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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, will the Minister place on record that during the time that pilots were being sought, the Government, against the wishes of virtually everyone in Wales, imposed local government reorganisation, which affected the structure and make-up of almost every local education authority?
Lord Henley: My Lords, that might have been so, but I do not believe that it ruled out the possibility of a bid from Wales. There was no bid for a pilot scheme; and, as I made clear, the fact is that the arrangements for the pilot are not about the principle but about operational arrangements.
Lord Henley: My Lords, it would have been open to one of the emerging new authorities to make a bid. The shadow arrangements were in place and it was open to them. There was no bid and there is an end to it.
As I made clear, the arrangements for the pilot are not about the principle, they are about the practical mechanics of distribution, and so on. I believe that what we learnt from the pilots in Norfolk and the three London boroughs can be applied to Wales.
Baroness White: My Lords, the noble Lord has no true grasp of the difficulties in Wales which we suffer through the reorganisation of local authorities. I shall not detain the House by going into details, but Wales has more difficulties than most places in England.
Lord Henley: My Lords, I do not think that I can take the House much further than what I said. We do not believe that it is about principle but about the mechanical arrangements. Much can be learnt from the arrangements in England; and, as I said earlier, there was no bid from Wales.
Before I touch on the grant-maintained aspect, perhaps I may say a word to the noble Baroness, Lady David, about corporal punishment, on which she feels strongly. I believe that I answered a Written Question on it not long ago. As she knows, we will ensure that all four year-old children where the voucher is used in any institution are not subject to corporal punishment. I accept that the noble Baroness says that it does not go far enough, why do we not just forbid corporal punishment absolutely? That is another question for another Bill and another day. However, in a voucher-redeeming institution it is unlikely that some children would come along with vouchers and a mark on their backs saying: "Do not beat", while some without vouchers--I am not sure who they would be--had a mark saying: "Beat, if necessary". Perhaps we may leave the matter with an assurance to the noble Baroness that an institution will not be able to make the children bearing vouchers subject to corporal punishment. I believe that that goes so far as is necessary. I also feel that there is no question but that we comply with our international obligations in that area.
Lastly, I wish to say a few words about anxieties raised on grant-maintained borrowing. My noble friend Lord Skidelsky asked why we could not let local authority schools borrow. I am sure that my noble friend
Lord Henley: My Lords, I am not sure that I can confirm on what basis the LEA can borrow. It would have to seek permission in the usual way, and it has an effect on the PSBR. It would not be open to the school.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, asked about the proceeds of grant-maintained school asset disposal and suggested that they should go to the LEA rather than to the grant-maintained school. We believe that grant-maintained schools, like local authorities, serve their own community. We believe it is right that they and the children and parents who make use of the schools should benefit from the assets that the schools no longer need.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, would the Minister at least be prepared to concede that where the entire community still has a debt to repay, the individual grant-maintained school ought only to have those capital receipts that accrue above the debt outstanding?
Because that decision will be made by parents, the Bill also supports diversity. Parents should be able to decide for themselves what is right for their child from the great diversity of provision available for the education of the under-fives. Some will want to choose maintained or independent nursery schools or reception classes in primary schools. Others will be keener on playgroups or Montessori schools. That should be up to them, provided that the setting in question is of sufficient quality.
Another aspect of government policy has been to give individual schools the freedom to take important decisions for themselves and to choose the direction in which they want to develop. The Bill takes those reforms further by giving grant-maintained schools the power to borrow from the market to finance capital expenditure.
Finally, the Bill complements the Government's commitment to raising standards in education quality, while parents will make decisions about the kind of nursery education that is right for their child. They need to know that what is being offered is of sufficient quality. Our proposals provide for that through the mechanisms I have spoken about.
Among the many speakers today we have heard some interesting contributions. With the possible exception of parts of the speech of my noble friend Lord Skidelsky, virtually all have spoken of the benefits of expanding nursery education. This Bill will provide for just that--for expansion to the advantage of all four year-olds in England and Wales. I commend the Bill to the Whole House.
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