Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Henley: My Lords, I was completely mystified by the amendment when I first saw it. I was mystified after I had discussed it with officials and I am even more mystified having heard the explanation given by the noble Lord, Lord Morris. He says that it is about a duty on the voucher agency to follow up why any parent does not apply for a voucher. The amendment does not apply to the voucher agency but to the providers. It seeks to provide a requirement of grant on them. If the noble Lord is trying to accomplish something else, he ought to explain it to the House. As he has drafted it, the amendment does not do what he claimed it did in his opening remarks. I hope, therefore, that he will find some means at the end of my reply of taking the amendment away and, if he thinks it worth it, coming forward with a further suggestion on Third Reading. I should be happy to consider it.

9 Jul 1996 : Column 242

Perhaps I may make one or two points to show how the Phase 1 procedures are working. Despite what the noble Lord said about postal difficulties, they do not seem to have prevented a large number of people from writing to him, to myself and to other noble Lords. I remind the noble Lord that we have a 97 per cent. take-up in Norfolk and a 95 per cent. take-up in Wandsworth. Parents are also happy to use the phone helpline if they do not receive an application form. Further, for parents who are unwilling or unable to apply for vouchers in Phase 1, special arrangements are in place to cope with the exceptional cases where parents cannot make an application. There has been little need for it in Phase 1, so we shall review the procedure in Phase 2 to find out what is required.

I can also give an assurance to the noble Lord that Capita has experience of coping with different languages. It has staff at the moment who can translate into 20 languages. I am sure that the various points made about the Welsh language will be taken up by my right honourable and honourable friends in the Welsh Office.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, I apologise to the Minister and the House. I have been deeply engaged in trying to listen to him, finding splendid nuggets of consolation in what he said and at the same time ascertaining the exact basis of his complaint that we could not do what we wish through the voucher agency. I had assumed that we could and I shall need to consider the point at greater length. An additional phrase or two may be needed. I hope the Minister will agree that the point made was a fair one. I shall take the amendment away, reconsider it and almost certainly bring it back at Third Reading.

The first part of the amendment puts the onus on the providers, but the second part erects an expectation of the system applying to the agency. Unless the Minister has an immediate answer--which I suspect he has not--I beg leave to withdraw the amendment and shall return to it at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 12:

Page 2, line 40, at end insert--
("(4) 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 section 1.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I thought we would now have the dinner break, but perhaps I may move the amendment and then there will be no need to hurry back after the break.

Since moving the amendment at Committee stage, I have written to the Minister. I know that he received the letter because I asked him. In it I sought to clarify what the Government's policy is in relation to institutional corporal punishment of three and four year-old children. Unfortunately, I received no reply.

9 Jul 1996 : Column 243

Lord Henley: My Lords, I appreciate that this is Report stage but I have in front of me a photocopy of my letter to the noble Baroness dated 6th July. If it were possible for someone with wings to take it to the noble Baroness I would make it available to her. It was always my intention to make it available to her before this stage and I can only apologise on behalf of myself, the department and possibly the Royal Mail.

Baroness David: My Lords, I do not know how it failed to be delivered but as I have now received it, perhaps I may be allowed time to read it. It is an awkward situation.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, would the Minister be prepared to read his reply to your Lordships' House? There is not time for all of us to read it.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I will give that assurance if, by the time I reply, my copy, which I have now given to the noble Baroness, has been passed back to me.

Baroness David: My Lords, I shall read it. The letter states:

    "Thank you for your further correspondence about the nursery education voucher scheme and corporal punishment.

    I can only repeat what I said in the House as well as in our previous written exchanges on the subject of corporal punishment. It is government policy that children whose education is supported by state funding who are 'looked after' by social service departments must be excluded from physical or corporal punishment. Because the nursery education voucher scheme is state funded education, children whose places are supported by voucher income will also be excluded from corporal punishment in whatever pre-school they attend.

    The prohibition of corporal punishment does not extend to children who are attending independent schools or Children Act registered institutions where it is the parent, not the Government, who is meeting the cost of the school fees or charges. This is because the contract and the arrangements for responsibility are between the parent and the provider, not the Government nor the local authority.

    You quite rightly point out that some playgroups and day nurseries are subsidised by local authorities usually by the local social services department.

    As I have said before, Children Act guidance does not support the use of corporal punishment but leaves decisions about [its] use ... where the child is not in receipt of state funded education, or is not being 'looked after' with the parent and the provider.

    I am sending a copy of this letter to John Bowis".
That does not take us any further. The Minister is staying exactly where he was. I am sorry about that because I thought he might possibly be moved when there have been examples of the Department of Health saying that physical punishment has no place in any childcare situation. Here we have institutions which will have funds because of the voucher scheme. The voucher children will not be able to be hit but the others could be. That seems an insupportable situation.

9 Jul 1996 : Column 244

I am really very sorry that the Minister cannot see that we are supporting a scheme where some children will be there and yet the Government are not saying that institutions receiving these funds will not hit the children. This is quite insupportable. My noble friend Lord Henderson is unfortunately ill and cannot be here. I know that he would support me strongly. I must ask the Minister, as I did in the letter I wrote, whether in the regulations the Government will give guidance that corporal punishment should not be used in any institution. That is the very least I can ask. I hope the Minister will be willing to give that assurance. I beg to move.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Tope: My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, and particularly in her quest for, at the very least, some guidance. I would add the requirement that such guidance should be clear and specific. As I mentioned earlier, I am leader of an authority that has had some experience of guidance under the Children Act on the subject of slapping and smacking children. We were held to have taken too much notice of the guidance. Childminders, as was the case in question, may do so if they so wish, although the practice is discouraged.

This is an important issue. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady David, on the vigour with which she is pursuing it. Having heard the Minister's letter for the first time as she read it, I am inclined to agree with her. It is welcome in so far as it goes. However, it does not go far enough. I therefore hope that the Minister will take on board the points made so ably by the noble Baroness and will be able to give us further assurances.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, I support the amendment tabled my noble friend Lady David. Having heard her read the letter, it now seems that the Minister is saying that corporal punishment cannot be used in a nursery school which receives income from the nursery voucher scheme, because it is effectively publicly funded education and there is some prohibition on corporal punishment in publicly funded education institutions. I am concerned as to the exact legal framework. I suspect that it may be framed in terms of local education authority provision, which is not necessarily the same as provision that is "publicly funded".

We have not had a chance to digest the content of the letter, but the Government seem to suggest that corporal punishment may not be used in publicly funded nursery provision of the type we refer to. If there is already a legal requirement, surely there is no problem in writing it on to the face of the Bill. To dare to put it this way, the Government and the Minister have some explaining to do in relation to this particular matter. Without a satisfactory explanation that there is already some fairly strong

9 Jul 1996 : Column 245

legal authority saying that corporal punishment shall not be employed in nursery schools, then we shall need to write it on to the face of the Bill.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page