|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, the House will be very grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor for presenting these consolidation Bills. They represent an enormous amount of work, and we on these Benches express our appreciation to the Law Commission and all its officers for the work that they have done on our behalf.
The whole thing amounts to consolidation of Bills which started as long ago as 1944 and represent progress in education legislation through governments of quite different persuasions. There is no party political issue concerned with these measures; though I note that by my count they occupy 835 pages and weigh 1,246 grammes, which, for the benefit of noble Lords opposite who seem a little un-European in recognising metric units, is nearly three pounds.
The Lord Chancellor: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for his expressions in relation to the Law Commission, and also for the information that he has given us latterly, along with the requisite calculation.
The noble Earl said: My Lords, the amendment seeks to correct a drafting error in Schedule 6 to the Bill. The schedule has three general purposes: to make provision for changes to regulation-making powers which, as the House will recall, was the subject of some discussion at an earlier stage; to remove the requirement for the Secretary of State's approval before the commencement of building works other than those that have been exempted in regulations; and to make minor appeals consequential on the setting up of the Scottish qualifications authority.
It is to this last category that the amendment is addressed. The schedule addresses Section 129 of the Education (Scotland) Act 1980 and Section 69 of the Self-Governing Schools etc. (Scotland) Act 1989 to remove inappropriate references to the Scottish Examination Board.
In relation to the 1989 Act, the intention was to repeal Section 69(3), which allowed the board to prepare, distribute and monitor testing in primary schools. However, the effect of the drafting error is to repeal the section in its entirety. That would repeal Section 69(1) and Section 69(2) dealing with regulations relating to testing in primary schools. That was clearly not our intention. I beg to move the amendment.
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation. As he has already intimated in correspondence, we are aware that this is a technical amendment and is necessary. We therefore have no objection to its being included.
The Bill before the House is a balanced package of measures ranging from important improvements in the existing policies on school boards and placing requests, through to the restructuring of the qualifications and assessment arrangements in Scotland, to measures facilitating the implementation of our policies on pre-school education.
Part I of the Bill provides for the establishment of the Scottish qualifications authority which will continue, in a single body, the high-quality service provided by the Scottish Examination Board and the Scottish Vocational Education Council. During the progress of the Bill, particular attention has been drawn to two main areas: the membership of the board of SQA; and the role and position of the accreditation committee.
I now turn to Part II of the Bill upon which we have perhaps spent the most time in our deliberations to date. The provisions of this part were designed to tackle a problem which I know is recognised on all sides of this House; namely, the need for greater provision of pre-school education in Scotland.
The time we have taken on Part II has been very well spent. We have been able to clear up some of the initial confusion that has surrounded this part of the Bill. The financial framework which will underpin the voucher system was perhaps the biggest area where clarity of debate initially eluded us. I wrote to many noble Lords present shortly after the Committee stage. I hope that letter was helpful.
Other areas of concern to noble Lords in relation to Part II related to the possibility of fraud; the quality of pre-school education to be provided; and the scope and timetable for the evaluation of the initiative's pilot year.
The quality of provision is another priority for the Government. In the voluntary and private sectors only providing centres which complete a Profile of Education Provision to the satisfaction of Her Majesty's inspectors will be admitted onto the scheme. Moreover, every such provider admitted will be inspected by Her Majesty's inspectors as quickly as possible.
On Report, we discussed at some length the evaluation of the initiative's pilot year. As I said then, the Government have no desire to conduct this evaluation in private. We will share the results as widely as possible and will also keep Parliament fully informed.
I am confident that the voucher initiative will be a great success. Parents want it and, over time, I hope that noble Lords who have not been convinced in the course of our deliberations will be persuaded of its value.
The amendments to the School Boards (Scotland) Act 1989, contained in Part III and Schedule 4 of the Bill, are intended to improve the workings of that Act in the light of operational experience. The provisions follow from last year's consultation and I believe were generally supported by this House.
I should at this point thank the noble Lords, Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove and Lord Ewing of Kirkford for their help in highlighting the need for an amendment to the conflict of interest provisions in this part of the Bill. I thank my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour for also applying her expert eye.
While reservations were expressed about the detail of the proposals in Part IV of the Bill, the principle of amending the legislation on placing requests to enable places to be retained for incomers at certain schools was also supported.
Since the Bill was first introduced last November, it has been the subject of detailed and careful scrutiny. I have been grateful for the thoughtful and well-considered debate that has taken place and believe that the Bill has benefited greatly from it.
When a Scottish Select Committee of this House met in Glasgow to hear evidence, it was only the second time that that procedure had been used. Such evidence-taking has proved most beneficial in bringing out the issues of most concern to those affected by the Bill. Having read the evidence taken by the Committee, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Goold, who, as chairman, guided the committee and the witnesses sensitively and efficiently through some quite complex issues.
During Committee and Report stages, and indeed today, we considered a number of amendments. In the main those amendments sought to clarify the intentions behind the Bill's provisions. I believe that the concerns that lay behind them were answered and, where necessary, reassurances were given.
There are a number of noble Lords here today who have taken a particular interest in this Bill. I should like to offer them my thanks. The noble Lords, Lord Ewing, Lord Carmichael and Lord Sewel, contributed to and
I should also like to mention my noble friend Lord Dundee and the noble Viscount, Lord Dunrossil, who took part fully during the special committee sessions in Glasgow and made thoughtful and interesting contributions through their questions there. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Gryfe, took full part throughout our scrutiny of the Bill, but especially during the sessions in Glasgow.
I should also draw attention to the constructive contributions made on a wide number of occasions by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy. I was especially impressed that, alone among us, the noble Lady made her own calculation of the appropriateness of the value of the voucher, using her own experience as a grandmother in Scotland.
The noble Lords, Lord Sempill and Lord Addington, made thoughtful and thought provoking contributions in the long discussions on Part II of the Bill. I should also like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, for bringing to bear her great knowledge and expertise in assisting our consideration of this legislation. Finally, I thank my noble friend Lady Carnegy for her well considered and thoughtful contributions based on her experience of the Scottish education system. I also thank my noble friend Lord Courtown who did much work behind the scenes.
During the time that the Bill has been before the House, we have shared the experience and expertise derived from many different backgrounds, which has added to the quality of the Bill. I believe that the Bill takes forward initiatives which will enable our present system, with its high and improving standards, to cater for the challenges that lie ahead. The improvements that this House has brought to the Bill are to be welcomed. I hope that noble Lords will continue to take a close interest in the development of the Scottish education system. I beg to move.
Lord Carmichael of Kelvingrove: My Lords, I shall just say a few words. I have already quite profusely, I believe, thanked the Minister for his efforts and willingness to explain the different parts of the Bill. The Bill had a certain interest in that it started off, as the Minister said, as the second Bill for which there was a special Select Committee which looked at its background and examined witnesses. It was a very valuable experiment in Glasgow which will be of great help to those in another place, as they will be able to read the report and the evidence of the expert witnesses.
There is general agreement with the principles in Part I of the Bill. We all accept that change is needed and between us we have been able to achieve a modus vivendi. Certainly, whatever changes are made at the other end of the building, they will be based on the debates that took place in this House.
Part II of the Bill is still controversial. I am sure that it will arouse even more controversy in another place. There were two special points on which we felt the Bill was inadequate or totally wrong. One was that children with special needs are not given the consideration that we hoped they would receive. They will be the real losers. Then, there was the innovation of the voucher scheme which we strongly opposed, as the Minister will no doubt remember. I imagine that it will be opposed in the other place by many Members, perhaps not all from the party that I represent in this House. The reaction generally from all the education authorities and practically every local authority in Scotland has been that the voucher system is divisive and inefficient. Unless it is introduced very quickly, as has already been intimated, when we become the government it will not go forward.
We welcome the other parts of the Bill. The Minister and his partners have done a reasonably good job in improving parts of the Scottish education system.
Back to Table of Contents
Lords Hansard Home Page