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Lord Henley: My Lords, with due deference to the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, perhaps I may start with the subject of Wales. I fully agree with everything he said about the importance of preserving and encouraging the Welsh language. I believe that we all have a duty there. Dr. Johnson had something to say on the sadness that was universal about the loss of any language. The noble Lord will know the quotation better than I do. I can assure the noble Lord that the Welsh equivalent of the SCAA, the ACAC--the noble Lord will accept that I cannot pronounce it in Welsh--has made distinctive proposals on the outcomes in Wales--to which I shall come--taking into account the interests of the Welsh language.

On an earlier amendment, dealing with points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, I made it clear that there was a possibility of teaching in Welsh, the Welsh medium being available. I can also give an assurance that ACAC, the Welsh equivalent, consulted widely on its proposals. Therefore I presume that I can give a guarantee. If it consulted widely, it would be somewhat unlikely that it had not consulted the Welsh Language Board. I believe that I am safe in giving that assurance.

Having said that, I believe that the amendment, worthy though it is, is unnecessary. The SCAA desirable outcomes break down into six areas of language. One of those outcomes covers language and literacy. As the noble Baroness, Lady David, made quite clear, it is important that children should be helped to acquire competence in English whether or not they have English as a first language. For those who do not have English as a first language, that is even more important if they are not to be alienated from the rest of society by misapplied multiculturalism. As soon as possible they should be encouraged to make use, where appropriate, of their developing understanding and skills in other languages. Inspectors will consider the extent to which providers are working towards each of those outcomes.

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Where provision is not satisfactory in a particular area of learning, inspectors can draw attention to that in the inspection report.

The SCAA outcomes therefore implicitly cover the provision that the noble Baroness seeks in her amendment. Furthermore, the provisions may be provided for as requirements of grant as the Bill stands. I go back to the ability that my right honourable friend has to influence matters. Indeed, such requirements are already in place under the Phase 1 arrangements. Therefore I see no reason for prescribing these amendments on the face of the Bill. I hope, therefore, that the noble Baroness will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Warnock: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for the phrase "misapplied multiculturalism". In reward for that phrase, I willingly withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 11:

Page 2, line 37, at end insert (", and
("(c) shall be such as to ensure that the parent of any child in respect of whose education a grant is made available is advised that in the absence of alternative provision being made, the exercise by that person of a choice not to apply for financial support from monies made available by way of grant under this Act represents a choice not to seek nursery education for his child.
(2A) The requirements of subsection (2)(c) shall not be considered satisfied unless it is shown that a parent who has failed to seek the benefits of financial support from monies made available by way of grant under this Act has been reminded of his opportunity to do so.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is just before the dinner break. I am reminded of the American comedian who said about a break in a film show, "Those of you who are really keen, now is the time to go out and get the popcorn". Now is the time to go out and get the popcorn because I am bound to take a few minutes to introduce this important amendment. I shall have a lot to say but I shall say it once and once only; and I shall say it quickly.

The purpose, aim and object of the amendment are to place a duty on the voucher agency to follow up why a parent eligible under the scheme does not take up his or her voucher. We remember from last Friday when the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury introduced the splendid debate that we are all prone to sin, that we all neglect our duties and that we leave undone those things which we ought to have done and there is no health in us.

We often take the easiest path available, and that sometimes imperils other people. The amendment is intended to prevent the voucher agency from sin, from being complacent about any parent who either fails to apply for his or her voucher or subsequently does not use a voucher which has been supplied to him following application.

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To some extent, I believe that the amendment has a moral basis to it. It is not enough to say, "An opportunity has been provided. If they do not take it, bad luck to them". We are our brother's keeper. So the amendment requires the voucher agency to ascertain whether or not such non-application or non-use of a voucher is a conscious decision by a parent not to participate in the voucher scheme--that is everyone's right--or whether it is the result, for example, of postal problems, or the inability of the parents either to understand or to carry out the voucher system, in which case the negligence in following it up is in my view wrong.

There may be postal problems. I should imagine that those would be few. As we have said many times, we have had massive postal deliveries about the voucher scheme. I have had quite a number which emanate from one source because they are very like one another. They may be distinguished by the fact that they were all addressed to me at home, to "Lord Morris of Castle Morris, The Old Hall, Derbyshire". It is rather like saying "Chatsworth, Derbyshire", as though everyone knew my tiny semi-detached farmhouse built in 1398. However, many contained the postcode S31 1QR and a great many got through. I do not know how many did not. There are the possibilities of postal difficulties in a scheme of this kind.

The amendment would go some way towards clearing up the reasons as to why 15 or 20 per cent. of eligible parents in the pilot areas have not taken up vouchers. It would be a means of targeting non-takers and would avoid the need to re-do the expensive publicity campaigns which we have seen in the pilot areas. I believe that I am right in saying that over £1.1 million has already been spent on publicity.

Why have 15 per cent. either refused or neglected a gift worth £1,100? What research in each pilot area has been done on this, with what results? Under current arrangements, there is no way of knowing whether parents have chosen not to take up a voucher. As I have argued previously, there is little way of knowing what parents feel about the scheme if they use their voucher. But that is a separate issue.

What we propose is that the voucher agency would be required to carry out a further procedure beyond a normal application and distribution of vouchers and remind parents of the consequences of non-application.

That duty cannot be satisfied simply by enclosing an additional statement with the application form. There has to be a second stage. The agency must remind. In other words, it must take a further step such as a follow-up telephone call, if that is possible, to make the parent aware of the consequences for the child of not taking part in the scheme. Such a step would protect four year-olds from being needlessly disadvantaged as a consequence of their parents' attitudes or inabilities, or of the simple breakdowns in a highly bureaucratic voucher system. Consider the possibilities of error in the eight, nine or 10-step mazurka that these wretched vouchers have already to go through.

It has been reported that the voucher agency, Capita Managed Services, appears not to employ anyone who is able to offer bilingual translation and

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support in more than one language to cope with telephone inquiries. I should be grateful if the Minister could have a thought about that, or even seek advice, and let me know whether that is the case.

The amendment may go some way towards ensuring that the voucher agency considers issues such as the importance of communicating with all parents and puts some of its private profits from the public purse into redressing oversights of that kind. If ever the scheme is extended to Wales, I can promise the Minister great grief over a long period, if translation services are not available everywhere and to everyone.

The private voucher agency is making use of public money. In accountability terms, this requirement would appear to be a cost-effective way towards parental choice, which is the Government's aim. The Government have stated that any funds not used would be returned to the Treasury. This requirement may ensure that that is less likely to happen. Such a requirement on the voucher agency is sensible, in our view, and will no doubt appear to be even more so if the scheme is ever to be introduced nationwide. So I ask the Minister: has the issue been explored, quantified and costed with Capita Managed Services? If it has, what response has been elicited from it? If not, why not? And when will it be? I beg to move.

Lord Tope: My Lords, it has been said many times that the scheme is about choice. Of course, parents have the right to choose not to take up their voucher. But we have a responsibility, if we are to introduce the scheme, to determine whether the parents have made a choice, a deliberate decision not to take up the voucher scheme, which is their right; or whether they have simply not understood what it is about, have thrown it away or not bothered.

As the noble Lord, Lord Morris, said, the amendment's purpose is to put some responsibility on the people administering the scheme to check that choice has been exercised and that the parents who have not taken up their vouchers deliberately chose not to do so and had not just not noticed or not bothered. I support the amendment.

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