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Mr. Forsyth: I know that the hon. Gentleman is having some difficulties these days and has been hiding from the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Wallace) on the tartan tax issue. I did not think that the hon. Member for Hamilton (Mr. Robertson) was hiding in England and I do not know why we are being told about the position in England. This debate is on Scottish education and I have just told the House that in East Renfrewshire, where we have the first pilot, every child will be guaranteed a place. Why is the hon. Gentleman raising these red herrings? The system is up and working. It is successful in Scotland. Labour authorities are piloting it. I asked him to give a commitment to say that he supported choice. I gave way to him and we still await that commitment. He believes that bureaucrats, and not parents, should decide what is good for people.

Mrs. Liddell: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Forsyth: I give way to the hon. Lady on one condition: that she tells me whether she supports parents' right to choose.

Mrs. Liddell: I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman will advise parents of children in a nursery school that serves East Renfrewshire and that is run by Mrs. Valerie White. Five children from East Renfrewshire are in her nursery school and four of their younger siblings are due to attend the nursery school. Because of inadequate forward planning in trying to get the pilot scheme off the ground before the general election to try to save the seat of the hon. Member for Eastwood(Mr. Stewart), Mrs. White is about to lose £40,000 a year as the vouchers cannot be applied to her nursery school. What advice would the right hon. Gentleman give to parents of Mrs. White's pupils?

Mr. Forsyth: The advice that I would give Mrs. White is to have nothing to do with the hon. Lady and her party because, for vouchers to be extended beyond the existing boundaries of the pilot schemes, we need another Conservative Government, who will introduce vouchers for the whole of Scotland. If the hon. Lady and her friends ever get into power, there will be no vouchers and we will be back to the position that I had in my constituency surgery on Friday, with a parent telling me that her child had been denied a place because the child's name did not come out of a hat as she was not a single parent.

That is the difference. Labour offers the choice of the lottery of names out of a hat and priority to single parents, whereas we the Conservatives offer choice for all and

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parents the freedom to choose what is right for their children. The hon. Lady should stop throwing stones, come clean and admit to the House and to the people of Scotland that she is opposed to parents being empowered and given choice in this area.

Mr. Connarty: Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Forsyth: I will give way once more to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Connarty: I ask a very simple question. Is the Secretary of State willing to say that he endorses the view of Stirling's nursery provision that he has just described, or is it the belief just of his constituent? Is he saying that Stirling discriminates in favour of single parents and against people who are not?

Mr. Forsyth: Of course I am saying that. I believe that it is called a social strategy.

Mr. Forsyth: That was the position before Stirling council.

Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Gentleman says that that was the position before Stirling. If it has changed, that is the first benefit of the change to single unitary authorities. It was a disgraceful policy. A parent at my surgery on Friday was a victim of that. What does the hon. Gentleman say to a child whose colleagues and friends have a nursery place, but who does not have such a place because his name did not come out of a hat? What happens when he goes to primary school? Under our proposal, every parent with children in the year before--

Mr. Worthington: It is a total disgrace.

Mr. Forsyth: I agree. Under our proposal, every parent will have choice.

Let me spell it out. At a time when government is becoming ever more complex, it is more incumbent on democrats than ever before to remember that the Government exist to serve people, not people to serve the Government. The Opposition do not seem to have grasped the breadth of the voucher initiative. On the contrary, bound up in their concern to fossilise present arrangements, they focus on a narrow set of issues and seek to deny parents the benefit of the expansion in opportunity that our policy would bring. They have concentrated on worrying people with mischievous talk of high costs and poor-quality provision--myths of their own invention. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Hamilton is still banging on about how expensive it will be to run. A management company will administer the system at a very low unit cost, with all the economies of scale that national operation offers. Indeed, the cost of issuing and redeeming the vouchers will be less than2 per cent. of the total voucher programme. When the Opposition hear of the efficiency of the voucher process, they say that it is too complicated for parents. Would the Opposition really have us believe that Scottish parents are incapable of signing an application form and posting it back? It would certainly go with a belief that parents are too inadequate to choose their children's pre-school education. Both beliefs are equally insulting.

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My greatest difficulty with what the Opposition have been saying--and, clearly, their greatest difficulty in understanding the nature of the proposals--relates to the quality of provision. It is scaremongering of the worst kind, and the hon. Member for Monklands, East in particular should be ashamed of herself. However, her treatment of this issue is on a par with her other policy initiatives--or lack of them--on education.

Earlier this year, the hon. Lady published a document pretentiously entitled "Every Child is Special: a Compact for Scotland's Future". Hon. Members might regard me as ungallant if I described her document as "empty-headed" and said that it

but they are not my words--they are the criticisms of it by the Educational Institute of Scotland, which should be her natural ally but which quickly discerned how little powder there was in the hon. Lady's compact.

We have made it clear from the very beginning that we are committed to quality. The voucher initiative will introduce for the very first time a system of quality assurance that will apply to all providing centres, whether they are from the public, private or voluntary sectors. The voucher initiative will represent the first ever comprehensive assurance of quality in respect of all pre-school education provision. We have no interest in subsidising poor-quality provision.

Non-school centres will have to complete an initial quality test to the satisfaction of the inspectorate before being admitted to the system. All centres will be subject to regular and rigorous inspection by HMI of the quality of education they provide. These measures will give parents a guarantee of quality in respect of any centre participating in the voucher initiative.

Mr. Worthington rose--

Mr. Forsyth: I have been very generous in giving way. Oh, very well; I give way.

Mr. Worthington: I greatly appreciate the Secretary of State's generosity. As there is to be an important quality assurance, will he tell us how many of the inspectorate will be involved--[Interruption.] Perhaps it would be easier if the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Robertson), gave him the answer. How many of the inspectorate will be involved in quality assurance before the voucher scheme gets under way?

Mr. Forsyth: The hon. Gentleman asked my hon. Friend to give him the answer, and I am sure that my hon. Friend will do so when he winds up. However, the answer is that we shall be recruiting two new people--[Hon. Members: "Two?"]--to supplement the existing considerable resources of the inspectorate for this purpose. All centres will be subject to regular and rigorous--[Interruption.] Opposition Members sit there mocking, but they are quite happy to have Labour councils running nursery provision which is not subject to inspection at all--[Hon. Members: "Rubbish."] Hon. Members will have to get their facts right. If they think that there is going to be a problem with inspection because

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of the additional nurseries that are not in the local authority sector, that is hardly consistent with their arguments that problems will arise as a result of the nursery voucher scheme. They should stop making up the criticisms as they go along.

Mr. Wallace: The right hon. Gentleman has touched on quality. The profile of education provision, which I think has been sent to all those registering, contains the suggestion--indeed, it is a requirement--that they consider the guidance and good practice set out for children with special educational needs. I am sure that we all agree that that is important. Does the Secretary of State accept that the amount of the voucher may have to be greater for children with special educational needs if adequate provision is to be made?

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