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Mr. Dafis: Is the Minister saying that the only purpose of the pilot scheme in England is to look at procedures, not to look at the effect of the voucher scheme on existing provision? The second factor ought to be a part of the consideration for the voucher scheme. If it were the case, there would be every justification for having a pilot scheme in Wales.

Mr. Richards: The primary purpose of the pilot scheme is to look at procedures and mechanisms for implementing the voucher scheme. Clearly, there are secondary issues, such as monitoring of the impact of the voucher scheme. That is self-evident. That gain is external to the introduction of the voucher scheme.

I urge hon. Members to reject the amendment.

Mr. Dafis: I am disappointed that the Minister has not been prepared to make any concessions, particularly on the pilot scheme. I trust that that issue can be proposed and discussed in another place. I hope that there is more flexibility at that time. The Government ought to listen carefully to informed public opinion in Wales and provide us with that significant concession. Having said that, and in the full confidence that the matter will be discussed in the other place, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendments made: No. 27, in page 1, line 9, leave out from 'for' to end of line 16 and insert

'children (whether at schools or other premises)--
(a) before their first school term starting after their fifth birthday (or, if they do not attend school, before such broadly corresponding time as may be prescribed), but
(b) after such earlier time as may be prescribed (whether by reference to their having attained a particular age or any other circumstances).'.

No. 28, in page 1, leave out lines 17 to 21 and insert--

'( ) Grants may be made under arrangements under this section--
(a) to local education authorities in respect of nursery education provided at schools maintained by them, and
(b) to authorities and other persons of such descriptions as may be prescribed in respect of nursery education provided by them.'.--[Mr. Brandreth.]

Clause 3


Mr. Spearing: I beg to move amendment No. 42,in page 2, line 18, at end insert--

'(4) Such requirements shall include a duty upon an authority or other person to whom a grant is paid to publish the criteria for admission to any education provided by them by virtue of any grant under this Act, including any fees or supplementary payments relating to the admission of any child.'.

This is a new subsection to clause 3, which relates to requirements that the Secretary of State may put on providers of the new so-called nursery education, which we know will not quite appear as it does today. Optimism was expressed time and again by the Government in

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Committee as to the providers who will emerge--I will not say from the woodwork, but from the ground or from wherever--to provide all the necessary places for those who may be eligible for vouchers. At no stage have the Government told us how this will happen. In a written answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett) on 15 January 1996 at column 471, they provided a table showing the large number of new places that would be necessary in addition to those that already exist in maintained nursery schools, in maintained classes and in reception classes of primary schools.

It is true that there will be some existing private places in various areas, but the figures are extraordinary. In Norfolk--one of the counties under test, and the only one outside London--there are places for at most 40 per cent. of four-year-olds now, which means that at least half the children aged four in the county will require new places as soon as the next school year. Unless my figures--which I obtained in answers to parliamentary questions--are wrong, about 10,000 places will be required in Norfolk alone.

8.30 pm

There may be a deficit. Perhaps fewer providers will present themselves. In time, the number of providers may increase, but we do not know. We also do not know who they will be. They might be firms from abroad; they might be supermarkets. If Compagnie Generale des Eaux can own what was the London and Brighton Railway,I suppose that it can own Brighton and South Coast Schools plc--I do not know, but it is all within the ambit of the legislation.

Importantly, there may well be an initial deficit of places, in which case it would be possible for certain things to happen. I asked the Secretary of State for Education and Employment:

the settings being the various types of accommodation and teaching available to pupils. The answer--from the Minister of State, as it happens--was thus:

In other words, it would be possible for an admissions criterion to be a fee or an additional fee or the provision by parents of additional sums of money for this, that or the other--which, alas, happens all too often in our existing maintained schools.

I am therefore proposing amendment No. 42, which makes the following important provision:

I should have thought that the amendment would appeal to the Conservative party and the Government, purely on the ground that, if those conditions are available to the

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provider, as the Minister has said, and if there is a possibility--so far as I can see, there is nothing to prevent it in the Bill--of fees or supplementary payments being charged, they would want the parents to know, would they not?

This is all about parents' choice, the choice of the different settings and the different qualifications of the teachers and all the great choices that will now be laid before us--a feast of educational choice, according to the Minister and all the apologists for the scheme. We must therefore have information as to whether there are any additional payments. I should have thought that the Government would welcome the amendment on those grounds alone--giving freedom of choice to parents who hold vouchers. Many people may be disappointed because a voucher does not mean a place. It was said in Committee that any fee or additional payment should be advertised, and there should be a provision in the Bill to show that it is a duty of the provider so to publish.

Mr. Richards: The amendment seeks to ensure that providers covered by the grant arrangements publish their admission policy, and fees relating to admission, as a requirement of grant.

We have already made clear our commitment, as set out in the next steps document, to make it a requirement of grant for providers to publish information forparents. I refer the hon. Member for Newham, South(Mr. Spearing) to pages 16 and 17--especially page 17--of that document. This is important, as it will enable parents to make informed decisions about their preferred choice of provider, and help to lever up standards. The document includes a list of information that providers will need to cover in their prospectuses, which includes the admission policy and, where applicable, the fee policy. Similar requirements will be applied in Wales.

I do not think, therefore, that the amendment is necessary. We are committed to ensuring that providers publish such information for parents, but it would be inappropriate to include that type of detail about the nature of the requirements of grant on the face of the Bill.

I urge the House to reject the amendment.

Mr. Spearing: The Minister's answer is extraordinary because, in the course of very few sentences, he contradicted himself. He referred to the so-called next steps document and pages 16 and 17, where there is a heading "Information for Parents". On page 17, it does say "fees (where applicable)" but if it is so important, why is it only in those guidelines? We have heard about guidelines before. If it is so important, and if parents are so important, and all this information is so important--especially on matters of the pocket, of supplementary money--self-evidently it should be in the Bill and thus in the Act.

I find the Minister's response so astounding that I am sure that the matter will be discussed at another time and in another place, where there is more time to go into it. I therefore beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

19 Mar 1996 : Column 251

Clause 6

Power to borrow

Mr. Kilfoyle: I beg to move amendment No. 15, line 36, at end insert--

'(3A) The Secretary of State may not give consent under subsection (6) of section 68 of the Education Act 1993 unless he is satisfied that--
(a) the school will be able both to repay the sum borrowed and to pay interest thereon without recourse to additional grant from the funding authority for schools; and
(b) the borrowing is not to be secured against core fixed assets
and he shall by regulations specify the definition of core fixed assets for the purposes of this subsection.'.

The amendment seeks to safeguard grant-maintained borrowing. That raised much raucous laughter in Committee, because members of the Government could not understand how we would wish to protect the interests of schools that may or may not have opted for grant-maintained status but necessarily remain part of the educational fabric and will shortly be integrated into a new framework of local management of schools.

The amendment seeks to place on the face of the Bill safeguards that were set out in the earlier consultation on that issue by the Department for Education and Employment, for which the Government repeated their support in Committee.

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