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Mr. Jamieson: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Richards: I should prefer to make some progress on Government amendment No. 33.

I ask the House to reject amendment No. 14. In Committee, Opposition Members tabled several amendments about the production and distribution of inspection reports. The amendments were not selected for discussion, but they raised important issues which we think merit inclusion in the Bill. We have always contended that inspection reports should be produced and distributed within a reasonably short time.

For the sake of clarity, we are persuaded that it would be helpful to make legislative provision for the time scale within which inspectors should produce reports. We think that it would be sensible to follow the model contained in section 208(2) of the Education Act 1993 so that the report is made within a period prescribed by regulations, subject to any extension that the chief inspector considers necessary. Such extensions would be limited to the prescribed period plus three months. The power to make extensions will cover unexpected events, such as an inspector's illness, which could lead to delays.

It also seems sensible that on receiving the report the chief inspector should distribute copies of it without delay, and that is achieved by amendment No. 33.As introduced, the Bill provided for a copy to go only to the inspected provider of the nursery education. On reflection, we think that it will often be appropriate for others to be sent a copy of the inspection report and the amendment provides for such further distribution to be covered by regulations. Of course, the regulations will prescribe that copies of the inspection report should be distributed to the provider.

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Mr. Hall: I apologise for interrupting the Minister in his reading of what is quite clearly a prepared brief. Who will pay for the inspections? Will it be the school--the private sector institution--and, if it is, will the cost come out of the £1,110?

Mr. Richards: In England it will come out of the Ofsted budget and in Wales the OHMCI budget will cover inspections.

There will need to be provision for copies of the reports to go to the LEAs in respect of their schools; to the Department of Social Security in respect of providers registered under the Children Act, and to the Department for Education and Employment and the Welsh Office in respect of independent schools. I ask the House to accept amendment No. 33.

Mr. Don Foster: It was right of the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Mr. Hall) to draw our attention to the kernel of the debate. As others have said, hon. Members on both sides of the House now recognise the importance and value of early years education, but the critical point raised by the hon. Member for Warrington, South is that we do not want any sort of nursery education or early years education. To achieve the successes and benefits that we want, the provision must be of high quality.The concern expressed by many Opposition Members in Committee was that there was no evidence that the provision that we would gain would be of high quality. That is relevant to new clause 1.

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In Committee, we made the point, which is worth reiterating, that, in revenue terms, a £1,100 voucher,if that is to be its value, is insufficient to provide high-quality provision. It will certainly be insufficient to provide additional resources for capital work on any new premises that are to be built or for the training of additional teachers and ancillary assistants who will be needed. As a result, there is a fear that the additional provision that may be created, and that the Government suggest the Bill will create, is likely to be of low quality. That is why it is so critical that, before state money--taxpayers' money--is handed over for such provision, there is at least some initial quick health check to ensure that we can be satisfied that new providers are likely to provide the sort of quality provision that we want.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment (Mr. Robin Squire): I intervene only to underline that there is a health check, literally, in relation to all Children Act 1989 registration--an annual inspection. It is one of the three main alternative requirements that every provider must have.

Mr. Foster: I am grateful to the Minister. I shall return to that point because it is important.

When the Minister responded from the Dispatch Box to those concerns, he assured us that a problem did not exist because the Government would accept applications only from certain categories of provider or organisation. I then intervened on the Minister and asked what assurances had been given and where they appeared in the legislation. The response was that it would be covered by the arrangements that the Secretary of State for Education and Employment

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had the power to make. As we know only too well from our study of the Bill, few of those arrangements will return to the House for examination by hon. Members. We should all, therefore, be concerned.

Mr. Richards: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Foster: I happily give way because I hope that the Minister will now give us clause, chapter and verse.

Mr. Richards: To save the hon. Gentleman and the House some time, if he is a little more patient, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment will return to that subject a little later.

Mr. Foster: I am grateful to the Minister. With that assurance, I shall happily wait. The House wants far clearer assurances than it has received so far.

I was pleased that the Minister tabled amendment No. 33. He has at least recognised, in a small way, some of the many concerns expressed by Opposition Members in Committee. The Minister has agreed to make copies of the report available to a variety of organisations other than the provider. I hope that, when the opportunity arises later, the Minister or one of his Front-Bench colleagues will go into a little more detail about whom they intend to make copies available to. The Minister mentioned the local education authority. I am delighted about that because I proposed it in Committee. We need far more information than we have received so far about that and about who will be responsible for some of the cost.

The Minister will recall that he told the Committee:

We and certainly the providers will need to be clear whether they will be responsible for bearing the cost of making many more copies of the report available, or whether some other source of funding will be made available. If the providers are to supply that funding, it will diminish still further resources to provide high-quality provision.

I hope that, when the opportunity arises later, the Minister or one of his colleagues will say why they were not willing to accept the points that were made in Committee about the importance, before inspection, of consultation with the local education authority on non-local education authority provision. A strong case was made for that.The Minister said that he would consider that point. Many hon. Members will be disappointed that he has considered it, but taken no action.

Mr. Kilfoyle: I agree with the Under-Secretary of State for Wales on one thing: much of what we have heard tonight is a rerun of what happened in Standing Committee. That is evidenced by the lack of Back-Bench support for the Government, constructive suggestions from Opposition Members and an especially boring and ill-informed speech from the Under-Secretary.

The reason why we are so concerned is that, on1 February in Committee, in column 58 of Hansard, the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Employment could not give us any guarantee on inspections of premises. We are naturally concerned, especially when we consider

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that, potentially, there are 40,000 providers.The Under-Secretary of State for Wales was concerned about that figure. He told us that the figure was only 28,000 and that the Audit Commission had the figures wrong,but included in the total are 2,900 providers from Wales, of which he had not even been cognisant.

Claims have been made about the categories of institutions that will be catered for under the arrangements, but there is nothing in the Bill. We have heard much about premises being inspected annually. Reference has been made both to the Children Act 1989 and to the Education (School Premises) Regulations 1996. We know what happened with those regulations last night. I repeat to the Minister: I hope that he learns the difference between prescriptive regulation and optional guidelines, which the Government do not take on board.

The whole point is that we also want inspection of educational quality, which must be at the forefront of everyone's mind.

Mr. Hall: The point about inspection under the Children Act is that it does not do anything about quality; it involves only the registration of premises. It will have nothing to say about the quality of nursery education.

Mr. Kilfoyle: That is the point that I am making. We are concerned with the quality of education as well the environment in which it takes place.

I remind the Under-Secretary of State for Wales that I was not suggesting that we have two cycles of inspection--quite the reverse. I was saying that there could be potential for that, but that we would expect any sensible, well-organised body such as Ofsted to ensure that it did not happen. He made the point that the chief inspector is to be satisfied. That is certainly the case but, given many of the education policies pushed by the Government in recent years, the Under-Secretary is an easily satisfied man.

Having said that, we do not intend to press the matter to a vote. We hope that the Government will see the sense of our arguments, go away and reflect on the valid points made by Labour Members. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

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