HC Deb 14 October 1975 vol 897 cc1116-8
9. Mr. Gould

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what priority is to be given to nursery education in the future allocation of resources.

Mr. Mulley

I have already made it clear that in the period of severe restraint which lies ahead the first priority must be to protect the education of children of compulsory school age. I was pleased, however, to be able to announce recently a nursery education building programme of £8½ million to start in 1976–77.

Mr. Gould

Have precise allocations for nursery education yet been made to individual local authorities? If so, what allocation has been made to Hampshire, what has been its reaction, and what action does my right hon. Friend propose if, as happened last year, Hampshire declines to take up its allocation?

Mr. Mulley

Allocations have been made to local authorities. They were announced just before the House rose for the recess. I think that Hampshire has renounced some of its building allocation for the current year. It is entirely a matter for local education authorities to decide whether or not to avail themselves of the allocation, which carries with it loan sanction but has to be serviced in the normal way of local authority debt. If some authorities were to apply to us for higher allocations we would consider those applications sympathetically, if other authorities did not take up their full allocation.

Mr. Fry

Is the Secretary of State aware of the problems experienced by one-parent families and the need for nursery education, which is very pressing in many parts of the country? Will he investigate ways of helping these families, for example, by allowing one classroom to remain open until 5 o'clock to allow mothers and fathers to go out to work and not have to rely on State agencies? Would that not be good for their health and probably for the children as well?

Mr. Mulley

I agree that this development should be encouraged. We have had full discussions with the Department of Health and Social Security with a view to working out joint arrangements for day nurseries and nursery classes. Day nurseries come under the DHSS and nursery classes under the Department of Education and Science. Those discussions were undertaken with a view to sending out guidance to local authorities along the lines suggested by the hon. Gentleman. I am glad to say that already some nursery classes are available outside normal school hours to meet the point the hon. Gentleman has in mind.

Mr. St. John-Stevas

Should not the Secretary of State tell the House that the allocation of £9 million of which he is so proud represents a reduction of 133 per cent. on the allocation made by the previous Conservative Government? Is it not a crazy sense of social priorities to be able to find £200 million for indiscriminate food and housing subsidies but not to be able to find a few million pounds for this vital programme?

Mr. Mulley

I can go better than the hon. Gentleman. I cannot say offhand whether his figures are right but I should be surprised, and it would make history, if they were. As to the exact percentage, the difference between the £9 million for 1976–77 and the £17 million for 1975–76 is accounted for by the fact that we have been told, mainly by Conservative local authorities, that if they were given allocations for this purpose they would not use them. One of my hon. Friends has already made that point.