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Mr. Kilfoyle: I am still unclear. Will the Minister take this a little further? Surely we do not deal with the individual circumstances of a recipient when the House debates the assisted places scheme or, obviously, the voucher scheme, given that there is a flat voucher fee.In principle, therefore, what is the difference between the two? We are not dealing with individual amounts, which necessitate account being taken of people's circumstances.

Mr. Squire: I would not want to mislead the hon. Gentleman or the House. I was not suggesting that we debate individual circumstances in assisted places scheme debates. I was seeking to show that the comparison that the hon. Gentleman drew relied on assuming that there was a strong similarity between that scheme and the voucher scheme. There are several differences, one of which I highlighted. Another is that a voucher does not become legal tender until it is accepted by a provider and so it is a different beast from the sum granted in the assisted places scheme, but the hon. Gentleman and I are able to have different opinions on this and the world will, I hope, continue to revolve.

Mr. Kilfoyle: The implication of what the Minister has said is that, somehow, the recipient of assisted places scheme financing receives it, but that is not legal tender either. Presumably, parents receive a letter saying that they are entitled to a certain amount of education, the rates for which are set out annually when we debate the cost of the assisted places scheme. How is that different from the voucher? With an assisted places scheme, we are not dealing with tender any more than we are with a voucher scheme.

Mr. Squire: I sought to point out that the difference was that, in the voucher scheme, we are invariably talking about a fixed sum that, as I conceded and as all hon. Members recognise, becomes money when a provider agrees to make a place available. As the hon. Gentleman is aware, the assisted places scheme sets out the scale of remission of fees that parents will receive according to their income. That makes it rather a different kettle of fish. It does not mean that one could not envisage circumstances in which voucher grants would be comparable with those on the assisted places scheme, but it is not an immediate, natural link. Having considered it, I could not be convinced that the hon. Gentleman's example made sense in the way that the two examples that I have given--one conceded in Committee and one in the House today--made sense.

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They represent a significant departure. If it wanted to, the House could reasonably expect to be able to debate them under the usual provision.

As all Committee members are aware, all the grant arrangements will be set out and published. As I have said, the key aspects will be in regulations. The usual arrangements for accounting to Parliament for public expenditure will continue to apply.

Government amendment No. 30 deals with powers to make transitional arrangements. It is a technical amendment. The Government think it wise to include the usual provision for power to make transitional arrangements in regulations under the Bill. Frankly, the circumstances in which they might be needed would be relatively rare.

Government amendments Nos. 29, 31, 32 and 34 are drafting amendments that simplify the references in the Bill to regulations. The Secretary of State will of course lay all such regulations before the House in accordance with normal parliamentary procedure.

The Government accept the case for including some aspects of the grant arrangements in regulations and have demonstrated that by tabling amendments that will provide for both the description of children who can be covered by the grant and the list of providers who can receive grant to be set out in regulations. I have not been convinced that the amount of the grant, still less the grant arrangements in their entirety, should be set out in regulations. If the matter is pressed to a Division, I urge hon. Members to reject amendments Nos. 5, 26, 9, 2, 6 and 38.

Mr. Don Foster: The Minister deserves to be congratulated. As those hon. Members who served on the Standing Committee will be aware--and it is important that the House is also aware--the Minister has responded to a request in Committee that at least a large amount of information about the scheme be made available to the House annually. I want to place on record my thanks to the hon. Gentleman for his positive response to our request.

In a letter to me within the last couple of days, the Minister said that he had been giving thought to what information should be made available and put in the departmental report. He acknowledges that much of it will be statistical or historical, but says that it will be none the worse for that. He said:


That is a wide range of areas to be covered by the report, so I am grateful for the Minister's response.

Of course, all that draws to the attention of the House the very large number of issues that will be put into effect by the Bill. It also draws attention to the very wide powers that will be given to the Secretary of State under the Bill

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and the arrangements to make regulations on these and many other issues. It is because the Bill gives so much power to the Secretary of State, over a wide range of issues that are not detailed in the Bill, that considerable disquiet is felt in many quarters about what is happening. That is why there have been various attempts, through the amendments, to provide an opportunity for hon. Members regularly to be able to contribute to the thinking about any changes, to debate them and to vote on them.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (Ms Morris) said that, under amendment No. 5, the regulations would be debated under the affirmative resolution procedure. She believed that that was a perfectly reasonable suggestion. She drew a number of significant parallels--although they were rejected by the Minister--between the Bill and the assisted places scheme. Hon. Members will be well aware that, for example, section 17(6) of the Education Act 1980, which set up the assisted places scheme, requires all arrangements to be made by regulations. Section 35(2) requires regulations to be made by the affirmative resolution procedure of both Houses of Parliament.

The Minister said that there was not enough similarity between the assisted places scheme and the Bill to go down that route. He protests too much in attempting to show that there are huge differences between the two. After all, the assisted places scheme began by taking money away from local education authorities. That is exactly what is happening with the nursery voucher scheme--money is being taken away from LEA budgets to operate the scheme. As the hon. Member for Yardley said, the sums of money involved in the voucher scheme are significantly greater than the sums involved in the assisted places scheme.

7.45 pm

The Minister is not convinced that the similarities are great enough to use the same procedures. Will he therefore look carefully at amendment No. 26, which adopts a slightly different way to bring the regulations before the House on a regular basis, but using the negative resolution procedure? That would require hon. Members who opposed a particular part of the resolution to pray against it in the usual manner. It would mean that Members of Parliament, who do not have a great deal of spare time, would pray only against matters about which they felt very strongly. There would be no unnecessary time wasting, but hon. Members would have an opportunity regularly to debate issues about which they felt strongly.

Mr. Robin Squire rose--

Mr. Foster: I shall happily give way to the Minister.I was about to say that it would be nice if he intervened to tell us whether he thinks that that way of doing things would accord with the democratic procedures of the House, especially given his unwillingness to include in the Bill even a statement that the Secretary of State will take responsibility for the details. I happily give way and hope that the hon. Gentleman will be positive.

Mr. Squire: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman wants to drown me in praise, as he did earlier, or cover me with whatever the reverse of that might be. He conceded that two Government amendments will allow

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for precisely what he has described to be dealt with by negative resolution if the House so agrees in due course. Apart from the amount of grant itself--and on that matter I can add little to the earlier exchanges between myself and the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Kilfoyle)--can the hon. Gentleman say what other areas he has in mind that might be covered in the way he suggested? I am interested in considering them.

Mr. Foster: I think that the Minister and I are beginning to go down the same track. There seems to be some agreement and there may be a positive resolution before the evening is out which will help us to find a way forward. The Minister asked what other areas I had in mind. I would include, for example, not simply the amount of money, but the grant criteria that would operate. We would want to discuss the nature of the settings in which provision is to be made.


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