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The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, as I hope that your Lordships will know, I am always anxious to assist noble Lords, and not least the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington. However, your Lordships will also know that I am bound by the practice and procedure of the House and the first point to which I ought to draw your Lordships' attention--quite unnecessarily, I am sure--is a point with which your Lordships will be familiar, not least because the noble Viscount the Leader of the House had occasion to remind your Lordships of it only last week. I refer to the fact that a Third Reading is to be taken formally and any debate which arises at that stage should take place on the Motion that the Bill do now pass.

There is a second procedural point to which I should draw your Lordships' attention. It will be less familiar to some of your Lordships than to others. It is a point which I had the occasion to draw to your Lordships' attention only a few weeks ago. I refer to the fact that the practice and procedure of your Lordships on private Bills--this is a private Bill--are such that if points are to be raised at various stages, notice is to be given and a sponsor appointed from the Back Benches.

As I have said, I am always anxious to try to assist if I can. Had such notice been given and had a sponsor been appointed, I am sure that the first thing that that sponsor would have noted was that he or she would not have been at all surprised had the noble Lord, Lord Bruce of Donington, wanted to raise a matter which has European implications, as has this Bill.

Had I been permitted by the rules of procedure of your Lordships' House to assist, I should have pointed out that the company has been incorporated in this country, but the whole of its business is, and has been for a very long time now, in France. Therefore, it is of assistance to the company and no doubt to its customers that that company should no longer be incorporated in this country but in France where it can carry out its practices all the more efficiently. As the noble Lord,

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Lord Bruce of Donington, who is a distinguished accountant, will know, there is no procedure under the United Kingdom Companies Acts for a company's incorporation to be transferred to another country. The Bill is needed to effect that transfer.

I hope that I have assisted to some extent, but I do not think that I should transgress upon your Lordships' sense of order by attempting to assist further. However, if there is any way in which I can help, I shall seek to do so outside the Chamber.

On Question, Bill read a third time.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(The Chairman of Committees.)

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, I should like at once to apologise to the House and to the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees for having raised such a matter on Third Reading rather than on the Motion that the Bill do now pass. My curiosity has been perfectly well satisfied. I accept the noble Lord's rebuke, but I can assure him that next time I shall be spot on the procedure and that I may possibly require further information than the noble Lord found it proper to give this afternoon.

The Chairman of Committees: My Lords, I am much obliged to the noble Lord and I doubt not one word of what he has told your Lordships.

On Question, Bill passed.

Public Order (Amendment) Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Wildlife Bill

Brought from the Commons; read a first time, and to be printed.

Railway Heritage Bill

Read a third time.

Lord Finsberg: My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

In moving this Motion, perhaps I may pay tribute to my honourable friend Mark Robinson in another place, whose idea this was, and to those officials at the Department of Transport who have helped me to get the Bill to this point in your Lordships' House. I trust that the Bill will now be given the correct green light and allowed to reach its terminus.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.--(Lord Finsberg.)

On Question, Bill passed.

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Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Bill

3.15 p.m.

Read a third time.

Clause 1 [Arrangements for making grants]:

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 7, at end insert ("subject to the provisions of subsection (4) below and after the making of an order having effect for a period of up to twelve months").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, this group of amendments is designed to secure the best of both worlds in an area where there is still a great deal of public concern, and which is perhaps the weakest part of the Bill as it stands. So far are they from being wrecking amendments that I would hope the Government might welcome them as a constructive means of targeting expansion in the direction and through the structures which the Government have in mind, while at the same time allaying the worries of those parents and providers who have greatest involvement in nursery education.

The problem, as noble Lords are by now well aware, lies in those authorities, some of them Conservative-controlled like Solihull, where there is already high LEA provision. I need not repeat the arguments in detail. The way in which the resourcing is intended to work, by the convoluted clawing back of money from LEAs only to give most of it back later, means that, to put it no higher, where nursery provision is already at near-universality, the LEA cannot gain and there is a likelihood that it will lose financially. It is surely quite wrong that those who have worked in the past to build up good nursery provision should now have this provision threatened. On top of this we have the attendant uncertainty in planning future LEA provision, to say nothing of the rigmarole of the administrative paperchase--was it eight different steps that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, referred to in Committee?--to enable nursery school parents to reclaim what they have already.

I think we can do better than that. In Committee we put forward an amendment which would have allowed a whole LEA area to opt out of the voucher scheme. Where that was something of a blunt instrument and involved the complication of parental ballots, what we are bringing forward today is much more focused.

The effect of this group of amendments, of which Amendment No. 5 is the operative one, will be to remove all local authority nursery provision from the ambit of the voucher scheme. The scheme will apply only to places in the voluntary and private sectors. Grants, however, may still be made to LEAs for any new provision they may want to make.

This will come about as follows. Sub-paragraph (i) of Amendment No. 5 provides for such grants to authorities for any new nursery provision--the relevant words here are "for the first time". Nothing should be done to discourage authorities from bidding to government through the mechanisms that exist to expand their own provision if they want to. I will deal with the bit about the order made under subsection (1) in a moment.

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Sub-paragraph (ii) in effect insulates the maintained sector from the voucher arrangements--and note that this can involve other departments in addition to education, for example, social services. A parent or guardian will not be able to present a voucher and through it obtain a local authority place. This is the crux, together with sub-paragraph (iii), which prevents local authorities' revenue support grants from being raided to fund the voucher scheme. Together these are designed to lift local authority places out of the scheme and so prevent the financial and administrative disruption to existing provision which is the major drawback to the Bill as drafted.

Subsection (4A), still under Amendment No. 5, gives a necessary definition of the word "voucher" in sub-paragraph (ii) which has otherwise not appeared in the Bill.

Amendment No. 1 cross-refers to the subject of Amendment No. 5 from the Secretary of State's enabling power to make arrangements at the beginning, and stipulates the making of an order for a period of up to 12 months. This is to give flexibility in the light of Amendment No. 13, which your Lordships agreed to in Committee, on the question of full evaluation of the pilot scheme; the first order could come into effect after the evaluation, for the period up to the end of March 1998, giving the Government the choice thereafter whether to continue with a cycle based on financial years or to revert to the academic year cycle. We feel it is appropriate that there should be a chance for a review of the scheme on a regular basis, and Amendments Nos. 1 and 11 provide for this to be done through an order made under the negative resolution procedure.

If these amendments are agreed to, the voucher agency would still send an application form to all parents who were eligible. Instead of merely offering a voucher, the form would ask parents to choose between seeking a place for their child in a maintained school or taking up a voucher for the voluntary or private sector. According to their choice, the full system which the Government are proposing in this Bill would either apply or not. Parents could not unscrupulously try to secure a voucher as well as a free place if they had been required to commit themselves to a choice of one or the other on the form.

There is much to gain and little to lose in agreeing to these amendments. There is no loss of choice involved. Parents can exercise just the same preferences as they could under the Government's proposed scheme, but in a more direct and less confusing way. What is different is that the new money which the Government are providing will go straight where it is needed, and LEA resources will not be redirected round the houses in an elephantine exercise of energy-sapping bureaucracy, while much of the estimated £20 million administration costs of the scheme will be saved and thus available for actual nursery education.

Since the evidence which has come in so far indicates that it is the extra money, not surprisingly, that is producing the expansion (such as it is), for goodness sake let us maximise it. And since these amendments are targeting vouchers on precisely those sectors--

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the voluntary and the private--where the Government themselves wish to see the greatest expansion, I can commend them confidently to the House. I beg to move.

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