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Lord Henley: My Lords, that struck me as a somewhat long intervention for Report stage before I sat down. However, I go back to what I said in regard to departmental annual reports. Some may find them dry reading. There is a great deal of material available in the Statistical Bulletin and therefore to the general public and noble Lords opposite to inform them where we are in a number of ways.

I appreciate the noble Lord's sadness in relation to the lack of precise statistics in regard to school playing fields. But there is a limit to the amount of statistical evidence that we can collect for the sake of planning purposes and so forth. It would not be responsible to further add to that bureaucracy and expense of the department by increasing the amount of information collected ad infinitum. There will always be gaps in the sort of information we collect.

Perhaps I may refer the noble Lord to another parliamentary Answer I gave not long ago in regard to levels of language achievement by 16 year-olds at GCSE level in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The figures were deeply misleading. They implied that children in Northern Ireland were doing much better than those in other parts of the country. The simple answer was that the four parts of the United Kingdom were collecting their figures in different ways and asking different questions. The results were not comparable. That is often the case and we cannot achieve the perfection the noble Lord seeks. However, I hope that we provide a great deal of useful information and data in the Statistical Bulletin to which I referred.

Lord Tope: My Lords, I do not wish to join the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, in being dismissive of the annual report. As some of my best friends are statisticians, I would not dream of commenting on the Statistical Bulletin. I do not doubt that for those who have the time, the knowledge, the ability, the resources and the opportunities afforded to your Lordships' House, it would be possible to extract the information about which we are talking. But for the Minister to suggest that the general public at large will be ploughing through the departmental annual report, studying and understanding the Statistical Bulletin and instantly and readily understanding how well the voucher scheme is or is not working, is testing our credulity a little too far.

The Minister's sole reason for rejecting the amendment is that in his view it is not necessary. In giving his reasons why it is not necessary, he

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demonstrated exactly why it is necessary. If the Government believe that the scheme will succeed, that information needs to be transparent and readily available to the public; above all, it needs to be presented to Parliament where we can discuss and debate it. None of that will be the case. The amendment is before the House and I regret that the Minister has not seen fit to support it. Nevertheless, I do not intend to press the amendment to a vote tonight and therefore beg leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

5.45 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 1, line 28, at end insert--
("( ) Arrangements made under this section shall include provision for the making of grants to the governing bodies of aided and special agreement schools in respect of expenditure incurred by them in the provision or alteration of premises or equipment for the purpose of providing nursery education at the school and such grants shall be made as if they were grants under section 281 of the Education Act 1993 (grants by Secretary of State in respect of aided and special agreement schools).").

The right reverend Prelate said: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his expressions of sympathy with the governors, staff, parents and children at St. Luke's Church of England School, Wolverhampton. This was another of those totally unexpected and horrific events and we all feel profoundly moved. We share in the sense of sympathy which the Minister expressed. I am sure that the Whole House will want to join with him in what he said.

Amendment No. 7 is similar to an amendment tabled in my name at Committee stage but which I was unfortunately not able to move. I apologise to the House for not being in my place at that time and express thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, for moving it in my place and standing in most ably on that occasion as a substitute for a right reverend Prelate. I thank also the Minister for his reply. I read the exchange most carefully in Hansard and felt that there was one matter which the exchange did not make sufficiently clear. That is my reason for returning to the matter in Amendment No. 7.

The reply of the Minister made it clear that grants will continue to be available under Section 281 of the Education Act 1993 for those governing bodies which apply for a grant in order to adapt or extend premises for the provision of nursery education. I accept entirely that assurance that in principle those grants continue to be available. The difficulty lies not so much in the principle as in the practice.

What happens in practice is that a school or governing body is responsible for finding the money for such capital expenditure--85 per cent. grant comes from the Government, but it is the governors who decide that they wish the work to be carried out. They will obtain the consent of the LEA and it and the governors together will put in a request. In doing so they are in competition

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with all sorts of requests for grants, not only for nursery education but for all kinds of works in respect of aided schools for mainstream as well as for nursery education. Therefore, the requests for nursery education are in competition with the requests for mainstream funding. It is that competition that I wish to emphasise in moving this amendment.

The difficulty is that the requests for nursery education frequently seem to come at the end of the list because other grants are made ahead of them, and therefore there appears to be great difficulty in practice in obtaining grants for these purposes under Section 281 of the Act. I shall be grateful if the Minister can give some assurance on that. This is a probing amendment and not one that I intend to press. I shall be grateful for some recognition by the Minister of the difficulties that there are, despite the principle that he has enunciated. Perhaps he could give some indication that his department will look with sympathy on such applications for nursery education premises. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member and former chair of an education authority which has the largest number of voluntary-aided and special agreement schools in the country. I shall be grateful if the Minister can indicate to the House whether the specific request from a former Secretary of State or Minister for schools that voluntary-aided diocesan authorities' representatives do not put in bids for nursery projects has been withdrawn. There was a time in the 1980s when they were specifically asked not to put in bids.

The reason given was that the Government said that the top two priority categories for which credit approval would be given would be basic need, which is roofs over heads where otherwise none would exist for children of statutory school age, and reorganisation to remove surplus places where statutory notices were required. Since then the position on the availability of capital has worsened.

I know that the circumstances of voluntary-aided schools can vary enormously. In the centre of Blackburn, church schools are crowded and bursting at the seams. In other cases, we are dealing with very tiny rural schools where the addition of a child who is younger means that there is a need for appropriate equipment because there are no other children there in that age group. All these matters require the urgent attention of the Minister in his reply.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I prefer to take advice on the specific and somewhat technical points put to me by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington. I shall write to her in due course and certainly before the next stage of the Bill.

I appreciate that the right reverend Prelate's amendment is a probing amendment and that he will not wish to press it further tonight but may wish to come back to it; and that he was unfortunately unable to be present at an earlier stage. We had the joy of the Church

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of England moving on to women Bishops with the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, taking his place, and very well did she do so on that occasion.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, if I recollect accurately, the Minister promised that he would not tell his colleague the Secretary of State for the Environment of this change.

Lord Henley: My Lords, it is frequently a dangerous matter for politicians to get involved in Church affairs. Bearing in mind the debate that we had on moral and spiritual development only last Friday and the publicity that it generated, on this occasion I shall restrain myself.

I gave a number of assurances on that occasion that grants will continue to be available to the voluntary-aided and special agreement schools under Section 281 of the Education Act 1993, as now, subject to the need to prioritise bids in the light of the high demand for scarce resources.

The right reverend Prelate is seeking to go somewhat further; namely, a separate source of capital grant for voluntary-aided and special agreement schools which would be ring-fenced for nursery education. I shall give a brief explanation which he can look at in due course to decide how he wishes to pursue these matters. Schools claiming from this pot of money would therefore not have to compete with other claimants for other grant under Section 281. Schools in all sectors--county, grant-maintained and voluntary-aided--will have access to the new recurrent funding for nursery education which is being made available through the nursery education voucher scheme. The level of funding which flows to each sector will depend, as I said earlier, on parental choice.

This new recurrent funding can be used to fund capital work, perhaps by servicing debt. However, we do not envisage creating a new, separate stream of capital funding for nursery education in any sector. I must therefore make it clear that whether or not capital grant in respect of nursery education at voluntary-aided schools was ring-fenced, the grant would have to come out of the amount set aside for voluntary-aided school building generally.

If we did set up a separate pot of capital grant for voluntary-aided schools, ring-fenced for nursery education, we would need to know exactly how much money to put in. We would not wish to find that the pot was either too small or too big. In the latter case we would have deprived the rest of the voluntary-aided capital budget unnecessarily. Furthermore, ring-fencing a specific sum for capital grant for nursery education would remove the flexibility which is necessary to administer the voluntary-aided budget effectively.

The present system, under which we assess nursery cases as part of the total voluntary-aided budget, bearing in mind the need to ensure that other types of projects for pupils in the compulsory age range are not disadvantaged, secures that voluntary-aided nursery projects are considered on their merits.

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The right reverend Prelate has given an assurance that this is merely a probing amendment. I hope that he will consider very carefully what I have had to say between now and the next stage.

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