Mr Raymond Robertson: Seventeen years.
Mr Raymond Robertson: It is a pity that the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) sought to enter our debate so late in the evening. I earlier gave the assurance that she sought.
Mr Raymond Robertson: Will the hon. Gentleman concede that when those budget proposals were independently costed it was found that they would create an £8 billion deficit?
Mr Raymond Robertson: The hon. Gentleman is living in fantasy land. They are not my figures: they are from the Fraser of Allander Institute, which every Opposition Member has quoted in the House at some stage.
Mr Raymond Robertson: Why is the hon. Gentleman flailing around for an example in England to rubbish the scheme when there is an example in Scotland in East Renfrewshire? Every child who has a voucher has been guaranteed a place. Why does not he use that as an example and stop flailing around in England?
Mr Raymond Robertson: I assure the hon. Gentleman that the evaluation will be real, thorough and intensive. It will be completely independent and we are soon to announce the identity of all those involved in the committee that will carry out the evaluation. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the English example, with a third of parents not applying for vouchers. In Scotland 75 per cent. of eligible parents have applied...
Mr Raymond Robertson: We shall conduct a full evaluation of every aspect of the scheme, but the early reports show that it will be a roaring success.
Mr Raymond Robertson: As the hon. Gentleman was in the Chamber during my right hon. Friend's opening speech, his comments seem rather strange. Did he not hear that in East Renfrewshire, every holder of a voucher has been guaranteed a nursery place under the scheme and that to date almost three quarters of eligible parents have taken the opportunity of getting a voucher? That does not sit with what he has just...
Mr Raymond Robertson: Get on with it.
Mr Raymond Robertson: The Bill requires that the Secretary of State must consult widely before making any appointment. Therefore, the matter to which the hon. Gentleman is referring is catered for in the Bill.
Mr Raymond Robertson: I am too old.
Mr Raymond Robertson: The hon. Gentleman does not have to take my word for it: the National Audit Office has said that £1,100 will pay for everything except the most high-quality and the most expensive places—the voucher scheme was never intended to pay for those places. The independent National Audit Office is saying this, not me.
Mr Raymond Robertson: Is the hon. Gentleman not being a wee bit arrogant to think that he knows better than the National Audit Office?
Mr Raymond Robertson: rose—
Mr Raymond Robertson: I tried to intervene on the hon. Gentleman when he was talking about special educational needs. He has to be consistent in this. Ten minutes ago he was lecturing us and saying that local authorities knew best. Local authorities are now saying that they can cope with special educational needs and he is saying that they do not know what they are talking about.
Mr Raymond Robertson: Perhaps I may help my hon. Friend now. That point was raised in another place, too. We are determined that the accreditation committee, although part of the SQA, will be separate from the authority's other functions. The committee's purpose will be to accredit other bodies that award qualifications, such as the City and Guilds, to ensure that their qualifications are up to the necessary...
Mr Raymond Robertson: indicated assent.
Mr Raymond Robertson: That point has often been raised with us. The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities asked for the change, and we shall obviously return to the matter in Committee. If my hon. Friend wants to pick up on it then, we shall look at it.
Mr Raymond Robertson: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's customary courtesy, but he does not have to wait until the winding-up speech. In the comparison that he used, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland was making the point that the new Scottish Qualifications Authority would be required—as I think the whole House agrees it should—to set standard grade exams and the new "higher still"...
Mr Raymond Robertson: Every provider in the pilot areas will be inspected in the pilot year. We would then expect that nationally every new operator would be inspected in the first 24 months of the system.