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Lord Graham of Edmonton: My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister and I have no objections. In fact, what he has told me about the overseas charges has put the matter in a different context because I was under the impression that the service was in answer to inquiries and after someone had written letters. The Minister has not been specific, but gave illustrations. If an overseas local authority needs guidance on how to do something better, and the experience is in the gift of a local authority over here--it may be my present local authority, which is Epping, or the local authority where I was the leader; namely, Enfield--and two or three officers are seconded for a month in order to do the job, it will mean that the local authority over here will be deprived of their services. Therefore, one must come to a satisfactory figure.

The know-how fund has been established and it was designed specifically to give assistance by this country to those countries of the Eastern bloc and others who are desperate to turn round their economic position. That must be on a different scale from the subject that we are discussing now. The Minister has satisfied me that it is quite proper for a local authority to be involved in more than giving simple advice or sending leaflets and to put

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men and material at the disposal of another local authority in order that it can provide a better service. As far as I am concerned, a proper charge should be made.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for being so understanding. I commend the regulations to the House.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.35 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 8.9 to 8.35 p.m.]

Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Bill

Consideration of amendments on Report resumed.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 13:


After Clause 3, insert the following new clause--

Children with special educational needs

(" .--(1) It shall be the duty of--
(a) any authority or other person providing funded nursery education, and
(b) any person employed by such an authority or other person in the provision of such education,
(except where a duty is already imposed by subsection (2) of section 157 of the Education Act 1993) to have regard to the provisions of the code of practice issued under that section (practical guidance in respect of the discharge of functions under Part III of that Act).
(2) That code of practice may include practical guidance in respect of the provision of funded nursery education for children with special educational needs in circumstances where functions under Part III of the Education Act 1993 do not fall to be discharged.
(3) But unless that code of practice includes provision made by virtue of subsection (2)--
(a) the Secretary of State shall publish a document explaining how the practical guidance contained in that code applies in circumstances where functions under Part III of the Education Act 1993 do not fall to be discharged, and
(b) the duty imposed by subsection (1) includes a duty to have regard to the provisions of that document.
(4) In this section "funded nursery education" means nursery education in respect of which the Secretary of State is making (or is to make) grants under arrangements under section 1.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, before I address the specifics of this amendment, I reassure the House of the Government's commitment to ensuring that children with special educational needs also enjoy the same benefits of good quality nursery education. I wrote in some detail to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, about this commitment by Her Majesty's Government at Committee stage. I copied that letter to the two Opposition Front Benches and others.

It is perhaps worthwhile if I explain in as brief a detail as I can what we are doing. I remind the House that the nursery education voucher scheme will not in any respect affect the current duties and responsibilities of local education authorities towards children with special educational needs. I should have said at the outset that

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I understand why the noble Lord, Lord Rix, is not able to be here this evening. I am sorry that he is not here, but he explained these matters to me and my colleagues.

At Committee stage I made a commitment that I would bring forward an amendment to the Bill on Report which would build on the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, had tabled to place a duty on all voucher redeeming providers, not already covered by the duty in Section 157 of the 1993 Act, to have regard to the special educational needs code of practice. I move this amendment in fulfilment of that commitment. I explained during Committee that it was important not to forget that the code of practice was written with local education authorities and maintained schools, not playgroups and private nursery schools, in mind. The code provides advice and guidance for schools and LEAs to help them make effective decisions in the context of the duties placed on them by Part III of the Education Act 1993. This reflects the fact that Section 157 is limited to the exercise of functions under Part III. Providers in the private and voluntary sectors do not have any duties under Part III of the 1993 Act, so one cannot simply place on them a duty to have regard to the code.

In addition to the duty on all providers redeeming nursery vouchers to have regard to the code, the government amendment places a duty on the Secretary of State, pending an expansion of the code itself to cover providers in the private and voluntary sectors, to publish a document which will provide practical guidance to help those providers apply the key principles of the code which are of equal relevance to them. I must stress that this complementary guidance will be just that--complementary. It will not dilute the standing of the code itself; it will merely make it more accessible to providers outside the maintained sector. I can assure the House that the code will remain the point of reference. We will shortly be consulting on the detailed content of this guidance. Therefore, I hope that the House will accept this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Rix, proposed this amendment at Committee stage. As I expect the whole House is now aware, he was taken to hospital this afternoon with what we hope is no more than a minor indisposition. The noble Lord wrote to me en route and said that he wished to express his gratitude to the Minister and all who had taken part in the short debate on his amendment at Committee stage. He wished to thank us, especially the Minister, for this happy outcome, which also has the blessing of the Special Education Consortium. He believes that we all recognise that, as regards this issue, common sense has prevailed. He wished that to be conveyed to your Lordships' House. I can add only, in the words of the American satirist, "Them's me sentiments, too!".

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, I, too, welcome the amendment. It is good that the Government have felt able to act in respect of this important matter.

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The amendment is widely welcomed outside the House, and I congratulate the Government on having come a long way towards what was requested.

Baroness David: My Lords, I, too, requested that the code of practice should be extended to cover other areas, and therefore I, too, am pleased that the Government have produced the amendment.

A few concerns remain, however, and perhaps I may voice them. They have been brought to my attention by the Special Education Consortium. It is concerned that other guidance, in particular guidance on admissions in Circular Nos. 693 and 694, will not apply to settings not in the maintained sector. It will therefore be possible for providers of nursery education which are not in the maintained sector to discriminate against four year-olds with special educational needs in their admissions criteria and in the way in which they operate. The SEC believes that that will undermine the principle of the application of the code to providers of nursery education and, indeed, the Government's intention in extending the guidance in the code to all providers. Therefore, the consortium would welcome some indication of the Government's intention to include in the additional documents which will support the code guidance indicating that admissions criteria which discriminate against four year-olds who have or may have special educational needs will be unacceptable.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am sorry to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Rix, has gone into hospital. I had heard that he had been unwell but I had not realised that he was in hospital. On behalf of the whole House, I wish him the speediest recovery.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Henley: Having said that, I am hoping that early next week my wife will be going into hospital in happier circumstances and that some consideration will be given to me, or perhaps to my noble friend Lady Miller, if I have to hand over the brief at short notice.

I am grateful for the warm welcome for the amendments and for the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and the Special Education Consortium came to see me to discuss matters. That often makes for a productive process in the course of legislation going through either House, in particular through this House.

Perhaps I may deal with the particular concern raised by the noble Baroness, Lady David. The two circulars, Nos. 693 and 694, which were brought to our attention by the SEC set out the factors which the admissions authorities should take into account in formulating admissions policies. They state that having a special educational need should not give a child a lower priority, all other things being equal. I can add only that that will be covered in complementary guidance, and I hope that that satisfies the noble Baroness.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

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8.45 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon moved Amendment No. 14:


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