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Lord Sewel: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his helpful reply. The object of the amendment was to try to ensure that the relevant groups which have a real interest in the work of the authority are incorporated into the authority. I hear what the Minister has said and I accept it. It was a helpful reply, and it goes most of

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the way to meeting our concerns. I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, that when this side changes places with the side of the noble Baroness, any organisations we establish will be broadly represented and--who knows?--she may even find herself on one of them. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 [Accreditation function]:

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 3, line 3, after ("function") insert ("of accrediting qualifications").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 2 it may be for the convenience of the House if I speak also to Amendments Nos. 3 and 4. There was a full debate about the accrediting function of the SQA at the Committee stage. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Carnegy for explaining clearly the background to the amendments which I intend moving today. I record my thanks to my noble friend Lord Stockton for contributing to the prominence which this issue has commanded during the parliamentary process.

I assured noble Lords in Committee that the arrangements set out in the Bill would put on a statutory basis the current arrangements successfully undertaken by SCOTVEC. This change provides all necessary assurance to customers of SCOTVEC about the approach to be taken by SQA. To put beyond doubt that the Secretary of State's direction-making power will apply to the accreditation committee, I undertook to move an amendment. This amendment makes the necessary adjustment to the Bill. The amendment also makes clear that the accreditation committee is set up for the purpose only of accrediting qualifications. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 9 [Secretary of State's directions to SQA]:

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendments Nos. 3 and 4:

Page 5, line 11, at end insert--
("(1A) The Secretary of State may give to the Accreditation Committee directions of a general or specific nature and it shall be the duty of the Accreditation Committee to comply with such directions.").
Page 5, line 12, after ("(1)") insert ("or (1A)").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, I spoke to Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 when moving Amendment No. 2. I beg to move Amendments Nos. 3 and 4 en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 23 [Grants for education of children under school age]:

Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove moved Amendment No. 5:

Leave out Clause 23.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment was originally moved by my noble friend Lord Ewing of Kirkford in Committee. We take it extremely seriously, as the Minister will recollect. Our basic point is that no one we can find in Scotland, other than the few people

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who support the party opposite--and not even all of them--believe that the voucher scheme is a wise or good way of improving the provision of education for under-fives. Local authorities will be at a great disadvantage if they assume that they will have the same number of children in the nursery schools. They make arrangements for staff and accommodation on the basis of the £1,100 that will be given as a voucher for the children going to the school.

We have still not had an answer from the Minister to the important point put by my noble friend Lord Ewing of Kirkford. It is a simple point, and I believe that it encompasses the whole argument. For example, two children go to a local authority nursery school. One lady decides that she is able to top up the £1,100 and transfer the child to an approved, private nursery school. Having spent a great deal of money organising staff, accommodation, the apparatus for the morning milk break, and so on, for the children, the local authority will be left with those costs still to pay off, although it will not have the same number of children going to the school.

We believe that the provision will be extremely divisive. My noble friend spoke about two children going together daily to a nursery school who are suddenly split up, one going home at lunch-time, the other attending a private nursery school all day until three or four o'clock in the afternoon. Therefore, at a very early age those children would be separated and feel that there was a difference between them; and that is obviously not good.

I do not wish to spend time on the issue. We went into it in great detail at Committee stage. We have had representations from almost every educational body and involved parent group in Scotland. I can only repeat to the Minister that no one wants the scheme. I can say quite positively that even if the scheme were in full operation by the time that the Government change, it will certainly not be implemented or continued by this side of the House.

We have had no answer from the Minister on these specific points. I beg to move.

3.30 p.m.

Lord Addington: My Lords, when evidence was taken in Scotland, there was indifference from everyone other than those proposing the scheme, as the noble Lord said. The scheme does not have great support. It was called bureaucratic, wasteful and divisive. There was no support for the measure in the evidence. Those who run private nursery schools managed indifference. With that degree of support from those who will use such a scheme, I suggest that there is a strong case for getting rid of the provision.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I believe that this is a wrecking amendment. It would remove the voucher scheme from the Bill. It would take the guts out of Part II of the Bill and would remove the proposed new parental involvement in children's nursery education.

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I was surprised that the amendment was accepted on the Marshalled List at Committee stage. I am even more surprised at Report stage when noble Lords have the ability to divide the House. It seems to me a highly unsuitable proposal in this unelected House, in particular since the Bill has not yet been through the House of Commons.

The objections of the two parties opposite to the proposed voucher scheme have been well and fully argued at each stage of the Bill. It is true that when various bodies gave evidence in Glasgow, few supported the principle. They seemed fearful of the change that the scheme might bring. I was far more fearful before discussion on the Bill began than I am now, having seen the detail. The scheme seems highly workable.

I believe that those on the Front Benches opposite have a prejudice against giving influence to parents in the education of their children. They have a prejudice against allowing parents a direct effect where new or extended nursery provision is established. They are clearly prejudiced against allowing parents to affect the quality of what is provided through their own choice; and prejudiced, too, against extending what public money can provide by bringing private money into partnership with public money.

The noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, was worried. He gave an example of where a parent might top up the voucher to a value which would enable the child to go to a private nursery. He asked what that would do to the local authority's planning. Does it not occur to him that there may be private nurseries about which parents are not satisfied? They may wish their children to attend local authority nursery education. The movement can be both ways. That is what choice is about.

The room for manoeuvre for local authorities in their funding of nurseries is great because a large amount of the money spent at present on nurseries will remain with the local authorities. The local authorities will have flexibility. Only a proportion of their expenditure will be passed by the voucher to the parent to choose where he or she spends that money. It does not seem to me to be a problem, although I understand that it is a fear enunciated by councillors because at present local authorities plan with considerable certainty. Virtually all nursery provision in its area is in the hands of the local authority.

I believe that if this House is to remain a scrutinising Chamber (if it is allowed to remain at all) its duty is not to remove the guts of a Bill--not to remove the main purpose of a large part of the Bill. Whatever the lack of information about the voucher scheme and satisfaction as regards whether it is designed to work well, I hope that under no circumstances will noble Lords agree that this clause does not stand part of the Bill.

Lord Sempill: My Lords, having been present at the Scottish Select Committee in Glasgow, I believe that the oral evidence, especially in relation to the voucher scheme, has to be accorded the respect of this House. The scheme is unpopular and, more importantly, is deemed unworkable. However, that view may change depending on the outcome of the four pilot tests.

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Strong reservations were voiced about the length of time allocated to these tests, especially in view of the Government's intention to launch the system a year after the tests have started. Representations showed that almost all local authorities are opposed to the scheme in one way or another. Concern was expressed regarding the quality and standards of the education which might be supplied by new providers. The system was criticised for being too bureaucratic. The amount of £1,100 was considered insufficient, especially in regard to children with special needs.

There is also an absence of a clear curricular framework and, as has already been mentioned, the scheme has been seen as socially divisive. A survey of 377 primary schools carried out by the Scottish Parent Teacher Council showed that 55 per cent. had used local authority nursery schools. That compared favourably with the 55.9 per cent. of all four year-olds in local authority nurseries, as measured by the Scottish Office Statistical Bulletin. The survey showed that 77 per cent. would have opted for local authority nurseries as their ideal choice, the problem being availability of the local facility, not lack of choice.

Both Lothian and Fife have adequate provision and consequently have a high percentage of four year-olds at their schools. The scheme does not cater for that lack of facility in other areas of Scotland. I grant that it gives parental choice--which I assume is the Government's intention--which will help to stimulate private investment in the provision of new pre-school facilities. Unfortunately, I do not believe that the numbers stack up. Less densely populated areas will not attract new providers, and that is where the lack of pre-school facility is most evident. If 55 per cent. of all children receive pre-school education, I should have thought that the proposed extra investment of £30 million should be used to address the needs of the not-so-fortunate 45 per cent.

Finally, I do not believe that the scheme will increase nursery places, nor that sufficient time has been allocated to test it properly.

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