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Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Gentleman can have it in the winding-up speech, but I have just given the House the figure. It is 2 per cent. of the cost. [Interruption.] Each voucher is £1,100, and 2 per cent. of £1,100 is £22. I hope that that will satisfy the hon. Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall).

As the hon. Member for Linlithgow gets older, he continues to ask important questions. I wish that his friends on the Opposition Front Bench would answer the famous West Lothian question, which is so much a part of the vital debate in Scotland. [Interruption.] I know that the hon. Member for Dumbarton does not want me to talk about these matters, but they are extremely important in the context of education, because our ability--[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says from a sedentary position that this is nonsense. We have pilots in place. They will be evaluated. Thank goodness we have some Labour and Liberal councils that are prepared to put parental interest and choice before dogma, which is more than I can say for the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Bill Walker (North Tayside): My right hon. Friend should welcome the interest from Opposition Members about the administrative costs of providing education at all levels, because it is important that the House examines carefully what the administrative costs were, for example, at local authority level and in the universities and elsewhere. Then we can judge whether they are on to a good thing.

Mr. Forsyth: I agree with my hon. Friend. I do not hear the Opposition complain about the idea of vouchers for skill seekers. Skill-seeker opportunities, which are client led, have transformed the way in which young people make training choices. Why do the Opposition not complain about choice in that area? The voucher mechanism applied to pre-school education will put the real power of choice in the hands of parents, which is where it should be.

Mr. George Robertson: Let us go back to the administrative cost. Perhaps the junior Minister will give the right hon. Gentleman the answer. It is estimated that, in England and Wales, the cost per voucher of administration is £264. How on earth does he expect anybody to take seriously a figure per voucher of £22, which is barely likely to cover the cost of the postage involved in administering the scheme?

Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Gentleman should watch my lips. The voucher system will cost £70 million. The administrative costs will be 2 per cent. of that. The figures that he quoted for England have been demolished by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. I do not answer for England. If the hon. Gentleman is reduced to scrabbling around with figures that the National Audit Office has discredited, he is in a desperate situation. He should talk to his colleagues in the Labour party who have given the people whom they represent the opportunity of choice in nursery education by introducing a voucher pilot. In Stirling, only the other day someone came to my

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surgery, asking, "Why are we not able to get vouchers here?" The answer to that is because the Labour council puts dogma before the interests of parents.

Mrs. Maria Fyfe (Glasgow, Maryhill) rose--

Mr. Forsyth: I give way to the hon. Lady, the champion of precisely such dogma.

Mrs. Fyfe: I thank the Secretary of State for that recognition.

On idealism giving way to practicality, if the right hon. Gentleman's notional ideal of a voucher system is proved by the pilot schemes to be unworkable and useless, will he give up the idea, or will he still insist on imposing it on parents, who prefer local authority education and have said so clearly?

Mr. Forsyth: I shall do a deal with the hon. Lady. If she will give up all the ideas that are unworkable and useless and which are part of her party's programme, I shall certainly give that commitment, which I would freely give any way. The Government have never been attached to any policies that are unworkable and useless. [Laughter.] The rate at which--if I can be heard above the hilarity on the Opposition Front Bench--her party is ditching its own policies, to which she has committed her lifetime in politics supporting, must be of considerable alarm to her.

Mr. Connarty rose--

Mr. Forsyth: I have already given way to the hon. Gentleman.

In the pilot areas, both providers of pre-school education and parents are showing their enthusiasm for the voucher initiative in a practical way--in a workable way, I must tell the hon. Member for Maryhill. Already, 3,889 voucher application forms have been sent to parents in the pilot areas, and more than 72 per cent. have been returned. Moreover, 71 centres in the voluntary and private sectors have applied to be newly recognised as education providers and admitted into the voucher system. I am sorry that Opposition Members are disappointed by that good news. I expected them to welcome the news from the front that our scheme is working well.

The helpline that handles inquiries from parents and providers has fielded many calls from people all over Scotland wanting information and demanding to know when they will be eligible to receive vouchers.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland) rose--

Mr. Forsyth: I listened to the hon. Gentleman on the radio this morning.

Mr. Wallace: I am glad that I had an audience. What answer would the right hon. Gentleman give to a parent in the Western Isles asking for a nursery voucher, when there is no nursery education provision in the Western Isles? How can that parent do anything with that voucher?

Mr. Forsyth: I am not sure that the House has been listening to what I have been saying. I said that in respect

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of the pilot schemes, 71 centres in the voluntary and private sectors have applied to be newly recognised. If we give people purchasing power, the market will provide to meet their needs. For those in the Western Isles--[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Western Isles(Mr. Macdonald) has someone helping him out in his duties. For those in the Western Isles, this is an additional resource over and above what is available to the education authority. It is extraordinary that the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) and the hon. Member for Western Isles oppose a scheme that would give money for nursery education to their constituencies. Does the hon. Member for Western Isles wish to argue against that? No.

Those who understand the great potential benefit of vouchers, such as the Scottish Consumer Council, have been quick to endorse our approach. They realise that vouchers will put real purchasing power into the hands of thousands of parents for the first time. They also understand a very simple truth--that strengthening demand stimulates supply.

In East Renfrewshire, the benefits of the voucher system are already apparent. A partnership involving the public, private and voluntary sectors has been established and is working very well; so well, in fact, that its members are confident that between them they will be able to provide a place for every child in East Renfrewshire in their pre-school year from the start of the voucher system in August for the first time ever--[Interruption.] I do not know whether the hon. Member for Monklands, East(Mrs. Liddell) is listening. Perhaps it is because she does not know the facts that she continues to oppose the scheme.

Mrs. Helen Liddell (Monklands, East): Do not get so upset.

Mr. Forsyth: I am not upset; I am delighted that, for the first time ever, from August there will be a place for every child in East Renfrewshire. The hon. Lady has been going up and down Scotland saying that that could not be achieved. The scheme is working and it is appreciated.

The East Renfrewshire partnership is a shining example of what can be achieved. New places across all sectors are being brought on stream. It is no wonder that parents in East Renfrewshire, and in all the other pilot areas, have so enthusiastically responded to the issue of voucher application forms.

It would be helpful if the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) would today make his views clear. Does he support giving Scotland's parents more power to choose the right pre-school education for their children? The approach taken in another place and in public debate gave us cause to doubt the Opposition's commitment to parents and choice. This is the moment when the hon. Gentleman can repent and make it clear whether he stands by choice and the interests of parents.

It seems that the Opposition believe that choice should be made by public officials rather than by the public. Do they think that people should be told what they should have, rather than choose for themselves? I have to tell the House that I do not believe that it is right that parents should be told what to do by officials. Parents know their children best and understand best what sort of pre-school education they need. This Government stand for choice and for the rights of parents.

Mr. George Robertson: In that case, what about choice? The English system is moving ahead more

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quickly so we can test some of the right hon. Gentleman's assertions. Why is it that the Minister with responsibility for schools said in England on 9 January:

    "It is impossible to say that every single four-year-old will have a place."

The Department for Education and Employment information pack says that there is

    "no cast iron guarantee of a place until new places are introduced in response to parental demand."

Are we saying that a choice will be available for everyone, or will it be the usual Hobson's choice of this Government: whatever the right hon. Gentleman says is the choice?

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