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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 1, line 7, at end insert--
("( ) The power contained in subsection (1) above shall be exercised in pursuance of the duty imposed by section (Nursery education duty) below.").

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 7, I should like to speak to some of the amendments in this group and I am aware that other noble Lords would like to speak to others.

The aim of Amendment No. 7 is to require the power to make arrangements for nursery vouchers to be exercised in pursuance of a general duty on local authorities to secure the provision of nursery education. The amendment proposes a new duty on local authorities in relation to nursery education. A previous "duty" on local education authorities to provide nursery education was replaced by a "power" in the Education Act 1980. Nursery education has been expanded (within tight constraints) in recent years, but the creation of a clear statutory duty would strengthen the position.

It is a tragedy to think of the thousands of children who were denied education before it became clear that under the 1944 Act there was a duty, not a power, on local authorities. Sadly, the right of children to have nursery education as a result of a duty being imposed on a local education authority was removed by the Government as soon as it became apparent that it was a legal duty.

The amendments suggest a new context in which nursery education should be pursued within the framework of the Bill. The creation of a voucher scheme should go hand in hand with the restoration of a clear lead in this area so that there is a strong public responsibility for the further promotion and expansion of nursery provision.

Under this amendment, local authorities would have a duty to secure, rather than solely to provide, nursery education. Their duty would thus be to promote the mixed economy in nursery provision which already

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exists and which the Bill seeks, through vouchers, to promote. The local authorities would be the local leaders of partnerships with the private and voluntary sectors, bringing together the many elements of education, care and recreation which meet the needs of the under-five age group. Local authorities are ideally placed to do that and to take forward the development of nursery education in the future.

There is clearly a role for local authorities and local government in various areas of social policy. I cite only one other example. The Morgan Report asked the Government to place a duty on local authorities with regard to tackling crime in their localities. The Government may say that everything can be left to the free market, that eventually the balance will settle in the right order and that even co-operative partnership planning across the private, voluntary and local authority sectors is unnecessary. It is the experience of almost all in local government that haphazard market forces alone can leave areas lacking provision. Ingenuity, innovation and initiative are required to ensure that children in the most remote localities have access to nursery education. I know of cases where there has been, not wilful, but deep deprivation of children in rural communities. I take the case of a child of three. It was discovered that the child was not speaking. His mother lived alone most of the time in an isolated environment and was depressed and nobody ever spoke to the child. It is that kind of planning to meet real needs which is important. I also cite the example of those children for whom provision is perhaps the most difficult because of behavioural problems. Sadly, one hears of many cases of young children who appear to suffer from deep-seated behavioural problems. Any proper planning of provision must ensure that, while condemning the circumstances in which these children find themselves nowadays, provision is made to meet their needs and something is done about such deep-seated problems. We can all criticise; that is easy.

I believe that perhaps the greatest problem in our society today is what I term "grandfather deprivation". When families were less mobile many small children, particularly boys, spent weekends with their grandfathers. Families are now fractured and often children have little or no contact with adult men and their behaviour may become difficult.

I make no apology for citing these examples. They are precisely those where the needs of individual children may fall through the net of the voluntary, private and local authority provision if no attempt is made, on a consensual basis, to bring together all the partners. It is my experience in the county of which I am a county councillor--Lancashire--that there are many good projects that are improved by widespread co-operation. In tackling the problems it is important to bring in different faiths and partners in the voluntary-aided and voluntary-controlled schools sector and to bring together those in urban and rural communities. Amendment No. 7 is a big step in ensuring that those needs are met.

Amendment No. 19 seeks to remedy a weakness in the existing arrangements. Every LEA would be required to say how in future it would go about making

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provision available to all three and four year-olds. I should like to make absolutely plain that we on this side of the Chamber do not see nursery education becoming a feature of statutory schooling where parents are informed that the only pre-statutory schooling provision that should be available to meet the need is in the nursery education sector. However, it is clear that there is need for a commitment to prepare development plans in order to see how parents' needs can be met. The voluntary and private sectors have embraced development planning. In considering this Bill, it is important that we respond, for example, to the majority of the Early Childhood Education Forum who feel that this kind of future development planning is important.

There are other amendments in this group, and I know that other Members of the Committee will seek to speak to them. I have pleasure in moving Amendment No. 7. I beg to move.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness David: I have put down my name in support of Amendment No. 53, which is part of the present group. That amendment seeks to amend that part of Schedule 1 which concerns the general functions of the chief inspector. The first duty is recited in paragraph 3:

    "The Chief Inspector has the general duty of keeping the Secretary of State informed about--

    (a) the quality and standards of funded nursery education, and

    (b) the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of children for whom funded nursery education is provided".

My amendment seeks to add sub-paragraph (c):

    "the availability in England and Wales of nursery education to children aged three and four whose parents wish their children to receive such education".

Therefore, under the amendment the chief inspector has to inform the Secretary of State as to the availability of nursery education for three and four year-olds. I believe that it is a follow-up to what my noble friend has just said. If the amendment is passed the chief inspector will have to report on the quantity of nursery education available to three and four year-olds in addition to the responsibilities imposed by subparagraphs 3(a) and (b) and on whether or not it meets the demand. The reference to three year-olds will significantly alter the requirement on the chief inspector.

The Government have stated that the main rationale for the nursery voucher scheme is universal nursery provision for four year-olds and the extension of that commitment to three year-olds. However, the voucher scheme under the proposed legislative arrangements does not guarantee any increase in nursery places. The amendment will go at least some way towards ensuring that the Government are made aware of the true availability of places for four year-olds. The requirement on the chief inspector to report on the availability of places for three year-olds may go some way to safeguard existing three year-old provision. A great many people are very worried that the three year-old provision may be pushed out. There are grave concerns with regard to three year-old provision. Anecdotal reports from areas outside the four Phase 2 LEAs appear to justify those concerns. For example,

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Hounslow LEA, where every primary or infants school has a nursery class, stands to lose £3.1 million from its education budget when the scheme is fully implemented. The CEO has stated that where the majority of places in nursery classes are occupied by three year-olds they will be forced to close. There are anxieties about this matter. I hope that the general need for nursery education for four and three year-olds will be addressed in this Bill, which is concerned with nursery education. I strongly support my noble friend.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I wish to address largely Amendment No. 19 in regard to the question of development plans. I support the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady David, about attention to the needs of three year-olds which many people believe are important. Amendment No. 19 also includes a reference to three year-olds.

It is important to remember also that the local education authorities should have a duty, as proposed in Amendment No. 28, to put forward a plan for providing nursery education in their areas. That idea is welcomed by the voluntary and private sectors. There is a consensus that an expansion of places should build on the good practice that has already been developed in many local authorities in partnership with the voluntary and private sectors.

A plan for providing nursery education would assist the Government to use the money where it was most required. The education authority would not have to provide nursery education, but would have a plain duty to analyse the gaps in provision.

The Government have stated that their main objective is the expansion of availability of nursery education. It is extremely important to know where the expansion is required. It is not enough to say that individuals can use their voucher to secure education: in some areas the likely effect will be no expansion of education because all those children are already provided for in some way; in other areas it will merely assist some parents who are paying for nursery education because they will pay slightly less. The provision will not necessarily be expanded because a number of people may escape through the net, and the money will not be directed to where it is most needed. That is a point I made earlier this afternoon.

If local authorities had the duty to ensure that everyone had access to local authority education, they could tackle another problem with the Bill, which is the lack of provision for capital investment or for any support of teacher training. Those matters will be debated later, but they are scooped up in these amendments, because I am trying to explain that the duties placed on a local authority would lead to a better analysis of gaps and a better ability to support provision with capital and additional training for new staff.

A large number of local authorities is doing precisely what the amendment suggests. Those authorities are spread across the country and view the matter from different political angles. In Buckinghamshire the nursery class provision programme has been reinstated, and large numbers of nursery classes are being opened.

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It is hoped that that programme, subject to budget availability, will continue next year. That is one local authority which plans to increase provision.

Bradford, which is a totally different kind of authority, is planning to increase provision in areas of greatest deprivation. The noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, addressed that point and stressed the need to ensure that the money goes where it is most needed for expansion of provision.

Hampshire and Shropshire authorities, which are different from each other and different from the two I have mentioned are both working with the voluntary and private sectors to increase the availability of nursery education to everyone who wants it. Shropshire is one of the most rural of our local authorities. There is a long list of other authorities, ranging from Richmond-upon-Thames to Salford, which have different approaches but where our recommendation is already in place.

It would be ridiculous to interrupt a programme of expanding nursery provision, in many cases undertaken by local authorities with the co-operation of the voluntary and private sectors--a deliberate attempt by local authorities to use non-statutory providers to satisfy a local need--by providing the funds in a totally different way.

The amendment contains some very useful ideas. I look forward to hearing the Minister's reply. It attempts to do precisely what he has declared to be one of the main objectives of the Bill. It does not attempt to do so entirely or even principally by local authority provision, but through the co-ordinating powers of a local authority with respect to statutory, voluntary and private provision.

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