HC Deb 14 March 1979 vol 964 cc443-4
14. Mrs. Bain

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he is satisfied with the current level of expenditure on the provision of nursery education.

Mr. McElhone

In recent years education authorities have not been able to expand nursery education as rapidly as I would have wished. The Government remain committed to the expansion of nursery education and the recent White Paper on public expenditure, Cmnd. 7439, made plain that resources will be made available for this purpose.

Mrs. Bain

Is the Minister satisfied that all the regional authorities concerned are using the resources allocated to them for nursery education expansion, since the reply he gave to me earlier this year indicates that not all the resources are being taken up by authorities? What consideration is being given to the use of empty classrooms in primary schools by changing them into nursery wings attached to the schools?

Mr. McElhone

The hon. Lady makes two fair points. She asks whether local authorities at regional level are using all the money available for nursery education. A number of them have underspent on nursery education. This is largely due to staffing ratios, which are quite high in these establishments. I hope that local authorities will take very seriously the suggestion about using spare primary school accommodation. There has been a substantial drop in the number of primary schoolchildren in many areas, which means that there is spare accommodation. It is there to be used, with suitable adaptations. That would be better than waiting for purpose-built nursery schools. I hope that this message will go to local authorities.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will my hon. Friend investigate how many specially built nursery places are not being used and make that the first priority for the future?

Mr. McElhone

It is true that because of a drop in the number of births there are many spare places in nursery schools. But unfortunately this is not spread evenly over the regions. I hope that local authorities will advertise and ensure that families in greatest need are encouraged to use the spare places. I hope also that local authorities will consider the concept, which I have been pushing, of children's centres which give whole-day coverage for mothers with children under five, one-parent families and working mothers.

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