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Mr. Pawsey: My hon. Friend made one of his typically telling interventions. He raised a very salient point, and I am sure that the House has noted with the utmost care what he had to say.

Contrary to the black propaganda, vouchers should not damage any existing local education authority schemes, and parents can continue to send their children to them if they so wish. Conservative Members have sought to add a greater element of choice, and the introduction of vouchers will not require LEAs to change existing admission patterns--which is quite contrary to what has been suggested by some Labour Members.

I believe that some LEAs will, however, want to maintain or perhaps slightly modify their current admission patterns, which should increase the number of admissions and increase voucher income. That will assist materially in improving the quality of what is on offer. If an LEA wished to admit an entire year group into a reception class in September, it can do so. The voucher merely triggers the flow of resources from the Department for Education and Employment to the LEA, and then to the appropriate school.

I can remember Jim Callaghan saying that a lie can be halfway round the world before truth has pulled on its boots. I mention that because it is alleged that the introduction of the voucher will destroy existing LEA provision for three-year-olds. That is simply not true. There is absolutely no reason why provision for three-year-olds should be damaged. No resources have been deducted from the LEA's standard spending assessments for provision for three-year-olds.

It is anticipated that the total amount available for nursery education vouchers will be about £750 million, much of which will be derived from recycled funds that already exist for nursery education. But--it is an important "but"--a further £165 million of new money has been found and allocated. That is a clear indication of the importance that the Government attach to nursery education.

I shall briefly, because of the lateness of the hour, return to the pilot schemes that are now up and running. More than 1,100 providers have so far registered to be part of the pilot schemes, and that figure includes about 650 applications from the private and voluntary sectors,

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which is almost two thirds of the total. That number clearly shows the interest and the enthusiasm that has been displayed for this scheme. It also clearly shows that there will be more than enough places for children when the scheme goes national next April. I say that because I am again aware that the black propagandists--which I sometimes think is an alternative way of describing the Labour and the Liberal parties--have said that there will be insufficient places. Those who claim that are simply wrong and the success of the pilots underlines that point.

I wonder if I might now turn to the motion. You will notice, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that, unusually, the motion bears seven names instead of the usual six. Provision has been found for the hon. Member for Wallsend (Mr. Byers) to include his name on the motion, but the House will be surprised to see that no room has been found for the shadow Chancellor to do so. You may think that it is not simply an accidental omission. I make that point because I was interested to see in the Daily Mail today the comment:


The Sun said:


Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. What does that have to do with the motion? The hon. Gentleman must confine his remarks to the motion that we are debating.

Mr. Pawsey: I was merely seeking to inquire why, unusually, the shadow Chancellor's name does not appear on the motion on the Order Paper. You will see that there is a substantial list of names, but that his is an important omission. I was merely suggesting to the House the reasons why it may not be there, but I was--

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. What does the Daily Mail report have to do with this motion?

Mr. Pawsey: I was merely commenting on certain of the statements which that esteemed paper had made. I shall return to the motion and join my hon. Friend the Minister in urging the House to reject it.

11.6 pm

Mr. Don Foster (Bath): During our discussions in Committee, I was accused of having a special relationship with the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Mr. Pawsey). So I was delighted by some of his remarks about me and about the Liberal Democrats, which I think will remove any fears that such a relationship exists. However, I agree with the hon. Gentleman on one thing, namely, the Government's acceptance of the recommendations in respect of school safety. We were all delighted not only by the comprehensive nature of the recommendations but by the fact that the Secretary of State accepted them in their entirety.

I disagree with the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth in relation to tonight's debate. He referred to black propaganda and accused those whom he said were guilty of spreading it of not having the wit or imagination to see how wonderful the scheme was. Unfortunately, in making such a remark, he criticises not only Opposition parties but all those organisations which have had any involvement with early-years education. Not one organisation involved in high-quality early-years

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education has not expressed reservations to one degree or another about the proposals contained in the legislation, which will be triggered by the regulations that we are considering tonight.

The "black propaganda" described by the hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth has been made by a large number of highly reputable organisations which join me in believing that the nursery vouchers proposals are cumbersome and bureaucratic; that they will not deliver high-quality provision; that they will not significantly expand provision; that they do nothing to help the provision for three-year-olds and could harm what provision exists for them; and that the scheme does nothing to provide additional support for children with special educational needs. In short, the scheme is a woefully underfunded gimmick which will not meet the needs of the nation.

The hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones) called for Wales not to be included in the scheme. There are equally powerful calls for it not to apply to any other part of the country.

To accept the regulations would imply support for an incredibly bureaucratic and cumbersome scheme that my party fundamentally opposes. The hon. Member for Rugby and Kenilworth tried to pretend that it was not bureaucratic and cumbersome. Let me remind him of how the scheme works in the trials and pilots. Imagine how it applies to a local education authority nursing school.

Under the management of Capita Ltd., the scheme works like this. The Child Benefit Agency sends an application form to the parent. The parent completes it and sends it back to Capita. Capita sends back a voucher. The parent gives that to the school, which gives it to the LEA, which in turn sends it back to Capita. Capita confirms receipt to the Department, which sends the money earlier removed by the Government from the LEA's budget to the LEA, which then hands it back to the school. All that from a Government pledged to the removal of red tape. It is hardly surprising that many of the parents eligible for vouchers in the trial areas did not apply for them or thought that they could use them to buy school uniforms, despite the large sums that have been spent on advertising.

It is hardly surprising that people in the pilot areas feel conned and cheated. They believed that vouchers would guarantee places for their children but there are insufficient places in the trial areas to meet demand. Many other concerns about how the trials operate have been expressed in those areas.

For example, I received a letter from a head teacher at a Norfolk nursery school that stated:


That is hardly surprising.

In the same letter, the head teacher expresses her concern:


Mr. Patrick Thompson: The hon. Gentleman referred to Norfolk. As I said in my intervention on my

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hon. Friend the Minister, I have of course had one or two problems in my constituency postbag. The hon. Gentleman fails to recognise that every problem that I, as a Norfolk Member, have received has been clearly answered by the local education authority and sorted out. The level of complaints that I have received has been remarkably small considering that it is a trial period. He must not exaggerate the problems.

Mr. Foster: If the hon. Gentleman believes from his postbag and his experience as a hard-working constituency Member of Parliament that the trial can pass on happily without difficulty and be translated to full implementation nationwide, he has another think coming. One reason why some of the difficulties have been overcome in Norfolk is that significant additional sums of money and a range of bribes have been offered which will not be offered to other local education authorities for the full scheme.

I hope that I have demonstrated why we do not support the scheme. To support the regulations would be implicitly to support the scheme as a whole. For that reason, we shall certainly not vote for the regulations.


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