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Lord Henley: I hope that neither the noble Lord, Lord Peston, nor the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, wants to add to the contributions from the Opposition Front Bench. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, for writing to my noble friends Lady Young and Lord Campbell of Alloway. I have no doubt that he wrote to other noble Lords and will write to me. I look forward with interest to receiving his billets.
Lord Henley: I am grateful for the noble Lord's consideration. Ignoring what the noble Lord's noble friend has just said, the amendments broadly fall into two groups: first, those seeking more regulation on the face of the Bill and less of what the noble Lord referred to as arrangements; and, secondly, the major part of the group of amendments (Amendments Nos. 2, 6 and 13) which deal with evaluation. I shall deal with them separately and in that order.
The Bill sets out the broad framework, and the necessary legal underpinning for the grant, and its functions; for example, allowing the use of the child benefit database, defining the inspection regime, and so on.
Amendments made to the Bill in another place provided that two key elements of the grant arrangements should be set out in regulations. Those two elements are the type of institution which can be eligible for grant, and the description of children in respect of whose education grant can be paid.
The grant arrangements themselves will include the administrative detail. It is clearly not sensible to make all that the subject of legislation, be it primary or secondary. Time-consuming amendments would then be needed for the slightest change, which would be absurd. It would also limit the flexibility of grant which will be paid to a range of types of institution.
Those are convincing arguments for what I refer to as the first part of the group of amendments. I hope the noble Lord will feel that it is not necessary to press those amendments whatever he may feel about those relating to evaluation. However, in support of my case for rejecting, I need have done no more than point to the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee's report on the Bill. I am sorry that the noble Lord was dismissive of the committee's report because I believe that the committee, which we set up to deal with exactly such questions, performed its job very well on this occasion. It held considerable discussion with my honourable and right honourable friends within the department to ensure that its concerns were allayed.
I turn to the question of evaluation. I accept the word of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, that the amendment is not a wrecking amendment. The noble Lord knows how restrained I am on these occasions and I should be the last to say that it was a wrecking amendment. However, I must say to him that it is partially a wrecking amendment because the scheme, if it could not go forward, would be wrecked for the parents of children aged four in 1997. I am the first to declare an interest because I shall be the father of a four year-old late in 1997. As regards that group, this is certainly a wrecking amendment. I do not believe that it is necessary to delay the introduction of the new measures for a year or more, as the noble Lord suggests.
The amendments would have the effect of delaying the introduction of nationwide implementation of the scheme. There would have to be an evaluation of Phase 1 in the four LEA areas over 12 months; that is, up to the middle of April next year. A report would then have to be made to Parliament and the arrangements for Phase 2 could not be made until that had been done. Phase 2 could not, as a result, come into force in April 1997, as planned.
Amendment No. 31 would cause further delays year on year as the grant-making arrangements were reviewed annually and consultation undertaken. It would, in addition, cause considerable uncertainty for nursery education providers in all sectors about future funding arrangements. The additional choice offered to parents by the scheme, the new arrangements for quality assurance, and the availability of new resources through the vouchers for expansion would be delayed. There is no need to deny those benefits to children and their parents up and down the country, and the Government have no intention of doing so.
Obviously, we shall monitor the operational arrangements for Phase 1 by drawing on data on the issue and redemption of vouchers provided by the voucher agent and by surveys of parents and providers. I can give an assurance that initial results will be placed in the Library of each House as they become available, with an overall assessment in the autumn. The first inspection reports under the new quality assurance regime will also be available in the autumn. Ofsted envisages publishing an overview report of early inspection findings in January next year.
The noble Lord, Lord Dormand of Easington, asked which parts of the scheme would not be evaluated. Obviously, there are some elements of the scheme which we cannot evaluate fully until we embark on Phase 2. I do not believe that the beneficial effects of yet wider choice and greater participation will be seen overnight. However, as we move on to Phase 2 we shall begin to see those benefits and we shall be able to inspect and evaluate them as they arise.
As my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith made clear, it is not always possible to see all the benefits of every new reform overnight. One only has to look at the national curriculum, which most people now accept. We shall not see the benefits of children having studied science since the age of five until the end of the century because the full cohort of those starting to study science at the age of five will not have reached the end of the national curriculum until the end of the century. However, that should not be an excuse for delaying the introduction of such a beneficial new measure.
Baroness Hayman: Does the Minister agree that perhaps a pilot scheme with a proper evaluation of SATs for seven year-olds might have proved extremely valuable rather than having to change the whole scheme for everyone, which is what we faced?
Lord Henley: I would be the first to accept that we did not get the national curriculum right first time. I would be the first to accept that broadly we have got it right now. That is why last year we said that we did not envisage further changes for another five years. That was broadly welcomed throughout the educational world.
Baroness Hayman: My point to the Minister was simply that everyone nationally had to go through the pain of getting it wrong first time in SATs and that that ought to make us extremely cautious about evaluating properly the pilot scheme here.
Lord Henley: We have a pilot scheme and we are evaluating properly. The noble Baroness and her party are suggesting that we should delay the scheme even further so that no one other than those in the four areas can benefit from its advantages.
I have said a great deal about the evaluation that we shall be undertaking and the detail that we shall be making available to the House. We believe that the various data and the findings will provide a good basis for deciding in the coming months whether any changes are needed in the operational arrangements for Phase 2. They will allow us to settle for this autumn the Phase 2 voucher administration contract; our plans for publicity and information; the briefing of the LEAs, the schools and other providers; and other operational arrangements. Those must be settled this autumn if there is to be a smooth introduction of the scheme nationwide next year, as many parents and providers expect.
Let us remember what is new in the scheme. Basically, it is the funding of some nursery education via vouchers and the inspection of private and voluntary providers. It is unlikely that a full year's evaluation of Phase 1, proposed in the amendment, would add significantly to the initial findings from the monitoring and assessment that we plan. As I made clear, it will take time for the major effects of the voucher scheme to be seen. Our evaluation plans provide over the medium-term for surveys to compare the provision and use of places for three and four year-olds. Over the longer term, they provide for longitudinal research into the effects of pre-school education to at least Key Stage 1.
We are committed to the proper monitoring, assessment and evaluation of the voucher scheme at all the appropriate stages in its development. The necessary plans for Phase 1 are in place and the results will be made available to this House and to Parliament as a whole. The alternative versions proposed in the amendments are unnecessary and would disadvantage the many parents and providers who are looking forward to the start of Phase 2 next April. Therefore, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
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