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Page 1, line 19, at end insert--
("(3A) No arrangements for the issue of vouchers in respect of nursery education (in this subsection called a voucher scheme) shall be made under this section in relation to Wales, other than arrangements for the experimental voucher schemes referred to in subsection (3D) and (3E) below, until the Secretary of State has made an order under this subsection authorising the making of those arrangements.
(3B) An order under this subsection shall not be made unless a draft of the order has been laid before Parliament and been approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
(3C) No draft of any order proposed to be made under this subsection shall be laid before Parliament until the conditions set out in subsection (3D) below have been met.
(3D) The conditions referred to in subsection (3C) above are that--
(a) experimental voucher schemes shall have been in operation for a period of 1 year throughout the area of at least two local education authorities in Wales where not less than 90 per cent. of children between the ages of four and five years receive nursery education; and
(b) the Secretary of State has consulted the Welsh Joint Education Committee on the arrangements to be authorised by an order made under subsection (3A).
(3E) An experimental voucher scheme under this subsection shall not remain in operation for more than one year.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is a second attempt by my noble friends and myself to try to persuade the Government to pursue an education policy for the nursery sector in Wales by consent rather than by legislative coercion. I say that advisedly.

Earlier, in Committee, we discussed the issue of whether it would be possible to organise pilot schemes prior to the introduction of the legislation and that was nearly carried, as your Lordships will recollect. This is another compromise attempt to secure a similar course of action. I do not wish to repeat the arguments which

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were made in Committee but there is a sociological and profound educational and cultural difference between the perception and delivery of nursery education in Wales and in large parts of England. The figures of the numbers of the relevant cohort receiving both full-time and part-time education and the extent of local authority provision indicates that at current levels, a little more than 540 pupils of that age receive private nursery education in Wales whereas the figure within the local authority sector is at 92 per cent. For that reason, we propose in this amendment that the Secretary of State for Wales should make different provision.

As we pointed out, I thought quite clearly and adequately in Committee, there is nothing exceptional about government policy for education being implemented differently in the Principality compared with England. Indeed, there is a long history of the Welsh Office doing that. I know that I have the support of my noble friend Lord Prys-Davies, who at present is at the Statutory Instruments Committee and cannot be on the Floor of the House, in saying that there is a clear precedent for setting out a different way of implementation in Wales for government policies. This amendment allows the Secretary of State to exercise by order powers that would implement the scheme for Wales but following an experimental period which relates specifically to those areas which have 90 per cent. provision and also which enables consultation with the Welsh Education Committee, as representing local education authorities which, as I indicated earlier, are the main providers.

Such provision would be totally unexceptional if it were presented to the Welsh Grand Committee or to a Welsh assembly depending on the referendum proposed by the party to my right in this Chamber and outside. This would be an unexceptional proposal but, because the Government have taken upon themselves to implement equivalent unitary policies for the Principality of Wales and the country of England, despite the differences in provision and social contexts, we believe that the Government are making a rod for themselves even at the next election. Therefore I appeal to the Government, even at this late stage of the Bill, to take time out within the next week to think again about the way they implement this policy, and to look for ways of seeking compromise.

We propose an experimental period and a year's review subject to the experimental scheme, and then an order by the then Secretary of State to implement the scheme. There is an alternative. The Government could indicate they would be prepared to review the scheme--following implementation--in a thoroughgoing way. We shall be interested to see whether the Government can respond in that way this evening. I beg to move.

Viscount St. Davids: My Lords, I support this amendment. I was somewhat disappointed at the Committee stage by the Government's response because it appeared to me to show a lack of understanding of the provision for nursery education currently enjoyed in Wales. As the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, has told your Lordships, some 92 per cent. of eligible children

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are provided for. I ask my noble friend, if such a level were to be achieved in England, would we be debating this Bill today, because surely it would be unnecessary?

Lord Hooson: My Lords, I very much support this amendment. I do not wish to reiterate the arguments so ably put forward by my noble friend Lord Elis-Thomas, and which were adumbrated during the previous debate. Yesterday the noble Lords, Lord Elis-Thomas, Lord Prys-Davies and myself, had the opportunity of meeting the Under-Secretary of State. At that meeting many of these points were put to him. He will consider them in the course of the coming week.

It seems to me that this is a political hot potato of the first order from the Government's point of view. Neither I nor any other Peer has received such a postbag during our time in this House. Many of the letters were written by people in their own hand--it is mainly parents who have written to us--who are terribly concerned about this matter. This is not a party matter. I am talking about a country where 92 per cent. of the children receive not nursery education but reception class education. That is what children in Wales receive between the ages of four and five. Nursery education is largely the domain of the three to four year-olds. That figure of 92 per cent. is a higher target than the Prime Minister had in mind when he launched the scheme. Few of those children have that education privately funded anyway. The great danger is that one could disrupt that system. There is a great deal of social cohesion in Wales on the education front, even if not on other fronts. It would be a shame to disturb that situation. I hope that the Government will use the coming week to give maturer thought to this matter and will either accept something on the lines of the amendment, or an alternative such as the one that the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, mentioned.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, we on these Benches support this amendment. We support the request for the Government to give further consideration as regards imposing upon Wales a scheme that has not even been tested there in a pilot scheme. I believe all of us in this Chamber speak from a background of supporting the Government's stated aim to offer that nursery education provision which parents choose for all four year-olds in the country. The debate is all about how that should be done; it is not about whether it is a good thing. There is also a debate as regards what is on offer.

I have listened with great interest to the noble Baroness, Lady Young, who at the Committee stage and today has said this scheme is popular with parents. I believe she said that one can tell the scheme is popular with parents because 80 per cent. of parents--in the case of Norfolk it is 90 per cent.--have claimed vouchers. If the only way Members of your Lordships' House could see their GP was through obtaining a voucher, a ticket or a coupon, they would obtain those vouchers if they were ill. That would not be proof that the mechanism of a voucher, ticket or coupon was logical or sensible. It is that point that is causing anxiety throughout the country.

I should like to think that as a Member of your Lordships' House, and a junior member of the shadow education team, I could stir up parents to such

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vociferous concern. I refer to parents in places such as Solihull, Cardiff, North Wales--the areas of independent colleagues, former county councillors and members of unitary authorities--and in places as far apart as Sheffield and Devon, and to church schools and to non-church schools. I refer to the Pre-School Learning Alliance in Kensington and Chelsea. The issue here is whether imposing vouchers on the people of Wales, without testing them, is something that can be justified in the cause of seeking to ensure that parents have continued access to that which they have now. That is the issue that is of such deep concern.

A growing army of school governors and parent governors are asking why we should have a voucher system as a means of recycling and circulating money which is already available in order to pay for our children to receive what we wish them to receive, but which entails a complicated procedure. A growing army of governors of church schools and of non-church schools are asking why there should be uncertainty about getting the money back. Research among parents as regards nursery education vouchers shows that in the Tory boroughs of Wandsworth and Westminster nearly 2,500 vouchers which should have been claimed have not been claimed. That means that £2.75 million has gone astray. That is serious. The Government have produced the most remarkable scheme of all time; namely, a new system for losing public funding. The Government claim that the scheme is meeting its target now and that it is in the interests of parental choice.

As regards parents choosing to remove their children from the school they are currently attending and sending them elsewhere, the Government could have produced a scheme offering that choice and put it before those 92 per cent. of parents in Wales who are affected by the proposal. I should have thought the Government were crazy to ask those parents whether they wish to forgo their children's current places in local schools. That provision is already being purchased with public money. However, the Government could have produced such a scheme. But that is not what the Government are doing. The Government are deliberately seeking to impose a new system without trial on parents, governors, schools and on the education system in Wales. I say with the greatest of respect that the figures of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, demonstrate that the Government's scheme will result in the loss of public money in a bureaucratic paper chase.

I repeat my earlier point. If I have a broken leg and have to apply to a private company for a voucher to obtain plaster of paris to put on my leg, I shall do it. However, I ask that no one in your Lordships' House takes that as proof of my commitment to increasing the cost of bureaucracy at the expense of money for the service.

5 p.m.

Baroness Young: My Lords, I do not think the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, would expect me to let her get away with the remarks that she has made. However, before I discuss her remarks, I wish to comment on what the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, said in moving the amendment. I am second to none in my admiration for

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education in Wales. I believe English people recognise that education in Wales, in Scotland, and indeed in Northern Ireland, is excellent. It is a great achievement that 92 per cent. of children in Wales--I presume that they are the rising-fives--are in a reception class. No one can be other than pleased that that is the case. As an English taxpayer one hesitates to say that parts of the country always do rather well out of the distributions of grant. Nevertheless, in this case the distribution is successful, and it would be churlish not to agree that those young children should benefit from it.

It is said that the Government will impose the scheme. Let us be realistic. No parent has to take up the voucher scheme if he or she does not wish to do so. The scheme gives an opportunity to provide variety and choice. My noble friend the Minister may say that it would be quite wrong to accept the amendment. It would have the effect that vouchers could not be introduced into Wales until an order has been approved by Parliament. Such an order will not be made until there has been a 12-month experimental scheme in at least two LEAs which have over 90 per cent. of four year-olds in nursery education, and the Welsh Joint Education Committee has been consulted. That provision would put the Bill into a completely different category from any other education Act that has been before your Lordships' House or Parliament.

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