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Baroness Seear: Perhaps I may briefly underline and develop the point that was made by my noble friend Lady Thomas as regards special needs. We always talk about them as though they were always for people with learning difficulties. But there are special needs among the gifted. If they are neglected in their early years they can often turn into very difficult people. Identifying the gifted and giving them the right opportunities early on can be just as important as dealing with people with learning difficulties. Gifted people can be extremely troublesome and develop very badly if they are not allowed to develop the gifts with which they are born.

Lord Henley: I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, for his dissertation on the corruption of the English language in his brief intervention, but I wonder whether it was quite relevant, particularly in view of the time that this debate is taking. Perhaps I may also say that I am grateful for the news of his conversion on the road to Damascus over the Teacher Training Agency. I look forward to witnessing many more such conversions.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, was worried that an amendment of this sort could squeeze out parents. Others have expressed the view that it could certainly squeeze out playgroups. I shall resist amendments of this sort very strongly, partly for the reasons given by my noble friend Lord Skidelsky.

I can see what the noble Baroness is aiming for in her amendments. I shall speak first to the qualification side and later to the training side. I cannot see why we should have only qualified teachers providing education for voucher-bearing children. It is important to recognise that many four year-olds are already in settings in the private and voluntary sectors where there is no qualified teacher. Excluding such settings from the voucher scheme would do nothing for the quality of educational experience for these children, but by allowing such settings to take part in the voucher scheme, new money is injected, educational inspections begin, and, over time, quality is improved. It is vital to acknowledge that that is where we start from in the field.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Morris, that if an inspector revealed a totally unsatisfactory level of education provision--no doubt we shall come back to this later--the provider could be struck off immediately. There are no "ifs" or "buts" about that. But the situation is often not quite as black and white as it might appear. Our proposals allow for continuing development of the provider's ability to provide good quality nursery education. But there is no reason why, under the conditions of grant and that kind of provision, we could not strike that provider off immediately. I make that absolutely clear.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. I am delighted at what I believe I have just heard and so much so that I would like to hear it again. As I understand it, a provider may set up on a self-assessment scheme and be in operation

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without being inspected for up to 12 months. Am I now learning that on that first inspection during the 12 months, providers can be struck off immediately? Do they have any appeal? If they appeal, do they get an automatic further 12 months or is there a time specified? I shall be most grateful if I can be helped on that.

Lord Henley: I prefer to write to the noble Lord in greater detail on those points unless we come to them later. I am not going to waste the time of the Committee by repeating my precise words. I was trying to make it clear to the noble Lord that if the provider is providing something which is totally unsatisfactory, there would be provision to strike the provider off.

I said that it is vital to acknowledge where we start from in the field. That is why I was trying to stress that there are already many four year-olds who are in settings where there are not qualified teachers. Neither do I see why the Secretary of State should be required to prescribe annually the qualifications required of staff. The Bill already gives her the power to set requirements of grant as she sees fit. Our Next Steps document published in January, sets out the staff qualifications that we will expect from voucher-redeeming institutions. We will keep that situation under review.

Amendment No. 34 seeks to provide that requirements of grant should be set out in regulations. The new powers enable the Secretary of State to impose any requirements that she feels necessary, including a requirement to repay grant in specified circumstances. Providers will have to comply with whatever requirements we put in place. If they breach any, they will stop receiving additional grant, may be liable to repay any grant they have already received and may be removed from participating in the scheme.

In fact, the flexibility of setting requirements through grant arrangements rather than in regulations provides greater control over the use of grant because it ensures that the requirements in place can always be appropriate to the circumstances at the time.

Turning to the training aspects of this group of amendments, I do not believe we need a specific power to enable the Secretary of State to make grants to nursery providers specifically for the training of teaching and non-teaching staff. The value of the voucher assumes an element for training and staff development. It will be for individual institutions to use the resources to meet their specific training needs.

In the current financial year (1996-97), grants will also be available through the school effectiveness grant for the first time to support in-service training for early years teachers. Our support for the PLA's extensive training infrastructure will continue.

The amendment suggests that all non-maintained providers should have to seek advice on training and qualifications from the TTA before they can redeem their vouchers. I see no need to write into statute any rules about how and from whom providers of nursery education should seek advice on their staffing. We shall be imposing and inspecting requirements about outcomes. The staffing necessary to achieve those outcomes is quite properly for the judgment of

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individual providers. I hope therefore that the noble Baroness will see fit not to press her amendment. I can assure her that if she wishes to press it, I shall resist it.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: It is sometimes very difficult to follow the detail of the Minister's replies. I shall certainly read Hansard with great interest to see the exact words that he chose not to repeat--because of time, he said--regarding the training element of the voucher. I shall also need to read one or two other aspects of his reply. Are the very same Government, at education and training meetings across Europe, supporting the European Union in the International Year of Life-Long Learning and encouraging people to go into training for life? How can the Government say that they support the principle of life-long learning and claim that they recognise the importance of young people gaining qualifications and then suggest to young people leaving school that were they to take up a nursery nurse qualification it would be of little value and the Government are not even prepared to be involved in assessing the institutions that will provide that qualification?

It is important to understand that nothing said from these Benches undermines the role of parents. Far from it. Good nursery education training now concentrates heavily on the importance of working with parents. The hospital service works with parents, recognising that a young child in hospital will recover most effectively if the parent can stay with him or her. But it does not ask the parent to remove the tonsils. Under the guise of supporting parents, the Minister is now behaving as though the only added value is the involvement of parents, the added value of qualifications and training by teachers and non-teaching staff being somehow an irrelevance.

The Minister could have said, "Yes, we are prepared to consider this, but we would like to see it phased in". He could have said, "Yes, the Government can see merit in this, but would like to move towards it over a two to three-year period". The Government could have asked, "What about accreditation for prior experience and the consideration of new modes of qualification?" However, the Government have behaved as though the whole field of education has ceased to be a profession and become an occupation. This Government encourage young people who may work in Sainsbury or other shops, or as hairdresser trainees, or in any field--I wholeheartedly approve of this--to gain qualifications and undergo training. Yet, when dealing with the care of all children, for some of whom parents may have no choice, the Government say that they are not prepared to look at the issue of qualifications.

The Government fail to understand the logic of the position they adopt on one subject and the position they adopt on another. It is ridiculous. The Government find themselves in an unacceptable position. I have no intention of dividing the House at this time, but I am sure that these matters will be returned to at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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10 p.m.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 1, line 10, leave out ("their fifth birthday") and insert ("they have attained the age of five years").

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 11 is a purely technical amendment which seeks to ensure that the definition of nursery education with regard to the upper limit of children who may be covered is consistent with the commencement of compulsory schooling. I beg to move.

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