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Lord Hooson: My Lords, I am pleased to support the amendment, which seems to be about the minimum that could be requested. If the Government resist this amendment, they will be seen entirely to have given up any pragmatic approach to education. After all, when the Prime Minister adumbrated this scheme in the first place, the targets that he set out had already been achieved in Wales. Why should all that be prejudiced? There was no volunteer for an experimental scheme in Wales because nobody wanted such a scheme. There was not sufficient impulse in even the most Conservative part of Wales for there to be any volunteers for such an experimental scheme.

I should like to deal with one particular point. As I said in Committee, we had the pleasure of meeting the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Mr. Jonathan Evans, at Gwydyr House before our previous

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debates on this. He listened carefully and courteously to us, but I am bound to say that one point in his letter to the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, is causing great concern in Wales. Mr. Evans wrote:


    "Lord Hooson during both Committee and Report Stage made the point that schools will have to move from full-time to part-time provision under the voucher scheme. That is not the case. There is nothing in the scheme to prevent schools from continuing to provide exactly the same sort of provision as at present, eg if schools are currently funded to provide full-time places, there is no reason why that should change because of vouchers ... It is important to remember that the transfer from the local authority sector will be no more than £1100 (even though authorities may spend more than this per four year old place) and will not take account of expenditure on provision for three year olds".

The real concern in Wales is that voucher funding is based on part-time education, whereas 92 per cent. of four to five year-olds in Wales already have either full-time or part-time education and over 70 per cent. of those four to five year-olds have full-time education. It is the hope in Wales that the rest of Wales can move up from providing part-time education to providing full-time education. What will be the effect of the Bill on that? Will such provision be funded in the future? That is an important point.

Perhaps I may comment on the background to the concern in Wales. There have been squeezes on the inspectorate in Wales. There are now fewer inspectors than there were. We are told that the scheme will be reviewed from time to time and inspected. However, a lady from Chirk, which is on the Welsh side of the border, wrote to me about her concern over her children's education. She told me how pleased she was about educational provision not only for four and five year-olds, but also for three year-olds, in Wales. When she moved to the area she was fearful about what the state education system might provide because she had moved from an area where state-provided education did not have such a good reputation. She said that, had there been a small private school, she might have been tempted by its self-promotion and sent her children to it. She wrote that that would have been a mistake.

Obviously, there are deficiencies in some parts of Wales but, by and large, I am sure that in relation to nursery education England wishes that it was in the same advanced state as Wales. Why jeopardise all that now? If the Government cannot accept this amendment, that will show that they have lost all semblance of a pragmatic approach.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, we on these Benches support the amendment. I support it because over 100 years ago my grandfather went to school in Wales at the age of three-and-a-half. He was punished for speaking Welsh--a policy imposed by the English and possibly adopted in England at that time. However, nursery education was available then in Wales.

During the passage of this Bill we have not received a single concession to consensus. The Minister has been unable, has felt unable or has been constrained to be unable to make any concessions in favour of consensus. The Government cannot point to one single decision that they have taken since 1979 which has affected local

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government finance which has not had unexpected financial repercussions, complications and problems. How dare people in England, based on the experience of what happens in Whitehall, make a judgment and then impose it on the people of the Principality?

If the Government believe that this is merely the view of the Labour Party in Wales, obviously they are not aware that there are some extremely independent Independents the length and breadth of Wales. If there had been one whiff of support for the Government's proposals (either from a minority or the majority), we would have received letters about it. I say that as somebody who has over 10 years' experience of working with Welsh Independents as well as with Welsh colleagues in the Labour Party.

I should like to concentrate now on the Government's imposition of totally centralised decision-making. If I were in favour of the conspiracy theory, I would welcome this because I think that the Government are putting up yet another flag behind which the people of Wales can rally in favour of a Welsh assembly. It is my experience that, from small villages in North Wales to the schools in the large urban communities of Cardiff, nobody wants what the Government are imposing; or are the Government frightened of the result of the evaluation to the point where they are not prepared to wait and see and then argue their case from a position of strength? Teachers, parents, Church leaders, voluntary organisations and school governors--people the length and breadth of the Principality--are telling the Government that they have got it wrong. Is it beyond the capacity of even this Government occasionally to admit that consensus is a better model than railroading and driving roughshod over the people of Wales and what they believe? Is it just possible that for once the Minister is able to reply not with a bucket of cold water but with the hand of co-operation so that we may achieve more and not end up with so many tragic wrecks of government mistaken and arrogant impositions on people?

Why do people in England believe that when it has taken them so long to achieve the Government's targets the Government have the right to look at someone who has achieved in Wales what the Prime Minister said he was setting out to achieve and then seek to undermine it? They are not my words but the words of the people of Wales. I hope that for once the Minister will be able to say that the Government are in favour of consensus and do not want to impose on the people of the Principality yet again something that they have not voted for and have not asked for, bearing in mind that the Government do not have the courage to wait and demonstrate whether there are any benefits.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am rather pained by the allegation made by the noble Baroness in her speech--which sounded more like a Bill do now pass speech--that I have not moved at all at any stage in this Bill. I would have thought that the concessions that I brought forward on the SEN code of practice were fairly major and fundamental and generally welcomed by the House. To suggest that I have resisted and rejected all the way through is unfair. I hope that the noble Baroness will reconsider her words on another occasion.

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The intention of the amendment, rather than what the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas sought, calls for consultation by the Secretary of State for Wales with the Welsh Joint Education Committee in respect of the evaluation of phase 1 of the scheme. It is important that the noble Lord recognises that it will not deliver the full review that he appears to seek. It would only require consultation with the Welsh Joint Education Committee for implementation of the scheme in Wales. It would not achieve the objectives which I believe the noble Lord set out. The review promised by my honourable friend in another place and in his letter would do just that.

I do not believe that there is very much more I can say that we have not already debated at considerable length at both Committee and Report stages about the position in Wales. As my right honourable friend has made clear, he and the Welsh Office firmly intend to keep the scheme under review and to make sure that full account is given to the Welsh dimension. I can assure noble Lords that both I and my right honourable friend in the Welsh Office recognise that there is very much a Welsh dimension.

The Welsh Office is ensuring that providers in Wales work to specific educational outcomes agreed for Wales. All establishments will be inspected according to the framework for inspection devised by the Office of Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools in Wales. The contractor for the scheme will be required to ensure that a bilingual service is provided. We have made clear all along that phase 1 will help inform implementation in Wales. Welsh Office Ministers and officials will liaise very closely with Ministers and officials in my department.

The Welsh Office wants to involve LEAs in Wales in this process. In a letter to the WJEC earlier this year my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Wales said that he hoped constructive dialogue with officials would continue in the run-up to introduction of the scheme. Indeed, officials have been in touch with the Association of Directors of Education in Wales as recently as last week about arrangements for meetings to discuss the detailed implementation of the scheme. Had it not been for a local authority boycott of meetings with the Welsh Office, dialogue might have been possible much earlier.

Colleagues in the Welsh Office very much want to discuss the detailed operation of the scheme in Wales with local authorities and the WJEC both before its start and during its operation. Welsh Ministers have made it clear that they want to involve all the key players--local authorities, WJEC, voluntary sector, the inspectorate and parents--and ensure that there is an objective view of the impact of the scheme in Wales. If at any time it seems that the arrangements in Wales warrant modification, Welsh Office Ministers have made it clear that they will not hesitate to do so. The legislation offers this flexibility.

I give an assurance that the Welsh Office is committed to full monitoring of the scheme in Wales and will include any effects on current provision and the value added element. On-going monitoring, including dialogue with local authorities, will allow the Welsh

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Office to implement a scheme which will fully reflect the particular circumstances of Wales. But what we cannot contemplate is a delay to the scheme in Wales and a situation where parents in Wales do not have the same opportunities as their counterparts in England. As the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, seemed to imply, that is not centralising but giving power to parents.

In the light of the assurances that I have given of the intentions of my right honourable and honourable friends in the Welsh Office about involving the Welsh Joint Education Committee in discussions on the detailed operation of the scheme in the run-up to implementation in Wales, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, will feel able to withdraw his amendment.


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