HC Deb 14 May 1985 vol 79 cc164-5
9. Mr. Barron

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services what plans he has to increase the number of places available in public sector day nurseries for children aged under five years.

Mr. John Patten

This is a matter for local authorities.

Mr. Barron

Is it not right to say that the Minister's own Department feels it necessary to put £2 million a year until 1986 into voluntary bodies, while at the same time the Secretary of State for the Environment is attacking the public sector and it is very likely that there will be no increase in day nursery places, either full or part-time, if he does not stop this attack on the public sector by attacking the rate support grant?

Mr. Patten

The hon. Gentleman's question presupposes that most people think that day nurseries are the best form of help and care for under-fives. That is not the case with a great many authorities. Indeed, the Select Committee on Social Services said it is expensive and unwieldy to provide unlimited facilities of day care. What we need is a mixed economy of care for the under-fives, including an increased number of places with child minders and an increased number of places in play groups. All of this must be supported and underpinned by the excellent under-fives initiative to which the hon. Gentleman has already referred.

Mr. Jessel

Are not day nurseries of great value in giving children a sense of security? Is it not an unkind and needless act for the Richmond upon Thames borough council to threaten to throw out 38 Vietnamese boat orphans at present in the care of the Save the Children fund at Hampton Court house? Will my hon. Friend repeat the offer that he has already made, in view of the fact that the sale of the house has been advertised in the latest number of Country Life, to provide not only for the maintenance of the children but for the payment of a fair rent to the borough council?

Mr. Patten

I am deeply concerned about the welfare of the children. There have been suggestions that Richmond upon Thames borough council, which I understand is under Liberal party control, is more interested in making money than in the welfare of the children. I do not know whether these allegations are true, but Liberal-controlled Richmond upon Thames borough council has a fine opportunity now to demonstrate that it does have those children's interests at heart.