HC Deb 12 January 1988 vol 125 cc134-5
8. Mr. Allen

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services what assistance is given by his Department to local authorities for establishing day nurseries; and if he has any plans to increase it.

Mrs. Currie

The answers are none and no, Sir. My right hon. Friend has no power to make specific grants to local authorities to provide day nurseries. Day nurseries are provided by local authorities in the light of their own priorities and resources and their views on the needs of local children.

Mr. Allen

The Prime Minister has tried to make great public relations play of her concern about child abuse, but in my shire — Nottinghamshire — there are only about 550 day nursery places for an under-five population of 30,000 children. When will the Government start to put their money where the Prime Minister's mouth is and allow Nottinghamshire county council to give a day-care place to every child who needs it?

Mrs. Currie

I can confirm that the number of day nursery places provided by Nottinghamshire county council in 1986 was 555. In fact, it was Nottinghamshire county council that cut the number of places from 585 in 1984. However, the total number of day nursery places provided in that county council area has risen from 1,013 to 1,057 because the local authority is now relying far more heavily on private nursery places. If we bear in mind that Nottinghamshire county council has spent more on day nurseries in real terms and that their day nurseries are cheaper on average, that means that Nottinghamshire thinks that the private sector provides value for money in child care. I commend that attitude to the House.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Does the Minister recall that although the population of children under five between 1981 and 1985 increased by 141,000, only 500 extra places were made available? In view of the genuine concern about family poverty, which the hon. Lady should not dismiss, and the national debate reflecting people's concern about child welfare, is it not a matter of great urgency that local authorities—not just Nottinghamshire—are forced into making a choice between, for example, providing library facilities or day-care facilities? In view, also, of the great tragedies that have been discussed, especially in recent weeks, does the Minister accept that the Government have a responsibility, including a responsibility to improve vital resources?

Mrs. Currie

We have some old-fashioned views on that on this side of the House. We think that it is the parents' responsibility to care for their children. However, we recognise that day nurseries can help children in certain circumstances. Since the Government have been in power the total net spending by local authorities on all services has increased by 18 per cent. in real terms and has increased nearly twice as fast, by 35 per cent., on personal social services. If local authorities choose to spend that money, not on day nurseries but on peace committees and gay rights committees, that is their business.

Mr. Key

I should like to say how strongly I agree with my hon. Friend about the primary responsibility for young children being that of the parents. Therefore, may I ask my hon. Friend to continue to ensure that that kind of care facility is available only to those whose need is the greatest?

Mrs. Currie

Yes, I have a lot of sympathy with that view. It is worth putting the number of day nursery places into context. There are about 30,000 local authority day nursery places, nearly the same number in private and voluntary day nurseries, and about 250,000 children currently attend nursery classes in local authority schools. There are also child minders and play groups. Therefore, we are talking about a great deal of child care, most of which is provided by the parents themselves.