Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Elton: I hope that my noble friend, who is so accustomed to disagreeing with those opposite him, will not regard their support for this amendment as a cause for immediately brushing it aside. I recognise that it is not framed and indeed I do not suppose that what it asks for is achievable in the terms in which it asks for it. But the noble Baroness, Lady David, touched on a point which ought to be common ground between the parties; namely, the crucial importance of the involvement of parents in their children's education, and not all parents are equipped to deliver that involvement.

Only last week, in common with the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, I heard that a parent who had been illiterate and unable to help her children in school had, as a result of the intervention of the school, learned to read. She had been enormously helpful to her children and quite changed their behaviour in the school. That is an extreme example. But it is the case that many parents are not adequate to give their children the help that they need. Sometimes it is simply because they find the school a very daunting place. If some of the effort and resources put into this Bill could be put into making the school less daunting and more amenable to the involvement of parents in the education of their children, it would be enormously to the advantage of the children and eventually society at large.

The effects are greatly underestimated. Some years ago, I and my committee drew attention to that matter in a report on discipline in schools. A great deal of work has been done on it since then and every piece of work has re-emphasised its importance.

I do not want to delay the Committee at this time of night. I merely want to ask my noble friend to keep that principle firmly in mind (even if he asks the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment) because it is crucial.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: From these Benches perhaps I may very briefly support this series of amendments. I also welcome the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who said what I hoped would be said on this series of amendments; namely, that this issue had nothing whatever to do with party politics but with something rather more important on which we could agree across party barriers. That was part of the burden of his earlier remarks.

Lord Elton: Perhaps I could advise the noble Baroness not to use those terms. Having sat for many years in the seat now occupied by my noble friend, I came to recognise that every serious assault on the Government's position was preceded by the statement, "This is not a party matter". This one really is not.

10.45 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: I thank the noble Lord. He criticised me and confirmed that I was correct at the same time, so I am not quite sure on which side I am supposed to be standing.

I wanted to draw attention to Amendments Nos 52 and 60 which are like equivalent amendments in relation to the physical and intellectual progress aspect. In the

17 Jun 1996 : Column 122

interesting and excellent document, Desirable Outcomes, a whole page is devoted to the importance of parents as partners. It would be a great help in watching how the process developed if the inspectors could look at it and take on board whatever they find during their inspection, in respect of the involvement of parents in their children's education, whether or not it is encouraging.

I take seriously what the noble Lord, Lord Elton said. We are seeing in schools examples of parental violence. The pupil is criticised and the parent's reaction is to come to the school and thump somebody. That is often because parents do not know how to approach the school which seems, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, rightly said, to be a daunting institution surrounded by a hedge of rules and regulations. However much we try to keep the doors open--and most schools do--it would be useful in the context of early years education if inspectors were to be asked to pay attention to the development of care for parental involvement in nursery education.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: I have not spoken during this Committee stage, but it is important for the Committee to remember that that is the whole point of vouchers. Parents will be very much less daunted by schools if the school's existence depends on their bringing their child. We must remember that. That is the whole point.

Lord Henley: I believe I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is aiming at. But these amendments in no way achieve what he desires. I find it rather peculiar that, despite knowing what his intentions were, having read it and seen what it did, the Opposition Front Bench and the Liberal Democrats signed up to an amendment which produces such inconsistency. The noble Baroness earlier accused the Government of inconsistency but this is inconsistency with a capital I; it is inconsistency on a major level.

An amendment such as this would allow the Secretary of State to treat parents as though they were a voucher-redeeming institution in themselves. The noble Baroness should have looked carefully at the amendment before signing up to it. I appreciate that that may not have been the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in his amendment, though it is his concern in Amendment No. 20 to which the noble Baroness has not signed up. The earlier amendment is defective and does not achieve what the noble Lord wants. It has much the same effect as Amendment No. 20 and we do not believe--I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, does not believe it, if she wishes to be consistent--that individual parents should be eligible to redeem vouchers.

Having said that, I can assure the Committee that we expect parents to be closely involved with their children's nursery education. Inspectors will have to include in their report their assessment of the quality of information for both parents and carers, and the chances for parents to be involved in their children's learning. Furthermore, the inspection reports will be required to be available to both parents and prospective parents

17 Jun 1996 : Column 123

alongside other published information. That will ensure that parents have the opportunity to play an active role in their child's education.

Going back to the intentions behind the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I should remind him that one part of the Bill is specifically for the funding of education for four year-olds; it is not for parents. I therefore have some doubts as to whether we can accommodate what the noble Lord wishes to accommodate. Having said that, I shall be more than happy to have further discussions with him between now and Report stage as to whether it is possible to do anything. However, I must first make clear what the Bill is designed to do and therefore what are the constraints in terms of what the noble Lord is trying to achieve.

Lord Northbourne: I am grateful to the noble Lord. I understand, and I recognised when I drafted the amendment, that he has a problem there. However, it could well be argued that the cheapest and the best way to effect the beginnings of education for some children is to help their parents to give it.

With regard to the later amendment, I did mean to say in Amendment No. 20 that groups of parents who got together to form a playschool or a nursery school to provide a nursery education, if they could meet all the standards which were required by the inspection, should have the opportunity to do so. I am grateful for the noble Lord's invitation to come and talk about it and I shall certainly do so. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 16 to 20 not moved.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Cox): In calling Amendment No. 21, I should point out that if it is agreed to I cannot call Amendment No. 22 because of pre-emption.

Lord Henley moved Amendment No. 21:

Page 1, line 20, leave out from ("of") to ("are") in line 21 and insert ("a grant made under arrangements under this section shall be determined in such manner as may be prescribed; and regulations may, in particular, provide for the determination to be made by reference to an amount (or amounts) specified for the purpose by the Secretary of State.
( ) The times at which, and the manner in which, grants made under arrangements under this section").

The noble Lord said: I referred to this amendment earlier today. The Committee will recall that during the Second Reading of the Bill I gave notice that, in the light of the views of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, the Government would be introducing an amendment dealing with the method of determining the amount of grant that is to be paid to providers.

I explained that our aim is to strike a sensible balance between providing appropriate parliamentary control and excluding administrative details from the face of the Bill. The Government's amendment achieves just that.

It provides for the method of calculating the amount of grant to be paid to providers to be set out in regulations, thus ensuring that a fundamental element of the arrangements of the voucher scheme is subject to

17 Jun 1996 : Column 124

parliamentary scrutiny. The Government intend this to be a per capita amount per term for each child for whom nursery education is provided in that term. But the amendment is framed to allow the Secretary of State the flexibility to determine, and thus to adjust, the per capita amount to be used or to adopt different amounts for different cases, as necessary.

In moving this amendment, I refer to the report of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee. It said that if the House agrees to the amendments the Government propose to bring forward,

    "the delegated powers in the bill will be subject to appropriate parliamentary control; and that there is nothing further in the bill on which we invite the House to act".

I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page