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Mr. Raymond S. Robertson: Perhaps I may help my hon. Friend now. That point was raised in another place, too. We are determined that the accreditation committee, although part of the SQA, will be separate from the authority's other functions. The committee's purpose will be to accredit other bodies that award qualifications, such as the City and Guilds, to ensure that their qualifications are up to the necessary standard and meet all the criteria.

Mr. Gallie: I thank my hon. Friend. Does that suggest that, through accreditation, some of our major institutions will still have an input into the awards? I hope that my hon. Friend will think about that and come back to the issue--if not now, in Committee, because I should like to follow it up.

The amendment tabled in the name of the Leader of the Opposition, with a rag, tag and bobtail bunch following behind, is totally negative. It says nothing good or positive about the Bill; it is simply a damnation of the nursery education aspect of it. In my view, the amendment is pretty pathetic--and it was reflected in the quality of the speech made by the hon. Member for Hamilton.

I referred earlier to the establishing of single-tier authorities in Scotland. Now, I should like to pay a little tribute to the new Labour-run South Ayrshire authority, which has recognised that, over the years, Strathclyde regional council had no intention of fulfilling the desires and hopes of the people in my constituency for the provision of nursery education.

South Ayrshire now has the powers and can deal with the matter locally, and it is attempting to provide a basic nursery education system. For 20 years, Strathclyde regional council failed to do that, yet in its first year the new single-tier authority is already addressing an issue that the locals really want to be tackled.

However, the authority was somewhat misguided in that it failed to push for inclusion in the voucher scheme project, which has cost my constituents a lot of money. Although added cash could have come into South Ayrshire, council tax payers will have to pay for the change instead, and I greatly regret that. Although I praise the council's action in providing nursery education, I criticise it for failing to get its act together on the nursery education voucher scheme.

Perhaps I put that slightly unfairly, because the leader of the authority challenged me the other day by saying, "We didn't fail to get our act together; we simply decided not to go for the scheme." I suggest that that was even worse; once again, it meant added costs for my council tax payers, and it removed opportunities from many children in my constituency because the pre-school scheme will be limited.

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Many children in my constituency attend private nursery schools. Perhaps they could have been given the opportunity to spend more time there, or perhaps parents could have sent a second child along too. Who knows? In any case, the opportunity was lost.

The scheme is also seriously flawed in terms of its effect on playgroups. South Ayrshire is pushing out one or two playgroups that meet in schools, and very little help is being offered to them at present. Not only has the authority cost parents dear by not going for the scheme, but it is also depriving to some degree those whose parents chose the playgroup option. I regret that.

However, the council intends to look into what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Maryhill (Mrs. Fyfe) described as the "church hall" scenario. I understand that it is prepared to put cash in for the capital equipment that the church hall groups need to meet the basic standards required for the provision of playgroup or nursery education.

I have heard much today about a failure to control and inspect nursery schools, but in fact such schools are already examined by local authorities. In the private sector, they cannot go ahead without such inspection, so standards and levels of inspection have already been set.

I regret that we have failed to cash in on the opportunity for nursery provision, but I am delighted that, due to the Bill, the problem will not last for too long. The Bill will fulfil the aims and aspirations of many of the young mothers who made representations to me before the 1992 election. They stated clearly that they wanted nursery school provision. The Bill gives a commitment to fund every pre-school child to the tune of £1,100--quite a commitment.

More important, the way in which the provision will be introduced will give parents an element of choice. Not every parent wants their child to receive nursery education; some want the option of a playgroup. Why should they not be able to benefit from such choice? The Bill will allow that choice. The Bill will also allow local authorities to gain additional funding. If they provide services and people want to use them, they will attract more funding in the longer term. On that basis, I will welcome the Bill becoming law.

The amendment tabled by the Opposition says that the nursery voucher scheme is "educationally unsound". It is not; it is an educational advancement. Where there was no provision before, there will be in future. I find the suggestion that the scheme is educationally unsound insulting, given some of the excellent private nursery school facilities in Scotland. There are some excellent schools, which have been well used by parents, where teachers are of a high standard and provide a quality service. Labour is wrong to suggest that the scheme is educationally unsound.

The amendment also describes the scheme as "administratively wasteful". I do not believe that it is. Many of the facilities have already been provided. Provision in our schools and local authorities can be used. Playgroups already have resources. Any scheme that builds on that can hardly be considered wasteful. I do not accept that the scheme is wasteful; Labour is wrong again.

We are told in the amendment that the scheme is "socially divisive". I suggest that there is equal opportunity for all. The provision of £1,100 for every pre-school child must mean equal opportunity. At present,

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there is not equal opportunity because in many areas such facilities have not been provided by the local authorities that have had responsibility.

Labour Members have a cheek to talk about social division in such issues. They seem to believe that what is good for their leaders should not be available to the great mass of the population. We have only to look at the children of the right hon. Member for Sedgefield(Mr. Blair) and the hon. Member for Peckham(Ms Harman). Indeed, we should look further back, to the education of the right hon. Member for Sedgefield, the hon. Member for Edinburgh, Central (Mr. Darling), and even the arch-socialist, the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes), who I know is on parliamentary business elsewhere. I shall not criticise him as I did other Opposition Members who represent Ayrshire, but even he, an ardent socialist, took advantage of the private education facilities of which he would deprive others. Labour is wrong, too, about the Bill causing social divisions--there will be none.

Part III deals with school boards, which have been opposed by the Labour party. In my view they are a significant success. The Bill could be criticised, as I said earlier, for missing an opportunity to strengthen school boards. We could have ensured that head teachers were obliged to submit to school boards all their funding requirements under devolved school management. That would have given school boards some teeth and perhaps encouraged others to join them.

If my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary would pay some attention--

Mr. Raymond S. Robertson indicated assent.

Mr. Gallie: I thank my hon. Friend for his attention. I should like him to look again at the requirement in schedule 4(3) that all councillors in a school catchment area should have the right to participate on the school board. In some areas, far too many councillors would qualify, and they would grossly outnumber members of the school board.

Mr. Robertson: That point has often been raised with us. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities asked for the change, and we shall obviously return to the matter in Committee. If my hon. Friend wants to pick up on it then, we shall look at it.

Mr. Gallie: I can think of no better reason for rejecting the proposal than the fact that it has been suggested by COSLA. I suggest that my hon. Friend talks to school board members and the people who are showing interest, listens to what they are saying and accepts their judgments rather than those of COSLA. I accept that it would be reasonable for a local councillor to have an input into a school board. Councillors whose wards include certain schools should have a right to be on their boards. Thereafter, it seems entirely reasonable that others may be invited by the board to specific meetings rather than attend by right.

More could have been made of the use of school buildings. It could have been part of a requirement on local authorities' additional involvement outside normal school times. Perhaps we shall address that opportunity later. We have a heck of a lot of national capital tied up

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in school buildings and we do not always get maximum return on its use. It may have been difficult to include such matters in the Bill. I recognise that we have to walk before we can run and that we cannot have everything.

I also have a gripe about the fact that there is nothing in the Bill about sports in school, which are a very important part of any school's activities. It would have been nice if something along those lines could have been included. Perhaps we shall look at such issues in the Government's next term of office and introduce changes at that time.

I very much welcome my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's comments on testing. Testing is absolutely essential for the future. It is stupid not to monitor sufficiently young people--the products of our schools. Many successful, quality young people are coming out of our schools. A great majority of them will achieve, but there will always be a significant minority who do not. Testing should be introduced to ensure that such young people can catch up and improve. We must help them. Testing is designed to help not those at the top of the ladder, but those at the bottom.

I was totally confused by some of the topsyturvy suggestions made by Opposition Members--but that is nothing new. I always expect to be confused by Opposition Members who, it seems, do not think as rationally as me.

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