HC Deb 30 March 1976 vol 908 cc1088-90
10. Mr. Newton

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what recent changes he has made in his plans to extend educational facilities to children under the age of five years.

23. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what action he intends to take to expand nursery education in view of the fact that some local education authorities are refusing to make use of their allocation for this purpose.

Mr. Mulley

In spite of current economic difficulties and the need to give first priority for available resources in the schools to children of compulsory school age, nursery education is being provided for a growing proportion of under-fives.

Mr. Newton

Does the Minister accept that that gloss really cannot diminish the fact that capital expenditure on new nursery schools is scheduled to go down by four-fifths? Will he not re-examine the incredibly low priority given to what many of us believe is far and away the most important remaining educational reform to be carried out?

Mr. Mulley

Despite the great difficulties, we shall attain 80 per cent. of the target set in rather more prosperous times, in 1972, when the then Government were frittering away the surplus built up by the Labour Government in the earlier years. My present concern about providing more capital allocations for nursery classes and schools is the enormous number of local authorities—a list has been published several times in Hansard—which are not taking up existing allocations. That is why there is no encouragement to give more.

Mrs. Short

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there is great concern that such a large number of education authorities have refused to accept the allocation for which they first asked? Does he agree that the only way to see any progress made in nursery education—bearing in mind that there has been a welcome fall in the birth rate—would be to make nursery education, from the age of 4–5 years as a start, part of the State system, with both capital and current revenue allocated for the purpose?

Mr. Mulley

I have a great deal of sympathy with what my hon. Friend says, but she must understand that my Government colleagues and I are not exactly looking around at the moment for new sources of expenditure.

Mr. St John-Stevas

Would not the?25 million that the Government have allotted for the compulsory comprehensivisation of schools be much better used in restoring the cuts that the Government have made in the nursery programme, which, by an odd coincidence, will amount to?25 million by 1978?

Mr. Mulley

The hon. Gentleman is a very poor pupil. I have to explain the facts of life to him almost every time my Department is involved in Question Time.

First, a great number of authorities, including many Conservative authorities, are not taking the allocations for nursery classes for the current year, which expires in a few days. The allocations for the current year are grossly under-used. We have been told that many authorities do not want the allocations for next year.

Secondly, I am glad that the hon. Gentleman has already conceded that the Education Bill will become law. At the moment there is no compulsory arrangement for comprehensive education. All the money that has been allocated to improve secondary schools will be used to provide laboratories and other facilities which the schools badly need. I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman has put on record that these improvements are being carried out against the wishes of the Conservative Party.