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Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, it is transpicuously clear for the moment. I cannot believe that I shall remember it with anything like that detail tomorrow morning when I read what the noble Lord said and what I have said in the official record. It seems to me that the government amendment may give extra flexibility but it has not addressed the Clause 1(3) issue, and that still remains. We feel that our amendment does exactly the same as the government amendment; but the glory of ours is that it comes for free. However, I understand that the Minister may feel that there is no such thing as a free amendment. In the light of that, and hoping that his officials and our advisers will have a careful look at this matter to see whether we have it completely right this time--I agree with the Minister that it is a very technical matter, best fought out in Committee rather than at this late stage of the Bill--I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 13:

Page 11, line 36, after ("made") insert ("to any authority").

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The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have already spoken to this amendment. I give an assurance, however, that I will examine again very carefully the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Morris, in relation to the allegedly superior virtues of his amendment. I believe that we have got ours right. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I beg to move, That the Bill do now pass.

We have now completed our consideration of the Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Bill. It is a short and straightforward Bill. Those noble Lords who have devoted so much time and attention to rather larger education Acts in recent years may not regret its size. Your Lordships have, nonetheless, put a good deal of care and attention into scrutiny of the Bill, in the finest tradition of this House.

At Second Reading of the Bill I had one main message that I wished to convey to the House. The Bill builds on the themes that have underpinned all the Government's education reforms: choice, diversity and quality. Although modest in size, the Bill will be far-reaching in effect--far-reaching for parents, who will have new and unprecedented choice in respect of their four year-olds' education; and important, too, for governing bodies of GM schools, which will have far greater flexibility to address their schools' capital needs.

It has been a disappointment that so much time has been spent on efforts to delay the implementation of our nursery education scheme. That has been an unfortunate approach. It will be particularly unfortunate for parents whose four year-olds may lose out on nursery education as a result. Many noble Lords mentioned the number of letters received from parents. I have received similar representations and I do not discount parents' anxieties.

However, we now have the results of an independent study of the views of parents in the phase 1 areas. We know, for example, that six in 10 parents have rated the scheme positively. The positive rating for Norfolk was a very heartening 87 per cent. We know that 72 per cent. of parents said that they found the application forms very easy to use; and almost all those who had used their vouchers had experienced no difficulty. The picture is brighter than has sometimes been painted.

I was accused earlier today of being somewhat unmoving in my acceptance of amendments. The Bill has been distinguished by its examination by the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lord Alexander of Weedon. I am most grateful to him and his committee for their constructive contribution to our proceedings. Following the committee's helpful report, we have provided the example for the amount of grant that is to be paid under the nursery scheme to be put in regulations. We did move. There have been other amendments. Government amendments have been made in response to concerns both in this House and the other place. We amended the Bill to meet concerns expressed by local education authorities on the question of admissions to reception classes. We have included a requirement for all providers outside the maintained

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sector to have regard to the special educational needs code of practice. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and am sad that he was not able to be here later on this afternoon. He brought those matters to our special attention. Special educational needs is one of the areas in which this House has developed a special expertise.

I end by offering my thanks to all those who have advised me, both here and in the department. I offer my thanks to my Whip, my noble friend, Lady Miller. I am afraid she is ill today, and I hope she returns feeling better. I also pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Young and others on my own Benches. I pay tribute to all the work put in by the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, and all their team; to the noble Lord, Lord Tope, the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, and their team. I also pay tribute to those on the Cross-Benches, and to the right reverend Prelate.

Our debates have been by and large conducted with an air of general good humour and without acrimony in a field where, I appreciate, feelings are very strong indeed. That in itself is some achievement. Perhaps I may now say goodbye to the Nursery Education and Grant-Maintained Schools Bill, as I prepare for a different form of nursery. I commend the Bill to the House.

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

7.15 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, let it be clearly understood as we come to the end of this debate and our consideration of the Bill that we on these Benches are wholly, totally and utterly opposed to nursery vouchers in every form in which they might be put forward. We consider them to be a waste of effort, a waste of time and a waste of money. Nothing that has been said throughout all the stages of this Bill will convince me, or has even come anywhere near convincing me, to the contrary.

That having been said (if your Lordships will permit the passive participle to be used in this way), I have a lot of people to thank and I will do so quickly. There were a number of noble Lords who spoke on our side of this argument. I refer to the fearless noble Baroness, Lady Farrington; to the determined and dauntless noble Baroness, Lady David; to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, who always appears to come straight from Moscow, sometimes with snow on his boots; to the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, who gave us the Scottish dimension; to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, who once described herself in this House as "a retread". We found her absolutely tireless!

I was most impressed with the timely and thoughtful interventions of the noble Lord, Lord Monkswell; and by the precise and perfect professionalism of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies; the noble Lord, Lord Parry, was a great help, bringing with him all the power of Pembroke. There was the doughty noble Lord, Lord Dormand; the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn; the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal; and the noble Lord, Lord Merlyn-Rees.

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Among our colleagues--and on this occasion our allies--on the Liberal Democrat Benches, I was staggered by the sheer knowledge of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, and the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas. It was a pleasure to listen to them, and I have learnt a great deal. I am used to the formidable contributions of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear. I wish we had heard more from her. There was the solid good sense of the noble Viscount, Lord Addington; the brief but trenchant intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore; the fearsome forensic skills of the noble Lord, Lord Hooson; and the fine analytic mind of the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill.

Among the Cross-Benchers, we had the aid of the philosopher, the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock; the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin of Bewdley, with a lifetime in education; the strange alliance of the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas and the noble Viscount, Lord St Davids. I should never have thought it could happen, but Wales is the better for it. We benefited from the thoughtful interventions of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon, who watches over far more than simply Church matters. I, too, wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy (de Knayth), each of them careful, cheerful champions of special educational needs; and the noble Lord, Lord Walton of Detchant, who helped us a great deal at the beginning and whose wisdom we have missed in these later stages.

Some noble Lords were not quite as supportive of us as I could have wished. There was the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, always independent but quite frequently helpful; and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Alloway, who always listens and makes up his own mind. There was the noble Baroness, Lady Young, for whose support the Government should be truly grateful whenever they get it. They do not always get it, but they got it on this occasion, and we got it, too--in the neck! And there were lesser interventions from the noble Lord, Lord Pilkington, the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain; the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe; the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith; the noble Lord, Lord Bowness; the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, a fellow academic who contributed very much as a thinker; the noble Lord, Lord Elton; the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour; the noble Baroness, Lady Perry of Southwark, whose expert knowledge adds so much to our education debates; and the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. To all, I offer my grateful thanks.

My thanks go, too, to the organisations which have advised us: the AMA, especially Mr. Damien Welfare, who did so much to help us; the ALG; the ACC; the NUT; the SEC; and CASE, the coalition of children's charities. I thank too, all the correspondents. There were well over 700 letters to me alone. Finally, I thank our researchers, Jessica Bawden and Clare Cozens, who worked indefatigably.

I turn to the noble Lord the Minister, who has been here from start to finish--from the beginning of Second Reading, even until now, alone very often on the Bench, apart from his Whip. He has taken the full burden of this Bill. When I thank him my mind is drawn to some words of a writer whom he may care to try to identify, if he cannot already do so straightaway:

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    "I cannot praise a fugitive and cloistered virtue, unexercised and unbreathed ... where that immortal garland is to be run for, not without dust and heat".
The noble Lord has endured the dust and heat. That particular passage ends:

    "that which purifies us is trial, and trial is by what is contrary".

In that sense I have certainly tried to purify the noble Lord. I thank him for his patience and courtesy. I apologise for any inconvenience that we may have caused him and I hope that any further troubles that he may have this week will be little ones.

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