HC Deb 28 February 1989 vol 148 cc146-7
6. Mr. Win Griffiths

To ask the Secretary of State for Education and Science what plans he has to increase support for nursery education; and if he will make a statement.

Mrs. Rumbold

The number and proportion of three and four-year-olds in schools have grown steadily over the period of the present Government. Our plans for expenditure on under-fives education in 1989–90 are, at £536 million, 10 per cent. higher in real terms than those for 1988–89, thus allowing that healthy trend to continue.

Mr. Griffiths

The Secretary of State may recall that one of his predecessors, who has since moved to higher things—to a position that the right hon. Gentleman himself perhaps coverts—predicted in 1971 that by 1981 there would be 700,000 places in nursery education. The Government have been in power for a decade now, but they are still 200,000 places short of that target. Why have they failed to achieve it, and why do Labour local authorities provide most places and Conservative local authorities least?

Mrs. Rumbold

Perhaps the hon. Gentleman was not present when the House recently debated the subject, when he would have learned that about 85 per cent. of three and four-year-olds have some form of pre-school education. That record is considerably better than 10 years ago.

Sir John Stokes

Will my right hon. Friend take great care that in increasing support for nursery education she does not tempt mothers to dump their children? A mother working at home is doing just as important a job as one working in an office or factory. I did not leave home and go to school until I was nine, and it has not done me any harm.

Mrs. Rumbold

My hon. Friend is a clear model of parental care, showing that parents are the first and the best educators of young children.

Ms. Armstrong

When will the Minister ensure that the opportunity for choice in nursery education in Tory areas matches that in Labour areas?

Mrs. Rumbold

The hon. Lady is well aware that the amount of money put into rate support grant is targeted particularly towards the inner cities and to areas where there is perceived to be a special need. That is why, in the case of the inner cities, there is more provision from the local education authorities and the local authorities, while in the county areas there is greater provision from the voluntary sector.