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Lord Ewing of Kirkford: The Minister has made a very important statement. Up until the present time, it has always been understood, certainly by the local authorities, that all the calculations from the previous local authorities--Fife region and Central region--have been based on a deduction of £1,100 for every four year-old child in their local authority area. What the Minister is now saying is that the deduction will in fact be for every four year-old child that is presently in nursery education. What that means is that in the case of the Western Isles, where the level of provision is very low indeed--almost non-existent--only a handful of parents will be entitled to this voucher.
The Earl of Lindsay: In the case of the Western Isles, I am not immediately familiar with the details. The advent of the voucher system will be very beneficial and they will have a very small deduction, because they are currently educating very few four-year olds. However, a voucher will be delivered to the parents of every single four year-old in the area. Therefore the ratio of money being deducted versus new money being injected will be a very good ratio as far as the Western Isles are concerned.
The Earl of Lindsay: Fife region would suffer only if, once the vouchers have been delivered to the parents, the parents then find another kind of nursery education that they prefer to the current provision of nursery education in Fife. If most parents are satisfied with the education service they are getting from the Fife regional council then they will stay with the Fife regional council.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: Am I right in thinking that for every child in Fife who is in a local authority nursery at the moment £1,200 will be deducted, and that if the children go back to continue in the nursery school where they are, that money will return to Fife? That is what I was trying to say before--that they will be in the same position as they were before. It is the children who are not in the present local authority system who will affect the scene.
The Earl of Lindsay: That is correct. If education authorities continue to provide for as many pre-school-year children under the voucher system as they did before, the effect of these arrangements will indeed be cash neutral. If authorities create more voucher-funded places, their funding will increase. Given the popularity of much local authority provision and pressure on places, it is highly unlikely that authorities will lose funding overall, and very probable that they will secure additional funding through the vouchers.
Lord Sempill: Is the calculation of £70 million guaranteed to give pre-school education to all four-year-olds in Scotland; and if so, what would be the cost to the state if they undertook it themselves?
Lord Sempill: If that calculation has been made, have the Government worked out what it would cost if the state had to provide the education for all four-year-olds in Scotland; or is it exactly the same figure?
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: We have had a good discussion and I shall just add one point before I withdraw the amendment. The point about the local authorities being in balance falls flat if a large number of parents decide not to return their voucher to the local
Lord Ewing of Kirkford: Part II of the Bill demonstrates the fundamental difference between the Government and certainly the Labour Opposition on the Bill. We have a fundamental objection to the whole question of the voucher scheme. It is interesting that the Minister has used extensively today the word "voucher". I mentioned at Second Reading that nowhere in the Bill, from the front cover to the back cover, does the word "voucher" appear. The reason why the word "voucher" does not appear is that the Minister and his advisers know perfectly well that the whole thing is highly unpopular. I shall not persuade the Minister today that the Government have got it wrong, but what I shall do, and do in no uncertain terms, with a maximum of 44 weeks until the calling of the next general election--from the date on which the Bill goes on the Statute Book, assuming that is the second week in November, we are down to 18 to 20 weeks--is to place firmly on record that an incoming Labour Government will stop this scheme. There will be no voucher scheme in nursery education provision in Scotland.
We have seen already the pilot schemes in the early part of their operation here in England. It is interesting to read the reports of the early results of the pilot scheme. It is interesting to listen to the interviews on the early results of the pilot scheme. One has to look and listen long and hard before one finds anyone, even in the pilot stage of the scheme in England, who is in favour of the scheme. I do not intend to repeat myself; I have it clearly on record at Second Reading that this scheme is socially divisive. It is educationally inappropriate and it will not do anything for nursery education in Scotland.
The socially divisive part of the proposal is clear. The parents in a village community get their nursery vouchers. Some are able to afford to top-up that voucher, because a voucher will only buy £1,100 worth of nursery education. An £1,100 voucher will not buy any more than £1,100 worth of nursery education whatever the Minister says; there is no escaping that fact. Then some of the parents decide that they can afford to top it up, and Miss Smith next door decides for obvious reasons, being a single parent, that she simply cannot afford to top it up. So we have the two children going to the nursery together, let us say, at nine, half-past nine or ten o'clock; we have one coming home at lunchtime because his or her mum cannot afford to top it up, and the other one staying on in the afternoon. Whether the Minister likes it or not, that is socially divisive.
It was to the rural communities that the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy, addressed herself at an earlier stage in our proceedings. It is the rural communities that will feel the impact more than the urban communities. But it will have its impact in the urban areas of Scotland as well.
Raymond Robertson, in his speech to which I referred in the Scotsman of 12th December last year, laid great emphasis on the whole question of parental choice. Raymond Robertson referred to parental choice in the context of the assisted places scheme, not in the context of this scheme. We are not debating, and the Bill has nothing to do with, the assisted places scheme. But there is not even parental choice; there is school choice. If the school decides not to take the pupil, the school does not take the pupil. That is not parental choice.
I shall put forward a proposal to the Minister, because we will not be voting on this today. We shall come back to this on Report. If the Minister is interested in introducing real parental choice, I invite him to come back on Report with an amendment to Clause 23, which says that the parents go and collect the vouchers, not have them sent to them. That is real parental choice: the parents right at the beginning can choose whether or not they want to go and collect the voucher. That is real parental choice. But of course the Minister will not do that. The Government will not do it. There is no parental choice. You get the voucher whether you want it or not. It is not enough to say, "Ah, but they have parental choice on how they spend it." Some vouchers, because of the domestic situation, will get lost. There will be all sorts of confusion about what is happening to wee Johnnie's or Mary's nursery education.
That is not my main objection. My main objection is to Clause 23 in Part II of the Bill. This is the part of the Bill that separates both main political parties in Scotland. Certainly, in the United Kingdom as a whole, the whole question of vouchers for nursery education separates the main political parties. I say again and put on record that we will not vote on it here today but we shall come back to it at Report stage. An incoming Labour Government--and this should be absolutely clear--will stop this scheme dead in its tracks. It will not be implemented. That should be absolutely clear.
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