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Lord Henley: I hope that I can be encouraging on this occasion, though I cannot accept all the amendments, as the noble Baroness, Lady David, asked. However, I hope I can go some way down that track. I start by answering the point put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, when he asked about a figure of £4,000 and whether all that would be lost, or whether he was right in assuming that the figure is £1,100. I was trying to nod, but obviously nodding does not get onto the record. He was right in saying that only £1,100 pounds would be deducted for every child, regardless of the cost of the place.

I turn now to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, which he and I discussed at a meeting where a number of points were put before us. We thought the meeting might last some time, but because there was such agreement among us all, the meeting was over before the tea was cold or the chocolate biscuits finished. I am sure the noble Lord will be pleased to learn that having considered his amendment, and listened to the representations he and others made, we have decided to place on the face of the Bill a requirement that all voucher-redeeming institutions not already covered by the duty in Section 157 of the 1993 Act "have regard" to the SEN code of practice.

However, in placing such a requirement on the face of the Bill we need to build on the noble Lord's amendment. Therefore he will quite understand if we cannnot accept his amendment precisely as tabled. It is important not to forget that the code of practice was written primarily with local education authorities and maintained schools in mind. It was not drafted with playgroups and private nursery schools in mind. As such, a good deal of the code is not directly relevant to non-LEA providers.

We have therefore decided, in order to make the code more accessible to voucher-redeeming institutions in the private and voluntary sectors, that we will issue complementary guidance on the code. We envisage that that guidance will highlight the key principles of the code, and issues relevant to private and voluntary providers.

I see such guidance as essential in the short to medium term. We need to ensure that private and voluntary providers are aware of and comfortable with

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the requirements of the code. At such time as we revise the code, we shall see that its contents are suitable over the various settings in which the under-fives receive education with support from public funds.

I stress that that complementary guidance will be just that--complementary. It will complement the code by flagging up the key principles for those not familiar with them. It will not in any way dilute the standing of the code itself. The code will remain the point of reference. We shall be consulting shortly on the detailed content of this guidance. In bringing forward our amendment, we will expand on the noble Lord's amendment. The result will be that all voucher-redeeming institutions will have to have regard to the code, and to any complementary guidance issued alongside it.

I hope therefore the noble Lord will feel it unnecessary to press his amendment, and I hope other noble Lords will understand why, having gone that far, I am not prepared to go quite as far on some of the other amendments. I start with Amendment No. 44 from the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, which seeks to make it a requirement that all voucher-redeeming institutions employ for a minimum of 15 hours per week a person qualified to identify children with SEN--

Lord Northbourne: It is 15 hours per term.

Lord Henley: I apologise to the noble Lord. Of course he is right; it is 15 hours per term. I do not think that such a requirement is needed. I am confident that many of the staff who are working with the under-fives have the necessary skills and experience to work with children with SEN.

Moreover, I have already outlined the commitment we have made to children with SEN by requiring all voucher-redeeming institutions to have regard to the code of practice and to publish information about their SEN provision. We believe that those requirements will help ensure that the needs of SEN children are identified and addressed, and will help identify the training needs of staff. We have included an element for training within the voucher value and individual institutions could obviously use that according to their specific needs.

Turning to the request by the noble Baroness, Lady David, for a written statement of SEN policy, this clause seeks to place a duty on providers of nursery education to produce and keep an up-to-date written statement of their policy for making provision for children with SEN within the meaning of Section 156 of the Education Act 1993.

The availability of information for parents about an individual institution's policy on SEN is important to enable parents to make informed choices as to the most appropriate pre-school setting for their child. Again I argue that the noble Baroness's proposed new clause is unnecessary. We have made it clear that it will be a requirement of grant that all providers participating in the nursery education voucher scheme must publish on an annual basis information for parents which must include details of the provider's SEN policy. I shall not go into detail as to exactly what should be provided. I do not think that at this time of night the noble

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Baroness would wish me to continue at great length. However, in offering to write to the noble Baroness with further details, I hope that that will speed matters up.

The publication of SEN policies as a requirement of grant, together with a duty on all providers to have regard to the SEN code of practice, will enable parents to make appropriate, informed, considered and confident choices about the type of provision for their child.

The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, described his amendment as the rogue amendment. I am opposed to the amendment for two reasons. First, I do not believe that it would be desirable to make vouchers a taxable benefit; and even less desirable then to hypothecate the tax. The noble Lord will know that we are unwilling to hypothecate taxes. Secondly, we believe that resources for nursery education for children with special educational needs are already being provided. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will not feel it necessary to pursue that amendment further.

I hope that the concessions that I have announced for the noble Lord, Lord Rix, will go a considerable way towards allaying some of the concerns of other noble Lords who have spoken on the amendments.

Lord Rix: I am delighted with the Minister's response. It was certainly worth waiting these long hours to hear those words of comfort. I was also delighted with the response we received when we met the Minister last Thursday in the department to discuss Amendments Nos. 33 and 88. It was clear then that we were pushing at an open door. I hope that noble Lords who put forward Amendments Nos. 44, 47 and 73, will feel that they have not wasted their time this evening and that some form of favourable response will come from the Minister in due course.

I am grateful for such a short debate on the amendments and for the fact that, although the wording will not be precisely as tabled, in the fullness of time it will be similar. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 34 not moved.]

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 35:


Page 2, line 11, at end insert--
("( ) Requirements imposed under this section shall include a requirement to ensure that corporal punishment is not used in nursery education provided by an authority or other person to whom a grant is made under arrangements under section 1.").

The noble Baroness said: The Minister will not be altogether surprised that I have returned to a theme which I have followed for about 15 years--moving sometimes a little way and sometimes quite a long way. I hope that we can move a little way tonight.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that all children in institutions providing early years care and education are protected from institutional corporal punishment. We are talking here of four year-old and possibly three year-old children. Surely no one these days on either side of the House would seek to justify institutional corporal punishment for such children.

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When I raised the issue at Second Reading, the Minister responded at col. 722 of the Official Report of 20th May that he believed that protecting voucher-bearing children was sufficient. In our view it is not. Surely there have been enough instances of abuse and ill-treatment of children in institutions to convince the Government that there must be no confusion whatever over teachers' and other carers' rights to hit children.

We appreciate that the Bill cannot be used to solve the problem properly by extending the existing prohibition on corporal punishment to cover all institutions, including those in the private sector. But it can and should be used to ensure at least that the very young children in all the institutions involved in the voucher scheme are protected.

Ministers in the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Employment know that educational organisations--those involved in early years care and education and child welfare, and child protection groups, including the NSPCC--all strongly oppose the use of corporal punishment. The National Early Years Network and the Law Reform for Children's Day Care Group strongly support this amendment.

Whatever the Government may say, the current proposals are a step backwards. The Department of Health has maintained for years that,


    "Physical punishment has no place in the childcare environment".

Back in 1987, in answer to a parliamentary Question, Edwina Currie, then a junior Department of Health Minister, stated that,


    "There are no circumstances in which corporal punishment would be appropriate for children attending local authority day nurseries or any premises registered under the Nurseries and Child-Minders Regulation Act 1948".

What has changed to lead the Government now to tolerate institutional corporal punishment of these young children?

The current proposals will not even implement the DfEE's limited policy that there must be no corporal punishment in publicly funded institutions or of state supported pupils. Children in maintained nursery schools and nursery classes are of course already protected. But day nurseries are fully publicly funded. Playgroups receive public funds. Yet, under these proposals non-voucher bearing children in those institutions will not be protected from corporal punishment.

The only adequate and humane solution within the scope of this Bill is to ensure that corporal punishment cannot be used in any voucher-redeeming institution. I appreciate that this amendment may not be the best way of achieving this. It can probably be achieved by regulations. But in moving the amendment, I am seeking an assurance that the Government will accept the need to protect from corporal punishment all children in all the institutions involved in the voucher scheme, and to do so through legislation. Guidance is not enough.

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The noble Lord, Lord Henderson, regrets that he could not stay to support me in this amendment, but he wishes it to be said that he very strongly supports it. I beg to move.


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