Clause 24 [Grants: requirements]:

Lord Sewel moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 11, line 28, at end insert--
("(1A) The power of the Secretary of State to make regulations shall be exercisable only after consultation with bodies or persons appearing to him to be representative of bodies or persons whose interests are, or are likely to be, substantially affected by the regulations which he proposes to make.").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 27 and 28. These are good practice amendments. They seek to establish a principle that when the Secretary of State is making regulations covering details of the legislation, he is required to consult with those bodies and those persons who will be affected by the legislation. That seems to me a principle worth putting into the Bill, if only for the reason that it would ensure that the Secretary of State is informed when he is making orders and regulations, which is no bad thing in itself. That is the general principle and is a worthy general principle to see enshrined in the Bill.

If this proposal goes through as it is intended, as the noble Earl the Minister has said from time to time it should be on the basis of partnership. By accepting these amendments the Government would be indicating their good faith in pursuing a policy of partnership by a commitment to consult those bodies and organisations which will be directly affected by any subsequent details. It may be that the Secretary of State does not wish to consult and receive informed opinion, mainly because informed opinion does not seem to support the proposals in the first place. I beg to move.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Obviously in this context consultation is important. The Scottish Consumer Council indicated in its advice to us that it thought it important that people should be carried along with the ideas which were being put into practice. So we shall need to know from the noble Earl the Minister the form the consultation will take. I do not know whether it has to go into the Bill, but it would be interesting to hear what he has to say about this.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (The Earl of Lindsay): The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, raises an important issue in moving Amendment No. 26 and speaking to Amendments

24 Apr 1996 : Column CWH52

Nos. 27 and 28. The amendments are designed to require the Secretary of State to consult with interested parties before determining the requirements under which grants made under Clause 23 are paid. They also seek to require the Secretary of State to have regard to certain important matters in determining the requirements. I should like to suggest to the Committee that our actions speak loudly. The noble Lord, Lord Sewel, mentioned good practice and I hope that we have a track record which suggests that we are intent on good practice.

The Government have consulted extensively throughout the course of the development of the pre-school education voucher initiative. In August last year we issued a consultation document on the future of pre-five educational provision.

We also issued towards the end of last year an invitation to all Scottish local authorities to submit informative schemes for participation in the initiative's pilot year. In that invitation we requested local authorities' views on a range of issues concerning the voucher system.

The department consulted extensively on a draft of the profile of education provision which is a key factor in determining which providers will be admitted into the system. I am now in a position to make copies of the finalised profile available to members of the evidence-taking committee and these will be sent out very shortly. We will also consult shortly on the detailed curricular guidelines on pre-school education which have been prepared by Her Majesty's Inspectorate.

Over and above these formal consultations Ministers and officials have discussed the voucher initiative with a range of bodies, including the four pilot authorities, CoSLA, the Scottish Independent Nursery Association and the Scottish Pre-school Play Association.

I hope it will be clear from this that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State is committed to very full discussions, both formally and informally, on the operational aspects of the voucher initiative. We do have a policy of partnership, which the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, mentioned.

I hope that the extent of the consultation which I have been able to detail to my noble friend Lady Carnegy will also reassure her regarding the questions she asked. The effect of these amendments would be to introduce unnecessary and potentially awkward rigidities into the development of the voucher system. As I said at the beginning, our track record proves that our intentions on consultation and partnership underpin the whole nursery voucher initiative.

Lord Sewel: The Minister has drawn attention to the consultations that have taken place as regards the development of the proposal and the bringing forward of the Bill. These amendments seek to establish consultation, once the Bill becomes an Act, in terms of the various aspects of the implementation of the provisions. It will be necessary for the Government to give some clear and detailed assurance, preferably in the Bill itself, on the nature and scope of the consultation

24 Apr 1996 : Column CWH53

during the actual implementation of the provisions. At this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but I am sure it is a matter to which we will wish to return.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 27 and 28 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 24 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Ewing of Kirkford: I wish to oppose the Question that Clause 24 stand part of the Bill. That is consistent with our previous approach that Clause 23 should not stand part of the Bill. Perhaps I could save the time of the Committee in relation to Clauses 26 and 27 standing part of the Bill, because all these clauses together constitute Part II of the Bill to which we, as an Opposition party, are implacably opposed and want to see removed from the Bill. We will not achieve that today, and we reserve the right to return to this matter at Report stage. I need not bore the Committee by repeating the arguments that I made on the Question that Clause 23 stand part. Clause 23 deals with the provision of nursery vouchers although, as I have said so often, the word "vouchers" is not used anywhere in the Bill If we want that provision taken out of the Bill we also require the grants provision and the various other provisions in Part II to be removed. We will return to this matter at the Report stage and in the meantime it is not my intention to press it today.

Clause 24 agreed to.

Clause 25 [Delegation of functions]:

[Amendment No. 29 not moved.]

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 30:

Page 11, line 42, after ("person") insert ("(or any employee of his)").

The noble Earl said: Clause 25 enables the Secretary of State to delegate the grant-making functions accorded to him by Clause 23. It will enable him to delegate certain functions, such as the payment of grant or the arrangements for issue of vouchers to parents, to a private-sector contractor. Such arrangements will ensure that the administration costs involved in the voucher initiative are kept to the minimum possible level. Amendment No. 30 makes clear that the functions so delegated may be exercised by the employees of a contractor and removes any doubt that such activity by them could be unauthorised sub-delegation. It is a technical amendment which does not change the policy behind Clause 26 and I commend it to the Committee.

I turn to Amendment No. 32. It clarifies the intention of Clause 25; namely, that the Secretary of State in exercising his powers under that provision to delegate grant-making functions can also choose to delegate them partially, or only in specific circumstances. Clause 25 does not allow the Secretary of State to delegate the power to prescribe the definitions of children eligible for vouchers. That must be done by statutory instrument and will be subject to the control of Parliament. In relation to his other powers, however, it would be a hindrance to the efficient administration of the voucher

24 Apr 1996 : Column CWH54

system if the Secretary of State were to be restricted as to the extent of any individual functions, or to the range of functions, which he could delegate.

This is another technical amendment intended to clarify the Secretary of State's powers in relation to his grant-making functions. It is modelled on existing provisions in the Deregulation and Contracting Out Act 1994, and it is also consistent with the corresponding provisions in the Nursery Education and Grant-maintained Schools Bill. These amendments do not change substantive policy and I commend them to the Committee.

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