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'. Regulation 12(1) of the 1996 Regulations (saving) shall have effect as if after the words "shall continue to have effect" there were inserted the words "(both as regards him and as regards persons who are members of his family at the coming into force of these Regulations)".'.
28B

Line 91, at end insert--


'. Regulation 11(1) of the 1996 Regulations (saving) shall have effect as if after the words "shall have effect" there were inserted the words "(both as regards him and as regards persons who are members of his family at the coming into operation of these Regulations)".'.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 28A and 28B to Lords Amendment No. 28, to which I have already spoken.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 28A and 28B to Lords Amendment No. 28.--(Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Nursery Education and Grant Maintained Schools Bill

5.40 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department for Education and Employment (Lord Henley): My Lords, I beg to move that the Commons reason be now considered.

Moved, That the Commons reason be now considered.--(Lord Henley.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

22 Jul 1996 : Column 1217

COMMONS REASON FOR DISAGREEING TO ONE OF THE LORDS AMENDMENTS
[The page and line refer to Bill (62) as first printed by the Lords.]
LORDS AMENDMENT

1

Clause 1, page 1, line 14, at end insert--


(''(2A) No arrangements may be made under subsection (1) above in respect of grants payable under this Act on or after 1 April 1997 before the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament an evaluation of the operation over a period of twelve months of any grants for nursery education in the area of any local education authority made during the financial year 1996/7.')
The Commons disagreed to this amendment for the following reason--
1A

Because it would alter the financial arrangements made by the Commons, and the Commons do not offer any further Reason trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 1, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason No. 1A.

The amendment which we passed in Committee seeks to require my right honourable friend the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament an evaluation of the operation of phase 1 of the nursery education voucher scheme, over a period of 12 months, before making any arrangements for phase 2.

The Commons have now considered this amendment and have disagreed with it,


    "Because it would alter the financial arrangements made by the Commons and the Commons do not offer any further Reason, trusting that this Reason may be deemed sufficient".
I urge your Lordships to agree with the Commons.

We have considered very carefully indeed the points made in this House. We too believe that the nursery education voucher scheme should be evaluated--so much so in fact that we are already undertaking evaluation exercises and we are reaping the benefits and learning the lessons to inform phase 2 of the scheme.

First, we commissioned a survey of parents in the phase 1 LEAs. We made the results of that survey available in the Library of both Houses two weeks ago. The findings are as follows. First, 60 per cent. of parents interviewed rated the scheme positively. In Norfolk, where the survey found that parents were most likely to know the key facts about the scheme, 87 per cent. of parents rated it "quite good" or "very good". Parents have not had difficulty with the applications; 72 per cent. found the forms "very easy to complete".

These findings echo the findings of a survey undertaken by the Pre-school Learning Alliance which surveyed its member playgroups to see how parents in phase 1 are benefiting from the scheme. That survey found as follows: 80 per cent. of groups think that parents value vouchers; 27 per cent. of the playgroups had increased the number of sessions they offer, even in the first term of operation.

Since your Lordships last debated this issue, the results of a second survey in the phase 1 areas have been completed. We have surveyed the views of providers and the results of that survey have been placed in the Library. The findings are as follows. The providers found registration easy and 60 per cent. found the administration

22 Jul 1996 : Column 1218

"very easy" or "quite easy". Three-quarters found voucher redemption "very" or "fairly easy", and a similar proportion found the self-assessment schedule helpful.

Your Lordships have also been concerned to ensure that only good quality nursery education is supported through the scheme. Perhaps I may give the House some of the findings of the providers' survey in this respect. Four in 10 providers agreed that quality of nursery education would improve in their area in the longer term. Over half of the providers in Norfolk were of that view. Nine in 10 providers favoured the desirable learning outcomes and one in five thought they would make good quality provision even better. More than eight in 10 providers welcomed the inspection proposals and almost all had a good grasp of the inspection criteria.

This is all very good news and in my view demonstrates that our proposals will mean a significant levering up of the standards of nursery education on offer.

As we have said throughout the passage of this Bill, the Government believe that the scheme should be evaluated. But let us consider the real motive behind the amendment that we discussed on another occasion. It is not to ensure full evaluation; it is to postpone implementation of the scheme. That delay is simply not necessary and it is damaging.

I hope that all I have said so far will allow the House to see that the amendment is not necessary because we already have full and thorough evaluation plans in hand. But the amendment is damaging because, quite simply, it deprives children of the benefits of vouchers.

In April 1997 more than half a million children will be eligible for nursery education vouchers. This amendment will deprive those children and their parents. The Government's position is clear. We want to allow those children to use those vouchers. We want to give parents the wherewithal to exercise choice of nursery education provider for their child. We want to start addressing the levering up of the quality of provision by introducing inspection and by providers starting to use the SCAA desirable learning goals. We want to give those parents who are hard-pressed to meet even the modest cost of pre-schools, the opportunity to use their voucher. And we want to do all this as quickly as possible. There is no possible reason for delay.

I shall conclude my remarks by reminding the House of the key principles underlying the nursery voucher education scheme: first, parental choice; secondly, raising educational standards; thirdly, the injection of substantial amounts of new money.

With those key principles in mind, together with the opportunity for those half-a-million four year-old children next April to benefit from good-quality nursery education, I urge the House to agree with the Commons. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do not insist on their Amendment No. 1, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason No. 1A.--(Lord Henley.)

5.45 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, it is a long-standing convention of your Lordships' House that

22 Jul 1996 : Column 1219

if a Bill originating in another place is examined and amended by your Lordships' House, and that amendment is disagreed to when the Bill returns whence it came, that is the end of the matter.

I admit that the Companion to the Standing Orders allows that even when the disagreement of another place is on the grounds of privilege, as is the case with this amendment, it is permissible for an amendment in lieu to be tabled in your Lordships' House which, if it were passed, would require the other place to think again and vote again. But the tradition is that to take this extreme action is against the ethos of this House. It is rocking the boat; it is not cricket; it is not done. We are the non-elected, revising and debating Chamber, and if our advice is rejected then the will of the elected body should prevail.

At Committee stage of the Nursery Education and Grant Maintained Schools Bill, your Lordships passed an amendment which required that no grant should be made until Phase I of the scheme had run for 12 months and an evaluation of it had been brought to Parliament. That amendment was duly debated in another place, after dinner, late in the evening of last Wednesday, 17th July. I listened to the debate. I was not greatly edified by it. At the end of it, however, our amendment was disagreed to by 270 votes to 251, and the reason given, was:


    "Because it would alter the financial arrangements made by the Commons".
This is of course as superficial as it is specious because our amendment was designed to save expenditure, not to waste it. But in this particular convention the Reason given does not have to be, in itself, reasonable in any way.

So the problem before us on Thursday, 18th July, was whether to express our dissatisfaction by tabling an amendment in lieu and forcing a Division today, which would at least register our very real sense of anger at the way this Bill has been treated, or to abide by the convention, bow to the will of the elected Chamber, fold our tents and steal away. After discussion, the view was taken that we should follow the latter course, and so I stand before you with nothing more than a neatly folded tent.

This action--in response to the convention of your Lordships' House and nothing else--should not be interpreted as in any way a weakening of our implacable opposition to nursery vouchers. I said at Third Reading that, in our opinion, nursery vouchers are a waste of effort, a waste of time and a waste of money. I would not alter one word of that and, in saying so, I know that I have the support of the whole of the Opposition and, I suspect, very many of those on the Cross Benches. I speak also for the vast majority of governors, headteachers, teachers and parents of the schools concerned, who are appalled at the unnecessary and divisive bureaucratic nightmare which this pointless procedure will produce.

I know that because of the gigantic postbag I have received. I speak for many other Members of these Benches, and of the Cross Benches, and of the Benches Spiritual. It has gone so far that this last weekend my personal telephone number at home was found by a large number of people, who have rung me up in fury at the rumour that we were not going to divide the House again

22 Jul 1996 : Column 1220

on this issue today. Several of them were under the impression that we were in a position of power and could overturn the amendment again. It took a considerable portion of the Sabbath day--I regret to say--to disillusion them about that. They see this scheme for what it is--an open attempt to bribe the eligible voters just before an election by stuffing a paper promise of £1,100 through their letter boxes. For anyone to say that the majority of parents want this scheme is quite frankly rubbish. The proof will be found in the ballot boxes. If nursery vouchers are ever issued nationally--and I pray God they will not be--the Labour government will honour those that have been issued but scrap the nursery voucher scheme. That is a promise, and unlike this Government we shall keep our word.


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