HC Deb 15 May 1984 vol 60 cc140-1
11. Mr. Dubs

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science whether he is satisfied with the level of provision of education facilities for the under fives.

Mr. Dunn

In January 1983 there were some 458,000 under-fives in education—the highest number ever and an increase of about 22,000 over the previous year. It is for local education authorities to decide on the level of provision in the light of local needs and priorities and, of course, in the light of resources available.

Mr. Dubs

Does the Minister agree that the Inner London education authority's record in providing nursery education for the under-fives is second to none? Does he agree that that excellent level of provision is under threat from the Government's proposals, which will surely reduce the opportunity for many deprived and disadvantaged children in our city? What does the Minister propose to do about that?

Mr. Dunn

I agree that ILEA has a record, but savings can be made in plenty of other ways without detriment to education services in London.

Mr. Hayes

Will my hon. Friend do all that he can to persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer to take work place nursery subsidies out of tax?

Mr. Dunn

I am not sure that that is connected with the original question, but I shall direct my right hon. Friend's attention to my hon. Friend's comment.

Dr. McDonald

Is the Minister aware that a small number of local authorities discriminate sharply against summer-born children, who receive only six terms of infant school education instead of a full three years? What action will the Government take to end such blatant discrimination against children who apparently have the misfortune to be born in the summer, so that they have a chance of decent infant education?

Mr. Dunn

As a summer-born child, I have sympathy with what the hon. Lady says, but these are matters for local education authorities.

Mrs. Rumbold

Has my hon. Friend any plans to reconsider the provision of under-fives education by local authorities so that it is a discretionary option?

Mr. Dunn

Nursery education is already a discretionary option for local education authorities.

Mr. Radice

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that his answer to the question of my hon. Friend the Member for Battersea (Mr. Dubs) is rather complacent? Does he not understand that the proportion of under-fives receiving nursery education is planned to be marginally lower in 1986–87 than it was in 1981–82, although the Government's Green Paper on public spending admits that the demand for nursery education is likely to rise rather than decline?

Mr. Dunn

I am sorry to be at odds with the hon. Gentleman, but the participation rate as a percentage of three and four-year-olds stood at a record level of 40 per cent. in January 1983, and the expenditure plans allow for the figure to increase slightly up to 1986–87.

Mr. Bruce

Will the Minister acknowledge that allowing nursery education to be discretionary is unfair? The Prime Minister, when Secretary of State for Education and Science, claimed that she wanted nursery education for all. How, therefore, can the Government justify the situation that exists in my constituency where, for example, in the city of Aberdeen nearly 50 per cent. of children who are under school age receive nursery education, but in Gordon district, under the same education authority, only 5 per cent. get it? Is that fair and just? Should not the Government be doing something to redress the balance?

Mr. Dunn

Such complaints should be directed to the hon. Gentleman's local education authority. I am prepared to acknowledge, however, that there has been a slight increase in both part-time and full-time attendance levels in the past five years, and that is something for the Government to be proud of.