HC Deb 10 June 1980 vol 986 cc277-9
2. Mr. Blackburn

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether surplus primary school accommodation can be converted to nursery education use ; and what allowance, if any, has been made in the building programme for this purpose.

The Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Mr. Neil Macfarlane)

Yes, Sir. This is common practice. Although no part of the nursery education building programme is earmarked for adaptation work, most local authorities use their allocations for that purpose.

Mr. Blackburn

Will my hon. Friend consider making provision in 1981–82 for that purpose? Will he also consider supplementing funds raised by local people for that purpose?

Mr. Macfarlane

On the latter question, my hon. Friend raises a parochial point. It is a matter for the local education authority and the school governors if local people have raised funds for that purpose. The adaptation work is part of an on-going programme. Over the past few months the Department has contributed to local authorities by providing some broad guidelines about how the adaptation can take place.

Miss Boothroyd

Is the Minister aware that a week ago a Minister at the Department of Health and Social Security told the House that he did not accept the need for more places for the under-fives? Does the Minister accept that children who live in high-rise blocks tend to be disadvantaged because of the isolation and the environmental conditions in which they live? Does he agree that it should be the policy of the Government to provide further places for those children? When will his Department and the Department of Health and Social Security co-operate on policy matters that are vitally important to those young children?

Mr. Macfarlane

The hon. Lady raises an important social issue. I hope that the local authorities who face such problems in their areas will take due note of the provision that is required. Co-operation between the Departments takes place not only nationally, but locally. The Government have allocated a programme of £2.63 million for 1980–81 to 40 local education authorities. We know of only five other authorities that wish to build nursery education facilities if resources become available.

Mr. John MacKay

Does my hon. Friend realise that surplus accommodation could be used by the playgroup movement? Will he ensure that he is not prevented from using the surplus accommodation in that way by an attempt on the part of the teachers' unions to institute a closed shop to keep the playgroup movement out of schools?

Mr. Macfarlane

My hon. Friend's final point is not known to me. No doubt he will write to me if he wishes to highlight any further points that he has in mind. I hope that all local authorities, chief education officers and school governors will maintain a totally flexible option about what might happen where these facilities exist.

Mr. Flannery

Is it not a fact that, far from utilising excess space to expand nursery education, the Government are cutting down nursery provision on a grand scale? Is the House aware that in an interview with the Minister some months ago he told me that the Government were considering charging for nursery education? He said that there was great pressure for that. Is not the reality that during the period of the previous Labour Administration the vast majority of Tory councils—more than 70 per cent.—did not claim their allocation for nursery education, let alone expand it?

Mr. Macfarlane

I wish that the hon. Gentleman would listen to the points that have been made from the Dispatch Box by my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State. The hon. Gentleman must understand that no part of the case that he has pronounced exists anywhere in Britain.