HC Deb 16 July 1979 vol 970 cc1001-3
5. Mr. Hooson

asked the Secretary of State for Wales whether he plans to meet parents to discuss the future of Welsh language nursery schools.

Mr. Michael Roberts

My right hon. Friend has no present plans to hold such a meeting, but I hope shortly to meet a number of hon. Members with an interest in Welsh nursery schools.

Mr. Hooson

Will my hon. Friend ensure that in the reviews of educational budgets that are carried out by the local authorities special regard will be paid to the interests of the Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin because of the great importance of promoting bilingual education in Wales?

Mr. Michael Roberts

My hon. Friend's interest in Mudiad Ysgolion Meithrin is well known to us. I can assure him that the Welsh Office regards the work of this organisation as extremely important. We give a small grant in aid, and we hope that this will continue.

Mr. Geraint Howells

Does not the Minister agree that the Government's present policy towards Welsh language nursery education is not acceptable to the majority of parents in Wales? Since many Opposition Members and Welsh parents are not satisfied, what must we do to change the Government's policy?

Mr. Michael Roberts

I do not accept what the hon. Gentleman has said. Of course, it is for the local authorities to decide. Our commitment to the Welsh language will find expression in the second of our education Bills, in which we will be seeking power to pay a specific grant towards the cost of bilingual education in Wales.

Mr. Ioan Evans

While it is for the local authorities to decide, must not the local authorities have the money in order to provide the nursery schools? Is it not a fact that under this Government nursery school education in Wales will suffer a great deal, and that already one authority in Clwyd is talking of stopping nursery school education?

Mr. Michael Roberts

It is because we want to ensure bilingual education that we are making a specific grant. I want to make it perfectly clear that it is the role of the local authorities to decide, and if hon. Members are not satisfied with the way in which their local authorities make decisions about the 3 per cent. rate support grant cut it is their job to make representations to their local authorities. I will be interested to see what constructive suggestions they make.

Mr. D. E. Thomas

I welcome the belated statement by the Minister that the Government are proposing to revive the specific grant. However, can he explain to the House what use this specific grant will be if general education expenditure is cut back by the Government's edict to county councils in Wales?

Mr. Michael Roberts

It is for the local authorities to decide what cuts they will make. No doubt they will make ample use of the bilingual grant. I cannot accept for a moment that this is a belated announcement.

Mr. Alec Jones

Can the hon. Gentleman say whether these specific grants will be aimed at nursery schools, be they Welsh speaking or English speaking?

Mr. Michael Roberts

I can give the House no specific information as to whether the bilingual grants will be given only to nursery schools.

6. Mr. Wigley

asked the Secretary of State for Wales how many schools in Wales will lose the facility to teach the Welsh language as a result of the Government's public expenditure cutbacks.

Mr. Michael Roberts

There need be no such loss, but it is for local authorities to decide how to achieve the expenditure savings called for by the Government.

Mr. Wigley

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he is acting like a Pontius Pilate in this matter, by washing his hands of the whole question of the impact of Government cuts on education in Wales? Is he aware that in Clwyd alone 52 out of 56 nursery schools are being chopped as a result of the Government's policy, which means that nursery education which is critical to the teaching of the Welsh language in non-Welsh speaking areas is virtually being axed? Is he also aware that the other major area of cutbacks is peripatetic teachers, which are a major factor in the teaching of the Welsh language in many schools? Will he contact education authorities in all parts of Wales and tell them to go easy on these cuts which result from the Government's policy?

Mr. Michael Roberts

The local authorities are responsible bodies. It is their role to decide where the cuts will be made. The hon. Gentleman is not accurate when he says that nursery schools have been chopped. The truth is that a proposal has been made, and this will be considered by the authority later. In view of that, I hope that those who regard the question as so damaging and serious for nursery children and for the Welsh language will make representations to the local authorities and suggest other cuts.