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Lord Addington: My Lords, the Minister has conducted the Bill through this House with his usual and at times quite irritating charm, disarming many arguments. As the noble Lord, Lord Carmichael, said, the first part of the Bill has been generally welcomed. It tries to bring all the qualifications under one heading and that will be universally welcomed. It is probably something which should be done more widely and at far greater speed throughout the land.
Parts III and IV of the Bill have some weight and were discussed accordingly. However, I do not feel that we on these Benches or indeed those on this side of the House will ever agree on Part II. There are many questions about the way in which the system has been brought in and the need for it. Any benefits that there are for certain parts of Scotland will probably not apply to other parts, simply because of the diversity of provision. There are some places where local authorities have managed to meet the needs of pre-school education and other areas where there is no provision. The Bill may be a mixed blessing. There may possibly be some benefit from it, but overall we believe that it is an inappropriate tool for the job.
With regard to the procedure used for the Bill, it was extremely beneficial to have the Select Committee in Glasgow. The information received gave us an insight into the experience of those who will deal with the legislation. I suggest that such procedure should be
Part II of the Bill usually received condemnation--at least in relation to the implications of the voucher system. The best managed by those not proposing the Bill was apathy. That suggests something about the Bill which the Government did not take on board. Nevertheless, the procedure proved very informative. I hope that something of that kind will be brought more often into our proceedings.
Unfortunately, those discussions were followed by proceedings in the Moses Room. Part II of the Bill is controversial. There was direct disagreement. At that time it was felt by Members of the Committee that they wanted to vote to express an opinion. That could not be done with that procedure. It meant that the Report stage was to a degree mangled and used for a different purpose. Perhaps I may suggest that the usual channels should consider the matter. If it is intended to use that procedure again--it can be used only for certain Bills--perhaps we should invent a new procedure which enables us to gather the information, as we did in Glasgow. That would go for any Bill, not just a Scottish Bill. It might prove beneficial.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I wish to make some comments because this has been a noteworthy Bill and has had a noteworthy passage through this House, as others have said, at two levels; first, it is not an insignificant Bill; and, secondly, its passage has demonstrated what the new procedure adopted by your Lordships for Scottish Bills can do.
After Second Reading we took evidence for two days in Glasgow. That evidence came from 10 organisations giving verbal evidence and seven giving written evidence as well as the Minister for Education in Scotland, though education is not part of my noble friend's portfolio in this House. The evidence was then published.
Committee stage took place off the Floor of the House. I listened with interest to what was said. I am bound to say that I reacted slightly differently. I felt that, without the pressures of feeling that Scottish legislation was taking up the time of this House and of noble Lords who have to attend to the legislation for the whole of the United Kingdom, we were able to take the time needed in the Moses Room. Certainly Moses looking down on us with his tablets of stone did not always help. But I felt that it was a good exercise and that we were able to go more carefully into the Bill than we otherwise would have done. I hope therefore that we do not lightly discard that procedure. It is true that we could only adopt amendments that were agreed by everybody, and that may be part of the problem of noble Lords opposite. However, the votes came when we came to Report stage. The Opposition often wait until then anyway. I did not feel that that was a loss, but it is worthy of consideration.
If we pass this Bill and it goes to another place, honourable Members will have before them a great deal of information to help them in their consideration knowing not only that those 17 organisations gave evidence, but that all the membership behind those organisations were in a sense represented. Therefore a large part of the population of Scotland was involved and that is bound to be helpful.
With regard to the Bill, Part I proved uncontroversial. I was glad to have the opportunity to explore with my noble friend the question of the independence of the accreditation committee. I was grateful, as I am sure were other noble Lords who took part, that he was able to table an amendment to clarify for certain its independence.
Our consideration of Part II, which set the scene for the nursery education voucher scheme, mainly because the new procedure gave us time and involved so many Scots, was revealing in four important ways. I shall mention them briefly because they are important. It revealed an extraordinary lack of confidence among local authorities and teachers' unions that, as provision expands, parents with the new influence and power that the vouchers give them will choose the nursery or play group which suits them best. But if the local authority has been offering and continues to offer the best in the area, that is precisely what the parents will choose.
Our evidence showed fear--probably entirely unjustified--among local authorities and teachers that parents' good sense will not prevail. One could also detect a lack of appreciation of the benefit that would come through the increased involvement of parents when the voucher scheme is introduced. Nursery education must involve parents to the maximum extent if it is to succeed. If vouchers bring nursery providers extra work, it is probably worth doing for the parental interest it will involve. That point was not taken by the local authorities or the teachers' representatives.
The consideration of that part of the Bill was also revealing in that it appeared to show a total lack of appreciation that in modern times a far more realistic way of funding the expansion of provision in the community is by bringing in public and private resources in partnership. That understanding is increasingly recognised by all political parties across the developed world. It is sad if it is not yet so in Scotland, particularly in an area such as nursery education where private resources are already involved and fit in so naturally.
During our consideration of Part III of the Bill, which on the whole was also uncontroversial, the explanation given by the Minister on the conflict of interest clause which he introduced was extremely helpful. He has since written to me, and I believe the letter went to other noble Lords, amplifying what the last paragraph of his new clause means. He says that he will continue to look at the matter. I am not sure whether it was the right answer, but I hope to talk with him again. It may be necessary to continue with the subject in another place; I am not yet convinced about that.
The Earl of Lindsay: My Lords, I am grateful for the comments made by noble Lords. The noble Lords, Lord Carmichael and Lord Addington, and indeed my noble friend Lady Carnegy, paid compliments on the value of the evidence taken in Glasgow. I endorse that. We believe strongly that the direct access that the procedure gave Scottish organisations and individuals to this part of the legislature is valuable and important. We hope to see further Bills being subject to that process.
I do not agree with the noble Lords, Lord Carmichael and Lord Addington, in their displeasure with the Moses Room process. We are convinced in this instance that it enabled the Bill to be discussed without the constraints of time which are so often imposed when Bills are discussed on the Floor of this Chamber. It gave me as Minister proximity to officials, which was useful when we were discussing some of the more technical and complex clauses in the Bill. That enabled me to deliver at speed much more useful, constructive and accurate answers to the points raised around the House. I remind the House that Bills are only consigned to the Moses Room after a decision is reached through the usual channels. It is therefore for the House to decide what is and what is not put through that system.
I commend my noble friend Lady Carnegy for highlighting the important issues of Part II of the Bill--that is, nursery vouchers--and especially her principal point that it demonstrated a lack of confidence among local authorities. I agree that they seem nervous about the introduction of parental choice that comes with a voucher system. I illustrated through my own experience the high standing that local authority education has with most Scottish parents. Despite having choice, I have chosen, ahead of the private or voluntary sector, local authority education because it delivers a very good and a high value service.
I am convinced that the introduction of the nursery vouchers scheme and the anticipated expansion of pre-five education in Scotland will see the local authorities, which are already the major providers, being the major beneficiaries. There are others apart from myself who share this confidence in their future. We are also determined that as far as possible parents are able to make the decisions about their children and about their children's education. That is inherent in the provisions contained in Part II of the Bill.
I am grateful for the remarks of the various noble Lords who have supported the Bill, if not in its entirety then certainly in many of its parts. I am certain that their efforts will also be much appreciated when the Bill comes to be considered in another place. I commend the Bill to the House.