Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, it was with great disappointment that I heard the Minister's words. I almost detected two replies; one from the point of view of his experience as a county councillor and another which sounded like a press briefing on parental choice.

No one is speaking against parental choice. We are in favour of it. I am disappointed about the Government's approach but it would be to little avail to press the matter at this stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

6.15 p.m.

Clause 2 [Delegation]:

Lord Morris of Castle Morris moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 2, line 30, at end insert--
("(3) Where arrangements are made under section 1 to which subsection (1) above applies, those arrangements shall be such as to ensure that the parent of any child in respect of whose education a grant is made available is advised by the person exercising a function on behalf of the Secretary of State that in the absence of alternative provision being made, the exercise by the parent of a choice not to apply for financial support from monies available by way of grant under this Act represents a choice not to seek nursery education for his child.

15 Jul 1996 : Column 667

(4) The requirements of subsection (3) 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, Benjamin Franklin, writing his own epitaph, said that though his body would lie, food for worms,

    "Yet the work itself shall not be lost, For it will, as he believed, appear once more In a new And more beautiful edition, Corrected and amended By its Author!".
Corrected and amended, not by its author but by me after the Report stage, the amendment is briefly resurrected. I hope that this time I get it right.

It means that the voucher agency would be required to carry out a further procedure, such as a telephone call, beyond the normal application and distribution of vouchers in order to remind parents of the consequences of non-application.

I was relieved to hear from the Minister that the voucher agency, Capita, employs,

    "staff at the moment who can translate into 20 languages".
His subsequent letter, for which I am also grateful, modified that exuberant 20 to a more sober 15. I was also relieved to hear that his right honourable and honourable friends in the Welsh Office will be considering appropriate translation services in Wales. For those we are grateful.

I understand that the DfEE commissioned the Central Office of Information Research Unit to interview,

    "201 parents of eligible four year-olds in the four phase one participating boroughs".
The interviews were conducted before the scheme started in the week of 15th April 1996. The purpose of the survey was,

    "to assess the effectiveness of the recent and current publicity campaign, and to provide guidance for the future publicity campaign for the national launch in 1997".

There are more than 16,000 eligible children in the four areas, according to "Countdown to vouchers", in Nursery World of 21st March 1996. If we ignore the small number of four year-olds, twins or triplets, there are likely to be around 16,000 "eligible" parents in the pilot areas. If my sums are correct, that means that only 1.25 per cent. of phase 1 parents were surveyed. Statistically, that is not a convincing sample. I could continue at some length about the survey, which I have studied, but I shall not do so on this occasion. Of those 1.25 per cent. of parents in the four pilot areas, 82 per cent. realised that they were eligible to receive vouchers and 18 per cent. did not. That sounds most creditable, but 18 per cent. of 16,000 is 2,880. Those parents did not know and they are the people in whom we are interested. It is not enough to say that an overwhelming majority did know. We have a duty to search out those who did not.

These figures illustrate that much more work needs to be done to ensure that parents understand this scheme. In accountability terms the voucher agency must make efficient and effective use of this public money. The

15 Jul 1996 : Column 668

experience of the scheme so far in phase 1 has shown occasions where this has not always been the case, so I ask the Minister once more, has this issue been properly and fully explored, quantified and costed with Capita Managed Services? If so, what response has been elicited from it about this small percentage that it should be following up? If it has not done so, why has it not done so, and when will it do so? I beg to move.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, once again I rise in support of this amendment to add a couple of points. There are 18 per cent. of parents who have been proved not to have known what was going on or not to have coped with it very well. When the scheme operates countrywide, how will the agency reach everybody, and what is the cost likely to be? Instead of trying to reach everybody in the same blast of publicity, would it not be better to spend less money on reaching those who prove less responsive than the majority? It seems to me that that would be a more cost-effective way of doing it.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I certainly remember this debate at an earlier stage and I think the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Castle Morris, also remembers it. Having brought forward a defective amendment, he kindly agreed to reflect on its defects. I have to say, with some regret, that the new amendment is little better.

There is no disagreement that it is important that those parents who want to take advantage of the scheme should apply for vouchers for their children and that children should benefit from the opportunities provided. It is also important that schools, nurseries and playgroups know that all parents who want to be, are equipped with vouchers, and that grant funding will flow from that.

But I do not agree with the noble Lord that it is necessary to place on the face of the Bill the requirement that the contractor must explain to parents the need to apply for a voucher and remind them to do so. All those parents of eligible children who appear on the child benefit database were sent an application form. A reminder form was sent to those who had failed to apply a month before the start of term.

The department has mounted, as I mentioned on an earlier amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, an extensive information campaign in the phase 1 authorities to raise awareness among parents, and we plan to carry out a similar campaign on a national scale in phase 2.

The survey involved 200 parents, a number which the independent research company adjudged was necessary to produce a statistically significant result. So it was their choice. We now know from that survey that most parents who want their child to attend a nursery provider will seek guidance from a local provider, and we have ensured that all providers in the scheme have both general information about the scheme and information about how parents should apply for vouchers. The information we publish for parents stresses the need for them to apply for vouchers and submit them to their chosen provider.

15 Jul 1996 : Column 669

In phase 1 we have demonstrated that the effective ways to contact parents are via the child benefit database, via advertising and via the providers. The amendment proposes one way which I believe is neither sensible nor practical. I hope, therefore, that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment on this occasion.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: My Lords, as there will never be another occasion, I have remarkably little choice. I have either to withdraw it or seek the view of the House, which I shall not do. It is quite clear that we will not get any more from the Minister or from his department on this point. I simply register that we on these Benches are primarily concerned in opposing, as it is our duty to do. It is our duty to oppose, which does not mean to destroy, this Bill; to go into it in great detail with the Minister.

We are concerned that there should be full compassion and responsible government in the care of those people who are perhaps the least fortunate, the most unlovely in our community. There are people who are eligible for this scheme who do not know it. There are people out there with children who are eligible for this scheme who cannot read or write and who will not tell anybody. We on these Benches press for consideration to be given to them. It is hard. It is difficult. It requires a lot of hard work from government departments and their agencies. May I leave with the Minister the thought that that is the kind of work that good people do? I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 3 [Requirements]:

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 9:

Page 2, line 40, at end insert--
("(4) Requirements imposed under this section shall include a requirement to ensure that corporal punishment is not used in nursery education provided by an authority or other person to whom a grant is made under section 1.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I return yet again to the question of corporal punishment. There is a good deal of confusion because of the Minister's letter not having turned up last time. So I do not make any apology for coming back to this point.

Various Members of the House have encouraged me to table this amendment again because the responses that we have had from the Minister at Committee stage, Report stage and in correspondence are not satisfactory. With respect, they have been both confused and confusing. I shall be brief because the arguments have been set out before.

The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that corporal punishment is prohibited in all voucher-redeeming institutions. This is not a large step from the Government's current position, which is to prohibit corporal punishment from voucher-bearing children in these institutions. It is a step which the Government have so far declined to take but which we hope to persuade them to take tonight.

The Minister has told us:

    "It is the policy of Her Majesty's Government to prohibit corporal punishment for all state-funded education".

15 Jul 1996 : Column 670

    The Department of Health has reiterated its policy that:

    "physical punishment of children has no place in the child care environment".

If the Government pursue their current policy it will represent a U-turn on these policies because institutions providing nursery education, both in the private sector and in Children Act institutions, will be permitted to use corporal punishment for non-voucher bearing children, although many of the institutions, as the Minister admitted in his letter to me dated 6th July, receive public funds.

In his replies so far the noble Lord has waltzed around the central issue: do the Government really condone the use of institutional corporal punishment for three and four year-old children? I hope we shall get a clear answer tonight. If they do, they are ignoring not only their own policies but the strongly expressed opinion of all the organisations involved, the NSPCC, Save the Children and a great many institutions which are involved with children's welfare and care, and, of course, international human rights standards and recommendations, which I may leave to others to pursue tonight.

We are asking for a small but principled movement from the Government in line, let me emphasise, with their own policies. If the Government do not wish to protect these very young children from corporal punishment through the use of this Bill, they could give us an assurance that they will do so through regulations issued under the Children Act and the Education (No. 2) Act 1986. I hope that the least we can have from the Government tonight is that reassurance. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page