Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: As the Minister said, the amendment responds to the recommendation of the Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee, which is itself taking up the Government's suggestion in their evidence that an amendment of this type should be moved. It means that the method of determining the amount of grant in each year will be subject to regulations open to parliamentary scrutiny rather than being decided under arrangements.

The value of the grant in the pilot year is £1,100 and this corresponds to the value of vouchers given to parents, although it is not actually required so to correspond since there is no provision for vouchers in the legislation. By the same token, the deductions from the LEA are also set at £1,100 in the current year, and again these could vary in future years from the value of grants. The mechanism for the setting of the grant level is nonetheless the core around which the financial side of the system will operate. It is right that there should be proper scrutiny. The amendment does not actually give Parliament the right necessarily to agree the actual level as opposed to the means by which it should be determined. The second half of the amendment does give power for the regulations to prescribe a determination by reference to "an amount"--i.e., to name a figure--but that is not mandatory. The amendment which stands in my name and the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tope, Amendment No. 24, achieves that object, but that is a matter for separate consideration. We are perfectly happy to accept the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 23 not moved.]

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 1, line 22, leave out ("by the arrangements") and insert ("annually by order").

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 85. The purpose of the amendment is to require an annual voucher value setting order which would be debatable. This amendment, along with one to Clause 7(3), will require an annual order laid under the negative resolution procedure to state the amount of grants. Let us see what the Minister thinks of that.

17 Jun 1996 : Column 125

The Delegated Powers Scrutiny Committee of this place reported on this Bill on 1st May 1996. The report recorded that the Secretary of State had agreed, at his committee's request, to table an amendment in this place so that

    "the method of calculation of grant is set out in regulations subject to the negative procedure".

This amendment, along with the amendment to Clause 7(2) requires an order to be made annually on the amount of grant to be paid to nursery providers.

The issue which divides the amendment from the Government amendment is that there will have to be a statutory instrument each year giving the grant arrangements. The reason for that is that the Government have not stated how the grant arrangements will change from one year to the next. If they remain the same there will be no need for a further statutory instrument and therefore no parliamentary scrutiny through that avenue. The Government have not stated how the value of the voucher will vary from one year to the next. Will it be based on the retail prices index, or will it be related to education costs or earnings? It is a probing amendment to discover what the Government's intentions are on this matter.

Nursery education providers need to know the mechanism for receiving money, but they need also the protection of secondary legislation to know how much money they will receive. In our view the Government amendment does not quite fulfil that requirement, but our amendment, coupled with the amendments to lines 20 and 22, require that all the financial arrangements will be in regulations and that those must be reviewed annually by Parliament.

Amendment No. 85 corrects an earlier misreading of Clause 7 and secures the aim of the main amendment in the group headed by Amendment No. 21, that there should be a vote in Parliament on the order to set the voucher value. I beg to move.

Baroness David: Amendment No. 25 is in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Tope. It is grouped with this amendment. Amendment No. 25 would allow for the consideration of, and resourcing for, continuity and stability for children in educational terms. The current arrangements may jeopardise continuity between pre and post-five provision.

In A Framework for the Primary Curriculum (1989) the National Curriculum Council stressed the need to plan for progression and continuity in order to enable children to transfer smoothly from pre-statutory to statutory provision and from one phase of education to the next. It points out that in primary schools where there are nursery classes, continuity is eased where nursery class teachers are involved as full members of the primary team.

The HMI report A survey of provision for under-fives in the playgroup and maintained sectors in Wales: Inspected during Academic Year 1994-95 includes as a feature of good practice:

    "There are close links with the next stage of education to promote continuity and progression."

17 Jun 1996 : Column 126

Children benefit from being taught by qualified teachers who are able to build the links between the individual knowledge and understanding of each pupil and the expectations of the national curriculum and the broader components of school life. In settings where curriculum provision is largely underdeveloped children are less likely to be able to cope with the educational demands at school.

The Rumbold Report Starting with Quality (1990) states:

    "On current evidence we believe that continuity is likely to be better between nursery education and primary education than between other provision for the under fives and primary school."

Children also benefit from continuity of environment as well as that of the curriculum. In such terms, some settings are able to provide greater continuity and stability than others.

The Rumbold Report supports that statement and says,

    "continuity is likely to be easier where the child moves from a nursery class to the same school's reception class than when there is a move between nursery school and primary school."

I hope that the Minister will pay attention to that point.

11 p.m.

Lord Henley: I always listen with the closest attention to everything the noble Baroness has to say. I do not think that the arrival of my noble friend the Chief Whip interrupted her thoughts one jot.

Amendment No. 24 would require the amount of grant, and the time and manner in which it was paid, to come before Parliament either in regulations or in an annual order. I believe that to be undesirable.

The Government propose that the amount of grant received by providers should depend on the number of voucher-bearing pupils they attract. The precise amount of grant payable to each provider will therefore differ in each case and be impossible to predict.

Under the Government's proposal, Parliament would scrutinise the method by which grant was to be determined and would be informed of the per capita amount to be used in determining grant and any changes to that amount. That seems to me a sensible and practical approach.

The noble Lord asked me to go further and explain how my right honourable friend will consider the matter and decide to uprate it. I am afraid that I cannot help the noble Lord. As with all public expenditure, the value needs to be considered in the light of the overall public expenditure round and is something that my right honourable friend will consider each year in the light of other pressures and demands in the world of education. The Government as a whole will consider such matters in the light of all the other demands on government expenditure. These amendments would require subordinate legislation to specify the amount of grant providers will receive. That seems unrealistic and unworkable.

I turn briefly to Amendment No. 25, to which the noble Baroness, Lady David, spoke. The Audit Commission report, Counting to Five, shows that

17 Jun 1996 : Column 127

the hourly rate implied by the voucher (if it is exchanged for a part-time place) is not far from expenditure in a variety of institutions. We have said that we will be looking at the value of the voucher across the country and will consider whether there is a need for regional variations in value.

However, I am not convinced that this is a workable amendment. The responsibility for assessing individual children's needs rests at a local level with the provider, not with central government. Children have differing needs and develop at their own pace. Therefore, the amount of time and money needed will vary from child to child. Providers are in the best place to reach a judgment on this and to manage their resources accordingly.

In some places the cost of a place will exceed the voucher value. But in local authority schools, the LEA will still retain funds, as at the moment, to do so--and budgets will be reduced by only the voucher value for each four year-old. In the private and voluntary sector it will be for parents to top up the voucher. The voucher will enable parents to choose which setting offers the most appropriate provision for their child. Therefore, I hope that amendment will not be pressed.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: Amendment No. 24 was worth a try. I am not unduly surprised that the Minister is not terribly content with it and I thank him for the courtesy with which he explained his position. I appreciate the noble Lord's points about his right honourable friend. This is a matter on which we shall have to differ. We may return to it at a later stage; meanwhile I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 25 not moved.]

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page