HC Deb 22 May 1979 vol 967 cc864-5
18. Mrs. Renée Short

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what progress he intends making with the development of nursery education for three to five-year-olds.

Mr. Macfarlane

My right hon. and learned Friend is anxious to encourage the development of nursery education within the resources available.

Mrs. Short

Is the Minister aware that that is an answer which tells us nothing? There are many hon. Members on both sides of the House who want to see a real advance made in nursery education. Does the Minister accept that, if he agrees with the principle of parental choice, nursery education should be available to all parents who want it for children from the age of 3 years to 5 years? Will he accept that as a goal which his Government should achitve?

Mr. Marcfarlane

It is our intention, as was made clear in our manifesto during the recent general election, to work towards the provision of nursery education for all children aged 3 years and 4 years whose parents want them to have it. That was a recommendation made in 1966 by the Plowden committee and implemented in 1972 by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.

Mr. Kershaw

Does not the provision of nursery education depend primarily upon the economic position of the country? Was it not the failure of the Labour Administration to provide the necessary economic conditions that caused a shortfall in the provision of nursery education?

Mr. Macfarlane

I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who is absolutely right. Had the yardsticks of the previous Administration been projected into the early 1980s, the decline would have been about 30 per cent., based upon the assessment of the early 1970s.

Mr. Oakes

Will the Minister draw the contents of the Conservative manifesto to the attention of many Conservative-controlled local authorities which are at the bottom of the league in the provision of nursery education? Will he ask those authorities to spend more money on nursery schools and ask them why they did not take up the allocations that the Labour Government made available to them?

Mr. Macfarlane

I do not necessarily accept that the hon. Gentleman's final observation is absolutely accurate. We shall be telling local authorities that in our view most of the nursery education provision should take the form of classes in primary schools. Many local authorities have been waiting to see the nature of the decline. The pattern is now beginning to emerge. That is the sort of expression that we shall be making to local authorities.