§ 2. Mr. Marten
asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps the Government are taking to improve nursery education.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Miss Joan Lestor)
To enable the provision of nursery education places to be increased, allocations of resources to local education authorities for the current year have been maintained and £8.5 million has been 1115 allocated for starts in 1976–77. Her Majesty's inspectors maintain regular contact with the schools and authorities, and my Department supports a programme of research which began in 1974, with the establishment of a nursery education research management committee.
§ Mr. Marten
What are the criteria by which the Government judge it right to spend many hundreds of millions of pounds on nationalisation while reducing expenditure on nursery education from £30 million to £9 million next year?
§ Miss Lestor
The question of public ownership and nationalisation is not one for my Department, but I would point out to the hon. Gentleman that the Opposition have long attempted to suggest that the Government take into public ownership only those things which are failing the nation and therefore cost money. That is not the view of the Government, who also wish to take into public ownership things that are profitable, and which serve the nation well.
I have already pointed out that, despite very great economic difficulties, we have not ceased to expand the nursery education programme, although it is true that it is not expanding at the rate which many of us would like to see.
§ Mrs. Renée Short
Is my hon. Friend aware that the Labour Party came to office on the basis of a manifesto that included the expansion of nursery education? Is she further aware that the sum of money she has reported to the House for next year's expansion of nursery education is less than half that which was spent this year? Does not she think that that reduction of nursery education is against everything for which the Labour Party has campaigned?
§ Miss Lestor
I am well aware that the Labour Party came to power advocating an expansion of nursery education. I was one of the people responsible for getting it into the programme. If I thought that we were now going to drop it, I should not wish to remain a member of the Government.
Perhaps my hon. Friend could use her considerable talents to persuade those education authorities that have not taken up their allocations for nursery education in the last year to do so, and to take up their allocations in future years. There 1116 is a myth that the Government are responsible for this failure, whereas some of us have been trying to persuade local authorities to use the allocations available to them.
§ Mr. St. John-Stevas
I hope that the hon. Lady will reconsider her resignation. It would be a disaster to lose both the hon. Lady and the nursery programme.
Does not the difficulty in which local education authorities are placed arise from recurrent costs? How can the Government reconcile the contradictory objectives of giving capital sums for nursery education and then denying to local education authorities the revenue costs to service the schools?
§ Miss Lestor
I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman is so concerned about my future and that of the nursery school programme. I can assure him that both are in very good hands.
Concerning capital expenditure on nursery education, and revenue costs, both are covered. It is perfectly true that the development of nursery education costs a great deal of money, and that some local authorities have not decided to go ahead with it, but the Government make allowance in the RSG settlement for the recurrent expenditure consequences of the capital allocations they make available for nursery education.
§ Mr. Arnold Shaw
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is about time the hypocrisy of the Opposition in this matter was shown up? The hon. Member for Chelmsford (Mr. St. John-Stevas) has already said that the present Government have given an allocation of only £9 million, whereas his own Government allocated £30 million. Does my hon. Friend agree that the future of nursery education depends on the willingness of local authorities to take up their allocations? As my hon. Friend has already said, many of the Tory authorities, including my own, at Redbridge, have not done this.
§ Miss Lestor
I agree completely with what my hon. Friend has said. He has re-emphasised the nature of the situation in which we are placed.