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Lord Morris of Castle Morris: This has all the appearance of being a drafting amendment. I confess that in considering it we were more than a little puzzled as to how it came to be here and why it had to stay. If I understand the Minister correctly, it concerns the definition of the age range for nursery education; that is, education before the first school term starting after a child's fifth birthday. It appeared to us that it sought purely to alter the terminology without altering the meaning in any particular way. We are strongly in favour of making every possible improvement to this Bill, especially in any area which gets us through the interminable thickets of the language of the parliamentary draftsman. Perhaps the noble Lord can assure us that what we understand it to mean is what it means, neither more nor less. It is hardly among the highest of our priorities, but we have no particular objection to it.

Lord Henley: As currently drafted, Clause 1 defines the upper limit as education provided before the start of the first term beginning after a child's fifth birthday. This would include education provided for children whose fifth birthday fell on the first day of term. However, such children would be of compulsory school age and be children for whom a full-time primary school place must be provided, and should not therefore be eligible for nursery education grant.

The noble Lord will see that the amendment affects only one in 365 children, or three in 365 children; that is, those children whose birthdays happen to fall on a certain day. I am afraid that my mathematics may not be up to it. However, it affects only a relatively small number.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: I am grateful to the noble Lord for that clarification. I believe that the correct figure is three in 365. Since we on these Benches and the Labour Party as a whole--new Labour, old Labour or Labour of any sort--are resolute defenders of minorities, especially those around the age of five, we have no objection to this amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 12 not moved.]

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 13:


Page 1, line 14, at end insert--
("(2A) No arrangements may be made under subsection (1) above in respect of grants payable under this Act on or after 1 April 1997 before the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament an

17 Jun 1996 : Column 112

evaluation of the operation over a period of twelve months of any grants for nursery education in the area of any local education authority made during the financial year 1996/7.").

10.5 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 13) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 92; Not-Contents, 58.

Division No. 4

CONTENTS

Addington, L. [Teller.]
Archer of Sandwell, L.
Avebury, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E.
Beaumont of Whitley, L.
Berkeley, L.
Blackstone, B.
Borrie, L.
Bruce of Donington, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L.
Carter, L.
Clinton-Davis, L.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L.
Craigavon, V.
Dahrendorf, L.
Darcy (de Knayth), B.
David, B.
Davies, L.
Dean of Beswick, L.
Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde, B.
Desai, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.
Donoughue, L.
Dormand of Easington, L.
Dubs, L.
Eatwell, L.
Ewing of Kirkford, L.
Ezra, L.
Falkland, V.
Farrington of Ribbleton, B.
Gallacher, L.
Gladwin of Clee, L.
Gould of Potternewton, B.
Graham of Edmonton, L. [Teller.]
Grey, E.
Hamwee, B.
Harris of Greenwich, L.
Haskel, L.
Hayman, B.
Hilton of Eggardon, B.
Hollick, L.
Hollis of Heigham, B.
Holme of Cheltenham, L.
Hooson, L.
Jay of Paddington, B.
Jenkins of Hillhead, L.
Judd, L.
Kirkhill, L.
Lester of Herne Hill, L.
Lockwood, B.
McIntosh of Haringey, L.
Mackie of Benshie, L.
McNally, L.
Mallalieu, B.
Mar and Kellie, E.
Mayhew, L.
Merlyn-Rees, L.
Meston, L.
Methuen, L.
Mishcon, L.
Monkswell, L.
Morris of Castle Morris, L.
Nicol, B.
Ogmore, L.
Palmer, L.
Perry of Walton, L.
Peston, L.
Prys-Davies, L.
Rea, L.
Redesdale, L.
Richard, L.
Robson of Kiddington, B.
Rodgers of Quarry Bank, L.
Russell, E.
Seear, B.
Sefton of Garston, L.
Serota, B.
Sewel, L.
Shepherd, L.
Southwell, Bp.
Strabolgi, L.
Taverne, L.
Taylor of Blackburn, L.
Thomas of Walliswood, B.
Thurso, V.
Tope, L.
Tordoff, L.
Turner of Camden, B.
Varley, L.
Warnock, B.
Williams of Elvel, L.
Winston, L.

NOT-CONTENTS

Addison, V.
Balfour, E.
Blatch, B.
Boardman, L.
Bowness, L.
Brabazon of Tara, L.
Bridgeman, V.
Bruntisfield, L.
Burnham, L.
Carnegy of Lour, B.
Carnock, L.
Chalker of Wallasey, B.
Chesham, L. [Teller.]
Cochrane of Cults, L.
Courtown, E.
Cox, B.
Cranborne, V. [Lord Privy Seal.]
Dean of Harptree, L.
Denton of Wakefield, B.
Dixon-Smith, L.
Downshire, M.
Elton, L.
Feldman, L.
Ferrers, E.
Gage, V.
Glenarthur, L.
Harmsworth, L.
Harris of Peckham, L.
Henley, L.
HolmPatrick, L.
Howe, E.
Inglewood, L.
James of Holland Park, B.
Kingsland, L.
Lindsay, E.
Lucas, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L.
Lyell, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L.
Mackay of Ardbrecknish, L.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. [Lord Chancellor.]
Mackay of Drumadoon, L.
Marlesford, L.
Miller of Hendon, B.
Northbourne, L.
Northesk, E.
O'Cathain, B.
Pilkington of Oxenford, L.
Rankeillour, L.
Rennell, L.
Seccombe, B.
Shaw of Northstead, L.
Skidelsky, L.
Strathclyde, L. [Teller.]
Thomas of Gwydir, L.
Trumpington, B.
Vivian, L.
Wynford, L.

Resolved in the affirmative, and amendment agreed to accordingly.

17 Jun 1996 : Column 113

10.13 p.m.

Lord Tope moved Amendment No. 14:


Page 1, line 14, at end insert--
("( ) Education falling within subsection (2) above shall be given in premises conforming to such common standards as to space and facilities as the Secretary of State shall by regulations specify and such standards shall accord no less indoor or outdoor space or levels of facilities than would have been required if the Education (Premises) Regulations 1981 had been in force.").

The noble Lord said: The purpose of the amendment is to require the setting of common space standards indoors and outdoors at no less than the 1981 regulation levels. The Education (School Premises) Regulations 1991 prescribed that:


    "there shall be teaching and play-room accommodation of a total minimum net area of 2.3m(2) for each pupil of the nursery school, or as the case may be, in the nursery classes".

Similar guidance issued by the Department of Health under the Children Act 1989 also recommended that an allocation of 2.3 square metres is a desirable standard for accommodating nursery school children of three to five years of age. That still stands, but the Government announced their intention to deregulate school premises in July 1995 and did so when they laid the statutory instrument just before Easter at the closing stages of the consideration of this Bill in the other House.

I cannot believe that the actual requirement, not the legal requirement, for space standards can have changed so quickly. That requirement still exists because parents expect that their children will have adequate space provision in schools. All children need adequate space in which to learn, move and play. However, confined teaching space and a lack of requirements for recreation areas will impact directly on the education for children under five. Dispensing with those regulations could have a significant detrimental impact on the social, physical and academic development of three and four year-olds with the effects for some children--depending on the nature of the facilities--remaining well into their school lives.

When parents send their children for pre-school education they expect to receive those basic minimum standards. That is the purpose of the amendment. We

17 Jun 1996 : Column 114

believe that it is important because if quality is to be maintained we need strong protection and statutory backing for clear and appropriate quality standards for the premises used for young children. Setting the voucher value at less than the notional cost of provision immediately creates a pressure for providers to cut costs in order to minimise the top-up fee that parents must be charged. Compromising on the standard and quality of premises is clearly a way of saving money. If that is to be avoided and a level playing field of high quality established for all providers, space and quality standards must be clear, unambiguous and universally applied.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that all premises offering funded nursery education comply with the minimum standards as laid down in the 1981 regulations. Where necessary, it would ensure that standards are improved before inclusion in the voucher scheme. Although the amendment has been moved just after a fairly important Division has taken place, it is, nevertheless, important. I hope that the Government will feel able to accept it without the need for Members of the Committee to go through the process of another Division in a few minutes' time. I beg to move.


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